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Kennaway Girls &
German farmers

A multitude of broken promises

Keith Tankard
Updated: 14 October 2009
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The military settler scheme could have been a remarkable success but it had major problems.

Sir George Grey had wanted families but had been sent mostly bachelor soldiers. Since there was a dramatic shortage of women on the frontier and since men think mostly about sex, how could such a settlement succeed?

Furthermore, the soldiers had joined the army to fight, not to farm. With no women to provide an atmosphere of responsibility -- and with neither knowledge nor interest in agriculture -- what incentive was there to make a success of farming?

Sir George therefore turned to another scheme to augment the first: to bring out thousands of German peasant farmer families to settle in the villages alongside the soldiers.

His logic was sound. The agriculturists could teach the soldiers to farm, and the latter would protect them. The many teenage girls in these families would then spur the bachelor soldiers to be industrious and become marketable for these young women.

The Colonial Office, however, objected and decided instead to persuade young Irish women to emigrate and become wives for the soldiers. This was the Lady Kennaway project which failed hopelessly in its purpose.

Only 153 women volunteered -- far too few for more than 2,000 bachelor soldiers -- and ironically very few women actually married a former legionnaire. The scheme is therefore largely remembered for another reason: the dramatic wrecking of their ship soon after all had disembarked.

Sir George went ahead with his agriculturist scheme and commissioned a German shipping magnate -- Johann Godeffroy -- to recruit thousands of families. In keeping with his deceptive ways, however, the Governor only informed the Colonial Office after the arrangements had been finalised.

The Colonial Secretary was angry and attempted to halt the scheme, offering Godeffroy £5,000 compensation. Godeffroy took the money but it was impossible to halt the emigration. Several ships were already at sea and hundreds of families had already sold up. They could not be sent home.

In any case, the scheme had the nod from an Act of the Cape's Parliament. It was legal and did not need Colonial Office approval. Although there was a temporary pause after the first six ships arrived, the German immigration would quickly recommence.

Indeed, soon thereafter ship after ship would be plying their way to East London, carrying more and more immigrants -- right through to the early-1880s.

The initial agricultural scheme, however, carried the hallmarks of a tragedy. It had not been properly planned and the families were much poorer than envisioned. They needed economic support but were given little.

Furthermore, the families were made to wait months -- sometimes years -- before being apportioned their land. Many families were then given far less than had been pledged in the contracts.

Those around East London were the hardest hit. They should have been given a minimum of 20 acres, plus another two to three acres for each child. Those at Panmure and Cambridge, however, were given just 10 acres -- and the price was exorbitant.

Instead of creating a prosperous new class of land-owners, the agriculturist scheme produced only a vast population of poor people. Indeed, it would take a couple of generations for them to recover from all the broken promises.

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