Xhosa / Kat River Khoikhoi
Forces and Deployments
Xhosa / Kat River Khoikhoi
What Really Happened
(Image at right: The previous British attempt upon the Waterkloof fastness of Maqoma, which failed on 14 October 1851, a watercolour sketched from the rear of Somerset's division on the day of battle, by the artist Thomas Baines who was present at many of the actions of the Eighth Frontier War. From Thomas Baines: Eastern Cape Sketches 1848 to 1852 by Jane Carruthers.)
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The year is 1851, in the middle of the Eighth Cape Frontier War, one
of the many that have marked the white advance up the eastern
hinterland of South Africa. The colonists (British in this particular
region) are arriving by the boatload and want vacant, fertile land to
graze their cattle upon; their neighbors the Xhosa to the north are
faced with political turmoil from drought, Mfecane repercussions, and
famine; Xhosa bands cross the border to steal cattle; settlers take
communal reprisals; sooner or later you have a native revolt. However
in the Waterkloof, "a long, narrow
valley, eight or nine miles in length, surrounded by high mountains...
almost inaccessible, being covered with rocks, caverns, trees,
undergrowth, monkey-rope, etc." (Fisher 520) in the Kroomie
Range bordering the Kat River
country, the fastness of the great Rharabe Xhosa chief Maqoma, the
situation has has become a little bit thicker than this.
Background - Maqoma's Xhosa:
can be no dearth of grievances for Maqoma. It is thirty-two years now
since the affable Sir Charles Somerset rewarded his Ngqika Xhosa
allies of the Fifth Frontier War (1818-19) by casting them out with the
the "Kaffirs" to lands beyond the Kat River in order to create a
as a buffer between Cape Colony and the Xhosa. It was in 1822,
twenty-nine years ago, that Maqoma's band
of them, amaRharabe, which had inherited a tract of almost completely
barren ground by that treaty, first tried returning to its ancestral
lands in the
upper Kat valley, within this Neutral Territory, and an adjacent part
of Cape Colony. Twenty-three
years ago, in 1828, Commissioner-General Andries Stockenström -
the one so
soft on the "beasts" that the
colonial press later branded him as
been inflicted upon them by the home government solely "to override the
indefeasible right of Englishmen to cut off Hintsa's ears" -
again as squatters, opening their Kat River District to settlement.
two years, and Maqoma was permitted to resettle on good land near Fort
only to be expelled once more in 1833 by Stockenström's successor,
old Sir Charles' thick-headed son Henry Somerset.
(Image above left: The victorious Maqoma at Burnshill, the opening battle of the 7th Frontier War in 1846, wearing the two blue-crane feathers on the head for a warrior who had killed a man in battle [William Fehr Collection].)
Since the bitter Sixth Frontier War (1834-35), Maqoma's people have
lodged in the rugged Amatola Range, back in their old homeland, and for
some time after that war, the government actually
consented to it. In 1837, an exasperated Colonial Office ordered
the old Neutral Territory
to be returned
to the Xhosa entirely (renamed, the "Ceded Territory"), and all British
ambitions to retain the "Queen Adelaide Province," territories captured
during the Sixth Frontier War embracing it as well as all the rest of
the Xhosa lands beyond it, abandoned. But
this arrangement could not survive the fall of Robert Peel's
in 1846, and the new Colonial Secretary, Earl Grey, appointed men -
Sir Henry Pottinger and then Sir Harry Smith, fresh from Aliwal -
of the Cape who favored policies of annexation. By the end of an
ensuing, Seventh Frontier
the Xhosa lands stood once again, as all either absorbed into a new
("British Kaffraria"), or, as in the case of the Ceded Territory, set
aside for something special. Now, however, there would be no
empty "Neutral Territory," let alone a more general, "Queen
Adelaide"-style arrangement, now pursued in Kaffraria, whereby Maqoma's
party might be allowed to remain. The Ceded
Territory was to be opened directly to white settlement, a formal
annexation of Cape Colony.
As for Maqoma himself, he had been sitting things out somewhat ingloriously for most of the Seventh Frontier War with his wives in Grahamstown alehouses, and had been imprisoned in Port Elizabeth for political reasons by the time Sir Harry Smith arrived, in December 1847. Landing to cheering crowds, Sir Harry made a point of visiting Maqoma in jail, and before the assembled townsfolk, castigated him for treachery and forced him to prostrate himself. With his boot on Maqoma's neck, he proclaimed, "This is to teach you that I have come hither to teach Kaffirland that I am chief and master here and in this way I shall treat the enemies of the Queen of England" (Smith 586). The humiliation was complete. With Maqoma's return to the Kat Valley, it has only been a matter of time before amaRharabe would erupt in revolt.
- The Kat Valley Khoikhoi:
In refusing to vacate the former Ceded Territory for white settlement, Maqoma has come upon some unexpected allies. The Kat River Settlement, created under Stockenström in the 1820s, was a British liberal experiment by which "Hottentots" and "coloureds" - Khoikhoi and Basters from Cape Colony with some Mfengu (or "Fingo") refugees from Shaka's conquests - would be set up as landowning settlers in the Kat Valley District, bordering on the Neutral Territory. They were to be treated as having the same land rights of white burghers, and full protection of the Crown as British subjects; ideally, this would gradually serve to "civilise" and enfranchise the Khoikhoi, provide a convenient way of siphoning off squatters on white farms, and create a bulwark of "loyalist" blacks against the Xhosa. However, bureaucratic excess in dealing with vagrants in the new settlements, prompted by the resentment of whites settled nearby (who, in any case, wanted the land for themselves), and the vitriol of the Grahamstown colonial press, culminated in a troop of police riding through the settlement, pillaging, and setting fire to some buildings in June of 1850. This incident thoroughly alienated the wary coloured settlers, and some of them began to raid white stock and run for the hills, to join Maqoma's rebels. When Henry Somerset's army finally swept through, and broke up the settlement in February of 1851, there was left nothing to hold the remainder back. The Cape Mounted Rifles, many of whose troopers' homes had been in the settlement and had been destroyed, suffered mutiny also and had had to be disbanded, adding hundreds of crack, British-trained soldiers into the "Kaffir" ranks.
(Image at right: "Saturday, 25
October , Elephant's
bush, Kroomie," another watercolour by Thomas Baines, showing officers
the 74th Highlanders in a pensive stance. From Eastern Cape Sketches.)
The Fighting to Date:
Other than two massed attacks on Fort Beaufort by the Kat River colonists in January of 1851, which resulted in the outpost's temporary abandonment, most of the actual fighting has so far consisted of parties of Ngqika raiding isolated farmsteads. The bands then return to their forested mountain fastnesses, while colonial military expeditions attempt with little success to dislodge them. According to one white settler,
The enemy did not come out boldly to fight at first, but had to be hunted out of the dense jungles, where they took up their abode, and lived on plunder, sending out strong parties, to attack any small party, or lay in ambush for any stock that was being sent from place to place. The farmers were obliged to look about and do something to support their families, so they moved out in parties of four or five men to the farms, for the purpose of cultivating the lands, and upon these small parties, the marauders made sudden attacks, carrying off their cattle, and in some cases men lost their lives in defending them (Staples 40).
In early June, Sir Harry Smith admitted that colonial military operations into the Amatola Mountains had had "no perceptible effect as regards the termination of hostilities," whilst the whole of British Kaffraria and the Ceded Territory had been "overrun by numerous and lawless banditti, by spoilers and ruthless murderers" (Milton 204).
(Image above: The Kroomie theatre of operations. Fort Beaufort and outlying farms are marked; the latter would have been abandoned and burnt by November 1851 thanks to Xhosa and Khoikhoi depredations. From George Cathcart, The Correspondence of Sir George Cathcart relative to his military operations in Kaffraria... [London: 1856], 121.)
The Waterkloof Operations:
Now it is the Waterkloof's turn. Two previous expeditions under Henry Somerset and Colonel Fordyce, 74th Highlanders, were sent against Maqoma's stronghold there, a village weakly fortified with log slabs and heaped rocks, but strong because of its location on the summit of a narrow nek of high ground separating two deep and densely forested valleys, called by the whites respectively Waterkloof and Harry's Kloof, deep in the Kroome mountains. Colonel Fordyce took a party of 613 men of the 74th Highlanders and the Mfengu levies up there to reconnoiter on 7 September, suffering a severe beating by a estimated 4,000 rebels on the way back (McKay 93-109). On 14 October, the first two-pronged assault by converging was undertaken by Henry Somerset and Colonel Fordyce, but dense fog made it difficult for the forces to meet up and in the end the mission was abortive.
(Image at right: A a more romanticised oil-on-canvas version of Thomas Baines' rough watercolour of the 14 October action at top, showing the hut circle of the village stronghold on Mount Misery in the distance, the artillery and levies or burghers in the foreground , and the deep forested valley of Waterkloof dropping off to the left [William Fehr Collection].)
The next attempt is scheduled for today, 6 November 1851;
Fordyce is coming up from Mundell's farm on the the Kroome Plain to the
from the Kroome heights and Fuller's Hoek directions to the south and
east. It is rumored
that Maqoma's main force
has removed to the Amatolas now, and "there does not appear to be
two hundred of the enemy in Waterkloof," according to the
correspondents of the Grahamstown Journal (rep. in McKay 178). Take the
colonial press, always critical of the bumbling military, as you like
it, but in this
kind of country, there is no guarantee of any easy winnings.
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(Images, clockwise from top left: A private of HM 74th Highlanders, showing the Bedford buff hunting smock, brown leather belts, tartan trews unique to this regiment, and the Kilmarnock cap with diced band worn also by HM 91st, though with plain trousers and uniform coatees, from 1st Corps Miniatures promotional art; Another illustration of the 74th in action, a detail of a painting by Thomas Baines of the Ambush of Fordyce's column on 7 September 1851 now hanging in the Regimental Headquarters, the Royal Highland Fusiliers in Glasgow; Officers and men of HM 43rd regiment in camp, March 1852, another watercolour by Baines, showing the dress coatees stripped of lace for the rigors of campaign worn also by HM 91st, plus other non-regulation adaptations such as the mixing of blue winter and white summer trousers, covered and uncovered forage caps, some with added leather peaks, civilian wideawake hat, and so on. The officers seem to have departed from uniform altogether [Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection]; HM 2nd Foot on the march in shell jackets, detail from "A Convoy of Waggons," an illustration in Scenes in Kafirland by L. Graham and H. Robinson.)
The British regular army figures are all obtainable from 1st Corps
Miniatures in the UK, and the less-distinctive English infantry
regiments among them could equally be represented by 1840s New Zealand
from Old Glory and Strategem/Trent, or the old Sikh Wars figures from
Wargames Foundry if you can find them secondhand. For the artillery,
Foundry Sikh Wars or Opium Wars are your best bet, as I
am not aware that 1st Corps makes British gunners for this conflict.
infantry and artillery, Crimean War figures are too late, although
probably only the most crotchety would likely point it out.
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(Images above, clockwise from top left: Four repesenations of the Cape Mounted Rifles, all from paintings and sketches by Thomas Baines except for the second one, which is a modern illustration by Brian Aldridge; then two of the British mounted burgher volunteers, the top one from the plate of the wagon train in Scenes in Kafirland by L. Graham and H. Robinson, the bottom one a pencil sketch by Thomas Baines; and finally three men of the Mfengu levies all by Baines again, the watercolours from Eastern Cape Sketches and the oil-on-canvas a painting in the William Fehr Collection entitled "The loyal Fingo".)
The CMR and other Colonial figures are again, all available in 25mm from 1st Corps Miniatures, although for the English burghers on foot we also have Old Glory "Wagon Train settlers" from their earlier "Warpaint" Old West line - tall figures, and mostly unarmed, but nevertheless including some excellent pioneer types with muskets. The Old Glory Texas War of Independence Texans for San Jaquinto are also rather handy for this if without obviously American items like fringed buckskin coats and eagle feathers, as are some of the Bobby Jackson "Gangs of New York" musket-armed figures available from the Virtual Armchair General, the Mike Broadbent Designs "Sergeant Steele" pose from his old Ned Kelly range available through Nic Robson of Eureka Miniatures, and various other civilian, Missouri guerilla, sans-culottes, or Franc-Tireurs types from the Wargames Foundry Old West, Franco- Prussian War and French Revolution ranges.
For the Mfengu you might also want to check out the Abbotts
Miniatures Napoleonic West Indies "Negro infantry" for variety from the
coming 1st Corps figures, although you will have to remove the bayonets
from their muskets for complete accuracy.
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Xhosa & Kat River Khoikhoi Figures:
(Images above: Left: A good
sampling of the various so-called "Kaffir" insurgents in the 8th
from a 19th-century engraving - Xhosa, Kat River Khoikhoi, and Cape
Mounted Rifles deserters. The hodgepodge mixture of all three groups is
accurate. The loincloths shown on some of the Xhosa men however
only the Victorian sensibilities of the artist and were not a common
of dress [Anne S.K Brown Military Collection]. Right
: The tough, fed-up middle-aged Maqoma of the 8th Frontier War, a
watercolour by G. Remy, 1852).
In 25mm, all the necessary figures are made by 1st Corps Miniatures in the UK to quite a good standard; for variety Greg Blake's Cannon Fodder Miniatures in Australia used also to make a Xhosa range that included some even better figures, and these can sometimes still be had by special order, if you order enough. For "coloured" Kat River colonists, the current Cannon Fodder Alamo Texians include some usable poses, as do the Wargames Foundry "Darkest Africa" 19th-century Belgian Force Publique "Tribal Auxiliaries" in cast-off European hats and coats, and the Abbotts Miniatures "Negro infantry" from their Napoleonic West Indies range. The pending 1st Corps "Fingo levies" will also be usable as-is for the Kat rebels, dress and armament being the same.
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Forces and Deployments:
British under Fordyce and Somerset:
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Rules:The rules used are Ross MacFarlane's With MacDuff to the Frontier. Originally published in The Courier in 1997, this game is meant for the more recent version available free on his website, pretty much straight-up. The only special conditions are as follows:
The Tractless Kloof:
"No. 2 company, which had been ordered to assault the part between the Kroomie pass and Waterkloof pass on Mount Misery, instead of moving directly to the front, kept inclining to its right. Fordyce, being on a height, perceived the enemy in their front, but the company moving along a hollow at the time, did not observe them" (McKay 163).
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The British objectives are to take Maqoma's stronghold on Mount
Misery and clear the kloofs of insurgents.
If the British take Mount Misery and clear both kloofs of rebels it
is a decisive British victory.
If the British take Mount Misery and clear one kloof of rebels it is a partial British vicrtory.
If the British take only Mount Misery or one kloof then it is a partial Xhosa victory.
If the British take neither Mount Misery nor either kloof it is a decisive Xhosa victory.
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What Really Happened:In the wee hours of the morning on 4 November, Fordyce's column began its arduous flanking march from Fort Beaufort to Mandell's Farm via Hermanus' Hill to the north, encumbered with their artillery and the ox-wagons of the commissariat. Sergeant McKay of the 74th Foot recalled later, "On the previous day much rain had fallen, and the rugged, stony road which wound up the hill was said to be impassable for wagons. However, we got the train in motion (as difficult a job as to get so many line-of-battle ships to sea), and managed to crawl to the beginning of the ascent, when despite sjambok, whip, and the unceasing swearing of the wagoners, we could move no farther, the roads being in such a miserable plight" (161). It was not until the 6th that Fordyce was in readiness for the assault.
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Cameron, Trewhella, and S. B. Spies, eds. An Illustrated History of South Africa. Johannesburg: Jonathan Bell, 1986.
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