On Monday morning Mr. S.W. Jameson (a brother of Dr. Jameson, who, although suffering acutely from rheumatic fever, insisted on taking his share of the work and worry during the days that followed) received a telegram addressed to Dr. Wolff, in his care. The latter being away on Monday Mr. Jameson translated the telegram and showed it at once to as many of his comrades as he could find. It was from Dr. Jameson, despatched from Pitsani at 9.5 a.m. on Sunday, and ran as follows: 'Meet me as arranged before you left on Tuesday night which will enable us to decide which is best destination. Make Advocate Leonard speak—make cutting to-night without fail.'
Every effort was made to find Dr. Wolff, but he—in common with others—believing that there would be no move for a week, was away. This telegram was, to say the least of it, disquieting. It showed, so it was thought, that as late as Sunday morning Dr. Jameson could not have received the countermands by Messrs. Heany and Holden, and it indicated that it must have been a near thing stopping him before he actually crossed the border. As a matter of fact Major Heany reached Dr. Jameson at noon on Sunday; but Capt. Holden had arrived the night before.
Shortly after noon Mr. Abe Bailey received and showed to others a telegram purporting to come from 'Godolphin,' Capetown, to the following effect: 'The veterinary surgeon says the horses are now all right; he started with them last night; will reach you on Wednesday; he says he can back himself for seven hundred.' By the light of subsequent events the telegram is easily interpreted, but as Mr. Bailey said he could not even guess who 'Godolphin' might be, the message remained a puzzle. That it had some reference to Dr. Jameson was at once guessed, indeed Mr. Bailey would not have shown it to others concerned in the movement did he not himself think so. The importance and significance of the message entirely depended upon who 'Godolphin' was, and it afterwards transpired that the sender was Dr. Rutherfoord Harris, who states that he took the first and safest means of conveying the news that Dr. Jameson had actually started in spite of all. Mysterious and unintelligible as it was the telegram caused the greatest uneasiness among the few who saw it, for it seemed to show that an unknown someone in Capetown was under the impression that Dr. Jameson had started. The Reformers however still rejected the idea that he would do anything so mad and preposterous, and above all they were convinced that had he started they would not be left to gather the fact from the ambiguous phrases of an unknown person.
All doubts however were set at rest when between four and half-past four on Monday afternoon Mr. A.L. Lawley came hurriedly into the room where several of the leaders were met, saying, 'It is all up, boys. He has started in spite of everything. Read this!' and at the same time throwing on the table the following telegram from Mafeking: 'The contractor has started on the earthworks with seven hundred boys; hopes to reach terminus on Wednesday.'
The Reformers realized perfectly well the full significance of Dr. Jameson's action; they realized that even if he succeeded in reaching Johannesburg, he, by taking the initiative, seriously impaired the justice of the Uitlanders' cause—indeed, put them hopelessly in the wrong. Apart from the moral or political aspects of the question there was the fact that, either through mistake or by fatuous impulse, Dr. Jameson had plunged them into a crisis for which as he knew they were insufficiently provided and prepared, and at the same time destroyed the one chance—the one certainty—on which they had always counted for arms and ammunition; by starting first he knocked out the foundation of the whole scheme—he made the taking of the Pretoria arsenal impossible. For a few minutes it was hoped that the chance of taking the arsenal still remained; but while discussion was still proceeding and several of those present were protesting that the news could not be true (among them Mr. S.W. Jameson, who stoutly maintained that his brother would never start in defiance of his pledges), authentic news of the invasion was received from the Government offices; and this was supplemented a few minutes later by the information that the Government had known it at an early hour in the morning, and that Pretoria was then full of armed burghers. The position then appeared fairly desperate.
It is worth noting that even when Dr. Jameson decided to start in opposition to the Committee's wishes it was not deemed necessary to treat them with the candour which they were entitled to expect from a comrade. It is well known that Dr. Jameson never had 700 men, and that he started with less than 500, and yet the Reformers were led to understand from the telegrams above quoted that he was starting with 700, and not 800 as last promised. They were at first under the impression that the 700 men did not include the Bechuanaland Border Police who were to join him after starting, so that it was still thought that he had over 800 men.
Before five o'clock messengers had been sent out in all directions to call together those who had interested themselves in the movement, or as many of them as possible, for several prominent men knowing only of the steps taken to prevent any movement on the part of Dr. Jameson, were not at hand. As many as possible however gathered together, and it was decided to take instant steps to put the town in a state of defence. In order that the subsequent actions and attitude of the Reform Committee may be properly understood it is necessary to explain somewhat fully the position of affairs on this Monday evening.
As soon as it was realized that the news was beyond all doubt true the bitterest censure was expressed upon Dr. Jameson's action, and it was at first stated by many that either Dr. Jameson or Mr. Rhodes or both had deliberately and for the furtherance of their personal aims disregarded in treacherous and heartless fashion all their agreements. Soon however a calmer view was taken, and a consideration of all the circumstances induced the Reformers to believe that Dr. Jameson had started in good faith, but under some misapprehension. They recalled the various reports that had been in circulation in the press about conflicts between the Boers and Uitlanders at the Simmer and Jack and Jumpers mines, the reported arrest of Mr. Lionel Phillips and the demand of £80,000 bail—rumours which had been treated by those on the spot as too ridiculous to gain credence anywhere, but which they nevertheless thought might have reached Dr. Jameson in such guise as to induce him to take the step which he had taken. It was assumed that the telegrams sent from Johannesburg and Capetown to stop him had not reached him, and that Messrs. Heany and Holden had also failed to catch him before he started. Opinions however were still divided as to whether he had simply lost patience and come in regardless of all consequences, or had been really misled and had dashed in to the assistance of Johannesburg. The position was at best one of horrible uncertainty, and divided as the Committee were in their opinions as to his motive they could only give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that there was behind his action no personal aim and no deliberate disregard of his undertakings. In order to realize the perplexity of the position it must be understood that only the few who happened to meet on Sunday and Monday morning knew of the telegrams which had passed during the previous twenty-four hours, many did not know of them until Pretoria prison gave them time to compare notes; to some they may be news even now. There was no time to argue then!
Knowing the poorness of the equipment of Johannesburg and the unpreparedness of the place and its inhabitants the more logical and cold-blooded course would have been to repudiate Dr. Jameson instantly and to have left him to his fate; but against this was firstly, the fact publicly admitted that he had remained on the border by arrangement with the leaders in order to help them should the necessity arise; next, that if he gave heed to the reports which were being circulated he might have thought that the necessity had arisen; and finally, that the leaders had taken such steps in the smuggling in of arms and the arming of men as would warrant the Boers, and indeed anybody else, in associating them with Dr. Jameson, so that they might confidently expect to be attacked as accomplices before the true facts could become known. They realized quite well that they had a big responsibility to the unarmed population of Johannesburg, and it was with the object of fulfilling that obligation that they decided to arm as many men as possible and to fortify and defend the place if attacked, but, in view of the impossibility of aggressive measures being successful, to take no initiative against the Boers. It would in any case have been entirely useless to suggest the repudiation of Dr. Jameson at that moment. The Johannesburg people would never have listened to such a suggestion, nor could anyone have been found to make it.
In view of the fact that the Reform Committee have been charged with the crime of plunging the country into civil war with a miserable equipment of less than 3,000 rifles, it is only fair to give some heed to the conditions as they were at the time and to consider whether any other course would have been practicable, and if practicable, whether it would have been in the interests of any considerable section of the community. To the Committee the course to be taken seemed perfectly clear. They determined to defend and hold the town. They threw off all disguise, got in all the arms they possibly could, organized the various military corps, and made arrangements for the maintenance of order in the town and on the mines. Throughout Monday night all were engaged in getting in arms and ammunition and doing all that could be done to enable the town to hold its own against possible attack.
During Monday night the Reform Committee came into existence. Those who had so far taken a prominent part in the agitation had been for convenience utilizing Colonel Rhodes' office in the Consolidated Goldfields Company's building. Many prominent men came forward voluntarily to associate themselves with the movement, and as the numbers increased and work had to be apportioned it became evident that some organization would be necessary. Those who had already taken part in the movement formed themselves into a committee, and many other prominent men joined immediately. The movement being an entirely public one it was open for anyone to join provided he could secure the approval of the already elected members. The body so constituted was then called the Reform Committee.
The following is the first notice of the Reform Committee as published in the Johannesburg Star; and it indicates the position taken up:
Notice is hereby given that this Committee adheres to the National Union manifesto, and reiterates its desire to maintain the independence of the Republic. The fact that rumours are in course of circulation to the effect that a force has crossed the Bechuanaland border renders it necessary to take active steps for the defence of Johannesburg and the preservation of order. The Committee earnestly desires that the inhabitants should refrain from taking any action which can be considered as an overt act of hostility against the Government.
Telegrams were sent to the High Commissioner and to the Premier of Cape Colony informing them that owing to the starting of Dr. Jameson with an armed force into the Transvaal Johannesburg had been placed in a position of extreme peril which they were utterly unprepared to guard against, and urging the High Commissioner to proceed immediately to Johannesburg in order to settle matters and prevent a civil war.
Sub-committees were at once appointed, partly chosen from members of the Reform Committee and partly from others who had interested themselves in the movement and had come forward to take part but had not actually joined the controlling body. The matters to be dealt with were: The policing of the town; the control of the natives thrown out of employment by the closing of the mines; the arrangements for the defence of the town; the commissariat for the men bearing arms and for others who were flocking into the town; the providing for the women and children who had been brought in from the mines and had neither food nor shelter. These matters were taken in hand on Tuesday morning, and before nightfall some 2,000 men had been supplied with arms; the Maxims had been brought in and placed in position on the hills surrounding the town; various corps had been formed; a commencement had been made in the throwing-up of earthworks around the town; and food-supplies and such field equipment as could be got together had been provided for the men. As regards the town, the Government police having disappeared, it was necessary to take energetic steps to prevent actual chaos reigning. Ex-Chief Detective Trimble was appointed to organize a police force, and the work was admirably done. Before nightfall the Reform Committee's police had taken entire charge of the town, and from this time until the withdrawal of the Committee's police after the laying down of arms, perfect order was maintained—indeed, the town has never before or since been so efficiently controlled as during this period.
Numbers of the mines stopped work. In some cases the miners remained to protect the companies' property; in other cases the men came in and volunteered to carry arms in defence of the town. One of the most serious difficulties with which the Committee had to deal was that of supplying arms. There were under 3,000 rifles, and during the few days when the excitement was at its highest no less than 20,000 men came forward as volunteers and demanded to be armed. Not unnaturally a great deal of feeling was roused among these men against the Committee on account of their inability to arm them. It was believed for a long time that the Committee was wholly responsible for the incursion by Dr. Jameson; that they had precipitated matters without regard to the safety of the unarmed population, and had actually courted civil war with a paltry equipment of some 3,000 rifles. For several days a huge crowd surrounded the Committee's offices clamouring for guns. It is difficult to say what the feeling would have been and what would have been done had it been known then that there were less than 3,000 rifles. Not more than a dozen men knew the actual number, and they decided to take the responsibility of withholding this information, for they realized that panic and riot might ensue if it were known, whilst the only hope for a successful issue now lay in Johannesburg presenting a bold, confident, and united front.
All the well-known medical men in the town came forward at once, and organized and equipped an ambulance corps which within the day was in perfect working order.
Perhaps the most arduous task of all was that of the Commissariat Department, who were called upon to supply at a few hours' notice the men bearing arms in various positions outside the town and the various depots within the town which were organized for the relief of those who had flocked in unprovided for. It would have been impossible, except in a community where the great majority of men had been trained by the nature of their own business in the habit of organization, to cope with the difficulties which here presented themselves, and it is impossible to pay too high tribute to those who organized the relief of the women and children from the surrounding districts. Not less than 2,000 women and children were housed and fed on Tuesday night; offices were taken possession of in different parts of the town and converted into barracks, where sleeping accommodation was provided under excellent sanitary conditions; and abundance of food, as good as could be expected at an ordinary hotel, was supplied to these people who had come in expecting to sleep in the streets.
In order to carry into effect the scheme of relief above referred to it was found necessary to form what was called the Relief Committee. A fund was opened to provide this Committee with the necessary means, and members of the Reform Committee subscribed upwards of £80,000 within a few minutes of the opening of the lists.
The native liquor question also called for prompt and determined handling. A deputation from the Committee called upon the Landdrost, the official head of the Licensing Board, and requested the co-operation of the Government in dealing with this matter, and an order was obtained from him compulsorily closing the canteens until further notice. Armed with this the officials appointed by the Committee visited the various liquor-houses along the mines and gave due notice, with the further warning that if any breach of the new regulation took place it would be followed by the confiscation of the entire stock of liquor. The measure generally had a very salutary effect, but in the lowest quarters it was not sufficient. The Committee had realized in the very beginning that nothing but the removal of the liquor would prevent the Kaffir canteen-keepers from supplying the natives with drink, and patrols were accordingly sent out to seize the entire stock in those drinking-hells, to pay compensation at value agreed upon, and to destroy the liquor. The step was no doubt a high-handed one, and before it was taken notice was given to the Government officials of the intention. The Committee were warned that this action could not be authorized by Government, as it was both high-handed and illegal, but they decided to take the responsibility upon themselves. It is not too much to say that there were fewer cases of drunkenness or violence reported during the period of trouble than during any other fortnight in the history of the place.
The following proclamation had been issued by the President at a very late hour on Monday night in Pretoria, and was received in Johannesburg on Tuesday morning:
PROCLAMATION BY HIS HONOUR THE STATE PRESIDENT OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN REPUBLIC.
Whereas it has appeared to the Government of the South African Republic that there are rumours in circulation to the effect that earnest endeavours are being made to endanger the public safety of Johannesburg, and whereas the Government is convinced that, in case such rumours may contain any truth, such endeavours can only emanate from a small portion of the inhabitants, and that the greater portion of the Johannesburg inhabitants are peaceful, and are prepared to support the Government in its endeavours to maintain law and order,
Now, know you that I, Stephanus Johannes Paulus Kruger, State President of the South African Republic, with the advice and consent of the Executive Council, according to Article 913 of its minutes, dated the 30th of December, 1895, do hereby warn those evil-intentioned persons (as I do hereby urge all such persons to do) to remain within the pale of the law, and all such persons not heeding this warning shall do so on their own responsibility; and I do further make known that life and property shall be protected against which attempts may be made, and that every peaceful inhabitant of Johannesburg, of whatsoever nationality he may be, is called upon to support me herein, and to assist the officials charged therewith; and further be it made known that the Government is still prepared to take into consideration all grievances that may be laid before it in a proper manner, and to submit the same to the people of the land without delay for treatment.
The Government in Pretoria were no doubt perfectly well aware of all that was going on; the Committee could not possibly observe any secrecy, nor did it appear desirable, since the position taken up and maintained by them to the end was that they were not responsible for Dr. Jameson's incursion and were simply prepared to defend the town against attack.
During the four or five days preceding this the evidences of excitement in Johannesburg had been unmistakable, and on Saturday the 28th, the day before Dr. Jameson started, several prominent officials and two or three members of the Volksraad visited Johannesburg from Pretoria and openly discussed the seriousness of the position. At that time they were strongly of opinion that the Government had brought the trouble on themselves by their wrong-headed and corrupt action. The visitors were men who although officially associated with the Government were not at all in sympathy with the policy of the Krugerite party, and they were sincerely anxious for a peaceful settlement and desirous of liberal reforms, but their influence with the Government was nil. Unfortunately it has always been the case that intelligent and upright men associated with the Pretoria Government (and there are some as bright examples as can be found in any country) never have, and never will have, any weight with the party now dominating the State. Their services are not used as they might be, and their counsels are not regarded as they should be in times when they would be of value; in fact, it would seem that they are only used when it appears to Mr. Kruger and his party that they present opportunities for playing upon the credulity of the Uitlanders with whose progressive notions they are known to be in sympathy. It is unnecessary to say that these gentlemen do not consciously take part in the deception which is practised, but it is nevertheless a fact that whenever the Pretoria clique desire to trail the red herring they do it by the employment in seeming good faith of one or other of those gentlemen whose character and sympathies entitle them to the respect and confidence of the Uitlander.
On Tuesday Mr. Eugene Marais, the editor of the leading Dutch paper Land en Volk, a gentleman who has worked consistently and honourably both for his people, the Transvaal Dutch, and for the cause of pure and enlightened government, visited Johannesburg, being convinced that there was serious trouble in store for the country unless prompt and decisive steps were taken to remedy the conditions under which the Rand community were suffering. No one in the country has fought harder against the abuses which exist in Pretoria nor has anyone risked more, nor yet is there a more loyal champion of the Boer; and Mr. Marais, having on his own initiative investigated the condition of affairs in Johannesburg and reported the result to some of the leading members of the Government, telegraphed to a member of the Committee on Tuesday morning beseeching that body to make a strenuous effort to avert bloodshed, using the words, 'For God's sake, let us meet and settle things like men!' and further stating that he and Mr. Malan, son-in-law of General Joubert, were bringing over a message from the Government, and that he hoped the Committee would meet them in a reasonable spirit.
A full meeting of the Committee was at once called to receive the two delegates. The meeting took place at 9 p.m. and lasted until 12 p.m. on Tuesday night. Mr. Marais's evidence during the course of the trial detailed the events which led up to this meeting. He stated that in consequence of what he had observed in Johannesburg on Monday and Tuesday he returned to Pretoria, convinced that unless something was done by Government to relieve the position there would most inevitably be a civil war. He reported the condition of things to General Joubert, who deemed it of sufficient importance to have the matter brought before the Executive. Messrs. Marais and Malan were thereupon received by the Executive and authorized to meet the Reform Committee on behalf of the Government. With reference to the now famous 'olive branch' phrase, Mr. Marais states that the expression was first used by a member of the Committee in Johannesburg on Tuesday morning. The condition of things was being discussed and this member commented severely upon the action of the Government. Mr. Marais urged that things were not so bad as to justify a determined attempt to provoke civil war, and stated that he believed that the excitement prevailing would convince the Government that they had now gone too far and that when they realized the seriousness of the position they would be willing to make proper concessions, and he said in conclusion that the people of Johannesburg, if they were as good as their professions and desired reform and not revolution, would even at the eleventh hour be willing to meet the Government. The member of the Reform Committee replied that this was undoubtedly the attitude of the Johannesburg people, but that it was absolutely useless to keep on patiently waiting for the fulfilment of promises which were only made to be broken; that if Johannesburg had any evidence that the Government meant honestly by them they would of course treat and endeavour to avert bloodshed; that the Uitlanders had so far always offered the olive branch and sought to establish harmony. That however was all over, and let the Government now take the first steps if they were in earnest.
Mr. Marais reported the whole of this conversation to the Executive Council and, upon his making use of the expression 'olive branch,' the President exclaimed excitedly, 'What are they talking about? What is an olive branch?' When this was explained to him he nodded and said, 'Yes, that is what we will do,' and Mr. Wolmarans another member of the Executive exclaimed, 'Go back to the Johannesburg people and tell them that we have already offered the olive branch by voluntarily withdrawing our police from the town in order to avoid conflict, thus leaving them in entire possession. It is for them to say whether they will accept it.'
The meeting at which Messrs. Marais and Malan were commissioned to negotiate with the Johannesburg people was, with the exception of General Smit (then dying and since dead), attended by every member of the Executive Council, and there is no truth in the suggestion made on behalf of the Government that it was an informal meeting of a few men who were not acting on behalf of the State, nor is there any justification for the statement made by Judge Ameshof in the witness-box that Messrs. Marais and Malan were not officially authorized to negotiate with the Reform Committee.
Messrs. Marais and Malan met the Reform Committee in the general committee-room, and both gentlemen addressed the meeting several times, going fully into the grievances complained of by the Uitlanders and explaining very fully the position of the Government and their attitude during the meeting of the Executive Council which they had been called upon to attend. They stated that they had been sent by a full meeting of the Executive to ask the Reform Committee to send a deputation to Pretoria in order to meet a Commission to be appointed by Government with a view to effecting a peaceful settlement and the redress of grievances; that the Commission would consist of Chief Justice Kotzé, Judge Ameshof, and another, probably a member of the Executive Council; that the Government were willing to consider and redress the grievances, and were, above all things, anxious to avoid conflict with their own subjects.
Then came the much-quoted expression: 'We come in fact to offer you the olive branch; it is for you to say if you will take it; if you are sincere in your professions, you will.' A great deal of discussion took place, many members of the Committee maintaining that, although they placed full confidence in the gentlemen who had been sent by Government, they were nevertheless convinced that there was treachery at the bottom of it, and they stated in plain language what has become more or less an article of faith with the Uitlander: 'Whenever the Government are earnestly intent upon deceiving us they select emissaries in whose character and good faith we have complete trust, and by deceiving them ensure that we shall be misled.' Both gentlemen repeatedly assured the meeting that the Government were most anxious to remove the causes of discontent, and stated moreover that Johannesburg would get practically all that was asked for in the Manifesto. When asked what was meant by 'practically all,' they explained that there would be some minor points of course on which Johannesburg would have to give way in order to meet the Government, as their position was also a very difficult one, and there were in particular two matters on which there would be some difficulty, but by no means insurmountable. When asked if the two matters were the removal of religious disabilities and the franchise, one of the two gentlemen replied that he had been told that there would be some difficulty on these two points, but that they were quite open to discussion as to the details and he was convinced that there would surely be a means of coming to an understanding by compromise even on these two. Messrs. Marais and Malan also informed the meeting that the High Commissioner had issued a proclamation calling upon Dr. Jameson to desist from the invasion and to return to British territory at once; that the proclamation had been duly forwarded to him from several points; and that there was no doubt that he would turn back. Messrs. Marais and Malan both stated that they were themselves proceeding with the commando against Dr. Jameson should he fail to obey the High Commissioner's mandate, and stated also that although they were making every effort that was humanly possible to avert conflict it must be clearly understood that if from the unreasonable action of Johannesburg fighting took place between the Government forces and a revolutionary force from Johannesburg, they as in duty bound would fight for their Government, and that in the Government ranks would be found those men who had been the most arduous workers in the cause of reform. They were assured that there was no such feeling as desire for revenge actuating the people who had taken up arms, that it was simply a desire for fair treatment and decent government, that the present demand was what had been already detailed in the Manifesto, and that the Committee stood by that document, but would nevertheless accept as sufficient for the time being any reasonable proportion of the redress demanded.
In spite of differences as to the motives of the Government in holding out the olive branch it was decided unanimously that the request as conveyed by Messrs. Marais and Malan should be complied with, and that a deputation should be sent over early on the following morning to meet the Government Commission. Under the circumstances it was quite useless to discuss whether the Government designed these negotiations merely as a ruse in order to gain time, or whether they were actually dealing with the Committee in good faith and intending to effect the redress promised. At that time Johannesburg itself had not been protected by earthworks, and the unpacking of the Maxims and rifles had only just been completed. Throughout Tuesday night and Wednesday earthworks were being thrown up, and every effort was being directed towards placing the town in a state of defence.