The Camp, Mafeking,
October 9th, 1899.
Mafeking lies a day's journey by the train from Vryburg, and was once the terminus of the Cape railway system pending its extension northwards. Just now it is the embodiment of a fine Imperialism. There is the dignity of empire in the shape of her Majesty's Imperial Commissioner, Major Gould Adams, C.B., C.M.G.; the majesty of might, as suggested by Colonel Baden-Powell, of the Frontier Force; by Colonel Hore, of the Protectorate Regiment; by Colonel Walford, of the British South Africa Police; by Colonel Vyvyan, base commandant; and there are, too, the various strengths attached to the respective commands. For weeks this little place has been terrorised by Boer threats, until the presence of the military has reassured them. Now, however, the veldt beyond the town has been effectively occupied by the different commands, while within the town, or beyond its outer walls, noise and bustle everywhere embody the grim reality of war. It has not been possible to visit the different camps, in time for this mail, since the exigencies of war have interfered with the dispatch of the English letters from the more remote districts, and until the country is more settled the night train service is altogether discontinued. This week's mail is two days in advance of its usual fixture; but perhaps we are fortunate, since the mail coach to Johannesburg has discontinued running, its last journey from Mafeking being confined to taking back to the Transvaal the few things which belonged to it in Mafeking. The supplementary coach was behind, its harness was stored in sacks upon the top, and thus it made its departure. It had better have remained at Mafeking, for no sooner had the coach passed the border-line than its mules were commandeered for transport by order of the Transvaal Government.
Mafeking has entered into warlike preparations with commendable zeal, but in reality men are uncertain whether to face the music or to skip with their women and children. Ostensibly they wish to bear the brunt of an attack upon their town, but as time wears on and the numbers of the Boer force concentrated upon the border increase, the number of men available for actual volunteer service grows beautifully less. Mines have been laid down, fortifications thrown up, the volunteers and local ambulance services have been called out, and an armoured train patrols the line. The staff officers are everywhere, a crowd of journalists drifts about smothered beneath a variety of secret reports. Every one wears a worried look, and still the expected does not happen. To break the monotony of false alarms, of the sound of armed feet marching anywhere, of bells by day and rockets by night, of irresponsible gossips chattering upon subjects they do not understand, of the plague of locusts thick as fleas on Margate Sands (a plague as great as the military bore)—there is lacking but one thing—WAR. The troops want it to prove their efficiency, the journalists demand it to justify their existence, the countryside approves since it has sent the price of foodstuffs and of native labour to a premium, the Boers want it as the first step in that great scheme by which they hope to reduce London to ashes and sweep the red-vests of Great Britain into complete oblivion.
But if the path of glory lies in that direction for the Boer sharpshooter, Mafeking will present him with a splendid spectacle just so soon as the curtain rises upon the drama of mortal combat between Boer and Britisher. It is a straggling town this Mafeking, and covers an area wider than its dignity demands. But should Commandant Cronje, who is hovering upon the border at Louw's Farm with 6,000 Boers, come down, in that spirit of unctuous rectitude which epitomises the Scripture and so distinguishes the Boers, a bill will be settled by this little town against the man who, already the hero of many historical iniquities, baulked Jameson of his raid.
Upon this point Colonel Baden-Powell's notice to the inhabitants is instructive:—
"The inhabitants are warned that mines are being laid at various points outside the town in connection with the defences. Their position will be marked, in order to avoid accidents, by small red flags.
"Cattle herds and others should be warned accordingly.
"Mafeking: Dated this 7th day of October, 1899."
If this throws a sidelight upon the situation here, the second notice paints in the background with gloomy shadows:—
"Notice.—It is considered desirable to state to the inhabitants of Mafeking what is the situation up to date.
"Forces of armed Boers are now massed upon the Natal and Bechuanaland Borders. Their orders are not to cross the border until the British fire a shot, and as this is not likely to occur, at least for some time, no immediate danger is to be apprehended. At the same time a rumour of war in Natal or other false alarm might cause the Boers upon our border to take action, and it is well to be prepared for eventualities.
"It is possible they might attempt to shell the town, and although every endeavour will be made to provide shelter for the women and children, yet arrangements could be made with the railway to move any of them to a place of safety if they desire to go away from Mafeking, and it is suggested that some place on the Transvaal border, such as Palapye Siding, or Francistown, might be more suitable and less expensive places than the already crowded towns of the colony. The men would, of course, remain to defend Mafeking, which, with its present garrison and defences, will be easy to hold. Those desirous of leaving should inform the Stationmaster, Mafeking, their number of adults and children, class of accommodation required, and destination.
"Colonel Commanding Frontier Forces.
"October 7th, Mafeking."
One turns from this to learn that streets in the town are barricaded, that the houses are sandbagged, that the railway is patrolled by an armour-plated train, which is imposing if incapable of much resistance. It is fitted with Nordenfeldt and Maxim quick-firing machine guns, and provided with a phonophone and an acetylene searchlight which stands like a fiery dragon at one end of the car. The train is in three parts, the engine being placed between two trucks. Each of the vehicles is about thirty feet long, mounted on four pairs of wheels, and is capable of holding sixty men. The entire train is covered over with ¾-inch steel armour-plate over double iron rails, but at some recent trial the bullets from Lee-Metfords and Martinis penetrated at 200 yards' range through all thicknesses of armour.
Mafeking is situated upon a rise about three hundred yards north of the Molopo River, and from time to time its history has been associated with military enterprises. It is not an unimportant town, and in that day when it has been connected by railway with the Transvaal and its present system has been improved, its commercial importance will receive material increase. The present railway, which cuts through Mafeking in its journey to Buluwayo, is to the west of the town, running north and south and crossing the Molopo River by an iron bridge, at which point the trend of the railroad inclines to the west. To the west of the railway again is the native stadt, extending to both sides of the river, and commencing about half a mile from the railway. The stadt extends to the west from the base of a rise beyond the bed of the river which, at present, covers the exterior line of the western outposts. Near the railway the ground slopes gradually for a considerable distance, while the country around Mafeking is flat in general, but across the Molopo, to the south and south-east, it commands the town, while the ground to the west of the stadt commands the stadt. The native village rests upon this western face, and, owing to the rough character of the country upon which the stadt lies, this native town has received the name of "The Place among the Rocks." About a mile from the town, and slightly east, there is an old fort called Cannon Kopje, a hideous collection of stones, which is held by a detachment of the British South Africa Police. It has an interior diameter of some thirty yards. The native location lies between Cannon Kopje and the town, on the southern bank of the river. The native stadt consists of Kaffir huts. Further east, and between the native location and Cannon Kopje, on the northern bank of the river, extend the brickfields, while a little further in the same direction is MacMullan's Farm. Between the farm and the ground to the north-east is the racecourse and the waterworks, which are connected by a pipe with The Springs, a natural water-hole to the east of the town. Cannon Kopje is due south of the town, the cemetery north, the native stadt west, the racecourse east. Between these points there are a few buildings which serve as local landmarks. There is the Convent to the north-east corner, Ellis's Corner south-east, the Pound south-west, and the British South Africa Police Barracks west.
The town of Mafeking has been built upon a rock, the centre of the town being the market square. Buildings extend at all points from the square, running into the veldt, showing an irregularity of design and no architectural perfection. The town is principally composed of bungalows, built of mud-bricks, with roofs of corrugated iron. The population in time of peace includes some 2,000 whites and some 6,000 natives. Just now there are perhaps 1,500 whites, 8,000 natives, the ordinary population of the native village being swelled by the influx of some native refugees from the Transvaal. The perimeter of the defences is between five and six miles. The armoured train protects the north-west front. Between the railway on the north-west and the Convent, there are some trenches, built with an eye to their future use. Upon the western and eastern bases of the town there are further trenches, manned by the Protectorate Regiment, the Town Guard, and other local volunteer corps. The town was garrisoned by the Cape Police under Inspector Marsh and Inspector Brown. Colonel Walford held Cannon Kopje with the British South Africa Police. Colonel Hore commanded the Protectorate Regiment, which was scattered about the defences of the town under its squadron officers. The western outposts were entrusted to Major Godley, while in this direction there were also the Women's Laager and the Refugee Laager in Hidden Hollow. To the south-west was Major Godley's headquarters. Below this, and further to the west, was Captain Marsh's post, upon the other side of which, along the eastern front of the town, there are many forts in process of construction. There are De Koch's, Musson's, Ellitson's Kraal, Early's Corner. These forts will be garrisoned by the Town Guard, and it is hoped that they will be provided with adequate protection from the enemy's artillery. The Railway Volunteers garrisoned the cemetery and controlled an advanced trench about eight hundred yards to the front. In the meantime, every effort is being made to press forward the work of constructing the defences, and every one appears to be willing to assist. The aspect of the town is gradually changing, and in the little time that is left to us we hope to ensconce ourselves behind something of an impregnable defence.