The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 1 No 2 - June 1968

Notes on the Grahamstown Volunteer Horse Artillery 1877-1879


The regimental colour of this long disbanded artillery unit rests in the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. George at Grahamstown and is reproduced in "Colours and Honours in South Africa"(1). The honours shown on it are:
Ccalekaland Basutoland
Northern Border Gunduza

The first, third and last cover actions fought in the 9th Kaffir War (August, 1877-September, 1878), the second a campaign fought on the central Orange River (mid-1878 to July, 1879) and the fourth, the Gun War (September, 1880 to April, 1881).

The following notes, which cover the first two years of the corps' existence have been compiled from Archive sources(2) and throw some light on the history of this unit.

In August, 1877 the strength was four officers, all of whom were commissioned on 30th November, 1876:

Captain George Reynolds
Lieutenant J. R. Norton
Lieutenant and Adjutant W. H. Wells
Lieutenant A. E. Nelson

The balance of the total strength of 45 was made up of five sergeants, three corporals, 31 privates and two buglers. The arms on issue were:

1 six-pounder field gun
50 carbines
50 swords which were unit property.

A note on the return states that two gun-carriages had been purchased from the Imperial Government, had just been received and were under repair, but no guns had been received. The carbines had also only recently arrived. The five gun horses were Government property while the riding horses were the property of the individual members of the corps.

September, 1877, the strength is given as four officers and 38 men and that for October, four officers and 40 men. Continuing for October, "carriages purchased from the Imperial Government are now repaired and one has been sent to the front mounted with our brass six-pounder gun. One officer, one N.C.O. and nine gunners are on active service at the front." They were still reported there for November and December, 1877 and January, 1878. In November, 1877 there appears a plaintive note "Dummy gun in use for drill purposes for lack of the real thing."

Strengths rose: November, 1877, four officers and 41 men; December, 1877, four officers and 47 men (with one officer and 10 men at the front); January, 1878, four officers and 56 men; February, 1878, four officers and 55 men.

In May, 1878, the return gives four officers and 57 men, with one six-pounder field gun, two gun-carriages, one seven-pounder steel gun(3), carbines and 60 swords. The July return and the following returns are filed under D.D. I/7. F-G 1878-1879. This return states that the officers were commissioned on 5th December, 1876 and gives their full names:
Norton, John Robert
Wells, William Harrison
Nelson, Albert Edward

The same return gives the date of formation of the corps as 11th November, 1876.

In August, 1878, strength was four officers and 51 men. During the month they had carried out sword and carbine drill. The same strength was returned for September and October. At this stage the G.V.H.A. was canvassing the award of battle honours. On 24th August, Commandant C.D. Griffith wrote to the Colonial Secretary "The MOST appropriate names would be 'Transkei' for the corps which served in that district and 'Gaika Rebellion' 1877-78" for the corps which served in the Colony during the disturbances(4) These are ample for all purposes because they will cover all the engagements which took place - several of which were very minor and in many only a fraction of the corps took part."

Whatever Griffith's views were the G.V.H.A. had their own and on 3rd October, 1878, Cronwright, Commandant of Grahamstown wrote to A.A.G., Colonial Forces enclosing a Memorial from the corps to the Governor asking for the honours "Gcalekaland", "Gunduza" and "Umsintzani" to be borne on the accoutrements and appointments of the corps. The Memorial reads:

"In September, 1877, in response to a request for volunteers, the only gun in the corps was put forward fully horsed and manned. On the third day after the receipt of orders, the gun and detachment left for the war and remained continuously in the field from 1st October, 1877 to 3lst January, 1878, and got as far as the Bashee River.

The gun and detachment took part in Gunduza or Holland's Shop with the F.A.M.P. and later, in Umzintzani with the Port Elizabeth and Cape Town Volunteers(5). One man was severely wounded there."

On 22nd January, 1879, Lieutenant Nelson, Sergeant Greenlees, 16 gunners and three drivers left for service in the Northern Border War where they still were in May. They are shown in July as having returned home.

In February, 1879, Lieutenant Norton resigned. Strength for that month was three officers and 55 men and remained almost constant at that figure up to September, 1879. Lieutenant Wells resigned in October, 1879.

The corps' armament and ammunition was dealt with in May, 1879(6). An applicadon for an annual allowance of war rockets was approved as well as the issue of one of the rocket troughs in use on the Northern Border after the end of hostilities there. The scale of ammunition for Volunteer Artillery was set out as annually for each gun:

Strength in June, 1879, was three officers and 52 men. The types of the three guns on issue are not stated. In a letter dated 16th July, 1879, the Colonial Secretary advised the Commandant General that it was his opinion as far as the Colonial Forces were concerned, that Horse Artillery should take precedence over all volunteer corps.

In September the three guns reported on issue were described as one six-pounder field gun and two six-pounder carriages and two seven-pounder steel gum. Strength was three officers and 50 men.

In December, a further officer appears in the returns - Lieutenant Charles Frederick Seigert, commissioned on 29th September, 1879.

The further history of the G.V.H.A. is traced in Tylden, "The Armed Forces of South Africa", page 88.


  1. Figure 15.
  2. G.H. 40/6.
  3. The seven-pounder Rifled Muzzle Loader, a light field piece much used in South Africa at this time. The writer hopes to deal with it in another article.
  4. The 9th Kaffir War, also known as the Gaika-Galeka War and the War of Nchachebi, fell into two parts. Firstly, hostilities in the Transkei (i.e. beyond the Colonial boundary) with the Galekas who were not Colonial subjects and secondly, hostilities within the Colony when the Gaikas rose in rebellion. The two phases are fairly distinct and the operations can be divided in time and space.
  5. Respectively Prince Alfred's Volunteer Guard and Duke of Edinburgh's Own Volunteer Rifles.
  6. Letter, Colonial Secretary to Commandant General, dated 3 May, 1879.

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