The De Poort Murders of 1802

13 July 2014
The De Poort Murders of 1802

A United Front of Khoikhoin Gounaqua & Amagqunukhwebe

SPEAKER: Mike Kantey

Events leading up to the 19th Century

The first major driver behind the dispossession and fateful resistance of the indigenous and migrant African tribes of what became South Africa was the colonisation of the Southern Cape by first Dutch, French and German, and then later, British settlers.

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The Plight of the Khoikhoi Herders

Once the dispossession of the Khoikhoin or “Hottentots” had been completed, some were employed by the Colonial authorities as foot-soldiers. First seen on the Eastern Frontier during the Van Jaarsveld rebellion in Graaff-Reinet in 1799, General Thomas Pakenham Vandeleur  used them for scouting “... and was so pleased with their services that he soon requested a reinforcement of 50 more.” (1)

The Third Frontier War, which broke out in April 1799, complicated the situation for Vandeleur who disarmed all vagrant Hottentots at Algoa Bay. Some 300 of these eventually joined the Xhosas against the British. Peires et al describe the situation as follows (2):

... By 1795 there was not a single legally recognised free Khoi community west of the Fish River. Most Khoi lived as labourers on their old lands, now divided among the Boers, and even those who managed to maintain an independent existence in the remote corners of the frontier were insecure and without legal rights.

The Khoi saw their opportunity in 1799, when British troops arrived to fight the rebel Boers of Graaf-Reinet. They flocked to the British standard in the hope of getting their country back.

 "Restore," said Klaas Stuurman, "the country of  which our fathers were despoiled by the Dutch and we have nothing more to ask.”

Peires et al (2) state that in September 1799, Acting Governor Dundas arrived to make separate peace with the Boers, the amaXhosa and the Khoi. They suggest that the terms of the Khoi peace shows clearly the Imperial view of the Khoi. While the amaXhosa were treated as an independent nation, the Khoi were regarded as rebellious subjects. They were declared to possess no landed property of their own and were therefore “expected to enter the service of the Colonists as they had done before.”

According to a delightful newsletter published in Richmond (3), Klaas Stuurman offered refuge in 1799 to drosters, escaped slaves, and those who had been forced into what was euphemistically called and “apprenticeship”. These renegades then unilaterally declared themselves as “Gounaqua” or “The Gamtoos Nation” and raided farms as far afield as Plettenberg Bay. 

Enter the Amagqunukhwebe 

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The AmaGqunukhwebe were a sub-group of the amaXhosa created under the reign of King Tshiwo  (1670-1702), who was a grandfather to  Gcaleka and Rharhabe.

They were made up mostly of the Inqua, Gonaqua, Hoengeiqua,  and others overrun by western  amaXhosa pioneers and then incorporated into the Xhosa nation Khwane kaLungane, the son of Lungane ka-Depe,  was a trusted counsellor and a great warrior of King Tshiwo. He was given leadership of this new chiefdom of amaGqunukhwebe, creating the Khwane dynasty. (4) Their land ran from the Buffalo (Qonce) to the Zwaartkops (Qhagqiwa) rivers, but most of it was lost as a result of the Frontier Wars and was mostly given to colony settlers (west of the Fish River) and amaMfengu (between the Fish and Keiskamma rivers) by the colonial government.

During the late 1780s, Ndlambe defeated the amaGqunukhwebe, inflicting heavy losses upon them. They were forced to retreat westwards towards the Langkloof under Chungwa. Because of their long association, the amaGqunukhwebe and Stuurman’s frontier raiders were natural allies.

When I was researching this story, I had nearly completed the research in the time allowed when – ironically – I found a perfectly set out version by Professor Andrew Duminy in a March 1986 edition of this very same VPHS Bulletin (5). Most of that which follows, therefore, will be drawn from that article.

Between 1789 and 1800, a large number of  expeditions attempted unsuccessfully to ‘persuade’  the amaGqunukhwebe to remove themselves and to bring the Stuurmans under control. From 1789 to 1801, the renegades were able to raid at will throughout the frontier region and the massacre at de Poort was one of the consequences.

Apart from the incidents around Plettenberg Bay and Knysna, about 470 farms – about 35 percent of those registered in the Graaf-Reinet and Swellendam districts – were laid waste, while the colonists claimed to have lost 50,000 head of cattle; 50,000 sheep and 1,000 horses.

In August, 1802, Stuurman led 700 men, including 300 horsemen and 150 with firearms, against the Uniondale field cornet, Tjaart van der Walt. During a dawn raid on August 8, between the Baviaans and Kouga rivers, a stray bullet killed Van der Walt and he was buried where he fell. (3)

In October 1802 ... a band of armed raiders, swept through the Bitou and Piesang River valleys and then westward towards Knysna, looting the farms and burning the homesteads. According to Duminy (5),

The most harrowing story was that of the de Poort murders, close to a spot which is now known as “The Garden of Eden”. Fearing for their lives, a group of farmers from the Piesang Valley had set off for Knysna, intent on seeking refuge in Cape Town.

“The party was led by Cornelis Botha and included his wife, his son and daughter-in-law with their young child, and two other farmers with their families. As they reached de Poort, they were ambushed. Botha escaped on horseback with two others and fled to the farm Stofpad near Wittedrif, where fortifications had been erected to provide shelter for the local inhabitants.

A letter dated 31 October 1802 from the Resident at Plettenberg Bay, P.J. Meeding, to General Dundas refers to “the necessity of abandoning post and embarking for Cape Town”.

In another letter of 15 November 1802, General Dundas writes to the Minister of War in London, with reference to Knysna pioneer James Callendar’s complaints of the raiders that it was “more consistent with the character of an English man, to take up his gun, join the commando, and show an example of spirit than writing alarming letters.

Meanwhile, according to Duminy (5), the survivors in the Southern Cape clustered around the only four fortified places that could provide protection: Stofpad in Plettenberg Bay; Algoa Bay (Fort Frederick); the Langkloof; and Scheeper’s Drift on the Oliphants River.

Chungwa set about building new headquarters in the Langkloof but divisions soon appeared among the allies, which were skilfully exploited by both the Batavian and British administrations over the following ten years.  “Klaas Stuurman,  for example was given a piece of land in Baviaanskloof, near Hankey, after he had agreed to keep the peace.”

In 1812 the British forces were able to mount an operation far larger than any of its predecessors. 900 Colonial burghers and 700 Khoikhoi members of the newly formed Cape Regiment, assisted by 500 British troops drove about 8 000 Xhosa eastwards, forcing them across the Fish River. Those who resisted, including women and children, were hunted down and indiscriminately killed. 

The Notorious Letter from Sir John Cradock,

Governor of the Cape Colony

To the Earl of Liverpool, Government House,

Cape of Good Hope, 7th March 1812.

... In my late instructions to Lt. Colonel Graham I have pointed out to him the expediency of destroying the Kaffir Kraals, laying waste their gardens and fields, and in fact totally removing every object that could hold out to their chiefs an inducement to revisit the regained territory. ... I am very happy to add that in the course of this service there has not been shed more Kaffir blood than would seem to be necessary to impress on the minds of these savages a proper degree of terror and respect. 

Chungwa himself was tracked down to his secret hiding place in 1811 where, unable to rise from his bed, he was shot repeatedly by a party of Boers.

As for the third community that had been involved in the de Poort incident, the Boer frontiersmen, their future also lay elsewhere. A few stayed on but many of those who had deserted their farms in 1802 did not return.

“The frontier war of 1812 re-established the Fish River as the frontier with the Xhosa, so that the continuing conflict that took place there did not directly affect this area. “

The amaGqunukhwebe developed new subdivisions through  Chungwa's sons, Pato and Kama, that he had with Malishe (daughter of Nqeno of the amaMbali chiefdom). They respectively settled along the coast and inland.

Hampton, the Cape Colony surveyor at the time, alleged that the main contributor to this rift was the younger brother's (i.e. Kama) conversion to Christianity 

“The Gqunukhwebe took part in the Fifth Frontier War in an attempt to win their lands back, but after the Xhosa defeat and their expulsion over the Keiskamma, the Gqunukhwebe caused relatively little trouble to the colonial authorities, were eager to accept missionaries, and played but a minor part in the Sixth Frontier War.” (6) 

After Klaas’s death and the rescinding of the land grant, David Stuurman took up the cause of resistance. Like his father he offered sanctuary to rebels and runaways. He was arrested twice (in 1809 and in 1819) and sent to Robben Island prison. Both times he escaped and returned to the area to play a pivotal role in the Frontier Wars. (7)

The authorities arrested him again in 1823 and decided to banish him. He was the first black South African banished to New South Wales in Australia.

Thomas Pringle led an unsuccessful campaign for the release and repatriation of David Stuurman.

The London Mission Society bought the Stuurman lands and established the Hankey Mission station there. 

  1. J de Villiers: “Hottentot Regiments at the Cape during the First British Occupation, 1795-1803” in: Military History Journal, Vol 3 No 5 - June 1976, The South African Military History Society
  2. Review by J. B. Peires: S. Newton-King And V.C. Malherbe, The Khoikhoi Rebellion In The Eastern Cape (1799 - 1803), Centre For African Studies,  University Of Cape Town, 1981
  3. Rose’s ROUND-UP June  2012, No. 221  http://www.richmondnc.co.za/June%20issue.pdf
  4. (http://www.tutorgigpedia.com/ed/Gqunukhwe
  5. Professor Andrew Duminy: “The Tide Turned at Plettenberg Bay” VPHS Bulletin 23 March 1986
  6. Iain Edwards: “Xhosaland, October 1819-December 1834: The Causes of the Sixth Frontier War” B.A.(Hons.), Dept. History & Political Science at the University of Natal, Durban, 1977
  7. Nigel Worden Cape Times , October, 2008) 

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