X is for the Xhosa Wars

Which is a cheat because by my normal rules this post would be titled ‘H for Hintsa’. Hintsa kaKhawuta (c.1780-1835) was the fourth paramount chief of the Amaxhosa people. He was killed by the British in 1835 during “a desperate attempt to escape from the escort which he himself had requested to attend him”. So I could have used ‘X for X marks the spot’ as my title, X being enclosure number 17 in Sir Benjamin d’Urban’s third despatch. But the body would have had to be buried deeper than that to escape parliamentary scrutiny. There were Catos in the House of Commons who made it their business to read the small print.

This isn’t the easiest of posts to begin. It concerns the Xhosa and the Boers, two of the least attractive societies that mankind (gender fully intended) has yet invented. Holding the balance between them is the British colonists of 1820 and Colonel Henry Somerset, a man who encapsulates all the worst characteristics that many modern commentators attribute to the British Empire in general.

In 1686 the Dutch ship Stavenisse ran aground somewhere in Natal. Survivors of the shipwreck walked south towards the Cape and were helped on their way by the people they encountered. According to Noel Mostert in Frontiers, they reported “a people whose society was structured around vast cattle herds, who were hospitable, disposed to peace rather than war, suppressed violence between individuals and practised a fierce loyalty to their chiefs, who presided over democratic decision-making and judicial verdicts.” Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? And so it’s meant to. Frontiers is a great book and not only because it weighs in at 1355 pages. It’s a great piece of propaganda as well, written by a brilliant Canadian journalist. Since it ends in tragedy, it has to start somewhere else. A more nuanced account might have said something about the unequal division of labour – men cattle-herding, women doing everything else – the degradation of the landscape by the vast herds and the utter want of hygiene.

Mostert’s suggestion that Xhosa society was in some way democratic is the only example of suggestio falsi in the short extract above. There were elements of egalitarianism in the upbringing of Xhosa boys. Famously in the circumcision lodges, where groups of young men waited to be snipped, all decision-making was indeed taken in common. But the young men who made up each lodge were carefully selected and, in the case of those who were chosen to accompany future chiefs, they were picked from boys qualified to be his councillors in later life. The Greeks had a word for this. It was aristocracy, not democracy.

Mostert’s more commonly deployed device is suppressio veri. Rider Haggard wasn’t the only European to point to witch-doctoring or divination as a noticeable feature of the Xhosa way of life. The smelling out ceremonies he describes in King Solomon’s Mines are based more on Xhosa practice than on that of the Zulus. Mostert’s index has nothing under either witch-doctoring or divination. He contrives not to use either word even when writing about the Xhosa killing of their herds in the 1850s in the expectation that “a grand resurrection of the ancestors would be accompanied by herds of new cattle emerging from below the earth.” Likewise Mostert doesn’t have much to say about the lot of women.

© copyright John Mathew Smith 2001

Just in case you think I’m biased here is a modern-day saint. Nelson Mandela was descended from a line of Tembu chieftains. The Tembu were Xhosa speakers who lived close to the Xhosa themselves. Fortunately for the British they declined to be involved in the war of 1834. The other main group of Xhosa speakers were the Pondo who were settled yet further to the north and east. The map below shows Pondoland in 1911 when there was a scare that the Germans might acquire the deepwater Port St Johns. What we’re concerned with now is the area north of Graham’s Town at the bottom of the map.

Anyway, if I am biased, I’m certainly not biased in favour of the Boers. Cape Town was established by Jan van Riebeeck in 1652 as a resupply point for the ships of the Dutch East India Company. In 1687 French protestants, expelled after the Edict of Nantes, were encouraged by the Dutch to settle in and near Cape Town and to develop the agricultural resources of the region which were now used to resupply the ships of many European nations. Over the next hundred years the Dutch colony expanded to the north and east. The term ‘Boer’ has innocent origins. It derives from a Dutch word meaning nothing more outlandish than ‘farmer’. It is related to the final syllable of the English word ‘neighbour’ which is ironic since the last thing a South African Boer wanted was a neighbour.

Before the nineteenth century the word ‘Boer’ was used only to describe farmers and farming as an occupation. The earliest citation in OED for the Boers as a group of people is from Thomas Pringle’s African Sketches published in 1834 where he remarks on how “tall Dutch-African Boors were bawling in Colonial-Dutch.” I’m not sure that ‘bawling’ adequately conveys the grating qualities of Afrikaans but apart from that Pringle captures to a fault the self-confident rusticity of these loud-mouthed peasants. They never called themselves Boers. Instead – fantastically – they called themselves Christians. And they called the Xhosa kaffirs meaning heathens. They called the Khoikhoi and the San something worse: schepselen meaning creatures.

The picture above shows a representation in stone of a wagon laager that surrounds the Voortrekker Monument near Pretoria. The Battle of Blood River on 16th December 1838, when 464 Boer “pioneers” behind 64 wagons held off several thousand Zulus, was the defining event of the Great Trek. For the migrant Boers it established once and for all that God was on their side. It encouraged them to travel yet further away from government in Cape Town to the Transvaal where they established several independent states that later coalesced to form the South African Republic and the Orange Free State.

But the Boers who fought at Blood River were by no means pioneers. For at least sixty years previously, there had been Boers moving east and north to escape the feeble attempts of the Dutch government to regulate their way of life. And this is where the Boer perception of themselves as Christians comes into it. I take as my text Genesis chapter 9 verse 20

The frontier Boers took this text very literally. According to them, the descendants of Canaan included the Khoikhoi, the San and, when they encountered them, the Xhosa. Subjecting these people was more than permissible, it was a duty.

The most adventurous of the early Boer pioneers was Coenraad be Buys who was born in 1761 and last heard of in 1821 in Mozambique. In the 1780s de Buys had a farm on the Bushmans River somewhere near what is now Port Alfred where he lived with a Khoikhoi woman called Maria. For a while he interacted with the Xhosa, sometimes raiding their cattle, but eventually crossing the Fish River and becoming an adviser to the Xhosa chieftain Ngqika whose mother was his mistress. Later he moved further north, becoming in the words of Professor Mike de Jongh, “the progenitor of the Buys people of the far northern Limpopo Province. An exceptionally tall, formidable man of great resourcefulness and courage, Coenraad de Buys married or cohabited with several indigenous women, including the niece of the Matabele king, Mzilikazi.”

Adriaan van Jaarsveld (1745-1801) was more typical of the frontier Boers than De Buys and the 315 children that legend credits him with. For many years he tried to enforce the Dutch government’s policy of discouraging contact between the Boers and the Xhosa. In his view the San and the displaced Khoikhoi inhabiting the mountains to the north were a greater threat to sheep farmers like him than the Xhosa to the east. The Xhosa were cattle herders and had much more interest in the sweetveld of the coastal plain than in the sourveld.

In 1780 the Boers were dragged into the latest Xhosa civil war when the paramount chief Rarabe requested their help fighting the Dange, a clan that refused to accept his rule. Rarabe had quarrelled with his brother Gcaleka. The resulting split left the Xhosa divided so that in all circumstances the Boers could find allies. In 1781 van Jaarsveld led the Boer commando that attacked the Dange after they had been driven across the river by Rarabe. A series of cattle raids followed that were later labelled the First Kaffir War and still later relabelled the First South African Frontier War. The war was a draw. The Denge and their allies were as scared of Boer firepower as the Boers were of Denge numbers. After the event, van Jaarsveld stated what he’d always believed, that the San were a more immediate threat, saying “For myself I have nothing to do in Kafirland, and I could wish this nation were given no cause for enmity, since we have our hands full with the Bushmen.”

What de Buys and van Jaarsveld had in common was that they were patriarchs of extended clans resembling those that Abraham and Lot led to the promised land. Accompanying them in their wanderings – in order of importance – were children and grandchildren, landless relatives, slaves and Khoikhoi, not to mention innumerable sheep and cattle. The Khoikhoi were treated appallingly. Why any of them were prepared to work for the Boers is a mystery. Mostert provides a partial explanation, “Once contracted to a colonist, they often found that it was difficult, almost impossible sometimes, to leave when they wished to. Their contracts became a form of forced labour. Children born on a colonist’s farm were automatically indentured as ‘apprentices’….” Two of the index entries under ‘Hottentots’ in the 1837 Report of the Aboriginal Select Committee speak for themselves, “As late as 1828 great doubts were expressed upon the competency of the Hottentots and other free persons of colour to purchase or possess land in the colony” and “They are regarded by the Cape farmers and the inhabitants generally as incapable of benefiting from instruction”. Yet the Khoikhoi did work for the Boers as herdsmen and even on raids.

I’m using the word ‘frontier’. Until 1778 no such thing existed. Driven by land hunger and their dislike for being able to see a neighbour’s smoke, the Boers had been advancing into land empty of inhabitants. (In Boer eyes, the Khoikhoi and the San had no more rights of ownership than any other ‘creatures’.) The discovery of large numbers of Xhosa coming the other way was an unwelcome surprise. The situation was made worse by the paramount chief Rarabe’s concurrent insistence that other Xhosa chiefs submit to him. The whole region east of the Fish River was destabilised by his endless wars. Alarmed by reports of the unrest, the Dutch governor came up in person from Cape Town. He decided that the Fish River would make a convenient boundary between the Xhosa and the Boers. He then went around persuading individual Boers and some of the Xhosa frontier chiefs to agree to his new frontier. In truth it was a pointless exercise. The Cape government was bankrupt and the governor had no troops to enforce his rule. The Xhosa chiefs probably didn’t understand what they’d agreed to, and in any case, spoke only for themselves and their own clans. None of the Boers had authority to speak for his fellows since Kommandants like van Jaarsveld were appointed for specific and time-limited purposes. The frontier was just a line on a map.

The Second Xhosa War of 1793 was a rerun of the first, being as much a Xhosa civil war as a war between the Xhosa and the Boers. Two of the Xhosa clans, the Mbalu and Gqunukhwebe, taking umbrage over persistent raids by Coenraad de Buys and other Boers, attacked the homes and herds of their enemies. A commando was formed led by Honoratus Meynier – a decent man which doesn’t fit in with my prejudices so I’m airbrushing him out of the story – which drove the Xhosa across the Fish River where they were ambushed by Rarabe’s son Ndlambe. The Dutch fulminated ineffectually. The Boers returned to fighting the San. The Xhosa drifted back across the Fish.

The frontier became more than a line on the map when the British took over from the Dutch at Cape Town. The British occupied the Cape from 1795 to the Peace of Amiens in 1802 and more permanently from 1806. In 1799 Brigadier General Thomas Vandeleur was sent north with a force of Khoikhoi soldiers stiffened by two companies of the regular 91st Argyllshire Regiment of Foot to suppress a half-baked Boer attempt to form an independent republic. Vandeleur made short work of the Boers. Then he discovered there were Xhosa on the British side of the frontier. This was the start of the Third Xhosa War.

And very embarrassing it proved to be for the British. The abject surrender of the rebel Boers had emboldened their Khokhoi servants to rebel against them. The rebel Khoikhoi assumed that the British force with its armed Khoikhoi auxiliaries were on their side. So did the Khoikhoi auxiliaries. Vandeleur was obliged to send the latter back to Cape Town leaving him with fewer than two hundred British soldiers. Deciding these were too few “to wage an unequal contest with savages in the midst of impenetrable thickets”, he took up defensive positions at Fort Frederick near what is now Port Elizabeth and Graaff Reinet in the Zuurveld. Meantime the rebel Khokhoi joined forces with the Xhosa and defeated a Boer commando. The British governor, General Dundas, came up from Cape Town and in 1800 patched together a truce leaving the Xhosa in occupation of many Boer farmsteads. Most unwisely, some of the frontier Boers reacted to their dispossession by marching on Graaff Reinet in 1801, thus finding themselves at odds with the British, the majority of the Xhosa clans, the rebel Khoikhoi and the San simultaneously. The truce collapsed. It was probably fortunate for the British that by the terms of the Treaty of Amiens of March 1802 they were obliged to return the Cape to the Batavian Republic as Holland was now known.

It was left to the new Batavian governor, General J W Janssens to agree a peace with Rarabe’s son Ngqika, chief of the Rarabe clan and self-proclaimed paramount chief of the Xhosas. The meeting took place near Ngqika’s great place in the foothills of the Amatolas near the Kat River, a tributary of the Fish River, on 24th June 1803. The picture above is from a sketch by the governor’s aide-de-camp, Captain Paravicini. It shows the governor and Ngqika shaking hands in the foreground with the Dutch Waldeck Regiment paraded in front of their tents in the background. Janssens wanted the Xhosa chieftain to agree that the Fish River ought to be the frontier between Cape Colony and the Xhosa. Ngqika, who lived east of the river, had no great problem with that. To his credit, according to another eyewitness, Dr Lichtenstein, in Travels in Southern Africa, Ngqika tried to explain that he had no control over the frontier clans, most of whom owed allegiance to his uncle Ndlambe. Janssens brushed this aside. This basic misunderstanding, which was to bedevil relations between Cape Town and the Xhosa, was now set in writing. Ngqika had put his mark to a treaty committing all the Xhosa clans to move east of the Fish River.

The British reoccupied Cape Colony following the resumption of hostilities in Europe. The first British governor, the Earl of Caledon, made no move to enforce Janssens’ treaty. His successor, Sir John Cradock, acted almost immediately. After sending an embassy to Ngqika to ensure his neutrality, he launched an invasion of the Zuurveld, the area west of the Fish River that was occupied by Xhosa clans. In December 1811 Colonel John Graham commenced the Fourth Xhosa War with a three pronged invasion of the Zuurveld. Despite an early reverse, when fifteen Graaff Reinet Boers were asseigaied, the “removal” of the Xhosas proved surprisingly easy. In part this was because Ndlambe chose not to fight. He retreated with his clan across the Fish River all the way east to the Buffalo River shortly after the fighting began. Having driven some 5000 Xhosa east of the Fish River and impounded many of their cattle, Graham built twenty forts along the river to prevent a return. He also founded a new military headquarters in the Zuurveld called Graham’s Town.

This is Grahamstown today photographed by Tim Giddings. It shows the Cathedral of St Michael and St George in Grahamstown as seen from the Fort. The foreground could well be an English cathedral city. The cathedral was completed in the 1880s on the site of St George’s Church opened in 1830. If you look closely you’ll see that its Gothic windows are narrower than usual. That’s because the architect, Gilbert Scott, was determined to frustrate the African sun and produce an interior lit as an English church ought to be lit. Grahamstown in a word is English.

Meantime the overcrowding east of the Fish River consequent to the removal of so many Xhosa from the Zuurveld sparked yet another Xhosa civil war. By now, with the consequences of his entirely selfish policy plain to see, Ngqika and his clan had little support amongst the other Xhosa clans. In 1818 he and his son Maqoma were defeated by Ndlambe at the bloody battle of Amalinde. Before fleeing Ngqika did the Xhosa one final disservice by calling on the new British governor, Lord Charles Somerset, for aid. This triggered the Fifth Xhosa War.

In December 1818 a large force gathered at Grahamstown. It consisted of British regulars, the Khoikhoi of the Cape Corps (a unit taken over from the Dutch who had called it the Hottentot Light Infantry, it was later renamed the Cape Mounted Rifles), Boers from Graaff Reinet, and Ngqika’s survivors. It was accompanied by artillery. Ndlambe decided that this force and its guns were too formidable to be faced in battle and retreated with his clan and his herds into the thickets of the Keiskamma River valley. No doubt he expected to lose a few cattle to strong patrols and then to be able to make peace. Unfortunately the commander of the British force, Thomas Brereton, was new to this sort of warfare. He didn’t like the look of South African bush country. Instead of trying to follow the Xhosa, he opened fire with his artillery. The bombardment was noisy rather than dangerous but it panicked the Xhosa cattle who fled into the open where they were rounded up by the British. Ndlambe’s clan lost over 20,000 cattle. This was a catastrophe for both sides. Ndlambe’s clan had lost not only its means of subsidence but its whole raison d’etre. It was inevitable that they would attack across the Fish River to try to replace their herds.

It was also perhaps inevitable that the demoralised Xhosa would fall victim to a witch doctor, Makana, who preached a dualist variant on Christianity in which the British, having murdered the son of the god of the white people, were exiled from their own land and in search of a new land. Fortunately the god of the black people was more powerful than the god of the white people, and would help the Xhosa drive the British into the sea. Makana must have been an inspirational speaker because he made this nonsense sufficiently convincing to convert Ndlambe and to assemble a force of at least 6000 Xhosa warriors. He also proved to be a masterful tactician. Somehow he got this large force through the network of defensive positions along the Fish River and into position near Grahamstown. Then, after delivering a battle speech in which he assured his army that the British bullets would turn into water, he led the Xhosa into battle.

If it hadn’t been for the battle speech, the Xhosa might very well have won the Battle of Grahamstown. The garrison numbered 450. A quarter of the garrison were men of the Royal African Corps. As Padraic Scanlan suggests in Freedom’s Debtors: British Anti-Slavery in Sierra Leone this colonial unit wasn’t noted for its high morale:

The Xhosa’s first charge took them to the mouth of the guns. There it became apparent that shrapnel didn’t turn to water. The Xhosa retreated. Makana, who had been leading a subsidiary attack on the barracks, hurried to the scene. He was in the process of restoring order when a famous hunter, Jan Boezak, appeared with 130 other Khoikhoi and started taking potshots at Xhosa notables. The Xhosa fled, suffering as usual rather more losses in their rout than they had in the battle itself. Two months later Makana was captured. He was sent to Robben Island where he drowned while trying to escape.

The sketch map above is from the parliamentary paper on the Death of Hintza during the Sixth Xhosa War. I am using it to illustrate the consequences of the Fifth Xhosa War. The British governor of Cape Colony, Lord Charles Somerset, believed that the thickets of the Fish River made the existing frontier line untenable. He proposed advancing the frontier to the Keiskamma River. He bullied his erstwhile ally, Ngqika, into agreeing to this. The establishment of the no-man’s-land of The Ceded Territories bought the British frontier close to Hintsa’s great place beyond the Kei River. Hintsa thus far had managed to avoid entangling his Gcaleka clan in the affairs of either Ngqika or Ndlambe. This balancing act became more and more difficult in the 1820s.

The second consequence of the Fifth Xhosa War was the establishment of Albany as a British colony centred on Grahamstown. Somerset’s idea was that British settlers would form a defensive bulwark against the Xhosa. Faced with rising unemployment at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the British government agreed to it with enthusiasm. The 1820 Settlers as they were collectively known were a group of about 4000 British emigrants who arrived at Bathhurst in 1820. They permanently altered the character of the frontier.

This is a picture of Oatlands House painted by Joan English in 1975 which was built in 1823 for Colonel Henry Somerset (1805-1862). It has three large front rooms with a return verandah. I thought this was remarkably modest considering that Henry was a masterpiece of self importance. I was right. Oatlands House was merely a villa for the use of Henry in the years when the mansion on the same estate was lived in by his father. The mansion itself was named preposterously after the palace Henry VIII built or Anne of Cleves. Now gone, it was an altogether grander affair than Oatlands House with stained glass windows to remind visitors of the Beauforts’ descent from the Plantagenet kings of England.

If I can be forgiven a digression within what is already a digression, I’ll remark that the Beauforts’ claims were thoroughly exploded when the skeleton of Richard III – an anonymous hunchback with pike wounds buried in haste by the Tudors after the Battle of Bosworth – was discovered beneath a Leicester car park. The skeleton carried a rare Y chromosome not carried by the Beauforts which leaves four possibilities

  • the skeleton wasn’t that of Richard III
  • the Beauforts weren’t descended from John of Gaunt
  • Richard III wasn’t descended from John of Gaunt (there’s a question mark next to the paternity of his grandfather – the Cambridge of Shakespeare’s Henry V)
  • there’s another instance of false paternity somewhere between 1485 and 1805

Perish the thought. There’s never a question mark next to the conduct of an English gentlewoman. The Beaufort line begins with Charles (1460-1626) illegitimate son (later legitimised) of Henry Beaufort (1436-1464) by his mistress Joan Hall. Henry Beaufort was the grandson of John Beaufort (1371-1410) illegimitate son (later legitimised) of John of Gaunt by his mistress Katherine Swynford.

Interesting, isn’t it? And there you were thinking that the Xhosa were overly concerned with blood lines.

What made Henry important was his Beaufort connections. Henry’s father, Lord Charles Somerset (1767-1831) was a younger son of the 5th Duke of Beaufort who served as governor of Cape Colony from 1814 to 1826, enjoying a salary of £10,000 a year. One of his brothers, Lord Fitzroy Somerset, later Field Marshal Lord Raglan, was already influential in the army thanks to his role as the Duke of Wellington’s private secretary. Nobody dared to intervened when Lord Charles decided to put his son Henry in charge of the frontier. He did this by purchasing a lieutenant colonelcy for Henry and putting him in command of the largely Khokhoi Cape Mounted Rifles (The Cape Corps as was – see above).

So finally we have all the elements in place for the Sixth Xhosa War, the confrontation that led to the death of Hintsa. The Xhosa were still fatally split. Hintsa of the Gcaleka clan was widely accepted as paramount chief though the descendants of Gcaleka’s brother Rarabe and their clans took his claims less seriously than he did. Nearer to the new British colony of Albany Ngqika’s son Maqoma emerged as the leader of the clans descended from Rarabe. He was helped by the death in rapid succession of Ndlambe and his oldest son in 1828 and 1829. The Ndlambe clan was left effectively leaderless. Above all Maqoma was helped by the death of his father at the end of 1829. Strangely enough Maqoma got on well with Henry Somerset who allowed him to return to the old Ngqika haunts in the Ceded Territort. This annoyed the Boers now led by Andries Stockenstrom, landrost of Graaff Reinet, who tells us in his Autobiography that he demanded “total expulsion of the Kaffir hordes from the whole of the Ceded Territory” but was turned down by Somerset who treated the frontier as a fiefdom. In broad theory, Henry Somerset, who was commandant of the frontier, was junior to Stockenstrom, who was commissioner-general. In 1835 Stockenstrom was called before Select Committee on Aborigines to explain his role. Evidently he was as baffled as anyone else, “I knew that the situation had been specially created with the view of superintending the frontier and eastern division, and as I had no superintendence of the kind, or was not useful in any way, I obtained leave from the colonial government to come to England, represented the case to the Secretary of State, and in a short time afterwards I was informed that the situation was abolished.” In other words, don’t cross a Somerset. Finally there were the British colonists centred by now on Grahamstown which had a population of more than three thousand.

The immediate cause of the Sixth Xhosa War was Henry Somerset’s over confidence. In December 1834 a Boer said he’d been robbed of three horses by one of the Nqeno clan. Ensign Sparkes was sent out to take some cattle as compensation. Unusually the Nqeno resisted, wounding Sparkes. So far as Somerset was concerned this was a breach of the agreement he’d come to with Maqomo that the Xhosa could reoccupy some of the Ceded Territory so long as they remained quiet. He sent out strong patrols to instruct the clan chiefs to move their people east of the Keiskamma River. On 10th December Lieutenant Sutton of the 75th seized some cattle belonging to one of Ngqika’s sons. Xoxo, Maqomo’s nephew, asked why Sutton was taking the chief’s cattle. Weapons were fired and Xoxo was slightly wounded. After the event the Select Committee established that “any injury committed on the person of a Caffre chief (was) regarded as a very peculiar and great provocation.” The blame lay not with a lieutenant of the 75th but with Somerset who had got away with strong-arm tactics hitherto and had failed to issue proper instructions.

The actual cause of the war was land hunger and over-crowding. The frontier erupted. By 21st December it was estimated that 12,000 Xhosa warriors were about to cross the Fish River. Somerset panicked. In truth his earlier over-confidence had been based on little more than an inflated idea of his own abilities. He had fewer than 800 men at his disposal, principally 482 men of the British 75th Regiment of Foot and 226 men of the Cape Mounted Rifles. Apart from one detachment at Fort Beaufort on the Kat River, Somerset ordered the colonial forces to retreat to Grahamstown. This left many British colonists exposed and gifted to Maqoma his first military objective, Fort Willshire.

Fortunately for the British colonists, Somerset’s time as commandant was nearly done. Lieutenant Colonel Harry Smith was on his way from Cape Town, achieving the 600 mile journey in six days. Smith, a veteran of the Peninsular War, stayed at Oatlands for long enough to establish that Somerset, who estimated the number of invading Xhosa at 100,000, was a waste of space.

The problem for the Xhosa was that they had already achieved all they could hope to achieve. On the first day of the New Year one of the Xhosa chiefs allied to Maqoma, Tyali, dictated a letter to Wiilliam Chalmers, a missionary, for the attention of Sir Benjamin d’Urban, the governor of the Cape Colony. In it he listed fourteen reasons why the Xhosa had gone to war. It was futile. One of the lessons the Xhosa had yet to learn was that empires don’t negotiate from a position of weakness.

With British colonists to protect and British missionaries to make a noise about it, Smith was in a position to raise greater numbers of auxiliaries than any of his predecessors. Fewer Boers than usual turned up for commando service. They didn’t like being under martial law and the abolition of slavery still rankled. The movement that led to the Great Trek was already beginning. Smith was unimpressed by those Boers who did join him. Writing to his wife, Juanita, who later gave her name to Ladysmitrh, he commented, “The Boers of the old Commandos talk of the glories of former times, when the Kaffirs had only assegais. But now they have a few guns, which they use very badly, Mynheer funks.” In addition, Smith recruited more than 1000 Khoikhoi and formed a Corps of Guides 400 strong from British settlers. The governor, Sir Benjamin d’Urban, another Peninsula veteran, came up from Cape Town with 450 more British regulars, arriving on 20th January 1835. On 23rd January the formation of the Albany Mounted Sharpshooters with three troops of fifty men was advertised in the Grahamstown Journal. It was supplemented by a company of Bathhurst Volunteers on the 30th. These were numbers the Xhosa couldn’t face in the open. They retired to the thick bush of the Fish River, sending their captured cattle yet further back, across the Kei and into Hintsa’s Galeka country. Smith announced that he’d cleared the Fish in March though it seems more likely that Maqoma elected to retreat to the Amatolas as a better centre for resistance. D’Urban sent four forces into the Amatolas at the beginning of April but Maqoma avoided contact. In August he was still resisting and capable of putting on a show of force to British officers sent to treat with him that Captain James Alexander estimated at 5000 or 6000 men in his Narrative of a Voyage and a Campaign in Kaffirland.

But much had changed by August. On 24th April d’Urban declared war on Hintsa who had at the very least taken in cattle stolen from colonists by Maqoma. Quite what else Hintsa had promised Maqoma was the subject of repeated enquiry by the Select Committee. D’Urban and Smith were still in South Africa when the Committee took evidence in 1836, but d’Urban’s senior aide de camp, Captain George Beresford, and L:ieutenant Colonel William Cox, commanding officer of the Cape Mounted Rifles, were both grilled at length. The casus belli was “violence, rapine and outrages” against the mission station at Butterworth. British troops crossed the Kei and began capturing Gcaleka cattle. Shortly after d’Urban announced the annexation of the Ceded Territory and all other land between the Fish and the Kei Rivers and his intention to form a new colony to be called Queen Adelaide. The frontier Xhosa were to be expelled and space found for them on the east side of the Kei.

In between these two events Hintsa and forty followers rode into d’Urban’s camp and voluntarily surrendered. D’Urban told him the peace conditions. Hintsa was to hand over 50,000 cattle and 1,000 horses by way of war reparations and was to command Maqoma and other frontier chiefs to stop fighting. He was given two days to agree. Like Ngqika in 1817, Hintsa tried to explain that his title of paramount chief was just that – a title. He didn’t have the power to tell other Xhosa chiefs what they should or shouldn’t do. But – again like Ngqika – all accounts suggest that he did indeed agree to d’Urban’s demands. And – unlike Ngqiya – he was an extremely intelligent man who will certainly have understood what was demanded.

Hintsa was killed on 12th May 1835 whilst leading Harry Smith and a detachment of the Corps of Guides to confiscate some of the cattle he’d been promised. Clearly he was in an impossible position because the cattle would never have been handed over. Why he ever consented to d’Urban’s demands is a mystery. There is a long account of his death in Mostert’s Frontiers and another in Harry Smith’s Autobiography. The Select Committee on Aborigines also took evidence on the subject. The truth will never be known. What is undisputable is that Hintsa tried to escape on horseback, was pursued by Harry Smith who threw him to the ground, then tried to escape on foot and was shot by George Southey of the Guides. His body was subsequently mutilated and trophies taken.

The death of Hintsa gave Thomas Fowell Buxton, chairman of the Select Committee on Aborigines, all the leverage he needed for a sustained campaign against d’Urban’s actions. As Zoe Laidlaw puts it in Colonial Connections

Buxton’s efforts bore fruit. In November he wrote to his cousin, Anna Gurney

On 26th December 1835 Lord Glenelg wrote to D’Urban asking him to justify the retention of the occupied territory. His despatch was a bombshell. In it, he remarked that the Xhosa had “ample justificatiion for going to war” and that they had been “driven to desperation by the systematic injustice of which they had been the victims.” This wasn’t at all what d’Urban, the Boers or the British colonists expected to hear. On 3rd February 1836 Glenelg wrote to d’Urban instructing him to appoint a court of military inquiry into the death of Hintsa. In his letter he made plain his own opinion:

“It is stated to me, however, on evidence which it is impossible to receive without serious attention, that Hintza repeatedly cried out for mercy; that the Hottentots present granted the boon, and abstained from killing him; that this office was then undertaken by Mr Southey, and that then the dead body of the fallen chief was basely and inhumanely mutilated.”

On 5th February Stockenstrom was appointed lieutenant governor of the Eastern Cape with instructions to restore relations with the Xhosa. No more was heard of Queen Adelaide Land.

So the Sixth Xhosa War was a draw of sorts and had important consequences for the treatment of native peoples in all parts of the British Empire. But it didn’t solve the land hunger which was the root cause of all these frontier wars. In the Seventh and Eighth Xhosa Wars of 1846 and 1850 the Xhosa were comprehensively defeated. A prophet told them a great nation would be destroyed if the Xhosa destroyed their own cattle first. They did. It was.

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