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Panmure &

Arrival of the British German Legion

Keith Tankard
Updated: 14 October 2009
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The military pensioner scheme was stillborn but the War Office had a problem of its own. It had conscripted a Foreign Legion of mainly German soldiers to fight in the Crimean War. The conflict was drawing to a close. What then to do with the soldiers?

They could not be sent home because they would be viewed as traitors for having taken an oath of allegiance to Queen Victoria. The Secretary for War suggested a military settlement in British Kaffraria and Sir George accepted as long as the majority were married. They weren't but were sent anyway.

In January and February 1857, seven Royal Navy transport ships arrived at East London with 2,362 soldiers -- plus just 30 wives and their children, and another 331 "Gentlemen cadets".

They camped for a time at the port before the long march to Fort Murray, where they stayed for two months till the Governor and General von Stutterheim drafted their final plans for military villages across British Kaffraria.

It was planned to locate two villages near East London. The first would be "Cambridge" -- named in honour of Prince George, the Duke of Cambridge and Commander-in-Chief of the British Armed Forces.

The second was located across the Buffalo River from East London. It would be named "Panmure" in honour of Lord Panmure, the Secretary for War. Today the village of Panmure has become East London's C.B.D.

The soldiers were each given a small village plot on which to build a house, plus a one acre plot of "agricultural land". These were at what is today North End, Southernwood and adjacent to the village of Cambridge.

The man who surveyed the sites was none other than Lieutenant George Pomeroy Colley who later -- now a General -- would become famous for dying at the Battle of Majuba during the Anglo-Boer War.

It was not all plain sailing for Lieutenant Colley because the soldiers gave him no end of strife. In the first place, most had already started to construct their wattle-and-daub huts, many of which were not sited on land assigned to them.

Second, their Commander at Panmure refused to co-operate. "When I consulted him," Colley complained, "he didn't care where I put them. The only thing he cared about was that he should choose the two best lots for himself."

The creation of Panmure also resulted in another moment of progress at the port. In February 1858 the Commissariat Department established a pontoon to enable the soldiers to cross the river to East London more easily.

The pontoon was situated where Latimer's Landing is found today. Indeed, the road down from the east bank is still known as Pontoon Road.

The arrival of the German Legion was not a great success for East London other than the establishment of Panmure. Of far greater importance would be the immigration of German agriculturists the following year.

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