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German Settlers to the Eastern Cape

Sir George Grey
goes it alone

Keith Tankard
Updated: 14 October 2009
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Henry Labouchere's refusal to consider the peasant farmer scheme was based mainly upon incorrect financial considerations. Such emigrants, he argued, would believe that it would be an assisted immigration and they would hold the Empire to blame when they discovered otherwise.

Although he recognised that the legionnaire scheme was dependent upon finding wives for the soldiers, he nevertheless argued that the peasant families with lots of children would not suffice. Instead, he made arrangements to bring out a single shipload of Irish women to solve everything.

Sir George, however, did not believe that Labouchere had slammed the door. Like Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice, he believed it usual for Colonial Secretaries to reject the addresses of Governors which they secretly meant to accept.

Indeed, sometimes the refusal is applied a second or even a third time. He therefore refrained from answering Labouchere until his plans were so well tied up that he was convinced the Colonial Secretary would applaud them.

He went ahead with his arrangements but allowed for every eventuality -- just in case. What if the Colonial Secretary did mean it when he said, "No!"? How would the scheme be financed so that no one could hold the Empire to ransom? A way around these challenges had to be found.

Sir George formulated a two-pronged approach. First, he charged Parliament itself to authorise an immigration to southern Africa as a whole -- not just to British Kaffraria -- as well as guaranteeing the funding needed to make it all possible. Second, he kept Labouchere in the dark.

What the Governor in fact did was to enable two parallel schemes but each being sealed with the same Act of Parliament. The first would bring German agriculturists into the Cape Colony itself, while the second would populate the German villages of British Kaffraria.

Johann Godeffroy -- tasked with recruiting for both schemes -- was not informed about this dual nature of the immigration. That would be sorted out only when the immigrants reached Cape Town. Indeed, Godeffroy informed recruits only vaguely about a "German colony" in southern Africa.

To counter Labouchere's financial objections, Parliament itself underwrote the venture to the tune of £50,000. The settlers themselves would pay for their own voyages but would be guaranteed a loan -- called a "bounty" -- which they would pay off over ten years but starting only in the fifth year of settling.

The Cape Colony would in turn raise the necessary funds by means of debentures at an interest of 6%, although the money would only be needed should the emigrants renege on their payments. On the other hand, there would be no penalty for default other than non-registration of title to the land.

The entire project was therefore to be self-funded and would cost the Imperial Treasury not a single penny. Indeed, since Parliament took sole responsibility for all financial arrangements, the immigration would also not cost the British Kaffrarian government anything.

Because of the legal and financial implication of the Act of Parliament, it was in fact unnecessary for Sir George to seek permission from the Colonial Office. His eventual despatch to Labouchere in December 1857 was therefore purely a matter of courtesy.

Labouchere, however, looked upon Sir George's actions as outright disobedience and he took immediate steps to cancel the arrangements. This revealed a serious ignorance on the part of the Colonial Secretary who failed even to acknowledge the constitutional powers of the Colonial Parliament.

He also failed to understand that Parliament had undertaken the financial guarantees and that British Kaffraria would not be called upon to pay a penny. His objection -- that British Kaffraria would in fact be drawing money from its annual British subsidy -- was therefore wholly without foundation.

The truth is that Henry Labouchere was himself criminally negligent and his subsequent actions therefore put the very lives of the German immigrants in jeopardy.

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