By T Phelan
Dublin M H Gill & Son Ltd, 1913


Chapter I Week ending 21st October, 1899
Chapter II Week ending 28th October, 1899
Chapter III Week ending 4th November, 1899
Chapter IV Week ending 11th November, 1899
Chapter V Week ending 18th November, 1899
Chapter VI Week ending 25th November, 1899
Chapter VII Week ending 2nd December, 1899
Chapter VIII Week ending 9th December, 1899
Chapter IX Week ending 16th December, 1899
Chapter X Week ending 23rd December, 1899
Chapter XI Week ending 30th December, 1899
Chapter XII Week ending 6th January, 1900
Chapter XIII Week ending 13th January, 1900
Chapter XIV Week ending 20th January, 1900
Chapter XV Week ending 27th January, 1900
Chapter XVI Week ending 3rd February, 1900
Chapter XVII Week ending 10th February, 1900
Chapter XVIII Week ending 17th February, 1900


The famous Ultimatum had gone forth to the world. War had come at last. We, in Kimberley, were in for it—though happily unconscious of our destiny until it was revealed by the gradations of time. Nothing awful was anticipated. The future was veiled. The knowledge of what was to come was brought home to us by a gradual process that kept us permanently sane. Dull Kimberley was to be enlivened in a manner that made us wish it were dull again. We felt it from the first—the sense of imprisonment—the deprivation of liberty. But that was all, we thought—all that we should be called to endure. Nobody could leave Kimberley for a little while; it was awkward, certainly; but nothing more. How long would the Siege last? "About a week" was a favoured illusion; until reflective minds put our period of probation at a fortnight. But the higher critics shook their heads, and added—another seven days. Three weeks was made the maximum by general, dogmatic consent. Nobody ventured beyond it; in fact, nobody dared to. Suspicion would be apt to fall upon the man who suggested a month. Feeling ran high, and as we all felt the limits of our confinement narrow enough already, we entertained no wish to have them made narrower still, by knocking our heads against the stone walls of the gaol. Not then. There came a time, alas! when we reflected with a sigh upon the probability of our rations being more regular and assured if we broke a window, or the law in some way, and gave ourselves up. For the nonce, however, three weeks would pass, and with them all our woes. The idea of eighteen weeks occurred to nobody; it would have been too farcical, too puerile. That starvation must have killed us long ere the period had fled, would have been our axiom, if it were pertinent to the issue, when the 'pros' and 'cons' of the situation were being eagerly discussed on the opening days of a Siege that was to send the fame of the Diamond City farther than ever did its diamonds. A few weeks would terminate the trouble; and if, in the interim, we ran short of trifles, like salt or pepper, well—we would bear it for sake of the Flag. Kimberley is a British stronghold, with a loyal population imbued with a fine sense of the invincibility of the British army. Many people were surprised to find that they could descant sincerely and patriotically upon the might and glories of the Empire. Even the Irish Nationalist seemed to feel that it took a nation upon whose territory the sun itself could not set to subjugate his native land; and he was moved to remind his Anglo-Saxon mates that the absent-minded beggars of the Emerald Isle had contributed to the promotion of daytime all night.

The Diamond City was in certain respects well adapted to withstand a siege. The old residents delighted to call it a city. Newcomers, who had Continental ideas on the subject, inclined to think the term a misnomer, and a reflection upon Europe and America. But although its buildings were not high, nor its houses very majestic, Kimberley was a rich place, and a large place, with a good white population and a better coloured one. It had its theatre, and it had its Mayor. Arrogant greenhorns were soon made to cease winking when we talked of the "city"; for Kimberley was a city (after a fashion), and the most important centre in the Cape Colony. The young Uitlander (just out) who described it as "a funny place, dear mother; all the houses are made of tin, and all the dogs are called 'voet sak,'" was more cynical than truthful.

The numerous debris heaps surrounding the city made excellent fortifications, and it was not surprising that the Boers put, and kept, on view the better part of their valour only, when from their own well-chosen positions they looked across at our clay Kopjes. To have attacked or taken Kimberley, they would have been obliged to traverse a flat, open country; and they have an intelligent antipathy to rash tactics of that sort, when fighting a foe numerically stronger than themselves. They were reputed to believe that Providence was on their side; it was even stated that their ardour to "rush" Kimberley knew no bounds, until it was cooled by the restraining influence of General Cronje. That astute leader, though fully cognisant of the virtues of his people, had a respect for "big battalions," and thought that the virtue designated patience would best meet the necessities of the situation. Accordingly, he and his army, well primed with coffee, lay entrenched around Kimberley, in the fond hope of starving us into submission. Artillery of heavy calibre was utilised to enliven the process—with what result the world knows.

And how were we prepared to meet the attentions of this well-equipped and watchful enemy? We had a few seven-pound guns capable of hurling walnuts that cracked thousands of yards short of the Boer positions; and a Maxim or two, respected by the enemy, but easily steered clear of. Of what avail were these against the potent engines of destruction on the other side? And as for men; with great difficulty, and by dint of much pressure, the authorities had been persuaded to send us five hundred (of the North Lancashire Regiment, and Royal Engineers) under command of Colonel Kekewich (who constituted himself Czar, in the name of the Queen)—a small total with which to defend a city—"a large, straggling city, thirteen miles in circumference," as Lord Roberts subsequently observed, that he could hardly have thought it possible to defend so long and so successfully with the forces at our command, that is to say, with five thousand men; for such was the strength of the garrison when the shop boys, the clerks, the merchants, and the artisans had stepped into the gap with their rifles.

In anticipation of trouble, a Town Guard had already been formed when the Federal forces invaded the Cape. The noisy and discordant hooters of the mines were to signal the approach of the foe, and to intimate to the members of the Guard that they were to proceed to the redoubts of their respective Sections to prepare a greeting. Over at the Sanatorium, facing the suburb of Beaconsfield, the movements of the enemy were being closely watched. A conning tower soared high above the De Beers mine, from which coign of vantage a keen eye swept the horizon for signs of their advance. At the Reservoir, a look-out was on the qui vive. The Infantry were encamped in a central position, ready for instant despatch to wherever their services might be needed most. The Kimberley Regiment of Volunteers had turned out—to a man—for Active Service. War was certain; its dogs, indeed, were already loosed. The Boers, by way of preliminary, had been cutting telegraph wires, tearing up rails, blowing up culverts, and had taken possession of an armoured train at Kraaipan. Our defences were being strengthened on all sides. The enemy appeared to be massing in the vicinity of Scholtz's Nek. Such was the condition of things on the fourteenth of October (1899). Next day (Sunday) the siege of Kimberley had begun.