The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 1 No 5 - December 1969


by Neville Gomm

In 1854, Ordinance No.4 dealing with the Commando Act (Kommandowet) was approved, to be replaced by Ordinance No. 1 of 19 February, 1866. The respective articles of the Ordinance of 1866 are dealt with below next to their original numbers.

1. Immediately the State President judged it to be necessary for commandos of armed citizens to be sent out he would for that reason send orders to the magistrates of the districts who would immediately inform the Field-Commandants and Fieldcornets. However, the President could, if he judged it to be necessary, send his orders directly to the Commandants and Fieldcornets, but in such an event he would have to inform the magistrates. (Article 12 of the 1854 Ordinance laid down that in time of peace the Commandants and Fieldcornets would receive their orders from the respective magistrates or from the State President. Article 13 of the same legislation read that no war could be undertaken after a sudden turn of mind, out of ambition or out of lust to conquer.)

It can therefore be seen that the Republic was capable of raising thousands of mounted Riflemen, within days, through the commando system. After visiting the Free State and the Transvaal in 1875, Major-General Sir George Colley wrote that he was impressed by the commando system by which the Republics called up the citizens for military service. He also had favourable comment on their hardiness and the fact that they were trained from childhood to ride and shoot.

2. All residents between 16 and 60 years who had no legal reasons for excuse were compelled to do commando duty. (When the Commando Act was approved in 1854 this was Article 3 and it stipulated that every healthy man in the state had to do duty.) All residents, provided they had sufficient means thereto, had to be ready at all times with a horse, saddle, reins, half a pound of gunpowder, thirty bullets and food for eight days.

3. Fieldcornets or Assistant-Fieldcornets were not allowed to call up young men under 18 years to accompany a commando unless it was absolutely necessary to do so. It will be noticed that young men under 18 were not prohibited from volunteering for service, and in fact many of them did just that.

4. A white man who was called up for commando duty could send a white replacement in his stead, provided the replacement was between 18 and 60 years old, was capable of performing duty, was properly equipped and was not subject to duty under the provisions of Article 2. Non-white people could also find replacements under the same conditions as set out for white residents. In addition, the replacement and his equipment had to be approved by the Field-cornet. If the replacement left the service in any improper manner the originally called-up resident would have to serve unless he could find a second replacement.

5. If any resident, when called up by his Fieldcornet, gave the excuse that he was not in possession of the equipment specified in Article 2 through negligence on his part, he was subject to a fine of not less than £5 and at the same time was compelled to obtain the equipment subject to the punishment set out in Article 25 of this Ordinance. (In the 1854 Ordinance this was Article 5 which stipulated that the fine was not to be more than £5.) If a resident were considered unable to obtain the requirements set out in Article 2 and neglected to notify the Fieldcornet, he was subject to a fine of not less than £1, and not more than £5. (This under Article 4 in 1854 which stated that residents who were too poor to arm themselves, were compelled to report to the Fieldcornet, in order that timeous preparation could be made to supply them with the necessary equipment. No provision was made for the imposition of a fine in cases where residents neglected to report their position.) In both cases fines had to be paid to the Fieldcornet of the ward, or where there was no such officer, to the magistrate of the district.

6. Fieldcornets had the power to call up the residents for commando duty if necessary, and were compelled so to do on the instructions of a higher authority. However, no Fieldcornet had the right to call up non-white servants unless it was an urgent necessity. The calling up of the citizens for commando duty by the Fieldcornets was also not something new and was a practice that had been carried out previously for many years in the Cape.

7. Fieldcornets had the right, if necessary in the public interest, to commandeer from major citizens in their wards as many wagons, oxen, tents, horses and rifles as was necessary for their fieldcornetcy (veldkornetschap). However, these requirements could not be requested from someone who did not possess them (fairly logically - Editor) and only in cases of extreme necessity could they be taken from someone who had been called up for personal service. A Fieldcornet was not entitled to commandeer a horse or rifle from a citizen who only had one of each for personal use. Food and lesser requirements such as spades, axes, etc., could also be commandeered from major citizens who were not called up for service. However, if such a citizen claimed he did not possess such requirements, he had the right to give the value thereof in money to the satisfaction of the Fieldcornet. Otherwise no Fieldcornet had the right to demand money for anything, and was compelled to consider the various abilities of the people from whom equipment was being commandeered.

8. This made provision for supplies in time of emergency. Magistrates were given the right, when commandos were active, and then only under urgent circumstances, to appoint temporary Provision-Fieldcornets (provisie-veldkornetten) at the same salary that was paid to Outside-Fieldcornets (buiten-veldkornetten). The choice of person to fill the appointment had to be made in agreement with the residents of the area.

9. On completion of commando duty the Fieldcornets of the different wards were compelled to hold a public auction of the remaining provisions which were commandeered according to the stipulations of Article 7. The proceeds of the auction were to be evenly divided between those from whom the goods had been commandeered. The Fieldcornets were not required to have auctioneers' licences for these sales.

10. No pound sales could be held in times of emergency. Poundmasters had to advertise regularly every month and were to be rewarded for pounded cattle in time to come.

11. In time of war all legal procedures in civil cases were to be discontinued. In cases where sentences had already been passed, these sentences could be completed or commenced. A House of Assembly decision of 8 August, 1869, which became Article 11 of Ordinance No.14 of 1877 stated that Article 11 above would read that in time of war or commando, all legal proceedings in civil cases would be discontinued, but could be executed, commenced and continued with, in cases where sentence had already been passed.

12. Magistrates and Fieldcornets had the right to commandeer vagrant non-whites, or those who were not employed, and put them at the disposal of any burgher who made application. They were to be properly paid but not more than 10 shillings sterling a month. No non-white working under contract in time of war was allowed to leave his employer, not even when his contract had expired, but was compelled to extend the contract until the end of the war when his employer would release him.

13. Should any resident neglect or refuse to do duty and to supply provisions as determined when called upon so to do by, or on behalf of, the Fieldcornet, he would have to be charged in court. The court would then be competent, according to the nature thereol, to punish him for each violation of the law, taking into account the degree of unwillingness or deliberateness shown in each instance, the circumstances of the case and the approximate abilities of the person. The punishment was not to exceed a fine of £37 l0s or imprisonment of more than three months. The Fieldcornet had the right after each refusal to call up the transgressor anew, even though he appealed against any sentence of the magistrate. (Article 8 of the 1854 Ordinance stated that a fine of not more than £5 could be imposed for the first refusal and for the second a fine not to exceed £10. For the third and every additional refusal the fine was not to exceed £20. The same article also provided for imprisonment of from one to three months for transgressors.)

14. Should any person opine to have legal grounds to be excused he could, immediately on being called up, notify the Fieldcornet. If the Fieldcornet was of the opinion that the citizen should not be excused, and such a person remained negligent to report for duty, it would be left to the judgement of the magistrates' court to excuse him from punishment if the reasons given to the Fieldcornet were well-founded.

15. Members of the House of Assembly and the Executive Council, salaried government officials, ministers of religion of the different denominations, theological scholars and persons with physical defects which completely disabled them from doing commando duty, were exempted from personal service. They were, however, subject to the stipulations of Article 7. The term "government officials" excluded Fieldcornets, Assistant-Fieldcornets and Commandants.

16. No previously surrendered, or still to be surrendered, certificates of unfitness for commando duty could be accepted other than those which were signed by one or more persons appointed for the purpose by the State President in each town. These persons could not charge more than one guinea sterling for such a certificate and were subject to a fine of £10 for each contravention. Should there be any doubt about the validity of a certificate the holder was required to swear to its authenticity. Should he refuse, he was liable to a fine of £10 for each refusal and the certificate would be declared worthless.

17. In any instance where a Fieldcornet was unwilling to grant a request or neglected to carry out the instructions of this Ordinance, he could, on conviction in the magistrates' court, be sentenced to a fine not exceeding £37 l0s. Should such a Fieldcornet remain negligent the magistrate had to report the matter to the State President who could discharge the Fieldcornet and appoint a Provisional Fieldcornet in his place. A Fieldcornet who had been thus discharged was not qualified to be re-elected to the post for a year.

18. When any Fieldcornet, because of wilful unfairness, oppression and persecution of any citizen or resident of his ward, or on refusing to serve, was charged by the public or by the aggrieved party as private prosecutor in the magistrates' court, and convicted, he was, according to the nature and severity or intent of his actions or behaviour, subject to be admonished or fined. If he was fined, the fine was not to exceed £37 l0s. However, both parties had the right of appeal to the circuit court. In accordance with the regulations the State President had the power to deal with the Fieldcornet according to the provisions of Article 17 (In the 1854 Ordinance, Article 11 said that should it be proved that any Commandant or Fieldcornet committed an injustice against any citizen through partiality, he would be subject to dismissal from his post, as well as to any action for damages brought against him.)

19. The provisions of Articles 17 and 18 were also applicable to the Field-Commandants of the districts.

20. The Field-Commandants and Fieldcornets had to act in accordance with their instructions, and would receive further orders from the State President, or the Magistrate, should the service to the public demand it.

It may be of interest here to note that the 1854 Commando Act, in Article 19, laid down that if unexpected trouble should be caused in any district or ward by non-whites, the Fieldcornet concerned had to report to the magistrate immediately. The magistrate, after deliberation with the Field-Commandant, had to take such defensive measures as the circumstances demanded. Article 20 of the same act prescribed that all contraventions of the articles of the Act had to be investigated by the magistrates of the various districts.

21. Each Fieldcornet had to send to the magistrate, without fail, a list of all the called-up persons and commandeered provisions, as well as the names of those from whom provisions could be collected, and also the names of volunteers of other colonies or countries, and the names of those who were unwilling. On completion of any commando or expedition on which he may have been sent, each Field-Commandant had, as soon as possible, to submit to the magistrate of his district an accurate report of the activities together with any important circumstances connected with the commando or expedition. The magistrate then had to forward the report to the Government Secretary as soon as possible. If the aformentioned persons neglected or failed to comply with these stipulations, they were liable to a fine not to exceed £37 lOs, but would retain the right of appeal as mentioned in Article 18.

22. The Commandant in command of a commando was responsible for the receipt and distribution of all ammunition which was despatched in aid of the commando. However, he had the right to instruct another combat officer or serving citizen in his commando to carry out the task under his supervision. Proper records had to be kept, and an account of the method in which the ammunition was issued from time to time, had to be sent to the Government. Such portion of the ammunition which was not used for combat purposes had to be returned to the Government, at the responsibility of the Commandant in command, or the combat officer, or citizen, appointed to the task. The Commandant or combat officer was considered to be held to the punctual and faithful fulfilment of these obligations by his oath of office, while a citizen had to be bound by oath.

23. Volunteers who were not citizens had the same rights as the inhabitants when they were on commando.

24. Those who distinguished themselves through bravery, courage and exceptional behaviour, had to be reported to the State President by the Officer Commanding the detachment to which they belonged. The State President would then, by means of a separate notice in the Government Gazette, give honourable mention of such persons.

25. In cases where this Ordinance determined no particular punishment for transgressions the magistrates had jurisdiction to pass sentence which was not to exceed a fine of £37 lOs or imprisonment of three months.

26. Any person, whether volunteer or called-up, who withdrew from a commando without written permission from the officer commanding the detachment to which he belonged, would be subject to a fine of not less than £10 pounds, or more than £37 lOs sterling, and would immediately, after conviction, be returned to the commando by the magistrate. In case of non-payment of the fine the transgressor would be punished with imprisonment of not more than three months (which sentence he would serve on completion of the commando). The punishment laid down in this article was more severe than that of Article 16 of 1854 which provided for a fine of not less than £10 and not more than £20 while the period of imprisonment was to be between one and three months.

27. When war was declared, or when orders were given for the sending out of a commando against any enemy, no-one could leave a fieldcornetey without the written permission of the Fieldcornet. Anyone who withdrew from service in this manner was subject to a fine which was not to exceed £37 l0s or imprisonment not to exceed three months. In Article 17 of 1854 the punishment was a fine of not less than £20 and not more than £40. Should a resident wish to leave his Fieldcornetcy and the Fieldcornet refuse to grant the required leave, the resident could appeal to the magistrate of the district. Every official who was qualified to execute criminal warrants of arrest could overtake and arrest persons leaving without permission. Anyone who had knowledge of persons leaving without permission was compelled to notify such officials immediately or face a fine of not more than £37 l0s.

28. If in such an instance someone left the State without the written permission of his Fieldcornet he could stand trial before the circuit court. If he were found guilty, he was subject to imprisonment of one to five years. If the summons could not be served on the transgressor personally, he could be summoned at least thirty days before the sitting of the court by edict in the Government Gazette, and if he did not appear, the sentence passed could be recovered from his movable or immovable property. If the Fieldcornet refused the requested permission, the applicant could appeal to the magistrate of the district. If the magistrate also refused, the person had the right of appeal to the State President.

29. Should it be found necessary for the public to be drawn together in laagers for safety, the places for the laagers had to be chosen by majority vote of the citizens of the ward. Persons who had homes in rural areas could not be compelled to leave them, but they did not have the right to seek protection in a laager outside their district.

30. Persons who claimed cattle, or any other part of the booty, as their property, had to bind themselves with two well-to-do guarantors as co-principal debtors, for a sum of double the amount at which the claimed booty was valued, after which it could be handed over. The Commandant had to keep a record of the proceedings. After the war, the State President could appoint a commission, before which persons had to prove that the booty claimed was their property. Should they remain negligent to appear before the commission, or to sufficiently identify their property, or claimed booty, to the satisfaction of the commission, they would be liable to a fine equal to double the value of the claimed goods. In cases of negligence or insufficient identification, the State President could nominate a suitable person to represent the Government.

31. Should, on any occasion, booty be taken from the enemy, the claims as set out in Article 30 had first to be met after which claims could be made for dead or missing horses and oxen, used in aid of the commando, and for wagons lost, under the same circumstances. Of the remainder of the booty, half was to go to the Government towards covering the cost of the war or commando expenses, while the other half was to be divided among those who took part in the commando and those who transported the booty. Guns, firearms and munitions were not included in the term booty, and any of these taken became the property of the Government. The widows, and orphans, of those who fell in battle during an expedition had claim to the portion of the booty to which the fallen would have been entitled had they lived. The Officer commanding a detachment had the right, in special cases, where the taking of booty was, or was considered to have been, accompanied by exceptional dangers, to award half, or all, of the booty to those who actually took part in capturing the booty, or to determine that a captured horse, or rifle, would be the property of a particular man, provided it were obtained in an exceptionally brave, or dangerous, manner.

A House of Assembly decision, dated 22 May, 1866, and published as Article 8 of Ordinance No. 14 of 1877 read, ". . . that under the term 'cost of war'," was to be understood, all expenses, incurred by the Government, in aid of the war.

On 18 May, 1875, the House of Assembly decided, with ''. . . a view to the long time given for reporting claims to seized money", that no payments of seized money would be made to persons who reported to have claim on the Seized Money Fund after 1 May, 1874. The House also decided that the share of persons whose names appeared on the lists of those entitled to seized money, but who had not reported for payment, and those who failed to meet the stipulations of the House's decision of 10 May, 1873, was to be declared forfeit. These decisions were published as Articles 7 and 8 of Ordinance No.21 of 1877.

32. Letters from or to any commando would be sent post-free by the State.

33. With every commando was a Court-Martial consisting of the officer commanding, and the Commandants of the districts present on commando. If they were less than seven in number the shortcoming members would be elected from the midst of all the officers present by a majority vote. Should a commando have not more than seven officers they would form the court-martial. Should there be less than seven officers, the required number of persons to make up the court-martial had to be appointed by the combined citizens by a majority vote. The State President could determine the place or boundaries of an area within which each court-martial would have jurisdiction.

Article I of the Commando Act of 1854 laid down that the State President, the Commandants and the Fieldcornets would form the court-martial in case of hostilities against the State. Article 2 of the same Act laid down that where any officer was guilty of cowardice or any other crime concerning the State in time of War, the court-martial was empowered to punish him according to circumstances.

34. The citizens or other persons under the command of a combat officer or officers in the field had to strictly obey the legal orders of their officers. Officers as well as citizens or other subordinate persons who were guilty of any commando infringement could, taking into account the regulations of the Executive Council in accordance with Ordinance No.3 of 1856, be punished by the Court Martial according to the nature and degree of the infringement with a fine of not more than £10 or imprisonment of not more than one month. The Officer commanding every detachment had the right to give orders without the advice of the Court Martial though he had the right, when he considered it necessary or advisable, to obtain advice from the Court Martial.

35. When a commando or armed expedition was sent out, substitutes had to be elected for the commandants and Fieldcornets present directly the force had assembled in case any of them died in combat. In the case of a Commandant, his substitute had to be chosen by the citizens present from his district, and in the case of a Fieldcornet by those present from his ward. Such substitutes were chosen for the whole duration of the commando.

Before the commencement of a war, thus Article 15 of the 1854 act, the substitute officers had to be appointed and made known by the court-martial.

36. Should a person on commando use a commandeered horse he was held responsible for the loss or neglect of the animal if it was proved that this was caused purposely or through indifference.

37. Persons who were resident outside the country and who owned unoccupied land were compelled, in case of war, to put at the disposal of the Government an able and well-equipped man who was not subject to personal commando service, or to pay into the State Coffers a sum of £40 to cover the cost of the war. After an owner of land who was subject to the payment of the above tax of £40 had paid same, the land could be freely transferred to another person who would not be subject to the payment of another £40 during the war.

38. The Fieldcornets of the wards and the Provision-Fieldcornets of the towns were compelled to accompany the citizens in the field unless their magistrate, for lawful reasons, temporarily excused them.

39. The stipulations contained in this Ordinance (No.1 of 1866) which were applicable to the Commandants and Fieldeornets were, in their absence, aho applicable to their substitutes.

40. All laws and stipulations contrasting with the stipulations of this ordinance were recalled and destroyed.

41. This ordinance was to be published in the first Government Gazette to be printed after the date of approval (19 February, 1866) and was to be enacted on 1 March, 1866.

Thus the Commando Act of 1866. It was signed by H. O. Dreyer who was chairman of the House of Assembly at the time.

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