"C'est une axiome, dans l'art militaire, que celui qui reste dans ses retranchements est battu."  Napoleon.



During the afternoon of 10th October, Kekewich received a telegram from Cape Town informing him that President Kruger had sent an ultimatum to the British Cabinet, which had been called upon to comply with the demands of the Transvaal Government by 5 p.m. on the 11th; the Boer President further intimated that a failure to carry out the several measures dictated in the ultimatum would lead to a rupture of friendly relations between the Transvaal and the British peoples. Kekewich was now authorized by the High Commissioner to call out the Town Guard for military duty. At 5 p.m., shortly after the receipt of the foregoing message, its contents were repeated by wire to the O.C. Vryburg Mounted Rifles and to the officers commanding the police detachments along the railway between Kimberley and Mafeking, as also to the civil officers in charge of the important centres in the territories under Kekewich's jurisdiction.

Cecil Rhodes, who was, it was understood, on his way (with friends) to Rhodesia, arrived in Kimberley by the Cape Town train on the evening of 10th October, that is to say, four clear days before the last passenger train from the south entered the town. It had been thought desirable to suspend the running of trains during the hours of darkness north of the Orange River shortly after it was learnt that the guns and commando sent off from Bloemfontein by Steyn had arrived at Olifantsfontein—this force consisted of three guns and 1,400 burghers. Now that an ultimatum had been received from Kruger, containing terms which no British Government could, or would, accept even from a Sovereign State, obviously the situation had become exceedingly critical, and it was doubtful whether any more trains should be allowed to run on any section of the railway northward of the Orange River. Since 2nd October further intelligence had been received concerning the Boer concentration south of Mafeking, and it was reported that 400 Boers had occupied the kopjes, between Maribogo and Kraai Pan Siding, lying to the eastward of the railway. In these circumstances, Rhodes' friends felt that it would be neither safe nor prudent for him to proceed on his journey northward; Rhodes accordingly decided to remain in Kimberley[1].

During the evening of the 10th, a message was received by Kekewich from Baden-Powell, who was then in Mafeking and wished to discuss with the Commandant of Kimberley the situation created by Kruger's ultimatum. These were days when no telephone trunk lines existed between Kimberley and Mafeking; Kekewich therefore proceeded to the Telegraph Office, accompanied by a staff officer, and the talk between him and Baden-Powell was conducted I through telegraph operators, who acted as intermediaries. Baden-Powell informed Kekewich that the Boers who had been reported to be concentrated east of Kraai Pan Siding had moved to Polfontein; he also pointed out that the British force in Mafeking was very small and requested Kekewich's sanction to draw the police at Kraai Pan (thirty-five miles from Mafeking) into his headquarters. Realizing that the small detachment of police referred to was in serious jeopardy where it was, Kekewich readily assented to the adoption of the course suggested by Baden-Powell, who issued the necessary orders forthwith; the Kraai Pan detachment reached Mafeking safely.


Baden-Powell had been promised two 7-pdr. guns by the military authorities at Cape Town, and he was naturally anxious to have them sent up to him before he was completely cut off from the south. When he had his talk with Kekewich on the 10th, these guns had not reached Kimberley, owing to some hitch with the Colonial authorities. In view of the concentration of Boers reported to have taken place near Maribogo, Kekewich was of opinion that the railway communications to the northward of Kimberley were already too seriously menaced to risk the attempt to rush guns, or indeed any military stores, from Kimberley to Mafeking; he accordingly explained his views to Baden-Powell, who, however, did not seem to take the same view as to the dangers and risks of a journey between the two places. Baden-Powell informed Kekewich that he had decided to send his armoured-train to Vryburg to meet the guns there and requested Kekewich to send them on as soon as they should arrive.

The guns for Mafeking unfortunately did not reach Kimberley until the morning of 12th October; they were sent forward to Vryburg at once in the Kimberley armoured-train, the officer in command of it being instructed to hand the guns over to the Mafeking armoured-train and to return south in daylight next day. The same evening, when it was already too late for Kekewich to take further action in the matter, reports were received in Kimberley from the railway officials at Maribogo stating that the telegraph communication between that place and Mafeking was interrupted and that a Boer commando had occupied Kraai Pan Siding. During the night, a further report was received to the effect that railway culverts at Kraai Pan had been destroyed by the enemy, and, at 4 a.m. on the 13th, definite information reached Kekewich that the Mafeking armoured-train had been derailed and its crew taken prisoners by the Boers. Kekewich had now become anxious as to the safety of the Kimberley armoured-train, and, as the day wore on, his anxiety was increased, owing to the receipt of a message reporting that 600 Boers, with guns, had moved up to the railway at Border Siding (about eleven miles north of the Vaal). Towards mid-day, Kekewich learnt with immense relief that our armoured-train had reached Fourteen Streams safely. As the route was still open, the railway authorities were instructed to remove into Kimberley all the railway-stock and as much as possible of the supplies in their custody at Vryburg; fortunately the Boers were not greatly daring, and a fair quantity of supplies was brought south in the trucks which were removed from Vryburg and reached Kimberley safely.


During the afternoon of the 13th a message was delivered to Kekewich informing him that the High Commissioner wished to talk to him on the telegraph wire; he accordingly went to the Telegraph Office and the conversation began, telegraph operators being again employed as intermediaries, as was the case three days previously. During this conversation, the High Commissioner informed Kekewich, among other things, that Martial Law could alone be proclaimed by the Government and that he (the High Commissioner) did not at the moment wish to issue a proclamation of this kind, but that if the telegraph communication with the south was cut and Kekewich found that he could no longer protect Kimberley by the ordinary legal means, full authority was given him to take any steps which might be necessary—the matters which the High Commissioner had in mind at the time were those concerned with the action to be taken against spies and rebels. Kekewich had already been compelled to enforce a censorship on telegrams, in order to stop messages being sent out of Kimberley, in which information was contained as to the number of troops on the Diamond Fields and their dispositions. The Postmaster-General had protested at the presence of the Press Censor in the Telegraph Office and had sent a message to the Postmaster of Kimberley giving instructions for the Press Censor to be excluded from the office; the Press Censor, however, had resisted expulsion. Kekewich reported this matter to the High Commissioner, who informed him that steps had already been taken to put this matter right, and no more trouble need be anticipated on the part of the Postal Authorities. Kekewich had, as already explained, repeatedly represented the importance of providing a sufficient number of rifles, ample ammunition and guns of a larger calibre than the 7-pdrs. already in Kimberley. The High Commissioner referred to Kekewich's representations on these subjects and informed him that instructions had been given for two 15-pdr. guns to be sent to Kimberley—unfortunately, by the time these guns reached the Orange River, the Boers had already cut the railway at Modder River. The question of the food supplies in Kimberley was discussed and Kekewich informed H.E. that he had sufficient food on hand to last two months— at this time, the population in Kimberley was said to be about 37,000 souls; it was later discovered that the population was nearly 50,000 whites and blacks. Kekewich took this opportunity to represent to the High Commissioner that he had very few mounted troops in Kimberley and wished to increase their number. H.E., thereupon, at once authorized Kekewich to raise a local mounted force. A scheme for the organization of such a force had already been worked out by Scott Turner, and enlistment for a Regiment, named the Kimberley Light Horse, was begun immediately. Kekewich invited Rhodes to become Honorary Colonel of the Regiment, an appointment which he at once accepted.


Instructions had been received by Kekewich to send a detachment (twenty-four rifles and two machine-guns) to Modder River to hold the railway bridge there; therefore, at the earliest opportunity, the undesirability of placing small bodies of troops in positions where they could not be effectively supported had been strongly represented to his superiors by Kekewich. Nevertheless, he received a peremptory order, on the afternoon of 13 th October, to send this small detachment to Modder River "immediately." At this time, the Intelligence Reports compiled in Kimberley contained information that a Boer commando, estimated at about 400 men, was lying only a few miles to the eastward of the Modder River railway bridge; in these circumstances, there was a serious danger that any detachment of troops now sent to that locality ran the risk of being overwhelmed even before it had had time to entrench itself. Kekewich felt that he was in a dilemma, owing to the peremptory-character of the order sent him. He took steps to have a detachment got ready to go to the Modder River (twenty-four miles away), but sent a telegram to Cape Town pointing out what would be the probable consequences if he carried out his orders; further, as the latest intelligence seemed to indicate that the Boers would seize the Modder River railway bridge on the following day, he delayed the move and decided that, in the event of confirmation being received of the Boer concentration in that locality, his orders on the subject should be cancelled altogether. It will be seen later that the course Kekewich adopted was a wise one and to his action in the matter is it probably due that a second "little disaster" has not to be chronicled in connection with the warfare on the Western Border.


The 14th was a day of restless activity in Kimberley; all sorts of rumours were flying about. However, a substantial report came in at six o'clock on that evening; at that hour the Stationmaster at Modder River telephoned to Kimberley stating that some Boer commandeering officers had arrived at his office and were demanding the foodstuffs in his possession consigned to merchants in Jacobsdal and Koffyfontein. He felt in a difficulty in the matter, owing to the proclamation issued by the High Commissioner forbidding the export of foodstuffs from Cape Colony into the enemy territory. The Stationmaster was instructed to inform his unwelcome visitors that if they called next morning they could take away all they wanted; they seemed to have been satisfied with this answer. In the meanwhile, although night traffic was suspended on this section of the railway, instructions were given for an empty heavy goods train to be sent to Modder River at once; it started straightaway and with it went a strong gang of natives. The whole of the supplies in the Modder River Goods Depot were quickly loaded into the train, and about 11 p.m. the railway officials reported the safe return of the train at the Kimberley Depot. The boldness of this action apparently took the enemy by surprise. When it was too late, i.e., after the train had already passed Spytfontein Siding on its return journey, a party of Boers arrived there and lifted a length of rails, with the intention, no doubt, of derailing the train.

In the meantime, shortly after 10 p.m., Kekewich was called to the Telegraph Office, as the G.O.C., Cape Town wished to speak to him. When he arrived there, the General's A.D.C. was at the other end of the wire. Kekewich had during the day received an extraordinary message from the Resident Magistrate at Vryburg, who had sought the Commandant's permission to surrender the town to the enemy. Kekewich indignantly refused to give his authority for any such act. The A.D.C., on learning that Kekewich was at the Kimberley end of the wire, inquired how things were going. Kekewich informed him of the message he had received from the Resident Magistrate at Vryburg that day, and stated that he did not like the look of things at that centre of disloyalty. The A.D.C. replied: "Wait, I will go and fetch the General" . . . Whether he had any more to say, Kekewich never learnt. At that moment, the telegraph instruments in the office, which had been clicking away merrily like a lot of noisy crickets, one by one, in rapid succession, ceased their chattering and within a few seconds a dead silence reigned in the room. Kimberley was now isolated and was to remain so for the next four months. Before midnight, a couple of mounted despatch-riders (Cape Police) were speeding south to the Orange River Bridge (over seventy miles distant) with a report giving particulars of the military situation, in Kekewich's territory, as then known in Kimberley.

Kekewich now sent instructions to the police detachment at Taungs—telegraphic communication with this point was not yet cut—ordering it to fall back at once on the detachment at Fourteen Streams, On the completion of this move, there would have been a force of 270 men with two 7-pdr. guns at the railway bridge over the Vaal at that point. It was thought that this force would have been able to hold its own against any commando which the Boers might have sent, at this time, to destroy the bridge at Fourteen Streams. The O.C. at Fourteen Streams had been given all the information to hand concerning the movements of the enemy; he had been instructed to fall back on Kimberley should his post, after the Taungs detachment had arrived there, be seriously menaced. In spite of the disheartening message received from Vryburg, Kekewich felt that the police and Volunteers there (about 170 strong) ought to be able to give a good account of themselves. It was realized, of course, that a Boer commando would put in an appearance at Vryburg, but it seemed to be unlikely that any considerable force would be sent there; further, it was thought to be highly improbable that the enemy would waste much time in besieging an unimportant place such as Vryburg. Unfortunately, many of the inhabitants in the district were thoroughly disloyal, and, later, it was discovered that there were quite a number of disloyalists in the ranks of the Vryburg Mounted Rifles. In these circumstances, Assistant Commissioner Scott of the Cape Police was certainly placed in a most trying position; he had been entrusted with the military command in Vryburg, but it was obvious that he could not hope to carry out his instructions with any probability of success.


At daybreak on the 15th the armoured-train, supported by about 50 mounted infantry, was sent south to reconnoitre; it located a Boer commando to the south of Spytfontein Siding—independent reports indicated that this was the commando sent off to the Kimberley border by Steyn on the 4th, a part of which was now on Bisset's farm (Magersfontein). The enemy opened fire with artillery on the armoured-train, but without effect; its commander, however, wisely decided to return to his headquarters, and, picking up the Stationmaster of Spytfontein Siding, his family and some gangers, steamed back to Kimberley Station, which was reached without any casualties.

Later on the same day, Kekewich issued a proclamation declaring that a "state of siege" existed in Griqualand West and Bechuanaland. Provision was therein made for the registration of arms and ammunition in the possession of the civil community and a warning was issued as to the pains and penalties which would be incurred by those who aided and abetted the Queen's enemies. And at 11 a.m. the Town Guard was called out permanently for military service. In the meantime, the Boers were also active, and during the morning it was reported that they had made an attack on the small police post at the Pumping Station of the Kimberley Waterworks Company at Riverton. The Pumping Station was of much importance, but it would have been quite impossible to hold it; consequently, Kekewich sent out a party of mounted Cape Police for the purpose of covering the retirement of the men at Riverton. The withdrawal was carried out with the loss of two men only, who were reported missing. Shortly afterwards, a message was received, by Kekewich from the Resident Magistrate at Barkly West, who represented that his town was seriously threatened by a Boer commando and urged that troops should at once be sent to Barkly West for the protection of the town. He was informed that his request could not, unfortunately, be complied with. Thereupon, there followed messages containing vigorous protests from him, but Kekewich remained unmoved in his resolve not to disperse his small force for the purpose of attempting to do the impossible. The Resident Magistrate then reported that the inhabitants of Barfly West had decided to seek refuge in Kimberley, and Kekewich at once sent instructions indicating the route by which they should attempt to reach the town.

It was expected that if the Boers should make a serious attack on Kimberley, they would do so at daybreak. A warning to this effect was issued to the commanders of the various sections of defence, and they were instructed to see that the troops under their command were specially vigilant at dawn. In order to be ready to deal with any emergency that might arise, from the 17th onwards, Kekewich made it a practice to go up into the Conning Tower, with his C.S.O., one hour before daybreak every morning, except when a sortie required his presence elsewhere. He remained with the officer of the watch in the Conning Tower until he was satisfied that no hostile movement was imminent.


The early days of the Siege of Kimberley were anxious ones for Kekewich. It was slow work raising the Town Guard and the Kimberley Light Horse, and many administrative difficulties had to be overcome. Moreover, he had not been able, before the communications were cut, to obtain all the horses he wanted for gun-teams and for mounting the Diamond Fields Horse and the Kimberley Light Horse. At this time, Kekewich was in close touch with Rhodes and kept him informed as to the situation, drawing particular attention to the want of mobility of the guns and the mounted force. Rhodes at once took a personal interest in the matter and set the De Beers officials to work; the balance of the animals Kekewich wanted were now quickly brought to the military remount depot. Needless to say, Kekewich was most grateful to Rhodes for the personal attention he had given to the request made to him and repeatedly acknowledged that the mobility of the mounted troops in Kimberley was due to Rhodes' action in the matter.

Kekewich's anxieties were by no means confined to the matters under his own immediate supervision on the Diamond Fields; he had to take into consideration the situation outside Kimberley and to decide what he should do in certain eventualities in relation to the police post at Fourteen Streams and the defence of Vryburg. However, in both these matters, before the time had arrived for Kekewich to give directions, action was taken by the officers on the spot; on the 16th, information reached Kekewich that the police detachment at Fourteen Streams was retiring on Barkly West. The Taungs detachment had not at the time joined up with the detachment at Fourteen Streams, and Kekewich now felt distinctly uneasy as to its safety. Messengers were at once sent off with instructions to get into touch with the officers commanding both these detachments and to direct them to come into Kimberley, via Barkly West.

On the 17th, further bad news reached Kimberley: it was reported that the Cape Police had evacuated Vryburg and were marching south, and that this had so preyed on the mind of Assistant Commissioner Scott that he had committed suicide. The message further indicated that the Vryburg Mounted Rifles had laid down their arms and that the rebels in the ranks of this force had disclosed to the enemy the hiding-place of the arms and ammunition which the Cape Police had been unable to carry away with them, when they started on their journey to the south.

When the police from Fourteen Streams reached Barkly West, the Resident Magistrate again found work for the telegraph operators; he asked for permission to retain the police, who had been ordered into Kimberley, for the purpose of undertaking the defence of Barkly West. Kekewich was, however, more than ever convinced of the unsoundness of the proposal made to him and, in spite of the continued vigorous protests of the Magistrate, insisted on his orders being carried out. Disheartening as the situation seemed to be, Kekewich was in the highest of spirits and confident of success; he did his best to inspire in the croakers, who had already made their presence known, a spirit similar to his own determination to see the thing through. The several detachments of police all eventually reached Kimberley safely, indeed, without at any time coming into contact with a Boer commando; namely, the Fourteen Streams detachment at 8 p.m. on the 17th; the Taungs detachment at 8.30 p.m. on the 18th; and the Vryburg detachment on the evening of the 23rd- These detachments formed a valuable addition to the mounted force in Kimberley, being normally a semi-military body.


The most important questions which Kekewich had to deal with during the first week of the siege were those which closely affected the civil population. A reconnoitring party sent north on the 18th, was fired on from the Intermediate Pumping Station, some 6 1/2 miles north of Kimberley; this meant that henceforward the only water which would be available for the supply of the town was that in disused wells or that in the Premier Mine—the reservoir in Kimberley only held a few days' supply. The well water was condemned by the medical authorities, being badly polluted; consequently, there was nothing else to be done but to connect up the De Beers private main between the Premier Mine and the village of Kenilworth with the Kimberley Waterworks Company's supply system and pump the water from the mine into the town supply reservoir. George Labram came to the rescue and, within a few days, water was again gushing into the Waterworks Company's reservoir. In the meantime, severe restrictions had been placed on the use of the water stored in the reservoir, and these restrictions had to be continued throughout the siege.

It was, perhaps, inevitable that the merchants in Kimberley should raise the prices of their wares, now that they were no longer in a position to replenish their stocks. The Mayor of Kimberley represented to Kekewich the seriousness of the situation, so far as the increases affected the prices of the necessities of life; therefore, on the 19th, Kekewich authorized the Mayor to issue a notice fixing the price of foodstuffs. Many other notices of a similar character were issued by the municipal authorities, by Kekewich's instructions, at this time.

On the military side too, Kekewich was kept busy. He knew, of course, that the number of troops in Cape Colony at the date Kimberley was isolated was quite insufficient to permit of any serious attempt being made for the immediate relief of Kimberley; indeed, on 14th October, the British troops in Cape Colony did not exceed a total of 7,000 men of all arms. It was hardly likely, so it seemed to him, that any active operations could be undertaken in Cape Colony until the beginning or middle of December. In the meantime, he was responsible for holding on to Kimberley and keeping the flag flying. He felt that he would succeed best in carrying out his duty if he could prevent the Boers from closing on to the town defences; this end he hoped to attain by handling his mobile troops with. boldness, as the enemy might thus be led to believe that the garrison of Kimberley was really larger than actually was the case. Therefore, from the earliest days of the siege, the mounted troops were constantly sent out, first in one direction and then in another, to harass the Boers and keep them on the move.

With the very few Imperial officers in Kimberley, it was naturally a difficult task to provide efficient leaders for the hastily organized local troops. Scott Turner was undoubtedly the best fitted for the command of the mounted force, which, on 19th October, consisted of:—

Battery Diamond Fields Artillery (six 7-pdr. guns).

Detachment Imperial Mounted Infantry                     22   all ranks
Diamond Fields Horse                                            168   “    “
Cape Police (mounted)                                           237   “    “
Kimberley Light Horse                                            212   “    “

Total                                                                     639   “    “

Accordingly, on the 19th, Scott Turner was appointed to command all the mounted troops in Kimberley, and his duties, as C.S.O., were thereafter performed by me, in addition to those for which I had hitherto been responsible. At the same time, Maclnnes, who had been acting as Division Officer, R.E., was brought into the office, as Staff Officer, to deal with routine correspondence and discipline. Gorle (A.S.C.) was placed in charge of Supplies (military and civil) and, a few days later, a Town Guard officer was appointed Garrison Adjutant to deal with inspection duties.


Just a week after Kimberley was isolated, a despatch, addressed to Kekewich, was brought into Kimberley by a "runner"; it was in military cipher. After the document had been decoded, it was found to be a message from the High Commissioner to Rhodes. The tone of the communication was in every way friendly; in it could be detected a spirit of good-humoured chaff. It seemed obvious that H.E.'s message was in reply to one which he had received. A censorship had been put in force on the Diamond Fields, as has already been stated, as soon as war was declared, and, strictly, a permit was required by every one who wished to go beyond the barriers erected at the roadways passing through the lines of defence. Rhodes had not said anything to Kekewich concerning any desire on his part to communicate with the High Commissioner, although they met every day; and he did not apply to the military authorities for the necessary permits for his despatch-riders. From a remark dropped by Rhodes in Kekewich's presence, it appeared that the former had formed the intention to communicate at the earliest opportunity with Lord Rothschild (in London), in order that pressure might be brought to bear on the Cabinet at home so that instructions should be issued to the military authorities at the Cape, ordering them to deal with the relief of Kimberley as of the first importance. But it was not then known at Kekewich's Headquarters what, if any, action had been taken in the matter by Rhodes—it is, of course, now known that Rhodes began communicating with the High Commissioner on 16th October, that is to say, within 48 hours of the telegraph wire being cut,[2] and that three days later he apparently succeeded in getting another message sent out of Kimberley, a paragraph relating to which was published in London.[3] It should perhaps be stated that Kekewich would have placed no obstacle In Rhodes' way had he informed him that he desired to communicate with the High Commissioner.

The High Commissioner's reply having come into his hands, Kekewich thought it right, although Rhodes did not seem to have behaved well in the matter, to let him know how it was that the message was reaching him through military Headquarters. A transcript of the High Commissioner's message was typed out and a staff officer was sent to the Sanatorium Hotel (where Rhodes was staying) with instructions to hand the document to Rhodes personally and to explain that the message had reached Kekewich in military cipher and had, consequently, to be decoded in his office. A staff officer, accordingly, at once rode up to the Sanatorium Hotel and, finding Rhodes in, handed him the envelope; Rhodes tore it open and glanced hastily through the message, and then flew into a violent passion and became most abusive. He took a little time to calm down and then, turning to the bearer of the message, said: "I intend to have my way, and as I can't get it by other means, I shall now send Milner an insulting message." On his return to Headquarters, the staff officer reported to Kekewich what had taken place at the hotel. Kekewich naturally did not wish to be a party in any way to the transmission of an offensive message to the Sovereign's representative, and was therefore unwilling to allow the use of the military cipher to Rhodes. He, however, wished to avoid a rupture with Rhodes, and therefore sent the staff officer back to the Sanatorium Hotel with instructions to tell Rhodes, that the Commandant had no objection to a message being sent by him to the High Commissioner in the Chartered Company's code, and that he did not wish to see the text of the message, or to be informed of its contents. At the same time, Rhodes was also told that, if he so desired, his message for the High Commissioner could be sent south by the military despatch-rider, who would be leaving Kimberley in the evening with despatches for the Orange River.

Rhodes did not avail himself of Kekewich's offer, and, consequently, the military authorities continued to remain in the dark as to what was being done by Rhodes and his friends in Kimberley in the matter of the representations, which it is now known were being made not only to the High Commissioner, but apparently also to some influential person or persons in London. Under the sensational headlines, "KIMBERLEY WANTS TROOPS," "Gradually being surrounded by a large Boer force," the following announcement appeared in the Daily Mail of 24th October, 1899:

"The Daily Mail has reason to know that a message was received in London from Mr. Rhodes yesterday, dated Kimberley, 19th October, stating that the inhabitants of Kimberley desire to call the attention of the Secretary of State for War to the need for sending as speedily as possible reinforcements for the protection of the town, which is being surrounded by increasing numbers of Transvaal and Free State Boers. The matter has been placed before several members of the Cabinet, and is receiving due attention."

Kimberley was at the time the above announcement appeared in no danger, and Rhodes can have been acting on behalf of a very small proportion of the people in Kimberley in making this appeal for the immediate relief of Kimberley. The Mayors of Kimberley and Beaconsfield were working in the closest association with Kekewich and they never so much as hinted that any anxiety existed in the minds of the people as to the safety of the Diamond Fields; it is hardly likely they would have failed to mention it to Kekewich had there been any general feeling of uneasiness at the time. It must be remembered that at this period nothing had occurred to disturb the harmonious relations between the Commandant and Rhodes; both outwardly and in their personal relations, they were quite friendly.


The situation in the immediate neighbourhood of Kimberley remained calm for over a week after its isolation and no Boers were seen, except when the armoured-train or the mounted troops sallied out to a little distance to look them up and send them military greetings. Small parties of rebels and of the enemy were, however, busy commandeering goods from the store-keepers and farmers in Griqualand West and Bechuanaland. On 20th October, information reached Kekewich that a proclamation had been issued by the Boer Republics annexing these two Cape Provinces. The effect of such a proclamation on the minds of the disloyalists had to be considered; it was necessary to take steps at once to neutralize the Boer announcement, and Kekewich decided to issue a counter-proclamation declaring the act of annexation as null and void. The necessary document was drafted by Denoon Duncan, a leading Attorney in Kimberley, who acted as Legal Adviser to the Commandant throughout the siege and rendered most valuable services. The proclamation was duly approved and signed by Kekewich; having been printed in poster form, large numbers of copies were sent out to various centres in Griqualand West and Bechuanaland to be exhibited in public places—all proclamations were also printed in the Diamond Fields Advertiser, copies of which continued to reach the enemy, being sent out regularly by Boer sympathizers in the town. Vryburg was occupied by the enemy on 21st October; the news reached Kimberley five days later. The first brush with the enemy took place on 24th October. At 4 o'clock that morning Scott Turner was sent with 300 mounted men to reconnoitre in a northerly direction. The armoured-train also went north somewhat later in the morning, and a train was held in readiness at Kimberley station for the purpose of sending infantry reinforcements to Scott Turner should he call for them. The object of the reconnaissance was to ascertain the strength of a Boer commando reported to be at Riverton Road railway station (about 16 miles north of Kimberley). On reaching Dronfield Siding (about 7 miles north of Kimberley) Scott Turner halted his troops; the armoured-train arrived at the same place at 6.45 a.m. Kekewich had been in the Conning Tower, with his Staff, since 3 a.m. and, as soon as it was light enough, he could, with his telescope, follow the movements of Scott Turner's command until it reached the Dronfield position. After being joined by the armoured-train, Scott Turner continued his advance on Riverton Road railway station and two hours later sighted the enemy; he then began slowly to retire on his base, being followed by the enemy. At 10.50 a.m. a heliograph was seen to be signalling to the Conning Tower from a position on the Dronfield Ridge; the message was taken down and contained a request from Scott Turner for reinforcements—these had been held in readiness. Two companies of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, under Murray, were at once ordered to entrain and proceed north for the purpose of supporting Scott Turner. At the same time two guns of the Diamond Fields Artillery and two horsed-maxims, with an escort of 70 mounted men, were also sent north by road. Scott Turner was duly advised of the despatch of these reinforcements. At 1.10 p.m. our guns were seen to come into action about 5 miles north of Kimberley railway station. It was afterwards learnt that a party of Boers, who had succeeded in escaping the observation of the artillery escort, caught the guns while they were on the move and opened fire on them at a range of 1,500 yards. Fortunately, Murray had heard the artillery fire and, in consequence, halted his train on an embankment south of Dronfield Siding. Detraining his men quickly, he launched an attack against the Boers, who were swept off the Dronfield Ridge with loss, leaving their Commandant and a Field-Cornet among the killed on the field. On the body of the Commandant was found an order directing him to capture our live-stock at Kenilworth, a suburb lying to the northward of Kimberley.

Reports which came in later show that the Boers were considerably shaken by this encounter and hastened back to Boshof, where they arrived in a demoralized condition. The numbers of the  enemy engaged were estimated at 800 men—the Boers, in their reports, stated that they had 600 men engaged at Dronfield. The fighting was all over by 3.30 p.m.; the losses of the Kimberley troops were 3 men killed, and 3 officers and 16 other ranks wounded. The victory was quite a useful little one and had the result of postponing for some time the close investment of Kimberley, and, at the same time, had a good moral effect on the civil population of the Diamond Fields, demonstrating, as it did, that no urgent measures for the relief of Kimberley were yet necessary.


The Boers had on the night of 23rd-24th October cut the last of the telegraph lines connecting Kimberley with the district outside—the line to Barkly West. Accordingly, Scott Turner was sent out with a mounted force on the 25th, with instructions to reconnoitre in a north-westerly direction. He proceeded to a distance of about 10 miles from Kimberley. No signs of the enemy could be seen, but it was found that along some 4 miles of the Kimberley-Barkly West road practically every telegraph pole had been broken.

Daily reconnaissances continued to take place, but, except at Spytfontein, the enemy showed little inclination to put up a fight. The first evidence that the Boers were beginning to recover from the shock that they had received at Dronfield Ridge was provided by their activity on 1st November. At 6 o'clock that morning, the enemy made a demonstration in force to the eastward of the Premier Mine, but took care not to come within the range of our guns in the Redoubt in that locality. At 2.5 p.m. on the same day, an extremely loud report was heard and a thick column of black smoke was seen near Dronfield Siding ascending to the skies. It was concluded that the Boers had blown up one or all of the magazines containing dynamite. A small reconnoitring party was now sent north with a view to ascertaining the extent of the damage done by the explosion, but the enemy was still in possession at the spot, and it was not possible to make a close examination of the locality; however, it was definitely ascertained that one at least of the magazine buildings had been completely wrecked.

Kimberley now received an unexpected reinforcement. Inspector Berrange, who was stationed at Upington (215 miles west of Kimberley) on the outbreak of war, decided, on his own initiative, to make an attempt to reach Kimberley with the men under his command. Leaving Upington on 21st October, with his Sub-Inspector, 2 N.C.O.'s and 18 men, he managed to evade the Boers and reached the Diamond Fields on 2nd November; he arrived only just in time, for, on the following day, it was noticed that the Boers had come in nearer to our defences, their numbers had also increased and they also showed more boldness—during the day they managed to drive off some of our cattle from the Commonage. It now seemed as if the enemy really intended to make things hum a bit at Kimberley. Berrange and those who were with him deserve great praise for having undertaken their plucky ride into Kimberley in the face of unknown dangers.

[1] See Appendix I

[2] See The Times History of the War in South Africa, 1900, Vol. IV, p 547

[3] Daily Mail for 23rd and 24th October 1899

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Category: O'Meara: Kekewich in Kimberley
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