History Group – 22 November 2016 Meeting Notes

Subject: The South African War

At our meeting in November we discussed the South African War ( as named on the war memorial on Coombe Hill ) or the Second Boer War. The reason for this goes back to the Napoleonic War, when Britain seized the Cape Colony from the Dutch. who over  many years had enslaved the native Africans to work their farms.  When slavery was abolished in the British Empire in 1834 numbers of the Dutch settlers chose to leave the Colony in the Great Trek.  They moved to Natal and when Great Britain annexed that territory they moved North and West, forming the South African Republic or Transvaal and the Orange Free State, which were recognised by Britainin the 1850's. However, an attempt to annex the Transvaal led  to the First Boer War 1880-81 in which British forces were ignominiously defeated.

In 1866 diamonds were discovered at Kimberly, and in 1686 gold in the Witwatersrand in Transvaal.  Thousands, mostly British, came to exploit these riches and develop the mining industry, leading to friction between these uitlanders, as they were called,  and the longer-settled Boers.  British expansion,  promoted by Cape Prime Minister Cecil Rhodes, led to the Jameson Raid 1895. Dr Jameson   led a force from the recently conquered British colony of Rhodesia into the Transvaal, hoping that the uitlanders would rally to him.  They did not, and government forces surrounded Jameson's men and captured them with few casualties.

In September 1899 the British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain sent an ultimatum demanding full equality for British citizens in Transvaal. In October President  Kruger issued an ultimatum that all British troops should withdraw within 48 hours from the frontier of Transvaal, otherwise Transvaal and the Orange Free State would declare war .

The Boers invaded Natal and Cape Colony on 11 October. They had 33 000 well-armed men against onlt 13 000 British forces. They surrounded and besieged Ladysmith, Mafeking and Kimberley, then achieved tactical victories at Colenso, Magersfontein and Spion Kop.  Mafeking was held by Colonel Robert Baden-Powell with about 1200 men, surrounded by 6000 Boers during a siege of 217 days.

After the early British defeats large numbers of British troops were sent to South Africa under the direction of Lord Roberts and Lord Kitchener.  The besieged cities were relieved and the Boer republics invaded in 1900. The Boers did not fight pitched battles and the British declared the war over. But the Boers resorted to guerilla warfare for another two years. Civilian populations were rounded up and held in concentration camps where thousands died of disease and malnutrition.  The final surrender was on 31 May 1902. The two republics were absorbed into  the British Empire and the Union of South Africa was set up in 1910.  For Britain, the war was the longest and bloodiest between 1815 and 1914 - although more soldiers died from disease in the Crimean War.

Book Cover from one of the books written about the South African Wars.

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The link takes you to the BBC documentary of the Boer War, currently on the You Tube website.
(The documentary is narrated by Welsh actor, Kenneth Griffith.)

The link will take you to https:youtube.com website. You may see an advert popping up…just click the 'x' to make it go away. You will find other videos on their website about the South African Wars.

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Medal and clasps for the South African War

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Maps of the South African Area

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Alfred Milner, Viscount Milner
of Saint James’s and Cape Town