After forty-eight hours of fighting from Elandsfontein to Florida, on May 29 and 30, we were cut off from the road to Pretoria by General French and his cavalry.
Without horses it was impossible for us to follow the retreat, and we found ourselves shut up in Johannesburg. We succeeded in enrolling ourselves among the police of the mines, which gave us a temporary shelter, and perhaps saved us a sojourn at St. Helena; for we were determined not to take the oath of neutrality, but to begin fighting again as soon as possible.
On May 31 the English entered Johannesburg. The English flag was hoisted with great pomp at noon in the great square, in the presence of Lord Roberts. Dr. Krause had been empowered to surrender the town.
Johannesburg is a very English town. Its behaviour at the time of Jameson's raid sufficiently proved this, and many of the more irreconcilable Burghers who had been brought into hospital there wounded ran away before they were cured rather than remain in the hostile town.
The Union Jack was accordingly greeted with loud shouts of 'Hip! hip! hip! hurrah!'
Nevertheless, we often met Burghers in the crowd who, like ourselves, were only biding their time to return to the front. I saw one old man weeping silently. I am not sentimental, but I have rarely felt a more poignant emotion than this mute and dignified despair excited in me. I hurried away. I think I should have wept myself.
The entry of the troops began at about 10.30, and lasted four hours. About 12,000 men marched through the town, and in the environs, as far off as Elandsfontein, some 50,000 passed, it was said.
But what a procession it was! There was no order; the men barely marched in ranks. No uniforms, officers and soldiers huddled together, dirty, and many of them in rags. They had eaten nothing since the day before, when the ration had been two biscuits.
On they came, or rather dragged themselves, with drooping heads, one with his rifle on his shoulder, another with his slung across his back, one with the butt-end uppermost, some without bayonets, others with bayonets fixed. Some officers had our Mauser rifles, others Lee-Enfields, others sporting rifles. Nearly all, both officers and soldiers, walked with the help of sticks.
From Bloemfontein to Johannesburg they had covered 250 miles, fighting every day, and sometimes marching 45 kilometres without a halt across country.
A few days earlier, at Kroonstad, their convoys had not come up. Lord Roberts, anxious to continue his forward movement by forced marches, asked the commissariat-officer:
'Can you serve the ration?'
'Half ration, then?'
On receiving this problematic reply, the Marshal explained the situation to his men. They immediately replied with acclamations: 'For Lord Roberts we would march without any ration at all!'
The Black Watch, out of a thousand men, their strength on landing, mustered about sixty behind their pipers. The others lie in the trenches of Magersfontein and at the foot of Dorn Kop.
Save for a few battalions that have arrived recently, the regiments are skeleton corps.
As we watched these haggard, exhausted troops dragging themselves along, involuntarily we called to mind him who once marched our fathers through all the capitals of Europe. In spite of fatigue, privation, and hard fighting, it was in a very different guise that the Grand Army entered Vienna and Berlin behind the Emperor and his glittering staff.
The artillery was in better form. Some fifteen batteries were drawn by magnificent horses, and I saw men on cobs that looked well worth from two to three hundred louis.
There were also some siege-guns, and some 15 centimetre naval guns--one from the Monarch--drawn by thirty-two oxen. It was behind this powerful artillery, devastating the whole region with it on principle, whether occupied or not, that the English army had advanced from Bloemfontein.
If we had had a body of cavalry, I believe that rapid and energetic action would have resulted in a considerable loss of materiel to the English army; for, relying on the absolute lack of offensive measures on our side, they often left their batteries defenceless.
Next came a strong train--telegraph apparatus, balloonists, engineering implements for digging wells, pumps, etc.
The troops merely passed through the town, leaving in it a garrison under the command of Colonel Mackenzie (Seaforth Highlanders), who was appointed Governor of Johannesburg.
The next day a proclamation by Frederick Sleigh, Baron Roberts of Kandahar and Waterford, K.P., G.C.B., G.C.S.I., G.C.I.E., V.C., Field-Marshal, commanding Her Majesty's Forces in South Africa:
'Assures the non-combatant population of his protection.
'All Burghers who have committed no act of violence contrary to the laws of civilization against any of Her Majesty's subjects are authorized to return to their homes, after giving up their arms and pledging themselves to take no further part in hostilities. Passports will be given them.
'Her Majesty's Government will respect the private property of the inhabitants of the South African Republic, as far as is compatible with the exigencies of war.
'All individual attempts upon property will be severely punished.
'GOD SAVE THE QUEEN!
'Given under my hand and seal at Johannesburg, May 31, 1900.'
At the same time, regulations fixing the prices of provisions for the troops were issued: 30s. for a sack of 168 lb. of oats; champagne-tisane, 160s. a case; tobacco, from 3s. to 7s. a pound, etc.
Let us take advantage of our ephemeral functions as policemen to explore the town a little. Johannesburg was not the first mining centre in the Transvaal. The first workers established themselves at Barberton in 1886. A few years later the Brothers Strubens, whilom prospectors, discovered an auriferous vein in the Witwatersrand near the farm of Landlaagte. Johannesburg then consisted of a few scattered huts. It now numbers over 100,000 inhabitants (I mean, of course, before the war).
It is a town given over to business. The centre is occupied by the post-office, a huge building, in front of which is a vast marketplace. Here in normal times trains of carts bring in all the necessaries of life--fruit, vegetables, mealies, etc. The principal streets, Commissioner Street, Market Street, Pritchard Street and President Street, are wide, clean, and bordered by handsome shops. The whole town is lighted by electricity.
The blocks of houses, three and four stories high, are called 'buildings'; often several of them belong to the same owner or to the same society, and bear their names: AEgis Building, Commissioner Street; S.A. Mutual Building; Standard Building; Heritier Building.
The houses are not numbered, but this does not inconvenience the postmen, for they do not exist. Each inhabitant pays a small sum for his own box at the post-office, and goes to fetch his correspondence when he likes.
Johannesburg has a very well organized fire-brigade, with engines, ladders and fire-escapes of the latest pattern. The captain, who is, I believe, an Englishman, served for a time in Paris, London, and New York, and wears the honorary medal of our Paris brigade. The men wear the same uniform as English firemen.
The hosiers, tailors, French milliners, dressmakers, saddlers, and music-sellers of the town are on a par with the best European specialists. Life is very expensive, and all luxuries command tremendous prices. Cabs, dirty and ill-harnessed, drawn by two miserable horses and very badly driven, cost 7s. an hour. Little light cabriolets drawn by negroes are therefore generally used for locomotion. These are much cheaper and fairly rapid, for the negroes--Kaffirs or Zulus--are in excellent training, and can go extraordinary distances at the double.
The currency was for a long time English, but in 1892 the Transvaal struck her first coins (pounds and shillings) with the effigy of President Kruger.
The Free State has no coinage of her own, and uses English or Transvaalian money.
Bronze money, of which the President only allowed a few specimens to be struck, is not current; the monetary unit is the 'ticket,' a small silver coin worth 3d.[#]
[#] Some English officers, it seems, saw for the first time at Elandsfontein a Kruger's penny, and bought it for L2. The current price of a Kruger's penny is from two to three shillings.
The Johannesburg journals, the Standard and Diggers' News and the Wolkstrem, the official organ, therefore cost 3d.
At Johannesburg much more than at Pretoria, because the town is more English, the houses in the centre of the town are mainly offices, for all the inhabitants who are comfortably off live in the suburbs, either on the height beyond the fort, or at the end of Main Street, in the great park of Belgravia.
Most of these suburban dwellings are very expensive, and are comfortably and luxuriously arranged. A garden more or less large is considered an absolute necessity.
The majority of the population speculate and gamble, and it is not rare in times of peace to recognise in some barman or miner a gentleman who had dazzled the town by the magnificence of his carriages and horses a few months back. No surprise is felt by anyone, for the next 'boom' will perhaps make him a wealthy man of fashion once more.
I could quote the case of a young man I knew well who was twice a millionaire, and who, after having been ruined for the second time, was gradually building up a third fortune. He is very little more than thirty.
Johannesburg, however, is merely a city of passage. Men stay here just long enough to make money, and directly this is done, they return to their own countries. The end and aim of everything here is to make money, and to make it quickly.
Based on this principle, and composed of a number of adventurers, the cosmopolitan society one finds here hardly offers a guarantee of irreproachable morality.
Antecedents are of little account, indeed. A merchant who has been convicted of fraud in France, here enjoys the consideration due to the L500,000 he has gained with the money he stole in his fraudulent bankruptcy.
I have even heard that some years ago the extradition of a rogue was the signal for disorderly scenes and an expostulatory address, because he had not been convicted of theft since his arrival at Johannesburg. He had made a considerable sum of money there, and was accompanied to the station by a number of friends.
* * * * *
No sketch of Johannesburg would be complete without a few words about the gold-mines.
I am no authority on the subject, but I will describe what was told me and what I saw; and as the engineer who was good enough to give me some information knew me to be ignorant, my precis will be a little 'Manual on Mining' for the use of novices.
In the first place, there is an essential difference between the manner in which gold is found in Witwatersrand and in other districts, such as Klondyke, Senegal, or the Soudan. In the latter, the gold is in grains, either embedded between the frozen stones, or rolling in the beds of rivers. The auriferous mud is taken up and washed, and the gold is retained. Nothing could be simpler.
In the Rand, however, the working of the mines is purely scientific. The mineral is found in blocks of quartz and silicious clay containing pyrites of auriferous copper and gold.
After calculating the direction of the reef, one must dig down to a greater or less depth to find it. Dynamite is then used to detach the gold-bearing quartz, which is brought to the surface. It has the appearance of very hard white stone, slightly veined with blue. It is carried off to the batteries in Decauville trucks, and there a crushing-mill, which looks like a gigantic coffee-mill, and sledge-hammers combined into groups of five, reduce it to a very fine powder. A current of air spreads this powder over copper-plates covered with mercury.
A large proportion of the gold, about 60 per cent., amalgamates with the mercury, and once a fortnight the amalgam is scraped off. After fusion the mercury in the amalgam volatilizes, leaving a deposit of almost pure gold.
The residuum of the first process is afterwards poured into huge vats of from 10 to 12 metres in diameter, in which cyanide of potassium has been placed. A solution of cyanide of gold is thus obtained, and this is put into cases lined with strips of zinc, on which the gold is precipitated. The 40 per cent. lost in the first process is thus recovered.
The gold thus collected is melted down into ingots, the transport and verification of which are the objects of interminable regulations.
So much for the scientific part. The rest is simpler.
The heavy labour is mainly done by Kaffirs or Zulus under the supervision of white miners who earn about twenty-five pounds a month, and live in the boarding-house connected with the mine.
The natives live in a compound where no alcohol is allowed. Their rations are given them, and they live on very little. Their ambition is to earn enough money to return to their native place, buy two wives, and do no more work; the wives work for them thenceforth. It takes them about two years to realize this dream. When the time is up, it is impossible to keep them in the mines.
The first year of working (1888) yielded about L1,000,000. In 1895 about L8,000,000 was extracted. Finally, from January 1 to August 31, 1899, the harvest was nearly L13,000,000. The net profits of exploitation are considerably diminished by the enormous expenses resulting from the dearness of European labour, and the heavy taxes imposed by the Transvaal Government on mining rights and on the importation of explosives.
At the time of my sojourn all the works were closed. In the town, as every hospital and ambulance was full to overflowing, the hotels were requisitioned for the sick. In front of the Victoria Hotel there were often strings of ten and twelve waggons bringing in the wounded.
Often at dusk a dray would pass, into which long, heavy cases of deal were furtively slipped.... The avowed losses were terrible enough. What were they in reality?
About the middle of December the War Office confessed to 7,350 men. At the beginning of February this number was doubled, and Buller's three attempts on the Tugela cost 1,046 killed, 3,785 wounded, and over 1,500 missing.
In March the numbers had swelled to 14,000. It was the unhealthy season, and sickness--enteric fever especially--made wider gaps in the English ranks than bullets. On May 10 over 18,000 men were missing, 5,000 of whom were dead.
On the Boer side the statistics are much more difficult to check, especially when one is confronted with such discrepancies as these: Rumours and reports stated the Boer losses at the Battle of Colenso, on December 15, to have been 8 killed and 14 wounded. But I find a report drawn up by the Red Cross Society in which the numbers are given as 77 killed and 210 wounded.
What is one to believe? In all ages belligerents have tried to conceal their losses, and this kind of juggling is, of course, much easier among incoherent groups like the commandos than in regular battalions.
* * * * *
One day--it was June 10, I think--all the police of the mines were requisitioned to transport the wounded from the station to the hospitals. There were a great many, and they had been forbidden to say whence they came; the police were also forbidden to speak to them on any pretext whatever. Had something very serious happened? We never knew exactly what it was.
Pretoria had been occupied on June 5. The news that reached us came at long intervals, after manipulation by the censor, and was often of the most fantastic order.
The police regulations were most stringent. Everyone was ordered to be indoors, at first by seven o'clock, later by 8.30. The streets and squares were guarded by troops. Jewellers' and wine-merchants' shops and bars were closed by order. No one was allowed to draw money without a permit from the military authorities, and a limit--of L20 a week, I think--was enforced as to the amount, unless a special permission had been granted.
Finally, residents in the town were required to get a pass and to take an oath of allegiance. Those who, like ourselves, had resolved not to do this, were obliged to hide like outlaws, to avoid being marched off to the fort, and thence to Ceylon. We give a reproduction of this police regulation[#] which was posted on the walls of the town.
[#] See pp. 216, 217.
A few days back a German had gone into Government Place at noon and hauled down the English flag. The sentry looked on aghast at first, and then began to question him.
'It has no business here,' replied the German, going on with his work. He was arrested at last, and condemned to nine months' hard labour.
The life of inaction had become unbearable to me. At the end of June, still on the lookout for a means of returning to the front, I at last 'found' the papers of an English police-officer. And now for liberty!
* * * * * * * *
V. R. POLICE NOTICE,
1. All Civilians are required to remain in their houses between the hours of 7 p.m. and 6.30 a.m. unless provided with a pass signed by the Military Commissioner of Police.
2. No Natives are allowed in the town except such as are permanently employed within its limits.
3. All Liquor Stores, Bars, and Kaffir Eating Houses are closed until further orders. No liquor will be sold except on the written order of an Officer of Her Majesty's Forces. 4. All Jewellers' Shops are closed.
5. No Civilian is allowed to ride or drive, or ride a bicycle within the town unless provided with a pass signed by the Military Commissioner of Police.
6. Any person disobeying these regulations is liable to arrest, and will be dealt with under Martial Law.
By Order, FRANCIS DAVIES, MAJOR GRENADIER GUARDS, Military Commissioner of Police. JOHANNESBURG, 1ST JUNE, 1900.
1. Alle Inwoners worden hierbij bevolen om in hun huizen te blyven van 7 uur 's avonds tot 6.30 uur 's morgens indien niet voorzien van een Paspoort, geteekend door de Militaire Commissaris van Politie.
2. Geen Kleurlingen mogen in de Stad zyn indien zy geen vast werk hebben daarin.
3. Alle Bottel Stores, Bars en Kleurling Kosthuizen moeten gesloten worden tot nadere kennisgeving. Geen Drank mag verkocht worden indien niet voorzien van een Permit van den Officier van Harer Majesteit's Troepen.
4. Alle Jewelier Winkels moeten gesloten worden.
5. Geen Inwoner mag ryden te Paard, Rytuig of Bicycle in de Stad, zonder voorzien te zyn van een permit, geteekend door de Militaire Commissaris van Politie.
6. Eenig persoon die deze Regulaties niet opvolgt, zal gestraft worden onder de Krygswet.
By Order, FRANCIS DAVIES, MAJOR GRENADIER GUARDS. Militaire Commissaris van Politie. JOHANNESBURG, 1 JUNI, 1900.