At the end of the Napoleonic wars Great Britain, was in the grip of a long depression. Unemployment, poverty and distress were rife among the working classes. The Governor, Sir Rufane Donkin suggested that large numbers of people should be induced to emigrate to the Colony’s eastern frontier districts where they would strengthen the white population and act as a buffer against the Xhosa. This would also help to alleviate the unemployment problem in Britain. A sum of £50,000 was voted in 1819 for the expenses of an immigration scheme. No fewer than 90,000 sent in their names when applications were invited. Eventually about 5,000 applicants were selected. They arrived at the Cape between March 1820 and May 1821.
Each adult male emigrant had to deposit £10 with the emigration commissioners, but this was refunded to him, on his arrival in the Colony. The Government paid the cost of passage. Each family was entitled to a grant of one hundred acres of land, which was to be surveyed without charge. The first ten years was tax free, and it was free of district rates and assessments for the first five years. Title, however, was to be withheld until the ground had been occupied by the same family for three years.
At Saldanha Bay, a handful of unruly settlers were asked to leave the ship. They established themselves at Clanwilliam. A few took up residence in Cape Town, but the great majority were disembarked at Algoa Bay (Port Elizabeth, in the Eastern Cape). By the 25th of June, there were one thousand and twenty men, six hundred and seven women and one thousand and thirty-two children. They were settled in the Albany district. Some of the immigrants were allotted ground along the banks of the Kowie River. In the centre of this settlement Sir Rufane Donkin marked out a site for a village which was named Bathurst, in honour of the Secretary of State for the Colonies.
On the 30th of November 1821, Lord Charles Somerset returned to the Colony with his second wife. He refused to meet Sir Rufane Donkin, except in the office of the Secretary of the Government, for he was incensed at the actions of the Acting Governor who had reversed the frontier policy by populating the land between the Fish and Keiskama Rivers with settlers. He also altered the fortification plans in that area and quarrelled with Captain Somerset, son of the Governor, for moving the residency of the landdrost of Albany from Grahamstown to Bathurst.
The Governor immediately removed the residency back from Bathurst to Grahamstown, as that centre was the headquarters of the Military on the Eastern Frontier.
The majority of the settlers were totally lacking in farming experience. Some had been clerks, others were tradesmen and all had a rude awakening when they found the stories of an abundance of cheap labour to be untrue. They also learned that one hundred acres was totally inadequate on which to farm at a profit.
Most of these eventually took a leaf out of the burghers’ book and ventured into cattle trading with the Xhosa.
Some became wealthy through these profitable dealings, that developed on such a scale, that the Government, was forced in 1830 to licence farmers and traders to cross the border and engage in the trade.
By 1825 the Governor visited the Albany District and greatly enlarged the size of their farms.