British Kaffraria

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Territory of British Kaffraria

On 21 December 1834 massed Xhosa armies attacked the eastern regions of the Cape Colony, destroying all settler resistance before them. Although they reached the Sunday's River, they showed little intent of holding onto captured territory, and by January 1835 they had begun to retreat, taking herds of captured cattle with them. The British soon followed in pursuit and on 31 March they crossed over the Keiskamma River and invaded Xhosa territory. On 10 May Governor D'Urban extended the colonial boundary of the Cape to the western bank of the Great Kei River, and although the subsequent peace treaty signed on 17 September 1835 allowed the Xhosa to remain in specifically designated areas, the bulk of their lands were given over to European occupation.

The new territory was named the Province of Queen Adelaide. These arrangements did not meet with the approval of the British Colonial Office in London, and on 5 December 1836 the proclamation of the province, as well as all peace treaties negotiated by D'Urban were rescinded.

Following the frontier war from 1846 to 1848 the colonial boundary of the Cape was again pushed eastwards to the Great Kei River. On 23 December 1847 the lands between the Keiskamma and Great Kei Rivers were annexed to the Cape Colony. The new territory, known as British Kaffraria, was divided into seven counties named Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire, Middlesex, Yorkshire, Sussex and Northumberland. These were roughly coincidental with the tribal divisions existing in the region before the war. Its seat of government was located at King William's Town.

The port of East London, as well as the land immediately about it, was annexed to the Cape in 1848, probably in an attempt to pre-empt the smuggling of goods through the port into the interior of the Colony.

Following the frontier war from 1850 to 1853, the Governor of the Cape, Sir George Grey, instituted a series of measures aimed at bringing the indigenous residents of the region into the Cape economy. These included, among others, the establishment of missionary training institutions at Lovedale, Healdtown, Salem and Lesseyton. In 1857 the so-called "cattle killing" not only destroyed the indigenous agrarian economy of the region, but also resulted in widespread famine and the death of nearly 60% of its indigenous residents. It has been estimated that between January and July 1857 their numbers dropped from 105,000 to 37, 000. That same year veterans of the Anglo German Legion were brought out as military settlers to Kaffraria, resulting in the establishment of a number of new settlements, such as Berlin, Stutterheim and Hamburg.

Shortly thereafter their number was supplemented by groups of unmarried Irish women. In 1859 East London was incorporated into British Kaffraria, and in 1860 the territory was proclaimed a Crown Colony with divisions at East London, King William's Town, Stutterheim, Gonube, Keiskammahoek and Middledrift.

In 1866 British Kaffraria was annexed to the Cape Colony and divided into two divisions, King William's Town and East London. In 1877 these were fragmented further into the divisions of Komgha, Cathcart and Stutterheim. After 1910 British Kaffraria became known as the Border Region.


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• By Franco Frescura

Last updated : 06-Mar-2015

This article was produced for South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011