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History of East London

Sir George Grey's
military pensioners

Settlement for thousands of retired army officers

Keith Tankard
Updated: 14 October 2009
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The Eastern Cape frontier remained an expensive thorn in the British Treasury's side. Indeed, the Mlanjeni War had cost more than £1 million per year. Warfare simply had to stop.

The Cape merchants were partially to blame for the outbreak of hostilities and so it was considered expedient to establish Representative Government for the Cape Colony, thus making the colonists responsible for their own wars.

Sir George Grey in turn produced a plan to make Black Englishmen of the amaXhosa. They must speak English, wear English clothing, worship an English God in English churches and use English money. That way, they would no longer want to wage war.

To achieve this, he planned major public works, while importing Church of England missionaries to weave their magic on the amaXhosa.

Central to his plans, however, was an immigration scheme of some 5,000 retired army officers and their families who would foster the English language and culture, and could be deployed instantly to maintain the peace. The presence of wives and children would also afford them a sense of responsibility.

The scheme needed an outlay of at least £45,000 per year -- but how to persuade a cash-strapped British Treasury to part with so much money when it was already funding the Crimean War?

Sir George achieved this by warning of yet another impending conflict whose magnitude would make the Mlanjeni War pale into insignificance. The Colonial Office trembled in fear and promised £40,000 per year -- on condition that the Cape contributed £5,000.

The Governor knew very well that the Cape would never agree and so he played a sleight-of-hand trick to make it look as if the Cape was indeed paying when in fact it wasn't. This plan involved East London.

The port had been annexed to the Cape Colony in 1848 for the purpose of collecting customs revenue. As the years passed, however, nothing was done for its return to British Kaffraria.

Sir George was well aware of growing anger that the customs revenue, which should by rights have been going to British Kaffraria, was in fact being syphoned off to the Cape.

East London's Collector of Customs, Matthew Jennings -- who was never one to guard his tongue -- stated quite bluntly that it was "certain gentlemen in Cape Town" who prevented the port's being returned to British Kaffraria.

"One thing is certain," he wrote, "East London must be the port of British Kaffraria and its customs revenue become British Kaffrarian revenue, or else the Cape Government must make an annual compensation."

Sir George was perfectly happy to return the customs revenue which was calculated at £5,000 annually -- exactly the sum which Britain was demanding the Cape pay as its contribution to British Kaffraria.

Everyone was happy. British Kaffraria would be scoring £45,000. The Colonial Office was overjoyed that the Cape was at last shouldering some responsibility. The Cape, on the other hand, was actually paying sweet nothing but simply allowing British Kaffraria to collect its own customs revenue.

The immigration scheme collapsed, however, because there were so few volunteers. Instead, the Colonial Office devised another plan which would more than double East London's current population.

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