The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 18 No 6 - June 2020

The Royal African Corps at the Cape, 1817-1823
... devils incarnate or victims of callous indifference?

by Pat Irwin

The Royal African Corps (RAC), which was stationed in the Cape Colony from 1817 to 1823, was an unusual regiment in its composition, functions and the way it was regarded and treated by the social and military establishment of its time. It was composed largely of ‘permanent punishment men’ who either had criminal records or who were considered to have criminal inclinations. It was also a multi- ethnic unit, including both Europeans and Africans within its ranks. Despite the anomalous title describing it as a corps, it was actually a regiment consisting of a single battalion varying in size from 400-700 men.


Source material on the RAC and related units is relatively sparse.1 The unit has no regimental museum and, with the exception of Crooks’ 1925 Historical Records of the Royal African Corps,2 no comprehensive history of it exists, nor is any substantive information about the unit to be found on the Internet. Primary sources in the United Kingdom include the Army Lists, The London Gazettes of the time, House of Commons Papers and miscellaneous documents and correspondence in the Public Records Office in London. There is also a manuscript diary of a Lieutenant J Kingley of the RAC in the National Army Museum in Chelsea, which I have not seen.3 The RAC is barely mentioned in otherwise comprehensive British military histories such as Fortescue’s 1923 multi-volume History of the British Army or more recently Boyden et al.’s 1999 ‘ashes and blood’: The British Army in South Africa 1795 – 1914. It is sometimes not mentioned at all, as for example in either Barnett’s 1970 Britain and her Army, or Holmes’ 2011 Soldiers, two otherwise very informative texts.

In South Africa, because of the regiment’s service in the Cape Colony, some primary source material is to be found in the Western Cape Archives and Records Service in Cape Town. Two South African historians, George McCall Theal (1837-1919) and Sir George Cory (1862-1935), have drawn upon these sources and those of the Public Records Office in London to reproduce some of the content in their publications. Most notably Theal, between the late 1890s and the early 1900s, collated and reproduced in printed and accessible format, several thousand primary documents, mainly letters, relating to the history of the Cape Colony. Known as the Records of the Cape Colony (in 36 volumes), they are today an invaluable source for historical researchers. Other than that, there are occasional passing comments and opinions in general histories relating to the Eastern Cape Frontier Wars, such as John Milton’s The Edges of War: A history of Frontier Wars (Milton 1983 pp70 & 72) and Noël Mostert’s semi-fictional Frontiers (Mostert 1993 pp473 & 475).

There is a small body of secondary source material in periodicals and magazines, and occasionally in books. The Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research has over the years carried several articles referring to the RAC, usually under the headings of ‘Disbanded’, ‘Condemned’ or ‘Penal’ regiments. They generally contain little about the daily activities of the unit or the lives of the men in it. Two articles containing letters written by serving soldiers in the RAC are included in a 2001 ‘Special Publication’ of this Journal (Boyden (Ed) 2001). The single most useful, insightful, and to some degree empathetic, article on the RAC is Major JJ Crooks’ ‘The Royal African Corps, 1800-1821’ in the 1917 United Services Magazine, a copy of which is available in the National Library of South Africa. As might be expected, some of the claims and statements made about the RAC in secondary sources cannot always be verified. With few exceptions the available information and commentary relating to the RAC is negative in tone.

Origin and behavioural problems

The unit, formed in England in 1800 was, according to the custom of the time, initially known as Fraser’s Corps of Infantry after its founding Colonel, John Fraser. As was often the case, a good part of the reason for undertaking such a task was for the founder to obtain a ‘majority’ (i.e. to become a major). Concomitant with this, Fraser was initially responsible, at his own expense, for fitting out and equipping the unit which he originally raised for service on the coast of West Africa. In 1804 Fraser’s Corps was amalgamated with several similar units, the whole being granted the title of the Royal African Corps and becoming part of the regular army with Fraser as its commanding officer. The uniform worn by the RAC was the standard British army red coat with white cross belts, white or grey trousers and the slightly bell-topped shako of 1816 with a straight plume. The facings were blue, and the regimental badge was the Lion and the Crown (Baldry 1935 p233; Tylden 1952 p136). They were armed with the standard Long Land Pattern flintlock musket, known as the ‘Brown Bess’, to which a 15-inch bayonet could be attached.


* Although the table indicates a situation some two and a half years after the RAC’s arrival at the Cape, the figures are probably reasonably representative of the unit at the time of its augmentation by troops from the 60th Regiment. We know of only a small number of fatalities suffered by the regiment during the Fifth Frontier War in which it had been involved, and no records of further reinforcements arriving from abroad could be traced.

** Black boy drummers from age 10 upwards were a widespread tradition in the British Army and one can presume that this was, at least in part, the case here.

† The original table from which these figures were extracted was signed by Capt. M J Sparks, acting OC,who was involved in the ill-fated Fredericksburg scheme. He was, according to Crooks (1923) to die in West Africa in 1824 – presumably either from ‘fever’ or at the Battle of Adumansu. See Notes 7 and 8.

An early indication of the character of the men constituting the regiment is given by Crooks, who recorded the following personal communication with Colonel Fraser late in the latter’s life when he was a General: 1926 p210).5
... when a captain in 1794, he raised men for a majority and then offered [them to the army] for general service to get his lieutenant-colonelcy. ‘... And they took me at my word and gave me the Royal Africans! A precious time I had with them for the next two or three years on the coast of Africa! They were the sweepings of every parade in England, for when a man was sentenced to be flogged, he was offered the alternative of volunteering for the Royal Africans, and he generally came to me. They were not a bad set of fellows when there was something to be done, but with nothing to do they were devils incarnate’. (Crooks 1917 p213).

Early in the 20th century, Crooks also examined aspects of the RAC’s history as part of a wider geographical and historical study of Sierra Leone, describing it as follows: The Corps was a disciplinary regiment as far as whites were concerned: That is to say, it was composed principally of deserters, convicts, [which often included culprits from the hulks4] and men whose sentence of punish-ment [including those with life imprisonment or awaiting execution] had been commuted for services in Africa (Crooks 1917 p213; Baldry 1935 pp233-235).

The Corps was a disciplinary regiment as far as whites were concerned: That is to say, it was composed principally of deserters, convicts, [which often included culprits from the hulks 4] and men whose sentence of punishment [including those with life imprisonment or awaiting execution] had been commuted for services in Africa (Crooks 1917 p213; Baldry 1935 pp233-235).

Often men who had been sentenced to severe flogging – anything from 100 to 1 000 lashes (Harding 1999 p135) – were given the option of joining a disciplinary regiment (Hill Those who did do so would in almost all cases have done it in complete ignorance of the service conditions they were about to face as there was virtually no public knowledge of life and circumstances in the disciplinary units. At times, the regiment also had ‘native Africans’, recruited mainly from liberated slaves in Sierra Leone. The latter were generally regarded as good troops, forming the backbone of the regiment, with a leavening effect upon the behaviour of their fellow European soldiers. There were also at most times a number of foreigners in its ranks including Italians and exiled Irish rebels (Cribbs & Marrion 1991 p18). Some indication of the demographic composition and rank structure of the RAC whilst in the Cape in 1919 is given in Table 1.

For the reasons above, the RAC early on became known as a ‘condemned’ or ‘penal’ regiment, being one of a group of military units described as such because of its recruitment pool and methods of recruitment.6 In describing recruits for this unit and those like it, Cribbs & Marrion (1991 p18) observe that:

Amongst these were the misfits and unfortunates who should never have been recruited, recaptured deserters, hopeless drunkards, bullies, thieves and worse ... The Army’s solution was banishment to the ‘condemned’ regiments serving overseas in the worst and most unhealthy stations, in the West Indies and tiny West African garrisons. Here heat and boredom, coupled with even harsher discipline, made life itself a misery from which only the mosquito and the effects of drink could bring release.

Descriptions such as this characterised the life of soldiers in the RAC. Its deployments from the time of its establishment, frequent name changes, and the re-organisation to which it was subjected, give some idea of the way the unit was regarded and treated by the military establishment of the day (Baldry 1935 p233; Yaple 1972 p12). The unit was on numerous occasions disbanded, amalgamated with, or split off, from other units, as well as being resurrected in various other combinations. The only constant in its existence was that it was always associated with criminal elements and hence had a permanent stigma associated with it – whatever its military performance.

In terms of its battlefield performance, Fortescue (1923 p21), not surprisingly, has the most to say. He opines that:
Occasionally a commanding officer was found who, in virtue of remarkable character and personality, could not only control these gangs of ruffians, but even make them into docile and serviceable soldiers. But naturally no good officer would have to do with a ‘condemned battalion’ if he could help it; and the off-scourings of the Army under the sweepings of its officers made up a dismal assembly.

In a different context, he adds that while “[They]... may have been ... criminals ... double dyed incorrigible scoundrels, with backs scarred by the lash ... but when the time of trial came they did their duty, and more than their duty, ... as British soldiers” (1923 p388), yet concludes that
The Royal African Corps, unless commanded by an officer of peculiar gifts was not to be rated at a very high military value (1923 p391).

This remark perhaps says something about Lieutenant William Cartwright’s leadership at the East Barracks during the Battle of Grahamstown where he was in command of 60 RAC troops defending the families of the Cape Regiment (Irwin 2018 p114-116).7 For this he was mentioned in despatches by Governor Somerset to Earl Bathurst, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, and to Sir Henry Torrens, Military Secretary at the Horse Guards, as having defended his post with great intrepidity [and overwhelming odds estimated at 18:1] and drove back the enemy ... (Theal 1902a p194; Theal 1902b p204). However, as far as can be established and, despite their sterling defence at the East Barracks, there are no records singling out the RAC for praise or special recognition in this action. Two more recent comments come from Tylden (1952 p136) who, without giving his sources, states that The Corps had a good record in the field; and Davey (1992 p66) who, also without giving a source, states that To the credit of the Royal African Corps was the resolute conduct of a detachment during the defence of Grahamstown in 1819.8

Following Cribbs & Marrion (1991 p18)

Officers and NCOs were themselves a mixed bunch. Most NCOs were promoted from the ranks of other regiments, particularly the garrison battalions, and were tough characters. Some of the officers were also ex-rankers and some had won their commissions or promotion by acts of bravery.

The fates of officers serving in the Royal African Corps between 1800 and 1821, when the decision was taken to disband the regiment, are illustrated in Table 2 which offers an insight into some of these points. It is noteworthy that none are listed as ‘killed in action’ or killed by their own men which did occur in the army as a whole, from time to time.9 Hill (1926 p210), for example, records officers of condemned regiments sleeping at night with loaded pistols under their pillows, for fear of their own men.

In addition to the obvious factors underlying the behaviour of the RAC, a further consideration regarding their daily existence needs to be taken into account viz. the unhealthy climes in West Africa and the West Indies where they continuously served, and where they were subjected to high levels of infection from tropical diseases (Curtin 1998 p5), with a consequently high death rate – a situation which was crucial in moulding the unit, the lives of the men and their behaviour.10

One source (Cribbs & Marrion 1991 p19-20) suggests that it was partly as a result of the heavy losses [due to disease, that]... most of the remaining white troops [of the RAC] were sent to the Cape of Good Hope in 1817.

Arrival at the Cape Against this background, and with their reputation which Theal (1908 p267) describes as ‘evil’ travelling before them, when six companies (Baldry 1935 p233), approximately 440 men, all Europeans, landed at Simon’s Town in July 1817 under command of Lt-Col Thomas Brereton (1782-1832), they were decidedly unwelcome. The governor, Lord Charles Somerset, supported by many of the inhabitants of the Colony, had protested strenuously at their deployment to the Cape replacements for better quality troops, who had been withdrawn as part of the post- Waterloo cost cutting exercises by the British Exchequer; an example being the 21st Light Dragoons, who had been transferred to India in 1817. Somerset’s concerns were soon vindicated.11 According to Colonel John Graham, Commandant of the Simon’s Town Base at that time, upon disembarkation there was mayhem in Simon’s Town, the soldiers being responsible for theft, assault and sale of their equipment, (as recorded by Theal 1902c pp405-406).

Table 2 The fates of officers serving in the Royal African Corps between 1800 and 1821

Out of a total of 260 officers who joined the Corps from 1800 to 1821:

The RAC troops were then, notwithstanding further protest from Somerset, augmented by 225 troops, recorded in Theal (1902d pp57-58)as being ‘well conducted’, transferred from the 60th Regiment, before it departed the Cape.12 This gave a combined strength of about 650 troops, which is close to that recorded in the Regimental Monthly Report for December 1819 as 659 officers and men. The RAC had in the interim suffered relatively few casualties and had received no reinforcements.13 See also Table 1.

After their ill-disciplined behaviour at Simon’s Town, the RAC were rapidly marched to the eastern frontier to perform guard duties at small redoubts and posts along the border, where they remained for the rest of 1817 and until 1821 when the unit was disbanded. There, their tendencies to marauding and theft once again found outlet, with local farmers and burghers soon coming to regard them as more of a menace and danger to them than the raiding amaXhosa clans were. Davey (1992 p65) records that On the eastern Cape Frontier this regiment bedevilled relations there, and crimes of burglary, highway robbery and as murder were laid at the door of some of its men. Brevet Major Rogers, Military Secretary at the Cape, depicted them in a letter to Major General Torrens as a set of the most desperate villains and worthless thieves and vagabonds that ever disgraced any country in the world (Theal 1902e p58). In a letter to Earl Bathurst, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, dated 12th November 1817.

Somerset made urgent representation expressing the view that the RAC had caused such terror in the interior that so far from being able to persuade settlers to repair to these fertile districts, even those [farmers] who remained are taking measures for abandoning a Country where lives and property are in imminent danger not only from their old enemies, the [amaXhosa], but more so from those who have been placed there for their protection. (Theal 1902f pp402).

Somerset added that atrocities were committed almost daily and implored Bathurst that they might be replaced by better quality troops upon whom a commander could place reliance (Theal 1902g pp354-356). One of many examples justifying his concerns is recorded by Theal (1902h pp406-412), who notes that three deserters went on a spree of robbing and killing civilians. When they were finally apprehended by a Khoi patrol, one was shot dead and the other two were imprisoned in Uitenhage to await trial.14 The behaviour of the RAC, Somerset con-sidered, also led to increased depredations by the amaXhosa clans. In addition, there was fear of potential deserters aiding and abetting raiding by them (Theal 1902j pp 403-404).

In December 1818, Colonel Brereton, then Commandant of the eastern Cape frontier, was instructed to march to the assistance of Ngqika, a chief who was allied to the British, in his dispute with the amaNdlambe (Irwin (2018 p113).15 He did so with a mixed force of mounted burghers, Khoi Mounted Infantry and regular infantry which included the RAC. Given their reported penchant for thieving and pillaging, it is not difficult to imagine the depredations and behaviour of the RAC while on this expedition. The amaNdlambe retaliated by raiding into the Cape Colony from January 1818 onwards and on 22nd April 1819 an estimated 6 000 warriors attacked the embryo village of Graham’s Town. They were repulsed by 333 British troops defending it, of which 135 were members of the RAC. For details of the battle see Irwin (2018 pp114-116). The battle was followed by a punitive expedition into the territory of the clans who, led by the amaNdlambe, had attacked Graham’s Town. The RAC took part in this, but there are no specific records of their participation. The historical records are generally silent on the daily comings and goings of the ‘Corps’ in the aftermath of the post-battle expedition. They almost certainly continued with patrol work, border duty and the manning of redoubts and there continued to be incidents of marauding and thuggery.

Disbanding and departure

Sometime early in 1821, Sir Rufane Donkin, the acting Governor of the Cape Colony while Somerset was on leave in the United Kingdom, received notice from the Horse Guards that the six companies of the RAC at the Cape were to be disbanded on 24th June.16 A few men were absorbed into the 38th and 72nd Regiments, but the difficult question which arose for Donkin was what to do with the majority in a unit such as this. In the end a number of solutions were sought.

Cribb & Marrion (1991 p20) inform us that after their operational service at the Cape some of these men were, despite concerns, discharged for location in the Colony in 1821. There were, however, those who for military reasons could not be discharged in the Colony; could not lawfully return to England; and though fit for further military service, refused to volunteer for other regiments. Following Cribb & Marrion (1991 p20) 160 of them were considered too dangerous to risk ‘being set at large’. The worst, those who were unfit for further service and could not be discharged in the Colony, were temporarily drafted into the 72nd Regiment, then based in the western Cape, with Donkin expressing the view that:

I have attached these worthless and unmanageable people to a detachment of the 72nd Regiment at Graham’s Town, but I shall take the earliest opportunity of removing them to Cape Town as neither the settlers nor the ordinary inhabitants would be safe in the vicinity of such congregated banditti as these men will form when collected. (Davey 1992 p65 quoting the Acting-Governor, Sir Rufane Donkin).

There were two further attempts to deal with the consequences of the RAC disbandment. The first was a well-intended but short- lived social experiment by Donkin. He established a quasi-military village, which he called Fredericksburg, inside the ‘ceded territory’ between the Great Fish and Keiskamma rivers, to settle some of the officers and men from the unit (Boyden & Guy 1999 p 50).17 The project failed for a number of reasons, not least of which was the mutual animosity between Somerset and Donkin and the failure of the British authorities to honour the agreements made with the RAC officers and soldiers. Details of these factors are beyond the present remit.

The second approach was directed at the portion of the RAC which had been removed to the western part of the Cape Colony, where it was self-evident that they should be kept at a distance from the civil population. Somerset and Major William Holloway (1787-1850), Commanding Royal Engineer at the Cape, saw the opportunity for the remaining RAC men both fulfilling a public service at relatively low cost, and being kept busy with hard labour. In this capacity, they assisted in the construction of the Franschhoek Mountain Pass which is today still in use and has benefitted tens of thousands of South Africans over the intervening years. Apart from the memorial plaques noted below, this is the only physical evidence of the regiment’s nearly six-year sojourn in the Cape Colony.

In 1823, with the Franschhoek Pass near completion, the last of the RAC finally departed from the Cape. Upon returning to West Africa the remnant of the unit were, together with a fresh draft of commuted punishment men from England, absorbed into the Royal West India Regiment but were shortly afterwards formed into a new regiment called the Royal African Colonial Regiment. This unit was later united with three companies of the 1st West India Regiment to become the 3rd West India Regiment (Baldry 1935 pp233-234), which is the last we see of the Royal African Corps: the unit simply passed out of existence and no longer appeared in the Official Army Lists. Its existence is not even recorded in Swinson’s 1971 Register of the Regiments and Corps of the British Army.

Thus far, I have only been able to trace two monuments on which the name of the RAC was recorded. One was the plaque on the Franschhoek Mountain Pass, at the oldest stone bridge in South Africa, which commemorated the regiment’s hard work and participation in the construction of the Pass. At the time of writing, this has regrettably been stolen. It read as follows:
Jan Joubertsgat Bridge

This bridge was built as part of the first hard road over the French Hoek Mountains by the Royal Engineers assisted by soldiers of the Royal African Corps. It was completed in 1825, and except for a new surface, is one of the earliest bridges in the Republic.
NMC 1979

Figure 1: The tablet on the monument
‘To the Unknown Soldier’
in Grahamstown’s Old cemetery,
commemorating The Royal African Corps.

The other example is a tablet on Grahamstown’s monument to ‘The Unknown Soldier’ which honours the memory of officers, NCOs and men who died while serving in the early frontier wars. There, the name of the Royal African Corps is included along with those of other units. See Figure 1.

In conclusion, we might return to the earlier point about the paucity of detailed information on the RAC. Given what we know about the anatomy and function of the regiment, this is not surprising. Several contingent reasons present themselves.

The unit, its antecedents and successors existed, for reasons explained, for only relatively short periods (Baldry 1935 p234; Yaple 1972 p12). Both NCOs and men had a generally short life expectancy, and officers tended not to spend a major part of their careers in such units although some, as we have seen, did, and died in West Africa in 1824, either from fever or in conflict. See also Table 2.

In such circumstances, where ‘condemned’ units were largely isolated from family and social connections, the keeping of diaries, writing of letters and even the regular and meticulous keeping of regimental records – the very stuff of regimental histories in regular units – would have been unusual and even rare. It is also quite probable that among the rank and file, apart from their social isolation, only a small proportion (probably fewer than 10%) would have been functionally literate, and hence able to write letters or keep personal records.18

There appears to be no record of a regimental nickname, mascots, marches, or songs although there is a single reference to a regimental band (Fortescue 1923 p378). No records of individual gallantry or awards could be found. Likewise, no records of Battle Honours could be located, although these would surely have been deserved at some points in the unit’s operational career. One reference has however surfaced regarding the presentation of colours to the unit by the Governor-in-Chief of the West Coast of Africa, Brigadier-General Sir Charles MacCarthy, who had held the Honorary Colonelcy of the RAC from 1811 to 1817. This act suggests he may have had some regard for the unit, but whether the colours were presented on his own initiative or whether they had some wider or official status attached to them is not clear (Fortescue 1923 pp374-375). There appears to be no firm record as to what the fate of any RAC colours might have been, although there is a sketch relating to the colours of its ‘successor’ unit, the Royal African Colonial Regiment (Farncombe 1957 p137). To add to this, there were however no long-term successor regiments to preserve any memories or records. There had also been little opportunity to develop any regimental traditions which in normal circumstances would have become ingrained in the history of a unit.

In summary, the members of the RAC were by and large society’s rejects, men who had no stake whatever in the outcome of any action they took part in, or any activities they carried out, other than their own lives, the next day and, regrettably in many cases, the next supply of alcohol. It is difficult, through modern lenses, to see the treatment of the unit by the military establishment as anything less than callous disregard or at best, as indifferent neglect. In a sense, one cannot but feel some empathy for these unfortunate men.

Author’s acknowledgements

I wish to thank my wife Anne for content scrutiny, constructive comment, and proofreading.


  1. This article has been compiled largely on the basis of resources available in South Africa.
  2. This is a key but rare document. No copy of it exists in South Africa and only a few in the United Kingdom. The extracts from it I have seen, overlap with Crooks (1917) op.cit. See: historical-records-of-the-royal-african-corps135878. html
  3. At the time of my visiting the National Army Museum in 2008, it had no consolidated file of material on the RAC.
  4. After the American declaration of independence in 1776, they closed their ports to the transportation of British criminals. To accommodate the criminals, Britain converted old naval and merchant ships into floating prisons known as ‘hulks’. They were notorious for the poor living conditions on them.
  5. Corporal punishment for the rank and file of the British army, including flogging, was not completely abolished until 1881. For early condemnation of flogging and its consequences, see the accounts of Private Buck Adams (Gordon-Brown (Ed) 1941) and Lieutenant John Shipp (Shipp 1844).
  6. Over the years, several articles in the Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research (JSAHR) have covered condemned, penal and disciplinary regiments. See for example, Hill (1926) and Baldry (1935) op.cit.
  7. Lieutenant William Francis Cartwright, who appears to have been well regarded by some of the local inhabitants of the eastern Cape (Rainier 1974 pp 67 & 88), was involved in the Fredericksburg saga. He, like Captain Mitchell James Sparks, is recorded by Crooks (1923) as dying in West Africa in 1824. This could either have been from ‘fever’ or as a casualty at the Battle of Adumansu. See Note 8.
  8. It cannot be passed by without noting that at the 1824 Battle of Adumansu in what was then called the ‘Gold Coast’ of West Africa, members of the former RAC, fighting under the banner of the Royal African Colonial Corps – a successor regiment – fought to almost the last man alongside their governor and commanding officer, General Sir Charles MacCarthy, who had formerly been their honorary colonel. See DD Daly in JSAHR 10 p143-149 for a short biography of MacCarthy, and his relationship with the RAC.
  9. The modern term for this is ‘fragging’. The practice has probably existed in armies from time immemorial but ‘fragging’ as a term seems to have appeared during the Vietnam War of 1955-1975.
  10. In 1826 the British practice of dispensing with military offenders by sending them to unhealthy climes, including West Africa, was stopped by an army General Order (Yaple 1972 p 12) but it took another four years for this decision to work through the system. Until then the death toll amongst those sent there from elsewhere was horrendous, the actual death rates ranging from 75-80%. By comparison, fewer than 5% of criminals sentenced to death in Britain at this time were ever executed. Generally, of those sent to West Africa, one half died in the first three months and the average duration of life did not exceed 15 months. Malaria and yellow fever accounted for 85% of all deaths (Curtin 1998 p 5). In keeping with the medical knowledge of the time, the mosquito as a vector in disease transmission was unknown and a dissipated lifestyle was thought to be a principle cause of ‘fever’. The psychology of the hopeless nature of these men’s existence was only beginning to be recognised as a factor. (Crooks 1917 p216; Curtin 1998 p12).
  11. See Theal 1902 Records of the Cape Colony Vol 11 pp401-405, 12th Nov 1817, for an account of the extended protest against the presence of the RAC in the Cape Colony.
  12. The 60th (Royal American) Regiment of Foot was a unit which had had its own share of disciplinary problems whilst at the Cape, but later went on to become one of the crack regiments of the British Army – the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, and later the Royal Green Jackets.
  13. Records and details of the actual numbers of RAC killed or dying of wounds presumably exist somewhere in the UK, but I have thus far been unable to trace them. Based on scattered accounts of skirmishes and ambushes, it is conjectured that the number was under 25. One RAC man was killed at the Battle of Graham’s Town and five others in the vicinity on the same day; two men were killed with their officer, Ensign Hunt, at De Bruyn’s Drift on 3rd February, and another two men were killed with Captain Gethin in the same vicinity few days later. On another occasion eleven men, probably including RAC, were killed in an ambush near Graham’s Town. There are references to RAC deserters, but the actual numbers are not known.
  14. For details of this case see Theal (1902h) Records of the Cape Colony Vol 11 pages 406 -412, 15th to 25th October 1817. These entries are extracts from correspondence and related documentation between Major Fraser, OC on the Frontier, Major Mackenzie, commanding the RAC, Major Rogers, Military Secretary to the Commander of the Forces at the Cape of Good Hope, Lord Charles Somerset, and JG Cuyler, Landrost of Uitenhague.
  15. Col Thomas Brereton is a man whose reputation has suffered somewhat unfairly at the hands of revisionist historians. He has, for example, been repeatedly castigated for the so-called ‘Brereton Raid’ of late 1818 in which the RAC took part. In that event he had been giventheunenviabletaskof supporting Ngqika, a British ally, and local farmers in a cattle recovery operation into amaNdlambe territory. It has subsequently been argued by some that ‘the raid’ was a direct cause of, or at the very least ‘triggered off’, the amaNdlambe attack on Graham’s Town in April 1819 (Mostert 1993; Wells 2012). The realities of the circumstances on the eastern frontier of the Colony at the time, were far more complex and nuanced than such a simple interpretation would suggest. Looked at objectively, the battle at Graham’s Town was only one event, albeit a significant one, in a long chain of events. T h e ‘raid’ itself was an operation which in the context of the time, was a normal consequence of the regular lifting of cattle by all sides. While it is quite likely that, as claimed by some, a dispro portionately large number of livestock w e r e taken, impoverishing the amaNdlambe, many of them would have been those previously captured by the amaNdlambe on their raids into the colony. All low-key warfare of this kind impoverishes the people upon whom it is inflicted and the presence of the RAC would likely not have done anything to ease the situation on the ground.

    Brereton’s somewhat inept handling of the Bristol Riots in 1831, for which he was subsequently and controversially court martialled, is sometimes irrelevantly linked to his conduct of the ‘Raid’ in 1818. As a matter of record, the court martial was predicated on the notion that he was not harsh enough in supressing the riots.

  16. ‘The Horse Guards’ was a commonly used term to describe the place in London where the British Army HQ was based.
  17. The so-called ‘ceded territory’ was excised from Ngqika’s territory by Somerset after the termination of the Fifth Frontier War. While Ngqika was under some duress to concede to the ‘agreement’ and it was “masked as a Concession” it was in the opinion of Fortescue (1923 p395) “an annexation pure and simple”. Somerset had intended it to be neutral territory into which neither amaXhosa nor colonial interests would be allowed to intrude. The establishment of Fredericksburg by Donkin was thus technically a violation of Somerset’s ‘agreement’ with Ngqika. Upon his return to South Africa from his leave in the UK, Somerset was less than enamoured with the arrangement and systematically set about dismantling it. See Dodd (1969)
  18. See: Army during the Victorian Era.


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