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TOPIC: David Kettles of the (Imperial) Cape Mounted Riflemen

David Kettles of the (Imperial) Cape Mounted Riflemen 1 year 5 months ago #61782

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David Kettles

Sergeant, Cape Mounted Riflemen – Kaffir Wars

- South African General Service Medal (1853) to Serjt. D. Kettles, Cape Mtd. Rifles

David Kettles was born in the parish of Dunning Perth, Scotland on 1 March 1808 the son of David Kettles and his wife Margaret Smeaton. David senior was an Agricultural Labourer and it came as no surprise that his son followed in his footsteps – providing that occupation as his own when he attested for service with the 91st Regiment of Infantry at Perth on 19 December 1825 at the age of 17. Physically he was 5 feet 6 ½ inches in height with a fresh complexion, grey eyes and light brown hair. It was recorded that he had an “oval-shaped” face.

Conditions were tough for the working class in those days and a young Kettles probably sought relief from the monotony and grind of his existence by joining the Colours and “seeing the world” – if this last ambition was the driving force behind his decision to enlist then he wasn’t to be disappointed – serving in the island of St. Helena for 3 years and 129 days and then in the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa where he spent 8 years and 146 days before taking his discharge, having elected to remain in South Africa.

Assigned No. 308 and the rank of Private, Kettles was initially under age but was taken on full strength with effect from 17 December 1826.

The 1st battalion, 91st Regiment (Argyllshire Regiment), having spent more than 3 mind numbingly boring years on the small island of St. Helena in the Atlantic Ocean – far from any civilised spot – was sent to the Cape of Good Hope in 1839 where it was headquartered at Grahamstown and furnished detachments for outposts on the eastern frontier of the Colony. The Army List of 1841 confirmed that Kettles, then a Corporal, was stationed at Grahamstown.

Up until June 1843 the work was largely uneventful but at that time a detachment was called upon to take part in a punitive expedition against the Kaffir Chief Tola who had been stealing settlers’ cattle. After a sharp skirmish which wounded one man of the 91st the force returned to the colony along with the cattle they had recovered.

Kettles had received a number of promotions since arriving at the Cape – on 1 November 1839 he was made a Corporal, serving for 2 years 30 days in that rank before, on 1 December 1841 he was promoted to Sergeant. A rank he filled for 1 year 131 days until 31 March 1843 on which date, like so many of the 91st, he was transferred to the Cape Mounted Riflemen as a Sergeant. The Cape Mounted Riflemen, the first so-called “imperial” unit, had been formed by the Dutch administration of the Cape Colony in 1793 and original comprised Khoisan and Coloured men under White officers.

Having taken the Cape from Dutch control the British renamed it the Cape Regiment. Then followed the merry-go-round of changing administrations at the Cape, back under Dutch rule in 1803 and then, finally, back under British control in 1806. In 1817 it was divided into mounted and infantry sections and named the Cape Corps but when the infantry section was disbanded in 1827, the Corps was renamed Cape Mounted Riflemen.

Headquartered in Grahamstown which was, at the time a very small place with a population, including the military of some 2000 souls; the C.M.R. were responsible for keeping the peace in the volatile Frontier region of the Eastern Cape and were in almost all of the nine Kafir Wars as they were called with, normally, their sworn enemy, the Xhosa’s as their opponents.

The Seventh Kaffir War or “War of the Axe” took place during the time Kettles was an N.C.O. in the C.M.R. On the colonial side, two main groups were involved: columns of imperial British troops sent from London, and local mixed-race "Burgher forces", which were mainly Khoi, Fengu, British settlers and Boer commandos, led by their commander-in-chief, Andries Stockenström. Relations between the British Imperial troops and the local commandos broke down completely during the war.

On the Xhosa side, the Ngqika (known to the Europeans as the "Gaika") were the chief tribe engaged in the war, assisted by portions of the Ndlambe and the Thembu. The Xhosa forces were over 10 times greater in number, and had by this time replaced their traditional weapons with firearms. It was their new use of guns that made the Xhosa considerably more effective in fighting the British. Both sides engaged in the widespread use of scorched earth tactics.

Tensions had been simmering between farmers and marauders, on both sides of the frontier, since the dismantlement of Stockenstrom's treaty system. The Cape Governor, Maitland, imposed a new system of treaties on the chiefs without consulting them, while a severe drought forced the desperate Xhosa to engage in cattle raids across the frontier in order to survive. In addition, politician Robert Godlonton continued to use his newspaper the Graham's Town Journal to agitate for Eastern Cape settlers to annex and settle the land that had been returned to the Xhosa after the previous war.

The event that actually ignited the war was a trivial dispute over a raid. A Khoi escort was transporting a manacled Xhosa thief to Grahamstown to be tried for stealing an axe from a store in Fort Beaufort, when Xhosa raiders attacked and killed the Khoi escort. The Xhosa refused to surrender the murderer and war broke out in March 1846.

The regular British forces suffered initial setbacks. A British column sent to confront the Ngqika chief, Mgolombane Sandile, was temporarily delayed at the Amatola Mountains, and the attacking Xhosa were able to capture the centre of the three mile long wagon train which was not being defended, carrying away the British officer's supply of wine and other supplies.

Large numbers of Xhosa then poured across the border as the outnumbered imperial troops fell back, abandoning their outposts. On 28 May, a force of 8,000 Xhosa attacked the last remaining British garrison, at Fort Peddie, but fell back after a long shootout with British and Fengu troops. The Xhosa army then marched on Grahamstown itself, but was held up when a sizable army of Ndlambe Xhosa were defeated on 7 June 1846 by General Somerset on the Gwangu, a few miles from Fort Peddie. The Cape Mounted Riflemen and some infantry Dragoons comprised this column. However the slow-moving British columns, like the Xhosa, were considerably hampered by drought and were becoming desperate.

After much debate, they were forced to call in Stockenström and the local Burgher forces to assist. The local Commandos were much more effective in the rough and mountainous terrain, of which they had considerable local knowledge.

After inflicting a string of defeats on the Ngqika, Stockenström took a small and select group of his mounted commandos across the Colony's border and rapidly pushed into the independent Xhosa lands beyond the frontier. They rode deep into the Transkei Xhosa heartland, directly towards the kraal of Sarhili ("Kreli"), the paramount chief of all the Xhosa. Due in part to the speed of their approach, they were barely engaged by Xhosa forces and rode directly into Sarhili's capital.

Paramount Chief Sarhili and his generals agreed to meet Stockenström, unarmed, on a nearby mountain ridge. After protracted negotiations, Sarhili agreed to return any raided cattle & other property and to relinquish claims to the Ngqika land west of the Kei. He also promised to use his limited authority over the frontier Ngqika to restrain cross-border attacks. A treaty was signed and the commandos departed on good terms.

However, British Imperial General Peregrine Maitland rejected the treaty and sent an insulting letter back to the Xhosa paramount-chief, demanding greater acts of submission and servility. Furious, Stockenström and his local commandos resigned and departed from the war, leaving the British and the Xhosa – both starving and afflicted by fever – to a long, drawn-out war of attrition.

The effects of the drought were worsened through the use, by both sides, of scorched earth tactics. Gradually, as the armies weakened, the conflict subsided into waves of petty and bloody recriminations. At one point, violence flared up again after Ngqika tribesmen supposedly stole four goats from the neighbouring Kat River Settlement. When the rains came, floods turned the surrounding lands into a quagmire. The violence slowly wound down as both sides weakened, immobile and fever-ridden.

The war continued until Sandile was captured during negotiations and sent to Grahamstown. Although Sandile was soon released, the other chiefs gradually stopped fighting, and by the end of 1847 the Xhosa had been completely subdued after 21 months of fighting.

 In the last month of the war (December 1847) Sir Harry Smith reached Cape Town as governor of the colony, and on the 23rd, at a meeting of the Xhosa chiefs, announced the annexation of the country between the Keiskamma and the Kei rivers to the British crown, thus reabsorbing the territory abandoned by order of Lord Glenelg.

No sooner was the “War of the Axe” a thing of the past when trouble flared up between the British and the Voortrekkers culminating in the battle of Boomplaats outside Jagersfontein in the Orange River Colony. The British were led by Sir Harry Smith, while the Boers were led by Andries Pretorius. The British were victorious after one Boer opened fire too early and betrayed their position.

Since his arrival in the Cape, Sir Harry Smith had begun to unravel the work of the previous governor Sir Peregrine Maitland, who had reached agreements with the Basotho and the Griqua leaders which would help maintain British control of the region between the Vaal and Orange Rivers. Smith declared to the Griqua leader Adam Kok that all rent of their land to colonists would be given to the British Crown as opposed to the Griqua leaders getting half of it while at the meeting with Basotho King Moshoeshoe, he declared while the white farmers would remain on the land in the area, the hereditary land rights of the native chiefs in the area would be maintained after a proclamation of the proposed Orange River Sovereignty.

The Boers had an interest in land that stretched from Potchefstroom to Winburg and beyond. Smith had assured Andries Pretorius that he would not proclaim the land between the two rivers as British until the views of the Boers had been consulted and if less than 80 percent of them were in favour of the British action, Smith said he would not proceed with the proclamation. This Boer consultation period was never able to be completed by Pretorius.

Without consulting the Voortrekkers concerning their interests in the territory, Sir Harry Smith annexed the land between the Vaal and Orange Rivers and Drakensberg on 3 February 1848 as British, calling it the Orange River Sovereignty. The Boers in Winburg upset by the British action appealed to Pretorius for help regain their independence and by June 1848 he raised a commando of around 1000 men. Pretorius responded by advancing on Winburg and ran the British magistrate Thomas Biddulph out of town and declared a republic. He then proceeded to chase away other British magistrates before he then headed to Bloemfontein where the British Resident Major Henry Warden was installed with 70 men of the Cape Corps. Warden retreated from Bloemfontein to the Orange River.

Smith issued orders for a British force to be formed by Colonel George Buller and it reached King William's Town by 28 July and then left on 4 August after other units joined him and proceeded to Colesberg where more units joined as did Sir Harry Smith. By 25 August 1848, the British force had arrived at the Orange River crossing point. Reports came to Smith that the Boer Commando were within 16 km of the river crossing and were being watched by Boer patrols and when the British crossed the river by 26 August unopposed, headed in the direction of Bloemfontein while Pretorius' commando repositioned to oppose them around Boomplaats.

The British forces comprised four companies of the Cape Mounted Rifles, two companies Rifle Brigade; two companies 45th Regiment, two companies 91st Highlanders Regiment (Kettles’ old regiment; three field guns Royal Artillery and 250 – 300 Griquas under Andries Waterboer and Adam Kok. Opposing them under Pretorius was a commando of between 300-500 Boers.

On the morning of 29 August 1848, the British column stopped at a farm at Touwfontein for their morning meal and at this time Sir Harry Smith was told that Pretorius' force was 19 km away on low hills behind which was a river, across which was a farm called Boomplaats and a higher range behind it with the road heading through a pass. By early afternoon, British forces arrived at a flat plain in front of Pretorius' location in the hills and with Smith leading a reconnaissance party to a ridge where they were surprised by the Boers. He divided his forces for an attack with his left flank consisting of the Cape Mounted Rifles, the 45th Regiment in the centre and the Rifle Brigade on the right flank while 91st Regiment became his reserve.

The 45th Regiment came under heavy fire but achieved their objectives when the reserve was called in to assist them. The Rifle Brigade on the right flank would also take their objectives. The Boers attempted to round the British left flank and attack the wagon train in the rear but were stopped by the Cape Mounted Rifles and the Boer hill positions were taken. The battle was said to have lasted about four hours with the Boers moving from ridge to ridge before Pretorius' forces retreated toward Winburg. The British forces followed for a few kilometers before darkness fell and continued the following day but the Boers were gone. A field hospital was set up later at the Boomplaats farmhouse for the casualties sustained in the fighting.

Boer casualties are recorded in memorials as 9 killed and 7 wounded while a British government notice of the time records the rebel casualties as 49 killed and possibly 150 wounded. British memorials record 16 killed and while other records mention as many as 45 wounded and 6 Griquas killed though and a high number of unrecorded wounded.

Pretorius now retreated to safety to the lands across the Vaal River with a bounty of ₤1000 announced for his capture while Henry Warden returned to Bloemfontein as the British Resident.

No known list exists of the C.M.R. men who fought at Boomplaats. The muster rolls for the day (Sergeants’ entries) show that every man was stationed either at Fort Brown, Fort Peddie, Grahamstown or Fort Beaufort. Only one man has no entry next to his name and that is David Kettles – is this proof or an indication that he was one of the men at Boomplaats? Perhaps so.

The curtain on Kettles’ military career was about to come down after 22 years and 46 days. At Grahamstown on 31 January 1849 he took his discharge from the army at his own request “receiving the modified rate of pension.” The Board testified that his Character and Conduct had been good and yet no award of the Long Service Medal was mentioned. Kettles was 40 years and 1 month old, 5 feet 11 ¼ inches in height and had blue eyes, a fair complexion and fair hair on discharge. For his efforts he was awarded the South African General Service Medal (1853)

On the domestic front Kettles had leant a John Urguhart the princely sum (for the times) of £80 – repayable according to the promissory note signed, at Grahamstown on 18 December 1847, in “The month after I promise to pay D. Kettles on order the sum of Eighty Pounds stating value received.” Non-payment of this sum led to a court action which commanded on 21 August 1848 that,

“John Urguhart of Fort Beaufort firstly and without delay render to David Kettles of Albany the sum of Eighty Pounds and interest thereon from the Eighteenth day of February 1848 be paid which he owes to and unjustly detains from him on a promissory note made by the said John Urguhart bearing date of 18 December 1847 whereby two months after date he promises to pay to D. Kettles on order the sum of £80 for value received.”

Whether or not he ever received his money is debatable as the Deputy Sheriff for Albany reported that “On the first day of June 1848 I have repaired to the residence of the Defendant, and not finding him there I have left a copy of the annexed Summons, and a copy of the promissory note, with his wife.”

After an Examination of Invalid Soldiers on Tuesday, 8 May 1849 he was admitted as a Chelsea Pensioner on a pension of 1/6 per diem, based in the Cape Colony where he had elected to stay after discharge.

Kettles could almost be forgiven had he disappeared into the sunset but, from King William’s Town on 22 January 1869, he resurfaced penning a letter to the Colonial Secretary, Cape Town. This letter mostly indistinct and hard to decipher reading as follows:

“I beg respectfully that you will be pleased to lay before His Excellency the following facts in order that by His Excellency’s favourable consideration of the same, I may be released from the payment of certain fines on transfer of ….which delay was caused by the Kaffrarian Government.” The gist of it all was that Kettles purchased a farm in 1863 on the Cowie River. There had been a delay in taking title because of a boundary dispute which he blamed on the local authority and which had led to the imposition of a fine.

The matter was referred to the Civil Commissioner, King William’s Town who reported as follows:-

“I beg to submit the following explanation in reference to this matter. At a public sale of Crown lands held in the early part of the year 1863 Mr Joseph Walker became the purchaser of farm no. 233 – the condition of sale, which was duly signed by him, required payment of the purchase money in five equal instalments – one payable thirty days after the day of sale, and the remainder annually reckoning from the day of sale and to be financed by Mortgage Bond.

It happened, however, that the condition imposed no penalty upon the purchaser for failing to pass such bond, and of this Mr Walker, in common with some others, took advantage and decided upon paying the instalments as they became due without entering into a bond – the title deed which had been prepared and only required the Lieut. Governor’s signature, was therefore very purposely withheld until the whole of the purchase money should have been paid off.

Mr Walker continued to pay the instalments until the last fee date when he refused payment unless title was ready to be handed over to him; and this objection having been submitted to the Government, authority was issued for the preparation of the title – which was accordingly carried out – yet although I personally informed Mr Walker that the grant was in my hands and showed to him, he has still failed to pay the instalment. During all this time the name of Mr Kettles was never once brought into the question and this leads to the conclusion that it was only lately discovered that transfer dues had been neglected to be paid.

I am aware that application for the transfer of liability, from original purchasers to persons to whom they subsequently sold, were sometimes made, but I know of no instance in which they were entertained and as Mr Kettles has produced no authority for the transfer to him of Mr Walker’s liability I am led to doubt that such was ever granted to him. I am positive no such authority was issued to the Surveyor General, and therefore, had Mr Kettles applied for the title in the manner described by him this objection to his claim would most certainly have been advanced and would no doubt have led to a settlement of the question at the time.

I cannot see what all this has to do with payment of transfer dues which, everyone knows, the Registrar of Deeds will receive upon forwarding to him the necessary declarations of Deed of Sale and purchase, leaving the transfer to be completed at any future time on production of title deed.

I think Mr Kettles’ better course would have been to admit his oversight with a brief and truthful explanation of its cause, or which seems to me to be more correct, to have forwarded his application upon ignorance of the law respecting payment of transfer dues.”

This was a rebuff to Kettles who, in closing the matter, received a letter dated 5 April 1869 from Sir Richard Southey, Colonial Secretary in his own hand which read thus:


I am directed to acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 22 January last, praying, on the grounds therein set forth, for exemption from the payment of certain fines incurred by you for delay in the payment of transfer dues on the purchase amount of the farm No. 233 in the Division of King William’s Town.

In reply I have to inform you that it appears, on enquiry, that the delay in the issue of title was due to the failure of the original purchaser to comply with one of the conditions of sale, and not as you suppose to neglect on the part of any Government Department.

It was also within the power of the purchaser, yourself, to have compelled the seller to give transfer within the limited time, and this have avoided all fines, and under these circumstances it is considered that you have not advanced any grounds which the Government can recognise for the remission of the fines in question.

I have the honour etc.”

That seems to have been the last word on the subject and Kettles carried on with his life only to pass away at the age of 79 on 1 August 1889. According to his Death Notice Kettles was a widower boarding in the house of Richard Trimble in MacDonald Street, Grahamstown when he died. There were no children of the marriage. An amount of £81.17.6 was found in his room and he had £600 deposited in the bank.

His Last Will and Testament made for interesting reading. Of the many bequests were the following:-

- To John Wakefield Jackson – eight volumes of Benson’s Commentaries and my Eight Day Clock.
- To Lewis H. Bramwell Jackson – my silver watch and silver chain and my medal and my “Family Bible”
- To Ellen Louisa Holmes (born Jackson) – one large paraffin lamp.
- To John Kettles – Whitfield’s Sermons and Life of Christ
- To my brother Alexander Kettles – all my personal clothing and four chains.
- To Jessie and Nellie Kettles – conjointly my sofa, mattresses bed and bed linen.
- To Agnes Adams – one chest of drawers and one looking glass
- To Mary Adams – one small table
- To Thomas Dove – Fourteen volumes of Wesley’s Sermons, one book shelf and Portraits of Wesleyan Ministers in one picture.

All of the Kettles named above were the surviving children of his brother Alexander.

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David Kettles of the (Imperial) Cape Mounted Riflemen 1 year 5 months ago #61794

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That was fascinating. Many thanks, Rory.
Dr David Biggins
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