The New Student's Reference Work/Boer War

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Boer War (1899–1901).  Dutch disaffection toward England’s domination in South Africa long existed, and in the country there was always an atmosphere of hostility and, at periods, of actual strife.  Manifestations of racial resentment date back as far as the era of the closing rule of the Dutch East India Company, at the end of the 18th century and the occupation of the Cape by the British.  Still more incensed became the Dutch population when England abolished slavery and sought to discipline the Boers, owing to their harsh treatment and enslavement of the Basutos and Griquas.  This attitude of the dominant power led to the great “trek” in the thirties, when the stout Dutch burghers put the Orange River and, subsequently the Vaal, between them and the rule of Britain.  Nor were racial antipathies in any way softened when, in consequence of the chronic native wars, England intervened in the affairs of the Transvaal and annexed their territory in 1877, though four years later (1881) she restored it to self-government, subject, however, to the suzerainty of the British crown.  The convention of 1884 somewhat modified the terms of this restoration, the control which Britain desired to exercise leaving the South African Republic (which the Transvaal government was now officially named), free to form an alliance with their Dutch kin in the Orange Free State, but insisting upon the right to control the external affairs of the republic, if occasion arose to do so.  England’s object in insisting on this control over the external affairs of the Transvaal was influenced partly by her concern for the peace of the whole of South Africa, where she had many colonies; and partly by the determination to check the paramountcy of the Afrikander influence in the country.  Nor was England uninfluenced by the fact that the British people, especially of the aggressive Tory type, bitterly resented the Gladstonian surrender of British interests in 1881, and were humiliated by the defeat of Sir George Colley by the Boers at Majuba Hill.  The incoming of a foreign element, chiefly of British nationality, in 1884, after gold was discovered in the Transvaal, added to the racial friction, and incited the Boers to treat them unjustly as citizens.  This treatment of the newcomers, who were refused the rights of representation and indeed of liberty and free speech, led to the abortive attempt of some of the restless spirits of the British community to overthrow the Dutch government.  This was the Jameson raid, which had its ignominious ending in the surrender at Doornkop on Jan. 2, 1895.  The rising resulted only in increasing the oppression of the Outlanders, who now turned to the mother country for redress of their grievances, and forwarded to the crown a petition praying for rights which they claimed were in accordance with the conventions and treaties.  This action brought about a conference held at Bloemfontein in May, 1899, between tre British High Commissioner (Sir Alfred [now Lord] Milner) and President Kruger, which resulted adversely to Britain’s demand of the franchise for her subjects.  The following months were spent in diplomatic overtures, which were abruptly ended in the month of October (1899), when the Transvaal, with its ally, the Orange Free State, in an ultimatum, addressed to the British government, demanded the withdrawal of the British forces from the Boer frontier and the recall of the reinforcements then on the way to Cape Colony.  On England replying that the demand was such as “her majesty’s government deemed it impossible to discuss,” the Boers crossed the frontier in force (Oct. 11—13), and precipitated the war.  The Boers are said to have had 75,000 men in the field.

The earliest actions, on the part of the Boers, were to lay siege to Mafeking, defended by Colonel Baden-Powell, and to shut up a small British force, commanded by Colonel Kekewich, in Kimberley, the famous seat of the diamond mines.  Both of these towns lie on the western frontier of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal.  At the same time Natal was invaded, and battles were fought at Elandslaagte, Nicholson’s Nek and Farquhar’s Farm.  These resulted for the most part in favor of the Boers.  At the beginning of November the siege of Ladysmith began, where some 10,000 British, under Sir George White, were for months held by about 20,000 Boers.  Meanwhile the English army corps, under General Sir Redvers Buller, arrived in Natal, and advanced as far as the Tugela River, while other columns were formed in Cape Colony, designed to operate in the Orange Free State and to retake Colesburg and Stormberg, south of the Orange River, which had been taken possession of by the Boers.  To recapture these towns, Generals French and Gatacre were assigned.  Lord Methuen, who pressed forward to the relief of Kimberley, encountered the enemy at Belmont and at Eslin and Graspan, and after crossing the Modder River caused them to retire to Magersfontein.  Here, however, he was defeated by the Boers, while Gatacre met with disaster at Stormberg, and Buller was repulsed at Colenso.  These reverses brought Lord Roberts on the scene, in chief command, with large reinforcements, including Canadian and Australian volunteers and some irregular forces raised in Natal and Cape Colony.  With Lord Roberts came Lord Kitchener as chief of his staff.  By this time the British had, all told, about 90,000 men in the field, opposed to the Boer’s total force, in the neighborhood of 60,000.  Subsequently was added to the British strength a new division, the sixth, which was now ordered to be mobilized and forwarded to the Cape.

Early in January (1900) the Boers made a determined assault upon Ladysmith, which, though repulsed, entailed great loss to both sides.  Later in the month occurred the sanguinary affair at Spion Kop, where the British, after carrying the position, were in turn driven back and forced to retreat beyond the Tugela, with a loss of some 2,000 men.  A fresh advance was made on Feb. 5, as far as Vaal Krantz, but after three days’ terrible fighting a new retreat was ordered.  About this time a large British force, under General French, advanced to the relief of Kimberley, and the siege was raised Feb. 15, 1900.  From this time the tide turned against the Boers.  The British force, augmented to 200,000, under the able leadership of Lord Roberts, pressed forward on strategic lines, and the Boer armies, though fighting with obstinate valor, were forced to give way.  After severe fighting at Koodersrand and Dreifontein, when the Boer army, under General Cronje, was beaten, General Roberts entered Bloemfontein, the capital of the Orange Free State, on Mar. 13, 1900.  General Buller, after prolonged fighting, raised the siege of Ladysmith on Feb. 28, and relieved the long-beleaguered army of General White.  A final and determined assault by the Boers upon Mafeking was repulsed, and on May 18 it was relieved by the British under Lord Roberts.  The British now invaded the Transvaal, and, advancing, entered the great mining city of Johannesburg on May 31.  President Kruger and his cabinet now fled from Pretoria, and General Roberts, after releasing 3,200 British prisoners at Waterval, entered and took possession of Pretoria June 5.

The Boer forces made no further determined stand against the British, but under the leadership of Generals Botha and De Wet, continued an active desultory warfare, cutting the lines of the enemy and attacking detached bodies of British troops with great bravery and varied success.  Peace articles were signed May 31, 1902, by which the Boers made final surrender, and British supremacy was established.  The loss to the British in the conduct of the war was more than 20,000, including killed in action and died of wounds and disease, besides more than 40,000 sent home as invalids, while the cost of the war to Britain alone from 1899 to 1903 was $937,000,000.  The Boer total losses, beside 32,000 taken prisoners, included 3,700 killed or died of wounds.  See Sir A. Conan Doyle’s The Great Boer War (London, 1902).