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ADOLF LÜDERITZ - Explorer Entrepreneur and protagonist for the Imperial German Reich to colonise South West Africa / Namibia


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Adolf Lüderitz - Explorer Entrepreneur

The protagonist for the Imperial German Reich to colonise South West Africa / Namibia



The Scramble To Colonize Africa.

The Industrial revolution in Europe had brought about momentous changes to the manufacturing industries. With advanced production levels the quest for raw materials and export markets began, and the African continent lay waiting. The Portuguese had occupied Angola and Mozambique since the late fifteenth century and the French had later laid claim to major areas of Central and West Africa. Even tiny Belgium had raised its' flag in the Congo. The British had also been busy since their success over France at the Battle of the Nile in 1798 and had explored South through the Sudan. From their Southern most colony at the Cape they were also making a steady and relentless progress North.


Franz Adolf Eduard Luderitz (1834 - 1836) Pioneer And Man Of Determination
Born in Bremen, the son a successful tobacco merchant he grew into a restless young man who sort adventure overseas. He travelled extensively through North America and noted with interest the development that the settlers had brought there, and  also noted the way in which other European countries were expanding their interests, and especially those involved in the 'Scramble For Africa'. He soon developed a conviction that Germany should join the chase.

In 1882 Lüderitz and his partner Heinrich Vogelsand studied the maps and saw that a few areas of the west coastline were not yet claimed by the other European powers. They noted with interest an area of 'unclaimed' land on the South Western coast of Africa and that a bay called Angra Pequena could possibly make a suitable location for a port facility.


Colonial Africa Map

Colonial Africa

Adolf Luderitz

Adolf Luderitz

Heinrich Vogelsand

Heinrich Vogelsand

Capt David Von Bethanien

Capt. David C Von Bethanien

Capt Joseph Fredericks

Capt Joseph Fredericks


The Purchase of Angra Pequena From The Nama Chiefs.

Adolf Lüderitz petitioned the German Government to provide protection for the proposed settlement, but although interest was shown support for his idea was not yet forthcoming. Vogelsand sailed on the ‘Tilly” for Angra Pequena and landed on the 10th of April 1883. His studies of the area had drawn his attention to the Diaz Cross, but on arrival there was not a trace to be found, so they erected a wooden cross on a high craggy rock on the point. Vogelsand was equally as capable and ambitious as Lüderitz and he was quick to arrange meetings with various Nama chiefs with the purpose of trade and the purchase of land needed for the venture. He initially bought an area of coastal land having a radius of eight kilometres, and which included the much-needed Bay of Angra Pequena from the Nama Captain David Christian Von Bethanien for a price of 100 British Pound Sterling in Gold and 200 Wesley Richard rifles.


There had been a British commercial interest at Angra Pequena for some years and the managers of the company of De-Pass, Spence and Co. must have watched with interest the rapid expansion of the new German company and it's trading with the eager Namas, but it is doubtful that they ever considered that the land on which they operated would be for sale and that the German newcomers would pus the deal through.


Vogelsand's Trick.

The ambitious Vogelsang further negotiated with Captain Joseph Frederiks von Bethanien the purchase of an area of land, and it was here that he duped Frederiks by exploiting the fact that Frederiks was used to working with the British Mile which was equal to 1,608km, whereas Vogelsand made reference to the German Geographical Mile which was equal to 7,149km. The area of land thus, was vast and was inclusive of the coastline from a point 80km North of Angra Peqeuna to the mouth of the Orange River some 320km South and stretching inland for a distance of 32km.  The price was 500 British Pounds Sterling in Gold and a further 60 Wesley Richards rifles. A remarkable piece of real estate which became known as "Lüderitz-Land". Adolf Lüderitz continued to lobby his government for the protection that might be needed for his acquisitions, and it was on the 24th April 1884 that Chancellor Bismarck telegraphed Count Munster, the German Consul in Cape Town instructing him to advise the British Cape Government that Lüderitz-Land would enjoy the protection of the German Empire. Following negotiations with the British the Germans quickly dispatched two naval corvettes, the Elizabeth and the Leipzig to Angra Pequena. On board were Schutztruppe and Marines with the mission to protect all of Lüderitz-Land


Imperial German Ensign  7 August 1884 - The German Protectorate


At 08h00 on the 7th of August 1884 on a freshly made parade ground just north of Nautilus Hill the Imperial German flag was raised and beacons depicting the German Eagle and the words, “Territory Lüderitz. North from the Orange River to Latitude 26. Under the Protection of the German Reich 7 August 1884” were erected at intervals along the border of 'Luderitz-Land'. The Germans steadily increased their interest and by 1886 had the Territory that had been referred to as South West Africa under their control. A further row of beacons was placed along the border with British Bechuanaland (Botswana).

Kaiser Wilhelm II

Kaiser Wilhelm II

Count Otto Von Bismarck

Count Otto Von Bismarck

Flag Parade Nautilus Hill 1884

Nautilus Hill Parade 1884

German Beacon


Swakopmund - The Alternative to Walvis Bay

In 1878, some 450km north, the British had annexed the natural harbour of Walvis Bay along with a parcel of land that stretched north to the Swakop River. The harbour was central and a successful trading area had been established, but it was not under German control.


The German colony had to find a suitable alternative, so an expeditionary force under the command of Captain Kurt von Francois landed at Sandwich Harbour with camels and was sent to explore north of Walvis Bay. Their findings submitted a favourable report suggesting that an area near to the mouth of the Swakop River would be the most suitable for establishing a port to be named Swakopmund. Luderitz was marginalized and very little growth was experienced in the early years.


The Herero / Nama Uprising of 1904 - 1907 and Lüderitz

The Herero Uprising of 1904 was followed by the 1905 uprising of the Namas under the leadership of Hendrik Witbooi. Luderitz  gain became a harbour of importance as troops and supplies poured in to fight the war in the south. The building of a rail line from Lüderitz to Keetmanshoop became a priority to move the goods. Much of the labor was imported from South Africa, but it was at this time that Lüderitz was chosen as one of the places for holding native prisoners who were camped on Shark Island and the prisoners were used as forced labor for the construction sites. The conditions in the concentration camps were a death warrant for the majority. Many were shipped south to work as slave labour on the Luderitz - Keetmanshoop railway line. The deaths of the Herero camp inmates is not recorded, but of the 1,800 Hottentot (Nama) prisoners transferred to the Shark Island Lüderitz camp only 245 survived


Acknowledgements and further reading: H5, H8, H13, H15, P2 

Of Interest: The German missionary Hermann Heinrich Kreft found diamonds near Luderitz in 1855. He threw them away. When asked why, he answered, "What should I do with diamonds? They only bring tragedy to a country."

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Diaz Cross

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Of Interest

Adolf Lüderitz

Bartholomew Diaz







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