South Africa - More than Zulus and Boers
The Cape Frontier Wars, Part 2
By Chris Ferree
After the disastrous defeat at Grahamstown in 1819, the whole of the Xhosa peoples
were pushed back across the Keiskamma River. While trying to rebuild, the Xhosa were
being pressured from two sides. From the east, Shaka was building the Zulu nation from
the bones and blood of neighboring tribes. From the west, hordes of English immigrants
were moving into the land vacated by the Xhosa.
The English settlers preferred a more "civilized" lifestyle than the Boers, and as a
result, towns began to pop up along the frontier. English missionaries built settlements for
Christianized natives. It was in 1828 that a 400 square mile area was taken from the
Xhosa to establish the Kat River settlement for the Khoi Khoi. In 1833 slavery was
abolished throughout the British Empire and thousands of Khoi Khoi were freed. But
these people had no money or property so their only options were to work for the farmers
(in a form of economic slavery) or resort to brigandage.
In an attempt to reduce the number of natives wandering about the country, and
also the theft problem, the government instituted the Vagrancy Act. The net result was to
send panic through the native population of the Cape. The emancipation of slaves was also
the final straw for many of the Boers. To avoid the loss of their laborers, they began their
Great Trek. With the emigration of the Boers, Britain and Cape Colony lost a sizable
portion of their veteran militia force. A further reduction in the availability of soldiers
occurred as the Home Government drastically cut the military budget.
By 1834 the situation was becoming critical. In an attempt to stave off another
war, Benjamin D'Urban, the new governor of Cape Colony, offered another treaty to the
Xhosa. They accepted and awaited the arrival of the Governor to ratify it. However,
months went by and still D'Urban did not show. On December 21st, 1834, Xhosa patience
came to an end. From 12,000 to15,000 warriors burst over the frontier stealing cattle,
burning farms, and destroying crops. Those Europeans that remained on the frontier now
fled to Grahamstown. The population there was in a total panic and it seemed as though it
would be evacuated next.
The new Commander-in-Chief of the Cape Colony garrison arrived in Capetown
about this time. Lieutenant-Colonel Harry Smith, the future hero of Aliwal, stepped off the
boat just in time to receive the news of the 6th Cape Frontier War. He was to waste no
time. Smith made the 600 mile ride from Capetown to Grahamstown in 6 days. When he
arrived, he found the place in a shambles. Men were wandering up and down the street
aimlessly carrying loaded guns. The citizens had thrown up barricades in such a
haphazard way that they would be shooting at each other.
Smith took control of the situation immediately. He declared martial law, ordered
the barricades pulled down, and made all able-bodied men register for the militia. Smith
then reoccupied the military outposts along the frontier. On January 20, 1835, a British
patrol went up to Burnshill to rescue a group of missionaries. Other patrols went into
Xhosa territory burning kraals and capturing cattle. By the middle of February, Smith was
ready to begin his major offensive.
By night, Harry Smith moved his men up to the edge of the Great Fish River bush
country. At dawn, a cannonade was fired blindly into the forest. After the bombardment,
the 72nd Highlanders moved in. It was hand to hand fighting in dense brush, scattered
with panicked cattle, against an invisible enemy. After four days fighting, Smith declared
the Great Fish River cleared of Xhosa. However, three weeks later the Xhosa made
another sweep through the colony. After defeating a British patrol and a Boer commando,
the warriors took to the Amatola mountains.
On March 28th, Harry Smith set out in pursuit of the Xhosa with 2,000 men,
nearly half of them mounted. The Amatola Mountains are steep sided and brush covered,
thicker than in the Fish River Valley, but the tops are clear and grassy. Once in the
Amatolas, the Xhosa warriors were impossible to find. It was not long before the British
were reduced to burning huts, destroying crops, and blasting blindly into the bush.
Because the Xhosa could not be brought to battle, it was believed that they had been
driven to the east.
In order to make a lasting impression, the British decided to attack the paramount
chief of the Xhosa, Hintsa. The British made a slow march to the Kei River which they
reached on April 15th, 1835. On the 17th, the camp was roused by the call to arms when
several hundred natives, dressed for battle, appeared. The natives were Mfengu, or
Fingoes, refugees from the Zulu expansion. They were originally taken by the Xhosa into
virtual slavery but now wished to try their lot with the British. Eventually the British
would be saddled with 16,000 Mfengu men, women, children, and their cattle.
The British crossed over the Kei River into Natal and began burning villages and
capturing cattle. After five days of harassment, Hintsa came into the British camp to talk
peace. The governor demanded 50,000 cattle and 1,000 horses, half at signing and the
other half after a year. On May 1st, two days after the peace was declared, the Xhosa
were only able to come up with 20 cattle. On the 2nd it was reported that the Xhosa were
attacking the Mfengu. In response to the attacks, the British annexed the land west of the
Kei River, and of this they gave the tract between the Great Fish and the Keiskamma
Rivers to the Mfengu.
To prevent further incursions, Hintsa offered to lead the British personally to the
Xhosa cattle. He led them on a wild goose chase across his territory and when he saw a
chance, Hintsa tried to escape. Harry Smith personally led the pursuit and was able to
knock the chief from his horse. When Hintsa continued his flight on foot, he was shot
down. Hintsa's son, Sarili, was named paramount chief of the Xhosa. The British decided
to take a few hostages in lieu of the cattle and then returned to their new territory.
The British wasted no time in fortifying the new border. On March 24th,
construction began on King William's Town. However, it was not long before the Xhosa
in the Amatola Mountains became active again. On June 1st, Smith took a force of 2,000
men into the mountains. It was during this foray that a 30 man British patrol was
ambushed and cut down. The Xhosa then burst into the colony and spread west almost to
The British were now in dire straits. Their outposts were low on supplies and their
supply lines were cut. Many of the Boers had to be released from service to bring in their
crops. Also, at home a new government was in charge and demanded peace at any cost.
The Xhosa, having been harried and plundered for 6 months, were also ready for an end to
the war. After much debate, a peace treaty was drawn up. There was also an inquiry into
the annexation of Queen Adelaide Territory. The inquiry ruled that the territory was
illegally taken and was to be returned to the Xhosa. The loss of the new land left many
Boer and English settlers on enemy territory. Many of the Boers began trekking. The
British settlers were galvanized against all of the blacks. The Cape Town government was
in a shambles. Parliament was handing down humanitarian policies that were contrary to
those of Cape Town and the missionary movement was at full force. All of the blacks
were dazed and confused by the rapid succession of changes.
In 1840, Harry Smith was transferred to India. Andreas Stockenstroom was made
Lieutenant Governor of the Frontier regions. Unfortunately, his policies were not popular
with the colonists who felt that he was too lenient with the Xhosa and ignoring the safety
of the colony. Stockenstroom's policies also did little to stop cattle theft by blacks or
In 1844 a new Governor, Maitland, arrived at the Cape. His first action was to
repeal Stockenstroom's policies. This move allowed settlers to go into Xhosa territory
and retrieve "stolen" cattle. Maitland also ruled that Christianized Xhosa were not subject
to their tribal laws, thus undermining the power of the chief. Construction was also started
on a new line of forts east of the Great Fish River.
The Xhosa were being pressed hard by the changes in the Cape Colony
government when a new enemy arrived on the scene. The Industrial Revolution had
reduced wool production in Britain so the need for imported wool rose. The land east of
the Fish River was prime sheep country and speculators began to move in.
By 1846 the Xhosa were at the end of their rope. Drought once again gripped the
land, driving the desperate Xhosa to cattle rustling. In March, a Xhosa man was arrested
for stealing an axe. While the prisoner was being brought to Grahamstown for trial, the
escort was attacked and the prisoner set free. Once again the frontier was set to flames in
what became known as "The War Of The Axe."
At this time the British forces on the frontier amounted to about 1,000 men. The
Xhosa could field upwards of 15,000 warriors. The British planned on making a quick
strike against the Ngqika Xhosa chief, Sandile, that would end the war before it really
got started. The British began their glorious march with no stockpiles of ammunition,
food, or fodder. With a wagon train three miles long, they set off up into the Amatola
The British had only enough men to protect the ends of the column, so , the
Xhosa attacked the undefended middle. They captured the expeditions medical stores,
camp equipment, and cooking supplies. In addition, they made off with the officer's
baggage, including two wagon loads of wine! The British managed to keep 4 wagons of
ammunition. They retreated out of the mountains and built an improvised fort on the
Two differences were noted in the Xhosa's attack. The first was that the Xhosa
were fighting out of desperation and with abandon not seen before. The second was the
number of firearms they carried. In previous actions, the assegai was the weapon used by
the Xhosa. In this attack the musket was their primary weapon, resorting to the spear
only for hand to hand combat.
As the Xhosa poured into the colony, the frontier outposts were abandoned. Fort
Peddie, halfway between the Great Fish and Keiskamma Rivers, was all that was left
between the Xhosa and Grahamstown. The next move for the Xhosa was an attack on the
Mfengu village near the fort. For five hours the Mfengu held off the Xhosa attacks before
a British relief force arrived on the scene. However, the Commander of the force only
ordered a few shots fired from his cannon and then retired on Fort Peddie. The Mfengu
finally beat off the Xhosa anyway, but they lost all of their cattle.
For the Xhosa, the battle was victory. They scored another when some supply
wagons were abandoned under the threat of an attack. With three victories under their
belts, those Xhosa tribes that were holding out now entered the war.
On March 28,
1846, the Xhosa attempted to destroy Fort Peddie. The White Men were positioned
inside thefort while the Mfengu men, women, children, and cattle were left outside to fend
for themselves. As the Xhosa charged the British opened up with cannon and rockets, the
noise of which stampeded the cattle. As they closed, the muskets of the British and the
Mfengu opened up. For two hours the 8,000 Xhosa warriors rushed in then fell back
before they finally melted away into the bush.
The British called the battle of Fort Peddie a victory because they not only survived
but they only lost 12 Mfengu in the action. The Xhosa had made off with the British cattle
so they thought that they had won the day. Whoever won, the Xhosa were still free to
move about the frontier. The Xhosa began marching for Grahamstown after the battle.
However, Henry Somerset had mustered a strong cavalry force and was able to turn the
warriors away. The cavalry continued to patrol the frontier and they finally caught the
Xhosa Army in the open. Somerset led his troopers through the Xhosa masses twice
before the warriors broke and ran, and were pursued right into the brush.
After their defeat, the Xhosa fell back into the mountain bush county and the
British were loathe to send their regulars in after them again and the Colonials were
unwilling to follow British Army officers into battle. After much debate, the British were
forced to take on Andreas Stockenstroom as the leader of the Burghers.
The campaign in the mountains was tough for everyone, but it was especially hard
on the British Regular. His uniform, made for war in Europe, was no match for the wilds
of Africa. Soon the men were wearing rags. By this time the drought was taking its toll
also. What fodder there was dry and withered. Water was so scarce that men would give
a months pay for a drink.
The British spent the next ten days running up one side of the mountain and down
the other. But the only time they saw the Xhosa close up was when they were being
ambushed. It was becoming clear that the campaign could not be won in the Amatolas.
Stockenstroom proposed a foray across the Kei River against the paramount chief of all
the Xhosa, Sarili. As the British officers mulled over their options, the Xhosa set fire to
the dry plains below. With all the remaining fodder gone, the British had no choice but to
follow Stockenstroom's advice.
With a party of Burghers and a small detachment of regulars, Stockenstroom rode
in to Sarili's village. After some bantering, Sarili agreed to the British terms.
Stockenstroom was satisfied and returned to camp treaty in hand. Maitland thought that
the Boer was played the fool. He sent a sharp letter to Sarili renouncing the treaty and
demanding proof that the Xhosa wanted peace.
Stockenstroom was furious, he released his Burghers from service and resigned his
command The situationwas now critical for everyone. The British lost most of their
cavalry, were short on supplies, and morale was at an all time low. What fodder the
drought didn't kill, the Xhosa's fire did. Cattle and oxen on both sides of the frontier were
dropping in droves. Things were so bad that the British army moved to the coast in hopes
of getting supplied by sea.
Then, suddenly, the rains came. For days it rained. The barren earth was soon
turned into a quagmire. Men and animals, weakened by the drought became exhausted
trying to move through the mud. Then fever raced through the British camp. For the
Xhosa the war was over. It was washed away by the rain. The Xhosa would no longer
fight the British, but they would not move either. They would just sit down when the
British came, even when they rounded up their cattle. The British were at a loss as to
what to do.
On the 17th of September, 1846, the British sent demands to the Xhosa. By
returning cattle they had stolen, surrendering their guns, and moving east of the Kei River,
they could end the war. The Xhosa refused the terms and still they refused to resume the
The British decided to bluff the Xhosa into submission. After the rains, the British
massed their army at the foot of the mountains as if to attack. The Xhosa, fearful of
further destruction, gave in to the British demands. They turned over a few old muskets
and some cattle. The British were not satisfied and at least wished to move the Ngqika
In June, 1847, the British found a reason to move against Sandile, Chief of the
Ngqika. Four goats came up missing from a Mfengu village. It was determined that
Sandile was responsible for the errant livestock. He offered12 goats that he said were
found wandering on his territory. The British refused them.
A force of 150 redcoats was sent to arrest the Ngqika Chief, but the wily Xhosa
eluded capture. The British settled for snatching some cattle. The Xhosa warriors rose up
against the patrol and in the running battle in that followed, the British ran out of
ammunition and were nearly destroyed. Angered by the Xhosa attack, the British
undertook a slash and burn campaign against the Ngqika. The fighting spilled over the
Kei River and into chief Pato's territory.
Fearing the complete extermination of his people, Sandile went to the British camp
to seek terms. He was promptly arrested and sent to Grahamstown. Pato was wearing
down quickly and would soon surrender. As the last of the Xhosa warriors were being
run down a new governor with a familiar face arrived at the Cape.
Harry Smith was the rising star of the Empire and it was hoped that he could
pacify the frontier. The only thing left to do in the War of the Axe was to formalize the
Xhosa surrender. Of this Harry made a fiasco. He embarrassed and belittled the Xhosa
chiefs. He insulted the Xhosa people. Then in a final farcical display of British
superiority, he blew up a wagonload of gunpowder.
For a second time the British took all of the land west of the Kei River. The land
west of the Keiskamma had to be abandoned and those Xhosa that lived between the
Keiskamma and the Kei would be under British rule. As in 1835, a string of forts was built
up along the Keiskamma River to monitor the movements of the Xhosa.
Many tribes had to start over in a new land. Crops needed to be planted and
villages to be built. Yet even though they rebuilt them in the traditional manner, things
would never be the same. The land they were moved to was not as good as that which
they left. The displaced tribes were packed into an area that could not possibly support
such a large pastoral society. And even though the fighting was over, the Xhosa were still
This battle was not fought with bullets but with plows. The plows were given to the
Xhosa chiefs who were expected to learn how to use them and then teach the others.
Farming in Xhosa society was woman's work and so the plows sat idle. Young men,
women, and children were removed from their villages and moved west to work on
colonial farms. The transplanted Xhosa were forced to wear European clothing and to
attend church. Several other changes to Xhosa society were also discussed. Among these
were a ban on polygamy, tradingcattle for wives, and the sale of red clay which the Xhosa
painted themselves with.
Because he had done such a good job with the Xhosa, Harry Smith decided to
bring the trek Boers back under British control. He annexed the territory between the
Orange and Vaal Rivers. The Boers were unwilling to come under British rule again and a
revolt broke out which was put down and several of the ringleaders were hanged.
Smith's actions were not popular with the Home Government and the territory
Smith took would eventually be given back to the Boers. There was also talk of giving
responsible government to the Cape Colony. This would put a kink in Smith's plans, so to
improve the image of his governership, Harry had to reduce his expenditures. This meant
reducing his forces on the frontier by 20 percent. This left 4,700 men to protect the
colony against a possible 35,000 warriors.
At the beginning of 1850, Harry Smith thought he had everything under control,
but he was mistaken. The Cape Colony Burghers were upset about the way that the
Orange River rebellion was suppressed. The Mfengu and Khoi Khoi were riled by
unscrupulous officials that set exorbitant taxes. The Xhosa were suffering from over-
population and the assault on their traditional lifestyle.
With June came the coldest winter remembered. Along with the winter came a
drought of equal proportions. It was at this time that British officials decided to remove
Xhosa squatters from the Kat River region. As many Xhosa families were left to wander
homeless about the countryside, a prophet fell in with them. Within a month of the
coming of Mlanjeni the Xhosa were agitated to a dangerous level. Those that were
working in the colony began to return to their tribes. Warriors were being instructed on
how to make themselves invincible. Mlanjeni also ordained all dun colored cattle evil and
therefore had to be destroyed.
Throughout October colonists retreated from the frontier. Smith called a meeting
of the Xhosa chiefs to try to settle the problem, but none of the important ones showed.
In his wrath, Smith deposed Sandile and instated Charles Brownlee, commissioner of the
Ngqika, as the new chief.
The situation continued to degrade. November saw a steady stream of colonists
heading west and a steady stream of Xhosa laborers heading east. In December Smith
called up the militia and deployed his troops for action. Five hundred-seventy men were
sent to Fort Cox, 457 were sent to Fort Hare, 389 men were sent to the Kabousie Neck
and the remainder, between 400 and 500 men, were spread between King William's Town
and the frontier outposts. On the 19th of December, Smith offered a $500 reward for the
capture of Sandile. He also promised the local chiefs that no redcoats would hunt the
To Smith, his promise did not include sending a column up into the mountains to
try to scare Sandile out. On December 24, 1850, a force was sent up Boma Pass to
attempt just that. The column was led by the Kaffir Police, made up of Xhosa loyal to the
colony, then followed by the Cape Mounted Rifles with the British regulars bringing up
the rear. After a two hour breakfast the column entered Boma pass.
The pass was a mile long tunnel through the bush. To one side was a sheer cliff, to
the other the rushing Keiskamma River. The path itself was so narrow that it could only
be followed in single file. The two native units made it through the pass without mishap,
but as the first regular exited the tunnel the Xhosa attacked. In the battle that followed,
the British lost 23 killed and 23 wounded along the pass. The outlying pickets were not as
lucky. Fifteen men of the 45th Regiment of Foot were overwhelmed by hundreds of
warriors and killed.
It was on Christmas day that all hell broke loose. In the towns of Woburn,
Aukland, and Juanasburg seemingly friendly groups of Xhosa came in to enjoy the holiday
with the settlers. But at a given signal, the warriors murdered the men who allowed them
into their homes. With this attack most of the Ngqika tribes joined the war. The Kaffir
Police also threw in their lot with Sandile and went over with their weapons. The only
Ngqika chief to remain friendly was Pato (who received the blunt end of The War of the
All along the frontier the situation was critical, but at Fort White it was desperate.
The outpost defended by 120 men of various units, was a fort in name only. Then Captain
Mansergh, the officer commanding, went to work. Before the Xhosa could attack, he was
able to throw up a defensible earthwork in preparation. When the attack did come, it
lasted two days, but the men at Fort White beat back every rush with discipline and valor.
Meanwhile, Harry Smith was besieged at Fort Cox. Somerset tried twice to break
through to the fort, but bothtimes he was turned away. He finally got a messenger
through to Smith with the advice that Sir Harry should not try to break out with infantry
as he would be chopped to bits. Smith took Somerset's advice and with 250 men of the
Cape Mounted Rifles he made the perilous 12 mile ride to King William's Town.
Now that Smith was free he was ready to take action. The problem was that he
didn't have any men to take action with. The Boers and Burghers were still in a huff over
the Orange River affair. The natives of the Kat River settlement, where many of the levies
came from, rose up in rebellion. And for the most part, Smith's regulars were besieged in
It was not long before British ingenuity began to turn things around. The colonial
secretary, Montagu, working without orders, was able to levy a force of Khoi Khoi to
garrison the frontier forts. This would allow Smith a small field force for offensive
actions. At the same time, Somerset was able to put down the Kat River Rebellion when
he assaulted and captured Fort Armstrong with a force of loyal Burghers and Cape
Mounted Rifles (CMR).
The suppression of this rebellion had some unfortunate repercussions. Many of the
men of the CMR were drawn from the Kat River settlement and still had friends and
relatives living there. Concern over the treatment of the prisoners captured at Fort
Armstrong prompted a large number of the CMR to defect to the rebellion. As a
precaution, Smith had the remainder of the corp disarmed, leaving the British with no
It was Smith's feeling that whatever the situation, he must make an offensive
showing. With that in mind, he took his infantry and defeated a band of rebels on the
Keiskamma River then moved on to Fort Hare. Smith was joined there by Somerset and
together they made a foray into the Amatola Mountains. Another rebel force was
defeated and Smith rode back to King William's Town with 1,000 head of enemy cattle.
The next major action took place at Fort Beaufort. Hermanus Matroos, a mixed-
blood to whom the government was indebted for prior service, joined the rebels with a
substantial force. He boldly attacked the fort but was defeated. In the battle, Hermanus
was shot through the head and, without a leader, his army disintegrated.
Smith could not mount a major offensive, but he continued to patrol the bush.
The Xhosa and rebels also continued their attacks. They mounted a major assault against
the town of Whittlesea. Captain Tylden, R.E. , alongwith 60 volunteers and 300 Mfengu,
fought off a dozen separate attacks before the Xhosa retreated. The defense ofWhittlesea
has been credited with stopping an all-out invasion of the colony.
By February, 1851, Harry Smith had about 9,000 men in hand, 3,000 of which
could be called "regulars." He was able to resupply forts Cox and White. On his way
back from that mission, Smith defeated a large Xhosa army. In March, Sir Harry scored
another victory against the Xhosa near Fort White. Two days later he made off with
another 1,000 of the enemy's cattle and returned to King William's Town.
As Smith was turning things around, a new enemy took the field. Moshesh had
built the Basuto nation from the refugees of the Zulu expansion. Up to now they had been
British allies but this time Moshesh threw in with the Xhosa. The movement of a large
native force close by prompted the Boers to action. In their only engagement of the war,
the Boers defeated Moshesh and sent him back to his stronghold.
By May the first reinforcements arrived. The 74th Highlanders were immediately
sent to the front. Once there they marched on the rebel stronghold of Theopolis. At the
sound of the pipes, the rebels routed off and the 74th scored a bloodless victory.
Smith was now ready to strike at the heart of the Xhosa. With his infantry and a
unit of reinstated CMR, Smith made a sweep through the Amatolas destroying crops and
capturing cattle. In early July, Somerset went back through the mountains and was chased
out only after the Xhosa set fire to the grass. Meanwhile, Smith was beating the Fish
River bush as more reinforcements began flowing in.
In August, the 2nd (Queen's) Infantry arrived followed closely by the 12th.
September saw the 60th Rifles and 200 other replacements land. In October the first
British cavalry unit, the 12th Lancers took the field.
Somerset spent the next two months cris-crossing the Amatolas, finally driving the
Xhosa out to the east. Smith then took an expedition to the Kei River. Despite heavy
rains, Harry's men captured 30,000 head of cattle. Upon his return, Smith sent Somerset
back up into the mountains to flush out any remaining Xhosa.
Even though Smith had received his reinforcements, he had not achieved a decisive
victory. The Home Government assumed this was the fault of Smith and not his foe. It
was therefore decided to replace Sir Harry with Major-General George Cathcart.
In February, 1852, as Harry Smith's replacement steamed for the Cape,
replacements for his infantry were heading for Algoa Bay. On the 25th the steamship
Birkenhead struck a rock off Danger Point. As the ship sank, Major Seaton, as ranking
officer, paraded the men on deck. The troops, mostly new recruits, fell in and remained in
ranks as the lifeboats were loaded with the women and children. They stood silently on
parade even as the ship slipped below the waves. In all, 349 men and 14 officers went
down with the Birkenhead.
By March the Xhosa had lost 6,000 warriors, 80 chiefs, 80,000 cattle and a vast
number of goats. Though the war would drag on for almost another year, the Xhosa
would not be able to mount a serious threat to the colony. On the 26th of March,
Cathcart took command of the Army of South Africa and early in April Sir Harry Smith
sailed for home.
Throughout the next 6 months, the British continued to scour the countryside,
evicting bands of Xhosa and Khoi Khoi rebels. In November, Cathcart mounted his only
major offensive. His target was the Basuto stronghold. He moved into Moshesh's country
with 2,300 men, 3 guns, and some rockets. In the poorly run engagement, the British
captured 1,500 cattle. If Moshesh had been willing to press an attack, it is possible that
the British could have suffered a defeat as bad as Isandhlwana. Moshesh said he had seen
the power of the Great Queen and had no wish to quarrel with her. As Cathcart marched
back to the colony, the Basuto warriors could be seen dancing around the column wearing
the uniforms of dead British soldiers.
In February 1853 Sandile and the other chiefs were ready to surrender. The treaty
that followed pushed the Xhosa east of the Amatola Mountains. The natives were forced
into a still smaller area while the frontier settlers had to rebuild their farms one more time.
The next four years were a time of rebuilding for everyone.
In 1857 the Cape received a new group of settlers. These were the Corps of
German Volunteers. They were raised in Britain for the Crimea, but the war ended before
they were shipped out. Instead of releasing them to wander about England, they were
offered the chance to go to South Africa. They gratefully accepted the offer and 3,000
people, mostly men, moved to the Cape. They arrived fully armed and would be used, if
the need arose, as an emergency militia. Many were to join the Frontier Armed And
Mounted Police (FAMP) where they performed excellent service.
In the same year, a new prophet came to Xhosaland. A girl named Nonquanse had
a vision. If the Xhosa would kill all of their cattle and destroy all of their crops then, on
February 18th, 1857, the old chiefs would return with more cattle and grain than thought
possible. Also, a great storm would arise which would sweep the white men out into the
The British authorities were able to stop the Gaika tribes before too much damage
was done, but for the Galekas it was a disaster. In a 7 month period the population of
British Kaffiria dropped by two-thirds. To cope with the problem of cattle rustling that
was bound to occur, the Galeka were pushed further east and the vacated land was
occupied by Mfengu. In 1869 the Tembu, another Xhosa tribe, suffered from witch-
doctor problems. Then in 1873 the Langalibalele Rebellion broke out. Both of the
uprisings were controlled by the FAMP.
By the mid 1870's the fortune's of the Xhosa hit rock bottom while those of the
Mfengu were on the rise. Many of the Xhosa fell victim to drink. In fact, it was an inter-
tribal bar-room brawl between Mfengu and Xhosa that turned into the the 9th--and final--
Cape Frontier War. On the same day as the bar fight, the Galeka attacked a police
outpost in the Gwadana Mountains. Even though the outpost was reinforced by a party of
Mfengu, it was forced to retreat when their cannon broke down.
On September 29th 8,000 Galeka warriors attacked the police station at Ibeka.
With the firepower of breech-loading Snider rifles, the FAMP were able to drive off the
Xhosa. On October 9th two more engagements were fought. A troop of FAMP under
Major Elliot defeated a minor Xhosa tribe. Meanwhile Inspector Hook had his hands full
with the attack on the outpost of Lusizi.
With a force of police and native levies, Colonel Griffith was able to push the
Xhosa east, past the Bashee River. Thinking the Xhosa were defeated, Griffith released
his levies from service. The Xhosa were only regrouping, however. In December, Sandile
and the Ngqika joined the war and several small actions were fought. In one of these,
Major Moore, of the Connaught Rangers, won the first Victoria Cross awarded in South
Africa while defending a postal convoy.
With the beginning of 1878 the Xhosa suffered two major defeats. At N'Amaxa
and Kentani the warriors charged across open ground against British forces in defensive
positions. With the increased firepower of the Martini-Henry the British soldiers were
able cut down the charging warriors before they could get close. The battle at Kentani
ended the war for the Galeka, but Sandile was still on the loose.
The Ngqika Chief was chased through the mountains and down into the Great Fish
River bush. It was there, near the outpost of Isidenge, that Sandile was brought down by
a stray bullet. Sandile's son, Siyolo, was killed by a German volunteer shortly thereafter.
The loss of the great chief Sandile brought the last Cape Frontier war to an end.
The new leaders of the Xhosa were men educated in the missionary schools, not the
hereditary chiefs or witch-doctors of the old days. The ancient and traditional Xhosa way
of life had come to the "End of the trek."
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