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German Settlers to the Eastern Cape

The Panmure and
Cambridge debacle

Keith Tankard
Updated: 14 October 2009
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The hardships examined so far were due to a breakdown in command, misunderstandings and gross incompetence. The situation at Panmure and Cambridge, on the other hand, can be explained in no other way than injustice in its worst form.

The immigrants there were cheated out of their rightful allowance, their contracts flagrantly violated purely because it best suited the British Kaffrarian political philosophy -- a despicable smudge on the morality of the powers-that-be.

The agriculturists were given building lots at Panmure and Cambridge, either taking over houses abandoned by soldiers or being issued new lots. They were also given one acre garden plots further out of town and were sold agricultural land along the ridge overlooking the Nahoon River.

According to their contracts, each married couple should have been offered 20 acres "of good country land" but families with children could buy extra, with teenagers above the age of 14 offered as much as five acres of land each. These were the same conditions as at all the villages in British Kaffraria.

In this way Wilhelm and Elise Bode -- settled at Panmure -- should have been offered 35 acres of land while Daniel and Dorothea Eichorn -- also in Panmure -- were entitled to 37 acres. Johann and Wilhelmine Appel -- settled in Cambridge -- were due 28 acres.

The settlers at both these villages, however, were given only ten acres per family, which was less than half -- and sometimes as little as a quarter -- of that to which they were entitled. To add insult to injury, it was also almost two years before their land began to be surveyed.

When they remonstrated against this injustice, they were informed initially that there was no more land available. Eventually they took their complaint to the Chief Commissioner of British Kaffraria, but he told them that their land was of greater value than at other stations.

The fly in the ointment appears to have been the 1st Clerk in the office of the Deputy Surveyor General for British Kaffraria. It was he who, in June 1859, had taken an arbitrary decision that the land at Panmure and Cambridge should be considered of greater value.

It was his opinion, he said, that the immigrants would not be able to work so much ground. Most probably, he wrote, "not a sod will be turned on many of the allotments while the disposal of the land in some other manner will be taken out of the hands of the Government for some years."

He recommended therefore that a different scale of prices be applied to Panmure and Cambridge to the one used elsewhere in British Kaffraria. The Governor accepted this proposal but conditional to the settlers being offered land at another station if they were not satisfied.

The date on this despatch reveals, however, that nearly eighteen months had already passed since the immigrants had arrived at Panmure and Cambridge. By now they would have established themselves in the belief that they were indeed to receive their full quota of land. It was impossible to move.

It was only after British Kaffraria had been annexed to the Cape Colony in 1865 that Magistrate Matthew Jennings was asked for a legal opinion. He came out in support of the immigrants. Indeed, he said, they were the only class of settlers who appeared desirous of showing what the soil could produce.

The desperate economic situation into which this debacle plunged them meant that the Germans were unable to repay the passage money for their voyage from Germany. For once the Government was prepared to remain patient.

Only in 1871 was East London's magistrate instructed to charge the immigrants with the outstanding amounts but he was also ordered to be understanding. As long as the settlers accepted their responsibility, then new agreements would be signed charging them an interest of 6% per annum.

The Cape's Colonial Secretary wrote that the Government had no desire to interfere "in any way with the progress and prosperity of an industrious class of people." It would seem, however, that they were not given compensation for the shortfall in their land.

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