Before we begin relating the events with which this book is actually concerned, and which took place, as we have said in the previous chapter, exclusively in and around the capital, I must ask my reader to turn his attention for a few moments to that great mining centre, Johannesburg, "The Golden City" of South Africa.
If it was hated by the Boers before the war as the cause of all the unrest in their beloved country, the unwelcome revolution in the calm simplicity of their hitherto peaceful life, it is not to be wondered at that their hatred and resentment had been intensified by the way in which the war was brought about.
This feeling had risen to its height of concentrated fury when it became known to the burghers that the sweeping advance of the British forces in overwhelming numbers would soon make it possible for the English to take full possession of those coveted mines.
At the time of the Republican successes there had been no suggestion that it would be politic to destroy the mines, but as reverses became more frequent, and it became evident beyond a doubt that the British troops were about to cross the Vaal, a strong section of the Government, supported by popular feeling, openly advocated the destruction of the mines as well as the town of Johannesburg. The precedent quoted for such a course was the burning of Moscow by the Russians, in order to retard the victorious advance of Napoleon.
Very soon it became apparent that the members of the Government who were advocating this policy were gaining the upper hand, as instructions were actually given to certain officials of the Mines Department to make the necessary arrangements for blowing up the mines. Another section of the Government, among whom were General Louis Botha and Dr. F.E.T. Krause, strenuously opposed the carrying out of this policy.
This section eventually gained the upper hand at the time when Commandant Schutte was compelled to relinquish the position of Special Commandant for the Rand, and Dr. Krause was appointed in his stead, although the circumstances leading to this change had at first in some measure strengthened those who advocated destroying the mines. The change was brought about in consequence of the terrible explosion at Begbie's Engineering Works, which had been converted into a bomb factory by the Government, and where several persons were killed and many injured.
The cause of this explosion after investigation was alleged to have been the work of British spies, and it was only natural that those persons advocating the destruction of the mines should avail themselves of this circumstance to further their scheme, but the bold and determined opposition of Dr. Krause, supported as he was by the mines police, a special body of men organised for the purpose of protecting the mines, had the effect of inducing the "Destroyers" to mature their scheme in secret.
The probable fate of the mines was openly and freely discussed in the capital, and I have a faint recollection of a debating society having taken for its subject, at this time, the question, "Would the result of blowing up the mines be beneficial or detrimental to the Boer cause?" Many were the pros and cons, and what conclusion was arrived at I do not know.
At Harmony, mother and daughter followed the subject with the keenest interest and anxiety, realising the important effect which the destruction of the mines would have on the later development of the war.
There were several weighty considerations which the "Destroyers," in their thirst for revenge, seemed to have overlooked entirely.
In the first place, the blowing up of the mines would have failed in its object of punishing the mining magnates against whom the resentment of the Republicans was specially directed, and the chief sufferers would be innocent shareholders in every part of the world, members of the middle-classes who had invested their little all in the fabulously rich gold mines of the Rand. Another very important consideration which was discussed by the more thoughtful section of the community was the probable destruction of the farms by the British forces by way of retaliation for the fate of the mines. Could the burghers have foreseen that the entire country would be laid waste in any case as the war proceeded, nothing could have saved the mines. But the devastation of Boer homesteads was not to begin until a much later period, and to this fact the "Destroyers" no doubt owed the frustration of their schemes.
I have to thank friends who were principally concerned in the matter for the following account of how the mines were saved and for the interesting description of the surrender of the Golden City, appearing in Chapter III.
At this time the British troops were advancing rapidly. The Boers were panic-stricken, and had it not been for the determined efforts of the administration in Johannesburg, chaos would have resulted.
About ten days before the surrender of the town, the scheme of the "Destroyers" was unwittingly disclosed through the foolishness of the man who had been apparently chosen to carry it out. Judge Kock, who was a friend of Dr. Krause's, came over to Johannesburg for the purpose of making a last and determined effort to destroy the mines. Being a great friend of the Krauses, he was invited to stay at their house. In a burst of confidence he produced a letter signed by a very high-placed official of the Executive Council, whereby he was empowered, in indefinite terms, to call for the co-operation of any military official whom he pleased. He showed Dr. Krause this letter and requested him to instruct the mine police and certain other mine officials to assist him. He was met with a blank refusal, and a threat that if he persisted in this undertaking he would be arrested. Judge Kock, or, as he then styled himself, "General" Kock, had gathered together a cosmopolitan force of about 100 men.
About this time events were rapidly changing. The determined advance of the British forces and the panic-stricken retreat of the Boers had the effect of encouraging "General" Kock and his men. Dr. Krause's hands were full in attending to the military necessities of the situation. Urgent messages from Botha and the President were hourly passing over the wires. General French, who was advancing on Johannesburg from the east, had pressed forward to such an extent that the Boers retreating from Vereeniging were practically hemmed in by the British columns.
Commandant Krause on the Sunday afternoon hastily gathered as many fighting men as he could muster, and with them occupied the hills surrounding Van Wyk's Rust, in order to check the advance of French and give the Boers an opportunity of retreating safely. On the Monday, while fighting was going on, he was obliged to leave his men—who by that time had been reinforced by the retreating Boers—for Johannesburg, on receiving an urgent message that chaos was reigning in town, and that the goods sheds at the station, where Government provisions and food-stuffs were stored, were being looted. On his return order was speedily restored.
Tuesday, May 29th, was the eventful day in the history of the saving of the mines, as on this date Dr. Krause personally arrested "General" Kock and dispersed his band of followers. It happened in this way.
During the progress of the war the Government had been working some of the mines, and, at the time of the rapid advance of the British from Bloemfontein, instructions were given that all the gold should be conveyed to Pretoria. The week before the surrender of Johannesburg, Dr. Krause had given the necessary instructions for doing this, and had received a report that all gold had been transported. Now, it appears that Kock had taken advantage of the Commandant's absence from Johannesburg to further his scheme of destruction, and the first mine he went to with that purpose in view was the Robinson. On arriving there he accidentally discovered that about 120,000 ounces of gold, valued at about £400,000, were still stored on the mine. He was evidently so perturbed about this that he momentarily forgot his purpose, and galloped post-haste with the greater number of his men to the Commandant's office. His men were drawn up outside; he dismounted and found Dr. Krause in consultation with Commandant L.E. van Diggelen, the energetic officer in command of the Mines Police. Kock adopted a threatening and bullying attitude, and demanded the reason why so much gold had been left on the mine, and where the treachery lay. During the course of his angry outburst he disclosed the fact that he had proceeded to the mine for the purpose of destroying it, and had discovered the presence of the gold. It may be mentioned here that Dr. Krause, in the course of the morning, had been in telegraphic communication with General Botha, who was then in the vicinity of Eagles' Nest, and had informed him that it would probably be necessary to take violent measures against Kock, which might lead to bloodshed. General Botha's reply was: "I hold you responsible for the safety of the mines and the town of Johannesburg, and I leave everything in your hands."
When, therefore, "General" Kock disclosed his purpose, Dr. Krause jumped up, closed the door, confronted him, and, before he could realise his position, had him under arrest, calling upon van Diggelen to disarm him. Kock made an attempt to escape, but he was powerless in the hands of two determined men. Some time elapsed before he realised the hopelessness of the situation, as his last attempt to induce Commandant van Diggelen to deliver a note to his men outside was met with a blank refusal. The next thing to be done was to get rid of these men, who evidently had been instructed by their "General" not to leave without him, he probably fearing that something unforeseen might happen to him. How now to get rid of these men? The following ruse was adopted: Dr. Krause took up some telegrams, and, waving these in the air, rushed out to where they were stationed, demanding to know who the officer in charge was. He was met by a confusion of voices calling out, "Where is our General?" "Oh!" was the reply, "your General is still in my office, consulting on military matters, and I have just received information that the British are advancing on the town from the direction of the Gueldenhuis. Your General commands you to proceed in that direction to reinforce the Boers, who are trying to stop the advance. We will follow immediately with the rest of the men. Now! who is in command?" "I am, sir—Captain McCullum." "Now, Captain," the Doctor said, "ride for your life and do your duty."
The ruse was successful, and in a few minutes not a single man of the band was in sight. The next question was, what was to be done with Kock. The following plan was adopted: The arrest took place shortly before the luncheon hour, and as the offices were generally closed from one till two, Kock was detained in the Commandant's office until one. All officials were then ordered to leave. Van Diggelen ordered his dog-cart to be brought round, Kock was told to step in, and was quietly driven to the fort, where he was detained by the officer in charge.
During the afternoon General Botha and his staff passed through Johannesburg, and came to see Dr. Krause, who reported what had happened. General Botha approved of and confirmed his action in every respect. The conference between the two officers did not last long, and resulted in Dr. Krause being definitely instructed to remain in Johannesburg in order to protect the town and its inhabitants, and to see that all fighting burghers immediately left for their respective commandos. The same evening Kock was sent to Pretoria, escorted by several police, and handed over to the authorities there.
The great danger which had threatened the safety of the mines was in this way averted.
Before closing this chapter, mention should be made of the excellent work done by the Mines Police in the protection of the mines, and in this connection especially to name Commandant L.E. van Diggelen and Lt. W. Vogts, the energetic Secretary of the Force.
The gold found on the Robinson Mine was on the same Tuesday sent by Dr. Krause to Pretoria in charge of Captain Arendt Burkhardt and several members of the Field Police, and was duly delivered by them to the authorities there.
Note.—The subsequent career of Kock was an eventful one. He lost his father, J.H. Kock, at the battle of Elandslaagte. This and other matters so preyed upon his mind that eventually he became subject to delusions, and is at present confined in the lunatic asylum at Pretoria.