The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 1 No 6 - June 1970

The Albany Levy of 1822-1825

Some notes compiled by NEVILLE GOMM

After the arrival of the 1820 Settlers in the Eastern Cape to the magistrate for permission to organise some sort of force for their protection. They had hitherto been unable to protect themselves or to recover any stolen property. Lord Charles Somerset approved of the suggestion as he was in favour of making the settlers the protectors of their own homes and property. He instructed the magistrate to draw up a scheme for the establishment of a local militia.

On October 4, 1822, Lord Charles Henry Somerset, Governor of the Cape Colony, issued a proclamation by which the Albany Armed Inhabitants or Albany Levy, which unfortunately did not function effectively, was formed. The proclamation was published in Cape Town the next day and its content is reproduced below.

"Whereas by the ancient Law and Usage of this Settlement, all Male Inhabitants, between the ages of 16 and 60, are to be enrolled in their respective Districts, with the view to their being called out to serve on 'Commandos', whenever the exigency of the District, or the general service of the Colony, shall require it; and all Persons having attained the age of 16 Years, who shall come to reside in this Colony, are bound by the existing Regulations to cause themselves to be enrolled at the Office of the Landdrost of the District in which they shall take up their abode, within six Weeks after they shall so have established their domicile; and, whereas the exposed situation of the Albany District, has appeared to me to render it expedient, that the Inhabitants who have lately taken up their abode therein, should not only be enrolled as aforesaid, but that, for their own protection and security, a more systematic form should be given to the general enrollment, with the view of enabling the Landdrost of the District to avail himself of their combined aid in the most efficient manner. These are, therefore, to require the Landdrost of the Albany District aforesaid, to cause a select proportion of the aforesaid Inhabitants to be enrolled, armed, and supplied with a due quantity of ammunition, under such Restrictions and Regulations as shall meet my further approval; that is, that he cause to be enrolled one Troop, of not less than fifty mounted Inhabitants of Graham's Town, and its Vicinity, and one Troop of not less than fifty mounted Inhabitants of Bathurst, and its Vicinity; together with five Divisions of Infantry, of one hundred Men each, in such situations as his local knowledge shall deem best adapted for the purpose of securing the Country against Caffre Depredations.

"A Lieutenant will be appointed to each Troop or Division, for the purpose of mustering, assembling, and leading the Division, as circumstances shall require; and to each Division a proper number of pensioned Sergeants will be attached, for the purpose of training and exercising such Divisions -- which Divisions shall assemble for such training and exercising, at the Alarm Post of the Division (which each Individual shall be made acquainted with), or such other Place as may be appointed, once in each Fortnight, on a Day to be fixed by the Landdrost aforesaid, and to continue so to assemble once in each Fortnight, so long as it shall be deemed expedient. And in order to accustom the Divisions to act together, the Landdrost shall cause them to assemble once in each Month, at a Place of General Muster, to be fixed as aforesaid; and he shall appoint an Adjutant to the Corps, to assist him in these duties. The Landdrost shall, at the first General Muster, cause the following Oath of Allegiance to be taken by each Individual enrolled, viz.:
" 'I, A.B., do sincerely promise and swear, that I will be faithful, and bear true allegiance to His Majesty King George the 4th, and that I will faithfully serve in the (1st or 2d) Troop, or (1st, 2d, 3d, 4th, 5th) Division of the Albany Armed Inhabitants, (called the Albany Levy), on all Commandos regularly called out by the District Magistrate, or his order. So help me, God.'

"And it is hereby ordered and directed, that if any of the Inhabitants, enrolled for this Service, shall neglect or refuse to attend the General Muster, for the purpose of taking the Oath of Allegiance aforesaid, without assigning just cause for such absence, he shall be liable to pay to the District Treasury, a Fine, not exceeding the sum of Fifty Rix-dollars, which Fine shall be recoverable in the Court of Landdrost and Heemraden; and in default of payment thereof, the Defaulter shall be liable to Imprisonment for one Calendar Month. And it is hereby further ordered, that in any case any Individual shall neglect to attend any assembly of his Troop, Division, or Detachment, for which he shall have been regularly warned, he shall be liable to any Fine, not exceeding 30R-d's to be sued for and recovered as aforesaid. And it is hereby further ordered, that the Landdrost, seeing occasion thereto, shall be authorised, (as has hitherto been usual), to place the aforesaid armed Inhabitants under the command, for such Period as may be deemed necessary, of any Military Officer, belonging to the Forces stationed on the Frontier; and in all cases in which the aforesaid armed Inhabitants, or any part thereof, shall be called out for actual Service, all Persons serving therein shall be subjected to all the Provisions contained in the Act of Parliament then in force, for the prevention of Mutiny and Desertion and of the Articles of War, made in pursuance thereof.

"And that no Person may plead Ignorance hereof, this shall be published and affixed in the usual manner."

The word "division" as used in the case of the infantry in the proclamation may be misleading to younger readers and it would probably be more accurate to describe them as companies.

It may be of interest to note here that the word "caffre" is of Turkish origin. The more common spelling of kaffir is derived from the Arabic "kafir", which means an unbeliever or infidel.

The mounted men were under the command of Lieutenants J. Willis and Charles Crause. The latter was an 1820 Settler and was head of Crause's party of settlers, which came from Kent. The companies of infantry were led by Lieutenants W. Austin, Adam Gilfillan, John Crause and Captain Henry Crause. Gilfillan was a member of Thornhill's party of settlers and he later joined the Voortrekkers on their journeys to the north. John Crause, who was in command of two companies, was also a settler and a member of Crause's party. Henry Crause, also a settler, came to the Cape in Baillie's party. The author has not been able to trace where J. Willis and W. Austin came from. Mr. George Dyason, head of Dyason's London party of settlers, became the Adjutant of the Levy. At a later stage he became the Fieldcornet for Albany and afterwards the Civil Commissioner and Resident Magistrate at Bathurst and Graaff Reinet. His son -- also George -- was killed in the 8th Kaffir War of 1850-53.

By April 11, 1823, the 1st Division was commanded by Lieutenant William Austin and the 2nd Division by Lieutenant William Gilfillan. In the 3rd Division William Seymour was a Sergeant and John Whitehead, Robert Emslie, Richard Crouch and John King had the same rank in the 4th Division. The infantry had been supplied with muskets and the cavalry with carbines. Enrolment had been completed at the locations of the various parties by Assistant Magistrates William Austin and Miles Bowker.

At the outset difficulties were experienced as some of the men had to walk up to ten miles just to drill, while many had to be excused from attending parades during the ploughing and harvesting seasons.

On April 8, 1823, a memorial was signed by 57 disgruntled men and sent to Lord Charles Somerset. It read:

"To His Excellency, the Right Honourable General Lord Charles Henry Somerset, Commander in Chief, etc., etc.
"The Memorial of the undersigned inhabitants of Grahams-Town, most humbly sheweth: That your Memorialists came to this colony as settlers in different parties. In consequence of a recent proclamation your memorialists are called upon to take an Oath, to which they cannot acquiesce.

Your Memorialists trust your Excellency will not from this circumstance consider them as disloyal subjects, they have carefully considered it, and are anxious to testify their loyalty in any way which does not interfere with their personal liberty, but they cannot divest themselves of the idea that after taking that Oath they are bound under the Martial Law equally with any private in His Majesty's Regiments!

"Your Memorialists beg leave to state that they are ready to take the Oath of Allegiance, to enroll themselves as a Volunteer Corps, under the command of any persons Your Excellency may think proper to appoint, learn the exercises, and act, whenever their services should be required.

"Your Memorialists trust that this open avowal of their sentiments, will remove from Your Excellency's mind any unfavourable impression, which a representation of their non-compliance with the Oath might occasion.

"And your Memorialists will as in duty bound ever pray.
Grahamstown, 8th April, 1823."

The original document had a marginal note as follows: "Declining to take the Oath of Allegiance prescribed by the Proclamation of 4th Oct., 1822, on their being enrolled in the Albany Levy."

The memorial was signed by the following: John Beale or Beak, Thomas Nelson, Rich'd Tainton, Ralph Goddard, John Strand, Joseph Painter, Robert Hortor (?), William Thackwray, John Francis Comfield, William Eales, J'n Mitton, Rob't Godfrey, Rich' Freemantle, Robert Stock, And' Haym (?), ? Field, William Sergeant, Robert Brady, James Rathbone, S. Hamson (?), Ja's Mundell, Stephen Denham, James Wriglit, Thomas Bowker, Alfred Warrington, Edward Chranshy (?), Robert Bagshaw, John (?) Wright, Th's Robinson, John Saunders, Charles Penny, W'm Penny, Richard Bland, J. Evans, G. Hodges, W'm Bear (?), C. B. Pearse Jr., John Chiperfield, W'm Harle (?), Isaac Purcell, John Bardford, James Howse, George Duffield, James Leaney, John Biggs, John Ralph, George Shellamd (?), Daniel Hobson, Charles Chulb's (?), Henry Marshall, John Holland, Rob't Wilde, James Jubber, Thomas Fancutt, James Robinson and Rob't Rayner. Many of the signatures on the photostat copy of the original document, received from the Cape archives, are unreadable, hence the question marks.

On May 13, 1823, a counter-memorial was sent to Lord Bathurst by settlers, who did not agree with the above group. A memorial had also been sent on March 10, 1823. The Levy did not have a chance of proving itself in actual warfare as it was disbanded in March, 1825, for retrenchment reasons and its members were placed on the same footing for military purposes as the earlier Dutch colonists.

The Albany Levy was mustered on March 18, 1825, to hand in its arms and those members who wished to keep their arms could do so at 1 17s. 6d. per weapon.

The Levy was the forerunner of a number of other units with the same or a similar name. Among these were the Albany Levy of 1851, the Albany Hottentot Levy and the Albany Fingo Levy.

"The Cape Town Gazette and African Advertiser", Saturday, October 5, 1822.
"History of South Africa since 1795", Vol,. 3 and 6, Theal.
"The Story of the British Settler, of 1820 in South Africa", by H. E. Hockly, B.A., Ll.B., Juta & Co., Ltd., 1957, and other,.
"Hawk's, Eye", by Dorothy E. Rivett-Carnac, Howard Timmin,, 1966, and other,.
C.O. 201, 8/4/1823, No.21.
"Record, of the Cape Colony", Theal, Vol. XV, pp. 305-311, and Vol. XVJ, pp. 10-15.
Theal's, "History of South Africa", Vol. IX.
"The Lower Albany Chronicle", Part 1, by E. Morse Jones, 1964.
"The Armed Force, of South Africa", by Major G. Tylden, and "Africana Notes and News", of various dates.

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