Graham Leslie McCallum

The tree of happiness flowers and fruits most abundantly for the creative man

The Vinedresser German Settlers to the Cape of Good Hope

Last year, found me in the Northern Cape city of Kimberley. I was attending the funeral of my Grandmother Charlotte Emily Chapman nee’ Dendy who had died several days before at the advanced age of 103. I had stayed-on for several days to do some genealogy sleuthing, and my search had taken me to the old and rundown Gladstone Cemetery on the outskirts of the city.

I was hoping to find the graves of my maternal Great Great Grandparents, Anastasia Seitz nee’ Krach and Johan Heinrich Seitz. As I trundled through the thick grass, along the grave rows of long-forgotten Kimberlites, my dismay grew by the minute. There were hundreds of graves and memorials, perhaps thousands. Many with illegible inscriptions, some headstones toppled on their faces or their inscriptions obscured by dense weeds and small thorn trees. Why the Kimberley Council would allow a historically important graveyard such as Gladstone’s to deteriorate to this point was shocking and affront to the dead, let alone their descendants. In similar states of degradation are all of Kimberley’s graveyards, including Westend, Pioneer and Du Toitspan.

What was the chance of ever finding a grave, when all markers had long been stolen for scrap metal, and the city no longer appeared to hold a single record of the different burial sections. I was looking for the German Lutheran section and to no avail. With the hot Kimberley sun baking my head and half-boiling my brains – I was about to throw in the pugilistic towel, when my mobile phone rang and it was my elderly aunt enquiring about my progress. I was telling her of my dismay when I raised my eyes, and there before me, was a fine headstone with the names of my ancestors, neatly chiselled and topped with a beautiful floral ornament. My heart leaped with excitement and I could not hold-back from shouting-out with amazement and relief.



Here, my Great Great Grandparents remains lay, in this dry and desolate barren land, thousands of miles from their green and lush homeland in Germany. Far removed, both in geography and in aspect. What similarity could one find between the fructuous vineyards of Wurttemberg and the thorn trees of the Northern Cape.


And it is this viticulture connection that brings me to the reason for my post – for it concerns the group of German Agriculturists who were brought to the Cape of Good Hope by the British Authorities of the 1850’s. They were given the name ‘the German Vinedresser Settlers’ or simply as the ‘Vinedresser Germans’ (Weingartner Deutsche) to distinguish them from those Germans who had arrived in South Africa as members of the German Legion (German Military Settlers) who were settled in the Eastern Cape, or as members of the Kaffrarian German Settlers to the Eastern Cape, or as members of the Cotton German Settlers to Natal.

Just about nothing has been written about this ‘Aided Immigration’ scheme or its members, and I trust to address this in this post. Those who settled in similar schemes to Australia are well attested and written of. I trust that in the future, anyone who happens upon this post, who can contribute, does so. And that anyone who descends from the German Vinedresser Settlers, will contact me. (A list of these families is included).

Although vines had been planted at the Cape from the early days of settlement in 1659. The founding wine estate ‘Groot Constantia’ became world-famous for its dessert wines. Large quantities were exported to Europe. The British Authorities at the Cape, ever mindful of the cost of administering the Cape, sought ways to improve agriculture in the colony, and soon their attention fell on the manufacture of wine, fortified wines and brandies. Further to this – in 1859, Oidium Tuckeri, commonly known as ‘powdery mildew’ a fungal infection with an origin in North America, infected Cape vineyards and spread rapidly. Oidium affects all section of the grape vine and results in reduced yields and poor quality wines. It was suggested that experienced German Vinedressers (Weingartners) should be encouraged to settle at the Cape in the vine-growing regions. It was believed that their expertise and industry would re-invigorate the industry. The scheme was to allocate the settlers to the employ of established vineyard owners. In the case of the Johan Heinrich Seitz and family, to a Jacob Pieter Cloete the owner of ‘Groot Constantia’.

Groot Constantia


(above) The farmstead at Groot Constantia.

(below) The Wine Cellar at Groot Constantia.

The Wine Cellar at Groot Constantia

Driving the German settler scheme was the high-minded Reverend Franz Demmler (1808 – 1863) a Professor of German at the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, England. He was acquainted with the earlier settlement of the German Legion to the troubled Eastern Cape frontier. Aware that the majority of settlers from Germany were crossing the Atlantic Ocean to settle in rival America, he proposed that worthy Germans be encouraged to settle in the British colonies and thus make positive contributions to these British possessions instead. Demmler wrote a letter to Lord Panmure in November 1856, suggesting that some of these emigrants be diverted to the Cape. To procure them, he determined that the British authorities carry the cost of chartering the transport ships, but not the cost of passage or the settlers other necessities, thus supposedly making a trip to the Cape of similar cost to that of an unaided trip to America.

The Cape authorities and Sir George Grey the Governor, were better acquainted with many of the problems associated with the new ex-military settlers. Unlike Demmler whose concern was of a moralistic nature, Grey was aware that the majority of the German Legionnaires had no agricultural skills in a wholly agricultural colony. Previously, it had been thought that their settlement on the frontier, married to their martial training, would provide protection to the area from marauding Xhosa warriors. However, as most of these men had been settled without agricultural skills, let alone wives, there was not much incentive to anchor them to the villages and farms allocated to them.

Sir George Grey proposed that settlers be sought who would arrive with their families, the age of settlers extended to 50 in the hope that these families would have daughters of marriageable age. This was later extended above this age if the settler could prove he had three appropriately aged daughters. It is sobering to read these accounts, though it does give clear indication of a different age, not to mention the shortage of women at the Cape. Some months earlier – “healthy, young and strong” girls were sourced in Ireland and had been shipped aboard the ‘Lady Kennaway’ to the Eastern Cape, expressly for the purpose of marrying the local men, mostly German soldiers.

The Agents J.C. Godeffroy and Son were contracted to source the appropriate settlers and secure their delivery to the transport ships.

The following document details the criteria necessary to be selected for settlement –

“All emigrants were to be of respectable character and shall chiefly be persons who have been engaged in agricultural pursuits. They must be in good health and free from all bodily or mental defects at the time of embarkation. Several additional stipulations were made. The age of immigrants was not to exceed 45 years; widows, widowers, single women with illegitimate children, persons who had been inmates of any penal, reformatory, or pauper institution, or who had not been vaccinated or had not had smallpox, were to be rigidly excluded, nor were husbands allowed to emigrate, if unaccompanied by wives, or wives, if unaccompanied by husbands, unless the husband was already in British Kaffraria. Single women, half of whose passage was to be borne by the Government, had to be under the guardianship of relatives, mistresses or some other proper protection.”

The vast majority of these settlers were located by agents in the Prussian interior, the majority from Baden-Wurttemberg. To qualify they had to produce testimonials of good conduct and behaviour. They had to get permission from the Prussian Government and issued with the required certificate. They also had to publish their intention to emigrate in the daily newspaper. This was a measure to prevent any from attempting to escape debts. Agent Godeffroy writes to William Berg, the local settler Agent, the following … “Generally speaking, the labouring class from the interior is a descent, quiet, sober and laborious set of people”.

On the day of departure, settlers would have said goodbye to their loved ones, friends and communities, and having taken the train to Hamburg with their belongings, arrived at the seaport, where they took lodging in several houses, one of whom was named the ‘Stadt Dresden’. The Seitz family who emigrated in 1859 were located in this lodge, awaiting their ship voyage.

The Vinedresser Settlers were composed of 74 individuals, and were settled in the Western Cape. This group of Germans (chiefly Vinedressers and Winemakers) were selected by the Cape Emigration Commissioner, the Honourable Mr. Field. These settlers took ship from Hamburg, first for Southhampton.
On the 24th of February 1859, they departed the English port aboard the barque Aurifera ii, a 439 ton barque of 125 ft by 24 ft, for the Cape, under the command of Captain John Moon. The ship arrived at Table Bay on the 19 of May 1859, a voyage of 84 days. Aboard were 235 settlers from Ireland, England and Germany. The German contingent was composed of 27 adult men, 23 adult women, 13 male children, 9 female children and two infants, a baby boy and a girl. Among them were Johan Heinrich Seitz and Anastasia Seitz and their three children.

In the Cape and Natal News of 1 July 1859, we read the following “The ARRIVAL of the ‘Aurifera’ – The ‘Aurifera’ with immigrants, arrived on the 19th May in Table Bay, after a passage prolonged by baffling winds and calms to 83 days from Southhampton. Upon anchoring, she was boarded by Dr. Laing, the health officer, Capt. Samson, immigration agent, and Mr. C. Piers, one of the members of the local immigration board. They examined the accommodations, and questioned the passengers as to the treatment they had received. With respect to the accommodations, it was evident that the master of the vessel had done everything possible to promote the comfort of the emigrants, still there was too much crowding and inconvenience, and were it not that the surgeon-superintendent (Dr. Kitchen) had been infatigable in his attentions to the young and old, the consequences might have been serious. As it was, none of the emigrants complained of suffering in any way, and nearly all appeared in excellent health. When they were mustered on deck, each individual was asked whether it was desired to make any complaints whatever? None were made, but all expressed themselves satisfied in every respect. They were landed during the afternoon, and comfortably housed at the depot in Roeland-Street. The total number who embarked onboard the Aurifera was 235 souls: there were 3 deaths during the voyage and four births, so that the total number landed here is 236. Of these 27 men, 32 women, and 22 children are permit and other immigrants who have come out to their friends or acquaintances, and who may be considered as engaged. The remainder (including the German vine-dressers) will readily find employment, as the demand for labour – especially of the agricultural and domestic class is very great.”

Vinedresser German Settlers, extract from the Evening Star 24 Feb 1859

Copy of an extract from the British tabloid the ‘Evening Star’ for the 24th of February 1859

The costs (13.10 Pounds per adult settler) for their settlement had to be repaid, the first fifth of the passage money by the fourth year, and on subsequent years, a fifth each year. This was a considerable sum.

The Seitz’s had a further three children, returning to Germany after several years and after having paid-back the costs of their earlier passage. When diamonds were discovered at Kimberley, they voyaged back to the Cape and settled in Kimberley where they established a ‘Eating House’ for the black labourers in the town. Johan and Anastasia lived here until their deaths in 1890 and 1895 respectively.

List of families who were members of the Vinedresser Settlers.

Bopp Johan Christian
Frank Carl, Wine Grower, From Cold West, Wurttemberg
Haussler Raisin, Wine Grower, from Cold West, Wurttemberg
Klein Johann Gottlieb
Lang Johan Friedrich
Muller Christian
Seitz Johan Heinrich, Wine Grower, from Neckarsulm, Wurttemberg.
Trautmann, Jacob Friedrich, settled in Wynberg.
Tupper Conrad Friedrich, Wine Grower, from Cold West, Wurrtemberg.
Wilhelm George Michael, from Besigheim, Wurttemberg
Leonhardt, Winebreeder, from Hohenstein, Wurttemberg.


3 comments on “The Vinedresser German Settlers to the Cape of Good Hope

  1. Ros
    August 12, 2016

    Thank you for sharing this. You correctly state there is almost no information out there on the vinedressers to the Cape. How brave they were.

  2. Lynn Derriman
    July 11, 2017

    Hi Graham, Great article! This is to add background, not about the German settlers, but about tthe Du Toitspan Cemetary and the formative role my Great Great Grandfather, Samuel Wells Green (horticulturalist), played there as superintendant until his death in 1899. The author John Angrove wrote about it in his book, Pioneer Life on the South African Diamond Fields: “The cemetary continued in its wild and barren state for some time before a committee was formed to have it enclosed and looked after, when the late Mr. Samuel Wells Green was appointed caretaker, a better could not have been made. Under Mr. Green’s supervision the cemetary was properly laid out in the shape or form of a huge coffin. This gentleman had an enormous task when he began his work of improvement. As stated, the place was a barren and treeless waste. The first and most important matter for consideration was water, to supply which, however, a well was dug in the center of the ground, where, at a depth of about 40 feet, a spring of pure water as tapped which afforded a plentiful supply for irrigation purposes. Shortly after the supply of water was obtained the appearance of the place began to improve rapidly, until, in comparison with the howling wilderness around the enclosure, the cemetary was quite a paradise.” In this context, I find it particularly poignant, that in a recent photograph of Samuel Wells Green’s grave the headstone has been broken off at the base and lies on the ground in amongst the weeds. He who had taken such care of others’ remains. What, if anything, have you done to ensure the upkeep of your Great Great Grandparents’ grave? Best regards Lynn Derriman

  3. gmcroth
    January 8, 2018

    Hi Graham, this is just one of the numerous immigration schemes organised by the British at the Cape. So much of our history is still undocumented and now nobody seems to care. Best regards, Gail

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