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Conquest of the Eastern Cape 1779 - 1878

The series of clashes historically known as, Frontier Wars date back to 1779 when Xhosa people, Boers, Khoikhoi, San and the British clashed intermittently for nearly a hundred years. This was largely due to colonial expansion which in turn dispossessed Xhosa and Khoikhoi people of their land and cattle among other things. Although periods between the wars were relatively calm, there were incidents of minor skirmishes sparked by stock theft.

In addition, alleged violations of signed or verbal agreements played a vital role in sparking the incidents of armed confrontations. Colonists also sought to consolidate their gains through the presence of military force as witnessed in the building of forts, garrisons, military posts and signal towers. Resistance from particularly the Xhosa was a cohesive one; other Xhosa ethnic groups cooperated with the colonial government when they felt doing so would advance their own interests.

Early History of the Eastern Cape

During the early years before Dutch occupation of the region, the Xhosa, Khoikhoi and San people focused primarily on hunting, agriculture and stock farming. In the 1700s, the lack of sufficient space for proper stock farming forced the farmers to pack their possessions into their ox wagons and move deeper into the interior of the Cape Colony. These farmers were called a "Trek boers" (Migrant farmers). Until 1750 (29 years before the First Frontier War), migrant farmers rapidly advanced rapidly into the interior using force. For instance, the use of superior weapons such as guns quickly subdued resistance from local people.

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Those people who were subdued and those submitted to Trek Boers as an attempt to protect their livestock and land were employed to tend to the cattle and provide other labour needs of the white famers. However, the Dutch East India Company (V.O.C.) became worried about the migrant farmers moving so far because it became increasingly difficult to exercise any authority over them. In order to maintain its authority, the V.O.C. was forced to follow in their tracks. This constant moving also resulted in the V.O.C. having to continually change the boundaries of the eastern part of the Cape Colony. Eventually, in 1778 less than a year into the First Frontier War, the Great Fish River became the eastern frontier. It was also here that the migrant farmers first experienced problems with amaXhosa. Until that time, the migrant farmers had only experienced serious clashes with the San people when the San attacked them with poisoned arrows and hunted their cattle.

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The migrant farmers frequently organised hunting parties in reprisal for the San attacks. When the frontier farmers, as they were now called, met with the Xhosas, serious clashes broke out. Each group felt that the other was intruding on their territory and disrupting their livelihood, and both wanted to protected themselves at all costs. The V.O.C. established new districts such as Swellendam and Graaff-Reinet in order to maintain authority over the frontier and to quell the ongoing violence, but to no avail. The frontier farmers kept on moving across the border and the Xhosas vigorously resisted this incursion. A number of wars followed as both groups fought each other over territory and resources.


First Frontier War (1779-1781) - It is widely believed that the First Frontier War which broke out in 1779-1781 was really a series of clashes between the Xhosas and Boers. Around 1779, allegations of cattle theft by Xhosas had...

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Second Frontier War (1789-1793) - This led to considerable bitterness among the eastern frontiersmen, particularly since war among the Xhosas in 1790 increased Xhosa penetration into the Zuurveld, and friction mounted. In 1793 ...

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Third Frontier War (1799-1803) - In January 1799 a second rebellion occurred in Graaff-Reinet necessitating the Third Frontier War. In March of the same year, Government of the First British Occupation sent some British soldiers...

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Fourth Frontier War (1811-1812) - The Fourth Frontier War was neither the direct or indirect consequence of the anger emanated from the three previous frontier wars and the violation of the agreements that declared the Zuurveld ...

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Fifth Frontier War (1818-1819) - Following Ngqika’s defeat at Debe Nek in 1818, he asked the Cape for help. Subsequently, colonial forces invaded Xhosa territory in December 1818 and triumphed over Ndlambe’s warriors. When they ...

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Sixth Frontier War (1834-1835) - By early 1830s the line of clashes had spread to the Keiskamma River, now regarded as the Cape's eastern frontier. Segregation had broken down. Whites, Khoikhoi and Xhosas lived in the 'neutral' ...

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Seventh Frontier War (1846-1847) - The Seventh Frontier War ('War of the Axe') began in March 1846 with the defeat at Burnshill of a colonial force under Col John Hare. The Colonial force invaded Xhosa territory following the ...

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Eighth Frontier War (1850-1853) - In October 1850 Sandile, the principal Ngqika chief, was deposed for refusing to attend a meeting of chiefs called by the Governor, subsequently, on 24 December the Ngqikas attacked a colonial ...

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Ninth Frontier War (1877-1878) - Sarhili was allowed to return to the Transkei but the Gcalekas were forced to share their old lands with the Mfengus, whom they despised. In August 1877 when tensions were high between the ...

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