patriotic deserters—Port Elizabeth—disappointment— East London—at Durban—Major Macormac—red-tape in the R.A.M.C.—jinricksha-men—refugees and relief—the grand seigneurs of Durban—David Hunter —the Maine hospital-ship—the Nubia.
Feb. 12.—We dropped anchor at Port Elizabeth yesterday afternoon, and to our regret were informed that we must stay till the next evening, as we had a great deal of cargo to take on board for East London. It was 8 a.m. on Saturday morning when the Kinfauns Castle left Cape Town, her departure being-delayed by the desertion of two firemen who showed a desire to enlist in some irregular force and in a very irregular manner! They were promptly handed over by the authorities, and though yesterday both were on board, one has since succeeded in making his escape ! We were not many passengers when we left, and no one of great interest, if I exclude Mr Lewis, who is one of Mr Rhodes's political agents in Cape Colony, and two young Meyricks (brothers of the one in the Gordons), and a Mr Walker (from Yorkshire), who were on their way to try and find employment with Thorneycroft's Horse.
I spoke elsewhere of the ridiculous and unfair system of raising money for sports and then spending two-thirds of it on the ship's band and other servants of the Company. It appears that this ship brought out the managing director of the Castle Steam Packet Company, Mr Mirrielees, that he was elected chairman of the Sports Committee, and that he allowed the same system to be carried out, whereby a very large proportion of the £100 collected went for the purpose I am so strongly opposed to. Really it is a disgrace, and now that this Castle-Union amalgamation has been effected, it is high time some notice were taken of this iniquitous practice.
Port Elizabeth did not scorn a very imposing place, and the bay was full of shipping and activity, and no doubt it is a thriving town. It is forty-eight hours by rail to Cape Town, and barely thirty by sea, While in harbour my chief amusement was in watching the Kaffir passengers, of whom we had a good number. They were too funny to watch, and seemed a cheery lot of fellows, while their dress, to say the least of it, was eccentric. One man was very jealous because I wanted to take a snapshot of his wife! but they appeared very fond of a cigarette.
It was here we got the news of Buller having again been compelled to relinquish the positions he had occupied, and it seemed a hopeless task for him to try and get through to Ladysmith unless a very strong move on Bloemfontein relieved him of some of his opposing forces. Colonel Colville of the little Brigade, who has been commandant at Naauwpoort, came on board on his way to join his regiment, which has lost a good many officers and men in the last fight.
I went on shore in a tug, and it wasn't the pleasantest of experiences, as a south-west gale made a mackintosh rather more than a necessity. I wanted to cable a birthday message home, but had to take it first to the military authorities to get it vised ! I found Port Elizabeth a clean and bright little place, with large broad streets and squares, and full of fine buildings. It stands on the slope of a hill, with its back to the south, from which quarter most of their bad weather comes, and high up is what is called the "residential" part of the town. Everywhere prosperity is written, but in a chat I had with the manager of the Bank of Africa he told me that the ordinary business was absolutely at a standstill, and that what I saw was entirely a new kind of trade, and due solely to the war. It was the most British town of the two I had seen. At the Cape black men and Dutch names abounded, but in Port Elizabeth one could hardly find any name or sign on shop or tavern which was not English, or prefixed by the word " Mac." The electric tram ran everywhere ; and they had, as at Cape Town, an excellent method of watering their streets (so necessary in this dusty country) by means of a huge water-tank, which ran by electricity up and down the tram lines. The Wilts, Derbys, and Welsh regiments formed the military depot, but I had no time to visit the base hospital, which accommodated 100 patients, and was then full of men who had been incapacitated by enteric fever. Port Elizabeth forms a point in the base of a triangle of which Cape Town is the corresponding point and De Aar the apex, but it seems incongruous that the railway system should necessitate journeying via the apex in order to reach either of the corners of the base. Time will probably remedy this defect.
I called on behalf of the ' Daily Mail' to thank Mr Paper for the excellent result of a recitation of the Kipling poem which was given last week, whereby £36, 5s. was sent to the Absent-minded Beggar Fund. Then I got back to the ship, and we sailed for East London about 7 p.m. It was quite an exciting stay of forty-eight hours, as we succeeded in rescuing in the nick of time a half-swamped sailing-boat and her crew, who, caught in the gale, could not make the harbour; and we also captured a 30-lb. Cape salmon from the side of the ship. I heard here of poor Freddy Tait's death. He had already been slightly wounded, but went back to his work nearly two months ago, only to meet a soldier's death. I could realise the sorrow of his many friends in old Scotland, who lose not only a popular soldier but their champion amateur golfer.
Feb. 14.—To-day is St Valentine's Day, but the only communications I have received here at East London are two telegrams—one from Murray Gourlay at Durban, telling me the Absent-minded Beggar organisation was practically complete, and only awaited my approval; the second from Cape Town, saying a cable had been received from London cancelling the authority to form a branch at Durban ! Truly a pretty state of affairs ! I am by no means in the best of moods, as I came out to go to the front, but gave up so much time to this Relief Fund, in order to see it started in all perfection, that I asked Lord Roberts for a letter to Sir Redvers Buller, that I might be close at hand when the rest of my work at Durban was complete.
I wanted, of course, to go up to Modder or Orange river. However, I have to make the best of a bad job, which is still more complicated by the arrival of Richard Harding Davis at Cape Town, who, I am told, is coming up to Buller as 'Daily Mail' representative.
It is a chilly kind of day, with a drizzling rain and mist, almost obscuring East London from the ship's view. There is a nasty "bar" to get across, but, once over, a trip up the Buffalo river is said to be well worth doing. All I could dimly see through the mist was a large camp of refugees, living on the bounty of this country and the charity of the Lord Mayor's Fund.
Feb. 15.—We are just coming in sight of Durban, and since daybreak have been moving up a really beautiful coast-line, far more fertile than anything I have hitherto seen. Perhaps the beauty lies in its grass, its wooded valleys, and the patches of scrub which relieve the eternal monotony of a rock-bound sand desert. The third stage of my journey will soon be closing, as I hope to leave Durban on Saturday or Sunday, stop a day at Pietermaritzburg, and then I shall be with the troops at the Tugela river, and the gossipy and frivolous life on board ship and in Cape Town will have to be succeeded by the stern realities of actual warfare. I am just going to be lowered over the ship's side in a basket !
Feb. 16.—I am up with the Durban sun at 5.30 a.m. A handy bathroom has freshened me up, and I am sitting on the balcony of the Marine Hotel in my shirt-sleeves, while the Maine hospital ship is apparently lighting her fires for breakfast as she lies, the centre of attraction, in the inner bay or harbour which this quaint and rather stuffy hotel overlooks. A Kaffir boy, with two milk-pails on his shoulder, is making his way towards some grazing cows ; half a dozen men are wading up to their middle as they drag a fishing-net through the still rippling waters; the church clock is chiming three-quarters after five; and a noisy steamer is announcing her arrival off the Bluff to the Customs' people, who, I am sure, would prefer a little longer rest after their increased labours during the past months. Anon an early bird like myself is being drawn along the esplanade in a jinricksha by a feathered Zulu ; and as the sun rises quickly in the distant east, I see around me the wooded shores of what I believe must be one of the gems of Nature's creations.
We cast anchor yesterday about 2 p.m., but it was quite 4 before we were able to get away in the tug from the Kinfauns Castle, and meanwhile Murray Gourlay, who came off on our arrival, had told me all the news he could possibly think of. The official intimation that Lord Roberts had entered the Free State did not come as a great surprise, as we had anticipated an early move on his part when he left Cape Town, but I was very sorry to hear the rumour that Buller would probably not try and relieve Ladysmith any further unless the Boers withdrew their forces (or a large part of them) to face Roberts's advance. There are all sorts of wild rumours here, but the first man I met on coming into the hotel was Mr Hutton of Renter's, who had just succeeded in making a thrilling and exciting escape from Ladysmith, where we learn they can hold out for some weeks yet. Another story is that the Boers have crossed into Zulu and Portuguese territory, are presenting English cattle from Natal to the Zulus to get them to rise against us, and that two of our resident commissioners have been compelled to fly for their lives. The last " potin " is that the Portuguese have sent troops to meet the Boers, and insist on their right to their country remaining neutral during this war. Of course, if these rumours are true (and the former probably is, as Bethune's Horse have been despatched to stop the Boers getting round our right flank), the Boers have again shown their intention of putting to the winds all the usages, customs, and treaties which international law has made respected by civilised countries.
Gourlay took me to the club, and got me elected a temporary member. He himself has got a room there — and very handy it is for meals and writing letters, though the hotels have a cunning and expensive way of doing business by charging you so much a day, inclusive! My first introduction to Durban is a very cheery one. Here I am among a really English colony, everybody anxious to do his best for any visitor, and to try all they can to make your stay a pleasant one. I went with Gourlay to see Major Macormac, who is the senior officer in charge of the Army Medical Corps here, and it is a treat to find a man with every detail at his finger-tips, so unimbued with red tape, and so anxious to welcome any real additional assistance. " I will do everything in my power to assist you," he said; " and," he added, " if you do found a branch of the Absent-minded Beggar Fund, it will come at a very opportune moment. There is the greatest need for its assistance here in Durban." I had a long look over the stores in his charge, his medicine-chests and boxes of chemical and surgical appliances, and his ambulance - waggons, all ready to be despatched to the front at a moment's notice. Among these was a patent stretcher-carriage, very ingenious yet simple in device. It has proved so handy at the front that the military authorities have ordered £1000 worth of them. The invention is Major Macormac's own, and it is called the Macormac - Brook stretcher-carriage. I should think the Government had a real treasure in this genial, kind-hearted, and obliging Irishman.
I determined after my interview, and after I had heard of the welcome the Fund would get from all sorts and conditions of people in Durban,—thanks to Murray Gourlay's work,— to wire again asking that the proposal to have a branch here should be carried out. Colonel Young of the Red Cross Society has gone away for the day to Stanger to see some tea plantations, but I am to meet him this evening and ascertain if we shall be clashing with his work if the scheme is carried out. All the goods of the Red Cross Society have gone astray—a very serious loss for them; but no doubt they will turn up again. I think Colonel Young will probably fall in with my view, and be glad that the ' Daily Mail' Fund should take charge of all the wounded soldiers going home from here. I am very strongly of opinion that the formation of this branch is a necessity. None of you know the difficulties put in the way of the doctors who may wish to supply extra luxuries to our wounded. If the doctors want something additional, they have to state in writing their reason, the name of the patient, the quantity required, what the patient is suffering from, and so forth, and then it has to be forwarded to the Principal Medical Officer for his sanction,—naturally a long and tedious modus operandi. Therefore a generous, liberal relief fund, free from all such restrictions, can at the manager's request immediately supply the medical officer with anything he requires. Those at home will never realise the enormity of the work, and if Cape Town is to do it single-handed it will find that it is more than it can cope with successfully, especially when the transports lie far out in Table Bay, and only then for a few hours.
We have martial law here, so canteens are closed at 9, and all have to be indoors by 11 p.m., unless furnished with a special permit. I found the Golden Eagle here when we arrived, and soon after saw Sir Samuel Scott, with whom I dine on board to-night. Lady Sophie Scott and her brother are oil board too. Sir Samuel Scott is putting up two or three invalided officers on his yacht, and giving them every care till they can get up to the front again. I shall have to return on shore early if the following story is true. A well - known Johannesburg habitue had been dining on board some ship, and did not land till after 11. He was challenged by a policeman, and asked for his pass. Not having one, and having to choose between a jail or a comfortable bed, he successfully bluffed the policeman by saying, " What! you, a special constable, been here for years, and not know the medical authorities !" The policeman, much abashed, apologised, saluted, and withdrew ! Needless to say, the "bluffer" was not a medical authority.
I have just heard the news of the relief of Kimberley. We all believe it to be true here, and there is great jubilation. What a splendid piece of work on French's part!
The chief means of conveyance in this town is by jinricksha. When I first got into one I thought I was going to be tipped out backwards ; but that is impossible, owing to a little safety-wheel at the back. Our human horse was only showing his delight at having got a fare, and imitating a plunging animal between the shafts. The "horses " are all Zulus, some with horns on their heads to represent buffaloes, others with feathery turbans; some with a single horn (evidently denoting rank), and others with large single feathers stuck into their thick curly cocoanuts. Some wear bangles, others earrings and anklets; and when waiting for a fare they soon recognise a stranger, and go into all sorts of antics, shouting, jumping, and whistling to attract his attention to their special 'ricksha. Once in, you are very comfortable, and these men run for hours at a jog-trot, barefooted, resting the 'ricksha now on one arm, now on the other; but few can stand the strain many years. However, most of them, having made their pile, go back again to their kraals to find a squaw, and I suppose their pica-ninnies are brought up to earn their living in a similar manner. One of these Zulu 'ricksha-men wore a pair of wings, indicating that he was swift as a bird — at least, he called himself Inyoni (the bird). Another advertised himself as a good horse by wearing bead anklets, about a foot in depth, which, every time he moved, gave out a rustling sound something resembling the sh-sh-sh of a puffing engine ! They are very jolly, contented fellows, and salute you by holding their hand over their head, with the first finger extended upwards; and whenever they see a picture of the Queen, they say with the deepest reverence the most honoured word in their vocabulary, "Bayete."
Feb. 17.—I was compelled to stop writing yesterday just as I had reached a very important problem which was not only trying the resources of, but causing the gravest anxiety to, our South African colonies in general. I allude to the refugees from the Transvaal, and the disbursement of the enormous sums which public charity has placed at the disposal of the authorities for their relief. Sir Alfred Milner, who was the President of the Fund, issued a warning letter to the Natal Branch intimating that very shortly there would be insufficient funds to carry out the complete organisation of the work, and that a stop would have to be put on the relief granted to able-bodied men and women. I had such opportunities afforded me here by the Refugee Committee of inspecting the " states," and listening to the views of several men of the highest position, that I can, I think, put the desperate condition of affairs in Natal before you in a very few lines. Since the Refugee Relief Committee was inaugurated those who required to be assisted had very nearly doubled in numbers. Over 5100 men, women, and children were being housed and fed in Durban; while in Pietermaritzburg the number was well over 2000. Each man and woman was allowed shelter and Is. a-day, and each child 6d. a-day. Something like £900 was the amount expended in Durban in carrying this out during the week I was there, and unless further money was supplied at once from London or Cape Town, there was only £450 left to carry on the work of relief! 1 have no doubt that the request which was made for more funds was at once complied with. The male portion of the 5100 consisted of only 1500, or rather less than one-third, but of course many of them had wives and families dependent on them. The refugees were an extraordinarily mixed community, including quite a well-to-do class, who were probably earning £6 a-week in Johannesburg, and whose wives were only attending to the usual household duties. It also included the very riff-raff of the world—the disgrace of every town on the face of the earth,—men who live by loafing, and who, to use an expression I heard here, are "born lazy." Without entering into the merits of their several cases, I was brought face to face with the most difficult side of the problem. How long was this relief to be extended—in fact, how long could it be extended ? and if it were stopped, what was to become of these destitute people ? Further, how far was a country justified in supporting such desperate cases without obtaining some return for their money in the shape of work ? Yet again— where was work or employment to be found, and, if found, how much reliance could be put on the gratitude as well as on the skill of this class of labourer ? If you ponder over these questions you will find them conundrums difficult of solution.
The dirtiest and hardest kind of labour is performed at a very low rate by black men, and though the town authorities tried hard, they could not find work for those of the refugees who were willing to work. Moreover, if work had been found, it was exceedingly doubtful if any but a very small percentage would have worked; and suppose they were willing to work, there would have been a still smaller number who could have done the task imposed on them, without necessitating the entire re-doing of the work by skilled labourers. There was absolutely no occupation here for them, unless it were the formation of a road from the harbour along the coast, which would have been of no use or advantage to the town, but only to the military authorities, and which, if authorised and paid for by Government, would probably have necessitated a subsequent complete relaying and an unnecessary waste of money. Look again at the other side of the problem, and suppose that food and lodging had been withdrawn from the sufferers, you would have found the town swamped by a hungry crowd, whose empty stomachs would have been the very first incentive to crime. The question therefore resolved itself into, Was it not better to pay them 1s. a-day for doing nothing till the war was over, rather than risk the disturbance of the peace by a starving multitude ? Was it not better for the Government here, or the Government at home, to vote and control a sum of money for this purpose, rather than waste 2s. 6d. a-day on cheap and bad labour?
I myself was disgusted to see with my own eyes able-bodied men lying on the stretcher-beds in the drill-hall in the middle of the day, reading newspapers or snoring soundly. I was still more disgusted to hear of the thanklessness of the recipients of this charitable offering. Some men were employed as stretcher-bearers, but the majority had been sent back again as invalids or incapables. But the time had come when not only could no more work be found by the town - council, but the enormously steady increase in the number of applicants was causing the greatest anxiety for the future among the town and local authorities. You wonder at the increase of the refugees? It was due to the fact that many brought sufficient clothes and money to keep themselves for three months, and were then compelled, much against their will, to ask for help. There was no doubt that the applicants would continue increasing ; there was no doubt that it was a scandal that public charity should support people who would be locked up if found begging in London; but what was to be done ? Would the Government find a transport and convey many back to their friends and relations in England? This was much to be desired, as was a Government grant to assist the public charity.
The management and distribution of the funds in Durban was admirable ; but organisation must fail when money is not forthcoming. So far Durban had subscribed £3000 to this particular fund, and the Lord Mayor had been responsible for donations amounting to £17,500. Yet after thirteen weeks there was only £450 left! I hope something was done at home, and that the rich and generous again put their hands into their pockets for the benefit of these refugees. I know Sir Alfred Milner did all in his power, with the assistance of Sir Walter Hely-Hutchinson and the various committees, to cope with the difficulties, but his warning message showed only too well how grave the situation had become.( This was written at Durban, and I have no subsequent details).
To turn to pleasanter subjects—I have met some of the " grand seigneurs" of Durban, and most gratefully shall I remember their many courtesies. First and foremost was Mr David Hunter and his brother James, both Edinburgh men, who years ago will be remembered as occupying high positions in \Vaverley Station. Now the former is the manager of the Natal Government Railways and his brother the assistant-manager. More than that, David, the elder, is recognised as one of the shrewdest and cleverest men in any civic or harbour capacity. In politics quite an old-fashioned Scotch Gladstonian, he is also a strong advocate of teetotalism,—and that for the moment reminds me I have never yet seen a case of drunkenness in South Africa. Of course, it is illegal to supply the blacks with any intoxicating liquor; and I am told that, curiously enough, when any black is drunk, he almost invariably calls himself a Christian Kaffir! During all this war Mr Hunter has been invaluable to the military authorities, and there is little doubt that his services will be fully recognised by the Queen at a later date.( He is now Sir David Hunter.) For instance, it was in the Government railway works that he was able to make Captain Scott's now famous gun - carriages which have played so important a part in this campaign. He was instrumental in assisting the Army Medical Corps in making stretchers, stretcher-carriages, iron and wooden splints, and a multitude of other articles; while the transport and ambulance service between Durban and the front has been magnificently carried out under his watchful eye. I hope his old friend Mr Paton, now superintendent at Waverley Station, Edinburgh, will see the few lines I have written above about a man whose popularity and genuine success have been so thoroughly recognised by every one in Durban. Then again I have met a self-made millionaire in the person of Mr Greenacre, who, as a member of the Legislative Council and a town authority, has played no insignificant part in the affairs of Natal.
Of course, the chief meeting-place here is the Club, where gossip, cards, billiards, and meals play an important part. There you meet Mr Watt, the manager of the Bank of Africa (by the way, a Kirkcaldy man), anxious to extend his hospitality, and half-a-dozen millionaires all dining together at another table. The commandant of the town (Captain Seott of the Terrible) can be seen talking to the chief medical officer from the Maine, while elsewhere the press censor, relieved by his assistant for a few minutes, is enjoying a quiet hour of relaxation. He could tell you some interesting experiences during the war, but of course his department is as secret as the grave, though I hope that he is talking big when he suggests that he has made a valuable collection from people's letters. Brokers, merchants, visitors, soldiers, and sailors are all welcome. Here and there the Indian servants glide quietly in and out with whiskies and sodas or lemon-squashes, while the head steward regards the whole as sedately as he did twenty-two years ago. It is a comfortable, cheery little club-house, but it is soon to be replaced by a more commodious building. I strongly recommend the Marine Hotel to any visitor.
Yacht-racing and flat-racing are going on as usual, and you might never realise there was a great war raging within 200 miles of you, were it not that in the harbour the Red Cross flag is flying over four ships which are full of our wounded soldiers, and that the town is under military law and a press censor. I am dining on the Maine to-night, where Jack Churchill, very slightly wounded, is being nursed by his mother; and I may hear more stories of how Spion Kop would have been a great victory if only the advantage gained had been followed up, instead of the troops being withdrawn after the worst was over. But these are secrets, and I fear the censor!
We left Durban by the 2.12 a.m. train on Monday morning, after having paid the Maine a visit the previous day. Lady Randolph Churchill showed me over the wards, and everything was beautifully clean and comfortable; but she is not an ideal ship for a hospital, as there is so much lumber on her decks that the men get little space and opportunity to move about in the fresh air, and her 'tween decks are very low—so low, indeed, that a man of six feet two inches cannot pass through with any comfort. Of course she was a cattle boat, and it reflects great credit on those who took her in charge that the work done and the money spent on her have made her as comfortable as she is. Miss Warrender and Lady Randolph both personally superintended the work, and the wounded officers as well as the men must have had a very good time of it. I saw young Jack Churchill, very pleased with his wound, which was only slight. He had done capitally during the short time he was at the front.
You must be tired of hospitals and refugees, but there was practically nothing else to see, and I cannot leave the subject without paying Durban, and Colonel Hodder in particular, a special compliment on the way they had fitted up the Nubia. She lay just inside the bar, with the Red Cross flag flying at her peak.
Her inner arrangements for the wounded were as spick and span as was the outer coating of white paint which glistened in the sunshine, making all who entered the harbour ask her name. This ship was fitted throughout by Durban people, under the direction of Colonel Hodder, a retired army medical man; and he, who had the entire control of her, may justly be proud of the work he has done. The iron castings and fittings were only another example of the wonderful assistance the Natal Government railways' workshops under Mr Hunter were able to provide.
The last man I saw before leaving Durban was Mr Ernest Acutt, one of Durban's richest and best citizens, who had provided no less than 150 beds at the up-country hospitals for the Government, out of his own pocket. All honour to him! And now I am at Maritzburg —only a step nearer my goal, and fretting at my enforced delay.