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CHAPTER III

THE KAFFIR WAR.

LIFE AT BEAUFORT.

1846-54

War Breaks Out-Volunteers as a Burgher—March to Frontier-Appointed

Commandant-Disaster at Burns-hill-Retreat from Beka-Incompetency of Military-Demoralisation of Troops-Burgher Forces called out-Joins Sir A. Stockenstrom-Relief of Block Drift-Attack on Kaffirs— Operations against Kreli—Operations in the Amatolas-Bad treatment of BurghersDu Toit's Narrative-Burghers lose all their Horses-Description of Hardships—Burgher mode of Fighting-Return to Nelspoort—Visits EnglandSecond Marriage - Resides at Beaufort-Leasing of Crown Lands—Member of Municipal and Divisional Councils-Mercantile Pursuits-Establishes & Bank-Represents Beaufort in first Parliament.

MR. MOLTENO was making rapid strides towards the accomplishment of the object which he had set before himself of gaining a practical knowledge of sheep farming when the Kaffir war of 1846 suddenly burst upon the country. His flocks and horses had largely increased since 1843, and were in need of skilled management; when therefore Mr. Alexander Ross, his overseer, was commandeered to go to the front, Mr. Molteno rightly judged it better for the former to remain where he was, while he himself volunteered to take his place among the Beaufort burghers, called out on conmando, and he accepted the position of a burgher. He was at an age when the charm of novelty and adventure would attract him to this service, while it would still further tend to make him forget his recent loss.

The force rapidly assembled, under the command of their commandant Mr. Andreas Du Toit, a farmer, but a highly intelligent one, under whose charge many of the neighbours were glad to place their sons. Some of these men were dressed in complete suits of leather clothes ("crackers,' as they were called), very suitable for a campaign of the character upon which they were about to enter. The long march to the frontier began. Mr. Molteno supplied himself with four horses, and took two retainers with him, arming himself and them as well at his own expense.

The march lay right across the country. A great rug was the principal outfit. No tents could be carried and no shelter found at nights. The force endured the greatest hardships, to which we will refer later.

In this long march of 400 miles Mr. Molteno became the right-hand man of the commandant; his advice was sought and his assistance relied on. He was elected an assistantcommandant by his fellow-burghers, and as soon as they arrived on the frontier he was introduced to the commandantgeneral, Sir Andries Stockenstrom, who immediately recognised his capabilities, and appointed him a full commandant. A letter to his mother gives some account of these transactions :

I think I wrote you last the beginning of March-after waiting Arthur's arrival for two months I was obliged to leave for the country. He arrived the early part of April, and I was just about making preparations to get him up to me when the Kaffir war broke out, and I, together with all the men that could be spared from the district, moved off to the frontier with all possible haste. The place I now date from is on the frontier of Kaffi rland, and distant near 400 miles from the district of Beaufort. We are about 300 men from our district, and are encamped on the top of a hill waiting the arrival of those from the more distant parts of the Colony, when the whole of the troops and burghers (as the inhabitants are called) will move upon the Kaffirs in their own country; the whole army will be near 15,000 men, 3,000 of which will be left to protect the border while the rest advance. I have no doubt ere you receive this you will have heard from Arthur and other sources of the invasion of the Colony by the Kaffirs; burning and destroying the houses and property of every description and carrying off the cattle and sheep. I can give you but a faint idea of the dreadful destruction; fortunately the lives lost have been fewer than might have been expected, but the people managed to get together in sufficient numbers to protect themselves and families, but still many have fallen. I am happy to say the district I reside in is far removed, and there is now very little chance of the Kaffirs being able to penetrate further into the Colony. I have a letter from Arthur of 6th May; he says he was on the list of those to be balloted for in Cape Town, and will perhaps have to come up to the seat of war. I trust he will escape. Since the forces have come up the Kaffirs have retired back into their own country with their plunder. I have been in several engagements with them, but none of us were hurt, though the bullets whizzed about us, but the Kaffirs are not sufficiently acquainted with guns, and generally fire too high or they would do much more damage. The 5th of this month (my birthday) was spent by me in a very different manner to what it has ever been before. On that day a party of us, 100 mounted men, made a dash into Kaffirland and surprised a large body of Kaffirs, killing thirteen of them and capturing 5,200 sheep and nine horses, which we brought off safely, the only casualty on our side one horse wounded. A few days after this the division under Colonel Somerset engaged the enemy and completely routed them, near 500 were killed. It is generally supposed that the war will now soon be over, as it is quite impossible the Kaffirs can stand against the large force now being brought against them ; it is to be hoped that this will be the case, so that the farmers and people called together from the whole Colony may be able to return to their homes. Since I left I have not received letters of any kind. Arthur did not send those he brought with him. I hope that Arthur will send you some Cape papers, which will give you a better idea of what the Colony has suffered; all around the farms are still smoking and many of the people are completely ruined; those that have saved any of their stock are now losing them from want of pasture, as where such numbers are collected together in one spot the grass is soon destroyed, and they must keep together until the war is over for mutual protection. Besides myself I have been obliged to bring two of my men and four horses besides arms. It comes very hard on most people to be obliged to leave their families and affairs. I hope, please God, there may soon be a speedy termination to the war. It is not probable that I shall be able to write you, my dear mother, before all is over. If it please God that I return in safety I will write you immediately, and in the meantime I hope you will not make yourself uneasy about me. I think the danger, now we shall be so strong, is much diminished, but all is in the hands of the Almighty.

When the burghers from Beaufort arrived on the frontier the seventh of the great Kaffir wars had broken out, and its commencement was signalled by a great disaster, the result of incompetence and want of knowledge of the Kaffir mode of warfare. Colonel Hare had determined to attack Sandilli at Burns-hill. From Post Victoria to this spot was only a good day's ride on horseback—a native could march the whole way without resting on the way. No necessity would therefore appear for encumbering the column with a great quantity of baggage or provisions, yet no fewer than 125 waggons, conveying baggage of all kinds, provisions, and ammunition, accompanied the troops. These waggons, each drawn by fourteen oxen, formed a line at least three miles in length.

Had Colonel Hare possessed the necessary knowledge and skill he would have known that such a mode of proceeding against the Kaffirs was useless, a sudden dash could alone have succeeded. The force was composed of three divisions, which were to march from different parts and unite at Burns-hill, where Colonel Somerset, of the Cape Mounted Rifles, was to assume the chief command. On the 11th of April, 1846, this officer marched from Post Victoria with his own regiment and four companies of the 91st. Lieut.-Colonel Richardson marched from Fort Peddie with the 7th Dragoon Guards, and Captain Sutton from Eland's Post with the Hottentot levies.

The columns united at Burns-hill. On the 16th Colonel Somerset moved against Sandilli, and on the 17th, believing that the whole of the hostile Kaffirs were on his front, sent an order to break up the camp at Burns-hill and for the forces there to join him. The waggons began to move off, but the train was so long that only an advance and rear guard could be provided. The men employed for this purpose were chiefly dragoons, who were almost useless in such a country. In passing through a narrow gorge one of the waggons stuck fast, and all the waggons behind were brought to a stand. The Gaikas rushed down from the heights, cut the oxen loose, between 800 and 900 oxen, and sixty-one waggons laden with baggage and stores, falling into the hands of the enemy. These were minor disasters in the series which eventually led up to that terrible mistake of Isandhlwana.

Major Gibsone then retreated to Burns-hill with the ammunition, and was subsequently met by a detachment of the 91st, under Colonel Campbell, who had been sent to meet the train but was too late. Colonel Somerset now decided to retreat, the column being followed by the exultant natives, but on the following day succeeded in reaching Block Drift on the Tyumie without further disaster. A large stone building belonging to the Lovedale Mission was taken possession of and was converted into a temporary barrack and fort.

An action still more disastrous in its results took place near Fort Peddie. The strongest garrison on the frontier was established here, and Lieut.-Colonel Lindsay, of the 1st battalion of the 91st, was in command. Great herds of cattle were driven from the Colony and passed almost in sight of Fort Peddie towards Kreli's country without any effort on his part to save them. But worse was to follow. On the 30th April about a thousand Kaffir warriors attacked the Fingoes at the Beka station, about four miles from Fort Peddie. Word was brought to Colonel Lindsay, and he sent out Lieut.-Colonel Richardson with a squadron of dragoons, some Cape Mounted Rifles, fifty men of the 91st, and two guns.

Upon arriving at the mission station it was observed that the Fingoes were still holding their own. Yet, after firing a few shots from his field pieces without effect, the commander retired. The mission station was set fire under his eyes, and with 200 British soldiers he abandoned the field, leaving the Fingoes to their fate. The poor Fingoes succeeded in beating the enemy back, but the bad effect of the military movement of that day was greater even than that of the loss of the waggons at Burns-hill. It inspired the Kaffirs with confidence in their strength and diminished their fear of the soldiers.'

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