South African Military History Society


Newsletter/Nuusbrief 194

November 2020

Our zoom meetings continue to attract appreciative audiences and at our last meeting we had no less than 50 participants, which is a record. The talk by Eric Kelly on “The Great Sea Trek” was exceptional and very well received.

Three members of our branch met recently to discuss the possibility of an excursion to Kimberley and Bloemfontein. First mooted by Andre Crozier, who has a cousin in Kimberley, he has been joined by Ian Pringle and Peter Duffell-Canham in the organisation of the trip. The idea is to spend the first night in the vicinity of Hopetown and to initially cover the well-known conflicts that took place south of Kimberley during the Anglo Boer War. Two further nights will then be spent in this city before we relocate to Bloemfontein to spend another two nights.

The latter has some iconic sites and a visit to the Women’s Monument and the War Museum of the Boer Republics may be termed a visit to the Holy Grail. We have been in touch with SAMHSEC member Arnold van Dyk in Bloemfontein, who is an acknowledged expert on the Anglo Boer War and he has provided a considerable selection of sites to visit. It is a pity that we will only have two full days at our disposal! At this stage, 16 members have indicated an interest in the venture which we plan to take place in the second quarter of 2021. We will await the date of the municipal elections and plan the trip to avoid any clash with this event.

The Great Sea Trek 1819-1820 by Eric Kelly

The presentation made to SAMHSEC on 12 October 2020, available in the SAMHS Zoom Library,

Putting the Scheme in motion:

In the year 1819 the needs of the Cape Colony and of Great Britain, happily or unhappily, coincided. In Britain, the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars resulted in considerable unemployment as well as intense agitation for political reform. (This agitation was to culminate in August 1819, in the notorious Peterloo Massacre in Manchester). At the same time, on the threatened eastern border of the colony known as the Cape of Good Hope, there was a dearth of colonists. The Governor of the Cape, Lord Charles Somerset, was keen to settle the surplus population from Britain on the border bounded by the Great Fish River. He hoped that such colonists would act as a buffer between the Xhosa tribes beyond the Fish River and the interior of the Colony. It was John Graham who initially suggested bringing Scottish highlander crofters to settle on the frontier. Somerset warmed to this as a general idea and put it to the British Government

On Wednesday 13th July 1819, the Times of London reported a debate in Parliament under the title: The Cape of Good Hope.

“The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Vansittart) said he had to propose another address, to the object of which he should briefly call the attention of the House. The Right Hon Gentleman then adverted to the attempts which had been made to induce persons disposed to emigrate to settle at the Cape of Good Hope; and stated that he proposed the present address for the purpose of enabling government to give that encouragement on a larger scale. He conceived that this Colony held out greater inducements to emigrants than any of the colonies of North America; because persons when once fixed on the soil of the Cape of Good Hope, would always find themselves in possession of the means of subsistence, while the genial mildness of the climate and the fertility of the soil rendered little culture necessary. The principal place chosen for the reception of emigrants was on the south-east coast and possessed a good harbour. It certainly was not proposed to carry out persons wholly destitute of the means of providing for themselves……a small deposit would therefore be required from them before leaving this country [Great Britain] as a security for their providing for themselves when they arrived at the Colony. The country was particularly favourable for the growing of various sorts of fruit; and upon the whole there could be no doubt that persons as soon settled, would find themselves comfortable. He concluded by moving an address for a sum, not exceeding 50,000 pounds to be issued from time to time, under such regulations as might be thought necessary, for the encouragement of persons disposed to settle in His Majesty’s colony at the Cape of Good Hope…….The motion was agreed to.”

You will notice that apart from reference to the south-east coast, there is no specific location mentioned. A later Circular of 13th August, still rather vague, stated that “the settlers will be located in the interior of the colony not far from the coast; and in allotting to them the lands, which Government have agreed to grant them, their interests and their wishes will be consulted and attended to as far as may be consistent with the public interests of the colony.” Those who were responsible for the planning of this whole enterprise had only the haziest background knowledge and so were not in a position to answer the questions posed by prospective settlers. William Aldred, who was to sail in the Garland with his wife and 5 children, wrote to Lord Bathurst, the Secretary of State: “I take the liberty of writing to you respecting the advertisement I saw in the paper concerning the Encouragement for people to go to the Cape of Good Hope but I should wish to have the particulars.”

Reports appeared in the Times of 17th July about the emigration scheme:

1] An official circular was issued by Downing Street outlining the conditions “under which it is proposed to give encouragement to emigration to the Cape of Good Hope”. The money voted by Parliament was to be advanced only to “those persons who, possessing the means, will engage to carry out, at the least, ten able-bodied individuals above 18 years of age, with or without families, the Government always reserving to itself the right of selecting from the several offers made to them, those which may prove, upon examination, to be the most eligible”. A deposit of 10 pounds for every family was to be made by each party leader (a family being no more than one man, one woman and two children under 14 years of age). A further 5 pounds deposit was to be made for every additional two children under 14, and 5 pounds for every person between to ages of 14-18. For this deposit, a passage would be provided by the Government, by whom they would also be victualled from the time of their embarkation until the time of being landed in the colony. The Government would cease providing food from the time of landing when one third of the deposit would be repaid. A further third of the deposit would be returned when the settlers were located on the land under the direction of the party leader. The remaining third would be repaid three months after settling on their land.

The grant of land was made to the party leader at the rate of 100 acres for every person or family taken out. It was also possible for any parish to choose a leader to take out unemployed persons, the parish being responsible for the deposit as outlined. The parish council could make such conditions “as may be calculated to prevent the parish becoming again chargeable with the maintenance of such settlers, in the event of their return to this country”. Settlers in this category would have to give their explicit consent to go.

It is interesting to add that where any 100 families went out together and applied to have a Minister of Religion accompanying them, his salary would be paid by the Government. I notice also that on 30th November the Board of Transport expressed its determination that “each of the vessels allotted for the conveyance of emigrants to the Cape shall be furnished with 10 Bibles and 10 Prayer Books for their use during the voyage”.

The title to the 100 acres of land would be granted to the Settler after 3 years, a perpetual quit rent not exceeding 2 pounds for every 100 acres being charged. In the event of the land being abandoned, title would then revert to the Government.

It was further stated that settlers would be able to purchase a limited quantity of agricultural implements in the colony at cost, as well as seed corn. Settlers were not debarred from taking implements with them from Britain.

It is estimated that some 90 000 applications were received, but most of them did not realise that the Government would only choose the heads of parties and not the individual emigrants. The settlers would be chosen by the heads of parties authorised to do so. It was impossible to reply to each enquiry, so on 13th August an official Circular issued by the Colonial Department was printed in the Times of London. The settlers were warned that there would be no ‘habitations’ ready for their reception. The new settlement was to be governed according to the laws already in force in the colony.

2] A leader column in The Times, after outlining the contents of the scheme, had this comment: “Such are the outlines of the system which the Government intends to proceed with, in forming the new colony at the Cape. The precautions thus taken will obviate many of the difficulties encountered by those who go to the United States in the vague hope of finding abundance and enjoyment of a free government and immediate relief from British taxation. It may be made a question whether, under the existing laws of settlement in this country [Britain], any parish can say to its poor, ‘we will give you a certain sum and you shall never more be troublesome to us.’ An emigrant might soon discover that an African climate and colonial habits were injurious to his health and detrimental to his little comforts. By his bargain with the parish officers, he must remain where he is located because a return to his previous life is not merely a serious work and labour, but an absolute impracticality. He may die if he remains; he must starve if he returns”.

The most impressive thing about the whole emigration enterprise was the efficiency and care with which it was undertaken. Someone likened the Civil Service to a Rolls Royce engine: once started up and put into gear, it moved smoothly and powerfully towards its goal in six months. And as Neville Long records: ‘….it was …a great accomplishment in its time. Not least is the fact that every movement, decision, and expense is recorded in the Archives at Kew.’

All this work was undertaken by the Colonial Secretary, with two other political appointees at the head, nine clerks, a librarian and a translator. As we have already seen, once Parliament had spoken on 12th July, the wheels started turning. Five days later, a Circular appeared in the Times outlining the scheme. This was sent to all enquirers. Eight days later, a letter was dispatched to the Governor of the Cape, Lord Charles Somerset, but he would not receive this information until three months later, in late October. Somerset also had six months in which to complete preparations for the reception of the settlers. Almost every day, until the last ship sailed, letters moved between that office and the ports of embarkation, and between the heads of parties and the various officials concerned. The postal system, or what passed for such a system, by the daily coach from London to various destinations, was obviously in its way efficient and reliable. The whole undertaking was nothing short of amazing!

By mid-October, the Navy Board was instructed by the Colonial Office to provide the required ships for transporting the settlers to the Cape. In the event of there not being a sufficient number of vessels available, the Board was to consider chartering private vessels, in consultation with Mr. Buckle, who was Chairman of the Ship Owners’ Society.

The estimated cost of shipping the emigrants was: a cabin passenger, 40 pounds each (very few cabins available); steerage passengers 12 pound each. The cabins were as a rule reserved for the leaders of parties taking out 50 or more families. In some cases, the cabins were given over to “females above the class of common settler”.

Every ship would be supplied with medicines. These would be in the care of the doctors on board. They would also be available to the settlers after landing. The settlers would be responsible for paying for any medical services rendered while on board. A surgeon, Dr Robert Currie, who was going out as a settler, in reply to his enquiry about payment for his services was informed on 18th Nov: “that it was not the intention of Government to make any allowance to the medical men … for their advice and assistance to their fellow passengers; assurance having been received by the Secretary of State from most of them, of their willingness to give the same gratuitously”.

The supply of medicines and medical comforts to the ships was to be “in the same proportion as would be issued to convict ships having on board similar numbers”. Dr O’Flinn, the surgeon in the Baillie party, had written requesting surgical instruments together with midwifery instruments. The Victualling Board pointed out that all instruments (except midwifery instruments) “are provided by the Surgeons of convict ships at their own expense”, and therefore it would not be justified in providing them to Dr O’Flinn. However, as this was a particular emigration scheme it was felt justified and proper to provide midwifery instruments. “In consequence of the great number of married women that are going, it is considered indispensably necessary that a supply of midwifery instruments should be supplied to each ship”.

Dr O’Flinn was not to be crushed. On 27th Nov he wrote to the Agent for Transports, who in turn passed the letter to the Victualling Board, acknowledging receipt of his chest of medicines, but complaining that the quantities were not sufficient. “I beg leave to state that we have six pregnant women on board and several children who have the whooping cough, also several labouring under severe catarrh, which render a good stock of Ipecacuanha, castor oil and blistering plaister indispensable. The constipation which persons first going to sea are very subject to renders it necessary to have a good supply of aperients pills, as the other purgatives are too nauseous for persons labouring under sea sickness…..I must add that the general stock is extremely scanty, considering that we shall want them not only on our voyage, but after landing. I must also add that the ‘Apothecaries Hall’ are highly culpable in having sent neither a glass nor a Wedgwood mortar and only one glass measure; nor do I understand why they omitted oxymuriate of mercury so necessary in eruptive diseases, kali purum for caustic illness. Dropsy being common at the Cape, an ounce or two of elaterium would be very useful”. Dr O’Flinn received some of the medicines he requested/ but had to content himself with a metal and a marble pestle and mortar (as were commonly supplied to the convict ships!)

The Navy Board made every effort to make the journey to the Cape as comfortable as possible, but for most passengers there was no privacy. All the men were curtained off in one section of the lower deck, and the women in another. In the fine weather, many of the men slept on deck beneath the stars. The wealthier and more aristocratic passengers were assigned the few cabins available. A passenger aboard the John, which sailed from Liverpool, wrote later that “the Government has laid us under everlasting obligations in fitting out the ships in so superior a manner, every necessary provision is made that can be expected at sea, and the people have ample provisions, grog etc. that ever their hearts can wish for, and a very great proportion are infinitely better provided for on board a ship than they could possibly expect in their late homes in old England”.

And what of food? On 10th November the Commissioners for Victualling were told by the Treasury to “put on board the vessels, which may be taken up by the Commissioners of the Navy for conveying settlers to the Cape of Good Hope, such quantities of provisions as may be necessary for the use of the settlers to be embarked, according to the ration usually issued to His Majesty’s troops, when on board transports”. This was later changed to two-thirds of a seaman’s allowance. It was emphasized again and again that women and children should not be supplied with spirits, but with tea and sugar in lieu thereof, in quantities “similar to those furnished to female convict ships”.

Thos. Stubbs in his Reminiscences remembered “the rations consisted of hard salt beef the sailors said had been three voyages to India; rusty salt pork; hard mouldy biscuit, oatmeal for burgoo [porridge], a little sago, cocoa, and sugar. I and my brother used to exchange salt pork for sugar, mix it with vinegar and soak the biscuit. We called it vinegar scouse, we did not get fat on it”. The menu for the wealthy settlers was of course very different as they brought their own supplies on board. For instance, Thomas Philipps wrote just after the Crossing of the Line ceremony, “Our dinner consisted of a tureen of fresh beef and carrots in Soup, from a case that was packed in 1818, consequently it was 2 years old, and tasted as good as when freshly put in … and a large plum pudding.” On another occasion he wrote: “Charlotte made her first appearance on deck, she had previously dined off part of a roast fillet of Veal, packed 26 months ago. These are admirable things, and no one should go to sea without them and soups … they are infinitely preferable to livestock, however our fowls are not amiss and they furnish us with a fresh egg every morn”. It was clearly alright for some!

Henry Dugmore reminisced “I remember the close packing ‘between decks’, the ‘banyan days’ (meatless days), and the hard salt junk and harder biscuit…I have not forgotten how salt the outside of the puddings used to taste which the old weather-beaten cook had boiled with sea water in the general ‘copper’, nor how the passengers sometimes quarreled with the steward for cheating them out of the supplies”. Another emigrant aboard the John commented: “On the passage the health and comfort of the settlers were provided for in every possible manner: tea, sugar, cocoa, lime juice, etc. were provided in sufficient quantities for those in health, and wine, preserved meats with other medical comforts for the sick”.


By November 1819 sixty parties had been formed under the leaders recognised by the Government and these groups varied in size between 15 (smallest) and 344 (largest). There were also a few individual settlers paying their own passages, but claiming grants of land. The total number of settlers was 4000: made up of 2250 adults (1455 men/795 women) and 1750 children (960 boys/790 girls). Bearing in mind that the objective of the settlement was to settle and then farm the land, it is worth noting that of the adult male settlers, only 42% were familiar with farming and country pursuits; of the rest, 32% were skilled artisans and mechanics; 12% had engaged in commerce and trade; 5% had experience of the army, navy and seafaring; 4% were of the professions (e.g. doctors and surgeons = 19; clergymen = 4); and 5% were unspecified and miscellaneous. With hindsight, it would appear that the ultimate success of the whole colonising scheme resulted directly from the great diversity of skills and talents of those who comprised the settler body.

In fact, the Settlers represented a remarkably comprehensive cross-section of society in Regency Britain. The only groups missing were the aristocratic landowners, the big men of the new industry and commerce and depressed Irish Catholic peasantry. They were of all types and callings. Some brought their servants, a few their carriages, while some came at their own expense. Others brought their horses or other farm livestock; the Philipps even had their greyhounds on board. The Duke of Newcastle helped to send a party of unemployed from Nottingham. In a letter to his sister, Thos. Philipps was most critical when he wrote: “Bradshaw from Cam in Glostershire, he is an obliging farmer and takes out a party from the parish, a most horrid dirty set and the pest of the ship. Government has been imposed upon by Parliamentary interest, however it is well perhaps for the Colony to have a stock of Labourers, they have 36 children … ”

There was no guarantee that those with the most capital and the highest hopes would in the end be any more successful than a humble artisan with determination and enterprise. What they all had in common was the same hunger for land. This is best summed up in those very poignant words of Henry Dugmore: “…We must take root and grow or die where we stand. But we were standing on our own ground, and it was the first time many could say so”.

But different as were their backgrounds, the Settlers would level and intermarry and intermarry again, till they were thoroughly intermixed. Indeed, many firm friendships and many lasting enmities were formed by the claustrophobic existence of life on a sailing ship; some of those friendships were later to become more lasting still within the marriage bond. For instance, on board the Stentor, the Long and Richardson families became inseparable, and 15 years later Emma Richardson and Jeremiah Long were married in Grahamstown Cathedral (12th May 1835). 21 ships were required to transport the settlers to the Cape. They averaged 400 tons apiece. These ships were sent to various convenient ports where the emigrants could embark. The ports were:

-London [Deptford Docks] – 8 [11] (Nautilus, Chapman, Aurora, Belle Alliance, Brilliant, Ocean, Zoroaster, Sir Geo Osborne,[Garland/Canada/Dowson]);

-Portsmouth – 4 (Northampton, Weymouth, Amphitrite, Duke of Marlborough);

-Liverpool – 3 (Stentor, John, Albury);

-Bristol – 1 (Kennersley Castle);

-Cork – 2 (Fanny, East Indian).

By mid-November letters were received by heads of parties directing them to report at designated ports of embarkation preparatory to sailing. On 5th December the first ship – Nautilus – sailed; and it was to be January 12th before the last ships eventually sailed from Liverpool. The weather had not cooperated; the Thames had frozen over and so had the Mersey at Liverpool, where the parties had already been on board for 5 weeks and two days when they eventually sailed……!

And so the time came for that final parting from the old country. John Montgomery [aged 17], an Irish widow’s son, in his Reminiscences later wrote: “I returned to the house. When I entered my mother was seated at her worktable. I stood before her with my stick and gloves, and said, ‘Mother, I am going out to the Cape of Good Hope.’ She looked up doubtingly and said, ‘Wherever you go John, remember and don’t disgrace your name.’ I said, “Goodbye Mother. God bless you’ and hurried out of the room. And he adds: “I started off alone without a penny in my pocket”. His only clothes were those on his back; after he became a member of the crew, his fellow sailors handed him spares, and even the captain handed over some items.

Jeremiah Goldswain recorded the moment in this way: “Sunday we left Great Marlow about eleven o’clock just as the Bells were ringing for Church. They Town ware thronged with spectators to see us start from the Greyhound Inn and many of them brought us out on our way as far as Bissau….At this place my Father and Mother left me and it was a very hard struggle for me when I received my Mothers Last Blessing and she reminding me that I was her only Child and fearing her emotions when she embraced me for the last time”. Jeremiah was to miss his Mother greatly. He was very ill on the voyage and wrote this: “I began to feel the want of my poor Mother: I had no one to take care of me but one of my messmates, James Barter, who was very kind to me but it was not my Mother. No man can nurse a sick person as a woman can”. Poor Jerry … he was only 18 and had never been away from home before.

John Ayliff, in his account of this moment thinly disguised in his unfinished novel, wrote this: “Finding that we were getting now off fast into the wide open sea, I sat alone on the poop and watched old England recede from my view till it became a spec no larger than a black heart cherry; and when it seemed to sink into the sea, I felt the tears start from my eyes, and I do not know how it is, that the remembrance of charity sermons, taxes, workhouses etc. caused me to feel glad that I am getting away from a region so poor and cold, yet after all, that little spec I have just seen sink into the ocean seems to me as ‘The loveliest land on the face of the earth”. John Ayliff was 23 when he sailed from London to begin a new life on the Eastern frontier of the Cape Colony.

Perhaps one of the saddest stories of that time of farewells concerned William and Ann Shaw. William Shaw, described as a sturdy young man with a bulldoggish face and a call from God, had offered his services to the Methodist Missionary Committee immediately after hearing of the Settlement scheme at the Cape. William was 21 years old. It was felt his age was against him – too young. He was at last accepted. William and Ann then had to face the overwhelming opposition of her widowed Mother. In those days, daughters obeyed their mothers!! Could Wm go alone? No. Could he be dissuaded against going at all? No – Ann felt she couldn’t come between him and God’s calling. At last Mrs. Maw compromised. Ann might go with her husband if they would leave their little son behind them, so that “if they perished in the sea or in the desert of Africa”, Ann’s mother and sister might at least have this relic of a lost family. Poor Ann … Wm. full of pity for her, and for her old mother, at last agreed with her to give up their son.

The partings were poignant. Henry Dugmore, a red-haired, sensitive small boy, watched all from the deck and fifty years later he could recall the scene vividly: “the picture of the last parting which I myself beheld has never faded from my memory. It has rather become more vivid with the lapse of years, as growing faculties enabled me the better to appreciate what I remembered -the last wish and blessing of neighbours and friends, mingling hopes and fears for us – the last clasp of brothers’ hands – the last falling upon sisters’ necks by those who were never to look into each other’s eyes again. I see them still. The faint hope of one day returning to visit once more the old home was never realised by those who then ventured to give utterance to it. Every one of them lies in an African grave”.

It took the emigrant settlers a little while to settle down to a daily routine aboard the ships. First, they had to recover from sea-sickness; they had hardly made the open sea when storm after storm swept in from the Atlantic and many thought their last hours had come. Henry Dugmore (aboard the Sir George Osborne) recalled: “Nor have I forgotten the one or two fearful storms we encountered, when the hatches were battened down, the heavy seas were shipped, and while the torrents poured down among us in the midnight darkness, the mothers clasped their children to their bosoms, exclaiming ‘We’ll all go together!”

John Ayliff wrote: “O dreadful sea sickness! O what a calamity is the sea sickness! Two hundred and fifty persons, men, women and children all at one time unable to retain a morsel of food on their stomach and everyone looking as pale as death”. Ayliff sailed in the Belle Alliance.

And Thomas Philipps records an experience during a gale: “During the gale you would have joined us in our laugh, one day we had an elegant dinner, some preserved Beef and vegetables, a tongue etc. etc., in short we were going to make up for fasting. It was no sooner on table than the ship became unusually unruly and all was overthrown. I grasped the soup tureen with both hands. Frederick got the tongue thrown into his arms where he continued to hug it, all were bedaubed with something or other, an involuntary oath escaped some of us, but a moment’s reflection – no one was to blame and that we must submit…. This happened to us more than once”.

William Shaw records how a massive wave washed in at the open port and drenched him and Ann so much so that they had to spend the rest of the night in wet clothes lying on top of their blankets.

Rules were laid down as to the daily routine: On the Belle Alliance they read:

  1. All persons are to rise at 7.00a.m., excepting such as are sick and proved to be so by the medical gentlemen.
  2. All screens and curtains must be rolled up by 8.00a.m. and not put down the whole day.
  3. All beds and hammocks must be brought on deck by half past 7 and be secured to the nettings all the day in fine weather.
  4. All lights must be extinguished by 9.00p.m. and none to be allowed after but by special permission from the Agent.
  5. Provisions and water will be distributed at the times stated and all parties not attending will lose their share:
    Mondays and Fridays – biscuit and beef
    Wednesdays – tea, sugar, cocoa, salt and soap
    Tuesdays and Saturdays – rum, pork and mustard
    Every afternoon at 3 o’clock, water. (Each allowed 3 quarts a day).

In the fine weather, much of the day was spent on deck dreaming of the future, thinking of those left behind, watching for flying fish and trying to catch the occasional shark, some took the opportunity to read and the women and young girls toiled away at their needlework. On all the ships periodic fumigating of below decks was mandatory. John Ayliff records: “Today the ship underwent a thorough cleansing – a regular turn out of all beds, bedding etc. on deck. All hands came on deck, the hatches were closed and the ship fumigated, so as to destroy rats and cockroaches, numbers of which had bred in the ship. Thomas Stubbs noted: The sailors had to fumigate the vessel every week between decks by placing buckets of vinegar in different parts and putting red-hot shot into them”.

There was a great deal of sickness on board, and several of the ships on arrival in Cape Town were placed in quarantine for a period of weeks. Children suffered from measles, whooping cough, fevers, and smallpox. Measles accounted for many of the deaths: 20 children died on the Weymouth. Thos. Philipps recorded 17 on the Kennersley Castle. The bodies of the dead were committed to the deep.

The daily round was interrupted each Sunday on many of the ships for divine service. Thos. Philipps and William Shaw for instance were particularly punctilious in their duties in this regard. It would seem that Wm Shaw took full advantage of having a captive congregation; Thos. Philipps was mistaken as being a Man of the Cloth by a young husband who wanted him to baptise his newly born child. Philipps had come on board the Kennersley Castle prepared: he had purchased a copy of the Revd. Mr. Cooper’s Sermons in preparation for Divine Worship on Sundays. He records that the Sermons were much appreciated.

Regular worship was not necessarily the pattern all round. John Ayliff recorded on Sunday March 12th: “Today we have divine service; this is the second service which the clergyman of our party had given us on the quarter deck since we came aboard, which is now about 10 weeks. I begin to think that what my father told me about is as true of the clergyman as of anybody else, that is, to get as much as possible of the Government money, and do as little as possible for it. But now we had a most beautiful service on the quarter deck”.

And so they arrived …. The mood of the moment was, I am sure, reflected by Wm. Shaw in his Journal entry for May 2nd. Tuesday. Simon’s Town. “We came to anchor this morning at two o’clock in the bay opposite Simon’s Town, which stands at the foot of a range of high hills & is a very neat little place. About 10 o’clock I went on shore and was constrained, on my first setting foot on African ground, to kneel down and in a few words, to return thanks to GOD for bringing me to this land in safety, and also to implore his blessings upon me while an inhabitant of it.”

As Henry Dugmore summed it all up: “The adventurers had bidden a long ‘Farewell’ to the land of their fathers, and for weal or for woe they had come to dwell in the wilds of Africa”.


Harold Edward Hockley: (2nd Edn. Juta & Co 1957)
Lynne Bryer & Keith S Hunt: The 1820 Settlers (Heritage Series: 19th Century) (Don Nelson 1984)
Guy Butler (Editor): The 1820 Settlers. An Illustrated Commentary. (Human & Rousseau 1974)

Neville Long: History of the Long Family (personal mss. – with permission)
May Bell: They came from a far Land. (Maskew Miller 1963)
John Ayliff: The Journal of ‘Harry Hastings’ Albany Settler (Grocott & Sherry: 1963) (Edited by Hewson and Van der Riet)

Henry Hare Dugmore: Reminiscences of an Albany Settler. (Grocott & Sherry. 1958)
Arthur Keppel-Jones (Editor): Philipps, 1820 Settler (Letters). (Shuter and Shooter 1960)
W.A. Maxwell & R.T. McGeogh (Editors): The Reminiscences of Thomas Stubbs. (Grahamstown Series 4: A A Balkema 1977)

W.D. Hammond-Tooke (Editor): The Journal of William Shaw. (Grahamstown Series 2: A A Balkema 1972)
A Giffard (Editor): The Reminiscences of John Montgomery. (Grahamstown Series 6: A A Balkema 1981)
Margaret Rainier (Editor): The Journals of Sophia Pigot. (Grahamstown Series 3: A A Balkema 1974)


A review compiled by McGill Alexander for a zoom presentation to SAMHSEC on 28 September 2020.

Carry on Regardless – an Officer’s Story

is a personal memoir of retired Lt Col Kevin Mulligan, a Citizen Force officer in the Rand Light Infantry (RLI).

The RLI became one of South Africa’s most famous regiments. It was formed as a volunteer, part-time unit in 1905. My somewhat tenuous connection to the unit stems from my father serving briefly in the RLI during the Second World War. In 1967 I volunteered for nine months’ military training. I was posted to the RLI for my CF service, but joined the paratroopers before I ever served with the regiment.

Kevin Mulligan served as an officer in the RLI for twelve of his 19 years in the Citizen Force (CF) and commanded the regiment from 1983 to 1990. He subsequently became actively involved in the RLI’s Regimental Association and Council as well as in veterans’ affairs.

Kevin, a Capetonian who graduated from UCT with a BA (Law) and an LLB, practiced as a magistrate, a company legal advisor, an attorney, a legal consultant and a labour dispute arbitrator. He specialised in employment law, human resource management and employee relations.

He is in many ways the epitome of the successful part-time volunteer soldier of South Africa. The one who, for several centuries, provided the flesh and muscle on the skeletal bones of the various military organisations that have existed in our country. His book reveals a glimpse of what it meant to be a citizen-soldier during the heady period it covers.

His double life as a civilian and a soldier started in 1971; but he does not, other than in passing and incidental references, expound on the sacrifices in time, earnings, career and family for a CF soldier, particularly one in a key regimental position. However, those who have served as dedicated part-time soldiers will know and will recognise the evidence in his narrative.

These days, it has become politically fashionable to portray the system of National Service as a hated imposition on those who were subjected to it. But little attention is given to the voluntary service of mainly the leaders in the regiments, almost all of whom were themselves initially conscripted. It was they who nurtured the traditions and maintained the spirit that made the part-time forces the formidable and efficiently cost-effective capability that they were during the Southern African Thirty-Year War.

Kevin Mulligan, for example, gives a good description of a typical operational tour of “border duty” in the years when CF regiments were called up for 90 days at a time. Their civilian jobs came to a sudden standstill, and while their families were sometimes confusingly alone for three months, the officers and men became part of another world. Often such a tour was not very exciting, with long periods of boring routine. But for a part-time unit, it was excellent exposure that imbued the CF regiments with a sense of purpose and military professionalism.

Much of what is written in Mulligan’s book is anecdotal, as any autobiographical work inevitably is. As such, the antipathy of some officers in the “traditional” CF regiments (such as the RLI) towards certain Permanent Force (or PF) soldiers sometimes emerges. It is undoubtedly true that some PF officers and NCOs were narrow in their outlook, inflexible in their dealings with the CF and lacking in understanding of the difficulties faced by part-time soldiers. It would, however, be disingenuous to paint all career soldiers with such a generalised brush and there is the possibility that some anecdotes in this book might create that impression.

On the other hand, Mulligan’s story exposes some CF “leaders” as singularly lacking in soldierly qualities. There were, of course, some Afrikaners in the PF who had an almost inherent dislike of the “English” CF regiments. Their own heritage compelled them to adopt a jaundiced view of those that clung to their British traditions and uniforms. This made some degree of antipathy and even conflict unavoidable.

However, in my own years as both a part-time and a full-time soldier, I dealt with many highly professional PF officers and NCOs, most of whom appreciated the role of the CF and held them in high regard. The CF was, after all, the product of the training provided by the PF!

Mulligan’s book, because it is a memoir, is an outstanding portrayal of the almost mystical loyalty that many men felt to the regiment rather than to the more nebulous concept of the Defence Force, the government of the day or even the state. Many PF soldiers were unable to grasp this deeply emotive issue and simply could not relate to it.

For this reason, I think his own answer to a very profound question that Kevin Mulligan poses, is far too superficial. He asks: “What drives a man to give up precious time, energy and other scarce resources that he could be spending on his family, career and other passions and to use it instead every Monday night and many weekends doing training or administration; going on training camps or courses or operational tours for periods from one to three months year after year?”

He gives the answer that it was done because it was fun. I believe that for many (including Mulligan) it went much deeper than this. The word “fun” could create the misconception that dedicated part-timers were only “playing soldiers”. I knew many CF officers and NCOs, who were passionate about soldiering, but were not prepared to do it on a full-time basis. Within the context of a regiment, it was possible to engage in productive soldiering on a part-time basis. And the regiment provided such soldiers with an identity and a military home that very few PF soldiers were able to experience.

Kevin Mulligan has a commendable, almost unique ability to blend an understanding of the value of tradition with a fine grasp of the importance of modernisation and moving with the times. He ensured that his regiment gave priority to maintaining and building its operational efficiency, without ever losing its distinctive historical identity. He thus assured the regiment’s relevance without losing its heritage. Under his command, the RLI became one of the most operationally competent units in the CF.

The personal nature of any military memoir inevitably reveals fault-lines that an impersonal regimental history will miss. But the problems of personalities, the agonies of agendas and the clashes of concepts will always form a part of any person’s story. And as Kevin Mulligan unapologetically emphasizes: “This is my story.”

As such, it reflects his view of events and frames them within his perspective. In his Prologue, he openly admits that his book also takes a peek at some “darker moments”. These intrigues and internal politics of a regimental family are an inevitable consequence of the hybrid, quasi-British tradition that developed in South Africa’s “colonial” regiments. Most memoirs are to a greater or lesser extent, grindstones for sharpening old axes. Kevin, however, as befits a trained and experienced lawyer, deals with shortcomings and disagreements without ever becoming defamatory.

Furthermore, he shows a far greater understanding of the bigger picture than those who may have been narrowly obsessed by their regimental affiliation and its internal squabbles.

In 1990, he was invited to accompany the group of concerned citizens led by the late Dr Frederick van Zyl Slabbert to Lusaka to meet with the exiled ANC. It was a conference that the Minister of Defence had forbidden all serving officers to attend. So, after very careful consideration, Mulligan resigned as the Officer Commanding the RLI, the regiment that he loved, in order to attend. He helped argue the case for the retention of the Citizen Force in a post-democratic South Africa.

In line with his regimental experience and legal background, in his book he gives a succinct and scathing assessment of the new South African National Defence Force’s legal system. He points out how the total replacement of the tried and tested Military Disciplinary Code (the MDC) that evolved through millennia of martial experience, has resulted in an ongoing disciplinary crisis in our military.

In his Epilogue, Mulligan provides a valuable and thought-provoking view of military leadership. He is certainly well-qualified to do so. He led his regiment through difficult times and was faced with many challenges in our country’s turbulent recent past.

He writes, “I had the extreme good fortune to lead a group of young officers, warrant officers and NCOs whose exceptional ability and commitment made the Regiment what it was and gave me something to write about.” However, for those of us who have served, particularly those who have exercised command, we are well aware that even the best subordinates cannot perform optimally without a good commander. The commander sets the tone, establishes and maintains the standards, gives clear vision and direction – and most importantly, inspires and takes responsibility. Kevin Mulligan is himself a shining example of a unit being only as good as its commander.

Mulligan’s book incisively reflects the economy and the resourcefulness of the National Service and Citizen Force system. Such a system is unlikely to ever be seen again in South Africa. But the quality of human resources, the range of skills and experience and the innovative thinking that was placed at the disposal of the Defence Force by this system was nothing short of phenomenal.

A memoir on its own is not necessarily good history. But history, written clinically and accurately, can frequently be dry, cold and boring. Without memoirs such as “Carry on Regardless” history lacks colour; it lacks the impact of personal experience; it lacks the cream of character in the coffee of chronicle. A well-written memoir adds spice to what might otherwise be a bland meal. Kevin Mulligan has provided this enrichment for posterity.

I had only been an officer for three years when we lost our swords and Sam Browne belts. But as a veteran of over half a century of military service, I found that there was much in this book that I could identify with. I cannot claim the privilege of having served in a traditional regiment. But I have always held those old regiments that retained their swords and Sam Browne belts in high esteem. I believe Kevin Mulligan’s book is a valuable addition to their literary record.

But more than that, it is also a worthwhile contribution to the literature of South Africa’s military in the period between the end of the Second World War and the dawn of democracy. The dawn that sounded the death knell of the historic Citizen Force. It was a book that I found inspiring and satisfying; albeit tinged as I was with a degree of lachrymose nostalgia!

(“Carry on Regardless – An Officer’s Story” is the personal memoir of a Citizen Force officer in the Rand Light Infantry. It is written by Lt Col Kevin Mulligan and was published by Just Done Productions in Durban in 2009).

Addendum to McGill’s talk by Pat Irwin

In October 2002, my son, Barry, and I had the unique privilege of accompanying 20 members of the Rand Light Infantry, including seven veterans of the North African campaign, on a tour to Egypt to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein. Apart from the South African Military Attaché in Egypt, whose goodwill and assistance enabled us to attend all the main functions, we were the only South Africans present. In addition to the El Alamein commemorations, we visited all the cemeteries where RLI men are buried and placed small South African flags upon their graves.

The RLI played a significant role in consolidating the El Alamein line and stopping Rommel’s headlong advance after the precipitate Allied 8th Army’s retreat from Gazala, also known to the South Africans who took part in it as ‘The Gazala Gallop’. The most memorable and moving part of the tour was being with the veterans, all octogenarians, who recalled their experiences in situ on all the battlefields we visited.


A tribute to Major Geoffrey Tylden by Pat Irwin in a zoom presentation to SAMHSEC on 28 September 2020.

The purpose of the talk was to pay tribute to Major Geoffrey Tylden, one of South Africa’s best military historians, on the 50th anniversary of his death in 1970. His interests were diverse and he was, until very recently, the most prolific writer on South African military history.

Geoffrey Tylden was born in England in 1883 and came from a long line of distinguished military men going back as far as the Crusades. His great uncle was Captain Richard Tylden, RE, who organised the defence of the village of Whittlesea – the so-called ‘12 Battles of Whittlesea’ – in 1851 during the 8th Frontier War. Poor eyesight prevented Geoffrey’s entry into Sandhurst and thus of following the family tradition of a career as a regular soldier. This, nevertheless, did not deter him from serving as a volunteer in England and as a subaltern in the Imperial Yeomanry during the Anglo-Boer War. Liking South Africa, and having developed an admiration for the Boers, he, in 1903, purchased a farm in the Ladybrand district of the Free State, where he lived for the next 43 years. During this period, he identified closely with Afrikaners and developed an affection for the people of Basutoland, a country to which he made frequent visits to study its history and its people. He mastered both Afrikaans and SeSotho, his fluency in both languages greatly enabling his research, particularly the military history of the BaSotho.

Tylden was elected Justice of the Peace for the Ladybrand district – a position he held for many years. He joined the newly established Active Citizen Force in 1913 and commanded a squadron of the Ladybrand Commando during the 1914 Uprising. As a captain, he took part in the 1914/15 South African invasion of German South West Africa and, after his return to the Union, served for a time as an Intelligence Officer. He was promoted to the rank of major in the Union Defence Force and served as an officer in the First Reserve Brigade during the Second World War.

Geoffrey Tylden’s contribution to the study of South African military history has been immense: he published no fewer than 148 articles in learned journals, three major books and three smaller booklets. His interests were wide – ranging from regiments and battles to military art, personalities, the role of horses and much more. These are reflected in his published material, nearly all of which is focused on southern Africa. His publications varied in approach from theoretical considerations and the evaluation of historical claims, to detailed descriptions of objects such as guns and uniforms.

He was a founder member of the prestigious Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research in 1921 and served for some years on its council. Most of the material relating to southern Africa in that Journal came from his pen. These totalled 84 articles between 1932 and 1970 – the last one appearing shortly after his death. He also worked closely with the Africana Museum in Johannesburg on everything from regimental histories to uniforms, decorations and weaponry. He was also instrumental in the founding of Africana Notes & News, an excellent and highly informative publication of the Museum, which ran from 1943 to 1994. Its first issue contained an article by Tylden based on work he had done on classifying and cataloguing the firearms collection in the Cape Town Museum. Altogether he published 55 articles in this periodical. Four of his articles also appeared in our newly founded Military History Journal in 1968 and 1969, towards the end of his life.

Tylden also published six books/booklets of varying length. The first booklets were Early days in Maseru (1944) followed by A history of Thaba Bosiu: A mountain at night (1945). His magnum opus, The Rise of the Basuto, published in 1950, is a full-length book which is regarded as something of a classic. Containing a good deal of BaSotho military history, much of it was based on primary data collection, including interviews and a judicious use of oral history. Where possible, he interviewed individuals who had participated in, or who had close links to, the event he was examining. One example of this approach concerned the Battle of Qalabani, where he unearthed material which provided an interesting account regarding tactics and casualties, contrary to the then prevalent colonial narrative.

His real masterpiece, in the view of many, is The Armed Forces of South Africa in which he listed and summarised armed formations in South Africa between 1659 and 1951. This monumental work is jampacked with information not readily available elsewhere and there is, to date, no substitute for it. It is held by libraries worldwide and is still widely quoted by research workers as well as by dealers in militaria. Another pioneering study of his was on the animals used by the British and Commonwealth armies from the 17th to the mid-20th centuries, with a detailed description of the equipment involved. It was published in 1965 as Horses and Saddlery. Geoffrey Tylden died whilst in the process of writing his next book Discovering harness and saddlery, which is still in print.

Tylden’s historical writing was regarded by his contemporaries as being thorough, meticulous, scholarly and comprehensive in nature. He was a firm believer in sticking to verifiable facts and, where relevant, providing supporting detail. Where possible he sought primary sources as exemplified in his study of Qalabani. When, in his discussion of events, he ventured into conjecture and interpretation, such as in his evaluation of the Battle of Vegkop, it was quite clear that he was doing so. There was no place in his world for the padding, stretches of imagination and slippage into fiction, which characterises some current trends in the writing of military history.

Those who knew him described him as completely open-minded and always prepared to revise his work when new evidence came to light. This is very evident in his publications and his work remains a generally reliable source of information. His writing is in a clear, easily readable and engaging style. It is informative, jargon free and in modern terms ‘accessible’ to the average reader. He was known as a kindly, approachable and generous person, who was willing and happy to share the benefit of his vast knowledge with anyone who shared his interests. Not surprisingly, he was widely consulted for military information of every kind and had a reputation for his generosity in this regard.

Major Geoffrey Tylden died in England on 9th February 1970, aged 86. His obituaries are unanimous that his mind remained crystal clear and his interest in life unabated to the end.

Military historians in general and military history in South Africa, in particular, owe a great deal to his writings.


“The SA Legion in Port Elizabeth will host a Remembrance Day Church Service on Sunday 8th November 2020, 10H30.

The Service will be held at St. Paul`s Anglican Church, Parsons Hill under the auspices of the Legion (PE) Chaplain Rev. Cannon Mark Barth. It will include the 2 minute silence, Last Post, Reveille etc and the act of the laying of wreaths will be celebrated.

We would like to include all the usual participants and the relevant parties are requested to attend and lay a wreath. Members of the Veteran Community, Civil Society and the general public are encouraged to attend. The Service will be followed by a finger lunch and harmony at the Maritime Club, Central, Port Elizabeth.”


SAMHSEC Requests the Pleasure of your Company to discuss military history at 1930 on 26 October 2020:

Peter Duffel-Canham will discuss the book "Seaman Gunner do not weep" by John Duffel-Canham.


Speaker: John Stevens

Subject: The Butcher of the Somme

Session 1 from 1930 to 2010

Session 1 will open with the Act of Remembrance. Participants are encouraged to wear poppies


SAMHSEC is not a military veterans’ organisation and does not participate as an organisation in Remembrance Ceremonies. Nevertheless, I encourage members in their personal capacities to participate in Remembrance Ceremonies to be held across the country during November. Please be mindful that those who made the supreme sacrifice deserve more than us reciting “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them” during a Remembrance Ceremony and then forgetting about them until next year.

If you come across a War Memorial, please don’t pass by on the other side as if it isn’t there. Rather pause and read the names inscribed on the Memorial, because if we as military historians don’t pause to read the names, who does?

SAMHSEC’s secretary Stephen Bowker is to retire at the end of October. We wish Stephen a long and happy retirement and look forward to his continued contribution to branch activities.

I know we all look forward to receiving our copies of the Military History Journal (MHJ). Joan Marsh has taken over as editor of the MHJ while continuing as the SAMHS National Secretary/Treasurer. She is currently busy with the “June” 2020 edition. We from SAMHSEC extend our best wishes to Joan and thank her for stepping into the breach by assuming this additional task.



Chairman: Malcolm Kinghorn
Scribe: Ian Pringle
Secretary: Stephen Bowker (retired e-mail address to be confirmed: see above!)
Society’s Website:

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South African Military History Society /