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German Settlers to the Eastern Cape

Sir George Grey
gets the last laugh

Keith Tankard
Updated: 14 October 2009
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Sir George Grey's immigration scheme could have brought about much of what he had wanted it to achieve. It was torpedoed, however, by an angry Colonial Secretary who believed the Governor was abusing his power and his trust.

As soon as Lord Stanley was informed about how Sir George had made a unilateral decision to bring out German peasant settlers, he attempted to stop the plan in its tracks. He did so by showing Johann Godeffroy the British Kaffrarian financial records to prove that the colony was bankrupt.

In actual fact, the state of British Kaffrarian finances had nothing to do with the immigration scheme. It was the Cape Colony which had guaranteed the money, but the settler families themselves were paying their own way. It was merely a question of loans which would be paid back over time.

The Colonial Secretary, however, did not appear to understand this and he ordered Johann Godeffroy to desist from recruitment. Of course, the shipping magnate could not do that because many immigrants were already at sea and others had sold up and were moving to Hamburg.

Should he renege on the contracts, he would have been morally and financially liable for the chaos which would then follow. He nevertheless allowed Lord Stanley to buy him off with £5,000 for damages but it being conditional that those who had already signed contracts be allowed to proceed.

And yet there is a document housed in the East London museum and dated June 1858 -- a full month after Godeffroy had apparently taken the money and run -- which indicates that the shipping magnate was continuing to recruit more settlers. What is one to make of this?

One must revisit Act 8 of June 1857 in which the Cape's Colonial Parliament had enabled the Governor to seek immigration in the first place. Parliament was a legally constituted entity with full power to pass laws and it did not need the consent of the Colonial Office.

Although its actions had to be signed by the Crown or its representative, it was nevertheless purely good manners for the Governor to inform the Colonial Secretary of the consequences of Parliament's decisions.

It was in terms of Act 8 that the German agricultural immigration had taken place in the first place. The scheme was therefore perfectly legal and Lord Stanley's anger -- as well as his attempt to prevent it -- was misplaced. He had no right to interfere.

Indeed, by doing so, he placed himself in conflict with the lawful actions of the Colonial Parliament. It is quite probable that Sir George Grey knew this perfectly well. He must then have been laughing up his sleeve because the Colonial Office could simply not stop the immigration.

There was no further correspondence between Sir George and Johann Godeffroy. But then again, there was absolutely no need for any more communication. The immigration scheme had already been thrashed out and was now under way.

It merely needed a nod from the Governor to William Berg -- Godeffroy's designated agent in Cape Town -- for the shipping magnate to get the message: pocket the money that the Colonial Office was offering but continue as though nothing had happened.

Godeffroy did exactly that. Six ships set sail from Hamburg, the last being the Johann Caesar which left Germany in October 1858. But more settlers were even then being recruited and in October 1859 another ship embarked for East London.

This was the Victoria with a further 13 families on board, plus another 13 paying passengers. Six weeks later the Peter Godeffroy set sail again for East London, followed once more by the Caesar Godeffroy.

Indeed, between October 1859 and September 1883 no less than 36 ships sailed for southern Africa, bringing hundreds more German families to the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape, British Kaffraria and even Natal.

The number of families arriving at East London during those years made the original settlers look like a dress rehearsal for the real thing. It was only now that the real concentration of German immigrants reached the southern African shores. They arrived, however, with little fanfare.

In July 1858 Sir George Grey had shown a finger to Lord Panmure when he was instructed to put the military settlers on half pay. He had simply thought out an alternative plan which caused half the soldiers to volunteer for service in India, while the Cape Colony itself paid the wages of the rest.

In May 1858 Sir George found himself in the position of quietly showing a finger to Lord Stanley as well. He knew perfectly well that the Colonial Secretary could not stop the immigration but he said nothing.

He merely allowed Johann Godeffroy to pocket a vast sum of money in apparent compensation for a cancelled scheme while keeping the shipping company busy for the next decade in sending out ever more immigrants -- and this time without informing the Colonial Office.

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