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This map shows the Eastern Cape theatre of operations fought over during the Cape Frontier Wars. The pink line follows the Great Fish River, the orange line that of the Keiskamma River and the green/yellow one that of the Great Kei River. In the early 1830s Cape Colony proper ended at the Fish, although there were forts in the 'Neutral Territory', (marked here as 'Victoria East', a later name), most notably at Fort Beaufort, Fort Willshire and Fort Peddie. Graham's Town (today Grahamstown) was the administrative 'capital' of Albany District, indeed of the eastern frontier more generally. In December 1834 the farms of colonial Albany were devastated by a Xhosa invasion, mounted under the leadership of Chief Maqoma, the regent chief of the amaRharhabe division (comprising the amaNqika and amaNdlambe sub-divisions), during the minority of his younger brother Chief Sandile. At the end of the 6th CFW of 1834-5, the amaRharhabe territory between the Keiskamma and the Kei was annexed under the name 'Queen Adelaide Province'. Also swept up in the annexation were the amaGqunukwebe division - led primarily by Chief Pato - who lived along the coastal strip and had not fought in the late war. Queen Adelaide province was subsequently given up again, on the orders of Lord Glenelg, the colonial secretary. It was re-annexed after the 7th CFW of 1846-7, this time round to become 'British Kaffraria', not an extension of Cape Colony, but intended by Sir Harry Smith to function as a Xhosa reserve.
Unhappily Sir Harry's high-handedness towards the chiefs outweighed the best of his ambitions for the ordinary people. To cut a long story sideways the traditional bond between the people and a powerful hereditary ruling class they had been long habituated to defer to went far too deep. Smith made two serious mistakes, firstly, in humiliating Maqoma, when he first returned to the colony as governor, (having earlier been D'Urban's chief of staff), and secondly, in deposing Sandile as the senior Rharhabe chief, in the mistaken belief that the subordinate chiefs and ordinary people would not stand by him. The protracted 8th CFW of December 1850 to March-April 1853 followed.
The base scenario, war between the authorities and the amaNgika Xhosa, was further complicated by four other developments: first, the 'Kat River Rebellion', in which a proportion of the so-called 'Hottentot' [archaic, pejorative] citizens of Albany were implicated; second, the wholesale mutiny and desertion of the amaNgika and amaNdlambe police divisions, third, a partial mutiny amongst the 'Hottentot' soldiers of the Cape Mounted Rifles (CMR); and fourthly the spread of the Kat River affair to involve the abaThembu people in hostilities. Sir Harry Smith would have been in very serious trouble indeed had not Pato and the amaGqunukwebe remained loyal, albeit it is also true that only a part of the amaNdlambe took up arms in alliance with the amaNqika.
Sir Harry also had a second and singularly valuable ally in the form of the amaMfengu or 'Fingo' people. The Finggoes were an agglomeration of refugee peoples who, having fled the more northerly mfecane wars of the 1820s, had subsequently found homes as vassals of the Amagcaleka Xhosa - unhappy homes as it turned out - many of them in the general vicinity of Butterworth (see map). It was at their own request that Sir Benjamin D'Urban had brought the Fingoes out of Gcalekaland, in a great exodus, at the end of the 6th CFW (1835). They were re-settled under British protection, with Fort Peddie serving as the defensive hub of their settlement. Located as it was on the 'wrong' side of the Fish, Peddie was so vulnerable to Xhosa attack that a proportion of Fingo families felt the need to move further west, where they established themselves in settlements on the fringes of Fort Beaufort and Block Drift (afterwards Alice & Fort Hare), amongst other places. Pretty much every Fingo of fighting age remained under arms throughout the 7th and 8th CFWs.
The eighth war of 1850-53 followed the familiar pattern established during the sixth and the seventh wars. The Xhosa could only operate offensively and in mass early on, when they had only the scattering of British regulars permanently stationed on the frontier to deal with. Once the colonial auxiliary forces from Cape Town and the coastal districts had sprung to arms, to make their appearance on the frontier, in the form of mounted commandos or as units of levied 'Hottentot' infantry, the Xhosa had few options but to fall back to natural strongholds and wage desultory forest warfare in an impossibly difficult landscape. Well supplied with firearms from the 1840s onwards, Xhosa bands holed themselves up in such places as the Waterkloof, the Winterberg, the Fish River Bush, the Amatola Hoek, the Keiskamma Hoek and the Poorts of the Buffalo, the last three of which form part of the broader Amatola Range [today Amathole]. The Waterkloof, a seven-mile long forested valley, and Fuller's Hoek, a counterpart valley on the opposite side of a high divide, provided Maqoma with a particularly formidable base of operations. No fewer than five major operations were required to clear the landscape, or rather to clear it and keep it clear afterwards. Maqoma had hos own Nqika following of course, but he was also joined by 'Hottentot rebels', CMR mutineers and eventually a very sizeable contingent of abaThembu warriors. There were occasions, such as the Battle of Kroomie Heights, and the Battle of Nel's Farm, when unsupported columns of several hundred men were chased away from the Waterkloof, only narrowly avoiding wholesale disaster in the process.
The Xhosa paramount chief from the end of the 6th CFW, (in which his father Hintza had been killed, in attempting to escape the then Colonel Harry Smith's custody), to the 9th and final CFW of 1877-8 was Chief Sarhili (usually rendered contemporaneously as 'Kreli'). The paramount exercised nominal authority the Xhosa nation, as a theoretical entity, but more immediately ruled the amaGcaleka division in the territory beyond the Kei. During the wars Gcalekaland was periodically subjected to short-stay 'reiving' expeditions, very largely intended to recover stolen colonial livestock, on the grounds that actively hostile raiders often ran their booty across the Kei, in order to avoid recapture inside ostensibly neutral Gcalekaland. As a strategy it didn't work, substantially because the governors of the Cape, military men all at this time, felt no compunction about disregarding the boundary in such circumstances. There was little fighting inside Gcalekaland however. Mostly such expeditions resolved themselves into metaphorical games of 'hide and seek', with the Gcalakas moving their herds about between places of concealment, in an attempt to avoid mounted patrols.