Iron Duke Miniatures

Iron Duke Miniatures

'Hard pounding, gentlemen!'

 

HISTORICAL NOTES

TRANSORANGIA & THE ORANGE RIVER SOVEREIGNTY (1845-1853)

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Chronology of Events


The Philippolis Intervention and Battle of Zwartkoppies (30 April 1845)  


Armed clashes at Zuurfontein and Hout Haal, in ungoverned Transorangia, between the mixed-race Griqua followers of Adam Kok III on the one hand and boer settlers/trekkers of republican bent on the other,  led the Civil Commissioner of Cape Colony's Colesberg District , Mr Fleetwood Rawstorne, to request the presence of troops at Alleman's Drift on the Orange. Rawstorne's object in so doing was to prevent Dutch citizens residing within the British jurisdiction crossing the river to fight under Kommandants Jan Mocke and Jan Kock, the principal republican militants. Major Glencairn Campbell eventually arrived at the head of three companies of the 1st Bn. the 91st (The Argyllshire) Regiment, amounting to 7 officers & 185 NCOs and men. Rawstorne's attempts at mediation were rebuffed by the republicans, so on 22 April 1845 he crossed into the ungoverned territory with Campbell and his infantry, so as to be able to protect the Griqua settlement at Philippolis in accordance with a treaty obligation of 1843. Rawstorne met face to face with Mocke and Kock, only to meet with a further rebuff. On 27 April, after a week's hard riding from the Eastern Cape frontier, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Richardson, 7th DG, arrived in the north with two troops of the 7th Dragoon Guards, a company of the Cape Mounted Rifles (CMR) under Capt. Henry Warden and two horse-drawn 6-pounders from No. 3 Coy/7th Bn., Royal Artillery, under Captain Shepherd. Richardson promptly issued an ultimatum demanding the unconditional surrender of, "the Emigrant British subjects unlawfully assembled in arms," together with a warning failure to comply with his demand would lead to the boere under arms being treated as rebels, on the grounds that the Cape of Good Hope Punishment Act stated that trekkers abiding beyond the frontiers of Cape Colony were still considered to be British subjects and could be held accountable for crimes committed beyond the formal border.  Kock and Mocke had something around 500 burghers in the field, with a solitary 3-pounder by way of artillery.  On 30 April 1845 Richardson moved the British force forward, in concert with Kaptein Adam Kok and about 400 mounted Griquas. His ensuing attack precipitated the Battle of Zwartkoppies, in which the 7th DG played the leading part. While one of the troops skirmished from horseback on the right, by way of a fixing operation, the other drew swords and charged the boer left.  The republican force quickly crumbled and fled the field, abandoning the 3-pounder. One of the British cavalry officers killed 'the French gunner', name unknown, who had charge of the piece. Casualties were minimal on both sides, but the defeat of the republicans was wholesale. The defeated rebels were treated with leniency, being required only to take an oath of allegiance to the Crown and to disperse to their farms.

Annexation

3 February 1848: Lt-Gen. Sir Harry Smith, newly appointed as Her Majesty's High Commissioner for Southern Africa,  Governor of Cape Colony and C-in-C South Africa, annexed ungoverned Transorangia to the Crown and re-styled it the 'Orange River Sovereignty'. Sir Harry engaged politically with Andries Pretorius, the former commandant-general of the voortrekkers in the already defunct republic of Natalia, in advance of the annexation, but in concluding that his proposal to extend the British  jurisdiction commanded majority support amongst the Dutch-Afrikaaner settlers  living north of the Orange, but south of the Vaal, Sir Harry was deluding himself. The annexation saw the boere divide politically into loyalist and republican factions. The much smaller number of English settlers living north of the Orange were to be counted hard-core loyalists of course.  
      Fledgling Bloemfontein was to be the administrative capital of the Sovereignty and it was there that Major Henry Warden, CMR, established himself in the role of British resident.  In its ungoverned guise Transorangia had much been much plagued by war, violence, stock theft, outright land grabbing and other more lingering forms of land dispute. Sir Harry had secured a degree of consent from the principal African and 'Hottentot' chiefs resident in the great swathe of territory affected, substantially on the basis that Warden would act as an honest broker between them.  
     The most powerful chief by far was Moshoeshoe, the Basotho paramount, who had spent the previous 25 years coalescing and moulding a people, successfully forging a great chieftaincy or nation in the process. Where rulers of the ilk of Shaka, Mzilikazi and Dingane were remarkable primarily in respect of their ruthlessness, Moshoeshoe was cut from altogether different cloth, being much more remarkable for his powers of reason, moderation, tolerance and diplomacy. Even so he was a tough operator  and, when forced into a corner, was prepared to fight as hard as any other major chief one could name to protect his interests, territory, cattle and standing. Arrayed against the Basotho as a particular enemy was Chief Moroko, the leader of the Rolong (pl: Barolong) people, whose great place was at Thaba Nchu, squarely inside the boundaries of the Sovereignty. There was no settled agreement as to where the Sovereignty ended and Moshoeshoe's realms began, but the Basotho paramount was determined to remain close to the British and to rub along with the settlers where possible. The common understanding was that Warden's touch as a political administrator would be very light. 
      Since there were no troops to spare for its policing,  it was plain that the Sovereignty could only work by common consent, which was perhaps an unrealistic prospect in so deeply riven a region as Southern Africa in the 1840s and 1850s. It might have worked, or at least might have survived longer,  had not the combination of the Eighth Cape Frontier War and the Hottentot or Kat River Rebellion, of December 1850 to April 1853, sucked up every military asset at Sir Harry Smith's disposal, over so lengthy a time frame. In 1848 there were few politicians in London who considered that the Sovereignty was likely to work or even that extending British rule so far into the interior  was to be counted in any way desirable. For the immediate future the best that Sir Harry could hope for was to be indulged by the Colonial Office. By contrast mission societies and the anti-slavery lobby, interests greatly at loggerheads with both the freebooter inclination and the racial dogmas commonly encountered amongst the worst-behaved trekkers, welcomed any extension of the British jurisdiction. Even before the annexation settlement in the Caledon River Valley had become a source of friction between the newly arrived boere and the in place Basotho. The least scrupulous settlers soon found that they could stay on the right side of the Basotho by trading with them in two particularly sought after commodities - horses and guns. This spurred on a process that had already been underway for a decade, whereby the Basotho fighting man was swiftly transitioning from his old guise as a traditional African warrior - armed with throwing assegais and a small winged shield - to a new and radically different guise as a musket-armed mounted infantryman. It was not Moshoeshoe and the Basotho who would force the first great crisis in the governance of the Sovereignty, however, but Pretorius and the republicans.

The Pretorius Rebellion and the Battle of Boomplaats (29 August 1848)


In June 1848 Pretorius crossed into the Orange River Sovereignty at the head of a 200 strong commando of Transvaal republicans, with the intention of overthrowing British rule north of the Orange. His destination in the first instance was the 'town' of Winburg, where the majority of the boere (farmers) in the surrounding countryside were opposed to British rule and in all likelihood would be prepared to support an uprising. Once he had installed himself in Winburg, Pretorius espoused a  'with us or against us' doctrine, so as to cow the broader boer population into compliance with his agenda. Those who did not rise against the British would face confiscation of their land, and be expelled back across the Orange into Cape Colony. Any boer of fighting age who went anywhere near the republican commando was effectively press-ganged into joining it. Outraged 'Dutch' and 'English' loyalists  flew into centralized laagers and prepared to defend themselves. Field Cornets (veldkornet) Hermanus Wessels and Gery Meyer took command of the loyalists laagered on the Vet River, while Commandant Jacobus Snyman led about 500 others, (counting men women and children all), concentrated on the Caledon River.  Pretorius's attempts to bully Moshoeshoe into joining him were shrewdly sidestepped by the Basotho paramount, whose understanding of European politics  was sophisticated, thanks in large part to his close friendship with Eugene Casalis,  a pioneering missionary of the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society (PEMS), who had founded a mission station at the foot of the paramount's mountain top stronghold at Thaba Bosiu. Casalis's advice had always been that there was far more for the Basotho to fear from land hungry trekkers than from British sovereignty. Moshoeshoe knew full well of course that a man of action like Sir Harry Smith was bound to come flying north from Cape Town with a vengeance.  

      In the meantime Pretorius turned his attention to Major Warden at Bloemfontein. He may possibly have had a thousand men with him by the time he arrived at the administrative capital, at that time a mere cluster of buildings on the open veldt.  There were no defences and Warden would have been lucky to muster a hundred men between the single CMR company at his disposal (57 strong) and the loyalist population living in the near vicinity.  In order to evade a fight he could not win, the resident came to terms with Pretorius and agreed to withdraw his people across the Orange. To betoken his determination to return, however, Warden parked his wagons on the south bank of the Orange, raised his tents  and went not a step further. Like Moshoeshoe he expected the famously hard-riding Sir Harry to join him at Botha's Drift in very short order.  The British knew they would be able to rely on the support of the multi-ethnic Griqua communities at Phillipolis, where Adam Kok III was still the kaptyn/kaptein, and at Griquatown, where Andries Waterboer  held sway in the same capacity. The Griquas practised much the same tactics as the boere, in that they too operated in the guise of irregular mounted infantry.  Adam Kok, most directly at risk from the republican line of advance, succeeded in bluffing Pretorius, by pretending to prevaricate in his loyalties, but when at length the British came north of the river both Kok and Waterboer  joined Sir Harry at the head of a combined commando of about 250 men. A party of about 40 boer loyalists under Commandants Pieter Erasmus and J. T. Snyman also joined up with the British and would function as a scouting unit in the campaign ahead.  

      The regular element of the 'army' that Sir Harry Smith was able to concentrate at Botha's Drift was small but experienced, largely as a result of the lately concluded conflict with the amaXhosa, (the 7th Cape Frontier War  of 1846-7). There were four CMR companies, including the one from Bloemfontein, a Royal Artillery detachment equipped with three ox-drawn 6-pounder guns, a handful of Royal Sappers & Miners with the pontoon equipment necessary to get wagons across the Orange, and two companies apiece from the Reserve Battalion of the 45th (The Nottinghamshire) Regiment, the Reserve Battalion of the 91st (The Argyllshire) Regiment and the 1st Battalion of the Rifle Brigade. The word 'reserve' has the potential to confuse, but these were all fully fledged regular army units; the term 'reserve battalion' was merely a politically expedient way of describing a temporarily constituted 2nd Battalion in such a way as to avoid any suggestion of permanency. Temporary or not reserve battalions might be in existence for years: some endured for safely more than a decade indeed, before they were stood down and all the personnel re-absorbed into the parent 1st Battalion and its depot companies at home. All told the British force came to about 800 officers and men. The nominal force commander, subordinate to Sir Harry in his capacity as C-in-C South Africa of course, was Lieutenant Colonel George Buller, ordinarily the commanding officer of 1st Rifle Brigade. 

     It was not long before the press-ganged and less committed elements of the republican force started to evaporate. Pretorius probably had about 500 men left to him, (but certainly no more than 750), when, five weeks into the rebellion, he took up a defensive blocking position some little way shy of Bloemfontein, at Boomplaats farm, where the marshy Krommellenboogspruit (stream) and the low koppies commanding it from the home bank would provide a viable line of defence. There was also a rocky ridge on the other side of the spruit  which would provide an ideal first or forward line of defence.  There was also an ambush element to the republican plan, in that all the boer positions were well hidden, while Pretorius also took particular care to conceal Kommandant  Adriaan Stander and an outlying party on some low koppies in front of the spruit. Crucially Stander's koppies overlooked the Bloemfontein road, from what would be the British right flank, at a range of only 50 yards. 

      On the morning of 29 August the governor, his staff and the leading CMR company rode straight into the ambush, largely because Sir Harry, who knew full well that Boomplaats farm was in enemy hands, expected Pretorius to negotiate before any recourse to fighting. A few casualties went down in the first fusillade, but by some miracle Sir Harry survived, though his saddlery was hit and he was struck painfully in the shin by a ricochet. Startled and infuriated the governor galloped back to his main body, quickly positioned his guns and ordered the four 45th Regiment (5 & 170) and Rifle Brigade companies (4 & 160) into the attack, the 45th in the centre and the Rifles driving for Stander's Koppie on the right.  Further to the British rear DACG Henry Green had control of the commissariat wagon train, consisting of 117 ox-wagons and about 350 wagoners, the majority of whom would have been African or Hottentot workers. Sensibly Green brought his wagons about and formed a laager, as the fighting echelon went about its business in front. The Griquas held back from the main fight in order to cover the laager.  An early roundshot unhorsed Stander, having come perilously close to decapitating him: by some accounts the round had actually made the faintest contact with the side of his head. In any event he was stunned, dazed and out of the fight early on. The Rifles were able to drive the boere from the forward koppies, but not before both company commanders, Captains Murray and Hardinge had been wounded. Murray was struck a second time, this time mortally, even before his men could help him down from his horse.  Sir Harry rode around amongst the two 45th Regiment companies so imprudently that his staff officers thought he would be killed at any moment. The loss in the 45th was significant, so the governor brought up the two 91st Regiment companies and extended the attack on the rocky ridge to the left of the road. Thus sufficed to carry the position, as the boere fell back acorss the spruit and prepared to defend the main koppie and farm on the other side. 

     There was a sudden crisis on the British left, or at least the appearance of a crisis, when Kommandant Jan Kock  led his commando down from the high ground to the right of the main boer position and launched a mounted attack, with something around 150-200 men. The men in Henry Green's laager prepared to defend themselves and then traded shots  with Kock's people, as did some of the Griquas, but Major Johnny Armstrong CMR was on top of the situation and swiftly organized a mounted counterattack by the four CMR companies.  Additionally one of Lieutenant Dyneley's 6-pounders, operating apart from the other two guns, and protected by the small party of greenjackets who usually functioned as Sir Harry's personal bodyguard (for he was himself a scion of the Rifle Brigade), was swung around by the sergeant in charge and proceeded to fire a couple of rounds to excellent effect. Armstrong's ensuing charge served to scatter Kok's people to the four winds. The battle had turned. It was not long before the 45th and 91st had crossed the spruit to begin ejecting the boere from the stone sangars they had erected atop the koppies. Dyneley meanwhile had pushed his guns forward to new fire positions, from which he was able to engage Kok's men as they fled through the nek behind the position. On the right flank the Rifle brigade companies ran up against the farmstead and a number of stone cattle kraals, which the  boere defended for as long as their courage lasted. Colonel Buller was hit in the thigh by a ball that passed clean through his leg to kill his horse beneath him, but it was not long before the Rifle Brigade soldiers were able, through the accuracy of their Brunswick Rifles, to again the upper hand and put the enemy to flight. With the position carried at all points the battle was over. 

     The British had suffered 2 & 20 killed including two Griquas, and 7 & 33 wounded. The magistrate Thomas Biddulph was also wounded. Sir Harry overstated boer losses in his official report, claiming that 49 had been killed, but it is commonly accepted that the kommandants' claim to have lost only 9 dead is altogether closer to the mark. Only seven of them are memorialized by name on the battlefield monument. Nine dead would generally imply something around 18 wounded, although the role played by the artillery might conceivably have increased the number of wounded beyond the usual statistical proportion. Pretorius made a frantic overnight flight from the battlefield, escaped across the Vaal and was swiftly outlawed in the British jurisdiction.  The British reoccupied Bloemfontein on 2 September, where two prisoners taken on the battlefield, one of them a British deserter, were court martialled and executed by firing squad.  There was no continuation of resistance when Winburg was reoccupied shortly afterwards. 

      A full, substantive account of the campaign and battle, together with more annotated battlefield photographs like the one below, is to be found in Volume II (British Battles in Colonial South Africa 1834-53) of Snook MBE PhD, Col. Mike, Cape Warriors (2 vols), (Nottingham, 2016), available exclusively from Perry Miniatures. 

Boomplaats Battlefield viewed along the line of the British axis of attack.  

Private 1st Bn. The Rifle Brigade

Plate painted by Alan Perry. Like the others below it features in  Mike Snook's two volume book Cape Warriors, (published by and exclusively available from Perry Miniatures – see their website for more details). It might equally portray a member of 1st Rifle Brigade at Boomplaats in 1848, or at any point following the battalion's return to South Africa to fight in the second year of the 8th Cape Frontier War in 1852, or in the fight against the Basotho at the Battle of Berea  on 20 December 1852. The battalion was primarily armed with the Brunswick Rifle, but a small number of men  in each company were also experimentally armed with the Lancaster rifle, which was under consideration as a replacement service rifle. In the event the replacement selected was the Minie Rifle. The battalion returned to South Africa still in possession of its small number of Lancaster rifles, but subsequently also received its due share  (six per company) of the consignment of Minie Rifles brought out by General Cathcart, when he replaced Sir Harry Smith in April 1852. 

      The Rifle Brigade wore swallow-tailed coatees of the double-breasted style, with black facings and buttons. The uncomfortable knapsack was largely given up in South Africa and replaced with  an improvised blanket pack, in which the greatcoat and blanket were either folded one inside the other, as seen in the plate above, or otherwise back to back. Like the 60th King's Royal Rifle Corps, the Rifle Brigade wore black leather equipment. The sword-bayonet provided with the Brunswick was straight-bladed and had a brass cross-hilt.  Riflemen did not 'fix bayonets'; rather the word of command was "Fix swords!" The Brunswick was accurate to 300 yards, safely three times the distance at which line infantrymen (including light regiments) could employ the smoothbore musket with the remotest degree of accuracy. 

      Only one company of the battalion, Number 9, participated in General Cathcart's Orange River  Expedition of November-December  1852. The company played a very full part in the Battle of Berea, where it was commanded by Lieutenant Leicester Curzon and formed part of Colonel William Eyre's column. 

Private 12th  (The Prince of Wales’s) Royal Regiment of Lancers,

In this illustration by Michael Perry, one of 40 excellent art plates variously painted by both Perry Twins for Cape Warriors, we see a young private of the 12th (The Prince of Wales’s) Royal Regiment of Lancers, (or more simply the 12th Royal Lancers for short), clad in his regimental stable jacket and overalls. The original historical reference informing this plate, likewise the toy versions of it we will manufacture this year, is the pencil sketches and watercolours of Thomas Baines, who was a jobbing war artist in the 8th Cape Frontier War and actually lived with the 12th Lancers, amongst others, in the field. That is pretty much the ‘horse’s mouth’ as they say. The blue stable jacket is single-breasted, and features red facings with a yellow lace trim at the collar and cuffs. The blue overalls feature a double yellow stripe down the outside seam. He wears a cavalry girdle, with alternate horizontal bands of yellow and red. His white leather waistbelt is fitted with sword slings, while his crossbelt features a black pouch for carbine ammunition. 
      British lancer regiments did not ordinarily carry carbines at this time, but were issued instead with the P1842 pistol, a single shot percussion lock weapon, useless at anything more than about 15 yards. The 12th Lancers, however, were issued with double-barrelled ‘Cape carbines’, much like those in service with the CMR, except that the London Gunmaker Charles Lancaster was tasked to manufacture a new rifled version designed expressly for the regiment. The greater number of these weapons were sent out on HMS Birkenhead and were lost when she struck rock and foundered off the Cape in February 1852, but a subsequent and smaller batch of 108 carbines were shipped later and would have come into use in good time for Berea. Initially, during the war with the Xhosa, the regiment had half its troops armed with lances and pistols and the other half with carbines (and pistols). Afterwards they dropped the lance altogether and effectively became a regiment of carbineers, but there is a clear reference to show that the lance was re-adopted across the board to go north to Lesotho, no doubt because the ground there is much more open than in the Eastern Cape. We cannot be sure whether every man had a carbine of some kind, or whether only half of them did, just as before, but certainly there were not more than 108 rifled Lancasters, since no more were ever made.
      We have done a lot of research into this carbines issue, even going back into the Daily Orders Book of the 12th Lancers, which fell into Basotho hands during the battle of Berea and is now preserved in the regimental museum collection, and yet still have not been able to crack a truly definitive answer. Since the matter remains open to doubt, at least for the present, (work is ongoing), the immediate intention is to provide both a DB Lancaster carbine and a Victoria carbine with all figures, and leave it up to you as to whether you want to arm only half your riders with DB Lancasters, or alternatively give the lot of them carbines, 50% Lancasters and 50% Victorias. If at some point we discover the answer that they all definitely had DB carbines, then it would follow that the other half of them must have had CMR smoothbores, rather than Victorias. The only discernible difference between the older pattern CMR weapon and the rifled Lancaster is that the latter had a rear sight, which on our model version will come off easily enough with a snip of a sharp set of clippers (in the event it even bothers you enough to begin with!).

Here's a great photo of a Mosotho warrior (in the singular), being a member of the Basotho people (in the plural). The Basotho are the Southern Sotho, and live in Lesotho, while the Bapedi (plural of Pedi) are the Northern Sotho and live in the Northern Transvaal. The photo was taken later than the period covered by our new Orange River range, but even so might as well have been taken in the 1850s. 
      Chief Moshoeshoe was the founder of the Basotho, who were an amalgam of tribes and peoples who rallied to him during and after the difaqane (aka mfecane) inter-tribal wars of the 1820s-1830s. Over the next 20 years the Basotho spared no effort to acquire horses and firearms, to the extent that in an army of 10,000 warriors present at the Battle of Berea, about 7,500 men were musket armed horsemen. About 6,000 of them attacked the British, under Lt-Gen the Hon. George Cathcart, in a single wave...quite a sight. They fought both from horseback and in what Colonel William Eyre called, 'in the Dutch manner', which is to say that at various points they dismounted to use their firearms on foot, in much the same way as the Boers practiced mounted infantry tactics. There was no national army and no regimental system after the fashion of the Zulus. Regional chiefs, many of whom were related to Moshoshoe, brought their regional followings in to a national muster. Such a following might be made up several warbands based on the age grouping used in circumcision lodges for the usual ritual transition to manhood.
      A point to note is that the small, rather scruffy 'Basotho pony', which springs fairly readily to mind, has been bred over the decades since Moshoeshoe's reign. At the period covered by our range the Basotho were mounted on conventionally sized horses and ponies. 
      You can see a number of interesting features in the photo. The average Mosotho mixed both European and traditional weaponry. This chap has a double-barrelled weapon, more likely to be a percussion lock rifle than a shotgun. He also carries the traditional winged shield, which is very small and designed for deflecting throwing assegais, rather than fighting at close quarters. He has a fearsome long handled battle axe tucked into his loin cloth, while he carries a number of throwing assgais, together with a round headed knobkerrie, in a quiver. The quiver is hanging to the front of this chap, but it would more usually be thrown around to rest on the small of the back. His headdress is a ball of black ostrich feathers. There are two other features of the typical Mosotho worth mentioning. One is that many warriors wore a V-shaped wooden or brass neckguard on the upper chest with its arms splayed either side of the throat. The item looked a bit like a boomerang. They also wore little daggers around the neck, slung on the chest with a bit of string or thong. There was an important European presence in Lesotho in the form of several PEMS (Paris Evangelical Missionary Society) missions. Christianity was slow to take off and few of the missions had congregations in excess of a couple of hundred people. Basotho armies would however include a proportion of Christian warriors, who generally wore hats and discarded European clothing. More generally the Basotho were not big on dressing up - they did not favour showy cowtail decorations on the arms and legs after the Zulu fashion. No monkey tail kilts or anything of that sort, just a simple loincloth. Moshoeshoe's 'great place' (capital) was a mountain top stronghold called Thaba Bosiu, just a few miles outside modern day Maseru.

Private 43rd (The Monmouthshire) Regiment (Light Infantry)
Artist: Michael Perry

The 43rd Regiment adhered more strictly to regulations than some of the other regiments serving in Africa at this time. They wore their coatees, but with the light infantry wings and shoulder straps removed. They also stuck more resolutely to the crossbelt equipment, generally eschewing locally manufactured 'belly box' pouches and the like. Although this man is shown in white summer trousers, the 43rd received at least two issues of trousers locally made up in a cloth called 'fustian', which came in a light tan or hessian type colour. Kilmarnock forage caps were green for light infantry of course and were fitted with a patent leather peak. The blanket and greatcoat are neatly folded back to back and carried on the misappropriated shoulder straps of the knapsack, with the mess tin, in its oilskin cover, fastened on top, although equally it was just as often positioned at the back of the pack. The men were armed with P1842 percussion lock muskets, but there were also six brand new Minie rifles per company, which were issued to the best shots. 

It was possible to shoot accurately to 600 yards with the Minie. The maximum range of the weapon was said to be 900 yards.


Party of the 43rd (The Monmouthshire) Regiment (Light Infantry) on operations in Southern Africa in 1852, drawn from life by a regimental officer.. 

 

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