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A bike ride into Settlers country

The author Andre Badenhorst from Carletonville

For anyone wishing to gain a perspective of the European settler’s influence in southern Africa, I urge you to read the classic novel; “The Covenant”, written by respected American author, James M Michener. His book includes the arrival of the Dutch, as well as the English and French settlers. It includes the Boer trek into the inland regions, the arrival of Ghandi, and continues thru to the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990.

I decided to combine an interest in history with my passion for biking and visit some landmarks from that era. My ride focused entirely on the area occupied by the British (1820) and German (1858) settlers.


After the Napoleonic wars, Britain experienced a serious unemployment problem; many of the 1820 Settlers were poor and encouraged to settle in an attempt by the Cape government to close, consolidate and defend the eastern frontier (named Albany), against the neighbouring Xhosa peoples, and to provide a boost to the English-speaking population. For many years, Albany remained an "Anglo-Saxon island" in a predominantly Xhosa and Afrikaans-speaking country - with its own distinctive local culture.

In his novel, Michener elaborates on how young missionaries were also recruited to service communities in regions of British influence, southern Africa being one since their occupation in 1806. These missionaries often caused conflict between the Trekboers and natives. The Boers, who had been around since the late 1600’s, had experienced local conditions at their very worst. Consequently, while they (the Dutch), were a deeply religious people, their attitudes towards the local natives were very different to those of the British missionaries.

German settlers: Britain declared war on Russia in 1854 following Russian incursions into the Crimean (how familiar does that sound?) - an area that had been held by the Ottoman empire until then. A German mercenary army was put together, but by the time it had arrived in Britain, the war was already over. The mercenaries were offered an opportunity of settling in South Africa, which about 2500 of them accepted. The soldiers were settled in Kaffraria, a new colony on the eastern fringes of the Cape colony that had seen very little development until then. Needless to say, most of these settlers were somewhat “deceived” into coming by hiding the harsh realities of life in what was a totally barren Africa sub-continent, with an extremely harsh climate, inhabited by (mostly) hostile natives and wild animals and plagued by unknown diseases. My hope is that my observations will serve to hi-light the enormous progress and transformation brought to the region (and eventually Southern Africa), in the fields of religion, agriculture, medicine, infra structure and education to mention a few! For many of these young adventurers still in their 20’s or 30’s, it would cost them their lives!

PS - Of course, any colonialization has failings, but for those who would object to the arrival of these settlers, would the alternative have been better? Consider situations in places like the DRC, Mali and Sudan (to mention a few), where much influence of “colonialization” has disappeared; the result is often continuous inter-group strife, wars and the total underutilisation of the immense mineral wealth of these regions.

Of the site visits I made, I regard the following worth mentioning:

Bethel Mission Church in Stutterheim

Stutterheim: Bethel Mission Church.

It was founded by Pastor J. L. Dohne of the Berlin Missionary Society on 2 January 1837, and is the oldest mission station of that Society in the whole of the Eastern Province. Dohne was one of six Berlin missionaries who arrived at the Cape in 1836. Reverend Döhne’s wife Bertha Döhne, nee Göhler died in child-birth on 23rd February 1840 and her son Benjamin Döhne, died 4 months later, on 28th June 1840. After destruction of his mission station during the battle of the axe in 1846, Rev. Döhne left Stutterheim to become a minister for the Voortrekkers in Natal. He published a Zulu dictionary in 1857 and was also involved in translating the Bible into the Zulu Language.

Amathola Museum and the Missionary Museum, King Williams Town: King Williams Town started as a mission station (in 1834) on the banks of the Buffalo River some 50km west of East London. After the destruction of the mission station, Sir Benjamin D'Urban (Governor of the Cape Colony) declared the establishment of a town named after King William IV of England upon reconstruction of the station. No visit to this area can be considered as complete without a visit to the Amathola Museum. Very well presented, it sets out the developments in the area from pre 1800 to the present day.

For an informative time-scale of the missionary activity and their contribution in the EC, please go to:

The bridge over the Great Fish River

Great Fish River bridge:

During the 19th century, the river formed the border of the Cape Colony[5] and was hotly contested during the Xhosa Wars of 1779 to 1878 between the Xhosa nation on the one side and the Dutch farmers and the 1820 Settlers from England on the other. Between 1846 and 1847, the Fish River mouth area became a hive of activity during the War of the Axe, one of several frontier wars at the time between the Xhosa nation and the British colonists.


1820 Settlers monument and Fort Selwyn, which stands on Gunfire Hill behind Rhodes University, on land that once belonged to the drostdy. When Sir Benjamin D’Urban had the drostdy site converted into fortified barracks in 1835, it was a part of this defence plan to build forts on the hill to the south of Grahamstown to protect the barracks. The Selwyn Battery, also known as Fort Selwyn, was Type of site: Fort. An important fort which played a pivotal role in the defence of the Eastern Frontier.

Provost Museum.

The cells were arranged in a semicircle. This tower contained quarters for the Provost and a guard-house overlooking the cells, the courtyard and the entra The Provost Building was one of the buildings that formed part of Sir Benjamin D’Urban's 1835 defence plan, coupled with the fortification of the drostdy and Fort Selwyn. It was very efficiently planned and was built by the Royal Engineers on instructions.


Agriculture museum. The settlers had to work the soil or die of starvation! Their legacy as outstanding farmers lives on in the region, and thru ought the rest of the country. Some intimidating “heavy metal” can be seen at the Bathurst museum.

Port Alfred:

The first reinforced concrete bridge in South Africa was built in Port Alfred in 1907. A replacement was built in 1928 and the present day bridge (in picture) was built in 1989.

Pyramid of remembrance to Elizabeth Donkin

Port Elizabeth was named after the beloved wife of Rufane Donkin, who was once acting governor of the Cape Colony. Elizabeth and Rufane were true star-crossed lovers in a time of arranged marriages, and shortly after they were wed she accompanied her husband when he was called to India for service.

She died shortly after giving birth to their son while in India. A grief-stricken Rufane left for England, with his baby son and his wife’s embalmed heart. On his stopover in Cape Town, he was informed of his new position in South Africa and sent to Algoa Bay to supervise the new 1820 Settler arrivals.

Donkin Reserve:

Donkin named the site of the Settlers’ landings after Elizabeth and built a pyramid of remembrance to her on the hill that is now called the Donkin Reserve. Just 20 years later, back in England, Rufane took his own life – on the anniversary of Elizabeth’s death.

The lookout point.

One can imagine the scene as soldiers watched from the parapets of this fort as the 1820 settlers “crash landed” onto the beaches of the bay below. Overlooking the strategic Algoa bay Fort Frederick was built in 1799 on a natural vantage point. Named after Frederick, Duke of York and Albany, commander-in-chief of the British Army, it was built by troops sent to Algoa Bay to prevent a possible landing of French troops, under Napoleon to assist the Graaff-Reinet rebels during the Napoleonic wars, this event is often regarded to be the beginning of the British rule in the Cape Colony.

Cookhouse (on N10) -

The Slachter's Nek Rebellion

In 1815, a farmer from the eastern border of the Cape Colony, Frederik Bezuidenhout, was summoned to appear before a magistrate's court after repeated allegations of his mistreating one of his Khoi labourers. Bezuidenhout resisted arrest and fled to a cave near his home where he defended himself against the soldiers sent to capture him. When he refused to surrender he was shot dead by one of the soldiers.

One of Bezuidenhout's brothers organised an uprising against the British colonial power, believed by them to be hostile towards the Afrikaner farmers. On 18th November 1815, a commando of rebels met an armed force at Slachter's Nek. Negotiations failed and some of the leaders refused to turn themselves over to the British authorities. On 29th November 1815, they were attacked. Everybody but Bezuidenhout surrendered and, like his brother, Hans died while resisting arrest.

The rebels were finally charged at Uitenhage. Six were sentenced to death but one of these was pardoned. On 9th March 1816 the remaining five were hanged in public at Van Aardtspos. Four of the nooses broke during the procedure as old ropes had to be used. The four whose ropes broke, as well as the public, pleaded for their lives ( the English custom was that a broken rope would lead to the cancellation of any execution), but Landrost Culyer ordered that they be hanged a second time. Although many of the frontier boere did not agree with the rebellion, some Voortrekkers have claimed that it was one of the reasons for the Great Trek.


Olive Schreiner’s house; an appropriate note to end my trip on ...

South African author, anti-war campaigner and intellectual. She is best remembered today for her novel "The Story of an African Farm" which has been highly acclaimed since its first publication in 1883 for the bold manner in which it deals with some of the burning issues of the day. Her published works and other surviving writings promote implicit values like moderation, friendship and understanding amongst all peoples and avoid the pitfalls of political radicalism which she consciously eschewed. Although she may be called a lifelong freethinker, she continued to adhere to the spirit of the Christian Bible and developed a secular version of the worldview of her missionary parents, with mystical elements.

Taking a break on the N10 near Cradock, I take time to reflect on another great adventure!

Sources: Wikipedia, “The Covenant”, Dohne Merino,


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