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TOPIC: Bremner of the Queenstown Volunteer Contingent

Bremner of the Queenstown Volunteer Contingent 2 years 2 months ago #55642

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James Alexander Bremner

Trooper, Queenstown Volunteer Contingent – Frontier Wars

- South African General Service Medal with clasp 1877-78 to Queenstown Vol: Cont.

James Bremner was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in about 1849 the son of James Grindley Bremner, a Harness and Collar Maker, and his wife Jemima Saunders Robertson Bremner. Our first glimpse of a young James comes courtesy of the 1851 Scotland census where, aged 2, he was at home in 281 Dobbies Loan in Edinburgh along with his parents and younger brother (5 months old) William Henry.

This was the last census in which the family were to appear as, soon after, they set sail for a new life in South Africa. Bremner senior had no doubt heard that the Colonial government was promising land and a fresh start to those intrepid and adventurous enough to brave the Eastern Cape frontier which, at the time of their arrival was embroiled in one of a number of Kaffir Wars – wars fought against the local tribes who were hell-bent on stealing the animals and whatever else they could get their hands on from the hardy settlers sent to create a buffer between them and the towns.

The issues that led to the Ninth Kaffir war in 1877 were different to those fought before. An article by Philip Glon described the situation and the action that followed thus,

The whole country was in a state of transition. A changing economy, prosperity from diamonds, gold and a taste for ostrich feathers were beginning to rouse the land out of its pastoral slumber. In September 1877 Sir Bartle Frere departed Cape Town for the Eastern Cape, he found the frontier districts in a restless state. A mood had arisen on the back of a rumour about a conspiracy among the black nations to drive the white man out of the conquered territories. A violent squabble which had broken out a few weeks before, between the ‘loyal’ Mfengu (Fingoes) of the Transkei and their Xhosa neighbour, the independent House of Galeka, had aggravated the prevailing anxiety.

A few days later, Frere left for the Transkei to hold talks with the dissident chiefs. But Sarhili (Kreli) of the Galekas, Paramount Chief of the amaXhosa, refused the invitation to meet with the High Commissioner. He offered a string of unconvincing excuses, but what the old chief feared was that promises might be wrung out of him that he might not be able to keep. An influential war-party, emboldened by guns purchased on the diamond fields, had arisen in Galekaland which was opposed to further concessions to the white man. Angered by the Galeka rebuff, Frere issued a warning to Sarhili making him responsible for all transgressions into Mfengu territory, and returned to Kingwilliamstown to prepare for war.

The first clash between Galekas and a colonial force took place on 26 September 1877 on a hill called Gwadana, when a mixed force of Mfengu and troopers from the Colony’s Frontier Armed and Mounted Police (FAMP), commanded by Inspector Chalmers, engaged a Galeka party that had sacked a Mfengu kraal. Burgher volunteers, it was decided, were going to have to be relied on to fight this war and it was to the newly created Queenstown Volunteer Contingent that a 30 year old Bremner went. Raised in 1877 for the Ninth Kaffir War only the Q.V.C. had a strength of 14 officers and 312 other ranks under the command of Captain Harvey.

The colonial effort grew rapidly, and on 18 October, the Galeka homeland was invaded with 8 000 men (two thirds of them black levies) divided into three columns. The lightly equipped, fast-moving columns encountered little opposition in their drive to the coast, and the pursuit continued into neutral Bomvanaland. Galekaland was turned into a desolation of burnt-out kraals and empty grain-pits. It was the huge herds of confiscated cattle that slowed the invaders and helped Sarhili’s people escape. With the men eager to return home with their loot and the supply-lines starting to disintegrate, the chase was called off and, by the middle of November the war was described, officially, as over, and the Galeka army ‘entirely extinguished.’ The volunteers streamed home as fast as their mounts could carry them but, in reality, the war was far from over. It was soon to enter its grimmest phase.

It was after Christmas of 1877 that Colonel Glyn considered himself to be in a position to take action in the Transkei using Imperial troops. His strategy was to use three columns driving to the coast, then an eastward swing to Bomvanaland.

Included in the General’s instructions to Colonel Glyn had been the injunction ‘prevent Kreli from passing over Fingoland or across the Kei and the colonial border into the Gaika locations’. Sarhili had been kept out, but a Galeka party, led by Khiva, the tribe's most distinguished warrior, had eluded a patrol from Komga, and reached the Ngqika reservation. Khiva was no renegade headman like Makinana, and an appeal for help from so noteworthy an emissary could not be ignored. The Ngqika chief, Sandile, veteran of two hard-fought frontier wars, was well acquainted with the penalties of defeat, but the voices for war were very persuasive, and on the last day of 1877 the people of Ngqika broke out in rebellion.

Headquarters were established in March 1878 at Keiskamma Hoek where the commandos of John Frost, Friedrich Schermbrucker and Edward Brabant were waited for, as well as a contingent of Mfengu levies from the Transkei. The Ngqikas were reported to be hiding in the bush- and boulder-filled canyon known as the Buffalo Poort. The plan was to ascend the highland plateau that overlooked the poort from three directions, converge on the hide-out, and squeeze them out of the bush on to the plain below where a line of infantry would be waiting to receive them. But the enemy stayed out of sight, unless it was to lure the unwary into an ambush, and remained two jumps ahead of the highly visible forces. The first offensive in the Amatolas, hampered by rain and mist, failed. Unseen the Ngqikas slipped past the sodden line of infantry, moved westwards, and entered another wilderness known as the Lotutu Bush.

Five companies of the 90th Regiment were moved up from Fort Beaufort and a cordon was thrown around the Lotutu Bush. But the Ngqika defiance had inspired other Xhosa clans from the Ciskei to rise up, and Sandile had been reinforced in his refuge. When the second offensive began, the Xhosa broke through under the cover of darkness, and once again, entered the Buffalo Poort.

It was only when the tactics that the colonials had been urging for weeks was adopted that the campaign swung in the Colony’s favour. The eastern part of the Amatolas was divided up into eleven military districts. In each a mounted garrison was stationed. When a Xhosa party appeared it was pursued until it entered the district of the neighbouring garrison which in turn took over the chase. In this manner, pursuit and harassment were uninterrupted, with the pursuers remaining fresh and never far from their supplies. In addition earthworks, manned by infantry detachments, were thrown-up near the, by now, well known exits from the Buffalo Poort. The winter weather brought hardship and sickness to the garrisons in the Amatola highland, but far more wretched was the condition of the half-starved Xhosas in the sunless ravines. The fatal wounding of Sandile in a chance encounter with a small Mfengu patrol, ended the Ngqika will to continue what, all along, had been a hopeless war. In July, Sandile’s sons surrendered, and in August Glyn’s army was brought back from Galekaland, the territory pacified, but Sarhili still at large.

An article in the History of South Africa which refers to the Q.V.C. provided this account,

"An expedition under Commandant-General Griffith was about to march against Sandile in the Thomas River valley. On the 8th of March this expedition entered the valley and began to scour it, but the men who had only a fortnight before attacked Captain Harvey (Q.V.C.) with such determination seemed to have lost all heart, and made only a very feeble resistance. Seventy of them were killed, without any loss on the colonial side, and twelve hundred head of cattle, which they depended upon for food, were captured. Sandile himself, his sons, and some eight hundred of his men managed to elude the colonial forces and escape to the westward, the next thing that was known of them being that they were in the Perie bush.

A reward of £500 was now offered for the capture of Sandile, and an attempt was made to surround that portion of the forest occupied by the rebels and either make them prisoners or destroy them. From the 10th to the 17th of March the troops and colonial forces were engaged in this task, but the area of operations was so extensive and the ground was so difficult for Europeans to traverse that they met with much less success than they hoped for.

The principal events of these days occurred on the 11th and 15th of March. On the 11th a portion of the division of volunteers under Commandant Frederick Schermbrucker fell in with a party of Gaikas, with whom they had two skirmishes, killing nine of them. They managed to secure three hundred head of horned cattle, two hundred and ninety sheep, and four horses.”

Quite what role Bremner played in this stirring saga of cat and mouse is unknown but he was credited as having been in on the action and awarded the S.A.G.S. medal with 1877-78 clasp as a result. He returned home to Queenstown and his family and resumed his occupation as an Auctioneer and businessman. Tragedy struck on 20 January 1892 when his youngest child, Lilian May, passed away at the age of 1 year and 6 days although, and this might sound callous, life expectancy in the rural Eastern Cape was not very high with very little in the way of medical assistance to hand.

On 7 April 1896 at his residence in Bowker Street, Queenstown, Bremner’s mother passed away at the age of 81. Bremner himself passed away at 4 Livingstone Road, Queenstown on 4 September 1932 at the grand old age of 83 years and 10 months. He was suffering with Senility. His wife, Jane Ann (born McKenzie) had predeceased him on 28 September 1930 which probably hastened his demise. A retired Auctioneer (as has been mentioned)

Bremner had been a wealthy man bequeathing an estate in excess of £14 000 to his surviving children Jeanie Bremner, William Scott Bremner, Mabel Florence Bremner and Dorothy Saunders King (born Bremner)

Today the headstones in the quiet Queenstown churchyard are the only reminders that a once vibrant and hardy colonist ever existed.

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Bremner of the Queenstown Volunteer Contingent 2 years 1 month ago #56303

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Hi Rory
Thanks for a well written piece on the QVC.
I have one to the QVC and enjoyed your background history on the unit.


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