South African Military History Society


Newsletter/Nuusbrief 187

April 2020

Matters of General interest.

We held our Annual General Meeting on Monday 9 March and there were no disruptions or unexpected developments! The Committee was once again voted in without change except that Franco and Donna withdrew which is understandable in view of their young family commitments. We would like to thank them sincerely for the active part they have played and may they continue to be enthusiastic members of the society. The problem now is we do not have a Secretary? Who is going to volunteer? It is really not an onerous position

Peter Duffel-Canham volunteered to look after the Social portfolio which he also informs us he intends to include the expansion of our Membership. It is a subject that needs our constant attention for if new members are not attracted and there is no infusion of new blood our branch will wither. Dennis Hibberd presented his financials which were short, to the point and sound in nature. Many thanks Dennis!

A vote of thanks was expressed to our Chairman Malcolm who like a true veteran continues to soldier on and to lead fittingly according to his one-time army rank! Thank you Malcolm for all your efforts.

Since our last meeting in March the Corona Virus has landed and changes are taking place on a daily basis in respect of the impact this infection has or will have on society. We have agreed that that our next meeting will be held in May but that may yet change. We decided not to have a meeting in April as that would have taken place on Easter Monday which in any event is not a suitable day. You will be kept aware of developments.

Member’s Slot - The Great Flu Pandemic of 1918–1919 - By Lynne Crozier

The Spanish Flu infected 500 million people, close to a third of the global population at the time. Estimates on the number of deaths vary between 50 and 100 million or 2-3%[sic] of humanity. This was a pandemic that took more lives than the First World War or the Black Death and it wreaked havoc in only 18 months, from early 1918 to mid 1919. Unlike any other flu epidemic it was the younger 18–49 age group that were particularly vulnerable to the virus, so compounding the losses of the Great War and leaving behind households without breadwinners, communities without workers and thousands of orphans and elderly relatives without support.

The pandemic was devastating because in was a new virus, it appeared during a time of global war and social upheaval, with thousands of soldiers and civilians on the move. Populations were malnourished and living conditions were poor and crowded especially in military camps and hospitals. Authorities were torn between fighting the pandemic and fighting the war. There was no scientific knowledge of virology, no antivirals and importantly no antibiotics to control secondary infection. Of those who died, many succumbed to the virus within 24 hours but most died of pneumonia.

The virus struck in three waves, the first in early 1918, reappearing in august/September1918 in its most deadly form and then again in a milder form in early 1919. The epidemic died out perhaps because survivors had immunity and the more deadly strain had killed off its hosts.

The Spanish flu has been identified as A(H1N1) a virus that passed from bird to man and one which is capable of rapid mutation. Young men and young women, in the prime of life were particularly susceptible to the virus. This was perhaps because they had a stronger immune system which reacted to the virus, killing them in a "cytokine storm" reaction. Another theory is that this generation had been exposed to a different flu virus, the Russian flu of the 1890s and their immune system failed to respond appropriately to H1N1 virus in 1918.

Scientists and historians are interested in the flu's origins and mutations as this helps understanding the dynamics of viral epidemics. It is apparent that the Spanish Flu did not originate on Spain but made its first reported appearance at a US army base in Kansas in March 1918, where 500 men were infected within days and 48 soldiers died, some within 24 hours of falling sick. No precautions were taken to prevent further spread.

In August when it reappeared, in France, Sierra Leone and Boston, USA it had mutated into a more deadly form which swept through the war weary French, British and German armies with devastating effect. The combatant countries did not want to alarm their citizens and suppressed publicity. It was only when the flu struck neutral Spain, infecting even King Alfonso that news broke of the "Spanish Flu"

Recent research raises the possibility that the flu originated in Northern China in 1917 and was brought to the European Front by Chinese labourers employed to do manual work to free up soldiers for the war effort. Chinese academics have refuted this, claiming that the virus was already active in Europe before the war.

It has been argued that the flu turned the tide of war in Europe as the German army and its allies were affected more severely and this was the final blow in an exhausting conflict.

The 1918 flu is classified as a pandemic as it crossed international borders and did so with devastating effect. The movement of soldiers helped spread the virus along transport lines to all parts of the world with some of the most remote areas most heavily affected. Samoa lost 22% of its population.

The flu reached South Africa in 2 waves. The first mild form came through Durban in early September 1918 and spread through Natal to the Witwatersrand. Within two weeks thousands of mineworkers were affected. The second wave was the virulent strain of the virus and it came via two ships calling in at Sierra Leone on the way to Cape Town. The ships docked in Cape Town on the 13th September and within 6 weeks an estimated 300 000 to 500 000 South Africans were dead.

Busy harbours and well-developed railways together with the migrant labour system ensured that the entire country was affected. However, Natal suffered less, perhaps because the earlier exposure to a milder form provided immunity.


The Main Talk - The Military role of the 1820 Settlers by Andre Crozier:

By 1801 there had already been 3 Frontier wars between the Boer farmers and the Xhosa over the Zuurveld. The Zuurveld (the land between the Sundays and the Great Fish Rivers) was “… a disputed region, rather than a simple boundary line, a frontier … under constant pressure of colonialization from either side. In this sense the entire Zuurveld can be regarded as the Eastern Frontier of the Cape - a region so crowded with events and so consistently in flux that the movements of Xhosa, Khoi and colonists blur into a confusing tapestry of action” (Hunt and Bryer, page 9)

Successive British governments after 1806 tried to enforce segregation as the cure to the frontier problems. In the Fourth Frontier War 1811-12 the Governor, Sir John Cradock, ordered Colonel John Graham to drive the Xhosa out of the area and across the Fish River.

Thereafter a line of blockhouses and garrisons was established stretching from Cradock to Grahamstown. But these measures could not stop the Xhosa from continuing to cross the frontier nor persuade the Boer farmers to return to their abandoned farms.

Lord Charles Somerset arrived as the governor of the Cape in 1813. He was aware of the proposal by Colonel Graham of securing the frontier by way of mass immigration to the Zuurveld of Scottish Highlanders who had themselves been evicted from their homes.

To solve the problem of continuous cattle raiding Somerset met with Chief Ngqika on 2 April 1817 on the banks of the Kat River (a tributary of the Great Fish) and seemingly got Chief Ngqika to agree to a reprisal system, in terms of which stolen cattle would be tracked to the kraal and the thieves would be punished by their chief.

However Ngqika did not have control of all the chiefs in the area despite being the most senior chief and his authority was being challenged by his uncle, Chief Ndlambe.

Feeling that he had successfully solved the frontier problem Somerset encouraged the idea of mass immigration in his correspondence with London. He famously described the Zuurveld as “a succession of parks from the Bushmans to the Great Fish River…” and “as a very fine country upon which to employ a multitude of settlers”.

Somerset was well aware of the dangers and in one of his letters warned that “… settlers should be aware that their property will be, in some measure, exposed … to be plundered by their restless neighbours unless their own vigilance and courage shall considerably aid in protecting it …”

In October 1818 Chief Ngqika was defeated by his uncle Ndlambe at battle of Amalinde and with his defeat Somerset’s spoor system soon collapsed and the border situation deteriorated.

On the 12 July 1819 the British Parliament approved the emigration scheme to the Cape of Good Hope seemingly unaware that there had been a surprise attack on Graham’s Town on the 22 April 1819 and that the Fifth Frontier War was taking place.

By the end of the Fifth Frontier War the Xhosa had been driven beyond the Keiskamma River. Somerset met again with Ngqika and advised of his new plan. This was to move the boundary of the colony to the Keiskamma River and to keep the area between the Great Fish and Keiskamma (the so called Ceded Territory) as an unoccupied buffer zone.

Once again feeling satisfied that he had secured the frontier Somerset returned to Cape Town and then went on leave for 2 years to England. The scene had now been set for the arrival of the British Settlers and the creation of a living Maginot Line between Grahamstown and the sea.

The Settlers started to arrive as from the 6 April 1820. Initially there were about 4000 but eventually there were almost 5000 settlers. They came in 60 different parties and were brought out on naval transports equipped to take British soldiers to India. The composition was 56% adults (36% men and 20% women) and 44 % children. As Somerset was on leave it was left to his temporary replacement, Major General Sir Rufane Donkin, to manage the arrival of the settlers. He made various decisions to alleviate the plight of the settlers most of which were overruled by Somerset on his return. The settlers were not brought over as soldiers but as prospective farmers. Albany had been divided into locations by the Government Surveyor, J.Knobel, who tried to give each location some access to water. However when one looks at the positioning of the locations it is clear that the real intention was to create a barrier along the frontier between Grahamstown and the sea.

It did not take the settlers long after their arrival to find that they had been misled. The land was not suitable for agriculture. Cattle raising was the only possibility but cattle thieving was ever present. Many settlers became destitute and had to abandon their allotments and move to Grahamstown or Cape Town.

Trading with the Xhosa became a way to survive but Somerset frowned on this trade as it was against his policy of maintaining unoccupied neutral ground between the Colony and the Xhosa. Donkin had approved the creation of a Military Settlement at Fredericksburg (near the coast and mid-way between the Keiskamma and the Fish) in May 1821. Land was to be allocated to members of the disbanded Royal African Corps and their presence was intended to discourage Xhosa raids into the Albany. Somerset promptly reversed this decision on his return from leave as being a breach of the neutrality of the Ceded Territory.

The vacillations in official policy started to affect the frontier relations. Theft of settler cattle and iron harrows for use in ploughs became common. Then on August 1822 two boys of the Wilson Party, Thomas Donavan (11) and Mark Sloman (8) were killed whilst herding cattle.

Fear of an all-out attack rose but calls to Cape Town for military reinforcements were refused on the grounds that the settlers had only themselves to blame because they were trading with the Xhosa.

Resentment started to grow amongst the Settlers as they started to realise the predicament they were in. Then on the 4 October 1822 Somerset issued a proclamation creating the Albany Levy and thereby commenced the military involvement of the settlers in defending the frontier.

The Albany Levy consisted of one troop of 50 mounted settlers from Grahamstown and a similar one from Bathurst and 5 companies of infantry of 100 men each. (600men in total)There are no formal records of the Albany Levy other than the writings of Jeremiah Goldswain and Rev H H Dugmore.Jeremiah Goldswain wrote that all the Settlers were ordered to report to the Field Cornet to be sworn in as soldiers and issued with a gun and ammunition. Thereafter there was training for one day every 2 weeks for which they received no pay. In 1825 the Albany Levy was disbanded as a cost saving measure.

However shortly after disbandment the Albany Levy were deployed in relays of 25 men to guard Kaffir Drift on the Great Fish River. This was because the regular troops were being deployed towards Fort Beaufort to counter the rumoured invasion of the Xhosa lands by the Zulu.

At the same time 180 settlers, including Jeremiah Goldswain, were deployed to Fort Beaufort to take part in an action against a tribe known as the Fecani who in turn were fleeing from the Zulus and marauding on the way.On 5 July 1828 Colonel Henry Somerset sent out a mounted party under Major William Dundas, landrost of Albany, to scout far beyond the Kei River to find out the movements of the Fecani and the Zulu. Dundas included in the party 31 Burghers and 12 Settlers.

From the above it can be seen that as from 1822 the Settlers began to be used in support of the regular troops.From 1828 to 1834 the pattern of raids and attacks on the farms and homes of Settlers intensified.

Then on the 21 December 1834 there was a general invasion of the colony by the Xhosa. From the Winterberg to the sea Xhosa warriors invaded in such force that the settlers abandoned their farms and fled to Bathurst and to Grahamstown. Everything that had been built up over 14 years since 1820 was destroyed. Over 456 farmhouses were burnt down and 300 were pillaged and 12000 cattle, 5700 horses and 162000 sheep and goats driven off. (Hockley Page 120)

The entire frontier was abandoned to the invading Xhosa. Some raiding parties went as far as the Sundays River and almost to Uitenhage. Settler morale was at its lowest. The regular troops were little interested in civilian protection and stood to arms in their own forts and strong points.The Settlers sort refuge at Bathurst and from there they moved to Grahamstown. Perimeter defences was set up in Grahamstown by a Committee of Safety.There was an attempted attack on the night of 1 January 1835

Meanwhile news had reached Governor Sir Benjamin D’Urban in Cape Town and he dispatched Colonel Sir Harry Smith to take control. Smith chose to ride by horse rather than come by sea. He covered the 600 miles in six days at an average of 14 miles per hour. In itself a remarkable feat.On arrival in Grahamstown Harry Smith immediately resolved that a static defence could not restore the situation. Harry Smith imposed Martial Law by proclamation on 7 January 1835.

Then by proclamation on the 12 January 1835 he created unit called the Graham’s Town Volunteers. It would consist of 4 companies of infantry, one company of sharpshooters and one troop of Cavalry. A professional soldier, Captain Sparks, who happened to be in Grahamstown on leave, was appointed as the commanding officer.

One of the company commanders was Major TC White who was killed on the Bashee River on 14 May 1835 and a plaque in his memory in the Grahamstown Cathedral.

By the 23 May 1835 the situation had sufficiently stabilised for the unit to be stood down together with the Burgher forces that had been called up.

In 1846 the frontier was again in turmoil with the start of the Seventh Frontier War- the War of the Axe. The frontier was again overrun by marauding Xhosa. The Graham’s Town Volunteers had re-emerged as the Graham’s Town Yeomanry being a cavalry unit with Captain J D Norden, a prominent Jewish Settler, as the Commanding Officer. Together with another irregular unit known as the Stubbs Sporting Club they helped to drive the marauders out of Albany.

Captain Norden was killed on May 1846 in a kloof near Woest Hill, 10 miles from Grahamstown, whilst leading the Yeomanry and the Sporting Club against a group of Xhosa in the area. There is also a plaque in his memory in the Grahamstown Cathedral.

Although working together with the regulars in the British Army there was enmity and distrust between the professional soldiers and the Settlers.

“The bad feeling was never so apparent than during the years 1835 to 1850. The citizens regarded the regular soldiers with their spit and polish as being useless against the Xhosa warrior and the soldiers regarded the volunteers as an unruly mob and made no attempt to hide their scorn.”(Griffiths page 14)

As from 1822 the Settlers played an increasing military role in securing their property and the frontier. However because of the enmity and distrust referred to above the Settlers in general preferred to organise their own irregular units which will be discussed in another talk.


Our next meeting – Monday 11 May – 19,30hrs – EPVCC – Cunningham Road. The Speakers Programme will be advised to you well in advance


Chairman: Malcolm Kinghorn
Scribe (newsletter):Ian Pringle.

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South African Military History Society /