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German Settlers to the Eastern Cape

Saving the settlement
from the very brink!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 14 October 2009
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When Lord Panmure insisted that the military settlers be put onto half-pay, it truly put the cat amongst the pigeons. By then, Sir George Grey had read the devastating reports from the Special Magistrates and was well aware that the settlement was imploding. A halving of wages would see its demise.

Sir George attempted one last grasp at the straws by questioning the decision. At most, however, this would give him a couple of months' grace in which to make alternative arrangements but he ran into a stone wall because the Whig government had fallen from power, replaced by hard-nosed Tories.

Indeed, the new Colonial Secretary -- Lord Stanley -- found himself publicly embarrassed by Sir George's lies. The situation in British Kaffraria had found its way into the English press which was asking questions of Lord Stanley about wasting tax-payers' money.

What could Sir George do to save the dream? One option was to ask the Cape Parliament to foot the bill to keep the settler-soldiers on full-pay for another two years until their contracts expired. He knew, however, that Parliament could at most afford only half that amount.

Then the Governor had one of those light-bulb moments. A "mutiny" had occurred in India which had caught the Empire on the hop. Troops -- and lots of them -- were needed before the entire subcontinent was engulfed in flames, causing the Empire a humiliating defeat.

British soldiers were being transferred from the Cape -- and as many horses as could be found -- but this, of course, left the frontier itself unprotected. Lord Stanley, having now read all of Sir George's correspondence, wrongly concluded that the Germans would be sufficient for the job.

Sir George, however, knew very well that the settler scheme was itself in deep trouble. If the men were simultaneously put on half-pay and were also forced off their land to man the frontier defences, that would be the end of it. British Kaffraria would itself implode. How then to stop the rot?

There were two aspects of the challenge to consider. First, the sordid question of full-pay or half-pay. Second was the fact that many of the settlers, because they had no wives to provide stability, had become a bunch of ne'er-do-wells who drank their time away and seldom did a stitch of work.

Unfortunately, the ne'er-do-wells were also having a deep impact on the rest of the settlers. When a substantial number of men spent each day in idleness or were away in the forests or on the plains hunting, it was well-nigh impossible for the rest to be dedicated.

How then to be rid of the riff-raff while holding onto the dedicated settlers? How does one get rid of enough men in such a way that they would not be in breach of their contracts and therefore liable to incarceration while, at the same time, offering the rest another two years on full pay?

Sir George conceived an outrageously clever plan. He persuaded the War Office to conscript volunteers back into the Imperial Army and then to ship them off to save India. As an added inducement, they were also guaranteed their plots in British Kaffraria should they decide to return after quelling the mutiny.

About 45% of the settlers volunteered and, by August 1858, had left British Kaffraria. Unfortunately, some of the really hard-working settlers also signed up -- men like Colonel Wooldridge who had been making outstanding progress with the settlers of the 1st Regiment.

The 55% who remained, however, were those determined to made a success of their settlements. Indeed, with the riff-raff gone, they now stood a better chance. The drastically reduced numbers also made it possible for the Cape Parliament to offer to keep them on full pay.

It was a win-win situation. The ne'er-do-wells left. Most of the hard workers stayed and were kept on full pay. The Imperial Army gained about 1,000 fully trained recruits to throw at the Indians. The military settlement scheme was rescued from imminent collapse.

In the meantime, Sir George had initiated another immigration: to bring German peasant-farming families into British Kaffraria. The soldier-settlers who had remained would become critical to the success of this second wave of immigration, not only protecting them but also supporting them in a strange land.

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