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German Settlers to the Eastern Cape

One lie too many!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 14 October 2009
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Sir George Grey was adept at bluffing. When he needed to persuade the Colonial Office to part with £40,000 per annum to pay for his military pensioner plan, he did so by bluffing the Honourable Henry Labouchere that a major frontier war was about to explode.

He also bluffed Labouchere that the Cape was willing to part with £5,000 per annum as its part in the bargain whereas Parliament was not even consulted. The money would actually come from British Kaffraria itself, from its customs revenue which was merely being redirected to its proper purpose.

Labouchere, of course, also bluffed Sir George into believing that the majority of legionnaires were married whereas they were actually bachelors. It was all done with a mission, however, and neither side appeared much nettled for having been fooled. Indeed, it possibly provided more grist to bluff again.

The lack of legionnaire wives, on the other hand, was a truly serious issue. How does one distract some 2,000 bachelor soldiers into being hard-working settlers when, in fact, all they can think about is women and sex -- or the lack of either.

Armies do it by distracting the soldiers through pointless route-marches, through humiliation and even by sending them to their unnecessary deaths. Sir Geoge could do none of this because he really did need the men to act like settlers, building their houses and cultivating their fields.

He was quite aware that the financial burden would also impact negatively on the scheme. The contracts stipulated quite clearly that the legionnaires would remain on full pay only until April 1857, at which stage the Legion would disband. Thereafter they would go onto half-pay for the next three years.

Nobody, however, had thought about how expensive it was to live on the frontier. Wagons were few and far between which meant that transport cost a small fortune. Everything, therefore, from clothing through to food and even seeds was exorbitant.

Even full military pay would not suffice, especially down at the rank-and-file level. The military wage was never meant to sustain them in the basics of life. The offices, on the other hand, could manage because not only was their pay better but they also had other perks like subsidised land purchases.

It was therefore a fantasy to expect the privates to survive even on full pay. If they had been married, of course, then their very sense of responsibility to wife and children would have nailed most of them to their mission but unmarried soldiers -- and only on half-pay? The scheme was doomed to failure.

Sir George and the Baron between them therefore hatched up a plan to keep the settlers on full pay for as long as possible. There was absolutely no way, however, in which they could convince Labouchere or the War Office to part with so much extra money.

Sir George had then to indulge again in his favourite game: bluffing.

For an entire year, Sir George bluffed the Colonial Secretary with stories of uprisings and threatened wars. The "uprising" was the Cattle Killing campaign where the amaXhosa destroyed their cattle and crops in the expectation of help from the ancestors in driving the Imperial forces out of their land.

The result, however, was starvation and the destruction of the Xhosa kingdoms -- certainly not open warfare. Nevertheless, Sir George fed Labouchere stories of how the German settlers were continually at arms, and how they were defending the colonial frontier from invasion by the armed hordes.

These lies could not be sustained for ever and, by March 1858, Lord Panmure smelt a rat and called Sir George's bluff. The Governor was ordered to reduce the men to half-pay or else the Cape Colony itself would have to foot the bill, something it would not do.

Without a better plan, therefore, the settlement was doomed.

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