“The Caffre War”

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The Caffre War.


By the Indiana we have advices from Cape Town to the 24th of January, 39 days later than those by the Lady Jocelyn, which left on the 16th of December and reached Plymouth on the 24th of January. General Cathcart, with 2,000 men, had then entered the Orange River Sovereignty to settle disputes between the powerful Basuta chief, Moshesh, and the Sovereignty farmers, on the subject of plundered cattle. Assistant-Commissioners Hogge and Owen had previously investigated the whole case, and decided that certain fines should be paid by delinquents of all classes and complexion. The fine imposed on Moshesh was never paid, and General Cathcart, under date December 13, demanded of that chief, within three days, 10,000 head of cattle and 1,000 horses, and, in default, threatened to take them himself or make reprisals. Moshesh came into the camp the next day and had a "parley" with the Governor. On the 18th Moshesh's son, Nehemiah, came in with 3,500 head of cattle.

On the 19th no more cattle appearing, Lieutenant- Colonel Eyre, with the cavalry brigade, two guns, and one brigade of Infantry, encamped on the Upper Caledon Waggon Drift, leading to Molitsani's country. On the 20th this force, accompanied by His Excellency in person, marched at daylight in three columns. The force consisted of—

Detachment of 12th Lancers, under Lieutenant Gough.

A demi-battery of 12-pounder howitzers, under Captain Robinson, R. A.

Two companies of the 43d Regiment, under Major Phillips.

Detachment of Cape Mounted Rifles, under Ensign Rorke.

According to Colonel Cloete's official despatch, the Basutos, to defend their vast droves of cattle, first fired on him and Captain Tylden. An attempt at parley by the Governor was answered by a shot, when two rounds of shrapnel caused the enemy to fly from the southern angle of the Berea towards Thaba Bossigo. The despatch proceeds:—

"The infantry, strengthened by a company of the 43d regiment, under Captain the Hon. Percy Herbert, were now brought up, and the column advanced, crossed the deep mountain stream 'Rietspruit,' and were posted on a commanding knoll at its junction with the Little Caledon River) on the Thaba Bossigo plains, covering the approaches by which Lieutenant-Colonel Eyre and Lieutenant-Colonel Napier's columns were to join.

"While in this position the enemy were collecting in fresh patches of horsemen in all directions; those approaching within distance were driven back. On the clearing away of a thunderstorm and rain the enemy suddenly displayed his whole force. Masses of horsemen were observed to move from the Thaba Bossigo Poort to turn the General's right, while large bodies extended along the front. These movements were conducted with the utmost order and regularity.

"Lieutenant-Colonel Eyre's division joined at 5 p.m., with 1,500 head of cattle, which it was necessary to secure, for which purpose some kraals in a commanding position were ordered to be occupied. The enemy, who had now mustered not less than 6,000 horsemen, made every effort to assail the troops moving into their bivouac, repeating their attacks on front and rear, but were repulsed by the troops. The demi-battery, by a round of canister, silenced the enemy's fire, which had been kept up till 8 p.m., when they disappeared from the field, having suffered severely."

Lieutenant-Colonel Eyre in his report states his force to be—

Rank and File.
12th Royal Lancers ... ... ... ... 11
Cape Mounted Rifles ... ... ... ... 12
Royal Artillery ... ... ... ... 13
43d Light Infantry ... ... ... ... 102
73d Regiment ... ... ... ... 271
Rifle Brigade ... ... ... ... 90
Total             ... ... ... ... 499

And says—

"Having reached the foot of the Berea mountains, I observed the Basutas drawn up in considerable force. A herd of cattle was presented in view, as if to entice us on, while by their war shouts they evidently defied our arms. On the right I detached the light company of the 73d, under Lieutenant Gawler, with directions to climb the krantz which commanded the enemy on that side, and, bringing his right shoulders forward, to turn the left flank of the enemy. I directed the Hon. L. Curzon to advance with the Rifle Brigade, and ascend the mountain a little on the left of the ligit company of the 73d. I moved up simultaneously with the remainder of my force along the regular but rugged path which seemed to lead into the centre of the enemy's position. The enemy fired and attempted to oppose our progress until we reached the crest of the heights, when they instantly dispersed. I pursued them with the few mounted men under Lieutenant Goodrich, of the Cape Mounted Rifles, and we succeeded in capturing at least 30,000 head of cattle, with many horses having saddles on them. The enemy sustained some loss; 38 were killed, and several were found dead; and so completely defeated did the enemy appear that some were taken prisoners and made to drive back their own cattle. We found it, however, quite impossible, with so few mounted men, to drive on such large numbers, and in the effort to do so many thousand were driven by the few mounted Fingoes attached to my division down the opposite side of the mountain to that which my instructions required me to take. I was therefore obliged to abandon them and content myself with some 1,500. About 1 o'clock p.m. from 200 to 300 mounted men, with white caps and lances (which caused us to mistake them for his Excellency's escort), suddenly appeared in our front. Before the mistake could be discovered two or three of our party fell into their hands, and I deeply regret to state that Captain Faunce, 73d Regiment, Deputy-Adjutant Quarter master-General, was of that number. The enemy's force now rapidly increased, until we were opposed to at least 700 or 800 mounted men, who drew up in line in admirable order, and attempted to attack our front and left flank. As it was necessary to present a front, in order to protect our cattle and baggage, I formed three companies in skirmishing order, two in front and one thrown back on our left, keeping one in close order in support. The enemy charged up to us several times within 200 or 300 yards, but, daunted by the coolness and steadiness of the men lying down to receive them, dared not to approach nearer. As my instruction required me to proceed to Thaba Bossihgo, I directed the cattle to be driven down a path on my right, intending to follow with the remainder of my force. No sooner was this discerned by the enemy, than he cheered and charged us, on which we halted and reformed in skirmishing order, and again repelled him. Captain the Hon. G. Devereux at the same time made some good shots with the rockets, and the result was the total disappearance of the enemy."

Lieutenant-Colonel G. Napier states his force to have been—12th Lancers, 114 rank and file, under Major Tottenham; Cape Mounted Rifles, 119, under Major Somerset, and says, "Having collected a great number of cattle I commenced driving them down the north-east side of the Berea mountains; when half way down, 700 mounted men attacked the rear, who retired. On the open ground the Lancers charged, and the enemy fled. Near the drift, on the Caledon, a large body of mounted Caffres were repulsed by the Minie rifles of the 74th Highlanders, under Captain Bruce."

In this contest, begun early in the morning of the 20th of December, and not closed until 8 p.m., 6,000 mounted Caffres are said to have been engaged. At the close Colonel Eyre had secured 1,500 and Colonel Napier 3,000 head of cattle.

The casualties on the part of the British were very severe. Killed—Captain Faunce, 73d, and 2 privates; 12th Lancers, 4 non-commissioned officers and 23 privates; Rifles, 3 privates; and 5 Cape Mounted Rifles. Wounded—2 officers, 4 non-commissioned officers, and 9 privates. Total—killed, 38; wounded, 15.

This great sacrifice seems, however, to have secured the submission of Moshesh, who, the next day, the 21st of December, sent to the camp the following letter:—

"Thaba Bosigo, Dec. 20th, 1852.    

"Your Excellency,—This day you have fought against my people, and taken much cattle. As the object for which you have come is to have a compensation for boers, I beg you will be satisfied with what you have taken. I entreat peace from you; you heve shown your power, you have chastised,—let be enough I pray you, and let me no longer be considered an enemy of the Queen. I will try all I can to keep my people in order in the future.

"Your humble servant,                        


To which his Excellency returned the following reply:—

"Camp, Caledon River, Dec. 31st, 1852.    

"Chief Moshesh,—I have received your letter. The words are those of a great chief, and of one who has the interests of his people at heart. But I care little for words; I judge of men by their actions. I told you that if you did not pay the fine, I must go and take it. I am a man who never breaks his word, otherwise the Queen would not have sent me here. I have taken the fine by force, and I am satisfied.

"I am not angry with your people for fighting in defence of their property; for those who fought—and fought well— were not all of them thieves, and I am sorry that many were killed. This is your fault; for if you had paid the fine, it would not have happened. I now desire not to consider you, Chief, as an enemy of the Queen, but I must proclaim martial law in the Sovereignty, to give to commandants and fieldcornets power to make commandos in a regular manner, and, with the consent of the Resident, enter your country in search of plundered horses and cattle that may be stolen after this time. And I expect you to assist them; for though you are a great chief, it seems that you either do not, or cannot, keep your own people from stealing; and among the cattle you sent as part of your fine there were three oxen the property of Mr. Bain, of Bloem Fontein, stolen since I crossed the Caledon River. Now, therefore, Chief Moshesh, I consider your past obligations fulflled, and hope that you will take measures for preventing such abuses in future. In the meantime, as the Queen's representative, I subscribe myself

"Your friend,                        

"Geo. Cathcart, Governor.    

"P.S.—Chief, I shall be glad to see either yourself or your sons, in the same friendly manner and in the same good faith as before the fight, at Platberg, tomorrow or next day, but I shall now send away the army, and go back to the colony in a few days' time."G. C."    


"Whereas the Chief Moshesh, as the result of the battle of Berea, has made full and humble submission, and sued for peace, which has been granted.

"And whereas, although the said chief has evinced his desire to preserve the good understanding and amity with Her Majesty's Government, now happily restored, by promising to do all in his power to keep his people in order, it is scarcely to be expected that he will be able so to restrain their lawless practices as to entirely prevent cattle stealing for the future.

"And whereas, in my last reply to the said Chief, I expressed my intention of proclaiming martial law, in order to restore to the burghers the full powers of making commandos, which seem to have fallen into disuse; and whereas, upon further consideration, I have reason to believe that the course of proclaiming martial law might be misinterpreted and misunderstood, and tend to unnecessary irritation, excitement, and alarm, and that the object I have in view can be attained without proclaiming martial law as aforesaid; now, therefore, I do hereby, by virtue of all the powers vested in me, provisionally and until sufficient legal enactment may be framed with the same intent, order, command, and direct all civil commissioners, commandants, and fieldcornets within the Orange River Territory, to be ready to organise their burghers for the purposes of self defence, and for the protection, security, and recovery of their property in case of need.

            "God save the Queen!

"Given under my hand and seal, at my Camp, Platberg, this 23d day of December, 1852,

"George Cathcart,        

"Governor and High Commissioner.    

"By command of his Excellency the Governor and High Commissioner, "John Ayliff,        

"Acting Secretary to the High Commissioner."    

Item Details

Author(s) & contributor(s): Anonymous; Abraham Josias Cloëté; William Eyre; George Thomas Napier; Moshoeshoe I; George Cathcart; John Ayliff

Date(s): [1852]; [1852]; 20 December 1852; 21 December 1852; 2 December 1852; 28 February 1853

Form & transmission history: Original letters, as translated (presumably), edited, and published in a British periodical.

Original publication details: The Times (28 February 1853): 5

Digital edition & date: One More Voice, 2021

Critical editing & encoding: Caitlin Matheis, Adrian S. Wisnicki, Anne M. Martin

Cite this digital edition (MLA): Anonymous; Abraham Josias Cloëté; William Eyre; George Thomas Napier; Moshoeshoe I; George Cathcart; John Ayliff. “‘The Caffre War’” ([1852]; [1852]; 20 December 1852; 21 December 1852; 2 December 1852; 28 February 1853). Caitlin Matheis, Adrian S. Wisnicki, Anne M. Martin, eds. One More Voice, new dawn edition, 2021, https://onemorevoice.org/html/transcriptions/liv_020062_TEI.html.

Rights: Critically-edited text copyright One More Voice. Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International

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