The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal - Vol 3 No 3 - June1975

The Pandour Corps at the Cape during the rule of the Dutch East India Company


By the end of the eighteenth century the Hottentots (Khoi-Khoin) of the Cape Colony had become detribalized and many of them became cheap labourers for the farmers of European descent. In this close relationship they became acquainted with the Dutch language and way of life in the Colony. Naturally they also became familiar with fire-arms and numbers of them usually accompanied the burgher Commandos against the marauding Bushmen in the interior and Xhosa tribes on the eastern frontier.

It was, however, a foreign war that caused the establishment of the first Hottentot regiment at the Cape, viz the war that commenced in December 1780 between Britain and France and her ally, the Netherlands. Governor J. van Plettenberg realized that the military forces at the Cape were too weak to repel a sudden foreign attack and that it would be economically unwise to withdraw the farmers for an unlimited time from their agricultural activities. He, therefore, established, in April 1781, the so-called Corps Bastaard Hottentotten which consisted of about 400 Hottentots and Bastards (people of mixed racial origin) under command of two burgher officers, H.O. Eksteen and G. Munnik.

The efficiency of this corps was never put to the test, since no attack took place on Cape Town itself. The French traveller F. le Vaillant, however, saw these soldiers doing their military training and humorously described it as a comedy - 'semi-barbarous people who could not discern between their right and left!'. Another traveller, C. de Jong, had a better impression of these soldiers. He believed them to be excellent snipers who could be successfully used to repel any invading enemy.

In June 1782 the Corps Bastaard Hottentotten was disbanded, because French reinforcements, the Luxemburg and Pondicherry Regiments, had arrived at the Cape. It is evident that the first Hottentot regiment was never regarded as a permanent military force, but only as an emergency force to augment the garrison at the Cape.

A similar Hottentot foorce, the well-known Pandour Corps, was established in May 1793 by the Dutch Commissioners S.C. Nederburgh and S.H. Frijkenius after another war had commenced between Britain and the French Republic in February of that year. The burghers were ordered to send in all Hottentots and Bastards in their service who were familiar with the use of fire-arms. In August 1793 there were already about 135 Pandour soldiers in the new regiment. They were mainly former farmhands or inhabitants of the Mooravian Missionary Institution at Baviaanskloof (Genadendal).

The term Pandour originates from the name of a savage host, gathered under command of Baron Trenck in Croatia in 1741. They were notorious for their ferocity and later fought on the side of Austria against Frederick the Great of Prussia. In the Netherlands the term was sometimes used as a nickname for infantry and in 1793 was also used officially at the Cape for the second Hottentot regiment.

When a British fleet of nine warships, under command of Admiral G.K. Elphinstone, arrived in Simon's Bay in June 1795, the Pandour Corps was commanded by Captain J.G. Cloete, a member of the local burgher forces. Commissioner A.J. Sluysken ordered the inhabitants and troops to withdraw from Simon's Bay and entrenched about 300 soldiers at the Muizenberg and Steenberg Posts. The Pandours and some burgher volunteers were used as picquets on the mountains between Simon's Bay and Muizenberg.

First photo

Captain Johan Gerhard Cloete, Commander of Pandour Corps
at the battle of Muizenberg, 7th August 1795 (Cape Archives)

In July 1795 British forces were landed at Simon's Bay without meeting any resistance from the local military forces. A minor skirmish between twelve Pandours and some British soldiers took place near Simon's Bay during the night of 11th July. Five Pandours were taken prisoner of war by the British and a sixth Pandour was sent back to the Dutch forces 'on secret service'.

Sluysken's hesitancy became more and more criticized by the inhabitants of the Cape who sympathized strongly with the Republicans in the Netherlands. After another skirmish had taken place between some burghers and Pandours and the British forces near Fish Hoek on 16th July, Sluysken announced that a more active resistance by the local forces would be allowed. At the beginning of August a British soldier, named Lord, was wounded in the foot in a skirmish between some Pandours and burghers, under the command of Adjutant J. van Reenen, and a British force in the mountains near Simon's Bay.

This incident was followed by a strong British infantry and naval offensive against the Muizenberg Post on 7th August. The 150 Pandours, commanded by Captain Cloete, evacuated their mountain posts when the Colonial forces were compelled by British naval bombardment to withdraw from Muizenberg. The Pandours were posted with other local forces at Sandvlei, some distance from the sea. Only some five or six Pandours were killed during the Battle of Muizenberg.

On 8th August a party of Pandours, commanded by a burgher named Linde, showed their zeal by opportunistically attacking some British troops near Sandvlei, driving them back and taking their baggage. According to one report (Neethling), a British officer and some marines were killed during this engagement.

On 17th August abourt 200 Pandours, 30 artillerymen and some burgher cavalry were posted at Steenberg, about three miles inland from Muizenberg. Minor skirmishes took place against the British. Two British soldiers were taken prisoner of war by the Pandours and sent to Cape Town on 21st August.

On the moorning of 1st September, Pandours and burghers launched another attack on the vanguard of the British forces near Steenberg. The Pandours nearly succeeded in capturing a cannon at one of the British outposts, but British artillery fire drove them back. The attack was a moral victory for the Pandourrs and burghers, as five British soldiers were taken prisoner of war and fourteen, including two officers, were wounded. The officers were Major Moneypenny of the 78th Regiment and Captain Dentaff of the St Helena Troops. The Colonial forces suffered no casualties.

In the meantime dissatisfaction and even signs of revolt against their superiors grew amongst the Colonial forces. This was mainly due to lack of discipline amongst the troops, inefficient military commanders and the policy of 'military withdrawal' to Wynberg, adopted by Commissioner - Sluysken who sympathized with the Royal House of Orange of the Netherlands.

An unexpected, but bloodless mutiny, broke out amongst the Pandours against their burgher officers at Steenberg on the afternoon of 1st September. They were dissatisfied with their meagre share of the booty, wanted an increase of pay, a bigger ration of food, liquor and tobacco, better provision for and protection of their families in the interior and the abolition of corporal punishment. The armed body of Pandours, about 170 in number, marched to Cape Town where Commissioner Sluysken had an interview with them in the Castle. He succeeded in pacifying them with promises and a present of two stivers to each of them. The next day they were sent back to thier post. Nevertheless, Sluysken and the military commanders could not rely on their unconditional loyalty and support any longer. Sluysken sent official representatives (De Beer, Van Reenen and Joubert) to the interior to enlist as many Hottentots and Bastards as possible, for a new Pandour Corps, but this was done at too late a stage to achieve anything.

Captain Cloete, commander of the Pandour Corps, became indisposed after the Battle of Muizenberg (7th August), and Lieutenant H. Abue of the National Battalion was officially appointed as acting commander in his stead on 11th September.

In the final stages of the attack by 6 000 British troops on Cape Town, the Pandours played a minor role, and only some 150 of them were amongst the Colonial forces which defended and ultimately evacuated the Wynberg line of defence on 14th September. After this, the Pandours were not armed again. A truce was signed on 15th September at Rustenburg and the Colony officially capitulated to the British.

The Pandours were regarded by both Dutch and British eyewitnesses as good soldiers when commanded by efficient officers such as Jan Cloete and the Linde brothers. Although the Pandours did not play a major role in preventing the final British occupation of the Cape, they rendered valuable military service to the Dutch regime of the Colony. The new British rulers soon decided to establish their own Hottentot regiment, known as the Cape Corps.

Return to Journal Index OR Society's Home page

South African Military History Society /