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German Settlers to the Eastern Cape

Lord Panmure's

Keith Tankard
Updated: 14 October 2009
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Contrary to accepted belief, the concept of a German peasant emigration did not originate from Sir George Grey but rather from Lord Panmure, and from Professor Franz Demmler of the Royal Military College at Sandhurst whom Panmure had commissioned to investigate the legionnaire emigration.

The idea of soldier-settlers alone would never work, the Professor advised. Mercenary soldiers were by nature men who had joined the army to make a profit from war. There was no recorded case of soldiers becoming successful settlers, although settlers did at times become good soldiers.

Even putting aside their chosen profession, soldier-settlers would simply not have enough knowledge or experience to become successful agriculturists. They needed to be taught, and who better to teach them but an equal number of peasant families settled alongside them?

The concept was logical. Furthermore, it had initially been believed that some 8,000 legionnaires would settle in British Kaffraria but this number had been drastically reduced to just over 2,300. There was therefore plenty of room for an equal number of peasant farmer families.

The idea of so many bachelor soldiers on the frontier was also fraught with danger. There would simply be no stability in such a group. Peasant families in their midst, on the other hand, would not only provide stability but the female children would become future wives for the soldiers.

So enthused was Lord Panmure that he went ahead and consulted German shipping magnate Johann Godeffroy, instructing him to start the groundwork for such an emigration. Godeffroy, in turn, made contact with William Berg in Cape Town and gave him power to negotiate with Sir George.

This all happened as early as November 1856, long before Sir George Grey himself became aware of the idea. He should then have been notified almost immediately because Colonial Secretary Henry Labouchere drafted a despatch explaining the plan to him and enclosing Lord Panmure's message.

The despatch was given to Baron von Stutterheim for delivery to the Governor. Because the Baron was to journey to Cape Town aboard H.M.S. Vulcan -- a steam vessel -- he should have delivered his package to Sir George by the end of December.

The Vulcan, however, was unexpectedly delayed at Sierra Leone when a legionnaire and two legionnaire wives jumped ship. He therefore reached Cape Town after the others, and long after Sir George had discovered for himself the drastically reduced legionnaire party, as well as the lack of women.

Then a strange thing happened. Sir George journeyed with the Baron to East London and one would have expected them to discuss Lord Panmure's plan. They didn't -- which indicates that Sir George delayed reading Labouchere's despatches till after he and the Baron had already parted company.

He thereupon wrote to the Baron begging his ideas before penning an enthusiastic response to Labouchere. Since the Colonial Secretary had indicated he was open to suggestions, it is understandable that Sir George believed the idea was acceptable.

What Sir George had in mind were the numerous teenage daughters in the settler families. Indeed, they could have expected in excess of 500 such teenage girls who would grow up in the legionnaire villages and provide the incentive for the soldiers to market themselves to the girls through hard work.

Unfortunately, Sir George took it for granted that Labouchere had already thought about the teenage girls and so he failed to emphasize that argument. The Colonial Secretary, on the other hand, thought the Governor was referring to little children and he was therefore rudely dismissive of the plan.

Labouchere appears also to have been miffed when Sir George spoke about his reneging on the promise of legionnaire wives. It is possible too that there was petty jealousy between Labouchere and Lord Panmure. Whatever the case, he slammed the door on this immigration plan.

Or so he thought.

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