Episode 163 - British engineers build forts and semaphores while disabled chief Mgolombane Sandile signs a treaty

History of South Africa podcast

24-03-2024 • 23 mins

This is episode 163, the year, 1845. New Cape Governor Sir Peregrine Maitland had shown he was a man of action — as a veteran of the Peninsular Campaign against Napoleon you’d expect that, particularly as he fought at Waterloo.
This new man of action governor had some doubts about a few things here in sunny South Africa.
He doubted the effectiveness of Andries Stockenstrom’s Eastern Cape Ceded territory system for a start. He would sort that he thought with the introduction of a new system which was actually an old system. More about that later.

Maitland also doubted the effectiveness of two other treaties signed by his predecessor Sir George Napier with Griqua leader Adam Kok the third and King Moshoeshoe the First of the Basotho.

But we need to turn south, back to the Eastern Cape Frontier.

The 1840s were a high point of settler power in the Eastern Cape and wool was driving development. As the state expanded, pressure grew on the Ceded Territory, between the Fish and Keiskamma Rivers.

It was also a time of reinforcing both the military forts around the frontier, and the communication systems. Starting in the mid-1830s, the British had extended their forts and signalling systems. They had been caught off-guard by the amaXhosa who’d raided the Eastern Cape without warning at the start of the Sixth Frontier War and it was imperative they improve their communication.

After the frontier war of 1835-6, the planning of the system of frontier defence fell on the Royal engineers including Lieutenant-Colonel Griffith George Lewis and Captain WFD Jervois, as well as a civilian employee of the War Office, Henry L Hall.

Lewis commanded the Royal Engineers in the colony at the time. He repeatedly expressed his frustration at the tardiness of the British government in allocating funds for the effective defence of the frontier districts. These funds of course were squeezed out of the British taxpayer, so the political leadership would not always release investments of this sort immediately.

Lewis was one of those folks we come across every now and again, someone who seems to understand the big picture and the need for action. He wrote extensively on frontier defence policy, and complained that for years after the close of the war no clear decisions had been taken on how funds were to be utilised. His warnings like those of Sir John Hare the lieutenant Governor of the Eastern Cape were not being heeded.

Jervois built the stockades at Peddie, Trompetter’s Drift, Double Drift and fort Brown, all found in the frontier districts of the Eastern Cape. Jervois would end up in the Channel Islands by the way, and designed and built a whole series of fortifications that were to become famous during the Second world War.

The imperial government also approved of Lewis’s scheme for ‘signal towers’, and new roads and bridges to improve communications between these forts and the headquarters at Grahamstown where new barracks were to be built on the old Drostdy Ground.

Lewis had been instrumental in building a series of towers to improve communications with Fort Beaufort and Fort Peddie, starting from Fort Selwyn in Grahamstown. The survey to establish suitable points on which to erect the stations was done by Henry Hall, stationed in the Eastern Cape in the period 1842–1858.
Robert Godlonton had decided that his Grahamstown Journal was going to up the ante once more when it came to both the Kat River settlement where the khoekhoe lived, and the Ceded Territory. Appropriating the language of civilisation, Godlonton wrote in the journal that

“…Colonisation would be then synonymous with civilisation, and the natives instead of being depressed or destroyed, would be raised from their wretched grovelling condition and participate in all the advantages which civilised government is calculated to bestow.”
The fact that the amaXhosa people did not regard themselves as in a grovelling condition was utterly ignored by Godlonton.