November, 1899

Captain Percy Scott having received from the High Commissioner the appointment of Military Governor and Commandant of Durban, the Terrible left Simonstown, November 3rd, for the purpose of placing Natal's important seaport in a defensive condition. Previous to leaving, the officers and men on passage to China were distributed among the Cape Squadron to supplement the ship's depleted crews. Guards of this ship were relieved from the posts they had been occupying, one of which, under Lieutenant England, had been keeping watch over captured Boer prisoners temporarily incarcerated in the prison ship Penelope.

Military equipment for landing-parties and campaigning stores had been obtained, and the ship's voracious bunkers had considerably lessened the size of the dockyard coal-heap. While on passage, the men about to comprise the defence force were organized, and final shape was given to the incompleted gun-mountings and carriages.

Arriving at Durban early on the 6th, the landing of guns, ammunition, etc., immediately began. This work was attended with great difficulty, owing to the heavy swell then, and nearly always, prevailing there. The draught of water on the bar was too shallow to permit of the ships entering the snug and spacious harbour, which would otherwise have saved much anxious and laborious work on this and several future occasions during our stay there. Next day, Captain Scott, accompanied by Major H.R.H. Prince Christian Victor of Schleswig-Holstein and Major Bousfield (Natal Volunteers), inspected the approaches to the town, settled for the disposition of the guns, and made arrangements for carrying the defence scheme into execution, the brigade being ordered to land next morning. Commander Limpus, and a few members of his staff, landed in the evening to arrange the details for the disembarkation of the force and guns from the surf-lighters. One huge iron shed, about 400 feet by 80 feet, was requisitioned on the wharf as a base for landing all naval supplies, and a guard of bluejackets, under a Warrant Officer, was permanently stationed here on transport service, a duty which proved no sinecure.

At daybreak on the 8th, the defence force landed, the journey from the ship into harbour, and the debarkation of men and material, occupying the early forenoon. Officers and men were dressed alike—all khaki clad—the former only wearing shoulder-straps, and the latter'their distinctive badges to denote rank and rating. Except for the khaki-painted naval straw hats worn, and the piquant naval lingo used, little else remained to associate the brigade with their nautical calling. Thirty guns—two 4'7's, and sixteen ship's 12-pounders (on extemporized carriages); two 12-pounders, one 9-pounder, and one 7-pounder light field guns ; two 3-pounder Hotchkiss, two Nordenfeldt machine guns, and four Maxims—manned by 450 officers and men, comprised the strength landed for the defence. The guns' crews of the field and machine guns were the only means of traction for those guns, but spans of oxen and some sixty horses had been requisitioned to transport the 4'7's, long-range 12-pounders, ammunition waggons, and impedimenta. By 10 a.m. the force was in motion and proceeding through the town en route to their assigned positions—a march of several hours' duration.

Durban's main street forms part of an imposing thoroughfare extending the whole length of the town—some six miles of road and street—the principal section being adorned with many fine buildings on either side. The splendid Town Hall faces the public botanical gardens, a majestic statue of Queen Victoria standing at the spacious entrance. It was on passing this central spot that the nautical brigade received quite an ovation from the vast assemblage of loyal colonists congregated here, and also from the thousands of Uitlander refugees who had opportunely assembled under the shadow of their suzerain's statue. Durban's mayor and other civic dignitaries were officially present on the Town Hall colonnade, and before them the defence force passed by in something approaching review style, while the ship's band, which halted opposite the mayoral party, discoursed patriotic marches and airs to lend colour to the stirring scene. Such an exhibition of strength must have greatly impressed (as the imposing display of force was intended to do) the loyal burgesses with a sense of confidence and safety, and have also banished all hope from disloyal minds of ever seeing the Vierkleur hoisted over Durban Town Hall—a common boast of the Boers before the war.

On clearing the town the brigade divided into three detached commands, proceeding by different routes to their respective positions. Commander Limpus, Lieutenant England, and staff of the force, with one 4'7, six 12-pounders, and two Maxims, took up a position on the Berea Heights, overlooking the town in rear and commanding the Maritz-burg road and other inland approaches, the position being connected by telephone with the outlying batteries. A battery of six 12-pounders, under Lieutenant Richards, proceeded westward to Claremont, about six miles distant, and intrenched. Their province was to guard the western road approaches and railway. Lieutenant Wilde commanded a similar battery which performed a like function on the eastern side of the town, their position being termed " Fort Denison." To support the Terribles' main defence, a detachment from the Thetis manned the Bluff Fort guns, which commanded the harbour entrance and western routes ; another from the Tartar supplied the crew of the armoured train; while detachments of Fortes and Philomels, with the light field and machine guns, occupied a flank position in the Umgeni Valley, between "Fort Denison " and the sea. A corps of mounted local gentlemen undertook all the scouting beyond the town, and the district rifle associations were ready to co-operate with the defence force if required. This colony well deserves the title of " Loyal Natal."

By 4 p.m. the respective batteries were in position, guns intrenched, and camps formed, which fact enabled Captain Scott to telegraph to the admiral at Simonstown, and report to the Mayor of Durban, that the town was in a complete state of defence. The details of the organization had been well considered, and so enabled the evolution—for such it was—to be so creditably executed. The rapid manner in which the hitherto unprotected town had been placed in a state of defence evoked the highest commendation from the responsible government officials.

An opportunity here occurs to place on record a grateful sense of the hospitality which Durban all through extended to all ranks and ratings of the defence force. "Colonial hospitality" is no mere phrase, but signifies much more than the term implies to the ear, or may convey in print, and is highly appreciated by those of the Navy who have become familiar with its real meaning when visiting our several colonies. The names of Messrs. Hartley and Denison, in whose private grounds the central and eastern naval batteries were respectively intrenched, are especially deserving of a place in these pages in recognition of their practical loyalty at a critical time, and of the hospitality shown to the officers and men attached to the guns. The mayor and many other prominent citizens were also in the front rank in both respects. Few British troops passing through Durban on their way to the front, or wounded men returning from the battle-field, but did not receive some mark of the town's hospitable favours. The Terribles cherish their recollections of Durban.

Captain Scott now assumed the duties of his dual office as Commandant of Durban and Senior Naval Officer, the town having been placed under martial law. Major Bousfield, a colonial officer and member of the legal profession, was appointed Commandant's adviser, and Assistant-Paymaster Cullinan secretary; Messrs. Laycock and Blanchflower, naval clerks, and Chief-writer Elliott forming the secretarial staff. Telegrams arriving in quick succession both day and night, and the mass of naval, military, and civil correspondence that flowed interminably through the Commandant's office for the next five months, imposed a continuous duty upon this staff of an onerous and important nature.

Martial law in superseding the civil law, confers great discretionary power upon those who administer it, and affords facilities for coping with emergencies which the ordinary law is slow to deal with. Those born under such institutions as are enjoyed by the Anglo-Saxon race find martial law very inconvenient—which it undoubtedly is, even in its mildest form—and are apt to resent its application. But for dealing with treason or sedition in war time, or for the suppression of civil commotion, extraordinary powers are essential to the ruling authorities, not only for dealing effectively with traitorous individuals or lawless mobs, but for giving protection to loyal and law-abiding persons. Martial law provides that power, its severity, of course, varying with the situation it has to contend with. In Durban the loyal inhabitants did not suffer much inconvenience beyond being restricted to the confines of the district, and subjected to a sort of curfew routine that curtailed freedom abroad at night.

In addition to knowing how to handle and fight his ship, a naval captain must also be a practical diplomatist, always prepared to conduct delicate negotiations of a political nature all over the world where duly accredited officials do not reside, and when guns may have eventually to settle the disputes at issue. Admiral Sir Gerald Noel, during the Cretan imbroglio, and Admiral Sir Edward Seymour, lately in China, have recently shown how diplomacy of the highest order can be displayed by naval officers in view of international entanglements.

The most prominent among the many important subjects dealt with by Captain Scott during his tenure of office will be briefly sketched, as being interesting topics of the period.

The great influx of criminals, spies, and suspects, who had crossed over the borders of the two republics into Natal, required close supervision. In the person of Superintendent Alexander, of the Durban Police, was found an officer to whom the task of keeping this motley throng under proper surveillance was safely entrusted. A few notorious characters the Commandant actually imprisoned for safe custody, where they were at liberty to think out nefarious schemes—but unable to execute them. The most notable suspect dealt with was a certain Mr. Marks, who was arrested on suspicion of being in the employ of the Transvaal Secret Service. His case attracted much attention at the time, owing to the threat of the Pretorian Government to shoot six British officers by way of retaliation should capital punishment be the result of his seizure. This threat—strictly against the usages of civilized warfare—was both premature and unnecessary, as the charge of espionage preferred against him was never proved. The Imperial Government, however, informed the Boers of the dire consequences that such a proposed violation of the recognized customs of warfare would entail should it ever be carried into execution.

The Commandant, in conjunction with Mr. P'raser (the official censor), had to deal with the examination of letters, and suspicious or irregular telegrams, detained under martial law procedure. When one is aware of the number of fabulous accounts which have emanated from pens propelled at the will of imaginative brains, has read the unjust—and often malicious—criticisms and accusations glibly directed against men and matters which are intended for dissemination among a credulous public, and knows the means employed to furnish the enemy with desirable information, the much traduced censorship is seen to be an indispensable institution in war time. The questions arising from the detention of goods, etc., and prevention of trade with the enemy from the port, were matters involving great discretion and tact.

The refusal to allow the ambulance and its staff, sent from England by Sir James Seivewright, to proceed through Natal for the use of the Boers, was an action of Captain Scott's that received almost universal approval. It is worthy of notice that President Kruger also rejected this sympathetic donation when it was afterwards landed at Delagoa Bay in order to proceed from that direction—a significant rebuke to the would-be donor.

As a protection for the burgesses and their property, and also to limit the opportunities of suspicious persons for doing possible mischief, public bars were closed at 9 p.m. (under penalty of cancellation of licence), and a system of night passes was introduced, without which no person could remain abroad from his habitation between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. Infringement of this latter regulation meant prompt arrest and detention until satisfactory evidence of identity was forthcoming. The Commandant himself was twice arrested for being unable to produce his " permit"—once when out to test the vigilance of the police, the other occasion being an inconveniently legitimate occurrence one night when unexpected urgent duty compelled his detention abroad, and his " permanent permit" had inadvertently been left at the office. The constable, not personally knowing Captain Scott, and refusing to believe his apparently fantastic story about being Commandant of Durban, promptly locked him up until he was identified some few hours later by his secretary, who had been telephoned for from the " Commandancy." The constable naturally felt that he must tender an apology even for doing his plain duty; but the captain warmly commended him for his sensible prudence. Martial law had ambushed its administrator.

The detention of the German mail steamer Bundesrath for having on board suspected persons bound for Delagoa Bay was an episode which caused diplomatic representations between the British and German Governments. Satisfactory explanations resulted in the vessel being freed from arrest shortly afterwards, and the owners subsequently indemnified* Such incidents will always be responsible for some of the international issues which result from war, acts of this kind, whether right or wrong, invariably arousing national sentiment, as appears to have happened in the present case.

The prompt suppression of a journal styled the Review and Critic, which had transgressed the limits of fair reviewing and reasonable criticism, and had published diatribes reflecting on the conduct of our generals and troops in the field, exemplified the necessity of applying martial law when acts to the prejudice of good order required immediate restriction.

Trials of offenders for martial-law offences, and interviews with all sorts and conditions of men—and women—formed the daily forenoon routine. The variety of subjects dealt with, including the examination of suggestions and schemes— impossible mostly—submitted by enthusiastic loyalists, transformed the Commandant's office at times into a sort of King Solomon's Court. One eccentric old gentleman, and a certain lady of doubtful age but unquestionable self-possession, who styled herself the " Queen of South Africa," were both possessed of phenomenal brain-power—the lady especially so. The former had an occult scheme for producing discomfiture to the enemy by firing at their intrenched positions chemically filled shells, which, on bursting, were to induce temporary inertia and envelop the foe with an impenetrable black fog, whereupon our troops would advance and capture their positions at leisure. But, as he could not state by what process the said shells could be manufactured, nor guarantee exemption from inertia and fog to our own troops during the operations, his alchemic scheme was pigeon-holed in the waste-paper basket. The pseudo " queen's " rocket scheme was a sublime idea— for seincing parties, perhaps, but not for war. Six or more giant rockets, with a huge net attached to their tails, were to be simultaneously fired towards the enemy's position, when, upon the rockets falling beyond the foe (which they must do), the net would entrap a shoal of Boers. Our troops would then serenely pull the net into camp with the haul of captured prisoners of war inside!   But the sending up of a sort of flying-machine was her pet fantastic project. She submitted a written statement of what this marvellous contrivance should do, but had no machine, design of one, or even reasonable notion of one. She herself was to be the aeronaut, taking up a huge stock of miniature flags of all nations and scriptural monitions, and scattering them broadcast into all the Boer camps. This inept proposition, she contended, would so confound the enemy that they would assume the world was wrath against their iniquities, and cause them to flee to their homes demoralized. (What a saving in war loans and income-tax demands if it had!) Failing to impress any one with her wild suggestions, she at last donned a sailor's old straw hat, with a Terribles ribbon attached to it, and proclaimed herself as commanding all forces at the Cape. Her strange conduct, of course, amused the brigade, with whom she became a general favourite, and who listened with mock attention to her passionate addresses of mixed jargon, and thus humoured her hallucinatory ideas. Few will forget this quaint personage, who seldom missed paying a daily visit to the office and town camp near by. This was one form of diversion that wormed its way into the serious business of war.

With many people, of course, the war was unpopular, but instead of trying to promote British defeats, they resorted to the bloodless method of sending anonymous letters vilifying Captain Scott's official conduct, and threatening him with various pains and penalties if he did not seek refuge on board his ship. These missives adorned the pages of a scrapbook, and provided some amusement for visitors while awaiting their turn for interviews. Ridicule can do much good when properly applied, as it did in this instance, for this form of rancour soon ceased.

The capacity for administering an office so environed with political and economic responsibilities was well exemplified in the person of Captain Scott, as the following eulogistic reference1 to his five months' tenure of office cogently affirms:—

"The officer responsible at this time for the administration of martial law in Durban was Captain Scott, R.N., . . . who has left behind him a reputation for spotless integrity, practical common sense, tact, and inflexible justice, of which the service he so worthily represents may well be proud. . . ."

A brief summary of current events again becomes necessary to elucidate the course of the war.

General Sir Redvers Buller, who had been selected by the Imperial Government for the supreme command at the Cape, arrived at Cape Town on October 31st. Three days afterwards Ladysmith was invested, thereby causing the temporary loss of the services of nearly the whole Natal Field Force. Estcourt, 30 miles south of Ladysmith, was now the most advanced British post north of Pietermaritzburg. The military and political situation thus created in Natal caused General Buller to alter his original plan of campaign, and order the bulk of the troops intended for Cape Colony to be diverted to the sorely pressed sister colony. Although Cape Colony was still in considerable danger, the knowledge that transports with succouring troops were quickly nearing the Cape, and that the enemy's attention was still firmly fixed on Mafeking and Kimberley, was largely responsible for the general's change of plan. Indeed, the pressing exigencies of Natal's situation, the obligations due to this ultra-loyal colony, and the natural expectations of the beleaguered garrison, obviously appeared to the general to be of paramount importance. Altered circumstances had demanded altered action, and a second British general was compelled to embark on a policy involving considerable personal responsibility, owing to unexpected issues and developments which had been at no time subject to his control, and which have no precedent in modern military history.

Following closely the investment of Ladysmith, the enemy became particularly active in northern Cape Colony, threatening the garrisons of Colesberg, Naauwpoort, and Stormberg. The troops holding the two first-named towns concentrated upon De Aar, those of the latter, with whom were associated the Naval Brigade, retired south on Queenstown, the railway junction at Sterkstroom, between these two positions, being held by Colonials as an advanced post. Shortly afterwards General Sir William Gatacre arrived with reinforcements from England, thus rendering Queenstown a safe position. The Naval Brigade, now released from defensive duty, were ordered to rejoin their ships, and were sent by rail to East London for embarkation. The Simonstown contingent proceeded there in the s.s. Roslin Castle, the Terrible’s detachment embarking in the s.s. Moor for Durban.

By November 19th, Lord Methuen had concentrated his Kimberley Relief Column of 10,000 men at the Orange River. On the same date a second Naval Brigade left Simonstown under Flag-Captain Prothero {Doris) to join Methuen's column. Arriving at Orange River on the 22nd, they detrained and marched onward, in time to take an effective part with their guns in the battle of Belmont next day. The losses here were 53 killed and 275 wounded.

Two days later the battle of Graspan was fought, the most memorable day throughout the war for the Navy, owing to the severe losses sustained by the Naval Brigade in this action. As at Belmont a strongly intrenched position was carried by direct frontal assault. This being the only occasion during the campaign that a Naval Brigade were specially employed as Infantry, a description of their gallantry, vividly portrayed by an eminent historian 2 of the war, is given as being eminently worthy of record.

"... Here a single large kopje formed the key to the position, and a considerable time was expended upon preparing it for the British assault, by directing upon it a fire which swept the face of it and searched, as was hoped, every corner in which a rifleman might lurk. One of the two batteries engaged fired no less than 500 rounds. Then the infantry advance was ordered, the Guards being held in reserve on account of their exertions at Belmont. . . . The honours of the assault, however, must be awarded to the sailors and marines of the Naval Brigade, who underwent such an ordeal as men have seldom faced and yet come out as victors. To them fell the task of carrying that formidable hill which had been so scourged by our artillery. With a grand rush they swept up the slope, but were met by a horrible fire. Every rock spurted flame, and the front ranks withered away before the storm of the Mausers. An eye-witness has recorded that the brigade was hardly visible amid the sand knocked up by the bullets. For an instant they fell back into cover, and then, having taken their breath, up they went again, with a deep chested roar. There were but 400 in all, 200 seamen and 200 marines, and the losses in that rapid rush were terrible. Yet they swarmed up, their gallant officers, some of them little boy-middies, cheering them on. Ethelston, the commander of the Powerful, was struck down. Plumbe and Senior of the Marines were killed. Captain Prothero, of the Doris, dropped while still yelling to his seamen to ' take that kopje and be hanged to it !' Little Huddart, the middy, died a death which is worth many inglorious years. Jones, of the Marines, fell wounded, but rose again and rushed on with his men. It was on these gallant marines, the men who are ready to fight anywhere and any how, moist or dry, that the heaviest losses fell. When at last they made good their foothold upon the crest of that murderous hill they had left behind them three officers and 88 men out of a total of 206—a loss within a few minutes of nearly 50 per cent. The blue jackets, helped by the curve of the hill, got off with a toll of eighteen of their number. Half the total British losses of the action fell upon this little body of men, who upheld most gloriously the honour and reputation of the service from which they were drawn. With such men under the white ensign we leave our island home in safety behind us."

On the 28th, General Lord Methuen again advanced and fought the battle of Moddcr River, which resulted in a hardly-contested victory for our troops, whose casualties amounted to 450 killed and wounded.

Three actions within a week, and a loss of nearly 1000 men, had brought Methuen's force to the Modder River, but also to a standstill condition to await reinforcements, with an ever increasing enemy between them and Kimberley—twenty-five miles away. General Gatacrc was still at Queenstown preparing an offensive movement, and General French had re-occupied Naauwpoort, his force guarding the right flank of the Kimberley column.

In Natal the enemy were steadily advancing southwards, but the bulk of them were held by centripetal force around Ladysmith. On November 15th, an armoured train that made daily scouting expeditions northwards from Estcourt, came to grief near Frere on its return journey. The train was composed of an engine and tender and five waggons, manned by about 120 naval, military, and civilians, the latter mostly railway employees borne for repairing the line. The enemy had prepared the inevitable ambush of almost daily expectation by detaching a rail and placing large boulders on the line. They had with them three field guns and a pom-pom, mounted on a kopje about 1300 yards distant from the ruptured section of the line, besides numerous riflemen posted so as to command the same spot. The train had first to round a curve, and descend a steep incline before it reached the derailing obstacles, its downgrade run being involuntarily made at full speed in consequence of the enemy's guns beginning to act their part in the ruse de guerre by shelling it. Running the gauntlet of shell fire onwards to supposed safety, the train quickly reached the spot marked out for the catastrophe, with disastrous and fatal results. Three trucks—those in front of the engine—went crash, two overturning, and the rest of the train came to a dead stop, fortunately, especially in the case of the engine and tender, keeping on the rails. By dint of almost superhuman effort the line was cleared of debris, which allowed the engine and tender to pass and escape loaded with wounded and civilians, a slice of ill-luck preventing the two uninjured trucks in rear from being taken on without a hazardous delay.

Meanwhile the enemy kept up a murderous cannonade and rifle fire, to which the heroic defenders as vigorously replied while covering the task of extricating the engine. This completed, and further resistance or escape for the remainder being quite hopeless, an honourable surrender was the sequel of this brilliant stand against insuperable odds. This episode might be termed a semi-naval affair as a 7-pounder gun and crew of five men belonging to the Tartar formed part of the train's mixed complement. who was the incarnation of coolness—got their 7-pounder into action. They, sent two, if not three, well-aimed shells at the Boers, several hundred of whom lined the hills. But just then a shot from the enemy's 3-pounder, or field gun, hit the small naval 7-pounder, knocked gun and carriage on to the veldt, and wounded several of the seamen. But the men were not a whit beaten."

Thus Mr. Bennett Burleigh {Daily Telegraph correspondent) describes how the naval gun got knocked out of action.

The unlucky disaster caused a loss of about 80 men— killed, wounded, and prisoners ; among the latter was Mr. Winston Churchill {Morning Post correspondent), who exhibited the traditional courage of his race while controlling the operations that resulted in the escape of the engine with the wounded, a service which merited the highest recognition. Armoured trains have their vocation, but it certainly was not here on this circuitous switchback railway, unless to court disaster and give the enemy an ill-afforded success.

" At full speed, at full speed,
At full speed, onward !

Down to Frere's fated plain
Rushed forth the armoured train,
Meeting death with disdain—
This Score and One Hundred.

' Krupps ' to the right of them ;
' Mausers ' to the left of them ;
Line blocked in front of them—
Shells screeched and thundered.

" Theirs not to reason why,
But with orders to comply.
Theirs was to do or die—
Bravest of deeds !—the world wondered."

The opportune arrival of General Hildyard's Infantry Brigade from England and their rapid despatch to Estcourt, somewhat allayed the excitement hitherto existing in the colony as the result of the report that the Boers were moving south in force.

Lieutenant James {Tartar) was also sent north with two long-range 12-pounders to augment the artillery strength, their arrival at Estcourt being described as a " welcome acquisition," since the town had been exposed to serious danger for some time. Its safety was now practically assured, the garrison consisting of over 6000 men, fairly well supplied with mounted troops and guns. Later, at Mooi River, a small township thirty miles further south, another force of 5000 troops, with two batteries of Royal Artillery, had assembled under General Barton.

On November 21st the enemy struck the railway between Estcourt and Mooi River, severing connection and isolating the former position. Their main object, so it was averred, was to seize Natal's capital, 'Maritzburg, and then hold the colony from there northwards. One strong force of Transvaalers threatened Estcourt, while another of Free Staters menaced the Mooi River garrison.

But General Hildyard objected to being surrounded at Estcourt without a fight; besides, the situation generally had become much too serious to continue a strictly defensive policy.   A night attack was therefore planned.

On the afternoon of the 22nd Hildyard's force moved out towards the Boer positions. Before nightfall, Beacon Hill, eight miles distant, was reached, and up its boulder-strewn slopes the naval gun was dragged amidst a torrential storm of exceptional severity. But before the summit was attained discovery had taken place, and the difficulties of ascent were increased by a shelling from a Boer "Long Tom." Once the gun capsized, but was righted, and eventually hauled to the summit, having had several narrow escapes from being struck. A few rounds were now fired towards the Boer positions, whereupon silence was obtained for the night, the troops bivouacking on the storm-sodden ground, to await their first fight.

About 2 a.m. the attacking battalions (West Yorks and East Surreys) cautiously moved forward to the assault on Brynbella Ridge, which was carried with but trifling loss to either side, the enemy offering but slight resistance before fleeing to the protection of their main body.

At daylight the Boers began sweeping the captured ridge with their guns, and also brought an enfilading rifle fire to bear upon it. The naval 12-pounder, still on Beacon Hill, strove hard to locate the enemy's guns, but without avail; no detective shell could unearth them. Having struck a moral blow at the enemy, a withdrawal of the British troops became a necessity. All that could be done had been done ; so the untenable ridge was vacated, the greatest losses occurring while the troops were crossing the open ground to gain the flanks of Beacon Hill. The field guns had not, owing to the broken country, been able to offer much material aid except to cover the retirement. By noon the whole force were back at Estcourt, having suffered a loss of 86 casualties.

This spirited attack, known as the action of Willow Grange (owing to its proximity to that small place), had evidently arrested the invasion, although small marauding units of Boers succeeded in plundering a station about forty miles north of 'Maritzburg, causing a flutter of excitement in the defenceless capital. The Free Staters, who had closed on Mooi River, contenting themselves with a brief skirmish and an almost harmless shelling of the British camp, then withdrew, to join the Transvaalers, the whole of the invading enemy having retreated northwards by the 26th.

If the invaders had not succeeded with their military enterprise, they must have greatly exceeded expectation in the matter of looting of cattle, besides causing wanton and malicious injury to the private property of loyal colonists, many of whom were rendered homeless by these predatory acts. "Commandeering" of supplies may often find justification in war time, but no allowance can be claimed for a belligerent who gratuitously inflicts unnecessary suffering or injury upon peaceful non-combatants, and thus creates superfluous horrors of war and eternal enmity.

The sudden retreat of the enemy behind the Tugela marked an entirely new phase of the situation in Natal. The tide of invasion had turned. Hildyard's force was quickly pushed on to Frere, ten miles north of Estcourt, where a concentration camp for the Ladysmith Relief Force was to be formed; Barton's Brigade from Mooi River following shortly afterwards. This account of the situation has now brought the narrative back to Durban and current war events.

The cyclone of invasion having expended its force at Willow Grange, the feeling of apprehension of danger to either 'Maritzburg or Durban, had given place to a normal consciousness of safety from organized attack. This result found expression in the withdrawal of the main Berea battery to a position near the Town Hall. The " Fort Denison " and Claremont batteries, however, still remained at their posts, which it was important to hold until even clandestine attacks had become remote contingencies. The. steady arrival of troops, and their rapid despatch up-country, was gradually but surely completing the barrier that would block another incursion south of the Tugela.

An equitable system of relief duties between the ship and defence force had been established ; Lieutenant Bogle now commanded at "Fort Denison," Lieutenant Drummond at Claremont, and the subordinate officers were interchanged in the batteries to increase their experience. But a change of extreme import was impending. News had leaked out that the Commander-in-Chief had left Capetown for Durban, and great developments were therefore expected. General Sir Francis Clery had already arrived, and had, during his brief stay at Durban, inspected the mobile 4'7 gun, which was manoeuvred at his request. The smart evolutionary tactics performed elicited the highly favourable opinion that the gun would be a valuable asset in the field.   So it proved to be.

On November 26th Sir Redvers Buller arrived, being received on landing by a bluejacket guard-of-honour of Terribles, under Commander Limpus and Lieutenant England. His arrival was hailed with extreme satisfaction, his presence in the colony being described in the Press "as the needful factor that would completely restore tranquillity of mind to the colonists, and instil ultra-confidence in the troops—and more."   Terse, but true.

On concluding the customary inspection of the naval guard, upon whom he bestowed a much appreciated eulogium in respect of their fit appearance, the general proceeded to scrutinize the mobile 4'7 gun, its working, etc., being explained by Captain Scott, who was in attendance as commandant. Little perception was required to convince the observant bluejackets that the gun had met with the general's approval, and that its destiny—the front—was practically assured. The wish, perhaps, may have impelled the thought, as it often does, for the brigade were well aware that unless their guns were required, the romance of war would be confined to the defence of Durban.

A certain official prejudice appeared to exist against sending these powerful guns to the front, and it might reasonably be asked why. The theory of the field gun had suddenly changed from the accepted idea. The advent of the 4'7 gun especially had been rapid—a creation since the war began—and an innovation as yet untried in the field. The Boers, however, had heavy long-range guns, and had used them to advantage ; the British, therefore, could hardly submit to artillery inferiority with a remedial weapon, possessing even greater qualities than its rival, at the disposal of those responsible for the conduct of the war. Moreover, there is strong official reluctance, and for very excellent reasons, against employing a naval force on shore, except under urgent circumstances. Modern naval warfare has enforced an extensive technical and practical system of training, requiring years to perfect in the individual officer and man ; and a plethora of trained personnel does not exist. Moreover, the depletion of the crews of a squadron is always undesirable in this age of new diplomacy and sudden strokes of international policy. The duty assigned to the Naval Brigade at Graspan was unquestionably allotted by the general, and accepted by the brigade, as a coveted mark of distinction ; but the exploit, if viewed solely from the standpoint of economics, was an error of judgment under the circumstances existing. A Terrible in action, manned with an untrained scratch crew, no matter how patriotic, would surely go to its doom. Efficiency in working the hydraulic and electric fittings of the guns, mastery of the intricacies of the mechanical torpedo, and knowledge of how to manipulate other scientific instruments of war, are the province of the twentieth-century seaman.  The press-gang system of the Nelsonian period has given place to a healthy patriotic volunteer movement, as this war has sufficed to show ; but the science of war has reached such a high pitch in the Navy, that it would fare badly if its fighting personnel became dependent on impulsive or spontaneous volunteering for supplying the demands of war. Individual resolution, white hot with the fire of patriotism, seems capable of performing anything; but science has demolished the prevalent idea and belief that there exists an arbitrary way by which any one can quickly adapt himself to every situation. Hence it is obvious why it is impolitic to employ a naval force outside its sphere of service, except in the last resort.

General Buller proceeded to 'Maritzburg the same day, and at once assumed active control of the delicate war machinery. His activity was soon evidenced by the receipt of telegraphic instructions next day, wherein he requested Captain Scott to despatch to the front, without delay, a naval force with six guns.

"Entrain two 4'7-inch guns and four 12-pounder guns, with full crews and necessary staff, a large supply of ammunition, stores, and camp equipment, by 6 p.m. to-day, November 27th," was the order received in the town camp on this quiet Sunday afternoon from the commandant. By five o'clock all arrangements had been completed, and the guns and warlike stores placed on board a special train.

The electrical order had been electrically responded to, and executed with a dogged determination that nothing less than a miracle should now step between the order and the object of the brigade's ambition—the front.


1. "Life in Natal under Martial Law," South Africa, May 10th, 1902.
2 Dr. Conan Doyle, "Great Boer War," pp. 135, 136.

Only registered users can post comments