a rebuff—Sir Walter Hely-Hutchinson—kind friends— claimants for a throne—Howick—more about the refugees—news from the Free State—I am offered a commission in Thorneycroft's—more official red-tape—I leave for the front.
Feb. 22.—We got to Maritzburg on Monday morning at 9 a.m., after a very comfortable journey, due no doubt to the free pass the manager of the railway gave us and a reserved sleeping-carriage. We put up at the Imperial Hotel, which could hardly boast the same reputation as a hostelry that the Marine and Ocean View at Durban and the Mount Nelson at Cape Town did. After a bit of breakfast I hurried off to see the commandant of the town (Colonel Martin of Omdurman fame), to get our passes to the front. Colonel Martin referred me to General Wolfe Murray, of the lines of communication staff, and to him I presented Lord Roberts's letter. " I cannot pass you," he said, " without telegraphing for General Buller's permission." Here was a facer! In vain I remonstrated, -and pointed out the fact that Lord Roberts had left the letter open in order that we might have no difficulty in getting through the lines of communication. It was no use ; and here I am, five days after General Murray had telegraphed, without any reply from the front — an enforced prisoner in the capital of Natal, and not 100 miles from Ladysmith. It is too annoying.
After this little episode I went to call on the Governor. Sir Walter Hely - Hutchinson was at home, and received me most kindly. It was in his house that " His Excellency the Governor " was written, the second play I ever acted in professionally, and we therefore had a mutual topic of conversation in Captain Marshall, the author, who was formerly the Governor's aide-de-camp. Government House is a very charming one. There are nice gardens, lawn-tennis courts, and new stables, which the Governor takes almost as great an interest in as he does in flowers. I lunched and dined with him on Monday; and when the Durban branch of the Absent - minded Beggar Fund is started, Sir Walter has gladly granted it his patronage.
There is not much to see in Maritzburg, but one meets a great many interesting people, all anxious to make one's visit a pleasant one. Amongst these I have to thank Mr Payn, the deputy mayor, for a little dinner he gave us, when I had the pleasure of meeting the premier (Colonel Hime), and Mr Clark, head of the college here, and District Grand Master of the masonic craft. I also met the permanent Under-Secretary for the Colony (Mr Bird), and Mr Loram, the Castle Company's manager, who very kindly took us out to Howick on Wednesday to see the falls, which are magnificent. Howick is a small village on the main line to Pretoria, about 17 miles from Maritzburg, but it took us over an hour and a half to get there.
The train has to wind its way like a serpent first east, then north, now west, now south, up this hilly line, the gradient of which is something like 1 in 30. At one moment Pietermaritzburg was far astern of us, at another it seemed to be just ahead; but it is a magnificent country, and the landscape quite the best in Natal. On our way there we passed a number of mounted Zulus on their way into Maritzburg, where the court was sitting to judge between the rival claimants for the chieftainship of the tribe, which had become vacant by the death of Tetoluku. The legal business in this line is very good out here —indeed, it must almost rival Edinburgh—but blacks have to pay their counsel's fees in advance, which in some eases amount to £200. They willingly abide by the decision of the court, which is composed of three white magistrates.
We passed on our way up to Howick one of the largest wattle plantations in the world. The bark is in enormous demand for tanning purposes, and the wood is chiefly used for building and pit props. Just now the wood is fetching about £2 a ton. You would be surprised to see the wonderful green fertility of this country compared with the Karoo district of Cape Colony; and one of the greatest attractions was the extraordinarily brilliant assortment of butterflies. I have never seen such beautiful specimens, and they must certainly rival those of India. I met Mr Sutton and Dr Wylie up in Howick. The former, who used to be the town treasurer, told me the Government had commandeered his waggons (with bullocks and drivers) for 35s. apiece per diem. He had no idea where they were, or if he would ever see them again, but the price seemed a fair one. We reached home, after a capital picnic, at about five o'clock.
The Mayor of Maritzburg has been locked up in Ladysmith ever since the siege began, so Mr Payn has had all the onerous duties of mayoralty to perform, and is very popular in the town. I had a long talk with him, as chairman of the Refugee Relief Committee in Maritzburg; and though I have already dealt with the subject from the Durban point of view, I think it well to note how great the distress was here, and how much assistance was still needed. The returns again show an increase of refugees on the previous week; and though the total number was only 3043 as compared with 5000 at Durban, that number was almost entirely composed of women and children—there being only 370 able-bodied men on the relief roll. Here again, owing to lack of material, there was practically no work to be found for these men, and I am sorry to say that, even if there had been, it was unlikely all would accept it at the trifling remuneration they would get. I am in no sympathy with this class of individual; but we are a nation of tender hearts, and we have a duty to perform in sheltering and feeding these homeless and starving people. Maritzburg, too, was very unfortunate in being unable to supply anything like the adequate shelter Durban had been able to do for the majority. The expense, therefore, of hiring accommodation was no small one ; but the Relief Committee started a little cheap restaurant, where those who wished to be fed, and well fed, could obtain free meals in lieu of the Is. a-day which they were allowed. The local collections announced in print amounted to only £800, but much private assistance had been forthcoming ; and the fact must not be lost sight of that, situated as Maritzburg was, so close to the scene of operations, robbed as she had undoubtedly been of her chief trade with the Transvaal and northern Natal, and supplying as she had done enormous assistance to the Imperial troops by means of the Natal Volunteers and other auxiliary forces, she was in a far worse position than the sea-port town of Durban.
My day was spent in writing and looking over the chief places of interest, of which there are not many, if I except the hospitals. It was not very hot at Maritzburg, and the Victoria Club was very cool and comfortable, and the centre of all social reunion and gossip. Apart from the military life, which was naturally a stirring one, the town seemed very quiet, as almost all Government and town contracts had been cancelled for want of material from the north. The stock exchange and general merchants seemed to monopolise all the business there was, and in the evening billiards and cards were the chief amusements. The 'ricksha men had a busy though rather hard time of it, as the town is very hilly, and seemed to be inundated with Indian men and women, who, with the Zulus, did all the hard, dirty, and unskilled work. Bullock waggons, with spans of eight, sixteen, and sometimes thirty - two oxen, were seen everywhere, and the ponies were certainly not bought or sold for their looks ! The town-hall, which was burnt down nearly two years ago, was in course of rebuilding; and the Legislative Assembly buildings, where Parliament meets, had been converted into an auxiliary military hospital, and an excellent one it made. The buildings were irregular, and not very imposing, but the roads for the most part were admirably well kept. The cemetery was, alas! almost outgrowing its limit, and every day saw a funeral of some poor soldier who had succumbed to his wounds. Flags were being overhauled at street doors, in readiness for the news of the relief of Ladysmith.
Mr Hunter, the general manager of the Natal Railway, had just returned from taking the first train into Colenso since September.
He told me two dead horses were found in the booking-office, that the bridge had been completely destroyed, but that he hoped to have a trestle bridge finished over the Tugela in about three weeks. He said there was a sharp artillery duel in progress while he was there yesterday, and it is more than likely we shall be in Ladysmith before Sunday. We have just got the first news of the great battle near the Modeler river, when Cronje's retreat was cut off. It is graphically written, and though no definite result is yet to hand, there seems little doubt that Cronje is cornered and must die or surrender, but I fear it has been an expensive fight for us. Richard Harding Davis, the accredited ' Daily Mail' correspondent with Buller's force, has just passed through from England covered with medals—what for I do not know—and I have put him on to a chap where he can get a horse. Meanwhile I sit patiently waiting either for a telegram from Buller saying we may come up as onlookers, or from Lord Dundonald that he will take me as galloper. Failing this, I am up a tree, and must either return to Cape Town or make a trek into Basutoland on my own account. I wonder which it will be.
Feb. 25.—Late last night I received a telegram from Colonel Thorneycroft offering me a commission in his regiment, but too late, unfortunately, to catch the last train. I immediately went to General Wolfe Murray, who snubbed me a second time by saying he could not grant me a pass without confirmation from the staff officer, as Colonel Thorneycroft had no power to give commissions. More red - tape ! Mad with annoyance, I wired Thorneycroft I was still detained, and got the General to telegraph to the staff officer with Buller to confirm. Meanwhile I set about preparing for my departure, determined in any case to get through somehow. The joy of going to the front was quite eclipsed by the honour of a commission in Thorneycroft's. Early this morning a telegram came to me from Lord Dundonald, " You have been given a commission in Thorneycroft's; report yourself to him immediately." At the same time General Wolfe Murray sent me down a telegram from General Buller saying, "Rosslyn may proceed to the front on condition he does not correspond with any paper " ! But I did not care much for this, seeing that I was going to take my little share in the fighting, and'my only dread was that Ladysmith might be relieved before I got up to the front. The day seemed to drag fearfully till the night mail left; and having wired Colonel Stevenson to send me up a horse from the remount department, I started full of happiness for Chieveley, where I arrived at 6 a.m. on Monday morning, February 26.