The new year (1901) opened with a full revelation of the magnitude of the task which lay before the Imperial troops. Lord Roberts had frankly recognised that the destruction of the Governments and organised armies of the Republics would be followed by the more difficult and lengthy task of disarming the entire Boer population within their borders.
"Recent events have convinced me," he wrote from Pretoria on
October 10th, 1900, "that the permanent tranquillity of the
Orange River Colony and Transvaal is dependent on the complete
disarmament of the inhabitants; and, though the extent of the
country to be visited, and the ease with which guns, rifles, and
ammunition can be hidden, will render the task a difficult one,
its accomplishment is only a matter of time and patience."
That this task proved altogether more lengthy and more arduous than Lord Roberts at this time expected, was due mainly, though not exclusively, to the same cause as that which had placed the British army in a position of such grave disadvantage at the outbreak of the war--the play of party politics in England. Lord Roberts had foreseen that the process of disarming the Boers would be slow and difficult; but he had not anticipated that the Imperial troops would be hindered in the accomplishment of this task by the political action of the friends of the Boers in England, or that the public utterances of prominent members of the Liberal Opposition would re-act with such dangerous effects upon the Afrikander nationalists that, after more than a year of successful military operations, the process of disarmament would have to be applied to the Cape Colony as well as to the territories of the late Republics.
Looking back to the year 1900, with the events of the intervening period before us, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the decision of the Boer leaders to continue the struggle was determined by political, and not by military considerations. More than one circumstance points to the fact that both the Boer generals and the civilian members of the Executives of the late Republics recognised that their position was practically hopeless from a military point of view. And while Louis Botha, the Commandant-General of the Transvaal, urged his fellow-burghers to lay down their arms after the battle of Dalmanutha, it was President Steyn, a politician, and not a fighting man, who manifested the stubborn determination that was directly responsible for the unnecessary devastation and suffering which the guerilla war entailed upon the Boer people. The remote, but still carefully cherished possibility of foreign intervention, the belief that the colonial Dutch would even yet rise en masse, and the reliance upon the traditional sympathy of the Liberal party with the Boer aspirations for independence, were all considerations that contributed to the decision. But of these three influences the last was incomparably the most important; since it not only affected the disposition of the republican leaders, but, what was more, stimulated the Afrikander nationalists to make the efforts which brought the Dutch in the Cape Colony to the condition of passionate resentment that drew the Boer commandos, in the last month of 1900 and the opening months of 1901, a second time across the Orange River.
[Footnote 234: See letter of Piet de Wet to his brother
Christian, in Cd. 547, and correspondence between Steyn and
Reitz (captured by British troops), in Cd. 903.]
[Sidenote: An injurious influence.]
We have seen the actual origin of this most injurious influence. The "conciliation" movement was initiated in the Cape Colony by the Afrikander nationalists in concert with President Krüger, in order that "the hands of the friends of the Afrikander party in England might be strengthened." They were strengthened. We have observed the formation of a Conciliation Committee in England, working in close connection with the parent organisation, founded by Mr. Hargrove, in the Cape Colony; and we have noticed the declarations of Mr. Morley, Lord Courtney, and Mr. Bryce, in favour of the restoration of the internal independence of the Boers--declarations all made in opposition to the expressed determination of the British Government to incorporate the Republics into the system of the British Empire. The official leader of the Liberal party was less consistent. In June, 1900, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman signified in general terms his recognition of the necessity of this measure. But he returned in October to vague expressions of sympathy with the Boers, which, after the general election had resulted in the return of the Unionist majority, took the form of a direct condemnation of the South African policy of the Government. In the course of the year 1901 he reiterated two charges with increasing vehemence. The conduct of the war was inhuman; and the Government, by refusing to offer any terms to the republican leaders inconsistent with the decision to incorporate the Republics into the Empire, were exacting the unnecessary humiliation of an unconditional surrender from a gallant foe. These injurious utterances at length provoked Lord Salisbury's indignant comment: "England is, I believe, the only country in which, during a great war, eminent men write and speak publicly as if they belonged to the enemy;" and elicited from Lord Rosebery, Sir Edward Grey, Mr. Asquith, Mr. Haldane, and Sir Henry Fowler, the assurance that the determination of the British people to "see the war through" had in no way weakened. But, in spite of these patriotic utterances on the part of the Liberal Imperialists, the fact remains that, throughout the whole period of the guerilla war, the Boer commandos were encouraged to resist the Imperial troops by the knowledge that prominent members of the Liberal party in England had declared themselves to be opposed to what they termed the "suppression" of the Boer people, and were condemning in unmeasured terms the British military authorities for employing the sole methods by which the guerilla leaders could be encountered on equal terms, and the disarmament of the Dutch population could be accomplished.
[Sidenote: Peace party among the Boers.]
There is another element in the attitude of the burgher population at this critical period, a knowledge of which is essential to a correct understanding of the methods and conditions of the guerilla war. The existence among the republican Dutch of a considerable body of opinion in favour of submission was a circumstance of which the Imperial authorities were aware, and one of which they desired, naturally enough, to take the fullest advantage. It was known also to the militant Boer leaders; and it is obvious that any estimate of the degree in which these leaders are to be held directly responsible for the loss and suffering entailed by the decision to continue the war, will depend largely upon the manner in which they dealt with those members of their own community who were prepared, after Lord Roberts's victories, to become peaceable citizens of the British Empire.
[Footnote 235: "This war no longer makes a pretence of being
a war of defence; it is a war for gold-fields, for territory,
and for the suppression of two brave and noble peoples. This
wicked war has lost us the moral leadership of mankind."--Mr.
E. Robertson, M.P., June 5th, 1901.]
The action of the Boer leaders in this respect is established by the indisputable testimony of the official documents which fell into the hands of the British authorities in the subsequent progress of the war. Every endeavour of the peace party to make itself heard was punished with rigorous, sometimes brutal, severity; fictitious reports, calculated to raise false hopes of foreign intervention, were circulated among the burghers in the field; and every effort was made to prevent a knowledge of the British Government's proposals for the future administration of the new colonies from reaching the rank and file of the burgher population. The details of this action on the part of the Boer leaders constitute collectively a body of evidence sufficient to have justified the employment of measures infinitely more severe than those which were in fact adopted by the British military authorities for the capture of the Boer commandos and the disarmament of the Dutch inhabitants of South Africa; and in the face of this evidence, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's reiterated charges against the Government, whether of "methods of barbarism" or of prolonging the war by the neglect to offer reasonable terms to the Boers, must be held as wanton in their origin as they were injurious in their results.
[Sidenote: Administrative changes.]
The despatch of October 18th, 1900, which, as we have seen, Lord Milner received as he was returning from his visit to the new colonies, contained certain new commissions, under the terms of which the "prospective administration" of the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony was placed in his hands in succession to Lord Roberts, while at the same time he remained Governor of the Cape Colony and High Commissioner for South Africa. This combination of offices was purely temporary, since Her Majesty's Government (Mr. Chamberlain wrote to Lord Milner) "were anxious to take advantage of his unique fitness for the great task of inaugurating the civil government of the two new colonies." It was proposed therefore, that, as soon as the necessary legal provision could be made for establishing constitutions for the two new colonies, Lord Milner should be appointed as their Governor, with a Lieutenant-Governor for the Orange River Colony, and should cease to be the Governor of the Cape Colony. This new arrangement, which, as Mr. Chamberlain pointed out, involved the severance of the High Commissionership from the Governorship of the Cape Colony to which it had been attached for so long a period, did not take effect, however, until the end of February, 1901, when Lord Milner finally left the Cape Colony for the Transvaal.
[Footnote 236: Cd. 547.]
Lord Roberts relinquished the command of the British forces in South Africa on November 29th, 1900. The Home Government at this time attached great importance to the issue of a proclamation setting out clearly the generous terms upon which the Boers would be received into the empire; and, in connection with this question, Lord Milner, during his recent visit to Pretoria, had discussed with Lord Kitchener the methods by which the influence of the surrendered Boers and the more moderate Afrikanders, who were in favour of submission, could be brought to bear upon the general mass of the fighting burghers. Lord Milner, however, upon his return to the Cape Colony, expressed the opinion that the issue of a proclamation in the then existing circumstances would be a mistake, since it would only be regarded as a sign of weakness. And in support of this opinion he states, in a telegram of December 11th, that the cabled summary of Mr. Chamberlain's
"recent speech in the House of Commons, containing virtually the
principal points in the proposed proclamation, has been instantly
seized upon by the Bond leaders [in the Cape Colony] and is
represented by them as a sign that Her Majesty's Government is
wavering in its policy, and that the reaction in British public
opinion, which they have always relied on, is setting in."
[Footnote 237: Cd. 547.]
Both Lord Roberts and Lord Kitchener confirmed this judgment at the time; and on January 28th, 1901--when de Wet was on the point of breaking through the British troops into the Cape Colony--the latter telegraphed to Lord Milner:
"When the Boers are inclined to peace, they will want, I think,
to discuss various questions, and when that time comes a
proclamation which would meet as far as possible the points
raised would, no doubt, be very valuable.... But just now I do
not think they have any idea of making peace whilst the Colony
question is so prominent. I have let it be known that I would be
glad to see an officer or meet Botha at any time if he wished to
[Footnote 238: Cd. 547.]
Three days afterwards Lord Milner received a further telegram from Lord Kitchener on the same subject, which he also forwarded to the Colonial Office:
"Ex-President Pretorius has just returned from seeing L. Botha
and Schalk Burger [the Commandant-General and the Acting
President of the South African Republic]. They stated that they
were fighting for their independence, and meant to continue to do
so to the bitter end, and would not discuss any question of
[Footnote 239: Ibid.]
[Sidenote: Boer leaders irreconcilable.]
In view of this irreconcilable attitude on the part of the Boer leaders, Mr. Chamberlain abandoned the proposal, and the proclamation was not issued until six months later, when the blockhouse system had been successfully initiated.
But, although Lord Milner had recognised the futility of the appeal by proclamation, he had readily approved of Lord Kitchener's endeavour to make the British proposals known to the placable but terrorised section of the fighting burghers, through the agency of those of their kinsmen and friends who had surrendered. After all advances to the Boer leaders in the field had totally failed, "it seemed to us," Lord Milner reported to Mr. Chamberlain,
[Footnote 240: January 12th, 1901. Cd. 547.]
"that those who had already surrendered would have means not open
to us of communicating with the bulk of the Boers still under
arms, persuading them of the hopelessness of their resistance,
and removing the misapprehension of our intentions, which some of
the commanders who were still holding out had sedulously
It was in these circumstances and with these objects in view that, after Lord Roberts's departure, the Burgher Peace Committee was formed at Pretoria; and it is to the address which Lord Kitchener then delivered (December 21st, 1900) to this Committee that we must look for the origin and purpose of the Burgher, or Concentration Camps.
[Sidenote: Origin of the Burgher camps.]
"It having been brought to Lord Kitchener's notice," says the
published report, "that the principal difficulty that burghers,
desirous of surrendering, experienced was that they were not
allowed to remain in their own districts, and were afraid of the
penalties attached to not having adhered strictly to the oath of
neutrality, which they had, in most cases, been made to break by
the coercive measures of Boers out on commando, he wished to give
the burghers still in the field every opportunity of becoming
acquainted with the treatment he proposed now to extend to them,
their families, and their property.
"Instructions had been issued to form laagers for all surrendered
burghers, their wives, families, and stock, on the railway in
their own districts under military protection; and, except where
it was proved that a burgher had voluntarily broken his oath and
gone out on commando, no difference would be made between those
who had not taken the oath. To protect deserted women and
children they would also be brought into these laagers, where
their husbands and sons, who desired to live peacefully, could
freely join them.
"It was essential that the country should be thus cleared,
because so long as the means of subsistence remained in and on
the farms, so long small commandos were enabled to continue in
the field. In return, Lord Kitchener expected every assistance
from those to whom he gave protection. They must each and all
help to the best of their ability by influencing in every way in
their power those still in the field to surrender. These measures
would be applied gradually, and extended if they proved
successful. Burghers must understand that no responsibility could
be accepted for stock or property, except for that which they
brought in with them, and then only if they kept it within the
limits of the protection he was prepared to afford."
[Footnote 241: Cd. 547.]
The report of Lord Kitchener's speech from which these paragraphs are taken was printed in Dutch and circulated by the Burgher Peace Committee. It is certainly significant that a measure which was subsequently held up to the execration of the civilised world by the official leader of the Liberal party and the friends of the Boers in England, should have been carefully explained by Lord Kitchener to an audience of Boers at Pretoria, and accepted by them as a means of enabling the peaceably disposed burghers to escape from the compulsion of their leaders. In this, as in many other matters, the English friends of the Boers were plus royalistes que le roi même.
[Sidenote: Boer coercive measures.]
These, then, were the means employed by the British military authorities to avert a needless protraction of the war. We have now to observe the methods by which the Boer leaders prevented their efforts from producing the desired result. In view of the destruction of the organised resistance of the Republics, Lord Roberts had made known by proclamation that all burghers who surrendered their arms and took the oath of neutrality would be allowed to return to their homes, or, if at home, to remain there undisturbed. This implied an intention on the part of the British authorities to provide such protection as would enable the surrendered burghers to remain in peaceable possession of their property. General Botha, as we have already noted, was personally in favour of a general surrender after the battle of Dalmanutha; but, when once the majority of the Boer leaders had decided to continue to resist the establishment of British authority by force of arms, it became his business to keep every fighting burgher in the field. Here, again, the work of the Intelligence Department provides us with instructive evidence of the purposes and acts of the enemy. In the course of the subsequent military operations Sir Bindon Blood captured a number of official documents in the Boer Government laager at Roos Senekal. One of these, referring to the period in question, sufficiently indicates the nature of the "coercive measures" to which Lord Kitchener had alluded. Under date October 6th, 1900, General Botha gives instructions to the Boer commandant at Bethel to telegraph round to the Boer generals and officers certain military instructions, and he then adds:
"Do everything in your power to prevent the burghers from laying
down their arms. I will be compelled, if they do not listen to
this, to confiscate everything moveable or unmoveable, and also
to burn their houses. Get into direct communication with the
Standerton men, and destroy the railway line between Heidelberg
and Standerton, and especially derail and hold up trains. In this
manner we will obtain a large quantity of food."
[Footnote 242: Cd. 663. See also the text of the circular
issued on December 2nd, 1900, by Louis Botha, as
Commandant-General of the Boer forces, to all military
officers, landdrosts, etc., giving specific instructions for
the punishment of surrendered burghers who refused to join
the commandos when called upon, and for the evasion of the
And, while the peaceably inclined burghers were prevented from surrendering by the fear of these penalties, the courage of the commandos was maintained by the spread of false information. Among these same papers found at Roos Senekal is a telegram despatched on November 2nd, 1900, to General Viljoen, containing a number of encouraging statements bearing upon the political and military situation, of which the three following may be taken as characteristic:
"October, 1900. A Congress of Delegates of the Powers was held at
Parijs [Paris], whereby England asked for an extension of six
months to carry on the war. This was refused by the powers on the
proposal of Holland and Austria.
"France is ready to land troops in England on the 1st November.
"Cape Colonial troops to the number of 2,500 have been sent back
by General Roberts, having quarrelled with the regulars. Their
arms were taken away and burnt. This last is official news
received by General Fourie."
[Footnote 243: Cd. 663.]
[Sidenote: "Not civilised warfare".]
It was in order to counteract the effects of this system of terrorism and deceit, that the endeavour was made to inform the mass of the Boers still in arms of the actual state of affairs, both in respect of the hopelessness of foreign intervention and the real intentions of the British Government, through the agency of the Burgher Peace Committee. The treatment accorded to these peace emissaries is justifiable, possibly, by a strict interpretation of the laws of war; but it fixes inevitably the responsibility for the needless sufferings of the Boer people in the guerilla war, upon Ex-President Steyn, Schalk Burger, Louis Botha, Christian de Wet, and the other Boer leaders. On January 10th, 1901, of three agents of the Peace Committee taken prisoners to De Wet's laager near Lindley, one--a British subject--was flogged and then shot, and two, who were burghers, were flogged. And on February 12th Meyer de Kock, the Secretary of the Committee, was shot.
[Footnote 244: Cd. 547.]
[Footnote 245: Cd. 663. It was at this time that the utterly
unjustifiable and brutal murder of the coloured man, Esau,
took place in the invasion of the Calvinia district of the
Cape Colony. His sole offence was his known loyalty to the
British Government. "He was flogged on January 15th, 1901,
and kept in gaol till February 5th, when he was flogged
through the streets and shot outside the village by a Boer
named Strydom, who stated that he acted according to orders."
But the efforts of the Peace Committee were not altogether thrown away. The terrible deaths of these men, true martyrs of the Boer cause, evoked more than one notable protest against the insensate determination of Ex-President Steyn and De Wet.
"Dear Brother, ... From what I hear you are so angry with me,"
wrote General Piet de Wet to his brother Christian, "that you
have decided to kill me should you find me. May God not allow it
that you should have the opportunity to shed more innocent blood.
Enough has been shed already.... I beseech you, let us think over
the matter coolly for a moment, and see whether our cause is
really so pure and righteous that we can rely on God's
[Footnote 246: Cd. 547.]
And Mr. H. A. Du Plessis, the predikant at Lindley in the Orange River Colony, addressed an "open letter" to the clergy of the Dutch Reformed Church in the Cape Colony.
"It is not civilised warfare any more on the part of the
burghers. They have become desperate, and as fanatics do things
in conflict with a Christian spirit and civilisation.... About a
fortnight ago, G. Müller, one of my deacons and brother of the
late minister of Burghersdorp, was brutally ill-used. He had to
strip, and received twenty-five lashes with a stirrup leather--he
is not the only one--because he took letters from a member of the
Peace Committee to certain heads of the burgher force, in which
they were strongly advised to give in. At the same time Andries
Wessels and J. Morgendael were taken prisoners. They left
Kroonstad at their own request, and with the sanction of the
military authorities, in order to have an interview with the
leaders of the burgher force. Morgendael was mortally wounded by
Commandant Froneman without a hearing, and at the instigation of
General C. de Wet. He died afterwards.... In such a shameful, in
fact, inhuman, manner were these men treated; and for what
reason? Simply because they had tried to save their country and
"The burghers are kept totally in the dark by their leaders as to
what the real state of affairs is. Because I wish to save them
from certain ruin I make this appeal to you....
"If [the burghers] knew what the true state of affairs was, a
large portion would long ago have come in and delivered up their
"Therefore, I implore you, stand still for a few moments and
think of the true interests of the Afrikander nation, and see if
you will not alter your opinion, and quench the fire of war
instead of feeding the flame....
[Footnote 247: Cd. 547.]
These letters, which were published in The Cape Times, formed part of an attempt made by the Burgher Peace Committee, "to induce some of the leading men in the colony, who are known to sympathise with the Boers, to tell the men still in the field that the hope of any assistance from here is a delusion." But, in thus reporting this new endeavour to Mr. Chamberlain, Lord Milner adds that he is not, himself, "very sanguine" of its success.
[Sidenote: Policy of the Bond.]
There was only too good ground for this opinion. The Afrikander nationalists of the Cape hated England no less than did the republican nationalists, though they feared her more. The policy which the Bond had adopted after the occupation of the Republics by the British forces was perfectly definite. Its object was to avert the final disaster of the war by securing the maintenance of the Republics as independent centres of Afrikander nationalism. In order to do this the Bond resolved to keep the Cape Colony in a state of smouldering rebellion, to encourage the continued resistance of the Boer commandos, and to render all the material assistance to the guerilla leaders and their forces that could be afforded without exposing the Cape Dutch to the penalties of treason. It may be doubted, however, whether the Bond leaders, in view of the resolute attitude of the loyalist population and their consistent and unfaltering support of Lord Milner, would have embarked upon this policy, unless they had calculated upon the co-operation of the Liberal Opposition in England. As it was, their expectations in this respect had been amply fulfilled, and the policy itself, as we have seen, had been admirably carried into effect.
The second invasion of the Cape Colony began, as we have noticed, with the incursion of the Boers after the Worcester Congress. On December 16th, 1900, Kruitzinger, with seven hundred, and Hertzog with twelve hundred men, crossed the Orange River; and by February 11th, 1901, De Wet, who had been "headed back" in December, had succeeded in eluding the British columns and entered the Colony. At this moment success seemed to be within measurable distance both to the Bond and to De Wet. The point of view of the astute Afrikander statesmen is different from that of the guerilla leader; but each party is equally hopeful of the ultimate victory of the nationalist cause. Of the attitude of the Bond in this month of February, 1901, Mr. Kipling writes from Capetown:
[Footnote 248: Cd. 522.]
"Some of the extremists of the Bond are for committing themselves
now, fully, to the Dutch cause, De Wet and all; but some of the
others are hunting for some sort of side-path that will give them
a chance of keeping on the ground-level of the gallows, within
hail of a seat in the next Parliament. If De Wet wins--he is
assumed to be in command of several thousands, all lusting for
real battle, and sure of a welcome among many more thousands
alight with the same desire--the Bond may, of course, come out
flat-footedly on his side. Just at present the apricots are not
quite ripe enough. But the Bond has unshaken faith in the
Opposition, whose every word and action are quoted here, and lead
to more deaths on the veld. It is assumed that His Majesty's
Opposition will save the Bond, and South Africa for the Bond, if
only the commandos make the war expensive."
[Footnote 249: The italics are Mr. Kipling's. The Science of
Rebellion: a Tract for the Times, by Rudyard Kipling.]
[Sidenote: De Wet in the colony.]
If this account of the attitude of the Bond stood alone, its value would be merely that of an ex parte statement by a competent observer on the spot. But it does not stand alone. The accident of the capture of the Boer official papers at Roos Senekal, to which we have referred before, has provided us with a record of the thoughts which were in De Wet's mind at the time when Mr. Kipling's words were written. In a report dated "On the Veld, February 14th, 1901," Commandant-General Botha is informed that "De Wet's last news is that the Cape Colony has risen to a man, and has already taken up arms. They refused to give up to the British Government. Many more are only waiting operations on part of De Wet to join him; and General De Wet concludes this report with the words: 'It is certain that the ways of the Lord are hidden from us, and that, after all, it seems that the day of a united South Africa is not far off.'"
The writer of this despatch is the "Acting Chief-Commandant" of the Orange Free State; and to his report of De Wet's success in the Cape Colony, he now adds an account of what is happening on the other side of the Orange River:
"The burghers in the Orange Free State are hopeful, and expecting
a happy ending. The grudge against the Britisher has now taken
deep root, and the women and girls are encouraging the burghers
to stick up to the bitter end. So that our cause now rests in the
union of the burghers, and, with God's help, we will accomplish
our end.... The enemy's plan is to starve us out, but he will
never do it, now we have an outlet from the Cape Colony, even if
we have to use force."
[Footnote 250: Cd. 663.]
De Wet was chased out of the Colony by the British columns on February 28th, but smaller commandos under Kruitzinger, Fouché, Scheepers, and Malan remained behind. Apart from their mobility, and the persistent manner in which they clung to rugged and mountainous districts, the ability of these Boer raiders to keep the field against the Imperial troops must be attributed to the sympathy and material assistance which they received from the colonial Dutch. The actual number of recruits which they secured was small; but, in Lord Kitchener's words--
"the friendly feelings of a considerable portion of the rural
population assured to them at all times not only an ample food
supply, but also timely information of the movements of our
pursuing columns--two points which told heavily in their
[Footnote 251: Cd. 605.]
[Sidenote: Effect of Cape rebellion.]
In view of the enormous area of the sparsely populated and difficult country throughout which their movements were thus facilitated, it is not surprising that these roaming commandos were never completely suppressed. Of the 21,256 men who surrendered after Vereeniging, 3,635 were Boers and rebels, who had been, up to that time, at large in the Cape Colony. The importance of the contribution which the disloyal majority of the Cape Dutch were enabled, in this manner, to make to the power of resistance exhibited by the Boers in the guerilla war has scarcely been sufficiently appreciated. As it was, a large body of Imperial troops, which would otherwise have been available for completing the conquest of the new colonies, were kept employed, not merely in guarding the all-important railway lines, but from time to time in arduous, costly, and exhausting military operations in the Cape Colony.
[Footnote 252: Cd. 988.]
[Footnote 253: "Cape Colony is a great disappointment to me
... no general rising can be expected in that quarter....
[But] the little contingent there has been of great help to
us: they have kept 50,000 troops occupied, with which
otherwise we should have had to reckon."--Gen. Christian de
Wet at the Vereeniging Conference on May 16th, 1902. App. A.
The Three Years' War, by Christian Rudolf de Wet
(Constable, 1902). But see forward also, p. 485, for part
played by British loyalists.]
The value of this contribution was quite well understood by the Afrikander nationalists of the Cape. In Mr. Kipling's vigorous English, "north and south they were working for a common object--the manufacture of pro-Boers in England by doubling the income-tax." And it is in the extension of the area of the war by the establishment of the Boer commandos in the Cape Colony that we must find the one valid military consideration which underlay the failure of the peace negotiations between Lord Kitchener and General Louis Botha (February-April, 1901), and the final rejection of the British terms of surrender by the Boer leaders in June. The point is made perfectly plain in the official notice signed by Schalk Burger, as Acting President of the South African Republic, and Steyn, as President of the Orange Free State, which was issued to the burghers on June 20th, 1901. After reciting that the British terms had been referred to "State President Krüger and the deputation in Europe," and that President Krüger's reply had been considered by a conference of the Governments of both Republics, at which Chief-Commandant C. De Wet, Commandant-General L. Botha, and Assistant-Commandant J. H. De la Rey had presented a full report, the document continues:
"And considering the good progress in our cause in the colonies,
where our brothers oppose the cruel injustice done to the
Republics more and more in depriving them of their independence,
considering further the invaluable personal and material
sacrifices they [the Colonial Dutch] have made for our cause,
which would all be worthless and vain with a peace whereby the
independence of the Republics is given up ... [it is resolved]
that no peace will be made ... by which our independence and
national existence, or the interests of our colonial brothers,
shall be the price paid, and that the war will be vigorously
[Footnote 254: Cd. 663.]
[Sidenote: Afrikander statesmanship.]
It is impossible to withhold a tribute of admiration from the Afrikander nationalist leaders. The qualities of statesmanship that enabled a Cavour or a Bismarck to make a nation were theirs. From the apparent hopelessness of the position created by Lord Roberts's swift and overwhelming victories, they had brought round their affairs to the point at which they now stood. The task which confronted the Imperial troops was no longer to disarm the inhabitants of the Republics, but to disarm and subdue practically the entire Dutch population of South Africa. And to the military difficulties inherent in the accomplishment of such a task in such a country, they had added the opposition of political forces operating both in England and South Africa with scarcely less embarrassing effects. Had it been merely an affair of the island people and the island statesmen, the Bond might still have won. The courage and endurance of the Imperial troops alone would not have saved South Africa. The army was the instrument of the people, and it was for the people to make use of this instrument, or to withdraw it, as they chose. But the over-sea British claimed a voice in the settlement; and the Bond had no friends among them. The "younger nations" and the "man" at Capetown saved South Africa for the Empire.
Before we proceed to consider the broad features of the military operations by which the disarmament of the Dutch was at length accomplished, a reference must be made to the account of the general situation in South Africa addressed by Lord Milner to Mr. Chamberlain from Capetown on February 6th, 1901. Among all the notable documents which he furnished to his official chief, none affords more convincing evidence of cool judgment, mastery of South African conditions, and sureness of statecraft than this. It is a letter, and not a despatch, and as such it contains some personal details which would not have found a place in more formal communications.
[Sidenote: Lord Milner's survey.]
Two reasons, Lord Milner writes, have prevented him from sending for a long time past any general review of South African affairs. "I am occupied," he says, "every day that passes from morning till night by business, all of which is urgent, and the amount and variety of which you are doubtless able to judge from the communications on a great variety of subjects which are constantly passing between us." And in addition to this, he has always hoped that "some definite point would be reached, at which it might be possible to sum up that chapter of our history which contained the war, and to forecast the work of administrative construction which must succeed it." Now, however, it is useless to wait longer for a "clear and clean-cut" situation. Although he has not "the slightest doubt of the ultimate result," he foresees that the work which still lies before the Imperial troops will be "slower, more difficult, more harassing, and more expensive than was at one time anticipated."
"It is no use denying that the last half-year has been one of
retrogression. Seven months ago this Colony was perfectly quiet,
at least as far as the Orange River. The southern half of the
Orange River Colony was rapidly settling down, and even a
considerable portion of the Transvaal, notably the south-western
districts, seemed to have definitely accepted British authority,
and to rejoice at the opportunity of a return to orderly
government and the pursuits of peace. To-day the scene is
The "increased losses to the country," due to the prolongation of the struggle and to the guerilla methods adopted by the Boer leaders, are obvious.
"The fact that the enemy are now broken up into a great number of
small forces, raiding in every direction, and that our troops are
similarly broken up in pursuit of them, makes the area of actual
fighting, and consequently of destruction, much wider than it
would be in the case of a conflict between equal numbers
operating in large masses. Moreover, the fight is now mainly over
supplies. The Boers live entirely on the country through which
they pass, not only taking all the food they can lay hands upon
on the farms--grain, forage, horses, cattle, etc., but looting
the small village stores for clothes, boots, coffee, sugar, etc.,
of all of which they are in great need. Our forces, on their
side, are compelled to denude the country of everything moveable,
in order to frustrate these tactics of the enemy. No doubt a
considerable amount of the stock taken by us is not wholly lost,
but simply removed to the refugee camps, which are now being
established at many points along the railway lines. But even
under these circumstances the loss is great, through animals
dying on the route, or failing to find sufficient grass to live
upon when collected in large numbers at the camps. Indeed, the
loss of crops and stock is a far more serious matter than the
destruction of farm buildings, of which so much has been heard."
And to this loss incidental to the campaign there has been added recently "destruction of a wholly wanton and malicious character." This is the injury done to the mining plant in the outlying districts of the Rand by the Boer raiders, a destruction for which there is no possible excuse.
"It has no reason or justification in connection with military
operations, but is pure vandalism, and outside the scope of
civilised warfare.... Directly or indirectly, all South Africa,
including the agricultural population, owes its prosperity to the
mines, and, of course, especially to the mines of the Transvaal.
To money made in mining it is indebted for such progress, even in
agriculture, as it has recently made, and the same source will
have to be relied upon for the recuperation of agriculture after
the ravages of war.
"Fortunately the damage done to the mines has not been large,
relatively to the vast total amount of the fixed capital sunk in
them. The mining area is excessively difficult to guard against
purely predatory attacks having no military purpose, because it
is, so to speak, 'all length and no breadth'--one long thin line,
stretching across the country from east to west for many miles.
Still, garrisoned as Johannesburg now is, it is only possible
successfully to attack a few points in it. Of the raids hitherto
made, and they have been fairly numerous, only one has resulted
in any serious damage. In that instance the injury done to the
single mine attacked amounted to £200,000, and it is estimated
that the mine is put out of working for two years. This mine is
only one out of a hundred, and is not by any means one of the
most important. These facts may afford some indication of the
ruin which might have been inflicted, not only on the Transvaal
and all South Africa, but on many European interests, if that
general destruction of mine works which was contemplated just
before our occupation of Johannesburg had been carried out.
However serious in some respects may have been the military
consequences of our rapid advance to Johannesburg, South Africa
owes more than is commonly recognised to that brilliant dash
forward, by which the vast mining apparatus, the foundation of
all her wealth, was saved from the ruin threatening it."
[Sidenote: Material destruction.]
As the result of the last six or seven months of destructive warfare, "a longer period of recuperation will be required than was originally anticipated." At the same time, Lord Milner points out that, with Kimberley and the Rand, the "main engines of prosperity," virtually undamaged, the economic consequences of the war, "though grave, do not appear by any means appalling."
"The country population will need a good deal of help, first to
preserve it from starvation, and then, probably, to supply it
with a certain amount of capital to make a fresh start. And the
great industry of the country will need some little time before
it is able to render any assistance. But, in a young country with
great recuperative powers, it will not take many years before the
economic ravages of the war are effaced."
He then turns to consider the "moral effect" of the recrudescence of the war, which is, in his opinion, more serious than the mere material destruction of the last six months. In the middle of 1900 the feeling in the Orange River Colony and the western districts of the Transvaal was "undoubtedly pacific."
"The inhabitants were sick of the war. They were greatly
astonished, after all that had been dinned into them, by the fair
and generous treatment they received on our first occupation, and
it would have taken very little to make them acquiesce readily in
the new régime. At that time, too, the feeling in the Colony was
better than I have ever known it."
[Sidenote: Recrudescence of the war.]
If it had been possible to screen those portions of the conquered territories which were fast settling down to peaceful pursuits from the incursions of the enemy still in the field, the worst results of the guerilla war might have been avoided. But the "vast extent of the country, and the necessity of concentrating our forces for the long advance, first to Pretoria and then to Komati Poort," made this impossible. The Boer leaders raided the country already occupied, but now left exposed; and, encouraged by the small successes thus easily obtained, the commandos reappeared first in the south-east of the Orange River Colony, then in the south-west of the Transvaal, and finally in every portion of the conquered territory.
Those among the burgher population who desired to submit to British rule now found themselves in a position of great difficulty.
"Instead of being made prisoners of war, they had been allowed to
remain on their farms on taking the oath of neutrality, and many
of them were really anxious to keep it. But they had not the
strength of mind, nor, from want of education, a sufficient
appreciation of the sacredness of the obligation which they had
undertaken, to resist the pressure of their old companions in
arms when these reappeared among them appealing to their
patriotism and to their fears. In a few weeks or months the very
men whom we had spared and treated with exceptional leniency were
up in arms again, justifying their breach of faith in many cases
by the extraordinary argument that we had not preserved them from
the temptation to commit it.
"The general rising at the back of our advanced forces naturally
led to the return of a number of our troops, and to a straggling
conflict not yet concluded, in which the conduct of our own
troops, naturally enough, was not characterised by the same
leniency to the enemy which marked our original conquest. We did
not, indeed, treat the men who had broken parole with the same
severity with which I believe any other nation would have
treated them. Entitled as we were by the universally recognised
rules of war to shoot the men who, having once been prisoners in
our hands and having been released on a distinct pledge to
abstain from further part in the war, had once more taken up arms
against us, we never in a single instance availed ourselves of
that right. But as our columns swept through the revolted
country, meeting on every hand with hostility, and even with
treachery, on the part of the people whom we had spared, no doubt
in some cases the innocent suffered with the guilty. Men who had
actually kept faith with us were, in some instances, made
prisoners of war, or saw their property destroyed, simply because
it was impossible to distinguish between them and the greater
number who had broken faith. This, no doubt, resulted in further
accessions to the ranks of the enemy. And this tendency was
augmented by the evacuation, necessary for military reasons, of a
number of places, such as Fauresmith, Jagersfontein, and
Smithfield, which we had held for months, and in which we had
actually established a reasonably satisfactory civil
administration. Latterly, something has been done to check the
general demoralisation, and to afford places of refuge for those
willing to submit, by establishing camps along the railway lines
to which burghers may take themselves, their families, and their
stock for protection. No doubt this is a very inadequate
substitute for the effectual defence of whole districts.
Consequently the camps are mostly tenanted by women and children
whose male relatives are, in many cases, in the field against us.
But, as far as it goes, it is a good measure, and there can be no
doubt that, whenever we succeed in striking a decisive blow at
any of the numerous commandos roaming about the country, a good
many of their less willing members will find their way to one or
other of these camps in order to avoid further fighting."
As the guerilla warfare thus swept back over the new colonies, the Dutch in the Cape Colony, who at one time, about the middle of the preceding year (1900), had seemed disposed to acquiesce in the union of all South Africa under the British flag, became once more restless and embittered.
[Sidenote: A carnival of mendacity.]
"Every act of harshness, however necessary, on the part of our
troops, was exaggerated and made the most of, though what
principally inflamed the minds of the people were alleged
instances of needless cruelty which never occurred. Never in my
life have I read of, much less experienced, such a carnival of
mendacity as that which accompanied the pro-Boer agitation in
this Colony at the end of last year. And these libels still
continue to make themselves felt. It is true that excitement has
subsided somewhat during the last two months, partly because some
of the worst inventions about the conduct of the British troops
have been exposed and utterly discredited, and partly because the
general introduction of martial law has tended greatly to check
seditious writing and speaking. But even now the general feeling
in most of the country districts is very bad, and the commandos
which invaded the Colony in December and have been roaming about
ever since, while they have not gained many adherents among the
colonial farmers, have nevertheless enjoyed the very substantial
aid which the sympathy of the majority of the inhabitants was
able to give them, in supporting themselves, obtaining fresh
supplies of food and horses, and evading the forces sent in
pursuit of them."
Of the general attitude of the Cape Dutch at this time Lord Milner writes with the lenient judgment of complete understanding:
"I am satisfied by experience that the majority of those Dutch
inhabitants of the Colony who sympathise with the Republics,
however little they may be able to resist giving active
expression to that sympathy when the enemy actually appear
amongst them, do not desire to see their own districts invaded or
to find themselves personally placed in the awkward dilemma of
choosing between high treason and an unfriendly attitude to the
men of their own race from beyond the border. There are
extremists who would like to see the whole of the Cape Colony
overrun. But the bulk of the farmers, especially the substantial
ones, are not of this mind. They submit readily enough even to
stringent regulations having for their object the prevention of
the spread of invasion. And not a few of them are, perhaps,
secretly glad that the prohibition of seditious speaking and
writing, of political meetings, and of the free movement of
political firebrands through the country enables them to keep
quiet, without actually themselves taking a strong line against
the propaganda, and, to do them justice, they behave reasonably
well under the pass and other regulations necessary for that
purpose, as long as care is taken not to make these regulations
too irksome to them in the conduct of their business, or in their
"That there has been an invasion at all is no doubt due to the
weakness of some of the Dutch colonists in tolerating, or
supporting, the violent propaganda, which could not but lead the
enemy to believe that they had only to come into the Colony in
order to meet with general active support. But this was a
miscalculation on the part of the enemy, though a very pardonable
one. They knew the vehemence of the agitation in their favour as
shown by the speeches in Parliament, the series of public
meetings culminating in the Worcester Congress, the writings of
the Dutch Press, the very general wearing of the republican
colours, the singing of the Volkslied, and so forth, and they
regarded these demonstrations as meaning more than they actually
did. Three things were forgotten. Firstly, that a great
proportion of the Afrikanders in the Colony who really meant
business had slipped away and joined the republican ranks long
ago. Secondly, that the abortive rebellion of a year ago had left
the people of the border districts disinclined to repeat the
experiment of a revolt. Thirdly, that owing to the precautionary
measures of the Government the amount of arms and ammunition in
the hands of the country population throughout the greater part
of the Colony is not now anything like as large as it usually is,
and far smaller than it was a year ago."
[Sidenote: British population in arms.]
In these circumstances the object to be aimed at is to screen off as much of the country as possible from raids. But the Cape Colony is considerably larger in area than France and the United Kingdom put together; it has "an immense length of frontier that can be crossed anywhere," and "exceedingly primitive means of communication." The exclusion of mobile guerilla bands from across the frontier is, therefore, "something of an impossibility." There is one method, and one only, by which "the game of the invaders can be frustrated." It is to provide each district with the means of defending itself. And so a local defence force has been formed in all districts, with the exception of those--happily the least important in the Colony--in which the population is extremely small and the loyalists are very few.
"In the other districts, the response on the part of the British
population to the general call to arms recently made by the
Ministry has been better than the most sanguine expected. It was
always admitted, by their friends and foes alike, that the bulk
of the Afrikander population would never take up arms on the side
of the British Government in this quarrel, even for local
defence. The appeal was, therefore, virtually directed to the
British population, mostly townspeople, and to a small, but no
doubt very strong and courageous, minority of the Afrikanders who
have always been loyalists. These classes had been already
immensely drawn on by the Cape police, the regular volunteer
corps, and the numerous irregular mounted corps which had been
called into existence because of the war. There must have been
twelve thousand Cape Colonists under arms before the recent
appeal, and, as things are now going, we shall get as many more
under that appeal--a truly remarkable achievement under a purely
voluntary system. The fact that, if the war continues for a few
months longer, so large a number of the South African British
will be under arms (for, it must be remembered, in addition to
the Cape colonists we have about one thousand Rhodesians, and, I
should say, at least ten thousand Uitlanders) is one that cannot
be left out of account in considering either the present
imbroglio or the settlement after peace is restored.
"It is, indeed, calculated to exercise a most important and, I
believe, beneficial influence upon the South African politics of
the future. Among the principal causes of the trouble of the
past and present was the contempt felt by the Afrikander
countryman, used to riding and shooting, and generally in
possession of a good rifle and plenty of cartridges, for other
white men less habituated to arms than he was himself. That
feeling can hardly survive the experience of the past twelve
months, and especially of the last six weeks. The splendid
fighting of the despised Johannesburgers of the Imperial Light
Horse, and of the other South African Colonial Corps, has become
a matter of history, and the present levée en masse of the
British people, including the townsmen, of this Colony, is proof
positive that when the necessity is really felt they are equal to
the best in courage and public spirit. In this respect the events
of the past few months, unfortunate as they have been in many
ways, have undoubtedly their brighter side. The mutual respect of
the two principal white races is the first condition of a healthy
political life in the South Africa of the future. It is possible
that if the extreme strain of the most recent developments of the
war had never been felt throughout Cape Colony, the British
inhabitants would never have had the opportunity of showing that
they were inferior to none in their willingness to bear all the
burdens of citizenship, including that of personal service."
[Sidenote: Remember the loyalists.]
And Lord Milner urges that in the future England should not forget that there are loyalists in South Africa as well as Boers; and that the loyalists are Dutch as well as British.
"The important part now played, even from the purely military
point of view, by the South African loyalists ought, as it seems
to me, to have a good effect not only in South Africa but in
England. The inherent vice, if I may say so, of almost all
public discussion of our South African difficulties is the
tendency to concentrate attention too exclusively on the Boers.
Say what we will, the controversy always seems to relapse into
the old ruts--it is the British Government on the one hand and
the Boers on the other. The question how a particular policy will
affect not merely our enemies, but our now equally numerous
friends, seems seldom to be adequately considered. And yet it
would seem that justice and policy alike should lead us to be as
eager to consider the feelings and interests, and to retain the
loyalty, of those who are fighting on our side, as to disarm the
present enmity and win the future confidence of those who are
fighting against us. And this principle would seem all the easier
to adhere to because there is really nothing which the great body
of the South African loyalists desire which it is not for the
honour and advantage of the mother country to insist upon.
"Of vindictiveness, or desire to oppress the Afrikanders, there
is, except in hasty utterances inevitable in the heat of the
conflict, which have no permanent significance, or in tirades
which are wholly devoid of influence, no sign whatever. The
attitude of almost all leading and representative men, and the
general trend of public feeling among the loyalists, even in the
intensity of the struggle, is dead against anything like racial
exclusiveness or domination. If this were not so it would be
impossible for a section of pure-bred Afrikanders, small no doubt
in numbers but weighty in character and position, to take the
strong line which they do in opposition to the views of the
majority of their own people, based as these are, and as they
know them to be, upon a misconception of our policy and
intentions. These men are among the most devoted adherents to the
Imperial cause, and would regard with more disfavour and alarm
than any one the failure of the British nation to carry out its
avowed policy in the most complete manner. They are absolutely
convinced that the unquestioned establishment of British
supremacy, and the creation of one political system from Capetown
to the Zambesi, is, after all that has happened, the only
salvation for men of their own race, as well as for others."
[Sidenote: "One Country, One Flag."]
And, in conclusion, he writes of the "predominant, indeed the almost unanimous, feeling of those South Africans who sympathise with the Imperial Government," that--
"they are sick to death of the war, which has brought ruin to
many of them, and imposed considerable sacrifices on almost all.
But they would rather see the war continue for an indefinite time
than run the risk of any compromise which would leave even the
remotest chance of the recurrence of so terrible a scourge in the
future. They are prepared to fight and suffer on in order to make
South Africa, indisputably and for ever, one country under one
flag, with one system of government, and that system the British,
which they believe to ensure the highest possible degree of
justice and freedom to men of all races."
In this luminous review of what Lord Milner terms "if by no means the most critical, possibly the most puzzling" state of affairs since the outbreak of the war, it will be observed that he puts the time required by South Africa to recover from the economic ravages of the war at "not many years." In point of fact, two and a half years after the surrender of Vereeniging nothing remained but the scattered graveyards upon the veld, the empty tins still tinkling upon the wire fences by the railways, and an occasional blockhouse, to remind the traveller of the devastating struggle from which the country had so recently emerged. This estimate of the period of recuperation affords a measure of the magnitude of Lord Milner's achievement in the three concluding years of his administration. For the rest, we look in vain for any trace of bitterness, or even of partisanship, in his frank and penetrating analysis. It is the survey of a man who is completely master of the situation; who is absolutely convinced of the justice of the British cause; who has no illusions and no fears.
[Sidenote: Feeding the enemy.]
With the circumstances in which the burghers were induced by their leaders to continue, or renew, their resistance to the Imperial troops before us, both the long duration of the guerilla war, and the methods by which it was finally brought to a close, become easily intelligible. At the same time it must not be forgotten that, from a purely military point of view, the relapse of the conquered territories into war was due to the insufficiency of British troops. By the end of April, 1900, as we have noticed before, all the reserves of the regular army had been exhausted; and, in addition to this, at the end of twelve months' service a considerable proportion of the Home and over-sea auxiliaries left South Africa to return to civil life. Had there been a sufficient number of trained soldiers to occupy effectively the Boer Republics, the war would not have swept back through them and over their borders into the Colony. Even so, the actual number of British troops in South Africa under Lord Roberts's command would have sufficed to subjugate the Boers, had the British military authorities employed the severe methods of warfare to which any other belligerent would have had recourse under the like conditions--methods of merciful severity which were employed, in fact, by the Union forces in the civil war in America. But, by the irony of fate, the humane methods of the British, in the absence of a practically unlimited supply of trained troops, made the revival of hostilities possible on the part of the Boers, and thereby created the necessity for the employment of those more rigorous, but, by comparison, still humane and generous methods, in respect of which the charge of inhumanity was brought against Great Britain by the friends of the Boers in England and on the continent of Europe. No one will maintain that it is a part of the duty of a belligerent to support the non-combatant population of the enemy. Yet this duty was voluntarily assumed throughout the war by the British military authorities, who, from the occupation of Bloemfontein onwards, fed the non-combatant Boer population as well as they fed their own troops.
[Footnote 255: E.g. those employed by General Sherman in
his march to the Sea, through Georgia, in the latter part of
[Sidenote: Lord Kitchener's task.]
An incident that happened after the occupation of Pretoria exhibits the remarkable generosity of the British attitude. At a time when, owing to the Boer attacks upon the railway, the utmost difficulty was experienced in getting supplies from the thousand-miles'-distant base at the coast, Lord Roberts was compelled to send away a part of the civilian population to General Botha, and they were removed by the Boer Commandant-General to Barberton. That is to say, while the British, on the one hand, were giving part of the supplies on which the existence of their troops depended, to the non-combatant population of the enemy, the enemy, on the other hand, was doing his utmost to destroy the single line of railway which alone stood between the British Army and starvation. When, therefore, Lord Kitchener succeeded to the command of the British forces in South Africa (November 29th, 1900), he found the task of disarmament complicated by two factors. There was the desire of the Home Government that the war should be conducted upon the humane lines hitherto adopted, and there was also the fact that the Imperial troops were not numerous enough to occupy effectively the whole territory of the Republics, or, in other words, to do the one thing of all others necessary to make this humane conduct of the war consistent with military success. It was impossible, with the troops at his disposal, for Lord Kitchener to hold the enormous territory of the conquered Republics. It was impossible, perhaps, to support a larger force in a country so poorly provided with food supplies and means of communication. An alternative plan had to be found. This plan was to remove the horses, cattle, and food supplies from the areas which he was unable to occupy, and to transport the non-combatant inhabitants to places where they could be both fed and protected. And, when this had been done--or, more correctly, while it was in process of being done--he had to capture the small, mobile bodies of burghers operating over the whole of the unprotected area of the late Republics and the Cape Colony, and to collect gradually the fighting Boers, captured or surrendered, into the colonial or over-sea prisoners' camps.
Certain districts, of which those surrounding the towns of Kimberley, Bloemfontein, Pretoria, and Johannesburg were the more important, had from the first been effectively occupied and securely held. All the troops at Lord Kitchener's disposal, that were not absorbed in the work of garrisoning these districts and maintaining the lines of communication, were organised into mobile columns, which were distributed among General Officers respectively attached to a particular area. In a despatch of July 8th, 1901, Lord Kitchener was able to report that, as the result of the recent work of these mobile columns, the Boers, although "still able, in case of emergency, to concentrate a considerable number of men," were, in his opinion, "unable to undertake any large scheme of operations." Apart from the heavy drain from prisoners captured and deaths in the field, the loss of their ox-waggons had seriously affected their mobility and supply arrangements.
"Divided up into small parties of three to four hundred men," he
writes, "they are scattered all over the country without plans
and without hope, and on the approach of our troops they
disperse, to reassemble in the same neighbourhood when our men
pass on. In this way they continue an obstinate resistance
without retaining anything, or defending the smallest portion of
this vast country."
He estimates that there are not more than 13,500 Boers in the field in the Transvaal, the Orange River Colony, and the Cape Colony. But he adds that--
[Footnote 256: This estimate was very much too small: at the
Vereeniging surrender, when many thousands more of Boers had
been captured or killed 21,256 burghers and rebels laid down
their arms. Cd. 988.]
"with long lines of railway to hold, every yard of which has to
be defended, both to secure our own civil and military supplies,
and, what is more important, to prevent the enemy from obtaining
necessaries from the capture of our trains, the employment of
large numbers of troops continues to be a necessity.... The Boer
party who declared war have quitted the field, and are now urging
those whom they deserted to continue a useless struggle by giving
lying assurances to the ignorant burghers of outside assistance,
and by raising absurdly deceitful hopes that Great Britain has
not sufficient endurance to see the matter through."
[Footnote 257: Cd. 695.]
But it had become evident that some more systematic effort was required for the capture of the commandos, unless the slow task of wearing down the Boer resistance was to be almost indefinitely protracted; and this same month of July, 1901, witnessed the extension of the blockhouse lines, which proved the turning-point in the guerilla war. The origin of Lord Kitchener's system of blockhouse defence is described by him in his despatch of August 8th, 1901.
[Sidenote: The blockhouse system.]
"Experience had shown," he writes, "that the line of defensible
posts, extending across the Orange River Colony, from Jacobsdal
to Ladybrand, constituted a considerable obstacle to the free
movement of the enemies' roving bands, and that the gradual
completion of chains of blockhouses placed at intervals of a
mile, sometimes less, along the Transvaal and Orange River Colony
railways, had obtained for our traffic a comparative security
which it had not previously enjoyed."
[Footnote 258: Cd. 820.]
In July, therefore, Lord Kitchener made arrangements for the construction of three additional lines of blockhouses. The first ran from Aliwal North westward, following the course of the Orange River, to Bethulie, and was continued thence alongside the railway through Stormberg, Rosmead, Naauwpoort, and De Aar, northward to Kimberley. The second commenced at Frederickstad and ran northward by the source of the Mooi River to Breed's Nek in the Magaliesberg, from which point it was connected with the British garrison at Commando Nek, and thus screened the western side of the Pretoria and Johannesburg area. The third, running from Eerste Fabriken in the north, by Springs and Heidelberg, southward to the Vaal River, protected the same district from attack upon the east. These new blockhouse lines, Lord Kitchener wrote, promised to be of much assistance in the future. Not only did they protect the British communications, and render inter-communication between the different portions of the Boer forces difficult, but, in the absence of frontiers, natural or artificial, they served as barriers against which the British mobile columns were able to drive bands of the enemy and force them to surrender. Indeed, the blockhouse lines proved the chief instrument of success; for with the gradual extension of the system, the area of active hostilities was confined in an increasing degree to the vast half-deserted regions through which the commandos roamed, and the British columns swept at intervals in pursuit of them.
A month later, August 8th, Lord Kitchener reported a further step in advance. He had formed "some specially mobile columns for independent and rapid action in different parts of the country, generally at some distance from the operations of other troops." The commanders of these new mobile columns had a free hand in respect of their movements, since they were guided by the special intelligence, which they themselves collected, and not solely by information from headquarters. The effect produced by the development of the blockhouse system, combined with the greater freedom of initiative allowed to the new mobile columns, became apparent in the increasing number of Boers captured or voluntarily surrendering themselves in the month of August, when altogether more than two thousand of the enemy were accounted for. On the 7th of this month the delayed proclamation was issued, and a date--September 15th--was fixed as the limit within which the guerilla leaders might, by voluntarily surrendering, avoid certain penalties which were duly set out. In order to counteract the effect of this action on the part of the British Government, General Botha stimulated his followers to increased military enterprise.
[Footnote 259: There were 186 killed, 75 wounded, 1,384
prisoners, 529 voluntary surrenders; while 930 rifles, 90,958
rounds of ammunition, 1,332 waggons and carts, 13,570 horses,
and 65,879 cattle were captured. Cd. 820.]
[Footnote 260: See p. 420.]
"But," says Lord Kitchener, "though there has been no general
surrender, the device to which the Commandant-General resorted
for turning the thoughts of his burghers in another direction has
probably cost him and his cause [a heavier loss] than a simple
pursuance of the usual evasive tactics would have even entailed."
[Sidenote: Large captures of Boers.]
The precise extent of this loss is shown in the returns for September, which record captures and surrenders almost as numerous as those of the preceding month.
"It cannot be expected," Lord Kitchener adds, "even under the
most favourable conditions, that in the presence of the
ever-diminishing numbers opposing us in the field, these figures
can be maintained, but I feel confident that so long as any
resistance is continued, no exertion will be spared either by
officers or men of this force to carry out the task they still
have before them."
[Footnote 261: Cd. 820. The September returns were: 170 Boers
killed in action, 114 wounded prisoners, 1,385 unwounded
prisoners, and 1,393 surrenders.]
[Sidenote: The railway lines secured.]
In another month a position had been reached in which it was possible for the work of administrative reconstruction--interrupted a year ago by the development of the guerilla warfare--to be resumed. At this date (November, 1901), the resistance of the Dutch population had been weakened by the loss of 53,000 fighting Boers, of whom 42,000 were in British custody, while the rest had been killed, wounded, or otherwise put out of action. In the Transvaal 14,700 square miles, and in the Orange River Colony 17,000 square miles of territory had been enclosed by blockhouse lines. A square formed roughly by lines running respectively from Klerksdorp to Zeerust on the west, from Zeerust to Middelburg on the north, from Middelburg to Standerton on the east, and from Standerton to Klerksdorp on the south, enclosing Pretoria and the Rand, was the protected area of the Transvaal. The whole of the Orange River Colony south of the blockhouse line, Kimberley-Winberg-Bloemfontein-Ladybrand, was also a protected area; and the Cape Colony, south of the main railway lines, was similarly screened off. But an application of what may be termed "the railway-cutting test" yields, perhaps, the most eloquent testimony both to the magnitude of the original task undertaken by the Imperial troops, and to the degree of success which had been obtained. In October, 1900, the railway lines, upon which the British troops depended for supplies of food and ammunition, were cut thirty-two times, or more than once a day. The number of times in which they were cut in the succeeding November was thirty; in December twenty-one; in January, 1901, sixteen; in February, as the result of De Wet's invasion of the Cape Colony, they were cut thirty times; in March eighteen; in April eighteen; in May twelve; in June eight; in July four; in August four; in September twice; and in October not at all. Still more significant of the approach of peace was the fact that now, for the first time, the British population was allowed to return to Johannesburg in any considerable numbers.
[Footnote 262: In August 648 refugees returned; in November
the number had risen to 2,623.]
It remains to consider two questions which cannot be omitted from any account; however brief, of the manner in which the disarmament of the Dutch in South Africa was effected. The first of these is the charge of inhumanity brought against the Imperial military authorities in respect of the deportation of the Boer non-combatants to the Burgher Camps; and the second is the actual effect produced upon the burghers in the field by the public denunciations of the war by members of the Liberal Opposition in England.
[Sidenote: The Burgher camps.]
In charging the British Government and Lord Kitchener with inhumanity in the conduct of the war, Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman and other friends of the Boer cause relied in the main upon the circumstance that a certain proportion of the Boer population was removed compulsorily from districts which the British troops were unable to occupy effectively, and upon the further fact that the Burgher Camps exhibited an unusually high rate of mortality. The necessity for the removal of this non-combatant population will scarcely be disputed in view of the methods adopted by the Boer leaders to compel the burghers to continue their resistance to the Imperial troops, and the fact that nearly every house in the Transvaal and Orange River Colony, inhabited by the Dutch, served as an intelligence office, a recruiting depôt, and a base of supplies for the roving commandos. Nor will it be denied that the responsibility for the unnecessary suffering incurred by the Boer people in the guerilla war rests upon those of the Boer leaders who formed and enforced the decision to continue the struggle, and not upon the British Government. The alleged "inhumanity," therefore, of the Imperial military authorities consists in the circumstance that, instead of leaving these helpless non-combatants to be supported by the Boer leaders, they removed them to places of security, where they were fed, housed, and generally maintained, in as little discomfort as circumstances permitted. If the lesser suffering of the Burgher Camps was the only alternative to greater suffering, and possibly starvation, on the veld, the Boers had only their own leaders to thank for the position in which they found themselves. The death-rate of the Burgher Camps was exceptionally high as compared with that of any ordinary European community. But the population of the camps was no less exceptional. It consisted of women and children, with a small proportion of adult males; and of all these the majority had come to the camps as refugees, insufficiently clothed, weakened by exposure and often by starvation. Obviously the death-rate of such a refugee community would be much higher, under the most favourable conditions, than that of an ordinary European town; and, in order to find a valid point of comparison, we must seek statistics provided by similar collections of refugees, brought together under the like exceptional circumstances. We are unable to find any such parallel case, for the sufficient reason that history records no other example of a nation at war which, at the risk of impairing the efficiency of its own forces in the field, has endeavoured, not merely to feed and clothe, but to house, nurse, and even educate the non-combatant population of its enemy.
[Sidenote: Reduction of the death-rate.]
What we do know, however, is that, of the total deaths in these camps of refuge, the great majority were those of infants and children. This is a circumstance which in itself goes far to make the excess of the camp death-rate apparent rather than real; since, in the first place, the Boer mothers, owing to their insanitary habits and ignorance, are not accustomed to bring more than one out of every two children to maturity; and in the second, the rate of infant mortality is abnormally high, as compared with that of a given community as a whole, even in the most highly developed countries. The highest monthly death-rate was that of October, 1901, when, out of a population of 112,109 in all camps, there were 3,205 deaths, or 344 per thousand per annum. But of these deaths, 500 only (in round numbers) were those of adults, and 2,700 were those of children. That is to say, in this worst month we have in the refugee camps an adult death-rate of (roughly) 50 per thousand, as compared with a European death-rate varying from 16.7 in Norway to 33.2 in Hungary, and a children's death-rate of 300 per thousand, as compared with the 208 per thousand of the contemporary rate of infant mortality in thirty-three great towns of the United Kingdom, or in Birkenhead alone of 362 per thousand. And from this time forward the death-rate of the refugee camps was rapidly reduced. The reason for this reduction is significant. By the development of the blockhouse lines the British military authorities had been enabled to protect their supplies from the attacks of the guerilla leaders. In other words, Lord Kitchener was now able to defend the Boer non-combatants against the efforts made by their own leaders to deprive them of food and other necessaries of life. And ultimately the mortality in the Burgher Camps was reduced to a point "much below the normal rates under ordinary local circumstances."
[Footnote 263: For the grotesque, repulsive, and even fatal
remedies employed by the Boer women in the treatment of their
children in sickness, the reader is referred to the medical
reports on the condition of the refugee camps published in
[Footnote 264: The figures are those given by Miss Hobhouse,
as based upon the official returns (The Brunt of the War,
[Footnote 265: I.e. annual per 1,000 on a basis of 25 years
[Footnote 266: Cd. 1,163, p. 159. See also ibid., p. 151,
and p. 178. Lord Kitchener's reply to the official Boer
complaint against the system of the Burgher Camps (made by
Acting President Schalk Burger), is as follows:
"Numerous complaints were made to me in the early part
of this year (1901), by surrendered burghers, who stated
that after they laid down their arms their families were
ill-treated, and their stock and property confiscated by
order of the Commandant-Generals of the Transvaal and
Orange Free State. These acts appear to have been taken
in consequence of the circular dated Roos Senekal, 6th
November, 1900, in which the Commandant-General says:
'Do everything in your power to prevent the burghers
laying down their arms. I will be compelled, if they do
not listen to this, to confiscate everything movable or
immovable, and also to burn their houses.'
"I took occasion, at my interview with
Commandant-General Louis Botha (February 28th, 1901), to
bring this matter before him, and I told him that if he
continued such acts I should be forced to bring in all
women and children, and as much property as possible, to
protect them from the acts of his burghers. I further
inquired if he would agree to spare the farms and
families of neutral or surrendered burghers, in which
case I expressed my willingness to leave undisturbed the
farms and families of burghers who were on commando,
provided they did not actively assist their relatives.
The Commandant-General emphatically refused even to
consider any such arrangement. He said: 'I am entitled
by law to force every man to join, and if they do not do
so to confiscate their property, and leave their
families on the veld.' I asked him what course I could
pursue to protect surrendered burghers and their
families, and he then said, 'The only thing you can do,
is to send them out of the country, as if I catch them
they must suffer.' After this there was nothing more to
be said, and as military operations do not permit of the
protection of individuals, I had practically no choice
but to continue my system of bringing inhabitants of
certain areas into the protection of our lines. My
decision was conveyed to the Commandant-General in my
official letter, dated Pretoria, 16th April, 1901, from
which the following is an extract:
"'As I informed your Honour at Middelburg, owing to the
irregular manner in which you have conducted and
continue to conduct hostilities, by forcing unwilling
and peaceful inhabitants to join your Commandos, a
proceeding totally unauthorised by the recognised
customs of war, I have no other course open to me, and
am forced to take the very unpleasant and repugnant
steps of bringing in the women and children.
"'I have the greatest sympathy for the sufferings of
these poor people, which I have done my best to
alleviate, and it is a matter of surprise to me and to
the whole civilised world, that your Honour considers
yourself justified in still causing so much suffering to
the people of the Transvaal, by carrying on a hopeless
and useless struggle.'
"From the foregoing, it will, I believe, be perfectly
clear that the responsibility for the action complained
of by Mr. Burger (the so-styled Acting State President
of the Transvaal), rests rather with the
Commandants-General of the Transvaal and Orange Free
State, than with the Commander-in-Chief of the forces in
"It is not the case that every area has been cleared of
the families of burghers, although this might be
inferred from the despatch under discussion. On the
contrary, very large numbers of women and children are
still out, either in Boer Camps or on their farms, and
my Column Commanders have orders to leave them alone,
unless it is clear that they must starve if they are
left out upon the veld....
"Finally, I indignantly and entirely deny the
accusations of rough and cruel treatment of women and
children who were being brought in from their farms to
the camp. Hardships may have been sometimes inseparable
from the process, but the Boer women in our hands
themselves bear the most eloquent testimony to the
kindness and consideration shown to them by our soldiers
on all such occasions."
With this statement it is interesting to compare Sir Henry
Campbell-Bannerman's words at Bath, November 20th, 1901:
"Is our hypocrisy so great that we actually flatter
ourselves upon our great humanity, because we have saved
from starvation those whose danger of starvation we have
caused?... The hypocrisy of these excuses is almost more
loathsome than the cruelty itself.... We have set
ourselves to punish this country, to reduce it
apparently to ruin, because it has ventured to make war
Truly an extraordinary attitude for a future Prime Minister
The charge of prolonging the war by public declarations of sympathy with the enemy was definitely formulated against certain members of the Liberal Opposition and the Irish Nationalist party by Lord St. Aldwyn (Sir Michael Hicks Beach), at Oldham on October 10th, 1901.
[Footnote 267: What was even worse than such declarations of
sympathy with the Boers was the manifestation of hostility
against the loyalist population of South Africa. E.g. Sir
William Harcourt (in a letter in The Times of December
17th, 1900), wrote: "I sometimes think that those bellicose
gentlemen--especially those who do not fight--must
occasionally cast longing, lingering looks towards the times
before they were subsidised (sic) by the authors of the
Raid to bring about the position in which they now find
[Sidenote: Why the war was prolonged.]
"The real cause of the prolongation of this war has been
something which, on my word, I believe could never have been seen
in any other country in the world. It has been the speeches in
Parliament of British members of the House of Commons, doing
everything they could against their country and in favour of her
enemies. It has been articles in certain journals taking
absolutely the same lines--I am not talking of mere attacks on
his Majesty's Government, or even calumnies of individual
ministers, that is part of the ordinary machinery of political
warfare, and one of the advantages of an absolutely free Press.
No, what I am talking of is the prominence given to the opinions
and sentiments of men who were called Pro-Boers, as if they
represented the feelings of a large section of their
fellow-countrymen. The invention of lies, like the alleged
quarrel between Lord Kitchener and the War Office, was intended
to damage this country in the conduct of the war, as was also the
wicked charges made against the humanity of our generals and our
soldiers in the Concentration Camps and in the field, the
attempts, such as I saw only the other day in one of these
papers, to prove that in those gallant contests at Fort
Itala and on the borders of Natal our soldiers had not
repulsed their enemies, but were themselves the defeated party.
We here do not attach any importance to those things. We rate
them at their true value because we know something about their
authors--but what do you think is thought of them when they go
out to South Africa? What do the Boers and their leaders think
when they read the newspapers written in England which are full
of these things? The Boers have many faults, but they are a
simple and patriotic people. They never can imagine that English
newspapers would print these things, that English members of
Parliament would speak them, taking always the side of their
country's enemies, unless these things were true. They are
deceived. They greedily swallow all this as representing the
opinion of a great section of the public in this country, and
those who have said these things and those who have circulated
them are the parties who are guilty before God of prolonging this
war. There are the Irish Nationalists. Let me read to you words
which I heard with the greatest pain in the last session of
Parliament from the leader of the Irish Nationalists, a man of
consummate eloquence and perfect self-control. What did Mr. John
Redmond say? He prayed God that the resistance of the Boers might
be strengthened, and that South Africa might take vengeance for
its wrongs by separating itself from the Empire which had deluged
it with blood, and become a free and independent nation. We in
England pass over words of that sort, though I believe they would
not have been uttered with impunity by a member of the
Legislative Assembly of any other country in the world."
[Footnote 268: September 26th, 1901. See Cd. 820 for report
of this action.]
[Sidenote: Campbell-Bannerman's reply.]
Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's reply to the charge brought against him by Lord St. Aldwyn, and subsequently by Lord Salisbury, is contained in the words following, which were spoken by him at Plymouth, on November 19th:
[Footnote 269: Letter to Miss Milner, November 11th, 1901.
See p. 416.]
"Now I declare, ladies and gentlemen, for myself, that from first
to last I have never uttered one syllable that could be twisted
by any ingenuity into encouragement by the Boers. No, I have
never even expressed ordinary pity for, or sympathy with them,
because I did not wish to run the risk of being misunderstood.
What I have done, and what I hope I shall continue to do, is to
denounce the stupidity of the way in which the Government were
dealing with the Boers."
There is only one method by which the amazing effrontery of this denial can be sufficiently exhibited. It is to place underneath it quotations from speeches delivered by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman himself at Stirling on October 25th, by Mr. Thomas Shaw, M.P., at Galashiels on October 14th, and by Mr. E. Robertson, M.P., at Dundee on October 16th, as printed in the "Official Organ of the Orange Free State Government," dated September 21st, 1901, a copy of which was found in a Boer laager on the veld. The extracts selected are these:
Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman:
"The whole country in the two belligerent States, outside the
mining towns, is a howling wilderness. The farms are burned, the
country is wasted. The flocks and herds are either butchered or
driven off; the mills are destroyed, furniture and instruments of
agriculture smashed. These things are what I have termed methods
of barbarism. I adhere to the phrase. I cannot improve upon it.
If these are not the methods of barbarism, what methods did
barbarism employ?... My belief is that the mass of the British
people ... do not desire to see a brave people subjugated or
Mr. Thomas Shaw, M.P.:
"The war was unnecessary, and therefore unjust.... He wished he
could agree that we were fighting in a just cause, that we had
always fought according to acknowledged civilised methods; but as
an honest man he could not do so."
Mr. Edmund Robertson, M.P.:
"The victory of the Government (at the last General Election) had
been the main cause of the prolongation of the war. If they had
been defeated their successors would have been men with a free
hand, and the Boers themselves might have been ready to make
concessions, which they would not make, and had not made, to
those whom they believed to be their enemies and persecutors. If
the Empire was to be saved, the Government must be
[Footnote 270: The facts are stated in a letter published in
The Times on March 10th, 1902.]
Can any human being of ordinary intelligence believe that these passages, containing denunciations of the war, were circulated by Ex-President Steyn for any other purpose than that of encouraging the burghers to continue their resistance to the Imperial troops?
And to this evidence may be added the protest made by "An Old Berliner" in The Times of November 27th, 1901:
[Sidenote: "Methods of barbarism".]
"What I want to impress upon your readers is the much more
serious and, indeed, incalculable mischief done by the public
utterances of responsible politicians, and, to take the most
pernicious example of all, by the reckless language of Sir Henry
Campbell-Bannerman. The words he uttered about England's methods
of barbarism have been used ever since as the watchwords of
England's detractors throughout the length and breadth of
[Footnote 271: See also note, p. 399 (Extract from the
Vossische Zeitung). The baseless and malevolent allegations
of specific acts of inhumanity or outrage on the part of
British soldiers, circulated by Boer sympathisers in England
and on the continent of Europe, have been passed over in
silence. For an exposure of these calumnies the reader is
referred to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The War in South
Africa (Smith, Elder). A record of the manner in which they
were repudiated by the Boer population in South Africa will
be found in Cd. 1, 163, pp. 99, 106-111, 113-121. Among those
who protested were German subjects, and Germans who had
become British subjects, resident in South Africa. Perhaps
the most significant of all these protests is the resolution
passed unanimously by the members of the Natal House of
Assembly, all standing: "That this House desires to repudiate
the false charges of inhumanity brought against His Majesty's
Army by a section of the inhabitants of the continent of
Europe and certain disloyal subjects within the British
Isles, and this House places on record its deliberate
conviction that the war in South Africa has been prosecuted
by His Majesty's Government and Army upon lines of humanity
and consideration for the enemy unparalleled in the history