The Voortrekkers
A history of the Voortrekkers Great Trek 1835 - 1845
The Sixth Border War
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Another Setback for the Boer Settlers

Durban Web Designers' Great TrekTo exacerbate matters further, a border conflict (1834) - the sixth Border War - came to an end in an area already settled and called Queen Adelaide.

For years, rustling across the border would be followed by a raid to return the cattle, that would be followed by a raid on Boer homesteads which would finally be followed by a punitive raid on the Xhosa until peace of a sort was established.

This uneasy equilibrium changed when the British moved forces to the frontier and pushed the Xhosa back, demanding a significant penalty in cattle for their marauding.

Sir Harry Smith

The officer commanding the British was Sir Harry Smith (of more, later). During a scuffle between himself and the Xhosa chief, the chief was shot dead. When the report reached London, the manner of the chief's death caused consternation in liberal circles and Queen Adelaide was revoked, returned to the Xhosa and the settlers there (mainly Afrikaners) forced to move out.

Other Grievances

voortrekkersFor many Boers, the state of constant flare-ups was then seen to continue indefinitely and this was the last straw. Other grievances were the creeping adoption of English as an official language, the immigration of 5,000 settlers into the eastern Cape Province (1820 - right), the increasing price of land as the Afrikaner population increased, the emancipation of slaves and several years of drought.

In particular, two stand out - the emancipation of slaves (1833), which was timed to take effect during harvest and for which the owners received scant compensation (and were required to travel to London to collect it).

To the Boers, this law placed blacks and whites on an equal footing and was contrary to the laws of God. Secondly, the 'meddling' of the missionaries was a running sore.

The Boers talk of Trekking

Durban Web Designers' Great TrekIn many Boer homes, talk of moving away from the 'Kaffirs' (kafir - Arabic for 'unbeliever') and the English increased. The Boers could not move further east but there was frequent talk of an empty country to the north.

This country was not unknown. For many years, traders and hunters had crossed the Orange River into TransOrangia. One intrepid Afrikaner - Coenraad Buys - who had fallen foul of the law, had trekked all the way up to the northern Transvaal with his assorted wives, children and some English deserters. These 'Buys Volk' were known to have settled in lush, well-watered country in which their descendents live today.

Next . . . The first exploratory treks



More on the Border Regions from The British Empire.

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The frontiers of the Cape Colony were populated with powerful and strong Africa tribes and kingdoms. The agricultural settlers in the Cape Colony were fanning out eastwards along the southern coast. This direction had better quality soil and a climate more appropriate for western style crops and livestock. This particular area was populated by the powerful Xhosa.

One small group of English settlers had actually leapfrogged along the coast and would form the nucleus of the Natal Colony. Governor D'Urban was also mindful of the unrest of Boers in the Cape Colony and their likely departure. He wanted to ensure that the better quality land would be available for British settlers and was not annexed by the Boers trying to leave British jurisdiction. He therefore annexed the land between the Keiskamma and the Keir Rivers and called it the Province of Queen Adelaide. However, London was not so pleased with this annexation and felt that it would lead to more unrest with African tribes rather than less. D'Urban was instructed to return the lands and sign a treaty to the effect.

For the next decade, the Boers would bypass the area, they attempted to settle in Natalia but eventually were forced further north to the Orange Free State and the Transvaal instead. This was one less complication for the authorities to worry about. However, Kaffraria was being surrounded by more and more white settlers who were envious of the good quality land. There were countless frontier clashes between settlers and Africans but the War of the Axe in 1846 would provide the excuse for a temporary annexation of Kaffraria.

Unfortunately for the Cape expansionists, the timing was poor. In 1846 a Whig government came to power in London who were more sympathetic to African land rights and were less than impressed with the additional costs of administration. It therefore advocated the idea of a colonial administrative unit based on indirect rule. The chiefs would accept the Queen of Britain as their protector in the form of an attached British military commander. This system would establish imperial control with a simple form of government which would retain those tribal customs which would enhance the imperial authority. Best of all for the British, it was a very cheap form of government.

The theory was better than the practice. When the first such commander arrived to take control military affairs he found that the frontier war was still fully raging. The Cape Governor, Sir Harry Smith, would take advantage of the confusion to annex the area to the Cape Colony instead. He clearly exceeded his original brief (which he would also do with regards to the Orange Free State) and was acting without the permission of the British Colonial Office.

Missionaries were encouraged to go to the area and spread the word of god amongst the black population. The Church of England missionaries did indeed have a great deal of success.

At the same time, white settlers were encouraged to settle in what was referred to as East Cape. It was originally hoped to entice retired English soldiers to settle the area so that a militia could be formed if yet another frontier war broke out. Few English soldiers applied for the subsidised land, but a number of German Legion soldiers were tempted. These would be supplemented by other Germans.

The Xhosa realised that they had lost control of their destiny and attempted to force the British out of their lands through the deliberate destruction of all the cattle in the area (including their own). Xhosa regarded cattle as the ultimate form of wealth and it was thought that to destroy all the wealth of the area would encourage the Europeans to seek other lands. Unfortunately, this was not the case as the Europeans were able to import their own higher quality cattle (and sheep) from elsewhere in the Empire. However, it did demonstrate to London the depth of despair and hostility and it reminded them that their original plans had been ignored.

In 1860, the colony was finally given its original protectorate status. Again though the timing was lousy. This time there was an economic recession that afflicted the entire Southern African region. Unable to balance their books without support from the British Treasury, British Kaffraria was forced to look to the Cape Colony for help. In 1865, the territory was re-incorporated into the Colony where it would henceforward remain.