The Salisbury Government's suppression of the truth—Their " ignorance " of Boer armaments—a War Office secret document exposes the falsity of ministerial assertions—The extent and character of Boer armaments—When and where rifles, guns, and ammunition were purchased—The strength of Boer field forces known to the English war office in June, 1899.

The actual strength of the Federal fighting forces, and the extent and character of their military equipment, were subjects of keen public interest after war had been declared. President Kruger's preparations were an unknown quantity outside of the knowledge of the Transvaal Executive—except to the British War Office. The English press resorted freely to conjecture, and placed the number of burghers, guns, and Mausers at General Joubert's disposal, at the particular figure which the argument of the occasion required. When the conviction was widespread in England that General Buller would march to Pretoria after a two months' campaign, the opposing Boer force was deemed to be anything between 15,000 and 30,000 men. After the defeats inflicted on the English armies at Dundee, Modderspruit, Magersfontein, and Colenso, the English estimate of the Boer armies ranged from 50,000 to 120,000 burghers, with 5,000 foreigners. The Boers were also found after the first engagement to be in possession of an artillery which outclassed that of their foes, and it was confidently asserted that these guns had been worked by trained artillerists from Germany, France, and Holland, numbering at least 300 skilled gunners.

The plea put forward by the English press in explanation of these defeats was the double one of want of due preparation for such a conflict on the part of the English War Office, and the surprising extent and character of the Federal equipment in both men, guns, and ammunition. This plea was universally accepted in England, and, to a great extent, abroad, as an explanation of the humiliating reverses suffered by England's best generals and troops during the first few weeks of the war. This explanation did not stop at that point. The Boer preparations were made to establish something more than a reason why Yule, White, Methuen, Buller, and Gatacre had been beaten back in British territory by the Federal generals. It was declared to be a proof that there had been " a Dutch conspiracy " to oust the British from South Africa, and that in pursuance of this purpose Transvaal arming must have been carried on for years anterior to the Jameson Raid. All this was a comforting discovery for the Jingo authors of the war. " Did we not tell you so?" was the cry of both capitalist and Jingo organs, and the hesitating qualms of conscience which had feebly protested in some English minds against the war as unnecessary, or as being promoted by the Rhodes-Johannesburg combination, gave way before this conclusive demonstration of Dutch deception.

The Government of Lord Salisbury, both in and out of Parliament, connived at the creation of this conviction in the popular mind. It was important also to encourage this impression with reference to the state of foreign opinion on the war and its causes. This opinion had been almost uniformly hostile to the action of England in forcing so unequal a combat with so over-matched an opponent. But, if it could be shown that the Boers had been arming for ten or a dozen years; that they had succeeded in placing double the number of men in the field which England had counted upon as likely to oppose her, and that their real aim and purpose were to contest with Great Britain the supremacy of rule in South Africa, England's action would not look so selfish or unfair, and a more modified view of her policy and motives might obtain. Not a word, therefore, was given to the public of the reliable information which was in possession of Lords Salisbury, Lansdowne, and Wolseley, Mr. Chamberlain and Mr. Balfour, and of the less prominent members of the Ministry, about the actual Boer armaments and forces, and the date when President Kruger commenced to place the Republic in a state of defense. On the contrary, each of the Ministers responsible for the war declared, in so many words, that England was taken completely by surprise, and that the Boers had evidently begun their work of aggressive armament long before the time of the Jameson Raid.

Speaking in the House of Lords on the 30th of January, 1900, in reply to Lord Kimberley, the Prime Minister used these words :

" The noble earl says that we must have known about the artillery and munitions of war that the Republics were introducing. I ask, how on earth were we to know it? I believe, as a matter of fact— though I do not give this as official—that the guns were generally introduced in boilers and locomotives, and the munitions of war were introduced in pianos. It was not our territory, we had no powers of search, we had no power of knowing what munitions of war were sent in, and we certainly had no power of supervising their importation into the Republics."

This language and attitude were thoroughly in keeping with the whole policy of unscrupulous purpose and deception which brought on the war. It was a glaring suppression of the truth, as the following facts will show.

A few days after war began a document was found upon a British officer at Dundee which gave this whole English contention away, in all its suggestions and details. This document was in the form of a small book, and contained about 120 pages of matter. The front page reads as follows :


" This paper is transmitted by direction of the Secretary of State for War for the personal information of ……….
while holding the appointment of ……….
and is to be considered secret.



The preface to the book reads :

" Preface.

" These notes have been carefully compiled from many sources, and are intended to supplement the following recent Intelligence Division publications :

" Reconnaissance Reports over the Vaal and Orange Rivers.
" Reconnaissance Reports on the Lines of Advance through the Orange Free State. Parts I., II., and III.
" Report on Natal Government Railways, and of the defense of them, etc., by Captain Gale, R.E.
" Report on the Communications in Natal, north of the latitude of Ladysmith.
" South African Republic: Road and Railway Reports.
" Swaziland. Precis of information on, 1898.
" Basutoland. Precis of information, revised to February, 1898.
" Notes on the Line of Communications, Cape Colony.
" J. C. Ardagh, Manor-General."

At page 15 we read :

" The actual number of rifles known to be now in possession of the Transvaal are as follows :

" Rifles.
" Martini-Henry ........34,000
Lee-Metford .............2,850
Mauser .................24,000
Guedes ..................2,000
Krag- Jorgensen ..........100

"They have also acquired 2,000 Martini-Henry Carabines and 6,000 Webley Revolvers.

"The actual number of rifles in the Republic are more than double the number of burghers, but the surplus is intended to arm the disloyalists from Cape Colony and Natal."

On page 27 Lord Lansdowne settles the point about the date of the Boer armaments, and supplies a few items of other information of a startling kind, in addition :

" Of the enormous quantity of rifles now in possession of the South African Republic, only some 13,500 Martini-Henry rifles were in the country before the Jameson Raid. The whole of the remainder have been purchased since that date in England, Prance, Germany, and Belgium. This enormous stock of rifles would suffice to arm more than double the number of the whole forces of the Transvaal."

And on page 28, in the same connection, is found this supplementary and astounding bit of intelligence :

" From the record of shipments made in the United Kingdom it is known that the supply of ammunition in possession of the Republic is sufficient for a protracted campaign."

Here, then, we have the English War Office itself establishing the following facts against the public and political statements of the Jingo Ministers of the Government and the British press :

1. That the Boers had only a few thousand Martini-Henry rifles before the Jameson Raid.

2. That they had no Mauser rifles.

3. That the rifles subsequently purchased were bought in England as well as on the Continent, and

4. That it was from the United Kingdom that President Kruger obtained " the supply of ammunition sufficient for a protracted campaign"!

The extent to which this policy of deliberate deception was carried by English statesmen will be more fully seen in further extracts from Lord Lansdowne's circular.

"On pages 19 and 20 the following particulars are given :

" Permanent Forces of Transvaal. Corps of Staats Artillery.

"In January, 1896, the strength of the Staats Artillery was 9 officers and 100 men, tho only 70 men were actually doing duty. Immediately after the Jameson Raid the corps was increased in strength to about 400, and in January last was stated by the Commandant-General to have an actual strength of 473 officers and men. This is exclusive of the reserve, which in the time of the Raid amounted only to 50 men, but may now be estimated at 200 or 300 at least.

" The men are all burghers of the State, altho among them individuals of foreign origin are to be found, and even some Englishmen.

" Staff.

" The Staats Almanac for 1899 gives the following list of officers:
Lieutenant-Commandant Trichardt.
Major P. E. Erasmus.
1st Lieut. Adjutant Th. Kroon.
2nd Lieut. Adjt. W. Baaij. Bandmaster
2nd Lieut. J. Maggs.
Quartermaster 2nd Lieut. E. B. E. Hoffman.

" Artillery.

" Major J. F. Wolmarans.
Captain P. J. Van der Merwe.
1st Lieut. J. L. Pretorius.
Lieutenant M. J. de Jager.
Lieutenant M. du Toit.
Lieutenant F. Townsend.
Lieutenant Oelofse."

We see it here explicitly declared, as known to the British Government, that the Transvaal Artillery was an active force of 70 men in January, 1896, with 9 officers and 100 men, nominally available! What a proof this affords of " the great Dutch conspiracy " prior to the Jameson Raid!

Dealing with the Free State Artillery, the "Notes" on page 36 give the following facts :

" Chapter 4.

"Military Forces, Armaments, and Forts of the Free State.

" In peace no head-quarter staff exists; on the outbreak of war a Commandant-General is elected by the District Commandants and Field Cornets, and receives his instructions from the President of the State. The District Commandants and Field Cornets have, however, the curious right during the campaign of discharging the Commandant-General, and reporting their reasons to the President, who, if he considers such reasons sufficient, will then appoint a day for the election of a successor. There is no ' war department' at Bloemfontein, as has been established during the last few years at Pretoria; but the Volksraad appoints annually a Committee of five or more of its members, who, in conjunction with the President, inquire into the state of war material (Law 29 of 1896).

" Staats Artillery.

" This corps is commanded by Major Albreeht, a German, and has two German officers. Its establishment comprises 114 of all ranks, and there is stated to be a reserve of 300 men. Of these 40 were mobilized by vote of the Raad, dated 23rd of June, 1899. The corps is recruited from the burgher class. Two non-commissioned officers have recently been instructed at Pretoria in field telegraphy.

" Armament.

" The following is a list of guns in charge of the Staats Artillery:
" 3—3 p.r. M. L. Whitworths.
14—7.5 cm. B. L. (Krupps), with eight ammunition wagons.
1—6 p.r. Whitworth.
1—3 cm. Krupp.
1—3 p.r. Mountain Gun.
5—9 p.r. Armstrongs.
3—Rifle Maxims. "

By vote dated 23rd June, 1899, the Raad granted money for three Q.F. guns and three more Maxims. Funds were also voted for the purchase of improved field telegraphic equipment, 300 tents, provision wagons, and a large quantity of ammunition."

As showing the thoroughness of the information possessed by the English War Office of all the possible fighting forces of the Transvaal and Free State, I will quote the " Notes " on the Police Force of the South African Republic. These men (excepting the colored members), known in the war as "The Zarps," have fought with conspicuous bravery throughout the campaign, and the English officers who were sent to the Transvaal to obtain knowledge for the War Office took note of this splendid body of burghers, as follows :

" Transvaal Police Force.

" The total strength of this force on the 31st December, 1897, was 1,356, comprising 5 commandants, 14 lieutenants, 1 head-constable, 91 under officers, 448 mounted police, 636 white foot-police, and 164 native police. A further increase of 300 men for Johannesburg was sanctioned in May, 1899, and the men recruited. The mounted police are composed of much the same class as the Cape Mounted Police, but are not so efficient. The white foot-police are drilled as soldiers.

" The above does not include the Swaziland police, the strength of which is given in the Staats Almanac as 3 officers and 117 mounted police and 50 natives, but it is believed that the mounted police of Swaziland has since been increased to 400. The Swazi police are commanded by Lieut. C. Botha. This increase, however, is no increase in the total forces of the Republic, as it must be deducted from the burghers' strength."

We now come to the number of burghers who were available for the Boer armies. English Jingo papers have given various estimates of the forces which defeated Penn Symons, Yule, White, Buller, Warren, Methuen, and other British generals from the battle of Dundee to the surrender of Cronje. Some of these figures went as high as 100,000. Other, more modest, calculations put down the Boers in the field at from 50,000 to 70,000, not counting Colonial and foreign volunteers. The lowest English press calculation would not admit that these victories could have been gained over British troops with less than an army of 50,000 burghers for Botha, Cronje, De Wet, and De la Rey to draw upon for their commandoes.

Here are the figures which were in the possession of the English War Office in June, 1899 :

" Number of burghers liable to military service in the Transvaal : From 18 to 34 years of age, 15,696; from 34 to 50 years, 9,050; under 18 and above 50, 4,533. Grand total, 29,279."

At page 27 these figures are dealt with in the following observations :

" From the foregoing data it would appear that the total number
of persons liable to military service in the Transvaal is as follows :

" Staats Artillery (including Reservists) ...........800
Police (including recent increase) .............. 1,550
Burghers (exclusive of Staats Artillery Re-
Servists .......................................... 28,979
Grand total ...................................... 31,329

" Burgher Force, Orange Free State.

"As in the case of the Transvaal, this force is the backbone of the military strength of the Free State, and is organized on similar tho not quite indentical [sic] lines.

" Every burgher is liable by law to military service between the ages of 16 and 60. The system of organization is territorial. Each ward elects its Field Cornet from amongst its own burghers, and each district its own Commandant.

"No figures as to the number of burghers liable to military service are published officially, but Von Lobell, in his annual reports on military changes, 1897, stated that the number was 20,000. As the Commandant of the Staats Artillery is a German, it is not improbable that Von Lobell derived his information from official sources. Moreover, this estimate agrees fairly well with the following calculation, based on actuarial formula, that the males between the ages of 16 and 60 are equivalent to 55 per cent, of the total male population."

The male population is then given, in tabulated form, for each district.

The circular proeeeds :

" Taking all these matters into review, the following deductions
may reasonably be made :

" Sick, caretakers of arms, etc., 10 per cent.
of whole ...............................................2,930
Police duties ..........................................1,200
Johannesburg garrison (exclusive of artillery) ....5,000
Pretoria (exclusive of artillery)........................500
Force watching Rhodesia and holding in check
natives in Zoutpansberg district .................. 2,500
Force in Swaziland border ..........................1,000
Force watching Mafeking..............................500
Force watching Fourteen Streams ...................100
" Total deduction from Transvaal forces ....... 13,730

leaving an effective field force of, say, 16,000 burghers, including the Reservists of the Staats Artillery. The artillery portion of the force would comprise five field batteries, and possibly a smaller howitzer battery.

" Similarly, deductions must be made from the strength of the Free State :

" Sick, caretakers of farms, etc .................... 2,000
Force watching Basutoland ...........................3,000
Force watching Kimberley ............................1,000
Garrison of Bloemfontein ...............................500
" Total deduction from Free State forces ..........6,500

leaving a force to take the field from the Free State of about 13,500 burghers, with two batteries of field artillery.

"The grand total of the Dutch Republics' field force may be estimated, therefore, as follows :

Transvaal ............ 16,000
Free State ............13,500
Disloyal Colonists....   4,000

Total ..................33,500

with seven batteries of field artillery, one howitzer battery, and 20 to 30 Maxim guns."

These estimates are too high in each particular. The deductions given in the number of available burghers of the Transvaal do not allow for backsliders, people in business, sons of widows exempt from service, men employed in mines by Government, clergymen, wealthy burghers who went away before war was declared, Government officials, railway servants, and a percentage of burghers holding pro-British sentiments who would not on that account be forced to go to the front.

On the other hand, the number of burghers allotted to the Johannesburg garrison would be 4,000 in excess of the needs of that post after war was commenced. The estimate was an error in exaggerating the number of Boers required to keep the Rand in order. The police of Johannesburg were quite equal to that duty.

The Free State had a percentage of Scotch and English burghers among its people. These men, except in a very few instances, did not join the Boer armies. They removed to Cape Colony before and after war was declared. Allowing for these desertions, and also for exemptions similar to those in the Transvaal, the available fighting force of the Free State would not reach beyond 10,000 men.

The "Disloyal Colonists" [The above estimate of Colonial " rebels " applies to the period of the war anterior to the resort by Lords Roberts and Kitchener to the farm-burning and other Weylerite methods of barbarous warfare. These brutalities are now (March, 1902) believed by many persons who have recently come from South Africa to have induced fully 10,000 more Cape Dutchmen to join the Boer commandoes during the last two years.] who actually fought in the war numbered, according to one of their prominent organizers, not more than 3,500 men.

Taking these extra deductions from the War Office estimate, we find a net total of available fighting burghers for both Republics amounting to 27,500.

Account, however, must be taken of the Uitlanders of the Rand who volunteered to join the Transvaal army, and of the " foreign volunteers " who enlisted in the same service. Lord Lansdowne's " Notes" do not deal with these extraneous forces, as such auxiliaries were not anticipated or taken into account by the officers who collected facts and information for the British authorities.

The number of Uitlanders who joined the Boer commandoes would not exceed 3,000, while the " foreign volunteers "—that is, men who went expressly from Europe and America to help the Kepublies in the field—did not reach the number of 700. Accepting, however, these maximum estimates, they would add some 4,000 men to the burgher forces, making the grand total of the Federal armies reach the figure of 31,500.

This is nearly the same number which was obtained by the British War Office from its sources of information in the manner specified in the " Military Notes."

Lord Lansdowne's circular likewise quotes the text of the treaty of offensive and defensive alliance between the two Republics. It reads:

" Political Treaty concluded between the Orange Free State and the South African Republic, July, 1897 :

" Article I. That there is to be everlasting peace between both States.

" Article II. That the two Republics shall mutually aid and help each other when the independence of either be threatened in any way, unless the State to give support should show and prove the injustice of such support.

" Article III. That the Governments of both States shall, as soon as possible, inform each other of such matters which may unfavorably affect the independence and peace of either of them.

"Article VII. of the Military Convention agreed to in July, 1897, says : In a common war, one State may not conclude peace without the consent of the other."

It will be seen that this treaty, for the mutual protection of the Republics, was concluded in July, 1897, eighteen months after the Jameson Raid. Such a compact would have been one of the first acts of a conspiracy to overthrow British supremacy in South Africa. There is no record of any such plot in Lord Lansdowne's " Military Notes." On the contrary, it is shown how the treaty thus formed, like the arming of the two Republics, followed, and did not precede, the attempt on the part of Rhodes and Jameson to seize the Transvaal and its gold mines in 1896.

Parent Category: Books
Category: Davitt: Boer Fight for Freedom
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