The Boer would like to lay hands on the man who invented ploughs. Not that he has any aversion to ploughs as ploughs; he merely objects to the labour involved by the introduction of these implements into the market. He sees some sense in an ox, a sheep, a goat, and a horse. Put these animals on a bit of green veldt, and they do the rest themselves; they thrive and multiply, and enhance the position of their owner. But a plough! It means that he requires to take off his coat and stop doing nothing. The Boer would like to argue that if God had meant the soil to be disturbed by ploughs and such like, He would not have left the solution of this problem in the hands of mere inventors: He would have ordained a means whereby the soil would have of itself turned over once a year at springtime.

The Boers are a pastoral people—one can hardly say an agricultural people. They have been that sort of people from the start, and they will never change. They are used to waggons and oxen and sheep, and the waggons and oxen and sheep have got quite used to them. There is abundance of proof in the Dutch Republics to satisfy any ordinary person that a Boer, no matter if he can count his sovereigns by the million, would never dream of giving up his farm and turning country gentleman. He may take no part in the actual work (and this is not much in his line under any circumstances), but he exercises that amount of careful supervision necessary to successful farming, and continues to do so until the end. Even the members of the Volksraad, who are usually well-to-do farmers, never neglect their crops, albeit a handsome income is assured in their official capacity.

But does farming in the Dutch Republics pay? Most emphatically, No. I am not making this assertion because I have tried it myself, I am simply quoting the dictum of every Boer. I have been careful to obtain a consensus of opinion on this question for the guidance of those who may contemplate embarking upon such an unsatisfactory and dangerous undertaking. Farming does not pay. For my own satisfaction, I recently questioned a Boer with regard to his average yearly income, and he was good enough to humour me.

The value of his stock worked out as follows:

1,000 sheep say



100 head of cattle



48 horses







His yearly clip averaged 10 bales






On an average he sold:


£    s    d

20 head of cattle


160  0  0

10 horses


100  0  0

Butter, 1,000 pounds


50  0  0

Hides and skin


5  0  0



1  0  0

Mealies, 60 bags


36  0  0

Forage, 5,000 bundles


62  10  0

Kaffir corn, 30 bags


22  10  0




Total average yearly income


537  0  0

It must not be supposed for one moment that here we have a rich man. I am merely citing the case of a farmer who said to me: 'I'd rather be a book-keeper at twenty-pounds a month.' He had no idea that his annual income figured up to anything like £537. And yet that same man would endeavour to make a good bargain in purchasing sixpennyworth of hairpins because he considered himself a 'poor man.'

There are hundreds of farmers, more particularly in the Free State, who are unable to realize the extent of their wealth in stock or the acreage of their own farms. They brand every ox, sheep, and horse that belongs to them, and it is only by such marks that they are enabled to recognise their own property when they see it. I have known instances where hundreds of horses belonging to one man have succumbed in a single season on account of horse-sickness, and their owner regarded the loss as a mere trifle, because he knew that such a catastrophe did not materially affect his position.

Klondyke had its 'millionaires in huts,' Boerland has its millionaires in hovels. You will find farmers who are worth many thousands of pounds living in places under whose roofs a Kaffir would certainly disdain to pass the night. They possess wives and families, too, but they exhibit no desire to better their domestic surroundings. If the houses happen to include another room other than the living room, that extra room is invariably used for storing grain. The women are untidy and unprepossessing, and the children have not yet learned to appreciate stockings and shoes. It is almost paradoxical to think of human beings in a civilized country living such lives, people who have great possibilities within their reach. The children readily assimilate the habits and ways of their parents, and grow up into men and women of a like type, and so on from generation to generation. No wonder, then, that the Boers are a retrograde race.

It has been made sufficiently plain that when once the Boers have acquired a country, they allow that country to rest in peace—from an agricultural point of view only. This is quite apparent when it is explained that the Free State has an estimated acreage of 7,491,500, and out of that only 75,000 acres are cultivated. This is not the fault of the country, but of the Boer himself. He has no sooner settled down on a bit of land, where there is a plentiful growth of grass to feed his stock, than he longs for pastures new, his only reason for staying where he is being that he does not want the Englishman to step into his homestead.

No exhibition of national prejudice is intended when I say that were the Dutch Republics sprinkled with a few hundred Scottish farmers, these countries would assume a more fertile and healthy aspect in two or three years. The soil is good; all that is wanted is concentrated hard work, and the countries would surprise several people—the Boers, for instance—by the extent of their agricultural wealth. There are, of course, climatic disadvantages to contend against—prolonged droughts are of common occurrence—but, as in other countries, the farmer must take the bad with the good. The great thing with the Boer is stock, and plenty of it. He does not care about anything else until the rinderpest comes.

Comparisons are odious, but let us compare the Boer with the English farmers. Should the harvests of the latter be destroyed (as in the case of an entire county of farmers in England at one time), ruin stares them in the face, showing that stock is of little moment. It is different in the case of the Boer. Take his stock away from him, and you deprive him of his daily bread. Of course, the facilities for successful cultivation in England are different from those in the Dutch Republics; at the same time, there is such a thing as irrigation, and were this resorted to more generally, and a larger area of land put under cultivation, the Boer farmer would be on a more stable footing.

A somewhat erroneous deduction has been gleaned by many people from guide-books, in which particulars are given respecting the limited extent of arable land available, but guide-book makers mostly prefer to guess at the figures rather than go to the trouble of ascertaining the truth. Without further reference to the guide-books, it is noteworthy that the possibilities of both the Transvaal and Free State, from an agricultural point of view, are greatly under-estimated, the fact being that a very small proportion of arable land is cultivated at all. In a number of cases water facilities are entirely ignored.

Wool is the current coin of the country with the Boer farmers, and the merchant who is desirous of continuing his business must have a certain amount of capital behind him, because the farmer likes to see money at least once a year. Things have changed somewhat now. In the olden days it was different. It was absolutely necessary then to put down a cheque for the full amount, but the average farmer is becoming less suspicious in transactions of this nature.

The life of the merchant during the wool season is not exactly a happy one. He likes to please his customers, but he does not always succeed. The average farmer who comes in with a load of wool has the appearance of a man whose primary intention is to buy up all the stores (although he may go away with a bag of coffee only), and afterwards consider with great deliberation the question of acquiring the whole town. All this is based upon the fact that he has a load of wool for sale. The merchant would rather give him five shillings than fivepence per pound, because it would be a certain sign that the good times had arrived. No matter, however, what price the merchant offers, your average farmer can always obtain more. He does not say where; he prefers to keep that up his sleeve. He also advances by farthings and halfpence, because he is chary about entering into the intricacies of eighths. He, moreover, strongly objects to accepting a lower price than that given to his neighbour. His neighbour may be an excellent man, and he may be in possession of very good sheep, but that his wool should be more valuable is not so apparent—is, in fact, most improbable. Every farmer has implicit faith in the merits of his own particular clip, and if differences really exist, he is prepared to state emphatically that the advantage is on his side.