The British people were destined to pay a heavy penalty for the ignorance and irresolution that caused them to withhold, from June to September, the mandate without which the Government was unable to prepare for war. What that penalty was will be made sufficiently clear when we come to consider the position of grave disadvantage in which the British forces designated for the South African campaign were placed at the outbreak of the war. For the moment it is enough to notice that, just as the real source of the military weakness of England in the war was the fact that only a very small proportion of her adult male population had received an elementary training in arms, so the futility of her peace strategy must be traced to the general ignorance of the bitter hatred with which British supremacy was regarded, not only by the Boers, but also by the Dutch subjects of the Crown in the Cape Colony and Natal. In a world-wide and composite State such as the British Empire, it is, of course, natural that the people of one component part should be unfamiliar, in a greater or lesser degree, with the conditions of any other part. What makes this mutual unfamiliarity dangerous is the circumstance that the control of the foreign relations, and of the effective military and naval forces, of the Empire as a whole, remains exclusively in the hands of the people of one part--the United Kingdom. In the absence of any administrative body in which the over-sea Britains are represented, the power, thus possessed, of moulding the destiny of any one province of the Empire lays upon the island people the duty of informing themselves adequately upon the circumstances and conditions of all its component parts. It is obvious that the likelihood of this duty being efficiently performed has been diminished greatly by the extension of the franchise. Fortunately, however, in the case of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, questions involving a decision to employ the Army or Navy which Great Britain maintains for the defence of the Empire have arisen rarely in recent years. It is in regard to India and South Africa that these decisions have been constantly required; and for half a century past each of these two countries in turn has been the battlefield of English parties. But while the efficiency of British administration has suffered in both cases by variations of policy due to party oscillations, infinitely greater injury has been done in South Africa than in India.
[Sidenote: Attitude of the island people.]
In respect of South Africa, while, speaking broadly, Liberal Governments have sought to escape from existing responsibilities, or to decline new ones, Conservative Governments have sought to discharge these responsibilities with the object of making this country a homogeneous and self-supporting unit of the empire. To persuade the nation to accept a policy which might, and probably would, involve it in an immediate sacrifice both of men and money, was plainly a more difficult task than to persuade it that no need existed for any such sacrifices. The "long view" of the Imperialist statesmen was supported in the present instance by past experience and by the judgment of the great majority of the British population actually resident in South Africa. The home English, remembering that the recall of Sir Bartle Frere had been followed by Majuba and the Retrocession, were anxious to maintain British supremacy unimpaired in South Africa. What kept them irresolute was the uncertainty as to whether this supremacy really was, or was not, in danger. Lord Milner had told them that the establishment of a Dutch Republic, embracing all South Africa, was being openly advocated, and that nothing but a striking proof of Great Britain's intention to remain the paramount Power--such as would be afforded by insisting upon the grant of equal rights to the British population in the Transvaal--could arrest the growth of the nationalist movement. He had pointed out also that the conversion of the Boer Republic into an arsenal of munitions of war, when, as in the case of Ketshwayo, there was no enemy against whom these arms could be turned other than Great Britain, was in itself a definite and unmistakable menace to British supremacy. This, moreover, was the deliberate and reasoned verdict of a man who had been commissioned, with almost universal approval, to ascertain the real state of affairs in South Africa. If the nation had believed Lord Milner in June, the British Government would have received the political support that would have enabled it to make the preparations for war in that month which, as we have seen, it was now making in September.
[Sidenote: The Liberal opposition.]
The agency which, by playing upon the ignorance of the public, prevented the nation from accepting at once the truth of Lord Milner's verdict, was the Liberal Opposition. Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, the official leader of the Liberal party, maintained throughout the three months in question that no reason existed for military preparation. Mr. Labouchere wrote, on the eve of the war: "The Boers invade Natal! You might just as well talk of their invading England." When Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman maintained that there was no need for the Government to make any military preparations, we must presume that he believed one of two things: either that President Krüger would yield, or that, if President Krüger did not yield, there was nothing in the condition of South Africa to make it necessary for Great Britain to give any proof of her ability to maintain her position as paramount Power by force of arms. The action of the Liberal Opposition resolves itself, therefore, into a declaration, on its own authority as against Lord Milner's, that neither the republican nor the colonial Dutch had any intention of making war upon Great Britain in South Africa, or any resources which would enable them to carry out such an intention with any hope of success. Now, apart from the overwhelming testimony to the utter falsity of this assertion which is afforded by the facts of the campaign, and apart from such documents as the manifestos issued by both Republics upon the outbreak of the war, we possess--thanks to the exertions of the Intelligence Department--a mass of evidence, in the shape of private and official correspondence, which enables us to learn what was actually passing in the minds of the Dutch at this time. On the 15th of this month of September, 1899, the meeting to which we have referred was held at Manchester, with the object, not of strengthening the hands of the Government in the military preparations which they were making thus tardily, but of protesting against the very idea that there was anything in the attitude of the Dutch in South Africa to make war necessary. A perusal of two of these captured documents will enable the reader to judge for himself in what degree this Liberal view of the situation corresponded with the facts. The first is a letter written on September 25th--that is to say, ten days after Lord Courtney was denouncing Lord Milner as "a lost mind" at Manchester--by Mr. Blignaut, brother to the State Secretary of the Free State. It is concerned with the safe arrival in the Free State of a Colonial Afrikander, who has left his home in the Western Province of the Cape Colony to join the republican forces:
[Footnote 148: p. 251.]
"KROONSTADT, ORANGE FREE STATE,
"September 25th, 1899.
"Your wire to hand this morning, to which I replied. ---- has arrived.
"I never gave the youngster credit for such plans to dodge Mr. ----, and not to be trapped and taken back. I think he owes his friend ---- something for his advice how to proceed. As he is here now, he can remain. I see myself he will never be satisfied to stay there [i.e. in the colony] while there is war going on.
"The only thing we are afraid of now is that Chamberlain, with his admitted fitfulness of temper, will cheat us out of the war, and consequently the opportunity of annexing the Cape Colony and Natal, and forming the Republican United States of South Africa; for, in spite of [S. J. du Toit], we have forty-six thousand fighting men who have pledged themselves to die shoulder to shoulder in defence of our liberty, and to secure the independence of South Africa.
"Please forward ----'s luggage.
"J. N. BLIGNAUT."
[Footnote 149: Cd. 420. The Blue-book points out that in the
original "a well-known nick-name" is used for Mr. S. J. du
[Sidenote: Afrikander aspirations.]
This is not an isolated or exceptional expression of opinion. It is a typical statement of what was in the mind of ninety-nine out of every hundred republican nationalists at this time. The aspirations it contains were proclaimed a fortnight later to the world by President Krüger himself in the boast that his Republic would "stagger humanity." They appeared in the nonchalant remarks made a few days later by Mr. Gregorowski, the Chief Justice of the Transvaal, in bidding farewell to Canon Farmer, who was preparing to leave his cure at Pretoria in view of the certainty of war.
[Footnote 150: As reported by Reuter.]
"Is it really necessary for you to go? The war will be over in a
fortnight. We shall take Kimberley and Mafeking, and give the
English such a beating in Natal that they will sue for peace."
War, then, for the Boer meant "an opportunity of annexing the Cape Colony and Natal, and forming the Republican United States of South Africa." When Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, Mr. John Morley, Lord Courtney, Mr. James Bryce, and other Liberal leaders saw no reason why the British Government should make military preparations--did, in fact, do all in their power to induce the English people to withhold the support necessary to allow the British Government to make these preparations--there were, twelve thousand British troops in South Africa to oppose the "forty-six thousand fighting men who had pledged themselves to die shoulder to shoulder" to secure the independence, not of the Transvaal but of "South Africa".
And what of the Dutch in the Cape Colony? Our second document will enlighten us on this point. It is an invitation, composed in doggerel rhyme, to the Boer forces to invade Griqualand West, signed by the chairman of a district branch of the Afrikander Bond. The date is not given; but as the proclamation under which Head-Commandant C. J. Wessels annexed the districts in question is dated November 11th, 1899, it was obviously written during the first three or four weeks of the war.
"Dear countrymen of the Transvaal: Brothers of our religion and
language: Our hearts are burning for you all: when your brave men
fall, we pray to God night and day to help you with His might; we
are powerless by ourselves--the English are so angry with us that
they have taken away our ammunition, all our powder and
cartridges; if you can provide us each with a packet of ten and a
Mauser, you will see what we can do; Englishmen won't stand
before us, they will go to the devil. There are a few English
here, but we count them amongst the dead; for the rest we are all
Boers, and only wait for you to move us. Englishmen are not our
friends, and we will not serve under their flag; so we all shout
together, as Transvaal subjects, 'God save President Krüger, and
the Transvaal army; God save President Steyn, and all Free
Staters great and small!'"
[Footnote 151: Cd. 420.]
[Sidenote: Ignorance of Liberal leaders.]
But, apart from this profound misconception of the real feeling and intentions of the Afrikander nationalists in South Africa, manifested with such disastrous effect during these critical months--June to September, 1899--the leaders of the Liberal Opposition otherwise displayed in their public utterances an ignorance of this province of the Empire that can only be characterised as "wanton." For what expression other than "wanton ignorance" can be used to describe the habit of mind which permits public men to make statements in direct conflict with the facts of South African history, as established by ascertainable evidence, or to state as facts allegations which proper inquiry would have shown to be untrue? Here again, from a mass of material provided by the utterances which came from the Liberal Opposition leaders on South African affairs, a few instances only can be brought to the notice of the reader, and these in the briefest form consistent with precision. On September 5th Mr. John Morley, speaking at Arbroath, stated that Sir Bartle Frere had "annexed the Transvaal." The present baronet, the late High Commissioner's son, called him to account at once; but it required three successive letters to wring from Mr. John Morley a specific acknowledgement of his error. The evidence which establishes the fact that Frere did not annex the Transvaal is the following statement, bearing his signature and published in February, 1881:
[Footnote 152: Published in The Times, September 30th,
[Footnote 153: In The Nineteenth Century for that month.]
"It was an act which in no way originated with me, over which I
had no control, and with which I was only subsequently
incidentally connected.... It was a great question then, as now,
whether the annexation was justifiable."
This was on the 5th. On the 27th a letter was published in The Times in which Sir William Harcourt wrote, in respect of the suzerainty question:
"All further argument is now superfluous, as the matter is
decisively disposed of by the publication at Pretoria of Lord
Derby's telegram of February 27th, 1884, in which the effect of
the London Convention of that date was stated in the following
words: 'There will be the same complete independence in the
Transvaal as in the Orange Free State.'"
In a letter written on the day following, and published in The Times of October 2nd, the writer of the present work pointed out, among other inaccuracies, that the words actually telegraphed by Lord Derby were: "same complete internal independence in the Transvaal as in Orange Free State." That is to say, before the word "independence" the word "internal"--vitally important to the present issue--was inserted in the original, and omitted in the Boer version, from which Sir William Harcourt had quoted without referring to the Blue-book, Cd. 4,036.
[Sidenote: Its injurious effect.]
The third instance occurred some three months later. Mr. James Bryce, speaking on December 14th, 1899, stated that Sir Bartle Frere "sent to govern the Transvaal Sir Owen Lanyon, an officer unfitted by training and character for so delicate and difficult a task." The following passage, which the present writer subsequently published, affords precise and overwhelming evidence of the absolute untruth of Mr. Bryce's assertion. It appears in a letter written by Sir Bartle Frere on December 13th, 1878, to Mr. (now Sir) Gordon Sprigg, then Premier of Cape Colony.
[Footnote 154: The Times, December 15th. Mr. Bryce was
taking the chair at the last of a series of six lectures on
"England in South Africa," given by the present writer in the
great hall of the (then) Imperial Institute.]
"The Secretary of State has nominated Lanyon to take Shepstone's
place whenever he leaves [i.e. when Lanyon leaves Kimberley,
where he was Administrator of Griqualand West]. This was not my
arrangement, and had it been left to me I think I should have
arranged otherwise, for while I believe Lanyon to be one of the
most right-minded, hardworking, and able men in South Africa, I
know he does not fancy the work in the Transvaal, and I think I
could have done better. However, it does not rest with me, and
all I have to do is to find a man fit to take his place when he
[Footnote 155: Cornhill Magazine, July, 1900. "The South
African Policy of Sir Bartle Frere." By W. Basil Worsfold.]
All of these three men were of Cabinet rank. Two of them, Mr. Morley and Mr. Bryce, enjoyed a great and deserved reputation as men of letters; and their public utterances on the South African question, accepted in large measure on the strength of this literary reputation, were responsible in an appreciable degree for the distrust and coldness manifested by the people of the United States of America towards Great Britain during the first year of the war. But this is a consideration of secondary importance. The vital point to recognise is that, so long as the Empire remains without a common representative council, a knowledge of the conditions of the over-sea Britains must be considered as necessary a part of the political equipment of any English statesman as a knowledge of Lancashire or of Kent. After the war had broken out, Lord Rosebery, almost alone among Liberal statesmen, did something to support the Government. This distinguished advocate of Imperial unity and national efficiency then recommended the English people to educate themselves by reading Sir Percy FitzPatrick's The Transvaal from Within, and encouraged them by declaring his belief that England would "muddle through" this, as other wars. It does not seem, however, to have occurred to Lord Rosebery that, if he had used his undoubted influence in time to prevent his party from making it impossible for the Salisbury Cabinet to carry out in June the effective peace strategy long recommended by Lord Milner, the prospect of a "muddle" would have been materially diminished, if not altogether removed.
[Sidenote: Mr. Chamberlain's proposal.]
There is one other fact that cannot be overlooked in estimating the degree in which the Liberal leaders are answerable to the nation for the fatal error of postponing effective military preparations from June to September. After the failure of the Bloemfontein Conference Lord Milner, as we have seen, asked for immediate and substantial reinforcements. Mr. Chamberlain then approached Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman with a proposal that the Government should inform the Opposition leaders of the circumstances that made military preparations necessary, and of the precise measures which they might deem advisable to adopt from time to time, on the understanding that the Opposition, on their part, should refrain from raising any public discussion as to the expediency of these measures. The object of this proposal was, of course, to enable the Government to make effective preparations for war, without lessening the prospect of achieving a peaceful settlement by the negotiations in progress. Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman's reply to this overture was a refusal to make the Opposition a party to any such arrangement. If the Government chose to make military preparations they must do so, he said, entirely on their own responsibility.
The significance of this refusal of Mr. Chamberlain's offer appears from the answer which was subsequently put forward by the Prime Minister, the late Lord Salisbury, to the charge of "military unpreparedness" brought against the British Government after the early disasters of the campaign. What prevented the Cabinet, according to the Premier, from taking the measures required by the military situation in June was the British system of popular government. Any preparations on the scale demanded by Lord Milner and Lord Wolseley could not have been set on foot without provoking the fullest discussion in Parliament and the Press. The leaders of the Opposition would have contested fiercely the proposals of the Government, and the perversion of these opportunities for discussion into an anti-war propaganda might have exhibited England as a country divided against itself. It may be questioned whether, in point of fact, the Liberal leaders could have done anything more calculated to injure the interests of their country if the Government had mobilised the army corps, and despatched the ten thousand defensive troops in June, than they did when these measures were postponed until September. But, however this may be, the circumstance that this proposal was made by Mr. Chamberlain, and refused by Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman, is noteworthy both as an indication of the spirit of lofty patriotism of which the Salisbury Cabinet, in spite of its initial error, was destined to give more than one proof in the course of the war and as an example of a method of escaping from the injurious results of a well-recognised defect in the democratic system of government--a method which, it is not unreasonable to hope, may be employed with success should the like occasion arise at any future time.
This, then, was the state of affairs in England. The Opposition throughout the negotiations was proclaiming that war was out of the question, and that preparations for war were altogether unnecessary. The people, being ignorant of the progress which the nationalist movement in South Africa had made, were irresolute, and withheld from the Government the support without which it could not make adequate military preparations, except at the risk of defeat in Parliament and possible loss of office.
[Sidenote: Objects of Afrikander policy.]
What was the position in South Africa? Above all, what was the position of the man whose duty it was "to take all such measures and do all such things" as were necessary for the safety of the subjects of the Crown and for the maintenance of British interests? The ignorance of South Africa that led to the partial paralysis of the Government was in no sense attributable to him. The broad fact that the Afrikander nationalist movement had made the moral supremacy of the Dutch complete was declared by Lord Milner, during his visit to England in the winter of 1898-9, to the Colonial Secretary and other members of the Salisbury Cabinet. His verdict that nothing but prompt and energetic action on the part of the Imperial Government could keep South Africa a part of the Empire was publicly made known (so far as he was concerned) in his despatch of May 4th, 1899, which was withheld, however, from publication until June 14th. The Bloemfontein Conference was a device of the Afrikander nationalists at the Cape to avert a military conflict between the South African Republic and Great Britain, which, they believed, would result not merely in the destruction of the Republics, but in the loss of the prospect--which they then enjoyed--of achieving through the existence of the Republics the independence of the Afrikander nation as a whole. All this Lord Milner made perfectly clear to Mr. Chamberlain. The illusory concessions embodied in President Krüger's Franchise Law were yielded by the Republics with the object of securing the "moral support" of the Cape Afrikanders in the negotiations, and thereby obtaining the delay which was required to complete their military preparations; since the Republican nationalists, unlike those of the Cape, believed that the independence of the Afrikander nation could be wrested from Great Britain by force of arms. The efforts made by the Cape nationalists, first to secure these concessions, and then to induce the republican nationalists to grant the further concessions which would have satisfied the British Government, were made for the same purpose as the Bloemfontein Conference had been arranged--namely, to avert a conflict which, being premature, would be disastrous to the nationalist cause, not only in the Republics but in the Cape Colony. The respective objects both of the republican and Cape nationalists had been divined by Lord Milner, and, therefore, immediately after the failure of the Conference, he had urged the Home Government to send reinforcements to South Africa sufficient to defend British territory from attack, and to check any incipient rebellion in the Cape Colony. The negotiations might, or might not, result in a peaceful settlement; but it was futile, nay more, it was dangerous, he said, for Great Britain to go on as though war were out of the question.
[Footnote 156: The reader is referred to p. 5 in Chap. I. for
the racial characteristics of the South African Dutch, and to
the note on p. 48 in Chap. II. for the political significance
of the word "Afrikander," as stated by Mr. S. J. du Toit.]
[Sidenote: Lord Milner's position.]
This was the view of the South African situation which Lord Milner laid before the Home Government in June. We have seen what was done by them in response to these representations. Some special service officers were sent out to organise locally the defences of the Cape Colony and Rhodesia. The Cape and Natal garrisons were strengthened by a few very inadequate reinforcements arriving in the course of the next two months. General Butler was not recalled until the latter part of August; his successor, General Forestier-Walker, did not arrive until September 6th. We have traced the causes which made it impossible for the Imperial Government, as they conceived, to do more than this; and when in due course we come to consider the broad phases of the war, the nature of the penalty which the British Army, and the British nation, had to pay for the partial paralysis of the Government will become sufficiently apparent.
The man who suffered most by all this was Lord Milner. When he asked for military preparations, he was told that he could not have them. When he asked for the removal of a military adviser with whom he was supremely dissatisfied, he was told that he must put up with General Butler for a little longer. He put up with him for two months. His Colonial ministers, whose advice on many points he was bound to accept so long as he did not dismiss them, were men placed in office by the Dutch subjects of the Crown for the very purpose of frustrating, by constitutional means, the successful intervention in the Transvaal, by which alone, in his opinion, British supremacy could be made a reality.
Indeed, the odds were heavily against Lord Milner in his task of saving England, in spite of herself and in spite of the enemies of whose power she was wholly ignorant, and to whose very existence she remained contemptuously indifferent. To the great mass of the British population in South Africa, he stood for England and English justice. To them he seemed the representative man, for whom they had waited many a long year. They felt that he was fighting their battle and doing their work; and, making allowance for local jealousies and accidental partialities, they never ceased to regard him thus. This was his one and only source of assured support. But he was far removed from the active British centres: from the group of towns formed by the Albany settlers and their descendants in the Eastern Province, and from Kimberley, Durban and Maritzburg, and Johannesburg. In the Cape peninsula, of course, there was a considerable British population of professional and commercial men; but this population had been so closely related by business and social ties with the preponderant Dutch population of the Western Province that many among them hesitated to declare themselves openly against the Dutch party. All who were members of the Progressive party, from the time of the Graaf Reinet speech, had given unswerving support to Lord Milner's policy; but the strength of the influence created by years of alternate political co-operation with the Bond leaders may be gathered from the fact that even so staunch a supporter of the British connection as Sir James (then Mr.) Rose Innes did not publicly declare his adhesion to the intervention policy until after the failure of the Bloemfontein Conference. Moreover, the increasing political solidarity of the British population in the Cape Colony augmented the bitterness with which the few English politicians, who had remained in alliance with the Dutch party, regarded the man whose resolution and insight had penetrated and exposed the designs of the Bond.
[Sidenote: Intrigues and disaffection.]
It is difficult to convey any adequate impression of the atmosphere of suspicion and intrigue by which Lord Milner was surrounded. The Dutch party was in the ascendant in the Colony. The Cape Civil Service was tainted throughout with disaffection. Even the personnel of the Government offices at Capetown, although it contained many excellent and loyal men, included also many who were disaffected or lukewarm. It is characteristic of the situation that during the most critical period of the negotiations with the Transvaal, the ministerial organ, The South African News, permitted itself to indulge, where Lord Milner, was concerned, not only in the bitterest criticisms but in outspoken personal abuse. To have abused the representative of the Sovereign in a British colony of which one-half of the population was seething with sedition, while a part had been actually armed for rebellion by the secret emissaries of a state with which Great Britain was on the verge of war, is an act which admits of only one interpretation. Lord Milner was to be got rid of at all costs; for the policy which The South African News was intended to promote was that not of Great Britain, but of the Transvaal. The paper was directly inspired--it is indeed not unlikely that the articles themselves were written--by some of the members of the Ministry, Lord Milner's "constitutional advisers," whom throughout he himself treated with the respect to which their position entitled them.
But nothing, perhaps, shows more vividly how extraordinary was the position in which Lord Milner found himself than the fact, which we have already noted, that the passage of the large consignment of 500 Mauser rifles and 1,000,000 cartridges for the Free State, to which the Prime Minister's attention was "drawn specially, because it was large," on July 15th, was not made known to him, the Governor of the Cape Colony, until August 9th, and then only by accident. There is only one explanation of this remarkable incident: the interests of the Dutch party were different from those of the British Government. The Cape Colony was only in name a British colony. Under the guise of constitutional forms it had attained independence--virtual, though not nominal. If Lord Milner had contracted the habit of Biblical quotation from the Afrikander leaders, he might well have quoted the words of the psalmist: "Many bulls have compassed me; strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round." Even the approaches to Government House were watched by spies in President Krüger's pay, who carefully noted all who came and went. Members of the Uitlander community were the special subjects of this system of espionage.
[Footnote 157: See letters between Lord Milner and Mr.
Schreiner in Cd. 43, p. 13.]
[Footnote 158: Psalm xxii. 12.]
[Sidenote: Spies round Government House.]
"When on a visit to Capetown," writes Sir Percy FitzPatrick, "I
called several times upon the High Commissioner, and learning, by
private advice, that my movements were being reported in detail
through the Secret Service Department, I informed Sir Alfred
Milner of the fact. Sir Alfred admitted that the idea of secret
agents in British territory and spies round or in Government
House was not pleasant, but expressed the hope that those things
should not deter those who wished to call on him, as he was there
as the representative of Her Majesty for the benefit of British
subjects, and very desirous of ascertaining for himself the facts
of the case."
[Footnote 159: The Transvaal from Within, p. 287.]
The Afrikander leaders in the Cape never identified themselves with the British cause. To them the Salisbury Cabinet was a "team most unjustly disposed towards us"; a team, moreover, which they earnestly, and not without reason, hoped might be replaced by a Liberal Government that would allow them undisturbed to carry forward their plans to full fruition. The motive of their "mediation," such as it was, was political expediency. It was not from any belief in the justice of the British claims that they endeavoured to persuade the republican nationalists to give way; still less from any feeling that England's cause was their cause. When, at length, they became really earnest in pressing President Krüger to grant a "colourable" measure of franchise reform--to use Mr. Merriman's adjective--it was for their own sake, and not for England's, that they worked. This motive runs through the whole of their correspondence; but it emerges more frankly in the urgent messages sent during the three days (September 12th to 15th) in which the Transvaal reply to the British despatch of September 8th was being prepared. "Mind," telegraphs Mr. Hofmeyr to Mr. Fischer on September 13th, "war will probably have a fatal effect on the Transvaal, the Free State, and the Cape Afrikander party." And when, from Mr. Fischer's reply, war was seen to have come in spite of all his counsels of prudence, the racial tie asserted itself, and he found consolation for his impotence in an expression of his hatred against England. On September 14th Mr. Hofmeyr telegraphed to President Steyn:
"I suppose you have seen our wires to Fischer and his replies,
which latter I deeply regret. The 'to be or not to be' of the
Transvaal, Free State, and our party at the Cape, depends upon
this decision. The trial is a severe one, but hardly so severe as
the outrageous despatches received by Brand from [Sir Philip]
Wodehouse and [Sir Henry] Barkly. The enemy then hoped that Brand
would refuse, as the Transvaal's enemy now hopes Krüger will do;
but Brand conceded, and saved the State. Follow Brand's example.
Future generations of your and my people will praise you."
[Sidenote: Hofmeyr's "bitter feelings".]
And on the 15th:
"You have no conception of my bitter feelings, which can hardly
be surpassed by that of our and your people, but the stronger my
feelings the more I am determined to repress them, when
considering questions of policy affecting the future weal or woe
of our people. May the Supreme Being help you, me, and them. Have
not seen the High Commissioner for weeks."
The reply of the republican nationalists, addressed to Mr. Hofmeyr and forwarded through President Steyn, contains a characteristically distorted version of the course of the negotiations. They have made concession after concession, but all in vain. "However much we recognise and value your kind intentions," they write, "we regret that it is no longer possible for us to comply with the extravagant and brutal requests of the British Government." Thus the Pretoria Executive declared themselves on September 15th, 1899, to the Master of the Bond, when they were in the act of refusing Mr. Chamberlain's offer to accept a five years' franchise bill, provided it was shown by due inquiry to be a genuine measure of reform. Very different was the account of the same transaction given by Mr. Smuts, when, in urging the remnant of the burghers of both Republics to surrender, he said, on May 30th, 1902, at Vereeniging, "I am one of those who, as members of the Government of the South African Republic, provoked the war with England". But the passage in this document which is most useful to the historian is that in which the republican nationalists remind the Afrikander leaders at the Cape of the insincerity of their original "mediation." In dialectics Mr. Fischer, Mr. Smuts, and Mr. Reitz are quite able to hold their own with Mr. Hofmeyr, Dr. Te Water, and Mr. Schreiner. They have not forgotten the Cape Prime Minister's precipitate benediction alike of President Krüger's Bloemfontein scheme and of the seven years' franchise of the Volksraad proposals. They remember also how the "Hofmeyr compromise" was proclaimed in the Bond and the ministerial press as affording conclusive evidence of the "sweet reasonableness" of President Krüger and his Executive. And so they remark, "We are sorry not to be able to follow your advice; but we point out that you yourself let it be known that we had your whole approval, if we gave the present franchise as we were doing." Here we have the kernel of the whole matter. A nine years', seven years', or a five years' franchise was all one to the Cape Nationalists, provided only that England was kept a little longer from claiming her position as paramount Power in South Africa. For these men knew, or thought they knew, that for England "a little longer" would be "too late."
[Footnote 160: This document was among those secured by the
Intelligence Department, and published in The Times History
of the War.]
[Sidenote: Lord Milner and Mr. Schreiner.]
It was a greater achievement to have frustrated so subtle a combination, directed by the astute mind of Mr. Hofmeyr--the man who refused to allow his passions to interfere with his policy--than to have prevented the British Government from falling a victim to the coarse duplicity of President Krüger. Tireless effort and consummate statesmanship alone would not have accomplished this purpose. To these qualities Lord Milner added a personal charm, elusive, and yet irresistible; and it was this "union of intellect with fascination," of which Lord Rosebery had spoken, that enabled him to transcend the infinite difficulty of his official relationship to Mr. Schreiner. Even so that relationship must have broken down under the strain of the negotiations and the war, had not Mr. Schreiner's complex political creed included the saving clause of allegiance to his sovereign. When once the British troops had begun to land Mr. Schreiner accepted the new situation. No longer merely the parliamentary head of the Dutch party and the agent of the Bond, he realised also his responsibility as a minister of the Crown. None the less there were matters of the gravest concern in which, both before and after the ultimatum, the Prime Minister used all the constitutional means at his disposal to oppose Lord Milner. When, upon the arrival (August 5th) of the small additions to the Cape garrison ordered out in June, Lord Milner determined to draw the attention of the Ministry to the exposed condition of the Colony, he found that the Prime Minister's views differed completely from his own. A few days later he addressed a minute to his ministers on the subject of the defence of Kimberley and other military questions. From this time onwards, in almost daily battles, Mr. Schreiner resisted the plans of local military preparation which Lord Milner deemed necessary for the protection of the Colony. His object, as he said, was to keep the Cape Colony out of the struggle. On Friday, September 8th, when in London the Cabinet Council was held at which it was decided to send out the 10,000 troops to reinforce the South African garrison, at Capetown Lord Milner was engaged in a long endeavour to persuade his Prime Minister that it was necessary to do something for the defence of Kimberley. Up to the very day on which the Free State commandos crossed the border, Mr. Schreiner relied upon the definite pledge given him by President Steyn that the territory of the Cape Colony would not be invaded; and not until that day was he undeceived.
[Footnote 161: See p. 77.]
[Footnote 162: In the House of Assembly, August 28th.]
[Footnote 163: One of the earliest measures of precaution
which Lord Milner desired was a plan for the defence of
Kimberley. But when, on June 12th, the people of Kimberley
requested the Government of the Colony to take steps for the
protection of their town, the reply which they received,
through the Civil Commissioner, was this: "There is no reason
whatever for apprehending that Kimberley is, or in any
contemplated event will be, in danger of attack, and Mr.
Schreiner is of opinion that your fears are groundless and
your anticipations without foundation."]
[Sidenote: Schreiner and Steyn.]
"I said to the President," he declared in the Cape Parliament a
year later, "that I would not believe he would invade south
of the Orange River. President Steyn's reply was, 'Can you
give me a guarantee that no troops will come to the border?' Of
course, I could give no such guarantee, and I did not then
believe that, although such a guarantee could not be given, the
Free State would invade British territory with the object of
endeavouring to promote the establishment of one Republic in
South Africa, as the Prime Minister has said."
[Footnote 164: September 24th, 1900.]
[Footnote 165: This was on October 11th, 1899--the day on
which the ultimatum expired.]
[Footnote 166: Sir Gordon Sprigg--Mr. Schreiner's Ministry
was replaced by a Progressive Ministry in June, 1900.]
As the Boer invasion spread further into the Colony Mr. Schreiner receded proportionately from his original standpoint of neutrality. Indeed, three distinct phases in the Prime Minister's progress can be distinguished. In the first stage, which lasted until the actual invasion of the Colony by the Boer commandos, he used all his constitutional power to prevent the people of the Colony, British and Dutch alike, from being involved in the war: and it was only after a severe struggle that Lord Milner prevailed upon him even to call out the Kimberley Volunteers on October 2nd, i.e., a week before the Ultimatum. This, "the neutrality" stage, lasted up to the invasion. After the invasion came the second stage, in which Mr. Schreiner seems to have argued to himself in this manner: "As the Boers have invaded this colony, I, as Prime Minister, cannot refuse that the local forces should be called out to protect its territory." And so on October 16th, after Vryburg had gone over to the Boers, after Kimberley had been cut off, and the whole country from Kimberley to Orange River was in the hands of the enemy, he consented to the issue of a proclamation calling out 2,000 volunteers for garrison duty within the Colony. But in making this tardy concession he was careful to point out to Lord Milner that the British cause would lose more than it would gain. "I warn you," he said in effect, "that it is not to your advantage; because you are the weaker party. In the Cape Colony more men will fight for the Boers than will fight for you." The third stage in Mr. Schreiner's conversion was reached when, in November, 1899, the invading Boers had advanced to the Tembuland border, in the extreme east of the Colony. Then Mr. Schreiner allowed the natives to be called out for the defence of their own territory. In making this final concession the Prime Minister yielded to the logic of facts in a matter concerning which he had previously offered a most stubborn resistance to the Governor's arguments.
[Footnote 167: With this may be compared the fact that in
Natal the whole of the local forces were mobilised on
September 29th for active service. The dates upon which
further units of the Cape local forces were called out are as
follows: Uitenhage Rifles and Komgha Mounted Rifles, November
10th; Cape Medical Staff Corps, November 16th; and Frontier
Mounted Rifles, November 24th.]
[Sidenote: Schreiner and local forces.]
For in the discussion of the measures urged by Lord Milner as necessary for the protection of the Colony, the question of arming the natives and coloured people had necessarily arisen. The Bastards in the west and the Tembus in the east were known to be eager to defend the Queen's country against invasion. Mr. Schreiner declared that to arm the natives was to do violence to the central principle upon which the maintenance of civilisation in South Africa was based--the principle that the black man must never be used to fight against the white. Lord Milner did not question the validity of this principle; but he maintained--and rightly, as Mr. Schreiner admitted subsequently by his action in the case of the Tembu frontier--that it could not be applied to the case in question. "If white men," he said, "will go and invade the territory of the blacks, then the blacks must be armed to repel the invasion."
The change which came over Mr. Schreiner's attitude, due, no doubt, partly to his gradual enlightenment as to the real aims of the republican nationalists, but also to the skilful use which Lord Milner made of that enlightenment, may be traced in the following contrasts. Before the Boer invasion he refused to call out the local forces of the Colony even for purposes of defence; afterwards he not only sanctioned the employment of these forces in the Colony, but allowed them to take part in Lord Roberts' advance upon Bloemfontein and Pretoria. Before the invading Boers, having already possessed themselves of the north-eastern districts of Cape Colony, began to threaten the purely native territories to the south, he would not hear of the natives being armed for their own protection. But when the Boers had actually reached the borders of Tembuland he consented. In his advice to the Cape Government, no less than in that which he gave to the Home Government, Lord Milner was shown to be in the right. In both cases he urged an effective preparation for war. In both the measures which he advised were ultimately taken; but taken only when they had lost all their power as a means of promoting peace, and half of their efficacy as a contribution to the rapid and successful prosecution of the war. In both cases Lord Milner was able, in the face of unparalleled obstacles, to secure just the minimum preparation for war which stood between the British Empire and overwhelming military disaster.
[Footnote 168: The Kimberley and Mafeking Volunteers were called out at the last moment, but actually before the war broke out; but the safety of both these places was imperilled by the refusal, or delay, of the colonial Government to supply them with guns.]
We have observed the position in Great Britain, and found that the root cause of the impotence of the Home Government was the nation's ignorance of South Africa. In the Cape Colony the evil was of a different order. Lord Milner, although High Commissioner for South Africa, had within the Colony only the strictly limited powers of a constitutional governor. The British population were keenly alive to the necessity for active preparations for the defence of their country; were, indeed, indignant at the refusal of the Schreiner Cabinet to allow the local forces to be called out: but the Dutch party was in office, the Bond was "loyal," Mr. Schreiner was a minister of the Crown, and the most that the Governor could do was to urge upon his ministers the measures upon the execution of which he had no power to insist.
[Sidenote: Seven years after.]
The best comment upon this strange situation is that which is afforded by a passage in Lord Milner's speech in the House of Lords on February 26th, 1906. Seven years have gone by, and the great proconsul has returned to England. He is drawn from his much-needed rest by a sudden danger to the country which he has kept a part of the Empire. The Unionist Government has fallen, and a Liberal Government has been placed in power. He is warning this Government of the danger of a premature grant of responsible government to the Orange River Colony.
"What is going to happen under responsible government? It is more
than probable, it is, humanly speaking, certain, that the persons
to whom I have referred will form a large majority, if not almost
the whole, of that first elected Parliament of the Orange River
Colony to which, from the first hour of its existence, the whole
legislative and executive power in that colony is to be
entrusted. I do not suggest that they will begin by doing
anything sinister. All forms will be duly observed; as why should
they not be? It will be perfectly possible for them, with the
most complete constitutional propriety, little by little to
reverse all that has been done, and gradually to get rid of the
British officials, the British teachers, the bulk of the British
settlers, and any offensive British taint which may cling to the
statute-book or the administration. I can quite understand that,
from the point of view of what are known as the pro-Boers, such a
result is eminently desirable. They thought the war was a crime,
the annexation a blunder, and they think to-day that the sooner
you can get back to the old state of things the better. I say I
quite understand that view, though I do not suppose it is shared
by His Majesty's ministers, or, at any rate, by all of them. What
I cannot understand is how any human being, not being a pro-Boer,
can regard with equanimity the prospect that the very hand which
drafted the ultimatum of October, 1899, may within a year be
drafting 'Ministers' Minutes' for submission to a British
Governor who will have virtually no option but to obey them. What
will be the contents of those minutes, I wonder? As time goes on
it may be a proposal for dispensing with English as an official
language, or a proposal for the distribution to every country
farmer of a military rifle and so many hundred cartridges, in
view of threatened danger from the Basutos."
[Footnote 169: Mr. Fischer. See forward, p. 291.]
[Sidenote: "Just reminiscences".]
So far Lord Milner had dealt with the Orange River Colony. Then he let his thoughts range back to these months of his great ordeal.
"I think I can see the Governor just hesitating a little to put
his hand to such a document. In that case I think I can hear the
instant low growl of menace from Press and platform and pulpit,
the hints of the necessity of his recall, and the answering
scream from the pro-Boer Press of Britain against the ruthless
satrap, ignorant of constitutional usage and wholly
misunderstanding his own position, who dared to trample upon the
rights of a free people. I may be told, I know I shall be told,
that such notions are the wild imaginings of a disordered brain,
that these are theoretical possibilities having no relation to
fact or to probability. My Lords, they are not imaginings. They
are just reminiscences.
"I know what it is to be Governor of a self-governing colony,
with the disaffected element in the ascendant. I was bitterly
attacked for not being sufficiently submissive under the
circumstances. Yet, even with the least submissive Governor, the
position is so weak that strange things happen. It was under
responsible government, and in the normal working of responsible
government, that 1,000,000 cartridges were passed through Cape
Colony, on the eve of the war, to arm the people who were just
going to attack us, and that some necessary cannon were stopped
from being sent to a defenceless border town, which directly
afterwards was besieged, and which, from want of these cannon,
was nearly taken."
[Footnote 170: Kimberley.]
[Footnote 171: The Times, February 27th, 1906.]
Thus, six and a half years later, Lord Milner spoke of these months of Sturm und Drang in the calm and passionless atmosphere of the House of Lords.
From Bloemfontein to the ultimatum, the British flag in South Africa was stayed upon the "inflexible resolution" of one man. Two months later, when the army corps was all but landed, the English at the Cape gave speech. Then Sir David Gill's words at the St. Andrew's Day celebration of November 30th, 1890 came as a fresh breeze dispersing the miasmic humours of some low-lying, ill-drained plain.
[Sidenote: What the loyalists thought.]
"In the history of the British colonies," he said, "no Governor
has ever been placed in greater difficulties. In spite of a
support of the most shamelessly feeble character, and in spite of
a want of understanding at home, His Excellency has not only had
to originate and carry out a policy, but he has had to instruct
the whole nation in the dangers which threatened; and the means
which were necessary to remove that danger.
"When His Excellency came to this colony he found it honeycombed
with sedition. He found a canting loyalty, which aimed at the
overthrow of British supremacy in this colony, and not only in
this colony, but in South Africa as well.... There have been a
mighty lot of misunderstandings in this country, a mighty lot of
mealy-mouthed loyalty, that did not mean loyalty at all, and a
mighty working to overthrow the power of Englishmen (and
Scotchmen) in this country--first of all to bring them into
contempt with the native population; secondly, to deprive them of
all political power; and thirdly, to deprive them of all material
power.... We have a minister who has gone to the front, but
it is a remarkable fact that since that minister has gone to the
front the accessions of colonists to the ranks of the rebels have
been tenfold greater than they were before he went. It is in the
face of these innumerable difficulties that Sir Alfred Milner has
carried out his work."
[Footnote 172: Mr. J. W. Sauer. The reference is (in Lord
Milner's words) to Mr. Sauer's "well-meant but unsuccessful
mission to Dordrecht, which was immediately followed by
rebellion in that district." The facts, as fully disclosed a
year later, are these. On November 23rd, 1899, Mr. Sauer held
a meeting at Dordrecht to dissuade the Dutch subjects of the
Crown in the Wodehouse Division of the Colony from joining in
the rebellion. As the result of this meeting a deputation was
sent to the Commandant of the Boer invading-force, Olivier,
who was at Barkly East, desiring him not to come to
Dordrecht. On November 27th another meeting was held (also
addressed by Mr. Sauer) and a second deputation of the
inhabitants waited upon Olivier. The sequel is revealed in
the telegram despatched the following day (November 28th) by
the Boer Commandant to the Secretary, the War Commission,
Bloemfontein: "... To-day already I received the second
deputation from Dordrecht not to come to Dordrecht. This is
asked officially, but privately they say that this is also a
blind, and that we must come at once...." On December 2nd
Olivier was received with open arms at Dordrecht. It was in a
district where, in the Boer Commandant's words, "the
Afrikanders were rejoicing, and joining the commandos was
universal."--Cd. 420, p. 108 and p. 96; Cd. 43, p. 221; and
Cd. 261, p. 126.]
This is how it struck a distinguished man of science, and one who was qualified, moreover, by a residence at the Cape which dated back to the days of the Zulu War, to understand the full significance of what was going on around him.
In July and August, President Krüger was winning all along the line. The Home Government was kept harmless and inactive by the Franchise Bill; the Cape Government tied the hands of the High Commissioner; supplies of arms and ammunition were pouring in, the temper of the burghers in both republics was rising, foreign military officers and M. Léon of the Creuzot Works had arrived; in short, the military preparations of four years were consummated without let or hindrance. September was less exclusively favourable to the republican cause. On September 8th, as we have seen, the Salisbury Cabinet determined to send out the defensive forces for which Lord Milner had asked three months before. Sir William Butler had been recalled; and General Forestier-Walker did all in his power to carry out the measures urged, and in most cases actually devised, by Lord Milner for the effective employment of the few thousand Imperial troops at his disposal. On the 18th and 19th the Lancashire regiment was sent up-country from Capetown--half to garrison Kimberley, and half to hold the bridge that carried the main trunk line over the Orange River on its way northwards to Kimberley and then past the Transvaal border to Rhodesia. In doing this, however, Lord Milner was careful to point out to President Steyn that no menace was intended to the Free State, which, "in case of war with the Transvaal Her Majesty's Government hoped would remain neutral, and the neutrality of which would be most strictly respected." Such excellent use was made by Lord Milner of the six weeks which elapsed between the recall of General Butler and the ultimatum (October 9th-11th), that the handful of regulars dotted down before the Free State border of the colony, and skilfully distributed at strategic points upon the railways, sufficed to keep President Steyn's commandos from penetrating south of the Orange River, until the army corps had begun to disembark at the Cape ports. On this, as on another occasion to be subsequently noted, it is difficult to withhold a tribute of admiration to the gifted personality of the man who, himself a civilian, could thus readily apply his unique knowledge of South African conditions to the uses of the art of war. At the same time, the promptitude and efficiency displayed by the Indian military authorities provided Natal, by October 8th, with a force that proved just--and only just--sufficient to prevent the Boer commandos from sweeping right through that colony down to Durban.
[Sidenote: The negotiations closed.]
In the meantime the negotiations, having served their purpose, were being brought rapidly to a conclusion by the Pretoria Executive. On September 15th, as we have seen, the Republic notified its refusal to accept the terms offered in the British despatch of the 8th; and before that date, as we have also noted, some of the Transvaal commandos had been ordered to take up their positions on the Natal border. On the 22nd a meeting of the Cabinet was held in London, at which it was decided to mobilise the army corps--a measure advised by Lord Wolseley in June. At the same time Lord Milner was instructed by telegraph to communicate to the South African Republic a despatch in which the British Government "absolutely denied and repudiated" the claim of the South African Republic to be a "sovereign international state," and informed the Pretoria Executive that its refusal to entertain the offer made on September 8th--
[Footnote 173: C. 9,530.]
"coming as it did at the end of nearly four months of protracted
negotiations, themselves the climax of an agitation extending
over a period of more than five years, made it useless to further
pursue a discussion on the lines hitherto followed, and that Her
Majesty's Government were now compelled to consider the situation
afresh, and to formulate their own proposals for a final
of the questions at issue. The result of these deliberations was to be communicated to Lord Milner in a later despatch.
[Sidenote: The Burghers mobilised.]
This note of September 22nd, together with a second communication of the same date, in which Mr. Chamberlain warmly repudiated the charges of bad faith brought against Sir William Greene, reached the Pretoria Executive on the 25th, and on the same day it was known that a British force had entrained at Ladysmith for Glencoe. On the 26th intelligence of so serious a nature reached Lord Milner, that he telegraphed to warn the Home Government that the Transvaal and Free State were likely to take the initiative. According to Mr. Amery, an ultimatum had been drafted upon receipt of the British note, and telegraphed on the following day to President Steyn for his approval. At Bloemfontein, however, the document was entirely recast by Mr. Fischer. Even so, in its amended form, it was ready on the 27th. On that day the Free State Raad, after six days of secret session, determined to join the sister Republic in declaring war upon Great Britain, and on the 28th the Transvaal commandos were mobilised. The ultimatum, according to the same authority, would have been delivered to Sir William Greene on Monday, October 2nd, had not deficiencies in the Boer transport and commissariat arrangements made it impossible for the burgher forces to advance immediately upon the British troops in Natal. At the last moment, also, President Steyn seems to have had some misgivings. On September 26th, together with the draft ultimatum from Pretoria, a suggestive telegram from Capetown, signed "Micaiah," and bidding him "Read chapter xxii. 1st Book of Kings, and accept warning," had reached him; and a few days later he received, through Mr. Fischer, a powerful appeal for peace from Sir Henry de Villiers.
[Footnote 174: Times correspondent and editor of The Times
History of the War. Mr. Amery arrived at the Cape in the
second week of September, and was at Pretoria from September
24th to October 13th.]
[Footnote 175: Secured by Intelligence Department.]
However this may be, the few administrative acts that remained to be taken were quickly accomplished in both Republics. In the Transvaal the remnant of the British population was already in flight; the law courts were suspended; the control of the railways was assumed by the Government and, in order to protect colonial recruits from the legal penalties attached to rebellion, on September 29th the Executive was empowered by the Volksraad to confer citizen rights on all aliens serving in the forces of the Republic. Not content with their barbarous expulsion of the British population, the Governments of both Republics for a week before the expiry of the ultimatum treated those of them who still remained as though a state of war had already been in existence. During these last days telegrams and letters praying for protection against some act of violence or spoliation were constantly arriving at Government House. But what could the High Commissioner do? The Army Corps was 6,000 miles away; the 10,000 defensive troops were most of them still on the water. The Free State, in Mr. Fischer's words, "did not recognise international law, and claimed to commandeer all persons whatsoever" under its own. In the Transvaal, Mr. Reitz (after consultation with Mr. Smuts) was coolly replying to the British Agent's protest against the seizure of the property of British subjects, including £150,000 worth of bar gold, that "the property of private individuals of whatever nationality could be, and was being, commandeered to the value of £15 a head." On October 2nd the Transvaal Raads adjourned, and on the same day President Steyn informed the High Commissioner that the Free State burghers had been summoned for commando service. An interchange of telegrams then ensued, of which one, despatched on October 6th, is important as showing how earnestly Lord Milner seconded Mr. Chamberlain's endeavour to keep the door open for a peaceful settlement up to the last moment.
[Footnote 176: C. 9,530.]
[Sidenote: Last words.]
"I have the honour," he said, "to acknowledge Your Honour's long
telegram of yesterday afternoon [the 5th], the substance of which
I have communicated to Her Majesty's Government. There is, I
think, a conclusive reply to Your Honour's accusation against the
policy of Her Majesty's Government, but no good purpose would be
served by recrimination. The present position is that burgher
forces are assembled in very large numbers in immediate proximity
to the frontiers of Natal, while the British troops occupy
certain defensive positions well within those borders. The
question is whether the burgher forces will invade British
territory, thus closing the door to any possibility of a pacific
solution. I cannot believe that the South African Republic will
take such aggressive action, or that Your Honour would
countenance such a course, which there is nothing to justify.
Prolonged negotiations have hitherto failed to bring about a
satisfactory understanding, and no doubt such understanding is
more difficult than ever to-day, after the expulsion of British
subjects with great loss and suffering; but until the threatened
act of aggression is committed I shall not despair of peace, and
I feel sure that any reasonable proposal, from whatever quarter
proceeding, would be favourably considered by Her Majesty's
Government if it offered an immediate termination of present
tension and a prospect of permanent tranquillity."
[Footnote 177: C. 9,530.]
With this--practically the final communication of the British Government--it is instructive to compare the "last words" of the two other protagonists. The Pretoria Executive, true to its policy of playing for time, sends through Mr. Reitz two long and argumentative replies to the British despatches of July 27th (the Joint Commission), and May 10th (Mr. Chamberlain's reply to the petition to the Queen). The Afrikander nationalists having failed to "mediate" in Pretoria and Bloemfontein, consoled themselves with a final effort in the shape of a direct appeal to the Queen. In a petition signed by the fifty-eight Afrikander members of both Houses of the Cape Parliament, including, of course, the members of the Schreiner Cabinet, they declare their earnest belief that the South African Republic "is fully awakened to the wisdom and discretion of making liberal provision for the representation of the Uitlanders," and urge Her Majesty's Government to appoint a Joint Commission--a proposal to which the British Government had declared that it was impossible to return. The effect of this somewhat half-hearted effort was, however, on this occasion appreciably diminished by the fact that the nationalist petition was accompanied by a resolution presented by fifty-three Progressive members of the Cape Parliament, embodying their entire disapproval of the opinion put forward by the petitioners, and containing the assurance that Her Majesty's Government might rely upon their strongest support.
[Sidenote: The ultimatum delivered.]
The ultimatum was delivered to Sir William Greene on the afternoon of Monday, October 9th, and forthwith telegraphed to the High Commissioner at Capetown. Although it was a week behind time at Pretoria, its arrival was somewhat unexpected at Government House. Saturday and Sunday had been days of quite unusual calm. The Secretary, whose business it was to decode the official telegrams, commenced his task with but languid interest. He had decoded so many apparently unnecessary and inconclusive despatches of late. At first this seemed very much like the others. But, as he worked on, he came upon words that startled him to a sudden attention:
"This Government ... in the interest not only of this Republic,
but also of all South Africa,... feels itself called upon and
obliged ... to request Her Majesty's Government to give it the
"(a) That all points of mutual difference shall be regulated by
the friendly course of arbitration, or by whatever amicable way
may be agreed upon by this Government with Her Majesty's
"(b) That the troops on the borders of this Republic shall be
"(c) That all reinforcements of troops which have arrived in
South Africa since June 1st, 1899, shall be removed from South
Africa within a reasonable time, to be agreed upon with this
Government, and with a mutual assurance and guarantee upon the
part of this Government that no attack upon or hostilities
against any portion of the possessions of the British Government
shall be made by the Republic during further negotiations within
a period of time to be subsequently agreed upon between the
Governments, and this Government will, on compliance therewith,
be prepared to withdraw the armed burghers of this Republic from
"(d) That Her Majesty's troops which are now on the high seas
shall not be landed in any part of South Africa.
"This Government must press for an immediate and affirmative
answer to these four questions, and earnestly requests Her
Majesty's Government to return such an answer before or upon
Wednesday, October 11th, 1899, not later than five o'clock p.m.,
and it desires further to add that, in the event of unexpectedly
no satisfactory answer being received by it within that interval,
it will with great regret be compelled to regard the action of
Her Majesty's Government as a formal declaration of war, and will
not hold itself responsible for the consequences thereof, and
that in the event of any further movements of troops taking place
within the above-mentioned time in the nearer directions of our
borders, the Government will be compelled to regard that also as
a formal declaration of war.
"I have, etc.,
"F. W. REITZ, State Secretary."
[Footnote 178: C. 9,530.]
[Sidenote: An appeal to Afrikanders.]
The war had come; and come in the almost incredible form of a naked assertion of the intention of the South African Republic to oust Great Britain from its position of paramount Power in South Africa. And the declaration of war, published two days later by President Steyn, was no less definite. It referred to Great Britain's "unfounded claim to paramountcy for the whole of South Africa, and thus also over this State," and exhorted the burghers of the Free State to "stand up as one man against the oppressor and violator of right." Even greater frankness characterised the appeal to "Free Staters and Brother Afrikanders" issued by Mr. Reitz. In this document not only was the entire Dutch population of South Africa invited to rid themselves, by force of arms, of British supremacy, but the statement of the Boer case took the form of an impeachment that covered the whole period of British administration. Great Britain--
[Footnote 179: Cd. 43.]
[Footnote 180: Ibid.]
"has, ever since the birth of our nation, been the oppressor of
the Afrikander and the native alike.
"From Slagter's Nek to Laing's Nek, from the Pretoria Convention
to the Bloemfontein Conference--they have ever been the
treaty-breakers and robbers. The diamond fields of Kimberley and
the beautiful land of Natal were robbed from us, and now they
want the gold-fields of the Witwatersrand.
"Where is Waterboer to-day? He who had to be defended against the
Free State is to-day without an inch of ground. Where lies
Lobengula in his unknown grave to-day, and what fillibusters and
fortune-hunters are possessors of his country?
"Where are the native chiefs of Bechuanaland now, and who owns
"Read the history of South Africa, and ask yourselves: Has the
British Government been a blessing or a curse to this
"Brother Afrikanders! I repeat, the day is at hand on which great
deeds are expected of us. WAR has broken out. What is it to be? A
wasted and enslaved South Africa, or--a Free, United South
"Come, let us stand shoulder to shoulder and do our holy duty!
The Lord of Hosts will be our Leader.
"Be of good cheer.
"F. W. REITZ."
That Monday night, besides repeating the ultimatum to the Home Government, Lord Milner telegraphed to warn the British authorities in Natal, Rhodesia, Basutoland, and the frontier towns.
The ultimatum reached the Colonial Office at 6.45 a.m. on Tuesday. The reply, which was cabled to Lord Milner at 10.45 p.m. on the same day, was not unworthy of the occasion:
[Sidenote: The British reply.]
"Her Majesty's Government have received with great regret the
peremptory demands of the Government of the South African
Republic. You will inform the Government of the South African
Republic, in reply, that the conditions demanded by the South
African Republic are such as Her Majesty's Government deem it
impossible to discuss."
[Footnote 181: C. 9,530.]
The High Commissioner was further desired to instruct Sir William Greene, in delivering the British reply, to ask for his passports.