History of the German Settlers in and around Buffalo City

Updated: Jul 3, 2020

German Settler Monument on the East London beachfront.

It is well known that large numbers of German settlers travelled to Buffalo City during the mid-1800s. What is perhaps less well known is the fact that there were, in fact, three distinct and quite different groups who landed in or travelled to what was then known as British Kaffraria.

The German Crimean Legion

Britain declared war on Russia in 1854 following Russian incrusions into the Crimean - 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. In Kaffraria the legionaires established villages - unfortunately the military and strategic considerations outweighed the economic ones, with the villages ending up in remote and waterless locations.

On top of this very few of the soldiers were married (some had picked themselves wives in England, while Irish girls were 'imported' for others). The soldiers therfore did not make good settlers and the settlement of the area was not successful. Most mercenaries left for other areas of South Africa or were reemployed by the British when soldiers were required to quash the Sepoy rebellion in India a few years later.

The main contribution of the German Crimean Legion was therefore the establishment of villages, to which they gave German names. Furthermore, they also assisted in establishing German congregations and schools, in which most teachers were retired soldiers.

The Colonists of 1858

Most 1858 settlers came from Pomerania, the 'Uckermark' and the 'Wendland', where most had been poor peasants and not accustomed to running their own farms.

Typical German settler house

They were settled among the mercenaries of the Crimean Legion, mostly in remote areas.

The farms allocated to them were consistently of very poor quality so that it was impossible to survive by farming alone.