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TOPIC: A Transport Conductor in the Basuto Gun Wars - H.L. Siebel

A Transport Conductor in the Basuto Gun Wars - H.L. Siebel 2 weeks 3 days ago #61065

  • Rory
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Hugo Leonard Siebel

Conductor, Transkei and Basutoland campaigns of 1880 - Basuto Gun War

- Cape of Good Hope General Service Medal with Transkei and Basutoland clasps to Conductor H.L. Siebel

Hugo Siebel was born in the Cambridge area of East London in the Eastern Cape of South Africa in about 1858 the son of German immigrants Frederick and Wilhelmina Siebel. Siebel’s father had been one of the German legionnaires, who having seen service in the Crimea, became part of a large resettlement scheme under the auspicious of the Governor of the Cape, Sir George Grey. This scheme encompassed a bold plan to settle parts of the Eastern Cape Frontier with up to 2000 poor and now largely unemployed German families who would provide a buffer between the Cape and the marauding black tribes to the east.

Siebel senior sailed aboard the Covenantor from Plymouth of 18 November 1856 taking a circuitous route via the coast of Brazil before swinging back and heading east towards Table Bay in Cape Town. Once they had docked there provisions were taken on board and sail was set for East London.

A camp to house the new arrivals had initially been planned for East London which was to be established on the east bank of the Buffalo River – this area became known as Panmuir and the soldiers began to erect mud huts on the site. Ere long it was found that the supply of water was inadequate and the families were moved to a new township with construction work on the village of Cambridge beginning in earnest in July 1857. Plots were granted to the men and it was here that Hugo saw the first light of day. Gradually the men and their families began to move away to other settlements in the immediate vicinity and by 1865 only 9 of the original 135 lots were still being farmed.

Hugo Siebel appears to have been an only child and would, likely, have had a lonely childhood. His father, as has been mentioned, was a military man with the discipline that came with it. He had served in the 2nd Light Regiment with number 1055 having enlisted on 28 November 1855 with the rank of Private. Having arrived in South Africa he was transferred to the 1st Regiment and placed on half pay which could not have helped matters financially. Perhaps his health had been poor to begin with or, more likely, the daily grind to eke out a living in the harsh conditions of the Frontier had taken its toll but, whatever the case was, Frederick Siebel passed away in 1860 leaving his 20 year old wife a widow with a young child to care for. She was still a widow in 1870 when she submitted a memorandum to purchase land in East London showing that, despite the odds, she was managing to hold her own.

At some point she remarried - to Charles Klein, a Farmer in the district - the couple had a child of their own, named after his father, Charles Klein.

But what of her oldest son, Hugo? As was mentioned earlier the Eastern Cape – known as Frontier country – was a hotbed of instability in the last half of the 19th century and, after as many as nine Kaffir Wars had been fought with the last, against Morosi, having ended in late 1879, the region thought, mistakenly, that all its residents could settle down to peaceful co-existence. This noble sentiment proved premature as, on 13 September 1880, the region was thrown once more into confrontation.

What had precipitated this latest crisis? A decision by the new Cape Governor, Gordon Sprigg, to disarm the Basuto by repossessing fire arms they had legally earned and obtained. As Major Hook in his work “With Sword and Statute” mentioned:-

The Basutos loved their guns; to be armed was a badge of manhood. They had acquired the guns honestly; had been employed to use their own weapons against the rebellious Morosi, and were furious about having to give them up.”

Morosi’s stronghold had fallen in November 1879. The actual fighting in Basutoland, in what led to what became known as the Basuto Gun War, among the Basutos themselves about disarmament arose in July 1880. In September 1880 a few hundred members of the Cape Mounted Riflemen under Colonel Carrington were moved up to Mafeteng where, on the 17th they were attacked by Chief Lerothodi with several thousand mounted men. There was heavy loss to the Basuto on that day.

Hugo Siebel was by now a 22 year old in the prime of life. Deciding against joining the ranks of one of the many irregular colonial units that had sprung up he opted, instead, to offer his services to all and, as a Transport Conductor, would have been responsible for the transportation of both goods and materials up and down the length and breadth of the Eastern Cape and wherever there was a need for them.

Transport Conductors were, typically, in charge of a team of oxen and the wagon they pulled, and would have had to endure many hardships attempting to negotiate the narrow tracks and boulder-strewn landscape they encountered. They fulfilled a vital function.

On 8 November Thlotse Heights was attacked by a Joel Molappo and the Kimberley Horse were sent to save the garrison. At the same time Mohali’s Hoek was besieged until relieved and general skirmishing broke out in the mountain kingdom.

The Basutos bested for the moment the fight went on in what became known as the Transkei Campaign. This campaign, starting as it did at the same time as the Basuto Gun War ended slightly later, on 13 May 1881 and saw a number of locally raised units take part in operations in Thembuland and Griqualand East, where the native Xhosa populations were particularly hostile to settlers in the districts of Tsolo, Maclear, Matatiele and Qumbu. Inspired by the example set by their Basuto neighbours the Xhosa’s had risen in revolt as well.

Belatedly, in 1900 when the Anglo Boer War was in full flow, the Queen agreed to the award of a medal to those who had taken part in either the Basutoland or Transkei campaigns (or in some instances both for which separate clasps were awarded) – this medal was named the Cape of Good Hope General Service Medal and was also awarded for the Bechuanaland campaign of 1896.

It was this medal with clasps Basutoland and Transkei that was awarded to Siebel. There were various naming styles for this medal with a number of blanks being sent out by the Royal Mint to be named up to claimants in South Africa. Those so named were dubbed “Cape naming style” of which a feature was the upside down impressing of the medals compared to those done in England.

Proof in the form of a medal roll exists whereupon Siebel’s medal was sent to the Jeweller’s Armstrong’s in Cape Town on 21 October 1907 to be impressed. The following snippet of very valuable information concerning these medals came from a renowned Cape Town collector, Rob Mitchell.

“The so called “Cape Naming” of the CGHGS medals refers to medals named in Cape Town during the period 1903 to about 1909.

These medals were named in various styles, sometimes “upside down” from the usual naming convention but seemingly always on officially issued blank (i.e. not skimmed) medals sent to the Cape Authorities for naming. Clasps were also fitted in Cape Town.”
There were only ever 3 Conductors in the two campaigns making Siebel’s medal, whilst not unique, certainly one of a very few. Aside from that, of the 3 Conductors only Siebel and a chap named Chappe earned both Transkei and Basutoland clasps – C.V. Fischer, another man of German origin, earned the Basutoland clasp on its own.

The fighting over Siebel returned to his civilian pursuit as a Carpenter. On the home front his mother had been widowed yet again - her 39 year old husband having perished in 1881. Siebel was present many years later, on 18 September 1903, to sign as a witness on the baptism of his niece, Wilhelmina Veronica Lenora Klein, at Cambridge in East London. Charles was a Farmer and had married a Maria Angelina Hilda Sansom. His half-brother Charles having predeceased him as has been seen, his widow, Hilda, became important in his life and, in July 1915 when he drew up his Last Will and Testament, he made her the executor of his estate and the beneficiary of all his furniture. Her children were the heirs to his estate.

Siebel passed away at Highgate in Cambridge on 14 July 1921 at the age of 63 years 6 months from pneumonia and heart failure with Hilda at his bedside. A letter from the Attorney’s Giddy & Giddy of East London provided the names of the Klein children along with their dates of birth. These were:-

- Frederick Kempffer Leopold Wilfred Klein born 8 December 1912
- Lenora Sydney James Klein born on 17 May 1907
- Charles William Bernard Klein born on 11 November 1905 and
- Wilhelmina Veronica Klein born on 12 August 1903.

Having never married and having had no children of his own perhaps Hugo Siebel had a hand in raising those of his half-brother.






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A Transport Conductor in the Basuto Gun Wars - H.L. Siebel 2 weeks 3 days ago #61079

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Fascinating write-up, Rory, and great pictures too. Many thanks.

David Biggins
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