LORD ROBERTS, after a ten days' halt, resumed his march, the third week in May, by way of Honing's Spruit and Rhenoster river. Ian Hamilton had a series of engagements with Commandant De Wet before gaining Heilbron, where Steyn had temporally set up his seat of government.
Broadwood on the way captured fifteen Boer waggons. The enemy had made entrenchments, and damaged the railway. General French, crossing the river to the north west, made their position untenable though they were 12,000 strong, with fifteen guns.
We were now 55 miles from Kroonstad, and on the 24th gained Vredefort road, seven miles further, our march being threatened by the damage of the railway for two miles, which took several" days to repair, but we did not wait for that.
On the Queen's birthday the advance guard of the main army crossed the Vaal near Parys, and Lord Roberts encamped at Vereeniging on the northern bank on the 27th. The rapid advance saved the coal mines there from destruction. Our troops having temporally withdrawn from Heilbron, Lieut. Webber, R.E., going there on telegraph duty (not knowing of this) was detained by the Boers, who had returned; thus showing the need of every town taken being garrisoned as the army advanced. This depletion of the advancing force was made up by reinforcements continually arriving from England.
By taking Germiston, eight miles east of Johannesburg, on the 29th of May the centre advance obtained control of all the railways, with the exception of the lines diverging from Pretoria northward to Pietersburg and east to Delagoa Bay. French and Ian Hamilton hastened forward to " cut" these lines too, by which all supplies from the coast would be in our hands.
When our entrance into the Transvaal was found to be almost unopposed, it became clearer that the burghers generally were sick of the fight. It was literally a daily chase of the flying Dutchmen.
Lord Roberts reached Klip river station on May 28, without encountering a foeman, but French and Ian Hamilton, working in conjunction on the left, had a tussle, using long range guns to clear some hills of Boers who lingered. Once more, however, we were just in time to be too late at Klip river station, for the Boers got a train with five guns started out of the station as the. West Australian troopers dashed up.
Several significant events at this juncture seemed to portend the near approach of the end, so far as the grand march was concerned.
On the 27th of May the annexation of the Orange Free State, under the style of the Orange River State, was announced by the Commander-in-Chief, and the President of the Transvaal proclaimed that all burghers should observe three days of prayer and humiliation. At the same time it was said a special train, with steam up, was kept in the siding of the railway at Pretoria for " emergencies," 36 boxes of bullion, insured at £6,500 per box, were consigned by the Boer Treasury to the Netherland bank in Holland, (whither the executive had been sending money weekly for some time), and some of the principal Boer and other families were running away.
It was indeed a case of panic, and the question of the hour at the capital was—would it not be wise to capitulate unconditionally rather than risk further slaughter, damage to property, and serious penalties and punishment when the Conqueror took over the reins of government in a few days? What said the commanders, asked Kruger, and their counsel was divided. The unpleasant duty of surrendering was shirked as long as possible, and yet the commanders had farms they would like to keep intact. How to save honour and property, and escape the pains and penalties of taking up arms against Her Majesty's Government, was the moot point anxiously debated.
As the Boers fled from the British on the elevated plateau of the Rand and went in the direction of Delagoa, the Portuguese authorities became alarmed and proceeded to defend their borders at Ressans Garcia, while Komati Bridge was held by Cape rebels.
In the last three days of May great events pressed on each other's heels, with sensational effect.
The fact that the British head quarters were at Germiston on the Elandsfontein Junction, (which was taken after a short encounter with Boers), settled the fate both of Johannesburg and Pretoria by commanding the railways to the coast, excepting that to Marques, and the logic of the situation led both to the surrender of Johannesburg and to the flight of the Pretorian Executive on the 29th.
French tightened the cordon by working round to the west and north of the " city of the gold reef," and was soon half way on the road to Pretoria, which is 33 miles from Johannesburg, while other troops, with batteries, surrounded the latter town, clearing the ridges of the dauntless remnants of Botha's army.
Ian Hamilton with the 19th and 20th Brigades of Infantry, and two 5 inch and some field guns of the 76th Battery, was also to the fore, fighting his way at Gat's Rand and Van Wyk's Ruit and on to Florida station, ten miles east of the city, and the Gordons and City Imperial Volunteers had the honour of giving the coup de grace to the defence.
Pole-Carew was also busy to the east. He surprised the last train that was leaving Elandsfontein for "Pretoria, and stopped it, when the Boers bolted from it across the country. Several hundred of them ran into a gold mine, where the Grenadiers held them prisoners.
General Ian Hamilton's column on Monday advanced to Syferfontein. General French, after passing through a gap in the line of hills facing the Klip River, demonstrated ahead with guns and mounted troops, drawing a strong artillery fire..
On Tuesday General Hamilton, with General French, reinforced by General Broadwood's mounted force in advance, moved west to Zuurbekom waterworks, which were reached at one o'clock, and then struck north with Roodepoort as the objective. The enemy's flank was reached by a turning movement developed by General French, the joint force then proceeding towards Krugers-dorp. At three o'clock one field battery and a handful of City Imperial Volunteers opened fire on some Boers in a wood on the left front. The battle began suddenly. The enemy were discovered barring the way to Roodepoort and Florida, six miles away, and though they were 6,000 strong, with six guns and pom-poms, it was necessary for us to fight to clear the road. The 21st brigade advanced on Roodepoort in front, the City Imperial Volunteers in the centre leading, the Derbyshire Regiment on the left, and the Cameron Highlanders on the right. The Sussex Regiment, originally in reserve, were then skilfully moved, and soon afterwards the 19th brigade, with the Canadians on the left, the Gordon Highlanders in the centre, the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry on the right, and the Shropshire Light Infantry in reserve, also advanced to take the main Boer position, while the 21st brigade acted as an outflanking force.
The advance was gradual to the Boer position, which was a strong one, with many natural inequalities. The ground beside was blackened by grass fires, against which the khaki made an excellent mark. Our guns made good practice at long range, and towards half-past four they had a tight grip on the Boers, and were then brought closer. The Gordons charged with the bayonet with superb unconcern, and carried the main position, but with 70 casualties. The pelting volleys of the City Imperial Volunteers cleared the enemy immediately in front of Roodepoort, the Boers under Gen. Delarey making their final flight just as darkness was falling.
"The behaviour of the City Imperial Volunteers and their readiness in taking cover were excellent, though they were enfiladed by a pom pom from a kopje on the right. The Boers evacuated the entire position at nightfall, and thus Johannesburg lay open to General Hamilton, who bivouacked on the ground taken. On Wednesday, General Hamilton advanced to Maraisburg, and cut the railway to Potchefstroom, while General French encircled the north side of Johannesburg.
On that day Lord Roberts sent a flag of truce with staff officers to summon the commandant (Dr. Krause) to surrender Johannesburg, and that gentleman paid Bobs a friendly visit in consequence. He promised, to surrender, but asked that the entrance into the town might be deferred for twenty-four hours, as there were many armed burghers still inside. These were said to be Blake's Ruffians (the Irish squad, whose mission was brigandage).
Lord Roberts agreed to the proposal, because he was " most anxious to avoid the possibility of anything like a disturbance inside the town, and as bodies of the enemy are still holding hills in the immediate neighbourhood, from which they will have to be cleared off beforehand." It is not difficult to read into the meaning of all this. The Johannesburg people, or some part of them, had had a notion of resisting, and only the overwhelming strength of the British induced them to change their minds. Even yet there was fear that if the British entered on terms of surrender some burgher might let off his rifle, and under circumstances of such tension a few rifle shots might occasion terrible effects.
The next afternoon the British cavalcade entered the desolate place, and the Imperial flag raised on the Government buildings, (the flag made by Lady Roberts), announced its occupation in the name of the Queen. Dr. Krause met Lord Roberts at the entrance to the town, and rode by his side to the Government offices, where he introduced the Field Marshal to the heads of the several departments, all of whom acceded to the request that they should continue in their duties until relieved of them. A large crowd of people assembled in the main square before the Court-house, and the balconies of the houses were filled with ladies.
A headstrong official had run up the Vierkleur or national colour on the masthead in front of the Courthouse, but after the official surrender the Union Jack took its place, with the customary drums and fifes playing, the salute, and cheers. The cheering had been a continuous ovation, and could be heard before Lord Roberts entered the town. He looked calm and collected, and frequently acknowledged the greeting by salutes.
The tumult was Such that the troops in the square had difficulty in keeping a space open for the Commander-in-Chief and his staff. The women, who waved their handkerchiefs, in their frantic agitation pressed the flanks of the troopers' horses to catch a sight of the Boer chiefs doffing their hats to the victorious flag.
The enthusiasm of the populace found vent in singing the National Anthem, and some of the soldiers sang—
"We're marching on Pretoria, It belongs to Queen Victoria."
At the end of this significant ceremony, the nth and 7th Divisions marched past, with the Naval brigade, the heavy artillery, and two brigades of Royal Field Artillery. It was a sight to impress the thousands of Dutchmen present with a sense of Britain's military might, for these regiments of healthy, bronzed, bearded stalwarts on fine chargers, with flashing swords, had the firm determined expression of victors.
The force marched through the town, to a pleasure resort, called Orange Grove, three miles distant, on the Pretoria road, where Lord Roberts made the village inn his head-quarters, and where, in the evening, an officer found him with the landlord's little daughter on his knee, teaching her the letters of the alphabet with a pencil. In his jocular way, he said to the intruder, "Don't come now; can't you see I'm busy."
The 14th (Wavell's) brigade was left in Johannesburg to support Major Davis, of the Grenadier Guards, as Chief of Police, and Col. Mackenzie as Governor of the town.
During the fighting round the locality on the previous day, the Queenslanders captured a creusot gun and waggon, eleven waggons of military stores and ammunition, and took a commandant Botha (of Zontfansberg), his field cornet, and 100 belligerents as prisoners, including some foreign mercenaries and Irish Fenians.
To cover 112 miles in a week from Kroonstad was excellent work, considering the need of caution and the tardy progress of oxen waggon transports. A few particulars here as to the feeding and other supplies of the army may give the reader a better idea of the task set our gallant soldiers.
The Army Service Corps consisted of several thousands of experts, labourers, and others. At the depots you might see a long line of corrugated iron storehouses packed to the roofs. Everywhere lay, piled, neat, white-wood cases, stamped with curious signs and devices. There would be jam from Australia, and preserved meat from Canada and the States; Indian packages of grain and goor, atta and choose for the supply of multitudes of coolies; tobacco from America, and champagne and port and roast fowls for the invalids; groceries and preserved vegetables galore from Woolwich; mountain ranges of hay, flanked by pyramids of oat sacks and ramparts of bran and meal.
There were several reception bases for distribution. Under Table Mountain sun-baked, wind-swept Capetown acted as Base No. 1, and from it runs a twisting line of railway through the old Dutch townships 'of Stellenbosch and Paal, through the mighty ravines in the Hext River Mountains, to the open country by Magersfontein and Beaufort West, to sandy De Aar, thence to Kimberley and the Orange Free State.
Base No. 2 was at busy commercial Port Elizabeth, in the mighty sweep of Algoa Bay, and from it runs a line through Uitenhage and Graaf Reinet to Naauwpoort Junction, deserted of Heaven, and on by shattered Nerval's Pont bridge to Springfontein. There it is joined by a second line from East London (Base No. 3) that winds through the hilly country about Stormberg and Burghersdorp.
From Springfontein a single line passes on across the open veldt to Bloemfontein, Brandfort, and so on to Kroonstad and Pretoria. Guarding the lines, garrisoning the capital, and dashing forward was a military strength of some 100,000 men, for whom 500,000 tons of goods were forwarded. The regaining of the mountain passes of Newcastle, with Lang's Nek, gave a shortcut to the Rand from Durban.
Higher up the coast, past the Portuguese port of Lorenzo Marques (supposed to be neutral and interdicted from contraband), there was the open port of Beira, a wretched ditch of mud flats, whence rations followed Carrington's mounted Colonials.
Difficult as the slim narrow single metals were, worse troubles commenced when these were left behind, and transport was by the road. Then 300 officials, 2,700 butchers, bakers, &c, with 7,000 native drivers, had charge of 900 horses, 15,000 mules, and 25,000 oxen in pulling and hauling 2,800 waggons and 350 other vehicles over the desert sands.
Yet men wrote home grumbling that the little comforts forwarded—tobacco, newspapers and such like—did not reach them with proper postal despatch, in this thousand miles' excursion from the Cape to Pretoria!
To move 200,000 troops as fast as they can be landed, and hurry after them their tents and guns, horses, ammunition, fodder, and food, would strain the resources of a standard gauge double-track trunk line in England; yet not a hitch occurred in the performance of this feat by the narrow gauge single-track railway which we practically commandeered in South Africa.
Between November 1899 and the following February the railway carried for the military authorities 18,000 animals and 37,000 tons of stores on the Western line, and on all lines 70,000 men and 30,000 horses. In the first four months of 1900, to April 30, the lines conveyed what were equal to 60,000 ordinary trucks, most of them many hundreds of miles.
Of troops there were equal to more than 11,500 standard four-wheeled trucks, carrying thirty to forty men each. Horses and mules utilised the equivalent of 14,000 trucks, and other military traffic used what were equal to 35,400 trucks. Most of these vehicles also made long runs, Kimberley being 647 miles from Capetown, and Norvals Pont being about as far. These figures show that the railway operatives moved more than 500 trucks daily, including Sundays.
What a change had passed over the gay and wealthy, busy and thriving gold reef city since its evacuation of Outlanders on the outbreak of the warl Instead of crowded streets, the soldiers found the thoroughfares grass-grown and deserted. Instead of pushing trades and commerce, the places of business and the private houses were empty and often barricaded.
This was a place worth capturing. It is healthy, standing 5,735 feet above sea level and covering an area of six miles. Its roads are broad, and extend 126 miles; its parks occupy 84 acres. Within the municipal bounds are 20,000 buildings, some very imposing, of stone and marble, including palatial club-houses, magnificent mansions, a majestic Stock Exchange, five first-class theatres and opera-houses, hotels with elegant accommodation for thousands of guests, stately churches, hospitals and museums; it had electric street railroads, race tracks and polo grounds, and too many gambling houses.
In 1899, its population was 80,000 whites and 140,000 Kaffirs. To have to bolt and leave all this property behind, to take its chance of being looted and destroyed, was a great sacrifice; and how eagerly the exiles watched the chance of returning and claiming their estates and belongings.
Out of the 70,000 square miles of the Transvaal, the Witwatersrand upland, in the centre of which Johannesburg stands, presents the most unique geologic features. It was a huge barren table land, almost trackless and devoid of trees, scorched by a fierce sun and drenched by torrents of rain, when Johannes Bezuidenhut put up his .wooden shanty in 1885 as the sole denizen of the site, and named it John's burgh. [There is, or was in May, 1900, an inmate of Guildford Union Workhouse, a man named James Pratt, aged 69, who, for fighting against Kruger in 1880, was robbed of'i6,ooo acres on which the city stands, and for which he had paid £350.] An Englishman named Fred Struben found gold beds of the " Blanket" formation on Sterkfontein farm at that time, and in two years the place was overrun with prospectors of companies with a capital of £3,000,000.
The record of the " White water Ridge" reef is more than forty million ounces of gold, worth over £160,000,000 and at least £1,000,000,000 remains to be extracted. The city was an oasis of intellectual and commercial energy in a desert of heavy, dull isolated squatters—a mighty, though mushroom metropolis, compared with which the colonial capitals, Capetown and Pietermaritz-burg, are as Pensacola to Chicago.
The Commander-in-Chief lost no time in issuing a proclamation which contained the following conditions:—
Immunity will be guaranteed to all noncombatants. All burghers, excepting those who have taken an active part in promoting the war, in directing operations, and in commandeering or looting, or those who have acted contrary to the usages of civilised warfare, will be allowed to return to their farms and remain unmolested, providing they surrender their arms and take an oath not to fight again.
Private property will be respected if British property has not been damaged, but if it is found that such property has been wantonly damaged not only will the actual perpetrators be severely punished, both in person and in property, but the authorities who have permitted such damage to be done will be held responsible.
Finally, all inhabitants' are urged to prevent wanton damage to property.
It was a source of immense satisfaction to the shareholders to find that the Rand mines had not been damaged. The Chamber of Mines at Cape Town asked permission for 2,500 employees to return immediately to the Rand, and 500 of the principal workmen and staffs of the big commercial houses were allowed to start at a few hours' notice.
After the British occupation the town became quiet, and there was a feeling of satisfaction and relief. Shops began to be opened at once, and refugees to return.
Arms and ponies were surrendered by hundreds of Boers, and the Dutch residents seemed not unwilling to accommodate themselves to the new order of things.
The occupation of Johannesburg involved serious responsibility. It is a wild place at the best of times, though one must not appear to be disregarding the presence of many very reputable people,—cursed by inordinate greed of gold, filled with th'e scum of the nations— rascals and loafers and libertines, both male and female —and poisoned by an easy morality, whether in commercial or social life.During the. last eight months the best of its population had cleared out, leaving few except the sharps, who would not fight for anybody or any principle or cause, but, whether it is war time or peace care only for opportunities for loot and licence. It has always been a hard task to govern Johannesburg under normal conditions, and now no well-disposed person would be safe in the city either as to his belongings or his life, if it were not for the gentleman in khaki with his finger on the trigger, to support the authorities in maintaining law and order.