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Sir James Alexander

Journey to the Buffalo River mouth
in May 1835

Keith Tankard
Updated: 14 October 2009
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Sir James Alexander was Sir Benjamin D'Urban's aide-de-camp in early 1835, when the 6th Frontier War was in progress. In May that year, he accompanied Lieutenant Colonel Harry Smith on an expedition to the Buffalo River mouth to see whether the spot would be suitable as a harbour for the newly annexed Province of Queen Adelaide.

Sir James recorded the events for posterity, publishing it in his book, Narrative of a Voyage of Observation among the Colonies of Western Africa, in the Flag-Ship Thalia; and of a Campaign in Kaffir-Land, on the Staff of the Commander-in-Chief in 1835, Volume 2 (London, 1837).

[28th May 1835]

"The expedition consisted of six hundred men, as the T'Slambies were said to be collected in force. We left the head-quarter camp on the 28th of May; and at Mount Coke we saw traces of a large and recent bivouack; plenty of spoor of men and horses; the remains of slaughtered cattle; and fires still burning. We passed rapidly with the cavalry along the ridge between the Buffalo and Chalumna rivers in pursuit. At half-past four in the afternoon, the three rifles in advance suddenly dropped on the necks of their horses, wheeled round, and pointing with their carbines said, 'There they are.'

"Every firelock was out of its cover in a moment; and we galloped impetuously onwards to get within musquet range. We were just pulling up to endeavour to scatter the enemy with a volley; when one, out of a clump of horsemen, advanced towards us waving his hand; but it was some time before we recognised the well-known bush-ranger, Lieutenant Moultrie, 75th regiment, in his little blue bonnet, and dusty and torn garments."

[29th May 1835]

"After a severe and wet day's work of thirty-six or forty miles, we bivouacked near the mouth of the Buffalo among Kaffir gardens. Next morning, [men] and cattle were found among the strange sand hills by the sea shore; but by swimming the kine [=cattle] over a creek, they got them clear off. We galloped to the mouth of the Buffalo; and within it found a flat of sand, on which was much spoor of hippopotami, and the river running deep and full under the steep right bank. Upwards it opens out into a fine lake, and is quite unfordable for four miles, to the junction of the fresh and salt water. With beacons on the sand hills at the mouth, the Buffalo promises to be a good port for the new province.

"There are three lines of moderate surf along shore, and an amazing quantity of drift wood on the beach. Many of the boers had never seen the sea before, and were much delighted and surprised; as, indeed, we all were, with the amazing beauty and promise of this part of the new province."

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