THE Boer War of 1899-1902 came upon England as a rude awakening from a peaceful dream, and as a stunning shock to our proud imperialism. The casus belli was an attack upon our rising Cape Colony, upon Natal, and our grand schemes in Central Africa.
Although we were somewhat familiar with the Outlanders' political grievances, which affected a great many Englishmen at Johannesburg, Kimberley, and elsewhere, and had been startled for a while by the outrageous Jameson Raid on their behalf (which was condemned by a prosecution of some of the leading offenders,) no one, not even our Colonial Secretary, had the faintest idea that the Boers meant to try conclusions with us in the battlefield. Such a result, even after our Government had espoused the cause of the Outlanders—the non-Dutch immigrants in the Transvaal—was never contemplated. That the little Republic of the Transvaal, with a population of 80,000 Dutch to 123,650 "foreigners," mostly English, should offer fight, was a thing " so absurd" that if it occurred to any Englishman's mind as a possibility, it was at once dismissed.
Some people, however, are wise after the event, and now talk as prophets who knew all the trouble that was coming, yet thought it patriotic to be dumb. Events nevertheless, have shown, only too clearly, by a terrible loss of life on our side, and painful, halting campaigns, through our unpreparedness, that our Government was taken by surprise: and this they have admitted.
As to the challenge of the Boers, an explanation has been offered by Dutch officers who have fallen into our hands. It is this—that the Transvaal Government deluded their people with wild stories of foreign help, while at the same time all manner of troubles were to overcome the British by way of Divine retribution. Believing themselves in the right of the dispute, their biblical studies and religious fervour conspired to conjure up a vivid dream of victory. They were the elect Israel, the favoured family of God, and the British were at the best but blinded, wicked pharisees, provoking swift castigation.
Although the scene of strife was over 7000 miles away, and could only be reached by steamers in about three weeks, the war moved the nation as never a conflict of arms before, because it menaced not only our important Cape Colony and the rest of our South African territory (where large numbers of our relatives and friends had recently settled,) but also the enormous regions stretching away a thousand miles to the Zambesi, to which we look for homes for future generations of Anglo-Saxons. The same sentiment also animated our other Colonies, and the prompt offer of service by Canada and the Australian Colonies was a pleasing evidence of the Imperial bond that now binds these appendages to the mother land.
That such a disaster should come just as we were contemplating beautiful Edens and fabulous El Dorados in that country for our children—with a Cape to Cairo Railway, thereby opening up Southern Africa to the Orientals and our trade with them, coupled with the development of the present diamond and gold mines of enormous wealth, and in which so much English capital had been invested—these considerations, rather than the merits of the quarrel, stirred commercial Britishers to the core, and hence the individual interest that has been taken in the progress of the conflict, so that all classes, parties, and sects, have, in a way, become like camp followers, sharing in the commissariat, the ambulance, the clothing, the feeding, and the minutest comforts of Tommy Atkins.
The welfare of our soldiers in the campaign became a fashion, some thought it a craze; there came about a universal rivalry of patriotism, relief funds many, and almost every reservist and volunteer going to the front was feasted and feted, and his kit ladened with tobacco and other "creature comforts," whilst cargoes of extra clothing, stationery, plum puddings, and what not, followed the brave defenders of the Empire.
As one evidence of the national interest we may here mention that five members of the Government went to the front—the Duke of Norfolk (who relinquished his Postmaster-Generalship for the purpose,) the Duke of Marlborough, the Earl of Dudley, Lord Stanley, and Lord Valentia. The Duke of Westminster, the Duke of Roxburghe, and the Duke of Teck, also went out, and in addition to 30 noblemen, there were nearly 40 baronets.
Not only were our most capable military officers engaged at the war, but also the very flower of our aristocracy. The supreme commander, Lord Roberts, who is 67 years of age, lost his only son there. Lord Dufferin had three sons on active service, and Lord Salisbury had a son with Baden-Powell at Mafeking. Prince Victor Christian, Prince Francis, Prince Adolphus and Prince Alexander of Teck are relatives of the Queen who shared in the campaign. The Duke of Devonshire had two nephews there, and lost one of them—Commander Egerton, R. N. The Duchess of Abercorn had no less than fifteen grandsons in our ranks.
The peril to British interests elicited the most remarkable enlistment and offer of service on record, and sent into the field the greatest army Great Britain has ever dispatched for war.
In order to understand what led to the dispute it is necessary to refer briefly to the history of the Boers in South Africa, and our relations with them, as facts seem to show that under the circumstances, the arbitrament of the sword was inevitable.
In 1652 about a hundred immigrants from the Netherlands settled in the locality now known as Cape Town, under the auspices of the enterprising pioneering, filibustering Dutch East India Company. The little community was soon augmented by French Huguenots from Holland, but the company's service proving too much like slavery, many of the colonists trekked into the interior. The company's despotism led to trouble, and Great Britain becoming embroiled, Cape Colony was ceded to us in 1814. It was the act for the abolition of Slavery—which involved loss to Dutch farmers, notwithstanding some compensation— when 35,000 blacks received their freedom in Cape Colony—that resulted in what is known as the Great Boer Trek, when they " shook the dust of the oppressor from their feet" and thought they could enjoy greater freedom to do as they liked as a republic in Natal.
Still there was trouble, and we annexed that territory in 1843, for the "peace, protection, and salutary control of all classes of men settled at and surrounding this important portion of South Africa." Five years after, for the same humane reasons, which some people dispute, we seized the country lying between the Orange and Vaal Rivers; it became the Orange River Sovereignty; but in 1852, another policy prevailing at home, we made the Sand River Convention, renouncing all rights over the Transvaal, and two years later we withdrew our authority from the Orange River also, which became a Free State.
Much has been written of the treatment of the native races by the Boers, and whilst these Dutch farmers have been sometimes held up as pattern Christians, there are Missionaries from Dr. Livingstone down to ministers now labouring in their midst, who speak of their cruelty and oppression.
It was in 1860, that Paulus Kruger, who was born in 1825, came upon the arena as a leader in a faction fight. _ Every child in England, and many an English child in our Colonies, is familiar with his likeness and character—a plain, stolid-looking, uneducated, strong-minded, courageous man, slovenly dressed in a shabby black suit—a man zealous in religion, a "local preacher," as the Methodists would designate him, with an unquenchable passion for the independence of the Republic of which he has been President four times, with an increasing salary. Whatever we in England may think of him, he had captured the hearts and kept the confidence of his fellow-countrymen for many years of conflict both with Afrikanders and native races.
The constant annexation of fresh territory, and oppression of the Zulus by the Boers, brought about a native revolt under Cetewayo, when the English Government was appealed to, and restored British supremacy in the Transvaal, in 1877, at the time Lord Beaconsfield was Premier in the English Cabinet. In his visit to Wak-kerstroom Sir Garnet Wolseley, as High Commissioner appointed to settle the government of the country, publicly stated that the Transvaal would remain British territory " as long as the sun shone," and he made a proclamation to that effect, which the English Government endorsed. After Mr. Gladstone became Prime Minister in 1880, who had previously critised the annexation, he replied to the Boer Leaders, who reminded him of his speeches in Opposition, "that the Queen cannot be advised to relinquish her sovereignty over the Transvaal, but consistently with the maintenance of that Sovereignty, we desire that the white inhabitants of the Transvaal should, without prejudice to the rest of the population, enjoy the fullest liberty to manage their own affairs."
A desperate revolt followed, and Kruger, Joubert and Pretorius were elected a triumvirate to govern the Transvaal. The fight at Bronker's Spruit was followed by the defeat of the English troops at Laing's Nek, at the Ingogo River, and then at Majuba Hill on Feb. 27, 1881, when an Armistice was arranged by Mr. Gladstone (to deliver this nation from ' blood-guiltiness,') with complete internal self-government for the Boers under British suzerainty. As to what this " supremacy" meant leading politicians are disagreed, and the provision was dropped in the Convention of 1884. The Imperial Government justified their present interference on the ground of the "common right to protect British subjects against oppression."
In the opinion of some eminent Colonists, the Afrikander Bond and the South African League contributed much to the embittered feeling and strained relations between the Boers and other white settlers.
These were political institutions with more or less worthy objects, but as the mines developed and Outlander millionaires multiplied, there came—it is contended by some—sinister and revolutionary motives. For lack of the Franchise many of the Outlanders had no political influence, and to get redress, recourse was at last had to a plot for insurrection.
The Transvaal Exchequer rose from £196,000 and a state of beggary in 1896, to four and a quarter millions in 1899, of which 4-5ths were paid by unfranchised Outlanders.
According to the Rev. Horace W. Orford, canon and Chancellor of Bloemfontein (O.F.S.) Anglican Cathedral, who in order to remain there with his family had to do ambulance work, says:—
" They in Bloemfontein had constantly prayed for peace, not for victory. The Boers knew that the crisis would come, and they knew also that it had been precipitated three years too soon for those who had dreamed of extending Boer rule to Table Bay and to the Zambesi. The ministers of the Dutch Reformed Church were more terribly responsible than any other class for the war.
" I am constantly moving about in country places. I know the Boer on his best and most attractive side, and I greatly appreciate much in his character. I have been in personal contact with some of the horrors and miseries of such a war as this, and yet I say openly and advisedly that I believe the war has been ordered in the providence of God, and will, in His good time, make for good and for the building up of a great country and people."
This voices the opinion of the great majority of the Colonists and of the English in the Federal States
The Johannesburg reform Manifesto of Dec. 17, 1895, precipitated matters, being followed by the celebrated Raid, and then Kruger's Cabinet began to arm for the impending strife. That Raid has been largely ascribed to Mr. Cecil Rhodes, a former President of Cape Colony and Privy Councillor, a leader of the De Beers financiers, and at the trial of the Raiders in London (after they had been given up by Kruger for that purpose,) the connivance of the Rand mining prospectors with the plot was openly asserted.
Now we come to the diplomacy that ensued as the outcome of the futile Raid, which .however, succeeded in demonstrating the case for the Outlanders against " Boer oppression." In March, 1899, Mr. Chamberlain in the House, ridiculed the idea of war, and said—enumerating the grievances as to the Dynamite monopoly, the franchise, the excessive taxation, and general maladministration of the Transvaal, that " he did not intend to take any very strong action."
In August, Mr. Kruger consented to discuss the questions at Bloemfontein, and then came the difficult problem—should these Outlanders have to wait seven or five years, before they were admitted to the franchise, and when should the terms date from—then or be retrospective. The Transvaal President proposed a five years' retrospective franchise; eight new seats for the Outlanders, giving them ten representatives in a chamber of thirty-six, and equal rights for old and new burghers in the election of the President and the Commandant General. As to details, friendly suggestions were to be welcomed; at the same time it was to be understood that this intervention should not constitute a precedent for future interference in the internal affairs of the Republic; that the question of the suzerainty, in fact, should be considered dropped; that arbitration, from which foreigners should be excluded, would be recognised, and finally this new policy was to come into force within a few weeks. Mr. Kruger asked for a speedy settlement of the dispute so as to avert the war which seemed imminent.
This did not satisfy Mr. Chamberlain. The proposals were " extremely promising," he said, but the conditions attached " impossible;" and meanwhile troops were sent to South Africa and fresh demands threatened if Mr. Kruger did not quickly come to terms.
The Outlander Council and the South African League pressed our Government to demand equal language rights, disarmament of Boers, demolition of forts, freedom of speech and press, abolition of industrial monopolies, and of religious disabilities, the independence of the High Court, right to vote for President and Commandant General, and local self-government.
These reforms meant the cashiering of the Government Ministers and Officials in the " South African State," (as the Transvaal was designated) and seeing this, it is held by Mr. Chamberlain and his followers, that the rulers in the Republic mutually and privately decided on armed resistance, and thus, in the cause of " freedom," were successful in securing the sympathies of a large army of Burghers, most of them marksmen from constant hunting, and some of them well-drilled artilleryists.
While diplomacy dawdled and the breach widened, an army corps sent to Natal by us, decided to occupy Dundee on the Transvaal border, and troops were hurriedly transported to Durban, the great seaport of Natal, certain newspapers both in England and at the Cape fanning the rising bellicose spirit and egging on the British government by sensational reports of oppression.
Then on Oct. gth fell the bolt of the Dutch Jupiter. Seeing no response coming to his message after waiting for a few days, and noting also the belligerent measures being taken by us, the Boer Raad demanded, in 48 hours, the British consent for the withdrawal of the troops on the Transvaal border as well as of other reinforcements in South Africa, and that the troops on the sea should not be landed in that country.This was tantamount to throwing down the gage of battle; it was a demand for submission, and it was interpreted as an indication that the Boers wished to drive us out of South Africa. So with the almost unanimous sanction of Great Britain a brief refusal to discuss the final message was sent, and both sides put themselves in battle array.