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Anglo-Xhosa Conflict

All told the Eastern Cape saw nine 'Cape Frontier Wars', running between the late eighteenth century and the ninth and last war of 1877-8. The earliest wars were waged during the period of Dutch colonial rule, but the greater number were prosecuted by the British military governors of the Cape in the first half of the C19th. The white settler population of the era was mainly of 'Dutch' orientation, but from 1820 included an expanding 'English' element, which terms we use in the widest generic sense to embrace several European continental nationalities and all sub-sets into which the citizenry of the 19th Century United Kingdom could be subdivided. In the period 1818-1819 the in-place African population of the Eastern Cape, the amaXhosa people, underwent a traumatic fissure through civil war. Once the war had run its course, the amaRharhabe population, residing south west of the River Kei, ('Ciskei'), were left subdivided into amaNgqika and amaNdlambe factions. The amaGqunukhwebe also lived south-west of the Kei, mainly in the coastal belt. The amaGcaleka resided north-west of the Kei,  ('Transkei'), and were the immediate followers of the Xhosa paramount chief, who was in effect the 'king' of the Xhosa people as a whole, albeit his authority beyond the boundaries of his personal realm, Gcalekaland, was largely notional.  


Our Anglo-colonial and amaXhosa figures are expressly designed for the 7th Cape Frontier War of 1846-7 and the 8th Cape Frontier War (December 1850 to March 1853), though not all codes can be used for both wars. Guidance on which of the conflicts our figures are suitable for is provided at the respective 'product' pages of our 'Orange River' and 'Waterkloof' Ranges. The latter range embraces only Xhosa codes; for their Anglo-colonial opponents look to the Orange River range. In addition to their primary purpose all the Xhosa codes can legitimately be used for scenarios based on the 6th Cape Frontier War of 1834-5 and the Ninth Cape Frontier War of 1877-8. The imperial troops committed to the ninth and last war were the same troops that went on to fight in the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, a conflict that is particularly well addressed by Perry Miniatures and Empress Miniatures alike, by reason of which fact Iron Duke will not be stretching its British figures as far as the 1870s. Scale-wise our figures are perfectly compatible with both Perry and Empress. 

Historically speaking there are three key factors that determine what a Xhosa wargames army should look like. The first is the prevalence of the cowhide shield, the second is the prevalence of firearms and the third is the prevalence of European clothing. Some rules of thumb will be useful. The last of the three factors is the easiest to address: the only war in which clothing was worn was the ninth, but even then it was only by a minority of warriors. Shields were very commonplace up to and including the sixth war, substantially because there were not yet very many trade muskets in Xhosa hands. There was a correlation between the declining prevalence of the shield and the increasing prevalence of firearms, though the linkage was not direct. By the time the 7th CFW broke out in 1846, a far greater number of warriors had obtained a musket than had been the case in the previous war: Anglo-colonial veterans of the 6th CFW who again took the field in 1846 particularly noted a remarkable transition in the firepower of Xhosa forces. At the same time the realisation that a cowhide shield was not going to stop a musket ball, (even if it might occasionally deflect a 'spent' ball), resulted in shields becoming increasingly regarded as little more than an encumbrance.  Where up to 1835 warriors who did not own a musket would generally have taken the field with a shield, a stabbing spear and a bundle of throwing spears, from c. 1840 they became ever more inclined not to bother with a shield. During the 7th CFW shields were markedly less prevalent than they had been in the sixth, while by the time the 8th CFW broke out at Christmas 1850 they were but rarely seen. The proportion of musket-armed warriors in the 6th CFW would certainly not have exceeded 10%, while by the time of the 7th and 8th CFWs the ratio would probably have fallen somewhere in the bracket 35-45%. 


What of numbers? It is generally true that when the various wars began, the initiative tended to rest with the Xhosa. In that initial phase of conflict tolerably large Xhosa armies could be assembled in one place. The largest army gathered during the 7th and 8th CFWs was a force of 8,000 men, assembled from across all the Xhosa divisions in 1846, in order to mount a grand attack on the garrison of Fort Peddie. That unusually high number aside, a powerful Xhosa force was more typically 2000-2500 strong. Time was typically against the Xhosa however. The outbreak of war would always result in Cape Colony mobilising significant numbers of auxiliary troops; variously levied battalions of 'Hottentot' infantry from Cape Town and the Western Cape, companies of 'Fingo' infantry, levied from from the Mfengu communities residing on the eastern frontier, and mounted 'commandos' mustered by district field commandants. While white settlers predominated, such commandos were not usually segregated, but typically included a miscellany of 'Englishmen', 'Dutchmen' and 'Hottentots'.* Mobilization of volunteers and levies usually served to stem the tide, but usually it was not until imperial reinforcements arrived at the Cape that the governor could wrest the initiative and turn the tide. In that later phase of operations Xhosa forces became fragmented, difficult to sustain and much smaller in size: now a 'large' force might only amount to a few hundred warriors.  [More to follow]:



*Note: Today 'Hottentot' is to be regarded as a pejorative term, but in 19th Century Cape Colony it was in everyday use as a (highly generic) proper-noun. Except in so far that it bore a racialised meaning - individuals, clans or communities that were neither wholly Caucasian nor wholly Nguni African - it was not an expressly supremacist term, nor was it used to convey a necessarily pejorative meaning. It was a term very much of its time, but in the context of South African history it is as difficult to avoid, as it is to come up with a tenable substitute]. 

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