'The obligations of the Crown to the Soldier are to pay and to clothe him, to arm him when and as the responsible minister sees fit, and (on certain deductions), to feed him, to lodge him, and to preserve him, by all reasonable care, from disease, physical and moral,' wrote a military historian in 1874. Since the mid-1600s, Britain's army had, by fits and starts, evolved from something described as 'not an army at all, but only a collection of regiments... built up on the model of the old mercenary bands' (Fortescue, 1928, p 31; Clode, 1874, pp 38-9). For most of that time, the men's diet was poor. 'Soldiers cried in their bunks from hunger they could not afford to appease.' In this second article by Malherbe (see 'How the Khoekhoen were drawn into the Dutch and British defensive systems, to c 1809', published in Military History Journal [incorporating Museum Review], Vol 12 No 3, June 2002, pp 94-9), the writer looks at the conditions facing the Khoekhoe corpsmen at the Cape.
The British were, in theory, opposed to the communal barracks favoured on the Continent, which concentrated troops 'in their own military world'. Nevertheless, many soldiers were housed in ill-provided barracks of that kind. For decades, they slept four to a wooden crib, and the overcrowding was not markedly reduced when they were supplied with separate beds. Floggings of 1 000 lashes and more were not uncommon. By and large, conditions only improved for the rank and file in the late 19th century (Barnett, 1970, p241 Spiers, 1980, pp 55-8, 72).
These circumstances should be borne in mind when considering conditions in the Cape Corps. If they lend credence to the fairly frequent claim that the corpsmen were indulged in certain ways, this was primarily with regard to the provision made for soldiers' families. Men in British regiments could marry at any time, but only six soldiers in every 100 were allowed to marry on the strength of a unit - that is, to have their families live with them. Initially at the Cape, the wives and children of recruits were left behind, on farms or at the mission stations. The Batavian General Janssens believed the mens' habits would improve if their families accompanied them, and from then on many followed the soldiers to their camp. The government subsisted the recruits' dependants, a practice introduced, as Governor Somerset later had to explain, to encourage the men to enlist, and to curb the desertion rate. It was, in fact, the quid pro quo 'for the compulsory mode by which the corps is raised'. In 1829, treasury bureaucrats in London decreed that the excess men having families with them be discharged or, if local conditions made that unwise, enlistment should be controlled until the 'correct proportion' was restored. It is not clear if this was carried out (CA GH 22/1, 23/04/1829, pp 53-4; Theal, Vol 10, pp 373-4; Theal, Vol 11, p 157; Speirs, 1980, p 57).
From the time the British re-occupied the Cape in 1806 it appears that something under a shilling a day, depending on length of service, remained the rate of private soldiers' pay for many years. In 1 81 3, rations were fixed at one pound of bread and three quarters of a pound of meat (with bones) for the standard two meals a day. The proportion of meat to bread could be changed if either was in short supply. At the Cape, meat was often more available than bread, and probably formed the mainstay of the corpsmen's diet (CA 1/UIT15/1, 26/10/1807; De Villiers, 1989, p 35; Spiers, 1980, p 53-9). Thus, the practice, 'on certain deductions', was to feed a soldier, to lodge him, and to preserve him, by all reasonable care, from disease, physical and moral. However, from the records it is hard to make sense of the stoppages, as the deductions were called, and the rationing costs borne by the soldiers out of their pay, or borne as extras by the government, remain unclear. Soldiers in other British regiments paid for medicines, for repairs to equipment, for laundry, for the barber's services and so on, but here again the corpsmen's obligations are obscure. At every stage, attempts were made to compare the cost of subsisting 'native' as opposed to 'British' troops, from the perspectives of strongly held views concerning the merits of each (Theal, Vol 35, pp 21-2; Speirs, 1980, p 53).
Clothing proved troublesome. In 1806, Landdrost Cuyler of Uitenhage complained that the soldiers were dressed in rags. The green cloth ordered from England by their commanding officer, John Graham - self-styled black chief - arrived at last in 1811. In 1827, the men were 'most exceedingly in want' and a year later, many were 'nearly naked'. Compensation in lieu of uniforms was not approved, owing to the perceived spending habits of the Khoekhoen. 'It is much more desirable that the Hottentots should receive clothing than money. I am anxious that the former should in future be sent out with greater regularity.' (CA C0358, 12/06/1828; C0332, 23/01/1827; Theal, Vol 32, p 251; Maclennan, 1986, p 23; CA 1/UIT15/1, 24/03/1806, 08/01/1807).
For shelter, corpsmen had military tents, or built their own reed huts. On the frontier, they erected barracks of wattle and daub, or of unbaked brick and thatch. These structures had mud floors, and lacked furniture of any kind-not even pegs for their accoutrements. It was reported that the soldiers ate and slept on the ground with nothing but their blanket to lie on, or for keeping warm. Some officers battled to provide decent shelter for the sake of their men's health, appearance and efficiency (CA CO33, 23/11/1811; CO 2592, 27/10/1814; CO 289, 29&30/05/1826).
In Britain, enlistment had been for life, until 1806, when a seven-year term was introduced. Initially, the authorities at the Cape offered a one-year term. Recruits were pressed to re-enlist, but afterwards the men enrolled for an unlimited period - service 'for life' was 21 years for infantry and 24 years for cavalry (Spiers, 1980, p 52; De Villiers, 1989, pp 35, 68, 80; Theal, 1964, Vol 5, p 10). Until 1813, the missions and 'kraals' - where captains were in the pay of government - were presumed to care for men discharged on account of age, or earlier in cases of infirmity. In that year, government assumed a share of the welfare burden in response to accounts of the plight of many old soldiers. Around that time, soldiers with 21 years' service, and those certified for early discharge on medical grounds, were entitled to small pensions, and it appears that the renewable seven-year term of enlistment was introduced in tandem with this scheme (CA CO 6167, 03/01/1814; CO 4836, 25/06/1814; CO 358, 04/01/1828; CO 2592, 18/02/1814, recommending 6d per diem). In many cases, missionaries had to file returns and vouch for the pensioners' presence to the district officials, who drew the pensions from the colonial treasury. The benefit was justified as an encouragement for longer service.
In 1814 a regimental school was founded at Grahamstown, in line with the practice in Britain at the time. Two years before, Colonel Graham had asked for more European NCOs, as the 'native' NCOs could neither read nor write. Governor Cradock wrote with pride of the 'very extensive school' run on the Lancastrian Plan. This school catered for adults as well as 'some hundreds' of the corpsmen's children. It also promised to provide 'teachers ... to all of the Hottentot nation who shall stand in need of instruction'. This became an inducement when recruiting at missions. 'Soldiers will be instructed in the tenets of the Christian religion, and will benefit by the education afforded by the Regimental School.' A schoolmaster sergeant was appointed, and the unit's chaplain was involved (Theal, Vol 9, p 351; CA CO 2552, 05/09/1812; Spiers, 1980, p 57). After ten years, a missionary found that the school in the barracks 'had not been used for a long time and was in a dreadful state of filth'. This report is hard to reconcile with the appointment in 1827 of a schoolmistress for 121 girls attending the Regimental School. Undoubtedly the proliferation of frontier forts and outposts posed problems for this scheme. In 1829, it was reported that these were much in need, having no chaplain and no schools. Yet, in 1830, a visitor to the Koonap River Post declared that he had never seen 'a school of Hottentots in better trim' (Hinchliff, 1971, p 96; Malherbe, 1997, P 92; CA CO 332, 27/11/1827; CO 3941, No 49, Bannister Papers, 'The Hottentot Soldiers' pp 413-16). All told, it is difficult to quantify the impact of the school.
In modern times, the opportunity to acquire skills and re-enter the job market better prepared as a result of military service is an inducement much emphasised in recruitment propaganda. In earlier years, however, instruction was virtually nil, with little formal training for the rank and file, even in the art of soldiering. When Britain was bending every effort to defeat Napoleon, 'there was not much weapon training in the infantry of the line. The annual training allowance of ammunition was thirty ball and sixty blanks.' (Barnett, 1970, p 245; Spiers, 1980, p 60). Little is known of the Cape Corps' training regime. On assuming command in 1806, Graham announced: 'I hope in a year we shall be a very formidable corps', implying that it could readily be brought to such a pitch. But beyond the reference cited earlier to their training as 'sharp-shooters' (Military History Journal, Vol 12 No 3, June 2002, p 97), little is known about the drill which corpsmen underwent. To a great extent, their general field skills and skills gained on commando and on farms, fitted them for service. Their usefulness and, no doubt, their servant status in the Colony, made them liable to requisitioning for non-military tasks. Thus, on one occasion, it was ordered they should be employed only 'in regular routine of duty'. (Theal, Vol 9, pp 220-1; Maclennan, 1986, p 23).
As members of a line regiment, corpsmen were subject to Britain's codes of military law. The
Mutiny Act of 1689 empowered courts martial, as separate entities from civil courts, to punish
mutiny or desertion with death (British Statutes at Large l Will, lll, c4,
p 443). The branding of convicts - 'BC' for bad character, 'D' for deserter - only ceased in 1871.
Flogging was merciless. In 1810, the landdrost of Uitenhage informed Dr I T van der Kemp of
'You will doubtless have heard of two deserters from the Cape Regiment, being tryed [sic] by a general court martial. On a lawful investigation the court has sentenced one of them, Lucas Frederick, to be shot, and the other, John Grooteriver, to receive 1 000 lashes.' (CA 1/UIT15/1, 11/07/1810, 08/01/1811).
The missionary was ordered to send fifty of his flock 'to witness the awful event'. Grooteriver received 224 lashes before the surgeon declared him unfit to bear more. He was sent to hospital, but died after some weeks (CA ZL 1/3/3, Box 4, Folder 3C, 1810). As late as 1826, a soldier received 1 200 of the 1 900 lashes to which he was condemned. In 1829, 300 lashes became the maximum the general courts martial could inflict. It was claimed that, due to the low calibre of recruits, the lash was approved both by the well-behaved rank and file and by officers and the public at large (Spiers, 1980, pp 62-3, 87-90). Crimes committed by soldiers against civilians were punished by the civil courts. Milder military punishments included 'marching them round a barrack square' and, at the Cape, the making of riems (leather straps) which was said to be a hated chore (Tylden, 1950, p 41).
Plan of the Cape Corps Barracks, Cape Town, 1850.
(C G Coetzee, Forts of the Eastern Cape - Securing a Frontier, 1799-1878
[University of Fort Hare, 1994], p 183).
Discharged men were often viewed with deep suspicion, and by no means assured of settling in places of their own choosing. In 1810, a landdrost asked that men 'selected for reduction as may have been recruited in Graaff Rynet and Uitenhage' should be 'restricted from again coming into either of these districts'. This he requested for the good of the service and tranquillity of this part of the colony. 'It frequently happens that newly discharged soldiers are too lazy to work for their support, and commit acts of outrage. What I most dread in the reduction of the Cape men, that numbers of them may go over to the Kaffers [sic] where they may induce that people to commit acts which might involve the country in a war.' (CA 1/UI 15/1, l0/06/1810; Philip, 1969, Vol I, p 348).
This passage conveys the widely-held sentiments with regard to ex-corpsmen who were no longer under discipline. Dr John Philip of the London Missionary Society identified a related view. Noting that many officers praised the Khoekhoen's faithfulness and skill as soldiers, he observed: 'To the Hottentot soldier the European soldier would attach the ideas associated with British valour. With the Hottentot bondman he would associate feelings of contempt.' (Philip, 1969, Vol 2, p 314n). In 1829, the Kat River Valley, a district at the foot of the Great Winterberg escarpment, from which some Xhosa had been forcibly expelled, was allocated for settlement by Hottentots. There, at least, the presence of armed and able-bodied former corpsmen was actively sought.
The regiment underwent a major overhaul in 1827 when it became the Corps of Cape Mounted Riflemen. Although paid as infantry and dressed as riflemen, the CMR were fully horsed, trained as cavalry, and carried swords and carbines. However, they were deployed as mounted infantry, which was not felt to be as useful for operations in the frontier districts as the dragoons guards, dragoons, hussars, and especially the lancers of the regular cavalry (Boyden & Guy, 1999, p 46).
By 1850, the CMR had grown to include 744 men of colour among its 888 other ranks.
Execution scene by H C de Meillon, Grahamstown,
21 April 1838. Cpl Antony Meyers and Pte Stephanus
Windvogel, had been singled out as the most serious
offenders in the mutiny at Fraser's Camp, 19 February,
killing Ensign I C Crowe. Governor Sir George Napier
superintended the executions, ordering corpsmen to
form the firing squad and the others to watch.
(Photo: By courtesy, William Fehr Collection, Cape Town).
Farmers, who might be tempted to rejoice at the premature return of a valued labourer, were forbidden from taking deserters into service (CA 1/GR9/1O, 23/12/1806; BR 41, Resolusies, pp 5-10; BR 488, 28/05/1804; Theal, Vol 6, p 84).
The reasons for deserting included forced recruitment; enlistment for an indefinite period; retention past the stated term; concern for families left behind; and poor conditions in the corps. Influential, if difficult to assess, was the hankering for the old freedoms common to the pastoral life which, though gone for good in the traditional sense, were kept alive in memory and by attachment to Boer pastoralists. As time went on, pressures converged to foist on them the linked ideals of a settled way of life, habits of industry, Christian belief and other aspects of the civilisation which farmers, missionaries, administrators and other Europeans represented and promoted.
Table: Theal, Records of the Cape Colony, Vol 35,
Establishment of the Cape Corps of Mounted Riflemen on 31 December 1827, pp 21-2
The name, size and composition of the corps changed frequently from its foundation until 1870, but remained much the same: Corps Bastaard Hottentotten (1781-2), Corps Pandoeren (1793-5), Hottentot Corps/Cape Regiment (1796-1803), Oude Corps Hottentotten/Corps Vrije Hottentotten/Battaillon Hottentotsche Infanterie (1 803-6), Cape Regiment (1806-17), Cape Corps of Infantry and Cavalry (1817-27), and Cape Mounted Riflemen (1827-1870). Between 1805, when Janssens rejected the missionary Van der Kemp's advice that its officers be chosen from the Hottentots, and the 6th Frontier War in 1837, nothing worked to promote them beyond the rank of NCO. Nevertheless, there were three 'native ensigns' in the levies raised in that war, and these exerted an influence over the men 'which none but persons of their own class possess'. After the 1851 rebellion, James Read Jr wrote (1852, p 52) that due to 'political and social causes', whereby 'Hottentots lost their nationality' and traditions of rank, they were 'intractable to orders from any of themselves' and ought to be commanded by Europeans. If Read, a credible authority, being the son of the elder James Read, Van der Kemp's colleague and long-serving missionary, was correct, then questions remain regarding the duration of this levelling, and the conditions which restored respect for leaders from among 'themselves'.
Another recurring disappointment was the poor response to the soldiers' requests for land. In the 1820s, it was recommended that 'the option of receiving allotments of land should be held out to the Hottentots on their enlistment, and which they should obtain at the expiration of the usual period of service (seven years)' (Theal, Vol 26, pp 457-8). In the wake of Ordinance 50 of 1828, which affirmed the right of free persons of colour to acquire land, some Khoekhoen who petitioned government to assist their access pointed out the special claim of 'faithful soldiers' (CA CO 3941, Memorial No 79 & 80, S Bannister, 21/02/1829, pp 377-8). Kat River met the needs of relatively few. In 1837, hundreds of men due for discharge from wartime levies were invited to state where they wished to have land, but little appears to have come of this. Some old soldiers applied for plots in the 'locations' being established adjacent to existing towns. William Goliat submitted that he was a discharged soldier from the Cape Corps Cavalry and had a pension of twopence farthing a day. He therefore 'humbly prays that Your Excellency will be pleased to add to the obligations which he already owes to government by granting him a small plot of ground in the vicinity of Uitenhage'. In this case, sympathetic officials supported Goliat and several other applicants (CA SG 1/1/3/3, Hymen to D'Urban c 1836; LG 59 No 198, 16/10/1837).
In 1842, youths were recruited in Britain in sufficient numbers to form the first entirely European company in the CMR. A few years later, Governor Sir Harry Smith ordered that detachments must include white troopers. Whatever the motives for these various moves, it appears that the corps had difficulty in attracting coloured recruits. The wife of a British officer believed this was 'not only from the smallness of the pension allotted to the Hottentot soldier, in every way the most useful member of the service on the frontier, but from the great difficulties in obtaining the payment of the miserable sum granted him after many years' service'. An historian, citing reports of poor treatment, poor pay, and deductions which were 'heavy and not always equitable', concluded that 'the interior economy of the corps' was at fault (Tylden, 1950, p 45; Ward, 1848,1, pp 109-10).
After the mutiny at the onset of the 1850-53 war, the proportion of white troopers was increased by drafting 'from the Line'. This mutiny, which occurred in a context of widespread disaffection among the coloured population of the colony, severely damaged the fragile trust of the authorities and colonists in the CMR. Whites only were enrolled in a unit called the Frontier Armed and Mounted Police (FAMP). In 1856, Britain's commander-in-chief halted the recruitment of Hottentots. The whitening of frontier defence was boosted by German Legion pensioners from the Crimean War. An English officer who joined the CMR around this time found that, of 1 000 rank and file, roughly a third was Khoekhoen (CA A 459, diary of E Y Brabant, p 14). India's Sepoy Mutiny in 1857 dealt a further blow to reliance on 'native' troops. When disbanded in 1870, only ten men of colour remained on the unit's strength (Boyden & Guy, 1999, pp 47-50; Tylden, 1950, p 51).
The 1850s were a watershed for the Cape Colony in many ways, notably the granting of representative government. In 1855, the new parliament passed a Burgher Levies Act which aimed to streamline the registration and mobilisation of burghers who, under the prevailing law of the Colony, were all adult males, white and coloured. Resistance to the inclusion of coloured burghers in the militia was intense, with the result that many whites formed themselves in units not subject to the act. Governor Sir George Grey encouraged this development, and units of this type mushroomed in the Cape and in the new colony of Natal (Hulme, 1971, p 30). Defence issues were prominent among the tensions between the executive and the legislature at this half-way point to self-government for the Cape. In 1869 the British government announced an end to the retention of British troops for colonial purposes. As a colonial regiment, the CMR was not considered for transfer elsewhere: 'The Cape Mounted Rifles will be disbanded as speedily as possible.' (CA GH 1/325, No 104, 09/12/1869, pp 142-3. One regiment was to be retained at Simon's Bay for 'Imperial purposes'). A few months later this distinctive unit ceased to exist.
Stinkwood/silver staff, given by the Colonial Government
to 'Stoffel Bozoc as Captain of the Hottentots at Kat
River, 1828'. The Kat River Settlement
was founded only in 1829, but Sir
Richard Bourke is known to have
bestowed a staff on one of the
Boezaks when he visited Theopolis in
1827. (Photo: By courtesy, MuseuMAfricA,
Ref MA 1988/853).
The soldiers of the Cape Regiment did important work in manning a string of frontier posts, conducting patrols to recover livestock, responding to panics and disturbances - for example, the 1815 Slagter's Nek affair - and fighting the serial frontier wars (the last of which occurred after the regiment's disbandment). From the 1 840s, detachments did duty in the Orange Free State and Natal. Men were detached to accompany expeditions. The twenty soldiers who accompanied Dr Andrew Cowan across the Vaal River in 1808-9 perished with that party, which was never seen again. Several members of the CMR took part in the expedition led by Dr Andrew Smith in 1834-6. In 1860, Grey assigned men to accompany the Grant-Speke expedition to the source of the Nile. Most soon returned due to illness (Casada, 1971, pp 137-46; 1974, pp 63-74). The very naming of some Khoekhoen reflected their involvement with the military - Soldaat, Ruiter, Dragonder, Trompetter, Tamboer - besides naval nomenclature - Stuurman, Matroos, Amraal.
This two-part article referred, at its start, to the neglect of war and military institutions in most general histories. A South African pointed out how historians 'of yesteryear', whatever perspective informed their work, have failed to address 'the experience of the Khoisan soldier and social environment he was drawn from'. He himself filled this gap, respecting a specific event, by drawing on records kept by the Moravian missionaries at Genadendal. It is his belief that sources exist to extend our understanding further (Bredekamp, 1995, pp 26-8). One can only agree that the significance of the Cape Regiment, for the colony and the communities who were touched by it during a long span of years, deserves more thoroughgoing study than it has had so far.
Sources and further reading
CA - Cape Archives: GH (Govt House); UIT (Uitenhage); CO (Colonial Office); ZL (London Missionary Society);
WOC (Worcester); CR (Graaff-Reinet); BR (Batavian Republic); LG (Lieutenant-Governor); SC (Surveyor-General).
Moravian Church Archives (Cape Town).
Barnett, C Britain and her Army, 1509-1970: A military, political, and social survey (London, 1970).
Boyden, P B & Guy, A J 'The British Army in the Cape Colony and Natal, 1815-1877' in Boyden, P B, Guy, A J, and Harding, M (eds) 'Ashes and blood': The British Army in South Africa, 1795-1914 (National Army Museum, 1999).
Bredekamp, H C J 'The Battle of Muizenberg, 1795: The Moravian Missionaries and the telling of Corps Pandouren history' in South Africa and Contemporary History Seminar No 39 (unpub.), University of the Western Cape, Aug 1995.
Burchell, W J Travels in the Interior of Southern Africa, Vol I (London, 1953).
Casada, I A 'James A Grant's Cape Diary and Sketches, 1860' in Quarterly Bulletin of the SA Library, 28(3), March 1974.
Casada, J A 'Sir George Grey and the Speke-Grant Nile Expedition' in Quarterly Bulletin of the SA Library, 25(4), June 1971.
Clode, C M The Administration of Justice under Military and Martial Law; Vol 2 (London, 1874);
De Villiers, J Die Cape Regiment, 1806-1817: 'n Koloniale regiment in Britse diens (Pretoria, 1989).
Fortescue, J The Empire and the Army (London, 1928).
Hinchcliff P (ed) The Journal of John Ayliff. 1, 1821-1830 (Grahamstown, 1971).
Hulme, J J 'Gallant Gentlemen, 1855-1865: The Cape Colony Volunteers of a century ago' in Military History Journal, Vol 2 No 1, June 1971.
Maclennan, B A proper degree of terror: John Graham and the Cape's Eastern Frontier (Johannesburg, 1986).
Malherbe, V C 'Khoikhoi and the question of convict transportation from the Cape Colony, 1820-1842', in South African Historical Journal, No 17, Nov 1985.
Malherbe, V C 'The Cape Khoisan in the Eastern Districts of the Colony before and after Ordinance 50 of Plasket, 27 Nov 1827' (PhD dissertation, University of Cape Town, 1997).
Marais, J S The Cape Coloured People, 1652-1937, Johannesburg, 1968).
Philip, J Researches in South Africa Vols 1 &2 (New York, 1969).
Read, J The Kat River Settlement in 1851 (Cape Town, 1852).
Spiers, E M The Army and Society, 1815-1914 (London, New York, 1980).
[British] Statutes-at-Large, I Will, III, c 4.
Statutes of the Cape of Good Hope, Fifth Parliament, 1874-78.
Theal, C M (ed) Records of the Cape Colony, Vols 6, 9, 10, 11, 14, 26, 32, 35.
Theal, C M History of South Africa Vol 5 (Cape Town, 1964).
Tylden, C 'The Cape Coloured Regular Regiments, 1793 to 1870' in Africana Notes and News Vol 7(2), March 1950.
Tylden, C 'The senior South African regular regiment, 1852-1950' in Africana Notes and News, Vol 8(1), Dec 1950.
Ward, H Five years in Kaffirland Vol I (London, 1848).
Return to Journal Index OR Society's Home pageSouth African Military History Society / firstname.lastname@example.org