"L'art de la guerre est d’exagerer ses forces."  Napoleon.



Being ignorant of the magnitude of the three reverses suffered by the British Arms during the "Black Week" of December 1899, Kekewich proceeded with the arrangements then in hand in connection with the exodus of the civil population; it was thought that the arrival of the Relief Column would be delayed but a few days by the "check" south of Spytfontein. At 3 p.m. on 12th December, Kekewich again met the Mayor of Kimberley and the members of the committee assisting him in preparing the exodus scheme, but their attitude had, during the past twenty-four hours, completely altered, and they now wanted to hand in a resolution opposing the "removal order." Kekewich absolutely declined to receive it and pointed out the hardship that would be inflicted on the people in the event of their being bundled out of the town haphazard. Once again, Kekewich met the committee and the final arrangements, destined never to be carried out, were completed.

It was on the evening of 13th December that Kekewich first obtained an inkling of the serious nature of the situation in the Western Theatre. Late on that night, messages were received by Kekewich from Methuen indicating the policy it was intended to pursue; the first contained instructions that arrangements should be made in relation to supplies so that Kimberley should be able to hold out until the end of January. While this message was being decoded, another came in; this prepared Kekewich for further instructions and he was told that it might be the middle of February before an attempt could be made to relieve Kimberley. A few hours later, yet a third message was received, which definitely ordered Kekewich to arrange to make his supplies last until the end of February. The information in these messages was kept strictly secret. The prospect before us was by no means cheering. It now proved exceedingly fortunate that Kekewich had established a control over the food supplies in Kimberley as soon as we were cut off and that the civil population had already been put on rations. The census which had been prepared in connection with the "removal order" also now came in very useful; it enabled the Supply Officer to work out with some degree of accuracy the scale of rations to be introduced. The allowances of bread and meat to the white population and of meal to the coloured population were at once cut down; in the case of the civilian white population, the bread ration was now fixed at 12 oz. and the meat ration at 4 oz. a day. The military continued to draw a bread ration of I lb. a day, but the meat ration was reduced to 1/2 lb. The question of the further steps which should be taken to provide a rigid control over the food supplies was also carefully considered. When the siege began the De Beers Company had large stocks of supplies on hand for feeding the natives in its compounds. Kekewich had allowed the Company to keep these stocks and had arranged with Rhodes that the Company's officials should exercise the necessary control over the issues, which should be strictly in accordance with the scales fixed, from time to time, by the Supply Officer. However, information had reached Kekewich that a leakage was taking place and consequently the drastic step of "commandeering" the De Beers' stocks as well as the supplies in the hands of merchants was mooted and an organization worked out to enable this step to be taken should need arise.

It has been recorded[1] that the Boers drove off some of our cattle from the Commonage on 3rd November. From that date onwards, the precautions taken for the protection of our live-stock had been increased and for this reason the grazing ground was much restricted. Kekewich had felt that the difficulty of feeding the cattle was in time likely to affect their condition adversely; in consequence, during his morning chats in the Conning Tower with Labram, he had on several occasions discussed the question of the provision of a cold storage chamber. Kekewich wanted to have the best of the cattle slaughtered before their condition had gone off, and the carcasses put into cold storage, as a safety measure. Labram had informed Kekewich that he did not anticipate any difficulty in erecting and running a cold storage depot for the military; all he wanted from the latter was a requisition. Now that he had been ordered to husband his supplies, Kekewich felt he would be justified in incurring the expense for the provision of a cold storage chamber, and caused a requisition for the same to be sent to the De Beers Company. Labram thereupon at once set to work to design and provide what was required.


A despatch was brought to the Conning Tower very early on the morning of 14th December; it contained a report from Captain Bates (Cape Police) that his post at Kuruman, consisting of 35 men, had, a few days earlier, been attacked by 400 disloyalists, who had been driven off. Bates estimated the enemy's loss at 30 killed and wounded; his own loss was one man killed and 7 men wounded. The affair was only a very minor one, but the plucky stand of Bates at Kuruman was naturally much appreciated, and it was the first bright piece of news that had come into the town for many a day.

On the morning of 17th December, "runners" managed to get into Kimberley with a bundle of Cape newspapers for Kekewich, some of which contained accounts, with casualty lists, of Gatacre's repulse at Stormberg and of the disaster to the Highland Brigade at Magersfontein. Many people in Kimberley had relatives who had joined the Colonial Forces and were anxiously awaiting news of the fighting in Natal and Cape Colony. The bundle contained duplicates of some of the newspapers; accordingly, one lot was sent to Rhodes, whilst the others were forwarded to the editor of the Diamond Fields Advertiser so that the information concerning the two engagements might be republished for the benefit of the people on the Diamond Fields.

Intelligence had been received in Kimberley that a Boer commando had recently arrived from the north and had formed a laager at Koodoo's Dam, east of Kimberley. Peakman, a Colonial officer, who had been appointed to the command of the mounted troops when Scott Turner was killed, and had proved himself a skilful leader, was sent across the border into the Orange Free State at daybreak on 20th December, with a view to locating the new arrivals. The Boers were now in a very nervous state, and as soon as Peakman's force was observed, the enemy treated the Kimberley troops to long-range rifle fire and his guns also came into action, but our men were practically out of range and suffered no casualties. Having obtained the information required, Peakman withdrew his force into Kimberley again. Two days later, it was discovered that the Boers had deserted the Carter's Ridge position and the opportunity was therefore seized to destroy the wells and pumps at Carter's Farm (Peddiefontein). The mounted troops continued during the remainder of the month to carry out a number of small sorties.

Although Kekewich had on several occasions turned down proposals made by Rhodes on purely military matters, because he thought them unsound, Rhodes still persisted in his attempts to interfere in the defence arrangements. There had been a temporary reconciliation between Kekewich and Rhodes on 14th December, and they had met at intervals to discuss matters in relation to the civil side of Kekewich's responsibilities. Rhodes had informed Kekewich that he and his Board were not fighting the Commandant of Kimberley, but Buller and the civil authorities in Cape Town, and explained that he was aware that the "removal order" emanated from the High Commissioner and the Cape Government. Nevertheless, he and his Board had intentionally addressed themselves to the military authorities on the subject; Rhodes further stated that the communications to the military authorities had been worded as they had been for a certain purpose, which, however, he did not disclose. Now that the information relating to the events at Stormberg and Magersfontein contained in the Cape newspapers made it evident that further operations for the relief of Kimberley would be delayed probably for some weeks, Rhodes seems to have become anxious to see the perimeter of our defences contracted. It was recognized by practically every one in Kimberley that the main line of defence held by Kekewich was really out of proportion to the means available for a strenuous resistance against a daring enemy, and, had it been possible to take up a more suitable line than that actually held, Kekewich would, on his own initiative, have made the necessary alterations. He felt, however, that he must continue to hold the water supply reservoir and prevent the enemy from making a lodgment in any part of Kimberley. Rhodes now came to see Kekewich and told him that, in view of the fact that our western defences were so seriously threatened from the Carter's Ridge position, this section of the line should be abandoned and an entirely new position taken up. Rhodes urged that the proper thing to do would be to provide works on the three debris heaps covering Kenilworth, so that the defended area should practically be confined to the limits of that village. There were many serious arguments against the adoption of Rhodes' proposal and these were explained to him, the result being that he once more lost his temper and became abusive. However, he found that the Commandant was not a man to be bullied into taking unwise action at the dictation even of the "uncrowned King of Kimberley."

On 27th December, Kekewich had to take a step which created a good deal of friction with some of the De Beers' directors. The stock of supplies left under the control of the Company was checked just before Christmas Day and it was found that issues had been much in excess of the authorized scale. Kekewich therefore informed Rhodes that there was now nothing for it but that the military should "commandeer" the stock remaining in the Company's Depot, and as Rhodes expressed himself in agreement with this step he naturally expected that no trouble would arise. Apparently, Rhodes had not informed his co-directors that he had come to the agreement in question with Kekewich and the result was that as soon as the "commandeering notice " was served on the Company, one of the directors (who held an important position in the Town Guard) sent a letter of protest to the Commandant and asked him "to be good enough to accept my resignation" from the Town Guard. Kekewich declined to accept the resignation tendered to him, but, on the following day, saw Rhodes and explained to him what had occurred. The matter was talked over quite amicably and Rhodes pointed out that the difficulty would be got over if the "commandeering notice" was not acted upon for forty-eight hours, so that certain of the directors and officials of the Company might lay in a reserve supply for their own use. Rhodes explained that, being rich men, it would be "very repugnant to them" to have "to buy in the town daily" what they wanted. It was then arranged that Rhodes and Gorle would be jointly responsible for the amounts issued to the gentlemen referred to and action on the "commandeering notice" was suspended as recommended by Rhodes.

During the last few days of the year, the sound of distant cannonading was on several occasions heard in Kimberley; the impression was, in consequence, created that the Relief Column was getting ready to advance again, but as Kekewich had received no new instructions, it was taken for granted at the military Headquarters that this activity on the Modder River was all "make-believe." The Boers, in the meantime, indulged in a feeble intermittent long range bombardment of Kimberley and occasionally did a little damage by wrecking a building; as the houses were built in the majority of cases of corrugated iron, the Boer shells simply passed through the sheeting, tearing a big hole in it, and it was only when a masonry chimney-breast was struck that serious damage was done. Fortunately, very little loss of life was occasioned by Boer artillery fire.


Before the year expired, another of the schemes which had often been discussed by Kekewich with Labram in the Conning Tower matured. Labram received a requisition from the military authorities on Christmas Eve to go ahead with the construction of a gun, the now famous "Long Cecil." A piece of shafting at the De Beers workshops was of such dimensions that Labram was able to manufacture a gun of 4.1 inch bore, capable of throwing a 28-lb. shell. The rough turning of the "inner tube" was begun on 27th December, the preparation of the complete drawings being put in hand simultaneously. The work of constructing the gun and carriage went on night and day, often under heavy artillery fire. In the incredibly short period of twenty-four days the gun and carriage were completed and, on 18th January 1900, left the De Beers workshops and the calibration of the gun-sights was carried out on the same day. Having in view the conditions prevailing on the Diamond Fields, this piece of ordnance was a most remarkable production; it is beyond the scope of this work to attempt to describe the many difficulties with which Labram and his able assistants had to contend and the ingenuity shown by them in surmounting the difficulties that they met.

There is one matter to which reference may appropriately be made here. Partisans of Rhodes have, in their charges against the military authorities in Kimberley, alleged, inter alia, that they were obstructionists.[2] In support of their contentions, some of them have endeavoured to create the impression that Kekewich and his Staff deliberately placed difficulties in Labram's way in connection with the construction of "Long Cecil." In these circumstances, it seems desirable that attention should be called to an interesting article entitled: "The American Hero of Kimberley," contributed by T. J. Gordon Gardiner, who is believed to have been an official of the De Beers Company, to The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine for June 1906,[3] where it is stated:

"There is a report current that in making the gun Mr. Labram was discouraged by the military authorities. Such a statement is most misleading. One senior officer of little distinction treated the scheme contemptuously, but from its beginning the work had the support and keen interest of the commanding officer, and Mr. Labram profited on more than one occasion by the advice of Major O'Meara, a scientific officer of the Royal Engineers."

It will be seen later that "Long Cecil" played a most important part in the final phases of the Defence of Kimberley. It was only because there was no more material available suitable for the "inner tubes" of guns that Labram was prevented from turning out a number of companions to "Long Cecil."


On New Year's Day, H. A. Oliver, who had already done much useful work and rendered Kekewich valuable assistance, succeeded Henderson as Mayor of Kimberley. Harmony continued between the military and municipal authorities as heretofore—indeed, Kekewich's task was immensely lightened by the sympathetic co-operation he met with on the part of the civic authorities.

During the first days of the New Year, the Boers were content to exchange rifle shots only with the garrison of Kimberley, their artillery being silent. Kekewich now decided to let the Boers see that the Kimberley troops were still going strong, so, late on the afternoon of 5th January, Peakman went across into the Orange Free State and managed to get right behind the laager of the Kroonstad commando, at that time established at Olifantsfontein Kopje. The Boers were taken completely by surprise and were now fairly "on the run"; unfortunately, the light was failing and Peakman could not, from where he was, see what was happening and did not press his attack. Had he done so, the Boers being so scared, it is just possible that some prisoners might have been captured, and the troops might also have brought back with them at least one gun and a few wagon-loads of supplies.

Our supply of meat was already very low at the end of December. The cold storage chamber, which had a capacity of 14,000 cubic feet, was in full operation, but there was likely to be a shortage of carcasses to put into it. For this reason, just after New Year's Day, the military had taken over all the live-stock on the Diamond Fields, and, within a week, it had become necessary to supplement the beef and mutton rations by slaughtering horses. Horse meat rations proved unpalatable to a large number of the people, and Kekewich was caused some anxiety by the reports that reached him stating that many of the civilians were refusing to accept their meat rations on those days when beef was unpurchasable—mutton, it should be stated, had already been reserved for the patients in the hospital and for invalids. The Reports of the Medical Officer of Health showed that the shortage of food was having an adverse effect on the health of the population of the Diamond Fields. Kekewich now felt that if the people starved themselves voluntarily, a serious situation was bound to arise. On a previous occasion, earlier in the siege, when we were getting short of vegetables, Kekewich had made a suggestion to Rhodes that he might turn some of the unemployed on to the growing of this form of foodstuffs, a suggestion which had been well received. Kekewich had, therefore, arranged that the seeds required should be brought into the town by the "runners" employed by the Intelligence Department. On the arrival of the seeds in Kimberley, market gardening operations were started by Rhodes and met with great success. Kekewich thought that Rhodes could now usefully bring his great influence to bear on the horse meat problem and persuade the people to consume this kind of food, nauseating though it might be to many. Kekewich saw him on the subject and talked it over. Rhodes was quite ready to lend his assistance and expressed the view that if the horse meat was converted into soup, very few would stop to inquire what it was made of; he undertook to run a soup kitchen under the direction of Tyson, the Secretary of the Kimberley Club. Kekewich gladly left the matter in his hands; the soup kitchen was quite one of the successes of the siege, and Rhodes and Tyson both deserve the highest credit for the able way in which they overcame the many difficulties met with. It may be of interest to record here that in the period 3rd January to 7th March, there were consumed in Kimberley:

Ox beef                       269,455 lb.      1,500 head approx

Horse meat                 164,183 lb.       600 head        „

Mutton                        45,653 lb.        1,500 head     „

On 8th January it was noticed that the enemy was once more back on Carter's Ridge and was throwing up additional works. Guns were again in position on the ridge and were now brought into action; the bombardment on this day was of short duration, but the Boer artillerymen made it up during the next few days. During the 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th, guns in various positions kept up a fairly heavy fire on Kimberley and Beaconsfield; two men of the Town Guard and a native were wounded by splinters of shell during this bombardment. Having in view the number of projectiles thrown into the defended area, the damage done was extraordinarily small.

Information of the Boer attack against Ladysmith on 6th January reached Kimberley a few days after it had taken place. It was quite on the cards that a similar attack might be launched against Kimberley. At this time we were in signal communication with the Relief Column only at night, and this was not altogether satisfactory; owing to the difficulty experienced in working the shutters fitted to the searchlight at the Premier Mine Redoubt for signalling purposes, it was very slow work getting the messages off, and, consequently, only a small number could be sent during the few hours of darkness available at this time of year. Kekewich now made a suggestion to Methuen that an attempt should be made to establish heliographic communication by day between Kimberley and a post within the lines of the Relief Column. The proposal was accepted and a heliograph station was at once established for this purpose at the Conning Tower, the highest spot in Kimberley. The signallers began to call up the Relief Column, but no response could be got; the Spytfontein Hills proved to be a serious physical obstacle in the way. Fortunately, the Relief Column continued its endeavours to signal to us and, by a mere accident, on the morning of 15th January, the beam of light from one of its heliographic stations penetrated over an almost imperceptible depression in the Spytfontein Hills. Keen-sighted Fraser was at the time in the headgear of the Bultfontein Mine (Beaconsfield) and seeing the flash immediately asked for a heliograph instrument. His request was satisfied without delay; he directed a beam of light on the spot where he had seen the flash a little earlier in the day; to his delight his signal was at once acknowledged, and the result was that henceforward we had signal communication with the Relief Column by day as well as night. It was later learnt that the signal which Fraser had seen came from a station on a kopje at Enslin.


On 19th January "Long Cecil" was brought into action in an emplacement specially built for it in the northern sector of our main line; Labram was in command of the gun and its team was drawn from amongst the men who had helped to build it. The first target assigned to "Long Cecil" was the Intermediate Pumping Station, where a Boer laager had long been established; there was a plentiful supply of water in the reservoir at this place and it was felt that the enemy's morale would be adversely affected when he found he could no longer enjoy this supply in relative peace and quietude. Kekewich had taken up his station in the Conning Tower with a view to observing the effect produced by our new piece of ordnance. Presently, smoke issued from "Long Cecil's" emplacement and its first round was speeding on its way to the Boer laager; the projectile fell beyond the trees planted to the south of the reservoir and a column of smoke notified that its fuse had done its duty. The range was some 8,000 yards from "Long Cecil's" position and the Boers therefore thought that they were well out of the range of our artillery and had accordingly settled down permanently with their families at the Intermediate Pumping Station. A few seconds after "Long Cecil's" first shell burst, the Boers and their families were seen to be rushing out from the trees in every direction in a frantic state; it was all the world as if an ant-heap had been stirred and its occupants scattered. Emplacements were constructed in different parts of our line for "Long Cecil"; it was felt that the gun should direct its fire against other positions occupied by the enemy, such as Wimbledon Ridge and Carter's Ridge. No fixed programme was adopted, but every day "Long Cecil" came into action for a part of the time in one position and then in another, and so on; Labram and his gun-team, indeed, did almost as much moving about as our mounted troops.

The people in Kimberley were naturally very "bucked up" with our new acquisition. Rhodes, too, now again began busying himself concerning military matters: on 22nd January he sent his private secretary to see Kekewich about two letters which he had drafted and wished to be sent to Baden-Powell and Lord Roberts; he seemed to be of opinion that Mafeking was in dire straits; the draft letter to the former contained an instruction that if ammunition and supplies were running short in Mafeking, Baden-Powell should "cut his way out" of the place. In the second letter Lord Roberts was told that he should give instructions to Rhodesia to relieve Mafeking. Kekewich was asked if he approved of these communications being sent to the addressees; he did not approve and informed Rhodes accordingly. It is not known what, if any, further action was taken by Rhodes in this matter.

The news which reached us concerning events in the Natal theatre at this time was distinctly encouraging. On 20th January Kekewich was informed in an official bulletin that the Tugela had been crossed and, three days later, that Buller was in sight of Ladysmith. The hopes of the people in Kimberley once more rose high; however, to alloy our high spirits with a little discouragement, the Boers began a vigorous bombardment of Kimberley and Beaconsfield at 4.15 a.m. on 24th January and continued to shell all quarters of the defended area day and night, without intermission, until late on the afternoon of the 26th. This continuous rain of shell was a novel experience for us and, as we had no bomb-proofs at our Headquarters, not altogether a pleasant one. The Conning Tower and the military Headquarters were two of the principal targets for the enemy's guns on Carter's Ridge. Fortunately, the enclosed ground in the neighbourhood of these two structures and the fact that an open mine lay to the southward of the Conning Tower rendered it difficult for the Boer artillerymen to correct their fire; they scored not a single hit on either of these targets. Unfortunately, a few civilians were hit, but there were no military casualties.

[1] See p. 49

[2] See article by Julian Ralph in the Daily Mail of 17th March 1900, entitled: " The Siege of Kimberley: A talk with Mr. Cecil Rhodes." Articles of a similar tenour were published also in other newspapers

[3] Macmillan & Co., London. 2 At p. 260