- South African General Service Medal with clasp 1877 – 8 to Tpr. C. Holl, Berlin Vols.
Coenraad Holl’s antecedents were decidedly Dutch or German in origin. His father was Johannes Robert Francis Holl and his mother, a Dutch-speaking lady, Elsje Carolina Petronella Holl. Born in the sleepy Eastern Cape hamlet of Alexandria on 1 June 1854 he was duly baptised there on 9 July of that year.
As was common for the period families were large in number with the Holl’s no different – Coenraad had eight siblings in the form of brothers Carl Gottlieb Holl, born in in 1852, John Robert Francis Holl, born in the Albany District in 1858, Philip Lodewyk Holl, born in 1864, Jacobus Johannes Holl, born in Komgha in 1868 and sisters Elsje Frederika Johanna Holl, born in Komgha in 1850, Carolina Petronella Holl, born in Komgha in 1860, Jacomina Aletta Christina Holl born in 1861 and Martha Maria Holl, born in 1863. Mrs Holl, as can be surmised, was kept very busy on all fronts.
Of farming stock the Holl family settled in the Berlin area of the region. As part of the Eastern Frontier this meant that they and other hardy settlers were called upon to act as a buffer between their fellows and the marauding black tribes in the area – tribes hell-bent on causing mayhem and stealing the cattle and other livestock and crops so carefully nurtured by the settlers. As many as nine kafir wars were fought over the period of a number of years but it was the ninth kafir war – the so-called Ngqika and Gcaleka war - that Coenraad Holl was to play a role in enlisting with the Berlin Volunteer Cavalry.
The B.V.C. was mobilized on 16 December 1877 and initially commanded by the redoubtable Commandant Bertram Egerton Bowker with command passing to Captain L.L. Vincent on 8 January 1878 when Bowker departed to raise his ‘Bowker’s Rovers’. In February 1878 they were 126 strong and operating with a main body of 70 men and another 76 forming detachments at Macdonald’s Farm and at Fort Jackson; these detachments were still operating in April of that year. A detachment of 42 men from the Berlin Light Infantry served under Sergeant Wilhelm Ninneman with the B.V.C. having provided their own horses in order to conduct mounted work. Two companies of Fingoe Levies were also attached between January and April 1878. It appears that he had many family members in various units within the Berlin Volunteers as the surname recurs a number of times – no surprise looking at, again, the size of the average family and their offspring.
Coenraad Holl served with No. 1 Troop of the B.V.C. signing his name as “C.F. Holl” on the pay sheets. He received pay from 1 February to 25 April 1878. But what of the war? 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 the Berlin Volunteer Cavalry was one of those called into being for the purpose.
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.
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.
It wasn’t long thereafter that the tribesmen were defeated and the volunteers allowed to return home. The Berlin Volunteer Cavalry was disbanded in September 1880. Holl received the “Zulu” War medal with clasp 1877-8 for his efforts and returned to his pursuits as a farmer.
He passed away on his farm “Rosendale” in the Welcome Wood area of King William’s Town on 2 October 1936 at the age of 82 years and 4 months and was survived by his wife; whom he had married in the Fort Peddie district, Jacomina Johanna Christina Holl (her maiden surname was the same as his suggesting that they were cousins). As was the case with his own siblings he had fathered a number of children who survived him – ten in total.
Rory-does a roll exist for the Berlin Vol Corps? I put your man's details into Ancestry but could not turn up a roll. Another question-these volunteers seem to have Boer sounding names-what do you think the chances are they changed sides some 20 years later? Are there any examples of recipients having both the Zulu war medal and the Anglo Boer War Medal?
A roll does indeed exist George. If you PM me your email address I can forward it to you.
To answer your question - yes there were a number of locally raised Eastern Cape units who were composed of Dutch-sounding men. This was no surprise - the original German settlers to the area (hence the name Berlin) had, over time, inter-married with folk of Dutch descent. The Frontier Wars were fought against the Gaikas and Galekas so the enemy was a common one for both Boer and Brit.
Apropos the swapping of sides - no need as I indicated above - the British and the Boer/German settlers had a common enemy and were not at loggerheads with each other.
There are literally hundreds if not thousands of men who fought in both the Frontier and/or Zulu wars and the Anglo Boer War - a very common occurrence. I have many such medal combinations myself.
I didn't get the Zulu War medal to Eramus-the arrival of my council rates, water bill and electricity bill all within 3 days scuttled this idea-pity though as it appears it was an unknown example. It would appear from some emails I shared with Rory that the Zulu war medal rolls for some of these smaller units are far from complete.