South Africa and the Transvaal War, Vol. 1 (of 6) - From the Foundation of Cape Colony to the Boer Ultimatum - of 9th Oct. 1899
by Louis Creswicke
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"Surgeon-Major James Henry Reynolds, Army Medical Department, for the conspicuous bravery during the attack at Rorke's Drift on the 22nd and 23rd of January 1879, which he exhibited in his attention to the wounded under fire, and in his voluntarily conveying ammunition from the store to the defenders of the hospital, whereby he exposed himself to a cross fire from the enemy both in going and returning.

"Lieutenant Edward S. Browne, first battalion 24th Regiment, for his gallant conduct on the 29th March 1879, when the Mounted Infantry were being driven in by the enemy at Zlobane, in galloping back and twice assisting on his horse, under heavy fire and within a few yards of the enemy, one of the mounted men, who must otherwise have fallen into the enemy's hands.

"Private Wassell, 80th Regiment, for his gallant conduct in having, at the imminent risk of his own life, saved that of Private Westwood of the same regiment. On the 22nd of January 1879, when the camp at Isandlwana was taken by the enemy, Private Wassell retreated towards the Buffalo River, in which he saw a comrade struggling and apparently drowning. He rode to the bank, dismounted, leaving his horse on the Zulu side, rescued the man from the stream, and again mounted his horse, dragging Private Westwood across the river, under a heavy shower of bullets."



Our disaster at Isandlwana caused enormous excitement in Pretoria. Great and unconcealed rejoicing among the Boers took place; work was suspended, all heads were put together to make capital out of Great Britain's misfortunes. Notices were sent out on the 18th of March, summoning the burghers to a mass meeting to be held some thirty miles from the town. These meetings, it must here be noted, were scarcely attended by invitation. A large number of the people appeared on compulsion, brought "to the scratch" by threats. One of the menaces, a favourite one according to Mr. Rider Haggard, was that those who did not attend should be made "biltong" of when the country was given back. Biltong is meat cut into strips and hung in the sun to dry. The result of the notices, backed by threats, was a meeting of some three thousand armed Boers, who evidently meant mischief.

The threatening aspect of the Boers caused the corps known as the Pretoria Horse, a corps raised for the purpose of acting as cavalry on the Zulu border, to be retained for service in and around the capital. While matters stood thus, and the general discontent seemed to portend even further hostilities, Sir Bartle Frere went to Pretoria for the purpose of discussing affairs with the Boer leaders. These all clamoured for their independence. They had gone as far as to assert it by stopping posts, carts, and persons, and sending armed patrols about the country.

Nothing definite resulted from this attitude, however, for before very long the conclusion—the successful conclusion—of the Zulu war appeared imminent, and those in revolt against British authority saw plainly that there would shortly be troops in plenty at hand to restore law and order. Consequently for the time being they subsided. The loyal inhabitants of the Transvaal entertained Sir Bartle Frere prior to his departure, and at the public dinner given on that occasion at Potchefstrom, he took the opportunity to assure them that the Transvaal would never be given back! It may be interesting to some to know, that at a public meeting on the 24th of April in Pretoria, within a week of the breaking up of the camp which had been threatening its safety, the following resolution was passed:—

"This meeting reprobates most strongly the action of a certain section of the English and Colonial press for censuring, without sufficient knowledge of local affairs, the policy and conduct of Sir Bartle Frere, and it desires not only to express its sympathy with Sir Bartle Frere, and its confidence in his policy, but also to go so far as to congratulate most heartily her Majesty the Queen, the Home Government, and ourselves, on possessing such a true, considerate, and faithful servant as his Excellency the High Commissioner."

Having made allusion to Sir Bartle Frere's departure, it may be as well to explain that before the battle of Ulundi it was arranged that Sir Garnet Wolseley should be sent out from home to supersede Lord Chelmsford in the command of the army, Sir H. Bulwer as Governor of Natal, and Sir Bartle Frere as High Commissioner of the Transvaal, Natal, and all the eastern portion of South Africa. Sir Garnet reached Cape Town on the 28th of June, and proceeded without delay to Natal. But, as we know, before he could reach the seat of war the battle of Ulundi was won.

The fighting was now at an end; the Zulus expressed themselves beaten, and Cetchwayo, after an exciting chase, which space does not permit us to describe, was taken prisoner on the 28th of August. He was afterwards removed to Cape Town, and rooms were given him in the castle. Hostilities having happily terminated in Zululand, Sir Garnet Wolseley then started for Pretoria. He there finally set up the government of a Crown Colony with a nominative Executive Council and Legislative Assembly.

One of his first acts on reaching Pretoria was to issue a notable proclamation. It ran thus:——

"Whereas it appears, that notwithstanding repeated assurances of contrary effect given by her Majesty's representatives in this territory, uncertainty or misapprehension exists among some of her Majesty's subjects as to the intention of her Majesty's Government regarding the maintenance of British rule and sovereignty over the territory of the Transvaal: and whereas it is expedient that all grounds for such uncertainty or misapprehension should be removed once and for all beyond doubt or question: now therefore I do hereby proclaim and make known, in the name and on behalf of her Majesty the Queen, that it is the will and determination of her Majesty's Government that this Transvaal territory shall be, and shall continue to be for ever, an integral portion of her Majesty's dominions in South Africa."

On the same subject Sir Bartle Frere, writing to England, said that he was very certain "that to give up the Transvaal is as little to be thought of as surrendering Ireland or India." In his opinion the Boer malcontents were few and inconsequential, most of the leaders and instigators being foreigners, who were personally interested in making themselves prominent, owing to the prevailing notion that the country would be given up. As to the effect of the abandonment of the Transvaal on the prospects of confederation he said: "To every colony concerned such a step would appear as a confession of weakness, of infirmity of purpose, and of disregard for solemn pledges and obligations, which would destroy all respect, all wish to belong to a Government which could so behave."

In writing to Sir M. Hicks Beach, in December 1879, Sir Bartle gave his personal impression of the feeling in Pretoria at the time of the annexation:—

"When our power of enforcing the law and upholding the authority of Government were at the lowest, in April last, ... experienced men at Pretoria gave me, through Colonel Lanyon, the following estimate of the strength of parties in the malcontent camp. The educated and intelligent men of influence, who advocated the most extreme measures, or were prepared to acquiesce in them, were reckoned at not more than eight. Three, or perhaps four, were men of property in the Transvaal; the rest foreign adventurers, with no property and little weight beyond that due to their skill as political agitators. Their unflinching and uncompromising followers in the Boer camp were not reckoned at more than eighty. The disaffected waverers who, according to circumstances, would follow the majority either to acts of overt resistance to Government and lawless violence, or to grumble and disperse, 'accepting the inevitable,' were reckoned at about eight hundred at the outside. The rest of the camp, variously estimated as containing from sixteen hundred to four thousand in all, but probably never exceeding two thousand five hundred present at one time, were men brought to the camp by intimidation, compulsion, or curiosity, who would not willingly resist the authority of Government, and would, if assured of protection, prefer to side with it."

Viewed in the light of later events, these opinions are extremely interesting and cannot be disregarded.

Before passing on, it is necessary to state that during the period from 1878 to 1879, the native chief Sekukuni—Cetchwayo's dog, as the blacks called him—had become obstreperous. He had been engaged in raids into the Transvaal—raids of the same character as those which, as has been already mentioned, had helped to bring about the collapse of the Republic. Colonel Rowland's expedition, which started in November 1878 for the suppression of this ruffian, was baffled by fever and horse sickness. Colonel Lanyon in the following June returned to the attack, and was on the eve of success, when Sir Garnet Wolseley (who arrived late in that month) sent orders to cease operations. These orders he found, on reaching the Transvaal, to be a mistake. Sekukuni was not a person to be trifled with nor ignored, so the campaign began again in November, with the result that within a period of eight days the chief's stronghold was taken and himself made prisoner. About fifty Europeans and some five hundred Swazi allies were killed or wounded.

Here we see, within one year, how much was done for the protection of the Transvaal at the cost of British money and British blood. Looking back, it is easy to perceive that, but for our intervention, the South African Republic would have been slowly but effectually swallowed up. Cetchwayo and Sekukuni between them would have made a meal of the Transvaal.

The brilliant and complete success of Sir Garnet Wolseley was highly praised, and the names of Colonel Lanyon, Captain Clark, R.A., and Captain Carrington especially mentioned as deserving a share of the credit for the accurate information they had collected during the previous months.

So much having been done for the security of the Boers and for the maintenance of British prestige, it is no marvel that Sir Garnet Wolseley thought himself justified in expressing the trend of British policy in plain terms. At the dinner given at Pretoria on the 17th of December 1879 he took the opportunity of making the British programme well understood. He declared with emphasis that there could be no question of resigning the sovereignty of the country. "There is no Government," he said, "Whig or Tory, Liberal, Conservative, or Radical, who would dare under any circumstances to give back this country. They would not dare, because the English people would not allow them!" At that time it was evident that Sir Garnet had never heard the story of the philanthropic Belarmine, an individual who gave himself to the she-bear to save her and her young ones from starvation. Or, if the tale was known to him, he probably took it for what it was worth, and never foresaw that the British Government would emulate the action of the self-sacrificing lunatic, and spend precious blood for the sole purpose of nourishing and resuscitating the powers of a languishing enemy.


But British speeches and proclamations had ceased to impress the Boers. They had had too many of them, and they began to think the British Government a somewhat knock-kneed institution whose joints had ceased to hold together. Sir Garnet Wolseley, however, with characteristic energy and determination, dealt with the malcontents one by one, converting them, and causing them to sensibly consider on which side their bread was buttered. Indeed, so diplomatically did he conduct his work, that a sop was given to the aggressive Pretorius, who, instead of being put in prison as he deserved, was offered a seat on the Executive Council, with a salary attached. This he was inclined to jump at, but, at the time, public feeling ran too high to allow of his making a decision. The fact was that the political speeches delivered by Mr. Gladstone in the south of Scotland, during the months of November and December 1879, were putting a new complexion on affairs. They were reprinted all the world over, and they were profusely circulated among the Boers. The Boer leaders and obstructionists at once saw in this British statesman their saviour, and were convinced that, on the return of Mr. Gladstone to power, their independence would be assured. They therefore sent Messrs. Kruger and Joubert as a deputation to the Cape, and these two gentlemen persuaded the Cape Parliament to reject the Confederation Scheme then being proposed by Sir Bartle Frere. Selections from the attacks on the Government, from which the Boers then derived their encouragement and support, are here reprinted in order that the sincerity of Mr. Gladstone's attitude may be examined.

Speaking in Edinburgh, he said of the Government:—

"They have annexed in Africa the Transvaal territory, inhabited by a free European, Christian, Republican community, which they have thought proper to bring within the limits of a Monarchy, although out of 8000 persons in that Republic qualified to vote upon the subject, we are told—and I have never seen the statement officially contradicted—that 6500 protested against it. These are the circumstances under which we undertake to transform Republicans into subjects of a Monarchy."

Now, Sir T. Shepstone's despatches show that the ground on which the Transvaal was annexed was because the State was drifting into anarchy, was bankrupt, and was about to be destroyed by native tribes. He said "that most thinking men in the country saw no other way out of the difficulty," and Carlyle has taught us what is the proportion between thinking men and the general public. He also said, in the fifteenth paragraph of his despatch to Lord Carnarvon of the 6th of March 1877, that petitions signed by 2500 people, representing every class of the community, out of a total adult male population of 8000, had been presented to the Government of the Republic, setting forth its difficulties and dangers, and praying it "to treat with me for their amelioration or removal." He likewise stated, and with perfect truth, that many more would have signed had it not been for the terrorism that was exercised, and that all the towns and villages in the country desired the change.

Mr. Gladstone went on to say:—

"We have made war on the Zulus. We have thereby become responsible for their territory; and not only this, but we are now, as it appears from the latest advices, about to make war upon a chief lying to the northward of the Zulus; and Sir Bartle Frere, who was the great authority for the proceedings of the Government in Afghanistan, has announced in South Africa that it will be necessary for us to extend our dominions until we reach the Portuguese frontier to the north. So much for Africa."

At Dalkeith he remarked:—

"If we cast our eyes to South Africa, what do we behold? That a nation whom we term savages have, in defence of their own land, offered their naked bodies to the terribly improved artillery and arms of modern European science, and have been mowed down by hundreds and by thousands, having committed no offence, but having, with rude and ignorant courage, done what were for them, and done faithfully and bravely what were for them the duties of patriotism. You may talk of glory, you may offer rewards,—and you are right to give rewards to the gallantry of your soldiers, who I think are entitled not only to our admiration for courage, but to our compassion for the nature of the duties they have been called to perform—but the grief and pain none the less remain."

At Glasgow he continued in the same strain:—

"In Africa you have before you the memory of bloodshed, of military disaster, the record of 10,000 Zulus—such is the computation of Bishop Colenso—slain for no other offence than their attempt to defend against your artillery, with their naked bodies, their hearths and homes, their wives and families. You have the invasion of a free people in the Transvaal, and you have, I fear, in one quarter or another—I will not enter into details, which might be injurious to the public interest—prospects of further disturbance and shedding of blood."

These speeches, as may be imagined, did an incalculable amount of mischief. Besides fanning the smouldering sparks of discontent, they served up catchwords wholesale for that section of the British public whose political machinery is largely fed by catchwords. But, as has been decided by axiom, "any stick will serve to beat a dog with," and the Transvaal difficulty was a convenient weapon for the attack on the Government. The real feeling of the Boer community was an outside matter, and, as we shall presently see, had nothing to do with the case, though in March 1880 Mr. Gladstone had the satisfaction of receiving a letter from a committee of Boer malcontents, wherein "he was thanked for the great sympathy shown in their fate." The thanks were a little premature. In April 1880 the elections took place, and Mr. Gladstone came into power with a large majority. Then he was asked the great question: Would he maintain his oft-repeated pledge to retain the Transvaal, or would he continue to take up the tone of his Midlothian denunciations?

The riddle was shortly to be solved. In the debate on the Queen's Speech the Prime Minister thus expressed himself: "I do not know whether there is an absolute union of opinion on this side of the House as to the policy in which the assumption of the Transvaal originated. Undoubtedly, as far as I am myself concerned, I did not approve of that assumption. I took no part in questioning it nor in the attempt to condemn it, because, in my opinion, whether the assumption was wise or unwise, it having been done, no good but only mischief was to be done by the intervention of this House. But whatever our original opinions were on that policy—and the opinions of the majority of those who sit on this side of the House were decidedly adverse to it—we had to confront a state of facts; and the main fact which met us was the existence of the large native population in the Transvaal, to whom, by the establishment of the Queen's supremacy, we hold ourselves to have given a pledge. That is the acceptance of facts, and that is the sense in which my right honourable friend, and all those who sit with him, may, if they think fit, say we accept the principles on which the late Government proceeded. It is quite possible to accept the consequences of a policy, and yet to retain the original difference of opinion with regard to the character of that policy as long as it was a matter of discussion."

And shortly after he wrote to Messrs. Kruger and Joubert:—

"It is undoubtedly matter for much regret that it should, since the annexation, have appeared that so large a number of the population of Dutch origin in the Transvaal are opposed to the annexation of that territory, but it is impossible to consider that question as if it were presented for the first time. We have to deal with a state of things which has existed for a considerable period, during which obligations have been contracted, especially, though not exclusively, towards the native population, which cannot be set aside.

"Looking to all the circumstances, both of the Transvaal and the rest of South Africa, and to the necessity of preventing a renewal of disorders, which might lead to disastrous consequences, not only to the Transvaal, but to the whole of South Africa, our judgment is, that the Queen cannot be advised to relinquish her sovereignty over the Transvaal, but, consistently with the maintenance of that sovereignty, we desire that the white inhabitants of the Transvaal should, without prejudice to the rest of the population, enjoy the fullest liberty to manage their local affairs. We believe that this liberty may be most easily and promptly conceded to the Transvaal as a member of a South African Confederation."


When the Liberal Ministry came into power, it will be observed, Mr. Gladstone's attitude changed, and that he was compelled to abandon the sympathetic tone of his Midlothian speeches. How far he really meant to be bound by the promise made that "the Queen cannot be advised to relinquish her sovereignty over the Transvaal" is not known, for later on, in June 1881, in a letter to the Transvaal loyalists, he explains that there was "no mention of the terms or date of this promise. If the reference be to my letter of the 8th of June 1880 to Messrs. Kruger and Joubert, I do not think the language of that letter justifies the description given. Nor am I sure in what manner, or to what degree, the fullest liberty to manage their local affairs, which I then said her Majesty's Government desired to confer on the white population of the Transvaal, differs from the settlement now about being made in its bearing on the interests of those whom your committee represents."

This letter was a masterpiece of one whose talent for ambiguity was becoming world famous, and a stone in shape of a loaf was thus hurled at the heads of the expectant loyalists.

But to return to the events of 1880. Finding that the Premier was no longer to be the mainstay of their hopes, the Boers began to renew their agitations. These agitations, it will be remembered, during the end of the Zulu war and Sir Garnet Wolseley's arrival in the Transvaal, were merely suppressed, because at that time British ascendency throughout the country seemed to be established. An excellent opportunity for rebellion now suggested itself. The Cape Government was engaged with the Basuto war. Sir Owen Lanyon, who succeeded Sir T. Shepstone in March 1879, had supplied a body of 300 or more volunteers—mostly loyalists—to assist in the military operations, while the only regiment of cavalry had been sent elsewhere by Sir Garnet Wolseley. Big things have often small beginnings, and the Boer rebellion, that has brought so many complications in its train, commenced with a very small incident. A certain Bezeidenhout, having refused to pay his taxes, had, by order, some of his goods seized and put up to auction. This was the signal for the malcontents to attack the auctioneer and rescue the goods. So great became the uproar and confusion, the women aiding and abetting the men in their disobedience of the law, that military assistance was summoned. Major Thornhill, with a few companies of the 21st Regiment, was sent to support the Landrost in arresting the rioters, and special constables were enrolled to assist him in restoring order. But these united exertions were unavailing. All attempts to carry out the arrests were openly set at defiance. This scene occurred on the 11th of November 1880. On the 26th Sir George Colley—who had relieved Sir Garnet Wolseley as Commander-in-Chief—was applied to for more troops. Sir George, who was daily expecting an outbreak of Pondos, and a possible appeal for help from Cape Colony, merely suggested that the "authorities should be assisted by the loyal inhabitants." This, it must be owned, was hard on the royalists, who from that time to this have had to pay dearly for their allegiance to the Crown. A mass meeting was held at Paade kraal, where Krugersdorp now stands, and the rioters unanimously decided to commit their cause to the Almighty, and to live or die in the struggle for independence. Thereupon Messrs. Kruger, Pretorius, and Joubert were elected a triumvirate to conduct the Government, and on the 16th of December 1880 (Dingaan's Day) the Republic was formally proclaimed, and its flag again hoisted. The proclamation, dealing with the events of the preceding years, and offering terms to her Majesty's Government, was forwarded to Sir Owen Lanyon. The Boer leaders therein expressed their willingness to enter into confederation and to guide their native policy by general rules adopted in concurrence "with the Colonies and States of South Africa," and at the same time declared that they had no desire for war or the spilling of blood. "It lies," they said, "in your hands to force us to appeal to arms in self-defence."

On the very day of the proclamation, however, blood was shed. Commandant Cronje, with a party of burghers, marched into Potchefstroom for the purpose of printing the proclamation. They promptly seized the printing-office, and Major Clarke, who thought it advisable to interfere, was refused admittance. Soon after a Boer patrol fired on our mounted infantry, who returned the compliment. That was the signal for the opening of hostilities. On this matter it may be urged that Boer reports differ from ours, but Boer veracity may be defined by the algebraic quantity x, and cannot be accepted. Lieutenant-Colonel Winsloe, of the 21st Regiment, who was commanding at a fort outside the village, signalled orders to Major Clarke to begin firing. This officer was fortified in the Landrost's office with a small force of some twenty soldiers and twenty civilians, while the Boers occupied positions in the surrounding houses. The siege lasted two days (during the 17th and the morning of the 18th), and then when one officer (Captain Falls) and five men had been killed and the thatched roof fired, Major Clarke deemed it best to surrender. Colonel Winsloe held the camp throughout the war, surrendering only after an armistice was declared.

A still more terrible disaster was in store. Mr Rider Haggard, who is perhaps the best authority on the subject, describes it as a "most cruel and carefully planned massacre." Other writers, however, hold that the outrage could scarcely be called a massacre, since Colonel Anstruther had been fully warned of the risks he ran of Boer treachery and Boer artifice. It appears that Colonel Anstruther had received orders from Sir Owen Lanyon to concentrate his forces in Pretoria. Accordingly, he marched from Lydenburg—situated about 180 miles from Pretoria—with such troops as he had at his disposal. These were two companies of the 94th Regiment. They were accompanied by three women, two children, and a ponderous train of luggage-waggons. Their progress was necessarily slow, but the Colonel, in spite of having been warned of Boer ways and Boer tactics, evinced no anxiety. Indeed, from all accounts it appears that he followed the good old British habit of under-estimating the enemy's physical, while over-estimating his moral, qualities. For this reason he probably disregarded the precautions necessary after the warnings he had received on starting. Be this as it may, on the 20th of December he and his long waggon-train were nearing a point called Bronker's Spruit, about thirty-eight miles from Pretoria, when suddenly there appeared a huge crowd of some five hundred mounted Boers. From this crowd a man was seen approaching with a white flag. The column, about half a mile in length, halted; the band ceased; Colonel Anstruther advanced to the parley. The messenger then handed a letter. It was an intimation of the establishment of the South African Republic, and declared that till Sir Owen Lanyon's reply to the proclamation was received, and they were aware whether war was or was not declared, they could not allow the progress of troops. The Colonel's reply was plain. He was ordered to proceed to Pretoria, and proceed he would.

Then, before Colonel Anstruther had rejoined his column, a volley was poured in on them by the farmers, who, emerging from the cover of rocks and trees, had gradually closed round the troops. A vigorous but short resistance followed. The Boers, skilled by long practice in marking their most cherished enemies, picked off the officers one by one. Seven out of nine dropped to their guns, while a perpetual hailstorm of bullets beat over men, women, and waggons. In a few minutes so many were disabled that the Colonel, himself mortally wounded, had to surrender. Out of the party 56 were killed and 101 wounded. One of these was a woman.

A great deal was said at the time by British sympathisers of the kindness of the Boers to the prisoners and wounded of their antagonists; but the opinions of Mr. Rider Haggard and Sir Owen Lanyon are worth considering. The former, in writing of this engagement, says that "after the fight Conductor Egerton, with a sergeant, was allowed to walk into Pretoria to obtain medical assistance, the Boers refusing to give him a horse, or even allow him to use his own.... I may mention that a Zulu driver, who was with the rear-guard, and escaped into Natal, stated that the Boers shot all the wounded men who formed that body. His statement was to a certain extent borne out by the evidence of one of the survivors, who stated that all the bodies found in that part of the field, nearly three-quarters of a mile away from the head of the column, had a bullet-hole through the head or breast, in addition to their other wounds." The Administrator of the Transvaal in Council thus comments on the occurrence in an official minute: "The surrounding and gradual hemming in under a flag of truce of a force, and the selection of spots from which to direct their fire, as in the case of the unprovoked attack of the rebels upon Colonel Anstruther's force, is a proceeding of which very few like incidents can be mentioned in the annals of civilised warfare."

Sir Owen Lanyon, writing from the scene of action in Pretoria, says—"The Boers were very clever in being kind to our wounded soldiers, for they well knew that such action would obtain sympathy at home. But where it was impossible for their deeds to become known their conduct was far from creditable to them. Poor Clarke and Raaf were kept for two months in a dark room, and were only allowed out twice for exercise. Barlow was robbed of everything, and only left the clothes he stood in. A Hollander, who is secretary to Cronje at Potchefstrom, is still wearing the rings of poor Captain Falls, who was shot. Englishmen have been murdered, flogged, and robbed of everything. The Boers at Potchefstrom forced the prisoners of war to dig their trenches, and some were shot from the Fort while so employed. Woite and Van der Linden were shot as spies, because they had been in the Boer camp and left it some days before they proclaimed the Republic. Carolus, a Cape boy, was shot by Boer court-martial because he left the Fort when food became scarce. A white man and nine natives were similarly shot without any trial. Explosive bullets were used, notwithstanding that Colonel Winsloe pointed out to the Boer leader in a letter that such was against the rules of war."

There is ample evidence that acts of treachery and barbarity similar to and worse than those mentioned by Colonel Lanyon were perpetrated by the insurgents.


The sole officer who escaped from the massacre at Bronker's Spruit was Captain Elliot, who was subsequently treacherously murdered while crossing the Vaal. The account of this tragedy was given by Major Lambart in a report to Sir George Colley, and should be read by all who wish to get a fair view of the events of that period, particularly by those who insist on our brother-relationship to the Boers:—

"SIR,—I have the honour to report, for the information of his Excellency, that as I was returning from the Orange Free State on December 18 (where I had been on duty buying horses to mount Commandant Ferreira's men for the Basuto war, and also remounts for my troop of Mounted Infantry and the Royal Artillery), when about thirty miles from Pretoria, on the road from Heidelberg, I was suddenly taken prisoner by a party of twenty or thirty Boers, who galloped down on me (all around), and, capturing the horses, was taken back to Heidelberg. After being there some six or eight days, I was joined by Captain and Paymaster Elliot, 94th Regiment (the only officer not wounded in the attack on the detachment of the 94th Regiment), who arrived with some forty prisoners of war of the 94th Regiment. On the following day (the 24th of December) we received a written communication from the Secretary of the Republican Government, to the effect 'that the members of the said Government would call on us at 3.30 that day,' which they did. The purport of their interview being 'That at a meeting of Council they had decided to give us one of two alternatives. (1) To remain prisoners of war during hostilities in the Transvaal. (2) To be released on parole, d'honneur, that we would leave the Transvaal at once, cross into the Free State under escort, and not bear arms against the Republican Government during the war.' Time being given us for deliberation, Captain Elliot and myself decided to accept No. 2 alternative, and communicated the same to the Secretary of the South African Republic, who informed us, in the presence of the Commandant-General, P. Joubert, that we could leave next day, taking with us all our private property. The following days being respectively Christmas Day and Sunday, we were informed we could not start till Monday, on which day, having signed our parole d'honneur, my horses were harnessed, and we were provided with a duplicate of our parole or free pass, signed by Commandant-General, and escort of two men to show us the road to the nearest drift over the Vaal River, distant twenty-five miles, and by which P. Joubert personally told us both we should cross, as there was a punt there. We started about 1 P.M. from the Boer camp, passing through the town of Heidelberg. After going about six or eight miles I noticed we were not going the right road, and mentioned the fact to the escort, who said it was all right. Having been 'look-out' officer in the Transvaal, I knew the district well. I was certain we were going wrong, but we had to obey orders. At nightfall we found ourselves nowhere near the river drift; and were ordered to outspan for the night, and next morning the escort told us they would look for the drift. In spanning at daybreak we again started, but after driving about for some hours across country, I told the escort we would stop where we were while they went to search for the drift. Shortly after they returned and said they had found it, and we must come, which we did, eventually arriving at the junction of two rivers (Vaal and Klip), where we found the river Vaal impassable, but which they said we must cross. I pointed out that it was impossible to get my carriage or horses over by it, and that it was not the punt the General said we were to cross. The escort replied it was to Pretorius' Punt that the General told them to take us, and we must cross; that we must leave the carriage behind and swim the horses, which we refused to do, as we should then have had no means of getting on. I asked them to show me their written instructions, which they did (written in Dutch), and I pointed out that the name of Pretorius was not in it. I then told them they must either take us back to the Boer camp again or on to the proper drift. We turned back, and after going a few miles the escort disappeared. Not knowing where we were, I proposed to Captain Elliot we should go to the banks of the Vaal and follow the river till we came to the proper punt. After travelling all Monday, Tuesday, and up till Wednesday about 1 P.M., when we found ourselves four hours, or twenty-five miles, from Spencer's Punt, we were suddenly stopped by two armed Boers who handed us an official letter, which was opened and found to be from the Secretary to the Republican Government, stating that the members were surprised that as officers and gentlemen we had broken our parole d'honneur and refused to leave the Transvaal; that if we did not do so immediately by the nearest drift, which the bearers would show us, we must return as prisoners of war; that as through our ignorance of the language of the country there might be some misunderstanding, they were loth to think we had willingly broken our promise. We explained that we should reply to the letter, and request them to take it to their Government, and were prepared to go with them at once. They took us back to a farmhouse, where we were told to wait till they fetched their Commandant, who arrived about 6 P.M., and repeated to us the same that was complained of in our letter of that day. We told him we were ready to explain matters, and requested him to take our answer back to camp. He then ordered us to start at once for the drift. I asked him, as it was then getting dark, if we could start early next morning, but he refused. So we started, he having said we should cross at Spencer's, being closest. As we left the farmhouse, I pointed out to him that we were going in the wrong direction, but he said, 'Never mind, come on across a drift close at hand.' When we got opposite it, he kept straight on; I called to him, and said this was where we were to cross. His reply was, 'Come on.' I then said to Captain Elliot, 'They intend taking us back to Pretorius,' a distance of some forty miles. Suddenly the escort (which had all at once increased from two to eight men, which Captain Elliot pointed out to me, and I replied, 'I suppose they are determined we shall not escape, which they need not be afraid of, as we are too keen to get over the border') wheeled sharp down to the river, stopped, and pointing to the banks, said, 'There is the drift; cross.' Being pitch dark, with vivid lightning, the river roaring past, and as I knew impassable, I asked, 'Had we not better wait till morning, as we do not know the drift?' They replied, 'No; cross at once.' I drove my horses into the river, when they immediately fell; lifted them, and drove on about five or six yards, when we fell into a hole. Got them out with difficulty, and advanced another yard, when we got stuck against a rock. The current was now so strong, and drift deep, my cart was turned over on to its side, and water rushed over the seat. I called out to the Commandant on the bank that we were stuck, and to send assistance, or might we return? to which he replied, 'If you do we will shoot you.' I then tried, but failed to get the horses to move. Turning to Captain Elliot, who was sitting beside me, I said, 'We must swim for it,' and asked could he swim? to which he replied, 'Yes.' I said, 'If you can't, I will stick to you, for I can.' While we were holding this conversation, a volley from the bank, ten or fifteen yards off, was fired into us, the bullets passing through the tent of my cart, one of which must have mortally wounded poor Elliot, who only uttered the single word 'Oh!' and fell headlong into the river from the carriage. I immediately sprang in after him, but was swept down the river under the current some yards. On gaining the surface of the water, I could see nothing of Elliot; I called out his name twice, but received no reply. Immediately another volley was fired at me, making the water hiss around where the bullets struck. I now struck out for the opposite bank, which I reached with difficulty in about ten minutes; but as it was deep, black mud, on landing I stuck fast, but eventually reached the top of the bank, and ran for about two thousand yards under a heavy fire the whole while. The night being pitch dark, but lit up every minute by vivid flashes of lightning, showed the enemy my whereabouts. I found myself now in the Free State, but where I could not tell, but knew my direction was south, while, though it was raining, hailing, and blowing hard, and bitterly cold, an occasional glimpse of the stars showed me I was going right. I walked all that night and next day till one o'clock, when I eventually crawled into a store kept by an Englishman called Mr. Groom, who did all in his power to help me. I had tasted no food since the previous morning at sunrise, and all the Dutch farmers refused me water, so without hat or coat (which I had left on banks of Vaal), and shoes worn through, I arrived exhausted at the above gentleman's place, who kindly drove me to Heilbron, where I took the post-cart to Maritzburg. I fear that Captain Elliot must have been killed instantly, as he never spoke, neither did I see him again. I have to mention that both Captain Elliot and myself, on being told by South African Republican Government that the soldiers who had been taken prisoners were to be released on the same conditions as ourselves, expressed a wish to be allowed to keep charge of them, which was refused, but we were told that waggons, food, and money should be supplied to take them down country. But when they reached Spencer's Punt over the Vaal were turned loose, without any of the above necessaries, to find their way down country. They met an English transport rider named Mr. F. Wheeler, who was going to Pietermaritzburg with his waggon, which had been looted by the Boers, and who kindly gave them transport, provided them with food, and is bringing them to the city, which, as I passed them at the Drakensburg on Tuesday, they should reach on Sunday next—consisting of one sergeant and sixty-one men, all that remain of our Leydenburg detachment and headquarters of the 94th Regiment.—I have the honour to remain, Sir, your obedient servant,

"R. H. LAMBART, Captain Royal Scots Fusiliers."

Major Lambart's report speaks more eloquently than many descriptions as to the character of the "simple-minded Boer." We discovered to our cost during the Indian Mutiny that the "gentle native" was not all our fancy painted him, and it may be as well to realise that our simple-minded and pious brother in the Transvaal is scarcely so righteous as we have been led to suppose.


Since we have been tracing the causes of the Boer rebellion, it may be advisable to refer to a letter written on the 28th of December 1880 by Sir Bartle Frere to Mr. F. Greenwood, editor of the St. James's Gazette. He therein throws a most important light on the political position. He wrote: "In 1879, when I was among the Boers in the Transvaal, I found that the real wire-pullers of their Committee were foreigners of various nationalities, notably some Hollanders (not Africanders), imbued with German Socialist Republicanism, and an Irishman of the name of Aylward. I was told he was a man of great natural ability, educated as a solicitor, an ex-Fenian pardoned under another name (Murphy, I think), for turning Queen's evidence against others who had murdered the policeman at Manchester. Emigrating to the Diamond Fields, he was tried, convicted, and suffered imprisonment there for homicide. When he came out of prison he betook himself to the Transvaal and had a command of foreign free lances under Mr. Burgers, then President of the Transvaal Republic, in his unsuccessful attempt to take Secocoeni's stronghold. After the annexation of the Transvaal he came to England and published one of the few readable books on the Transvaal, and went out to Natal during the darkest hours of our Zulu troubles, seeking employment; but he was an impossible man, and was urging the Boers to rise at the same time that he was offering his services to me and Lord Chelmsford. Finally he settled at Pietermaritzburg, where he was, when I last heard of him, as editor of the Witness, writing anti-English republicanism and sedition with much ability, especially when opposing the Cape Government and its governor, whom he never forgave for warning the Boers against following Fenian advice. When I was in the Transvaal and afterwards I found him always connected with any opposition to the English Government. He knew all the leaders of the simple-minded but very suspicious Boers, and had gained their ear, so that he had no difficulty in persuading them to reject any good advice I offered them—'Wait-a-bit' being always the most acceptable suggestion you can offer to a Boer.

"Directly I heard of the attack on our troops in the Transvaal, I felt assured that my old acquaintance was pulling the wires with a view to create a diversion in favour of his old colleagues in Ireland.

"The attack took place apparently near the farm of Solomon Prinsloo, one of the most bitter malcontent Boers, who was always a firebrand, and who, when I visited the Boer camp in 1879, was with difficulty held back by Pretorius and Kruger from directing an attack upon us in Pretoria. I very much doubt whether, without some such external instigation, the Boers would have broken out....

"The facts I have mentioned and many more about Aylward are on record in Scotland Yard, and in the Colonial Office, and I am anxious you should know the truth and not attribute too much of the blame in this sad business to the unfortunate, misguided Boers, the victims of his bad advice, still less to any fault of Colonel Lanyon's administration."

Sir Bartle was right in his conjecture, for Aylward had joined the insurgents and was one of the acknowledged leaders of Joubert's staff.

Major-General Hope Crealock, in a letter to Sir Bartle, wrote (January 7, 1881): "A young Irishman named S——, who knew Aylward in Natal, and who was under my command in the Natal Pioneers, called on me to-night and told me Aylward formerly used to boast of being a Fenian, and vowed he would pay the English Government off for what he had got, by raising the Boers whenever Ireland was rising; and within the last few days has written to him saying he gloried in being one of the instigators of the present Boer revolt, &c., &c. He wrote from Utrecht...."

It will be seen from these quotations that our relations with the Transvaal, hostile as they may have been, were scarcely true relations—that the real enmity and rancour, the blood-spilling and wretchedness that commenced at this period, and are at the moment of writing still continuing, were due, firstly, to party spirit in Great Britain, and secondly, to the machinations of adventurers, who, having no status elsewhere, put the ignorance of a race of farmers to their own vile uses.

To return to the events of the last chapter. When Sir Owen Lanyon heard of the misfortune that had befallen Colonel Anstruther's troops, he issued a proclamation placing the country under martial law, and Sir George Colley, dreading the results of bad blood raised between Boers and British soldiers by the affair at Bronker's Spruit, caused the following general order to be published:—


"The Major-General Commanding regrets to inform the troops of his command, that a detachment of 250 men of the 94th Regiment, on its march from Leydenburg to Pretoria, was surprised and overwhelmed by the Boers—120 being killed and wounded, and the rest taken prisoners. The attack seems to have been made while the troops were crossing a spruit, and extended to guard a long convoy. The Major-General trusts to the courage, spirit, and discipline of the troops of his command, to enable him promptly to retrieve this misfortune, and to vindicate the authority of her Majesty and the honour of the British arms. It is scarcely necessary to remind soldiers of the incalculable advantage which discipline, organisation, and trained skill give them over numerous but undisciplined forces. These advantages have been repeatedly proved, and have never failed to command success in the end against greater odds, and greater difficulties, than we are now called on to contend with. To all true soldiers the loss we have suffered will serve as an incentive and stimulus to greater exertions; and the Major-General knows well he can rely on the troops he has to command, to show that endurance and courage which are the proud inheritance of the British army. The stain cast on our arms must be quickly effaced, and rebellion must be put down; but the Major-General trusts that officers and men will not allow the soldierly spirit which prompts to gallant action to degenerate into a feeling of revenge. The task now forced on us by the unprovoked action of the Boers is a painful one under any circumstances, and the General calls on all ranks to assist him in his endeavours to mitigate the suffering it must entail. We must be careful to avoid punishing the innocent for the guilty, and must remember, that though misled and deluded, the Boers are in the main a brave and high-spirited people, and actuated by feelings that are entitled to our respect. In the operations now about to be undertaken, the General confidently trusts that the good behaviour of the men will give him as much cause for pride and satisfaction as their conduct and gallantry before the enemy, and that the result of their efforts will be a speedy and successful termination to the war." The proclamation had a good effect, particularly among the Dutch, who, though loyal to the Crown, were much in sympathy with their kinsmen in the Transvaal. On the 23rd of January 1881, General Colley sent an ultimatum ordering the insurgents to disperse. Of this no notice was taken until General Joubert, from Laing's Nek on January the 29th, sent the following reply:——


"We beg to acknowledge receipt of yours of the 23rd. In reply, we beg to state that, in terms of the letter, we are unable to comply with your request, as long as your Excellency addresses us as insurgents, and insinuates that we, the leaders, are wickedly misleading a lot of ignorant men. It is nearly hopeless for us to attempt to find the proper words for reply; but before the Lord we would not be justified if we did not avail ourselves of this, perhaps the last, opportunity of speaking to you as the representative of her Majesty the Queen and people of England, for whom we feel deep respect. We must emphatically repeat, we are willing to comply with any wishes of the Imperial Government tending to the consolidation and confederation of South Africa; and, in order to make this offer from our side as clear and unequivocal as possible,—although we have explained this point fully in all our documents, and especially in paragraphs 36 to 38 of our first proclamation,—we declare that we would be satisfied with a rescinding of the annexation and restoration of the South African Republic under a protectorate of her Majesty the Queen, so that once a year the British Flag shall be hoisted, all in strict accordance with the above-mentioned clauses of our first proclamation. If your Excellency resolves to reject this, we have only to submit to our fate; but the Lord will provide."

Sir George Colley started on the 24th of January from Newcastle for the border. The road from Newcastle to Laing's Nek runs up a precipitous hill for three miles, and thence leads down the steep mountain of Skheyns Hoogte. The movement of the column was slow and laborious, the roads, if roads they could be called, were almost impassable owing to great ruts, mud-holes deep enough to bury a waggon up to the bed-planks, with boulders and other impediments thrown in.

Here, as Laing's Nek is so prominent a feature in our history, it may be well to give Mr. Carter's concise description of the geographical nature of the position:—

"Laing's Nek is the lowest point in an unbroken ridge which connects the Majuba Mountain with hills running right up to the banks of the Buffalo River. A slight cutting, not more than four or five feet deep, forms the waggon road over this ridge; from the waggon road on either side the ground runs up somewhat abruptly, and is stony and irregular. How gentle the rise is to the Nek from the level ground in front of it towards Newcastle (and along which the approach is by the main road), may be judged from the fact that a horse can canter easily up the slope, or for the matter of that, over the two miles of ground which lead to the foot of the slope. From the top of the ridge to the level ground at the base is not more than five hundred yards. The chain of hills, in the centre of which is the Nek, is semicircular, the horns of the crescent pointing towards Newcastle, and offering strong positions for any force intent on defending the only practicable approach to the Nek; but to occupy these flank positions a large body of men would be necessary, as the area from point to point is great. On the reverse, or Coldstream side of the Nek, the ground at the foot of the incline is broken and marshy, a regular drain for all the water running from the surrounding hills."

To return to the troops. While this column was advancing, the Boers were also advancing in a parallel line to the Nek. The following day, 25th, the British column reached the high ground overlooking the Ingogo River, where they encamped (here the engagement of the 8th of February took place). At dawn on the 26th the column again laboriously mounted the terrible steeps leading to Mount Prospect, and fixed their camp about four miles from the Nek. Owing to the abominable state of the weather the nearing of the Nek was not attempted, and attack was postponed till the following day. The night was passed at Mount Prospect, and a laager made.

At six o'clock on the morning of the 28th the advance was sounded, and at 9.55 A.M. the guns began shelling the Nek. The Boers were not yet ready. Some took shelter behind the walls of Laing's Farmhouse, while others kept on the heights above, covered by the ridge from shells. Those in Laing's kraals had a warm time when the Naval Brigade began to play on them with their guns, and they soon evacuated the place.

Those on the Nek, after being for twenty minutes under a hot fire, were beginning to think they had had enough of it, when our lines ceased firing, and the mounted squadron advanced to take a hillock—the most advanced spur of the Boer left flank position. The 58th also prepared to charge. The officers commanding the mounted squadron were Major Brownlow and Captain Hornby, while Colonel Deane, Major Essex (an officer with a charmed life, who survived Isandlwana and the engagement at the Ingogo heights), Major Poole, Lieutenant Elwes, and Lieutenant Inman were in front of the 58th. The leading companies of the 58th having got half-way up the rise—a heavy business considering the slipperiness of the slopes—the first troop of the mounted squadron charged the kopje, going to right and left of the lines taken by the 58th. No sooner were they within sight of the Boers than they were greeted by a heavy fire that emptied half their saddles. Still, those who were left mounted, reformed in a pouring shower of bullets, and again charged.

But gallantry was of no avail, for there was no reserve to back up the charge of mounted troops. Seventeen men were killed and wounded, and thirty-two horses killed.

The repulse of this charge took place just as the 58th gained sight of the foe, who, flushed with triumph, could now turn their attention from the mounted troops to the right flank of the 58th. The men, worn out with their sufficiently arduous task of climbing, crushed together, in consequence of their not having been ordered to deploy before making the ascent, dropped like nine-pins under the heavy fire of the Boers. Before the order to deploy could be carried out, volley after volley was delivered into their ranks, and an enfilading fire was opened by the Boers on their right flank with disastrous results. Meanwhile the Boers were well under cover behind their sheltered trenches, and it was impossible, while the 58th were coming to closer quarters with them, to fire from the plains below without risk to the assailants. As a natural consequence, therefore, the Boers, skilled as they are in marksmanship, were able at their leisure to pick off each man as he approached.

Seeing that the Boers were more than a match for him, Colonel Deane resorted to the bayonet. But, just as the order was being obeyed his horse was shot under him. Rising again on the instant, and crying "I am all right," to encourage his men, he rushed on, heading his regiment, and again fell, this time mortally wounded. Major Hingeston, who then took command, fell also, and his gallant brother officers, Major Poole and Lieutenant Dolphin, shared the same fate. They were at that time within some thirty yards of the enemy. So great was our loss that the charge could not be sustained, and many officers, who still persisted in emptying their revolvers on the enemy, were severely wounded. At last there was nothing for it but to fall back. The Boers, intoxicated with victory, now boldly came out from cover, and poured volley after volley on the retiring men. But for the guns at the base of the hill, which were now able to play on the enemy, these must have been entirely swept away. So small was the margin between our men and the victors, that but for the nicety of this artillery practice many of the men of the 58th must have been accidentally killed. During the retreat Lieutenant Baillie, carrying the regimental colours, was mortally wounded. Such magnificent deeds of heroism took place on this occasion that of themselves they would form an inspiriting volume. Lieutenant Hill of the 58th earned the Victoria Cross by his repeated deeds of valour in saving soldiers under heavy fire.

The whole force fell back towards the camp, the casualties amongst the 58th being seventy-three killed and one hundred wounded. A flag of truce was sent forward to the enemy, and both parties engaged in the sad work of burying their dead and removing the wounded.

Report says that on this occasion Kaffirs or Hottentots were seen to be fighting among the Boer ranks.

Very pathetic and very manly was the speech addressed by Sir George Colley to the camp on the evening after the fight:—"Officers, non-commissioned officers, and men,—I have called you together this evening, being desirous of saying a few words to you. I wish every one present to understand that the entire blame of to-day's repulse rests entirely upon me, and not on any of you. I congratulate the 58th Regiment for the brave and noble manner in which they fought to-day. We have lost many gallant men, and amongst them my intimate friend, Colonel Deane. (Emotion.) I might say, however, that notwithstanding the loss of many troops to-day, we have not lost one atom of the prestige of England. It is my duty to congratulate Major Brownlow on the gallant charge he made this day. Owing to the loss we have suffered, I am compelled to await the arrival of reinforcements, but certainly we shall take possession of that hill eventually, and I sincerely hope that all those men who have so nobly done their duty to-day will be with me then. Good-night."

Of the mistakes that marked this attack it is unnecessary to write, for they have been freely discussed, and those who were responsible have laid down their lives in payment of whatever errors in judgment they may have committed.


Life in camp continued as usual until the 7th of February, when an escort proceeding with the post from Newcastle to the General's camp, having encountered the enemy, been fired at, and forced to return, Sir George Colley thought a demonstration in force would be sufficient to deter the Boers from further interference with the line of communication. Consequently the next morning, the 8th of February, he marched with five companies of the second battalion of the 60th Regiment, four guns and thirty-eight men of the Mounted Squadron. The force crossed the river Ingogo, then only knee-deep, and gained a plateau in shape like an inverted L, the base being the side nearest Newcastle. On arrival here an orderly suddenly reported that the enemy, concealed among boulders and large blocks of granite, was waiting in great force. Almost immediately afterwards about a hundred mounted Boers became visible on the right. The order was given to prepare for action, and, just as the guns were on the point of firing, the Boers wheeled round and went off. They galloped away to the bottom of the ravine, followed by a shell which, unfortunately, burst beyond them. The Rifles were also firing, but unsuccessfully, at the retreating riders. Soon it became apparent, however, that the British party was surrounded on all sides by the enemy, who were comfortably screened by the tall tambookie grass and the immense boulders that were to be found in clumps all round the position. Our men were also hiding behind rocks and boulders, and firing whenever a Boer head became visible. Soon after, the engagement opened in earnest. A hot fire was kept up by the 9-pounder in charge of Lieutenant Parsons, R.A., to which the enemy replied, directly the gun was discharged, by a hail of bullets aimed at the gunners while they reloaded.

In order to rout the Boers from their cover, an order was given to the mounted men to charge. At that moment the Boers fired a heavy volley, which incapacitated most of the horses and forced Major Brownlow to retire to the plateau. Fortunately only one of the men was wounded. The artillerymen now suffered considerably, having no shelter but the doubtful shelter of their guns, which afforded a convenient mark for the Boers. As soon as the General, who was going from point to point with his usual coolness, saw the state of affairs—ammunition and even gunners having run short—he sent to Mount Prospect camp for reinforcements. Still the fight continued. The Boers now steadily and surely crept to close quarters, while the British columns became momentarily thinner and thinner. Yet every man continued to hold his ground till hopelessly struck down. Hopelessly is a word used advisedly, for many who were struck down rose several times and continued to fire till mortally wounded.

Of the splendid gallantry of the force it is impossible to say enough. The fighting continued for six terrible hours through rain that fell literally in torrents, in an arena where wounded and dying lay thick, their despairing cries mingling with the continued growl of thunder interspersed with the roar of artillery. Then a white flag was displayed by the Boers. But, when the Rev. Mr. Ritchie in return displayed the British white flag, he was instantly fired upon. The object of the use of the white flag on the part of the Boers was to enable them to take advantage of the temporary inaction to make rushes to cover nearer to the British lines than that they had previously occupied! The fighting began, and, for the small body of British troops, continued disastrously. At last, when darkness came on, both sides were forced to cease firing. Now and then, only when a flash of lightning lit up the terrible scene, the firing of bullets demonstrated that the Boers were still thoroughly on the alert.

The darkness descended, and in the middle of the pouring rain and the murky obscurity the noble British dead were counted. The wounded were also tended as well as it was possible to tend them when water and restoratives were wanting, and the only relieving moisture had to be sucked from the storm-drenched grass. Finally, the General, viewing the deplorable state of the men, decided to withdraw the force from the field. It was plain that any renewal of attack on the morrow by the reinforced Boers could but mean annihilation or surrender. So the remnants of the force started on their return journey. This was now a terrible task, the Ingogo, which had been crossed at knee-depth, had swollen dangerously; the gentle stream had become a torrent. The bed of the river being full of holes, it was in some places some ten to twelve feet deep.

Of the perils by field and flood it would be impossible to speak at length. Mr. Carter, who was present at the melancholy fight and a witness of all connected with the reverse, gives in his wonderful narrative of the Boer war an interesting description of the misery of that return march:—

"Knowing that moments were precious in the then state of the river, I went ahead with the advance guard and crossed the stream; it was then nearly up to my armpits, and running very swiftly. By holding my rifle aloft, I managed to keep it dry, but every cartridge in my pockets was under water. Only with the greatest care, and thanks to a knowledge of the whereabouts of the treacherous hole in the drift, did I manage to keep on my legs. On gaining the opposite bank, I scooped up and drained off a helmetful of the precious fluid, and then urging on through the next ford—an insignificant one compared to the first—gained admission at Fermistone's hotel, after being duly cross-questioned through the keyhole of the door. Some hot tea and whisky was recommended by the host, and palatable it was. In a short time the other "Correspondent" arrived, minus his rifle. He had been carried down the stream like a cork, and only saved from drowning by being washed against some reeds at a bend of the river. He decided that he had had enough of the march for that night, and elected to go to bed. Next came in the General, and a gentleman who claimed to be a surgeon (a Transvaal surgeon) escaped from the Boer lines. He had been allowed free access to the camp at Mount Prospect, and had accompanied the Ingogo expedition, but not as a surgeon. From the General I learnt that there had been some men washed down the stream in spite of the precaution adopted of joining hands."

The return to camp was still more trying. The roads were slippery as glass, and men and horses, thoroughly worn out, dropped exhausted by the way. But it is needless to dwell on this melancholy event—an event rendered so much more melancholy by regret for sublime effort wasted in the support of a Government that was at that very moment entertaining the proposals for craven surrender.


On Sunday, the 27th of February, Sir George Colley made his last move. During the afternoon of the previous day the General, who was a great theorist, had been cogitating some scheme which he only communicated to Colonel Stewart, and to one or two others. No sooner had "lights out" been sounded, than an order was passed round for detachments of the 58th, third battalion of the 60th Rifles, Naval Brigade, and Highlanders, to parade with three days' rations. Then the order came that the force was to form up by the redoubt nearest the main road on their left. At ten a start was made, the General and staff riding in front, with the 58th leading, followed by the 60th, and the Naval Brigade in the rear. The direction taken was straight up the Inguela Mountain. Arrived on a plateau about half-way up, the troops proceeded by a path, narrow almost as a sheep path, which winds across the steepest part of the mountain. Great boulders edged the hillside, and masses of rock hung perpendicularly above the surface of the ground. One false step and the climber would have been hurled down some thirty feet, to be dashed to pieces against the stones, or entangled in the bush. This march was conducted in strict silence, no voice being raised, and indeed not a breath more than was required for climbing expended. Men and officers, all were bent on the one great feat of mounting and gaining the summit. The march continued over loose stones, and boulders and obstacles multifarious—sometimes round wrong tracks, owing to mistakes of the guide, and sometimes over grass and glassy slopes, where a man could make progress merely by means of hands and knees. Thus the force stealthily ascended, creeping up in ones and twos, the General and staff leading the way in ever-increasing darkness and silence.

So heavy was the work of ascent that, when at last they reached the top, the troops almost dropped from exhaustion. It was this exhaustion that is said by some to have influenced the General's plans, but others declare that he was not likely so to be influenced. Instead of attempting at once to throw up a rough entrenchment, he refused to permit it, declaring that the men were already over fatigued. A slight entrenchment might have made all the difference in the sad history of Majuba, but the General gave no orders to entrench, and thus the troops were left open to the enemy.

At early dawn, on looking towards the Nek, it was obvious that a large Boer force was there congregated, while at the base of the mountain was the right flank of the Dutch camp. Gazing down from the great height which had been so perseveringly gained, all hearts warmed with a glow of triumph and of anticipation. The rocket tubes and Gatlings would soon arrive, and then those below would be awakened to the tune of the guns! From their point of vantage it seemed as though the British had the Boers at their mercy.

The hilltop of Majuba was hollowed out basinwise, and there seemed only a necessity to line the rim of it in the event of a rush from the enemy. But the suspicion that the Boers would creep from ridge to ridge, and mount the crest, never dawned on any one. In the dense darkness it was impossible to become acquainted with the nature of all sides of the hill, and the troops imagined them all to be equally impregnable.

Mr. Carter, who was there, says that at this time some twenty Highlanders stood on the ridge watching the lights of the enemy, and pointing to the camp below them, and laughingly repeating their challenge, "Come up here, you beggars." They never imagined it would be possible for them indeed to come! He further states his belief that the reason why no entrenchments were attempted was that every staff officer on Majuba felt certain "that the Boers would never face the hill—entrenchments or no entrenchments on the summit—as long as the British soldier was there." For this almost fatuous belief in their own security these gallant soldiers were destined to pay heavily.

So soon as daylight served to show our troops standing against the sky-line, the enemy began to advance at the base of the mountain. The first shot on that eventful day was fired at a Boer scout by Lieutenant Lucy of the 58th, but the General, hearing it, sent word to "stop that firing." Silence again reigned. But in the meantime the Boers were crawling cautiously up the hill after leaving their horses safely under cover. About 6 A.M. they opened a steady fire, to which the British troops responded cordially. The Boer bullets, though doubling those of the British, did little damage, as the troops were partially sheltered within the basin of the hilltop. Thus the fight continued till nine, none of the officers at that time even suspecting that the enemy would venture to "rush" their stronghold. No one was wounded, and nothing was to be seen on any side of the hill, as the Boers kept closely under cover. At this juncture many men, worn out and fatigued, laid themselves down to sleep. Suddenly Lieutenant Lucy appeared asking for reinforcements, and saying that the fire was "warming up" in his direction. Some minutes later the General, who was perpetually moving round the line, cool, collected, and calculating as ever, flashed a message to Mount Prospect camp, ordering the 60th Rifles to be sent from Newcastle to his support.

Later the General espied two Boers within 600 yards or so of him mounting the ravine, and pointed them out. He had scarcely done this when Commander Romilly fell. This gallant sailor was deservedly popular, and gloom suddenly spread over the hitherto cheerful force. Still, no one dreamed that the Boers would really get to close quarters. The first awakening came when the firing, which had been till then in single shots, poured upwards in volleys. From the sound it was evident that the enemy was much nearer than had been supposed. The Highlanders, who were facing this unexpected fusillade, were soon reinforced by the reserves which had been ordered to their assistance.

The 58th, 92nd, and Naval Brigade disappeared over the ridge to meet the enemy, and vigorously returned their fire. For one moment that of the Boers appeared to slacken; then suddenly there came a precipitate retreat of our men, the officers shouting, "Rally on the right! rally on the right!" This order was obeyed, the troops describing a semicircle and coming back to the ridge to a point at left of that from which they had been so suddenly driven. But the momentary retreat had been demoralising. At this standpoint the men had become hopelessly mixed up—sailors, Highlanders, and 58th men all in a wild melee. Over this heterogeneous mass the officers had lost their personal influence. While order was being restored the Boer firing ceased. The pause was just sufficient to allow breathing time, for they almost instantaneously reopened with redoubled vigour. Their shooting was scarcely successful, but a hail of lead from the upturned muzzles of rifles continued to traverse the thirty yards which now separated the foes. The enemy numbered only about 200, but they hoped by rapidity of fire to hold the British in check till their comrades should come to the rescue. Mr. Carter thus graphically describes what was really the last despairing effort of our men:—

"The order was given in our lines, 'Fix bayonets,' and immediately the steel rang from the scabbard of every man, and flashed in the bright sunlight the next second on the muzzle of every rifle. 'That's right!' cheerily called Major Fraser. 'Now, men of the 92nd, don't forget your bayonets!' he added, with marked emphasis on the word bayonets. It was the bayonet or nothing now, and the officer's words sent quite a pleasant thrill through all. Colonel Stewart immediately added, 'And the men of the 58th!' 'And the Naval Brigade!' sang out another officer, Captain MacGregor, I think. 'Show them the cold steel, men! that will check them,' continued Fraser, whilst volley after volley came pouring in, and volley after volley went in the direction of the enemy. But why this delay? The time we were at this point I cannot judge, except by personally recalling incidents in succession. When the bayonets rang into the rifle-sockets simultaneously with the reopening of the Boers' volleys, I felt convinced that in two minutes that murderous fire would be silenced, and our men driving the foe helter-skelter down hill. After the bayonets had been drawn and fixed, and remained fixed, our men still firing for at least four or five minutes, and no order came to 'charge,' I changed my opinion suddenly."

Here we may imagine the agony—hope, doubt, suspense—that passed like a lightning flash through the minds of all who were present.

The uproar at this time grew appalling. Commands of the officers, the crash of shot, the shrieks of the wounded, all helped to aggravate the din. Boers were fast climbing the mountain sides, and the troops, worn out and almost expended, were beginning to lose the spirit of discipline that hitherto had sustained them. The officers stepped forward boldly, sword in one hand and revolver in the other, but to no purpose. Only an insignificant number of men now responded to the command.


Drawn by R. Caton Woodville, from Notes supplied by Officers present.

The officer to the left, with the glass in his hand, is General Colley, who, to facilitate his ascent of the hill, took off his boots, and, during the engagement, wore only socks and slippers. He, with others, is urging the soldiers to maintain their position. The Highlander with the bandage on his face was wounded, but bravely continued to fight. The Highlander on the right, apparently asleep, was shot dead while taking aim. The officer in the immediate foreground towards the right, to whom the doctor is offering a flask, is Major L. C. Singleton, of the 92nd Gordon Highlanders, who died of his wounds. The figure pressing forward on the extreme left of the picture is the Special Correspondent of the Standard newspaper.]

Mr. Carter declares that when Lieutenant Hamilton of the 92nd asked Sir George Colley's permission to charge with the bayonet, he replied, "Wait a while." Such humanity was almost inhumanity, for waiting placed at stake many lives that might have been saved. The correspondent says:—

"Evidently Sir George Colley allowed his feelings of humanity to stand in the way of the request of the young officer. We were forty yards at the farthest from the enemy's main attacking party. In traversing these forty yards our men would have been terribly mauled, no doubt, by the first volley, but the ground sloped gently to the edge of the terrace along which the enemy were lying, and the intervening space would be covered in twenty seconds—at all events, so rapidly by the survivors of the first volley, that the Boers, mostly armed with the Westley-Richards cap rifle, would not have had time to reload before our men were on them. I am not sure that the first rush of the infantry would not have demoralised the enemy, and that their volley would have been less destructive than some imagined. If only a score of our men had thrust home, the enemy must have been routed. At a close-quarter conflict, what use would their empty rifles have been against the bayonets of our men, who would have had the additional advantage of the higher ground? If the bayonet charge was impracticable at that moment, then, as an offensive weapon, the bayonet is a useless one, and the sooner it is discarded as unnecessary lumber to a soldier's equipment the better. It was our last chance now, though a desperate one, because these withering volleys were laying our men prostrate; slowly in comparison with the number of shots fired, but surely, despite our shelter. Some out of the hail of bullets found exposed victims. In a few seconds our left flank, now practically undefended, and perfectly open to the Boers scaling the side of the mountain in that direction, would be attacked with the same fury as our front.

"Looking to the spot Cameron had indicated as the one where the General stood, I saw his Excellency standing within ten paces directing some men to extend to the right. It was the last time I saw him alive."

It is unnecessary to dwell further on the tragic events of that unlucky battle. After midday our troops retreated, and the retreat soon became a rout. At this time Sir George Colley was shot. Dismay seized all hearts, followed by panic. The British soldiers rushed helter-skelter down the precipitous steeps they had so cheerfully climbed the night before, many of them losing their lives in their efforts to escape from the ceaseless fire of the now triumphant enemy.

Before leaving this sad subject, it may be interesting to note a Boer account of the day's doings which is related by Mr. Rider Haggard in his useful book on "The Last Boer War":—

"A couple of months after the storming of Majuba, I, together with a friend, had a conversation with a Boer, a volunteer from the Free State in the late war, and one of the detachment that stormed Majuba, who gave us a circumstantial account of the attack with the greatest willingness. He said that when it was discovered that the English had possession of the mountain, he thought that the game was up, but after a while bolder counsels prevailed, and volunteers were called for to storm the hill. Only seventy men could be found to perform the duty, of whom he was one. They started up the mountain in fear and trembling, but soon found that every shot passed over their heads, and went on with greater boldness. Only three men, he declared, were hit on the Boer side; one was killed, one was hit in the arm, and he himself was the third, getting his face grazed by a bullet, of which he showed us the scar. He stated that the first to reach the top ridge was a boy of twelve, and that as soon as the troops saw them they fled, when, he said, he paid them out for having nearly killed him, knocking them over one after another 'like bucks' as they ran down the hill, adding that it was 'alter lecker' (very nice)."

A complete and reliable narrative of affairs on that fateful day in the ridge below Majuba was given in the Army and Navy Gazette. It is here reproduced, as it shows the finale from the point of view of an eye-witness of one of the most lamentable fights known in British history. The correspondent says:—

"As our mysterious march on the night of the 26th February began, two companies of the 60th Rifles, under the command of Captains C. H. Smith and R. Henley, were detached from General Colley's small column, and left on the Imquela Mountain. These companies received no orders, beyond that they were to remain there. The rest of the column then marched into the dark night on their unknown mission, our destination being guessed at, but not announced. The road was rough, and at some places little better than a beaten track, and the men found it hard to pick their steps among the loose stones and earth mounds. But all were cheerful and ready for their work. The ridge at the foot of the heights was reached at about midnight, and here the column made a brief halt, to allow of one company of the 92nd (which had lost its touch) coming up. Here one company of the 92nd Highlanders, under Captain P. F. Robertson, was detailed to proceed with Major Fraser, R.E., to a spot about one hundred yards distant, General Colley himself giving the order that they were to remain there, 'to dig as good a trench as time would permit of,' and further to select a good position to afford cover for the horses and ammunition, &c., that were to be left in charge of the detachment. They were also desired to throw out sentries in the direction of the camp, also a patrol of four men, with a non-commissioned officer, to watch the beaten track along which we had just come, and to act as guides for a company of the 60th Rifles expected from camp to reinforce the Highlanders on the ridge. These orders having been given, the column again moved off, leaving the Highlanders to make their arrangements.

"The men had a brief rest after their walk, and then, assisted by their officers—Captain P. F. Robertson and Lieutenant G. Staunton—began the work of making their entrenchments. At about 5 A.M. the expected company of the 60th Rifles arrived, under the command of Captain E. Thurlow and Second Lieutenants C. B. Pigott and H. G. L. Howard. Surgeon-Major Cornish also accompanied this detachment, with some mules laden with hospital requirements. Captain Thurlow, who had received no orders, and who had brought out his men without either their greatcoats or their rations, joined the Highlanders in their entrenchments. They had to work hard, so as to complete their work rapidly, and consequently the men had little or no rest that night. At about 6 A.M. we were visited by Commissariat-General J. W. Elmes, who was returning to the camp, and promised to send out the 60th their rations. Shortly afterwards a conductor named Field arrived with a led mule, laden with stores, &c., for the staff. He was hurrying on to try and reach the summit of the hill before day. Doubts were expressed as to the advisability of his going on alone; but he had his orders, he said (about the only man who had that day!), and so he went on his way. About an hour afterwards a shot was heard, and we afterwards learnt that the conductor had been wounded, and he and his mule taken prisoners! By this time the day had quite broken, the heavy curtain of the night had rolled away, and disclosed before us the rugged and precipitous ascent to the Majuba Mountain, which stood directly in front of us, about 1400 yards distant. It stood out in bold relief against a blue-grey sky, and on the summit, and against the sky, the figures of men could be distinctly seen passing to and fro. These were only discernible with the aid of field-glasses, and at that time no great certainty was felt as to their being our own men.

"Away to the south of us, in the direction of the camp, sloped the Imquela Mountain. The glasses were brought to bear on this spot also, where a man was detected signalling with a flag. The officer commanding our party (Captain Robertson, 92nd) then signalled the question, 'Who are you?' and the answer returned was, 'We are two companies of the 60th Rifles, who have been left here all night.' A second message was then sent, asking what their orders were, and the reply returned was, 'None.' Their position was consequently much the same as ours. All the morning our sentries heard occasional shots, and from time to time were seen small bodies of mounted Boers galloping to and fro near our entrenchments, seemingly to reconnoitre our position. At about eleven o'clock we were joined by a troop of the 15th Hussars, who had just come from the camp, bringing with them the rations for the 60th Rifles. This troop was commanded by Captain G. D. F. Sulivan, and accompanied by Second Lieutenant Pocklington and Lieutenant H. C. Hopkins, 9th Lancers, attached. Captain Sulivan, having received no orders, remained with our party, dismounting his men, and placing them under cover on the slope, just in rear of our entrenchment. For an hour or two afterwards all remained perfectly quiet. The distant figures on the summit of the Majuba Hill could still be seen passing and repassing against the grey sky. We had come to the definite conclusion that they were our own men, entrenching themselves on the top of the mountain. They had gained by strategy a strong position; but could they hold it? Even then the question was mooted. All at once, while we were quietly waiting, a continuous and heavy firing broke out on the mountain. We saw the blue smoke rolling across the still sky; we saw an evident stir and excitement among the party on the hill. What was it? Were they attacked, or attacking? Volley after volley rolled forth; it was a heavy and continuous fire, never ceasing for a moment. All glasses were brought to bear on the mountain, and every eye was strained to catch a sight of what was going on. After a few minutes the figure of a man hurrying down towards us was visible—a wounded man, no doubt—and a mounted Hussar was sent out to bring him in. He proved to be a wounded man of the 58th, and from him we learnt something of the disaster which had befallen our column. The General was dead, lying on his back, with a bullet through his head. Our men were nearly all either wounded or taken prisoners. The hilltop was covered with the bodies of the brave fellows, who had fought to the last. Even while he spoke we could see the desperate retreat had begun, and a few desperate figures were seen struggling down among the stones and boulders. Our men were flying, there was no doubt about that now. In a few minutes the enemy would be upon us, but we were prepared for them. I never saw men steadier or more prepared to fight, although, as I glanced round, I felt how hopeless such a fight would be. My fear, however, did not seem to be participated in by either officers or men, for Captain Robertson (the officer in command) at once began his preparation for a determined resistance. The ammunition boxes were opened, and placed at equal convenient distances all round the entrenchment. Half the entrenchment was manned by the Highlanders, and the other half by Rifles. These preparations were quietly and promptly made. The men were silent, but steady. Looking round, every face was set with a grave determination 'to do,' and there was not a word audible as the orders were spoken and the commands obeyed. The low (and to an experienced eye) fragile turf walls that were to offer shelter seemed but poor defences, now that they were to be tried. They were only about four feet high by two feet thick, with one exit at the rear, and could never have stood before a fire such as was even now pouring down the slope of Majuba. The wounded were now being brought in rapidly by our mounted Hussars, who did their work steadily. Some of the poor fellows were terribly wounded, and though Surgeon-Major Cornish did his best for them unassisted, many had to lie unattended to in their suffering. All brought the same bitter news of defeat and annihilation, not very reassuring to our little force, which was now about to take its part in the day's engagement. As suddenly as it began, the firing as suddenly ceased; and we knew that the dreadful task of clearing the heights was done, and our resistance about to begin. We could see the Boers clustering like a swarm of bees at the edge of our ridge. Every moment we expected a rush and an attack. But they hesitated. They were waiting—waiting for the party of some 600 or 700 mounted Boers, who presently appeared upon our left flank. Our entrenchment was now almost surrounded. The mounted Boers were the first to attack us on our left flank, and their fire was spiritedly replied to by the Rifles. At this moment, and while we were actually engaging our enemy, the order came from the camp desiring Captain Robertson to retreat his force without delay. No such easy matter now, for the order came almost too late; the Boers were within easy range of us, and determined to attack. Nevertheless, in the same orderly and steady manner in which the preparations for defence had been made, the preparations for retreat were begun. Much credit is due to Captains Robertson and Thurlow for the energetic manner in which they helped to load the mules, securing a safe retreat for the ammunition and stores, and then assisting Surgeon-Major Cornish to get off the wounded. All this time we were under fire, and it was while retreating that poor Cornish was killed. When our little entrenchment had been cleared of its stores, the real retreat began, made under a murderous fire, which followed us as we hurried down the steep slope into the ravine below. Captain Sulivan, with his troop of Hussars, was placed on the right flank to try and cover the retreat in that direction. By this time the Boers had partially occupied our entrenchment, having broken down its defences easily enough. And we had scarcely retreated down the steep slope and into the ravine before they occupied the ridge above us in hundreds, sending volley after volley after our retreating men. It was a case now of sauve qui peut, and to me the only marvel is how we lost so few under the circumstances. Our casualties were four killed (including Surgeon-Major Cornish), eleven wounded, and twenty-two prisoners. The Highlanders suffered the most. The officers were the last to leave the ridge. I saw Captain Robertson standing on the crest of the slope giving some final directions just a moment before the ridge was entirely covered by the Boers, and his escape consequently was almost a miraculous one. I was in the ravine before I heard our artillery open fire upon the Boers. Second-Lieutenant Staunton, 92nd Highlanders, was taken prisoner. We were never joined by the two companies of the Rifles who were left on the Imquela Mountain the night before, nor did I see them under fire at any part of the day. Thus ended our brief battle, and only those who took part in it can tell the bitterness of having to retreat, utterly routed and defeated as we were."


As may be remembered, Sir Owen Lanyon's proclamation announcing martial law was read, and the town handed over to the military government. Colonel Gildea (introduced by Colonel Bellairs) acted as Commandant of the Garrison, Major F. Mesurier, R.E., was in charge of the Infantry Volunteers, and Captain Campbell, 94th Regiment, filled the post of Provost-Marshal. Sympathisers with the Boers were ordered to leave the place on pain of being handed over to the Provost-Marshal to be dealt with by military law.

It was decided to evacuate the town, and form two laagers, one at the camp, and one between the Roman Catholic church and the jail. In the camp the women and children were to be placed, while the Infantry Volunteers garrisoned the convent laager. Within the convent, women and children were packed tightly as sardines, while the nuns turned out on errands of mercy. All night and all day, scarcely stopping to eat a mouthful, men worked, sandbagging windows and doors—building barricades and defences of various kinds. Waggons were sent round to gather all families within the shelter of the camp. Rich and poor, good and bad, some 4000 souls, were herded together in tents for their protection. Here they remained for three months, enduring hardships of the most variegated and worrying kind, and loyally waiting for the relieving column that never came.

Descriptions of the rations served out to each man daily are not appetising: Bread, 1-1/4 lb., or biscuit, 1 lb.; coffee, 2/3 oz.; sugar, 2-1/2 oz.; meat, 1-1/4 lb.; tea, 1/6 oz.; and salt, 1/2 oz. These were reduced as the siege proceeded. The meat was trek beef, a leathery substitute for steak, and the biscuits were veterans, having "served" in the Zulu and Sekukuni campaigns, and now being nothing better than a swarm of weevils. Life in Pretoria was enlivened by occasional sorties against the Boer laagers, where the enemy was supposed to number some 800 strong. The laagers were distributed at distances of four and eight miles from the town, and were connected by a system of patrolling, which rendered communication from within or without almost impossible. A few messengers (natives) occasionally came into the town, but these were mostly charged with the delivery of delusive messages invented for special purposes by the Boers. There was an ever-present difficulty—that of keeping the natives in check. Many examples of Boer cruelty to these poor blacks are recorded, and they naturally shuddered at the prospect of once more being delivered over to the rule of the sjambok.

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