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The Life and Times of Sir George Grey, K.C.B.

Chapter XXVIII. — The German Legios

page 211

Chapter XXVIII.
The German Legios.

"Life, when it is veal, is not evanescent; is not slight; does not vanish away. Every noble life leaves the fibre of it interwoven for ever in the work of the world; by so much evermore the strength of the human race has gained: more stubborn in the root, higher towards heaven in the branch.

During the American and Continental wars at the close of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries, Great Britain had retained the services of considerable bodies of German and other Continental troops. These had at length become a permanent part of the British army, under the name of the German Legion. The existence of this foreign element had become obnoxious, and it was finally determined to get rid of it. This was done; but during the Russian war Baron von Stutterheim proposed to the Government again to raise a German Legion. The offer was accepted, and then with the consent of Parliament a new force was raised, principally from the German seaports, for this particular war.

At the close of the campaign these men were moved to England and placed in quarters. They feared to return to their native towns lest they should be punished. Some of them were almost necessarily lawless and violent characters, possessing the materials for good soldiers, but likely to be very troublesome in English towns and villages. Troubles soon threatened to arise between them and the English population amongst whom they lived. The question, What was to be done with these men? demanded an immediate answer.

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At length the Government, after numerous schemes had been discussed, proposed to the Cape Legislature that the men of the German Legion should become military settlers at the Cape, kept enrolled for service in Kaffraria, with separate houses and pieces of land for their officer and for themselves. Their military training would be useful in case of war, and they would unite the 'wealth-producing capacity of labour with the security of a military guard.

Sir George Grey was instructed to invite the acquiescence of the Cape Parliament. He did so. Correspondence ensued upon the subject. The Cape people, remembering that the great majority of these soldiers were unmarried, required a guarantee that they should be accompanied or immediately followed by German families containing sufficient numbers of young women among whom they could find wives, and thus become permanent and successful colonists. Sir George was instructed to give the necessary pledge to this effect to the Colonial Legislature. This also he did. In all good faith, the Cape Parliament then consented.

The German Legion were sent to Africa, but the promise of the English Government that they should be accompanied or followed by German families and young women was not fulfilled. The proportion of females actually sent by Government only amounted to about one to eight of the soldiers, who were settled over a long line of frontier, extending from East London to a point near Queenstown.

Seeing that the promises made by the Home Government were broken, the Legislature at the Cape represented to the Governor that it was the duty of the English Government to carry out their contract with the colony. Correspondence was entered into between the Cape and Downing Street. All efforts to induce the Colonial Office and the War Office to redeem their solemn pledges were vain. Evasive replies, denials of responsibility, repudiation of covenants entered into at the request of Her Majesty's Ministers, were the only result. Downing Street refused to perform its part of the bargain and to send the German families to South Africa.

Meanwhile, large numbers of the disbanded soldiers had been located. Among them, some were unable to find employment — some were unwilling to work. The German Legion, though page 213including many able men and skilful and excellent officers, had on occasions been recruited from the rougher classes of continental towns. Without homes, therefore, and without the opportunity of making homes and becoming married men, many of these formed a floating and unsettled population, whose members caused anxiety in many parts of the frontier. Thrown back upon his own devices, Sir George Grey resolved to attempt the fulfilment of the Imperial promises, through the Government of British Kaff'raria. In August, 1857, as High Commissioner in that province, he entered into a contract with a German merchant of Capetown, M. William Berg, and through him with the eminent firm of Godefiroi in Hamburg, for the introduction of German families, numbering in all four thousand souls, at certain specified rates.

The Government of Kaffraria was to pay for the passage of these emigrants by debentures. Land was to be provided for the new colonists at a certain fixed price, and in fixed quantities for men, women and children. Houses were to be built, and all necessary implements and rations for twelve months supplied. Interest upon this expenditure was to be charged and ultimately paid, together with the principal, by each of the colonists. The emigrants were to repay to the Government of Kaff' raria the cost of their passages and the cost of the land, one-fifth after four years, and the remainder spread over equal terms of the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth years after landing in the colony. By these means the Governor trusted to neutralise the disastrous consequences arising from the failure of the Home Government to send out families to accompany the men of the Legion. Stringent conditions as to character and physical capacity were also attached to the examination of these intending emigrants.

The contracts were duly made, and amidst great rejoicings, the first batch of German colonists was landed at East London. The success of his new venture filled the Governor with delight. The marriageable women among the new cornel's were eagerly sought for, the families themselves became rapidly settled in their new homes, and the simple and common-sense expedient adopted, seemed destined to turn many of the roving and unsettled Germans into peaceful and prosperous colonists.

Suddenly the Governor and the Cape Parliament were astounded page 214by the receipt of a despatch from Downing Street, refusing to allow the introduction of any more foreign families, on the ground that it was contrary to national policy. In a spirited and dignified reply, Sir George Grey answered Lord Stanley's despatch, drawing the noble lord's attention to the circumstances under which the German Legion had been admitted to the Cape Colony. Sir George stated that, "In the clearest language they had pledged themselves to the colony that if it would receive the German Legion, containing so many doubtful characters, it should be accompanied here by a large proportion of females. I, the Queen's Representative, acting under the instructions of Her Majesty's Government, repeated formally this pledge to the Colonial Legislature. It was, however, not fulfilled, and in consequence, serious evils threatened, still threaten, and in fact have in part fallen on South Africa. I saw that I could retrieve this misfortune at no expense to Great Britain, and I strove to do it."

The original proposition made by the Imperial Government was that eight thousand soldiers of the German Legion should be accompanied by wives and families, which would have made a population of upwards of twenty thousand. The national policy, therefore, enunciated by the Home authorities, was distinctly a limited German colonisation, upon the faith of which the Cape Legislature had given its assent. Communications between the Cape and Downing Street became somewhat bitter, until at last Sir George Grey having had to point out in several instances the mistakes and contradictions of the Colonial Office, Sir E. B. Lytton, who had succeeded Lord Stanley as Colonial Secretary, wrote on the 1st of October, 1858: "There can, of course, be no doubt that the meaning of the passage was such as you have explained."

The German immigration was partially completed and eminently successful. Different parties arrived in the years 1858 and 1859. An Emigration Board was formed, which reported most favourably on the immigrants, and aided them in settling in their new homes.

Upon Sir George Grey's recall to England in 1859, another phase of this question appeared. He was summoned from his breakfast table one morning in London to see a gentleman who had just arrived from the Continent upon urgent business. This visitor proved to be a leading member of the firm of Godeffroi & Co. That great house was receiving payment for the equipment and passage of the German page 215emigrants in debentures of British Kaffraria. It found those debentures unsaleable upon the market, in consequence of the stern disapproval of the English Government. This gentleman had, therefore, come to London for the sole purpose of informing Sir George Grey that Godeffroi and Company must obtain £20,000 on that day or they would be unable to continue the contract, and would suffer a serious loss in consequence of efforts to carry out with skill and faithfulness a useful plan of colonisation, which had already been eminently successful.

Sir George was distressed. He felt that it was useless to apply to the Colonial Office. His only alternative was to act upon his own responsibility with his own funds, or see a promising and beneficent experiment come to an impotent conclusion. He made up his mind to advance the £20,000 himself. On his way to his bankers in the city he met a relative of his own, the head of another great banking house. In the course of conversation the circumstances of his errand were told. To his astonishment and delight, his relative not only expressed great interest in the subject of the German emigration and settlement of the German Legion in South Africa, but concluded by saying, "Don't go any further, George. Come with me to our house and draw a cheque for the £20,000. Godeffroi shall receive the money, and you can arrange for the payment at your leisure."

Sir George accepted this generous and unexpected offer. The cheque was only drawn. The Messrs. Godeffroi received the £20,000, their agent steamed back to Hamburg, and the final parties of emigrants went joyfully upon their way. The Kaffrarian debentures were duly met, and every pound of the money for which these colonists became liable was paid to the Government of Kaffraria by them.

More than thirty years afterwards, in the early part of 1890, the survivors of the original colonists, and their children and grandchildren, a prosperous and happy people, met Sir Henry Loch on his visit to Kaffraria and Natal, and expressed to him the acknowledgment of their love and gratitude to the Kaffrarian Government for its unbounded kindness to them and to their fathers.

The efforts made to provide homes and families for the German Legion had, however, only been partially successful, because only partially permitted. There still remained members whose presence, page 216instead of being a safeguard to the frontier, kept it in a continual state of alarm. At this time (1858), although the troops were pouring into India from different parts of the world, danger had arisen in a quarter not before seriously menaced. It became known to Lord Elphinstone and his Council in Bombay that in that city and Presidency a serious rising was to he apprehended at a certain religious festival. The troops from Bombay had passed over into Bengal and Oude.

Lord Elphinstone casting abroad for assistance, thought of the fertile resources of the Governor of the Cape. He knew that South Africa had been pretty well drained, but he knew also that Grey was a man of strange devices, and most fertile in resource, and that with some hope at any rate he might ask him for assistance. He therefore sent another urgent appeal to Cape Town.

Sir George Grey, ever anxious about Indian matters, determined at once upon a plan, which, though strange, and in ordinary circumstances unlawful and subversive of the Constitution, seemed to him at the time, and under the peculiar conjunction of events, to be wise and expedient. He resolved upon his own authority to re-enroll all the men of the German Legion willing to follow the standard, to commission the officers afresh, and to forward them immediately to Bombay. With him, to form a decision was also to carry that decision into action.

A proclamation was issued; the men were invited to enlist. The invitations wore readily accepted. Eager for war, adventure, and perhaps plunder, the men of the German Legion flocked by hundreds to the appointed depôts. They were enrolled, officers were commissioned, flags were given, and in a few weeks a detachment, shortly followed by others, set sail for India. The first body arrived in the very nick of time. Their disembarkation at Bombay, with flags and military music, "in all the pomp and circumstance of war," was hailed with an intense feeling of relief by the Governor and the whole of the European inhabitants. Company after company was forwarded, until at length there only remained in South Africa those who had made homes for themselves, and had settled down to the peaceful life of the frontier settlements.

The Germans in India, their officers properly re-commissioned, and the men freshly enrolled, were of signal service to the Govern-page 217ment; and although this bold act of Sir George's drew from Ministers a sharp acknowledgment, containing a covert threat, not only of censure but of punishment, so valuable had been the reinforcements, and so warm was the gratitude expressed by the Bombay Government, that the matter was allowed peacefully to drop.

Whilst the bitter correspondence between Sir George Grey and the Colonial Office upon the subject of the German Legion was proceeding, another matter of equal, if not greater, importance also threatened to disturb the amicable relations which should have subsisted between the Crown and its dependency. Sir George Grey had sent five thousand troops to India, and had weakened himself in Africa, avowedly to aid the Indian Government. The cost of the government of British Kaffraria had been considerably increased by the necessities which were created after the survivors of the Kafir nation had been brought in. All Sir George's actions in relation to the Kafir outbreak, consequent upon the wonderful prophecy, had met with the warmest approval of the Home Government. On August 5th, 1857, the Secretary for the Colonies, Mr. Labouehere {afterwards Lord Taunton), wrote thus:—

"I have just left the House of Commons, where we have been discussing the rote for £40,000 for the Kafirs. It was carried by a large majority. Your conduct was praised by everyone who spoke, and I assure you it is duly appreciated by the Government who derive so much advantage from it at this juncture." Sir George's prompt action, also, at the very time when this despatch was written in London, in regard to the Indian mutiny, met with public approval.

In February, 1858, a new ministry came into power, and in May of that year Lord Stanley informed Sir George Grey that the annual grant for British Kaffraria for 1858 would be reduced from £40,000 to £20,000. At this time half the year was passed. The cost of civil government—gaols, police, hospitals, justice, education, etc.— demanded the whole of the £40,000, on which the expenditure was based. Almost denuded of troops, with forty thousand strange Kafirs just brought within its boundaries, dependent for the peace of the country upon the smoothness and regularity with which the functions of government could be carried on, the representative of the Crown, and the sole governing power of Kaffraria, was informed page 218by the Imperial Government in June that his supplies for the year were already spent, and he could receive no more.

The announcement came upon Sir George Grey with the suddenness of a thunder-clap. No word of advice as to how the affairs of a British province under military occupation were to be administered without funds, was given. No authority to draw upon the imperial Government was transmitted.

Whilst the British Government was, by votes from Parliament, conducting the administration of the conquered province of Kaffraria, Sir George Grey had, by the authority of the Home Government, entered into treaties with the native chiefs (whose revenues were derived from the fees and fines of the Courts of Justice in which they sat) that they should accept stipulated salaries to be paid to them at settled short periods for their services in the courts in which they presided, in lieu of the fees and fines previously paid to them. They were also, by the terms of such treaties, to allow a British Resident or Magistrate to sit as an assessor with themselves. The effect of this arrangement was to secure from the Kafir chiefs, an admission that they were salaried chiefs acting under the authority of a superior whose supremacy they recognized.

Sir George Grey had concluded these solemn undertakings, and he was now required without any previous warning to break the treaty with each of the chiefs, all of whom had faithfully adhered to their engagements. He felt that it was unfair to expect that he, the great servant of the Crown, who had concluded these engagements, should be called upon to break them.

Driven in this instance, also, to rely solely upon himself, and his own means, the Queen's Commissioner had but one avenue of escape from the terrible difficulties of his position. He paid into the Treasury to the public account of British Kaffraria, the sum of six thousand pounds of his own private moneys. Then using as much economy as was consistent with safety, he carried on the Government of British Kaffraria with these funds. Earnest remonstrances were at the same time sent to England, but the danger was averted, and this act, on the part of the Commissioner and Governor, saved British Kaffraria from confusion and peril. Sir George Grey simply alluded to the circumstance in a despatch.

Some two years afterwards he received from Sir E. B. Lytton, a page 219letter stating that from a casual expression in one of his (Grey's) despatches, it appeared probable that he had advanced the sum of six thousand pounds of his own money for the public services, under circumstances which clearly rendered it an act of justice in the Government to see that the public repaid the amount, and that if Sir George would certify that such was the case, and would furnish the name of his banker in London, the officers of the Treasury would be instructed to make the necessary repayment.

It was after he had returned from England and been re-appointed to the Governorship of the Cape, on the 31st of lamiary, 1860, that the Right Honourable Chichester Fortescue wrote, stating that the Lord Commissioners of the Treasury had instructed the Paymaster General to repay to him the sum of six thousand pounds, advanced by him for the public service of British Kaffraria.

In the importance of these grave affairs, Sir George Grey did not overlook the countless smaller matters which called for his attention. Although his advice was seldom taken by the Home Government. his opinion on various matters was continually asked, as in the following two instances:—Sir George Grey was requested by Mr. Labouchere to make a full report on the subject whether the treaty by which the Transvaal Boers bound themselves to abolish slavery in their territory was enforced or not. Sir George replied in a despatch dated 22nd May, 1806. Mr. Chesson, commenting on this despatch, says: "He displays a sagacity which is not far removed from prescience." It states that in his opinion the treaties amount to a declaration on the part of the English that they abandon the coloured races to the mercy of the two Republics, and asserts that the interests of Britain will suffer from such disregard of engagements solemnly entered into.

Several letters from Sir George Grey, Bart., then principal Secretary for the Colonies, beginning in August, 1854, related to the management of affairs at the Cape, and dealt chiefly with the necessity for making the people accustomed to the idea of self-defence, and alive to the fact that the British Government intended to withdraw their troops from the eastern frontier. The letters contain many allusions to communications from Sir George Clark, who, after visiting the frontier, awaited Governor Grey's arrival at Cape Town, and whose opinion was unfavourable as to the measures page 220likely to be taken by the legislatures in South Africa to provide for their own safety.

"While for the present an arrangement has been made for keeping up the actual amount of British forces at the Cape to its present number—about 5,000 men—this cannot be looked to as a permanent arrangement, and local means of defence ought undoubtedly to be organised with as little delay as possible."*

Other demands upon his time were made by native troubles and risings.

In 1857-8 a fierce quarrel subsisted between the Orange Free State and the Basutos. It arose principally upon the question of the boundaries of their respective territories. The wily old Moshesh proved himself a full match for the indomitable courage and military skill of the Boers. At length the good offices of the High Commissioner were accepted by the belligerents, and Sir George Grey successfully mediated between them and made peace.

The question of the dividing-line between the territories was left to his decision. In order that there might be no error or mistake in the exact locality of the boundary line, Sir George, taking with him a deputation of the burghers of the Free State and several Basuto chiefs, traversed the boundary, leaving marks, either of natural features of the country or artificial stations, by which the line should be for ever distinguished.

In after years he related with glee the manner in which he had led the stout and heavy Boers up well-nigh-inaccessible hills and down the faces of precipices, much to their discomfort. He himself was hardy, and trained to such exploits; but to the ordinary Boer such a journey was a thing to be dreaded and remembered.

A treaty was ultimately signed, and the quarrel, which bade fair to be ceaseless and bloody, was permanently disposed of. To one article of the proposed treaty alone did the Basuto chief object. Concerning it he thus wrote:—

October 4th, 1858.

To His Excellency Sir George Grey,
Governor of the Cape of Good Hope.

Sir,—I received your letter last Saturday, and T have heard all that you have said to me, and that yon have fought very hard for me, but the page 221Boers did not agree with you; and I said, Now, 0 my good sir, I have no doubt about you. 1 have found that you have worked very hard for me, and I shall be very glad if you can do as you see it proper, for I put my confidence in you, only what I wish from yon is only peace.

The Lord be with you, so that yon will complete your work with great success; and I agree upon the boundary line which the Boers have brought you to, if Your Excellency is therewith satisfied.

And about hunting, 1 am ashamed, therefore pray for me to the governor of the Free State that they may not lay such a great heavy ban upon my poor people, who have nothing to live on this year, because their hopes of living this time are only in hunting.

With respect to the other articles, I have signed them at Moria.

* Letter from Sir G. Grey (Col. Off.) to Sir G. Grey, Governor of Cape Colony, January 13th, 1855.