1900 - Kimberley siege day 93 (75%). Ladysmith siege day 75 (63%). Mafeking siege day 95 (43%). Martial law extended to Philipstown and Hopetown. Death of Steevens.
Enemy quiet to-day except that there was the usual sniping at the mounted troops on cattle guard, and the enemy opened in the morning with their gun on the Wimbledon ridge, at some men of the Kimberley Regt in one of the works for the protection of the cattle grazing, in advance of the reservoir. Luckily we had no casualties – in the evening at about 6 pm the enemy opened apparently with a cordite gun from Carter’s ridge, the shells fell near the reservoir. It is not certain yet if it is a cordite gun or not, at any rate no one appears to have since any smoke or flash. This is the first time since November that the enemy has had a gun in position on Carter’s ridge.
The following message was received last night.
“From Genl Methuen to Kekewich. Jan 15th C 172. Am making strong demonstration with artillery against enemy’s position at four thirty pm on sixteenth you may get chance next morning raiding cattle if Boer lines weakened if thought impossible co-operate to-morrow evening if convenient.”
This is the day I had fixed upon long ago for our relief. There were rumours of fighting by the Tugela, and some said they had seen squadrons of our cavalry and even Staff officers galloping on the further limits of the Great Plain. But beyond the wish, there is no need to believe what they said.
In the morning Steevens, of the Daily Mail, was so much worse that we sent off a warning message to Mrs. Steevens by heliograph. At least I climbed to all the new signal stations in turn, trying to get it sent, but found the instruments full up with official despatches. Major Donegan (R.A.M.C.) was called in to consult with Major Davis, of the Imperial Light Horse, who has treated the case with the utmost patience and skill. Strychnine was injected, and about noon we recovered hope. A galloper was sent to stop the message, and succeeded. Steevens became conscious for a time, and Maud, of the Graphic, explained to him that now it was a fight for life. "All right," he answered, "let's have a drink, then." Some champagne was given him, and he seemed better. When warned against talking, he said, "Well, you are in command. I'll do what you like. We are going to pull through." Maud then went to sleep at last, and between four and five Steevens passed quietly from sleep into death.
Everything that could possibly be done for him had been done. For five weeks Maud had nursed him with a devotion that no woman could surpass. Two days ago we thought him almost well. He talked of what it would be best to do when the siege was raised, so as to complete his recovery. And now he is dead. He was only thirty. What is to most distinguished men the best part of life was still before him. In eight working years he had already made a name known to all the Army and to thousands beyond its limits. Beyond question he had the touch of genius. The individuality of his power perhaps lay in a clear perception transfused with an imaginative wit that never failed him. The promise of that genius was not fulfilled, but it was felt in all he said and wrote. And beyond this power of mind he possessed the attractiveness of courtesy and straightforward dealing. No one ever knew him descend to the tricks and dodges of the trade. There was not a touch of "smartness" in his disposition. On the field he was too reckless of his life. I saw him often during the fighting at Elands Laagte, Tinta Inyoni, and Lombard's Kop. He was usually walking about close to the firing line, leading his grey horse, a conspicuous mark for every bullet. Veteran officers used to marvel that he was not hit. In the midst of it all he would stand quite unconcerned, and speak in his usual voice—slow, trenchant, restrained by a cynicism that came partly from youth and an English horror of fuss. How different from the voice of unconsciousness which I heard raving in his room only this morning!
To-night we buried him. The coffin was not ready till half-past eleven. All the London correspondents came, and a few officers, Colonel Stoneman (A.S.C.) and Major Henderson, of the Intelligence Department, representing the Staff. Many more would have come, but nearly the whole garrison was warned for duty. About twenty-five of us, all mounted, followed the little glass hearse with its black and white embellishments. The few soldiers and sentries whom we passed halted and gave the last salute. There was a full moon, covered with clouds, that let the light through at their misty edges. A soft rain fell as we lowered the coffin by thin ropes into the grave. The Boer searchlight on Bulwan was sweeping the half circle of the English defences from end to end, and now and then it opened its full white eye upon us, as though the enemy wondered what we were doing there. We were laying to rest a man of assured, though unaccomplished genius, whose heart had still been full of hopes and generosity. One who had not lost the affections and charm of youth, nor been dulled either by success or disappointment.
"From the contagion of the world's slow stain
He is secure; and now can never mourn
A heart grown old, a head grown grey, in vain—
Nor when the spirit's self has ceased to burn
With sparkless ashes load an unlamented urn."
Creaky actually discovered about two miles down the Malmani Road. She had apparently been moved by our persistent persecutions, and we thought she had been moved into a worse position for her. We have materially changed our minds, at any rate, at the eastern end of the town, where she fires regularly at meal times, mostly hitting hotels. She commenced firing at 11 o'clock.
From the diary of William Watson, Ladysmith, January 1900:
Shells are plentiful this morning. — During the Zulu war, the general inquiry was, “where is Crealock.” Now, we may say, where is Buller, and what is he doing to maintain his reputation? For the last two months, every unaccustomed sound, has been attributed to Buller’s advance. If a nation likes to pay an exorbitant price for such small victories as we have had, there is no reason why it should not do so. This war is not being carried on, as a great nation like England, should carry on a war. We don’t even hold our own, for the rebels have invaded and desolated our colonies, and we cannot drive them out. Every check or slight disaster we meet with, adds immensely to the confidence and numbers of the enemy.
1900 - From the letters writer by Lt Col Park in Ladysmith
I believe Buller is really on the move. Firing was heard both yesterday and this morning, and a report has come in that Sir C. Warren’s division has crossed the Tugela, but I don’t know if it is true. The Intelligence Department told one of the correspondents that we should probably be able to post letters in four days’ time and I know runners have come in with news this morning, and water and rations are being prepared for Buller’s force so it looks like the beginning of the end. I have just been to see Maud, the artist of the Graphic, who is doing a large double-page sketch of our charge. It is beautifully done in the rough, and is most correct in little details. I shall probably see it again when more finished, and can then tell you who some of the. figures are meant for. I was very sorry to hear there that poor G. W. Steevens, of Daily Mail, is dying. He has had typhoid, but was almost convalescent, when two days ago he got a bad relapse, and internal, haemorrhage, and is now not expected to live forty-eight hours. He will be a terrible loss, both to the Daily Mail and the public. I saw Maxwell, the Standard man’s account of last Saturday’s fight, which is also well worth reading and keeping, if you can get a copy. I have told Lilias to try and get copies of that and the Times, and if possible we must have Maud’s picture when it comes out in the Graphic (sounds rather as if it were your picture, doesn’t it?)
I went to the 11 o’clock service at the English church yesterday, and asked so hard that Buller might come quick and be quite successful, and that the war might soon be over, and so on, and it made me feel much better. The service is disappointing; the organ female played worse than before, and the singing was atrocious and more drawly than I should have thought possible.
The Archdeacon is sick, and we had a terror of a parson, who said “ ‘er ’er” after every third word, not only in his sermon, but even when reading the lessons, and I longed to go and read them for him.
1900 - From the diary of Trooper A J Crosby, Natal Carbineers
On guard 1 to 2 o’clock. Stood to arms 3 to 4. Then advancing 200 yds for a final look round, returning to the supports, taking it easy remainder of day. Mr. Steevens, Daily Mail war correspondent, died.
1900 - From the diary of Miss Bella Craw in Ladysmith
Very little shelling today. About half a dozen from the Umbulwana into the town. We have heard distant firing in the direction of Colenso all day. I went for a ride to Observation Hill at 5.30 this morning. Unfortunately it was rather hazy, but I got a very good idea of the Boer positions and where our Column is. I saw no heliographing, it was too dull.
Coming home we rode for about a quarter of a mile over an exposed strip where, I believe, a short time ago it was not safe to show a head, but we were not fired on. We went pretty quickly though. It is time we were relieved and our men were moving out of this for the sickness is most distressing. We are hearing every day of the death of someone we sent out to Indombi from this hospital. Poor young Ash, then Lieutenant Smith, and young Dunlop. Five or six of the nurses are ill out there. Nurse Mary, they say, in great danger.
Mr. Stephens died today. Poor fellow was progressing so well when he had a relapse and was too weak to fight against it. Buried at 11.30 tonight.
I have had for many years copies of the seven Ladysmith Siege diaries published by the Ladysmith Historical Society, and the only one that I find irritating is the one written by Lt Col Park. In the preface to the booklet, the editor of the series wrote that "Park appears from his own writing as slightly quaint and wistfully ambitious." To that I would add that he displayed an unjustified arrogance towards Colonial soldiers and civilians, an attitude he probably shared with some other British officers at that time. This is in spite of the fact that most of the Colonials at that time were British-born, or descendants of British settlers. His comments recorded above about the "service at the English church yesterday" seem to me to be wholly inappropriate for an officer and a gentleman. For example, was it necessary to refer to the organist as the "organ female"? Perhaps the "organ female" and the quality of the singing reflected the privations of the Siege? In spite of Park's opinions, Colonial soldiers had done well at Gun Hill and Wagon Hill, and it was the mounted infantry from the Colonies that showed the British the way forward during the guerilla phase of the war, when the dismounted troops of the British regiments, including the Devonshire Regiment, played a secondary role. For another example, after Ladysmith, it was the Imperial Light Horse that Lord Roberts chose to lead the Relief of Mafeking, not the Devons.