The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 2 No 1 - June 1971


by J. J. HULME

A previous article in the Journal dealt with irregular units serving in this war(1) and specifically excluded the Burgher Commandos from consideration. From the same sources, that is, contemporary press reports, the following notes have been compiled. The standard works on the War of the Axe contain frequent mention of commandos but as they are well-known and easily accessible to the student, no extract has been made from them in this article.(2)

The burghers of the frontier districts were naturally the first to be called out (Cape Town Mail, 28 March, 1846), following the passing of the Burgher Duty Ordinance (ibid, 2nd Extra Edition, 25th April, 1846) to remain in force until 1st August that year.

The same paper (16th May, 1846) contains an estimate of the Forces for the Defence of the Frontier, on their way or about to be despatched from the different districts:

Albany, Somerset (East), Cradock, Graaff Reinet and Colesberg, say 7 500
Uitenhage 800
Stellenbosch (including 2nd division) 1100
Worcester 600
Clanwilliam 650
Swellendam (including 2nd division) 1 700
George 600
Beaufort (including 2nd division) 480
Cape and Cape Division (only partly expedited) 1 450
Troops (independent of Fingoes) 3 500
Grand Total 18 330(3)

Sir Andries Stockenstrom was appointed Commandant-General of Burgher Forces in the Eastern Districts (CTM, 2nd extra Edition, 9th May, 1846) and was reported as busy in the North securing farmers' camps and in collecting men to strike against the enemy (CTM, 23rd May 1846).

In June his principal officers were reported as being:
Stephanus J. van Wyk of Cradock and Gideon Joubert of Colesberg, Tarka and Tambookie frontier;
J. de Lange, of Albany, Upper Koonap;
Dods Pringle, of Somerset, Mancazana and Baviaans River;
P. B. Erasmus, of Somerset, Kaga and East Riet River;
Gordon Nourse, of Somerset, Old Koonap Post;
J. Mitford Bowker, of Albany, Lower Koonap;
Jury Lombard, of Albany, Great Fish River;
du Toit and Molteno, of Beaufort (West) (Sam Sly's Journal, 18th June, 1846), in advance of the Kronne (east of Fort Beaufort).

In a General Order at Waterloo Bay, dated 19th September, 1846, the Burghers were dismissed with thanks (Cape Town Mail, 26th September, 1846), and thereafter dispersed to their homes, although the Graham's Town Journal early in October noted that the Western Province men passing through the town were looking in a very bad state.

Noted as being at Waai Plaats, under the command of Field Commandant Bradshaw, (Sam Sly's Journal, 30th April, 1846) on 22nd April, 1846.

A return of men and horses of the Albany Mounted Burgher Force under Field Commandant S. Bradshaw, from Fort Peddie on 21st March, 1847 reads:

Cornetcies Burghers Substitutes Horses Remarks
Bathurst 17 3 19  
Fort Beaufort 3 7 13 3 horses unserviceable
Bushman's River 7 0 7 efficient
Fish River 3 0 3  
Graham's Town 2 16 18 several horses unserviceable belonging to substitutes
Koonap 5 0 7 efficient
Winterberg 10 0 20 efficient

N.B. - Of all the arms brought by the above force, the following is an abstract of the return on their examination at Fort Peddie:
Graham's Town 10 guns useless
Bushman's River 1 gun useless
Bathurst 7 guns wanting repairs

(CTM, 10th April, 1847).

Bradshaw was in command of a temporary camp on the Buffalo River (CTM, 1st May, 1847). The arrival of the second contingent of the Albany Burghers was noted at Graham's Town (CTM, 16th June, 1847) .

Commanding Officer Commandant du Toit (Sam Sly's Journal, 25th June, 1846).

200 mounted men arrived at Graham's Town on Monday, 6th June, 1846 (Sam Sly's Journal). The first division of these men had left the Cape on 12th May, l846, 137 strong under the command of C. Mostert, Snr. The other officers were Dirk Eksteen and R. Cloete (CTM, 16th May, 1846). On 10th August, 1846 they were at Fort Beresford with Somerset's force for the move to the Kei and were expecting to go home at the end of the month (CTM, 22nd August, 1846). They were in Somerset's column on the March to the Buffalo Mountains from 5th to 7th August, 1846 (CTM, 19th September, 1846) and served on the second expedition to the Kei from 13th to 31st August, 1846, 100 strong under Commandant Eksteen.

Sixty men from Clanwilliam ward assembled on 10th May, 1846, and were due to leave on the following day to join the Upper Oliphants River burghers at Worcester (CTM, 16th May, 1846). The burghers of the wards Bidouw, Bokkeveld, Hantam and Roggeveld, under Commandant Jac. van der Merwe, of Hantam, were due to assemble. The force would be larger but for the Bushman and Korannas on the frontier(4) (CTM, 13th May, 1846). The arrival of the second contingent at Graham's Town was reported on 16th July, 1846. This consisted of 1 commandant, 1 captain, 1 adjutant, 3 lieutenants, 3 cornets and 45 men. From there they proceeded to Fort Beaufort on the following day to join the main body who had gone direct to the latter place (CTM, 25th July, 1846 and Sam Sly's Journal, 30th July, 1846). The first contingent consisted of 138 mounted men and 200 infantry (CTM, 8th August, 1846).

A letter published in the Cape Monitor of 25th April, 1855, however, gives the following information: There were two divisions of Clanwilliam Burghers, each quite distinct.

1. Under Commandant Shawe, which left Clanwilliam on 11th May, 1846, nine days after the order to mobilise arrived, and marched via Worcester, Swellendam, Longkloof and Uitenhage, reporting at Graham's Town on 15th July. These went into Kaffirland on 26th July. A General Order, Fort Beaufort, 25th July, 1846, reads:
"The first division(5) will march tomorrow for the purpose of joining H.E. the Commander-in-Chief in the field. The order of march will be as follows: Field Captain Ross, provisional company, will form the advance guard, throwing out skirmishers on both flanks, and will be supported by the Clanwilliam Burghers, Royal Artillery, supported by 7th Dragoon Guards and Cape Mounted Riflemen, Royal Engineers, 27th Regiment, 91st Regiment, supported by the Clanwilliam foot burghers."

They were at the scene of action at the same time as the Cape Town Levy and before the Swartland Burghers under Commandant Lockner.

2. Under J. van der Merwe.
Comment: The newspaper extracts and the letter show up certain discrepancies which should be noted.

Part had joined Commandant General Stockenstrom (CTM, 23rd May, 1846).

Formed part of the second division under Colonel Somerset on 8th June, 1846 (General Order, No.31 of 10th June, 1846, Graham's Town). Were in Somerset's expedition to the Amatolas, 5th to 8th August, 1846 and set off for home on the latter date (CTM, 22nd August, 1846), 200 strong under Commandant Muller (CTM, 19th September, 1846). Took part in the Kei Expedition under Somerset, 75 strong, 9th to 24th July (ibid 19th September, 1846).

Graaff Reinet and Sneeuwberg Burghers left Graaff Reinet on 8th April, for the front (supplement to CTM, 18th April, 1846). 40 men came from the village under Field Cornet H. A. Enslin and 20 men each from the Field Cornetcies of Buffelshoek, Camdebo, Op Sneeuwberg, Agter-op-Sneeuwberg and Uitvlugt, total about 150, and marched for Somerset East (letter from Graaff Reinet dated 10th April). Enslin was appointed Commandant (Sam Sly's Journal, 25th June, 1846).

Enrolled and ready to invade Kaffirland (CTM, 18th April, 1846). Arrival at (Graham's Town?) of the Somerset Burghers, 170 mounted men with 200 spare horses (Sam Sly's Journal, 30th April, 1846, quoting a letter dated 16th April, 1846).

Arrived at Graham's Town 150 strong under Commandant Eksteen after an inspection at Cypherfontein on 4th July, 1846 by Colonel Johnstone, 27th Foot (Sam Sly's Journal, 16th July, 1846). The commando was reported by another source as consisting of 50 wagons, five companies numbering 269 burghers and 318 coloured persons, the whole under command of Commandant Onkruydt (Frontier Times, quoted by Sam Sly's Journal, above). They returned to Graham's Town on the afternoon of 9th July after scouring Vaal Kranz and Hell Poort (CTM, 18th July, 1846) under the command of Onkruydt. On 11th July, 250 Stellenbosch men left the town to take up a post at Collingham (Sam Sly's Journal, 23rd July, 1846). A report in the middle of July gives the commando's distribution as: 156 mounted men under Onkruydt at De Bruin's Poort and Nieman's Kraal; 144 men and horses at Driver's Hill, 10 miles east of Graham's Town, and 120 men and horses at Konap Post, 25 miles North-east of the town (CTM, 18th July, 1846). The detachment at Nieman's Kraal apparently stayed there for a while (Sam Sly's Journal, 6th and 13th August, 1846 and CTM, 15th August). The Commando suffered casualties on 9th August and the following were reported as killed:
R. de Villiers; H. de Villiers; J. Bazon; P. Haushamer; D. Rossouw (CTM, 22nd August, 1846).

The detachment at Nieman's Kraal was withdrawn (CTM, 19th September, 1846). Towards the end of September the commando began to move home. Weak parties remained at Driver's Hill and Fort Dacres (CTM, 3rd October, 1846, from the Graham's Town Journal) and the last elements departed under Onkruydt on 20th October (CTM, 7th November, 1846).

The most interesting fact to come to light in these extracts is a unit organisation with the names of the officers. One can reasonably suppose that the larger commandos had some similar organisation. This is given in Sam Sly's Journal on 13 August, 1846.

The Stellenbosch Burgher Force: 
Commandant:M. J. van Nuldt Onkruydt
Adjutant:A. R. Berg
Surgeon:Dr. O Smuts
Commando Clerk:M. L. Neethling
 One bugler and one orderly.

1st Company: 
Captain:C. L. Neethling
Lieutenant:M. Briers
Adjutant:J. F. Breedecamp
1st Cornet:H. L. Bosman
2nd Cornet:E. L. Steyn

2nd Company: 
Captain:J. P. Bosman
Lieutenant:W. A. Haupt
Adjutant:D. F. Immelman
1st Cornet:D. de Roock
2nd Cornet:J. Rowan

3rd Company: 
Captain:H. Louw
Lieutenant:P. Minnaar
Adjutant:F. H. Bamberger
1st Cornet:C. Proctor
2nd Cornet:A. P. Cilliers

4th Company: 
Captain:J. Brink
Lieutenant:H. Theunissen
Adjutant:J. C. Faure
1st Cornet:G. J. Stagman
2nd Cornet:M. W. Theunissen

5th Company: 
Captain:H. C. Hugo
Lieutenant:J. du Toit
Adjutant:P. H. Fisscher
1st Cornet:J. P. G. Bosman
2nd Cornet:A. P. Smuts(6)

A list of figures is also given:
Coloured Burghers318
The greater part of these (i.e. wagons) has been abandoned for want of oxen and 30 tents are to be supplied instead.

Field Commandant Jan Linde and the Burghers are about to proceed to the frontier. They number 600, white and coloured (C TM, 11th May, 1846, quoting a letter from Swellendarn dated 12th May). About 70 arrived at Uitenhage on Thursday, 28th May and another detachment had reached Witklip. Reported as moving very slowly (Sam Sly's Journal, 11th June, 1846 from Eastern Province Herald of 30th May).

326 Swellendam Burghers have now left Uitenhage, fully equipped with 60 wagons, and with two out of six companies of Hottentot Burghers from the same place. Another field cornet from Swellendam said his men were encamped on the Port Elizabeth side of Zwartkops (Sam Sly's Journal, 25th June, 1846 from Eastern Province Herald, undated).

The Civil Assistant Surgeon was appointed to medical charge of the Swellendam men (General Order of 24th June, 1846).

860 mounted Swellendam men arrived at Grahamstown under Field Commandant Linde, (His father is 80 years old and fought in the last Kaffir war, his 5th and 6th on the frontier) to join Somerset's Division at Fish River Mouth (CTM, 27th June, 1846). Date of arrival at Grahamstown was 25th June (Sam Sly's Journal, 9th July, 1846).

500 were ferried across the Fish River Mouth (Sam Sly's Journal, 16th July, 1846). Mounted Swellendam Burghers were in the force which left from Fort Beaufort on 26th July (Sam Sly's Journal, 13th August, 1846 from a letter from Fort Beaufort dated 30th July).

A detachment was in Somerset's force across the Kei (CTM, 8th August, 1846). The Graham's Town Journal reports in glowing terms on Commandant Linde and the Swellendam Burghers (CTM, 15th August, 1846). On Somerset's expedition to the Amatolas, 5th to 8th August (CTM, 22nd August, 1846). Served in Somerset's second expedition across the Kei, 13th to 31st August, 400 strong (CTM, 19th September, 1846).

Reported at Commando Kraal (CTM, 18th April, 1846). The commanding officer was Captain Size who was told to bring up the whole force (possibly including levies as well) (ibid 25th April, 1846).

400 men were reported as being within four hours' march of Uitenhage (Sam Sly's Journal, 25th June, 1846). One man, Jan Zuick, was killed on 15th June while on patrol to retake stolen cattle near Uitenhage (ibid 2nd July, 1846). Left Graham's Town on 9th July, for Fish River Mouth. A fine body of men, well equipped. Infantry coloured (ibid 23rd July, 1846; also CTM, 18th July, 1846). On the expedition to the Amatolas with Somerset, 5th to 8th August (CTM, 22nd August, 1846). In orders, Buffalo Poort, 13th August, 1846, F. Schurhout was appointed Adjutant at 3/- pay per day, Worcester Burgher Force, with effect from 19th June, 1846 (ibid, 22nd August, 1846). Served on the second expedition to the Kei, 200 strong under Commandant du Toit (CTM, 19th September, 1846).

As mounted men, the burghers of the Western districts all made the overland march to the frontier. This must have told fairly heavily on the horses and wagons. Commissariat arrangements do not appear to have been good, with serious results in the ensuming 8th Kaffir War, five years later. The Westerners were all on their way home before the end of 1846, their departure producing the usual manpower crisis on the frontier. The Easterners, having their homes on the frontier, had no option but to go on serving.

The unit organisation of the Stellenbosch men is, as stated above, of interest in showing that the commandos were not necessarily as casual over discipline as their detractors have sometimnes maintained. As a matter of interest many of the names appearing in this unit's roll of officers are still to be found in the Stellenbosch area.(7)


1. See Journal, Vol. 1, No.3, page 27.

2. Godlonton, "The Irruption of the Kaffir Hordes", C. Struik, Cape Town, 1965. Africana Collectanea Reprint Series.
Theal: "History of South Africa."
Cory: "Rise of South Africa."

3. These figures are theoretical and have a statistical interest only.

4. The unsettled state of the Colony's North-West frontier at this time is not generally appreciated. However, this claim must be taken with a pinch of salt. Commando service was never popular among a civilian rural community.

5. The whole column, not a part of the Clanwilliam Commando.

6. See last sentence of this article.

7. The writer grew up in the neighbouring town of Somerset West and makes this statement from personal knowledge.

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