Similarly on the eastern side it was their confident boast that presently they would be "eating fish and drinking coffee at sea-side Durban." There would thus be one flag floating over all South Africa; and that flag not the Union Jack but its supplanter.
[Sidenote: Two notable Dreamers.]
Now the Dutch have undoubtedly as absolute a right to dream dreams of wide dominion as we ourselves have; and this particular dream had no less undeniably been the chief delight of some among them for more than a decade twice told.
Even President Brand, of the Orange Free State, referring to Lord Carnarvon's pet idea of a federated South Africa, said: "His great scheme is a united South Africa under the British Flag. He dreams of it and so do I; but under the flag of South Africa." Much in the same strain President Burgers, of the Transvaal Republic, when addressing a meeting of his countrymen in Holland, said: "In that far-off country the inhabitants dream of a future in which the people of Holland will recover their former greatness." He was convinced that within half a century there would be in South Africa a population of eight millions; all speaking the Dutch language; a second Holland, as energetic and liberty-loving as the first; but greater in extent, and greater in power.
[Sidenote: A Bankrupt Republic.]
Nevertheless, in this far-seeing President's day, the Transvaal, after fourteen years of doubtful independence, reached in 1877 its lowest depths of financial and political impotency. Its valiant burghers were vanquished in one serious conflict with the natives; and, emboldened thereby, the Zulus were audaciously threatening to eat them up, when Shepstone appeared upon the scene. "I thank my father Shepstone for his restraining message," said Cetewayo. "The Dutch have tired me out; and I intended to fight with them once, only once, and to drive them over the Vaal." The jails were thrown open because food was no longer obtainable for the prisoners. The State officials, including the President, knew not where to secure their stipends, and were hopelessly at variance among themselves. The Transvaal one-pound notes were selling for a single shilling, and the State treasury contained only twelve shillings and sixpence wherewith to pay the interest on a comparatively heavy State debt, besides almost innumerable other claims.
No wonder, therefore, that Burgers, in disgust, declared he would sooner be a policeman under a strong government. "Matters are as bad as they ever can be," said he; "they cannot be worse!" Hence its annexation, in 1877, by Sir Theophilus Shepstone, without the assistance of a solitary soldier, but with the eager assent of thousands of the burghers, bade fair to prove the salvation of the Transvaal, and probably would have done, had the easily-to-be-obtained consent of the Volksraad been at once sought, and Lord Carnarvon's promise of speedy South African Federation, together with a generous measure of local self-government, been promptly redeemed. But European complications, with serious troubles on the Indian frontier, caused interminable delay in the maturing of this scheme; and as the disappointed Boers grew restive, a "Hold your Jaw" Act was passed, making it a penal offence for any Transvaaler even to discuss such questions. In our simplicity we sit upon the safety valve and then wonder why the boiler bursts. To the "Hold your Jaw" policy the Boer reply was an appeal to arms; and at Majuba in the spring of 1881 their rifles said what their jaws were forbidden to say. Majuba was indeed a mere skirmish, an affair of outposts; but Magersfontein and Spion Kop are the legitimate sons of Majuba.
[Sidenote: The man who Schemed as well as Dreamed.]
Napoleon, with possibly a veiled reference to himself, once said to the French people, "You have the men, but where is The Man?" The Boers in the day of their uprising against British rule found "The Man" in PAUL STEPHANUS KRUGER. To all South Africa a veritable "man of Destiny" has he proved to be; and for eighteen successive years, as their honoured President he has ruled his people with an absoluteness no European potentate could possibly approach. By birth a British subject, and for a brief while after the annexation a paid official of the British Government, he yet seems all his life to have been a consistent hater of all things British. When only ten years old, a tattered, bare-legged, unlettered lad, he joined "The great Trek" which in 1837 sought on the dangerous and dreary veldt beyond the Vaal a refuge from British rule. He it was who, surviving the terrors of those tragic times and trained in that stern school, became like Brand and Burgers a dreamer of dreams. He lived to baffle by his superior shrewdness, or slimness, all the arts of English diplomacy. In his later years this President manifestly deemed himself chosen of Heaven to make an end of British rule from the Zambesi to the sea. "The Transvaal shall never be shut up in a kraal," said he. A Sovereign International State he declared it was, or should be, with free access to the ocean; and how astonishingly near he came to the accomplishment of these bold aims we now know to our exceeding cost. Nevertheless, to this persistent dreamer of dreams the two South African Republics owe their extinction; while the British Empire owes to him more than to any other living man its fast approaching Federation.
With surprising secrecy and success the Transvaal officials prepared for the inevitable conflict which the attempted fulfilment of such bold dreams involved, and in that preparation were rendered essential aid, first by the discovery, not far from Pretoria, of the richest goldfield in the whole world, which soon provided them with the necessary means; and next by the Jameson Raid, which provided them with the necessary excuse.
To Steevens, the lamented correspondent of The Daily Mail, a Dopper editor and predikant said, "I do not think the Transvaal Government has been wise, and I told them they made a great mistake when they let people come in to the mines. This gold will ruin you; to remain independent you must remain poor"! Perhaps so! but the modern world is not built that way. No trekkers nowadays may take possession of half a continent, forbid all others to come in, and right round the frontier post up notices "Trespassers will be prosecuted." Even Robinson Crusoe had not long landed on his desolate isle when he was startled by the sight of a strange footprint on the seashore sand. Welcome or unwelcome, somebody else had come! Crusoe and his man Friday might set up no exclusive rights in a heritage that for a brief while seemed all their own. The Boer with his Kaffir bondsman has been compelled to learn the same distasteful lesson. The wealth of the Witwaters Rand was for those who could win it; and for that stupendous task the Boer had neither the necessary aptitude nor the necessary capital. It was not, therefore, for him to echo the cry of Edie Ochiltree when he found hid treasure amid the ruins of St Roth's Abbey--"Nae halvers and quarters,--hale o' mine ain and nane o' my neighbours." The bankrupt Boer had to let his enterprising neighbour in to do the digging, or get no gold at all.
[Sidenote: Hated Johannesberg.]
Nevertheless, the upspringing as by magic of the great city of Johannesberg in the midst of the dreary veldt filled Kruger's soul with loathing. When once asked to permit prospecting for minerals around Pretoria, he replied, "Look at Johannesberg! We have enough gold and gold seekers in the country already!" The presence of this ever-growing multitude was felt to be a perpetual menace to Dutch, and more especially to Dopper supremacy. So, in his frankly confessed detestation of them, their Dopper President for five years at a stretch never once came near them, and when at last he ventured to halt within twenty miles of their great city it was thus he commenced his address to the crowd at Krugersdorp:--"Burghers, friends, thieves, murderers, newcomers, and others." The reek of the Rand was evidently even then in his nostrils; and the mediæval saint that could smell a heretic nine miles off was clearly akin to Kruger. Unfortunately for him the "newcomers" outnumbered the old by five to one, and were a bewilderingly mixed assortment, representing almost every nationality under the whole heaven. In what had suddenly become the chief city of the Transvaal, with a white population of over 50,000, only seven per cent. were Dutch, and sixty-five per cent. were British. These aliens from many lands paid nearly nine-tenths of the taxes, yet were persistently denied all voice alike in national and municipal affairs. "Rights!" exclaimed the angry President when appealed to for redress, "Rights! They shall win them only over my dead body!" At whatever cost he was stubbornly resolved that as long as he lived the tail should still wag the dog instead of the dog the tail; and that a continually dwindling minority of simple farmer folk should rule an ever-growing majority of enterprising city men. Though the political equality of all white inhabitants was the underlying condition on which self-government was restored to the Transvaal, what the Doppers had won by bullets they would run no risk of losing through the ballot box, and so one measure of exclusion after another rapidly became law. When reminded that in other countries Outlanders were welcomed and soon given the franchise, the shrewd old President replied, "Yes! but in other countries the newcomers do not outswamp the old burghers." The whole grievance of the Boers is neatly summed up in that single sentence; and so far it proves them well entitled to our respectful pity.
It was, however, mere fatalism resisting fate when to a deputation of complaining Outlanders Kruger said "Cease holding public meetings! Go back and tell your people I will never give them anything!" Similarly when in 1894 35,000 adult male Outlanders humbly petitioned that they might be granted some small representation in the councils of the Republic, which would have made loyal burghers of them all, the short-sighted President contended that he might just as well haul down the Transvaal flag at once. There was a strong Dopper conviction that to grant the franchise on any terms to this alien crowd would speedily degrade the Transvaal into a mere Johannesberg Republic; and they would sooner face any fate than that; so the Raad, with shouts of derision, rejected the Outlanders' petition as a saucy request to commit political suicide. They felt no inclining that way! Nevertheless one of their number ventured to say, "Now our country is gone. Nothing can settle this but fighting!" And that man was a prophet.
[Sidenote: Boer preparations for War.]
For that fighting the President and his Hollander advisers began to prepare with a timeliness and thoroughness we can but admire, however much in due time we were made to smart thereby. Through the suicide of a certain State official it became known that in 1894--long therefore before the Raid--no less than £500,000 of Transvaal money had been sent to Europe for secret uses. Those secret uses, however, revealed themselves to us in due time at Magersfontein and Colenso. The Portuguese customs entries at Delagoa Bay will certify that from 1896 to 1898 at least 200,000 rifles passed through that port to the Transvaal. It was an unexampled reserve for states so small. The artillery, too, these peace-loving Boers laid up in store against the time to come, not only exceeded in quantity, but also outranged, all that British South Africa at that time possessed. Their theology might be slightly out-of-date, but in these more material things the Boers were distinctly up-to-date. For many a week after the war began both the largest and the smallest shells that went curving across our battlefields were theirs; while many of our guns were mere popguns firing smoky powder, and almost as useless as catapults. It was not a new Raid these costly weapons were purchased to repel; neither men nor nations employ sledge-hammers to drive home tinned-tacks. It was a mighty Empire they were intended to assail; and a mighty Republic they were intended to create.
When the fateful hour arrived for the hurling of the Ultimatum, in very deed "not a gaiter button" was found wanting on their side; and every fighting man was well within reach of his appointed post. Fierce-looking farmers from the remotest veldt, and sleek urban Hollanders, German artillerists, French generals, Irish-Americans, Colonial rebels, all were ready. The horse and his rider, prodigious supplies of food stuffs, and every conceivable variety of warlike stores, were planted at sundry strategic points along the Natal and Cape Colony frontiers. War then waited on a word and that word was soon spoken!
[Sidenote: Coming events cast their shadows before.]
As early as September 18th, 1899, the Transvaal sent an unbending and defiant message to the British Government. On September 21st the Orange Free State, after forty years of closest friendship with England, officially resolved to cast in her lot with the Transvaal against England. On September 29th through railway communication between Natal and the Transvaal was stopped by order of the Transvaal Government. On September 30th twenty-six military trains left Pretoria and Johannesberg for the Natal border; and that same day saw 16,000 Boers thus early massed near Majuba Hill. Yet at that very time the British forces in South Africa were absolutely and absurdly inadequate not merely for defiance but even for defence. On October 3rd, a full week before the delivery of the Ultimatum, the Transvaal mail train to the Cape was stopped at the Transvaal frontier, and the English gold it carried, valued at £500,000, was seized by the Transvaal Government. Whether that capture be regarded merely as a premature act of war or as highway robbery, it leaves no room for doubt as to which side in this quarrel is the aggressor; and when at last the challenge came, even chaplains could with a clear conscience, though by no means with a light heart, set out for the seat of war.
[Sidenote: The Ultimatum.]
Surely never since the world began was such an Ultimatum presented to one of the greatest Powers on earth by what were supposed to be two of the weakest. At the very time that armed and eager burghers were thus massing threateningly on our frontiers, the Queen it will be remembered was haughtily commanded to withdraw from those frontiers the pitifully few troops then guarding them; to recall, in the sight of all Europe, every soldier that in the course of the previous twelvemonth had been sent to our South African Colonies; and solemnly to pledge herself, at Boer bidding, that those then on the sea should not be suffered to set foot on African soil. Moreover, so urgent was this audacious demand that Pretoria allowed London only forty-eight hours in which to decide what should be its irrevocable doom, to lay aside the pride of empire, or pay the price of it in blood.
Superb in its audacity was that demand: and, if war was indeed fated to come, this daring challenge was for England as serviceable a deed as unwitting foemen ever wrought.
[Sidenote: The rallying of the Clans.]
It put a sudden end for a season to all controversy. It rallied in defence of our Imperial heritage almost every class, and every creed. It thrilled us all, like the blast of the warrior horn of Roderick Dhu, which transformed the very heather of the Highlands into fighting men. As the soldiers' laureate puts it "Duke's son and cook's son," with rival haste responded to the martial call. To serve their assailed and sorrowing Queen, royal court and rural cottage gave freely of their best. It intensified the patriotism of us all; and probably never, since the days of the Armada, had the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland found itself so essentially united.
[Sidenote: The rousing of the Colonies.]
The effect of the Ultimatum throughout the length and breadth of Greater Britain was no less remarkable than its first results at home. Not only the two Colonies that, alas, were soon to be overrun by hostile hordes, and mercilessly looted, but also those farthest removed from the fray, instantly took fire, and burned with imperialistic zeal that stinted neither men nor means.
"A varied host, from kindred realms they come,
Brethren in arms, but rivals in renown."
The declaration of war united the ends of the earth in a common enthusiasm, and sent a strange throb of brotherhood right round the globe. The whole empire at last awoke to a sense of its essential oneness. Australians and Canadians, men from Burma, from India and Ceylon, speedily joined hands on the far distant veldt in defence of what they proudly felt to be their heritage as well as ours. Their presence in the very forefront of the fray betokened the advent of a new era. Nobler looking men, or men of a nobler spirit, were never brought together at the unfurling of any banner. They were the outcome of competitions strangely keen and close. Sydney for instance called for five hundred volunteers; but within a few days three thousand five hundred valiant men were clamouring for acceptance. So was it in Montreal. So it was everywhere. Often too at no slight financial sacrifice was the post of peril sought. As a type of many more, I was told of an Australian doctor who paid a substitute £300 to carry on his practice, while he as a private joined the fighting ranks and faced cheerily the manifold privations of the hungry veldt. Rich is the empire that owns such sons; and myriads of them in the hour of impending conflict were ready to say--
"War? We would rather peace! But, MOTHER, if fight we must, There are none of your sons on whom you can lean with a surer trust. Bone of your bone are we; and in death would be dust of your dust!"
It was the Ultimatum that thus linked to each other and to us those loyal hearts that longed to keep the empire whole; and thus President Kruger in his blindness became Greater Britain's boundless benefactor.