Burger J E Nolte, Boksburg Commando
Jacobus Everhardus Nolte’s widow, Francina Stephina, assisted by General C H Müller, claimed her husband’s ABO in July 1928. There are no details given on the ‘Vorm B’ of the battles in which Nolte served, only the fact that he had been on active service with the Boksburg Commando in both Natal and the Transvaal.
Boksburg is about 25 km east of Johannesburg. The discovery of coal near the town and the building of the Transvaal’s first railway line between Johannesburg and Boksburg led to its development as a railway town. It was settled by large numbers of poor rural Boers, who were employed in the construction of the railway line, and later also in the thriving Witwatersrand mining industry.
The Boksburg Commando was mobilised on 27/9/1899 and was made up of 1050 Boers and about 300 Black servants (“agterryers). Unusually, but perhaps appropriately, the Commando moved to the Transvaal border by train, rather than on horseback. Their horses, which were on another train, never arrived, and new ones had to be found. After war was declared, the Commando crossed the border and occupied Newcastle on 15/10/1899.
Men of the Commando first saw action at the Battle of Elandslaagte on 21/10/1899, although the extent of their involvement is uncertain. Mills (2000: 6) claimed that “Boksburg were the last commando to escape before the battle was lost.” It has been widely reported that the Boksburg Magistrate, P G Maré, was killed in the battle, but this has since been discounted (Wood 2005).
“Their next action was to be one of the major sensations of the war. They were involved with the derailing of the armoured train near Colenso and the capture of Winston Churchill.” (Mills 2000: 6). An advance party of Boers had crossed the Tugela River, and, sheltering near Chieveley, they saw the armoured reconnaissance train from Estcourt en route to Colenso. “The Boksburgers were familiar with railbeds, since they had built them before the war. They noted that [a] sharp curve at the bottom of [an] incline had a double rail on the outside track to strengthen the bed. They filled the cavity between the rails with ballast stone to lift the train’s wheel flange off the track and sat back waiting for the train [to return].” (Mills 2000). The train did indeed derail, and, although the engine returned to Estcourt safely, in the ensuing action the British lost several men killed, and more captured, including Churchill. “This opportunistic action and quick thinking was to become the hallmark of the Boksburg Commando.” (Mills 2000: 7).
The Boksburg Commando and the Zoutpansberg Commando were then detached from the main Boer force north of the Tugela River, and they occupied the high ground of Hlangwane, south of the river. These men were the first to be engaged by the British during the Battle of Colenso on 15/12/1899. Only one Boksburger was wounded during the battle. The British were soon routed, and they retreated leaving several of their guns to be captured by the victorious Boers. The “Boksburg boys were the first to arrive at the British guns, capturing 16 officers and 30 soldiers as well.” (Mills 2000). During the Battle of Spioenkop on 22/1/1900, the Boksburgers were stationed on Conical Hill, opposite the most northerly part of the arc of British troops. They lost two men killed in the battle. They saw out the Siege of Ladysmith based on Petworth Hill and Surprise Hill. After the Siege was lifted on 28/2/1900, the Boers retreated through northern Natal, back into the Transvaal.
It was at this stage that one section of the Commando under General G H Gravett moved to fight in the Cape Colony. Later, as the Cape and Orange Free State front collapsed, Gravett took his men back by way of the eastern Orange Free State to the Transvaal to rejoin the rest of the Commando, which had remained active in the Transvaal.
The guerrilla phase of the war commenced after the Battle of Bergendal during August 1900. The Boksburgers then fought in ‘hit and run’ actions and in avoiding pursuing British units until the war ended on 31/5/1902. Losses included General Gravett, who was killed near Roossenekal on 26/10/1900. It was also during this period that Field Cornet C H Müller rose to prominence and, before the end of 1900, he was a General in charge of all the Boers in the eastern Transvaal. Another promotion during this time was that of C F Beyers to General in the northern Transvaal.
Successes during the early phase of the guerrilla war included the capture at Helvetia of a 4.7 inch naval gun named ‘Lady Roberts’. Although of no practical value to the Boers, it had a symbolic and propaganda value and it “was presented to Pres. Paul Kruger as a New Year’s gift from the Boksburg Commando.” (Mills 2000: 13).
In 1901, the war went badly for the Transvaal Boers. During April, General Müller was injured and he went to the northern Transvaal to recuperate. By June 1901, the Boers were destroying their own supplies, and blowing up cumbersome big guns, including ‘Lady Roberts’. By October, Müller was operating with a much reduced force along the Olifants River. The situation worsened in 1902, and during the period February to April, the Boksburgers “destroyed their wagons and artillery and were reduced to a hand-to-mouth existence in the bush.” ….. “Even the active Müller was reduced to impotence due to a lack of ammunition. Many of the burghers were by now without horses, though they carried their saddles; always hoping that a mount would come along, their clothing in tatters and equipment non-existent.” (Mills 2000: 13, 14).
This untenable situation came to an end with the peace conference at Vereeniging. “Here Boksburg again played an important role. General Beyers was nominated Chairman of the meeting. General Müller represented both Boksburg and Middelburg Commando’s. Even at this late stage Müller was against peace. He made one of his typical, fiery speeches and implored the gathering to carry on with the war. It was not to be; the peace treaty was signed in Pretoria on 31 May 1902, ending the war.” “[The] Boksburg Commando laid down their arms in Middleburg on 4 June 1900 and returned home. They returned as heroes.” (Mills 2000: 14). A monument to the men of the Boksburg Commando still stands in the town as “a magnificent tribute to one of the most amazing groups of men who ever formed a commando in defence of their town and their country.” (Mills 2000: 14).
Nolte’s period of service on his Vorm “B” was given as October 1899 to June 1902, and, since it was certified by General Müller, it is safe to assume that Nolte was one of the men who saw the war through to the bitter end.
After the war, Nolte became a successful solicitor in Heidelberg. He also owned a farm, ‘Driefontein’, which was presumably in the Heidelberg district. He joined the Heidelberg Commando and by 1914 he held the rank of Captain. After World War I started, Nolte and General Müller would at least figuratively cross paths again, but this time as enemies, and with tragic consequences.
In spite of the founding of the Union of South Africa in 1910, and the burying of the hatchet by important Boer leaders such as Generals Botha and Smuts, there was still a great deal of antipathy amongst Afrikaners towards the British. In 1914, when the South African Government took the side of the British against the Germans, who had been staunch allies of the old Boer Republics, matters came to a head. Several senior officers serving in the Union Defence Force resigned their commissions and set off the 1914 Rebellion against the established order.
The Rebellion was confined to the western Transvaal, Orange Free State and northern Cape Province and it lacked cohesion. The rebels numbered no more than 12 000, and were opposed by 32 000 troops loyal to the government. Although the Rebellion continued until February 1915, it came nowhere near achieving its aim of restoring independence to the two defunct Boer Republics.
It was events in the western Transvaal that involved Nolte. The Rebellion leaders in this area included Generals C F Beyers and C H Müller, both of whom had started their military careers during the Boer War with the Boksburg Commando. They were no doubt well known to the one-time Burger Nolte, and at least Müller certainly knew him.
Centrally situated in the western Transvaal (now North West Province) is Treurfontein (now Coligny), a small town within easy reach of Klerksdorp, Potchefstroom, Ventersdorp and Lichtenberg, which were the main towns in a region overwhelmingly inhabited by Boers. On 15 August, shortly after the war started, a meeting of the men who were to become rebels was held at Treurfontein, and this town evidently remained a focal point of the Rebellion after it got underway.
On 29 October, it was to Treurfontein that Captain Nolte of the Heidelberg Commando went on a mission to deliver a message to the rebels, and it was while he was approaching them under a white flag of truce that he was shot and killed. Nothing about Nolte’s mission has been uncovered, and the only known record of the circumstances of his death is inscribed on his tombstone in the Primrose Cemetery in Germiston, 200 km to the east.
This incident is but one example of the deep divisions amongst the Boers that had developed after 1902. There may be no closer bond between men than that forged in battle, so during the Boer War Nolte and Müller probably shared such a bond. How must Müller have felt a dozen years later when he either witnessed or later learnt of Nolte’s death? Perhaps the answer lies in a book written by Müller, ‘Oorlogs-herinneringe’, which was published in 1939.
Mills, G. 2000. The Incredible Saga of the Boksburg Commando 1899 – 1902.
Published by the Boksburg Historical Association.
Wood, P. 2005. What happened to Landdrost Maré?
Boksburg Historical Association Newsletter, 26 November 2005.
My wife went to school in Bloemfontein, where one of her classmates was the granddaughter of J E Nolte. It was from her that the relics of her grandfather were obtained. Apart from the ABO, there were two black-ribboned copper medallions commemorating the re-interment of President Paul Kruger in Pretoria in December 1904. Perhaps they were treasured possessions of Jacobus and Francina Nolte, who now lie buried together in the Primrose Cemetery.
The following user(s) said Thank You: djb, Frank Kelley
The death of Captain J E Nolte, Heidelberg Commando, during the 1914 Rebellion
Thanks to Elmarie Malherbe of the Anglo-Boer War Museum in Bloemfontein, and Dr Louis Bothma, a writer and publisher, the incident in which Captain Nolte was killed has been revealed to me. The account quoted below is from this book:
Rebelspoor – die aanloop, verloop, en afloop van die Boereopstand van 1914-15. Pages 247-249. By Dr Louis Bothma, (2015).
Although the Anglo-Boer War ended in 1902, and the two Boer Republics first became British colonies, and then provinces in the Union of South Africa in 1910, the Boers remained politically deeply divided. The majority accepted the new order under Louis Botha and Jan Smuts, but a significant number under leaders such as Manie Maritz, Christiaan de Wet and Christiaan Beyers hoped for a return of the independent republics.
The outbreak of World War I in 1914 precipitated a revolt by the republicans. When the South African government under Louis Botha joined the war on the side of the British, and undertook to capture South West Africa from the Germans, this proved to be a step too far for the disaffected Boers, and the 1914 Rebellion was the result. Maritz led the rebels in the Orange River area of the Cape Province bordering on German South West Africa, de Wet led them in the Orange Free State, and in the western Transvaal their leader was Beyers. Martial law was declared on 12 October 1914, and Botha and Smuts set about putting down the revolt.
It was in the western Transvaal that Captain Nolte served with the government forces.
Initially, there was much uncertainty and disorder as the two sides gathered their men and developed their battle plans. The first blood was spilled in the western Transvaal at Kommissiedrift on 28 October when Botha attacked and dispersed Beyers’ commando. Beyers then joined Jan Kemp, whose men had been gathering at Treurfontein (now Coligny), and it was here that the two sides met again.
What follows is my translation of the account of Captain Nolte’s death given by Dr Louis Bothma in his book on the Rebellion:
The government side included a commando under Commandant Louwrens Nolte, which was approached by six rebels holding two white flags. They stopped about 500 yards from Nolte’s men and signalled with their hats. Commandant Nolte wanted to shoot them, but his brother Captain J E Nolte called for calm saying: “The rebels have come halfway to you, so you cannot shoot them without finding out what is going on.” He then wrote a note on a piece of white paper to the effect that Commandant Nolte wanted to know what the rebels’ intentions were, and if a misunderstanding and bloodshed could be avoided. Captain Nolte took off his revolver and, unarmed, he walked towards the rebels with the white paper in his right hand.
One of the six mounted rebels waiting for Nolte was Field Cornet H C W Vermaas. He was a member of the Lichtenberg Commando that in 1896 rode out to intercept Jameson. In the Anglo-Boer War he accompanied Smuts in his invasion of the Cape Colony, and he was one of those who in one night of teeming rain and cold nearly froze to death in the Eastern Cape mountains. There he got the nickname ‘Hennie Natreent’ (Rain-soaked Hennie). Later as a Field Cornet he served under Manie Maritz, and fought shoulder to shoulder with him in front of the church at Leliefontein when a group of brown people threatened to overwhelm them. Now Natreent sat mounted together with five other rebels near Treurfontein and watched as Captain Nolte approached with the note from his brother held high in his left hand.
Meanwhile Colonel Joof Alberts arrived at Commandant Nolte’s position and saw what was happening. “Commandant, you have made a mistake,” said Alberts, but they let Captain Nolte continue. The next moment a shot rang out and Captain Nolte fell dead.
“See, they have shot and killed your brother!” called Alberts.
Two more shots rang out and Commandant Nolte shouted to his men: “Get up and charge!”
In the chaos that followed the rebels retreated. Alberts chased them and followed some as far as 40 kilometres, before it became dark and the chase had to be halted. A few hundred rebels were captured, 13 were shot dead and 36 wounded. Field Cornet Izak Claasen was one of the wounded who was captured. On the government side Captain Nolte was the only casualty, although many horses died.
Hennie Natreent, who was wounded in the foot, was taken into custody by the police on the farm Geduld, and moved under guard to the Klerksdorp Hospital. He was charged with the murder of Captain Nolte, but was acquitted because the State could not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The evidence of Dr Orford of Klerksdorp who had Nolte’s body exhumed and examined, confirmed the finding.
Nevertheless, Hennie Natreent was charged with treason for his part in the Rebellion and sent to the Fort in Johannesburg.
That ended the account of Nolte’s death, but not of the Rebellion, which carried on until February 1915.
I found the following references in the Pretoria National Archives.
I don't know if you already know about these but they definitely seem like your man.
Do not hesitate to drop me a line if you would like me to look at these for you.
1) Claim for Compensation
DESCRIPTION CLAIMS FOR COMPENSATION. CLAIMS BURGHERS TRANSVAAL. BOKSBURG.
JACOBUS EVERARDUS NOLTE.
2) His death file
DESCRIPTION NOLTE, JACOBUS EVERHARDUS.
REMARKS SURVIVING SPOUSE FRANCINA STEFINA NOLTE (BORN GROBLER).
3) Sounds like a land claim
DESCRIPTION REQUEST FOR NEW LICENCE NUMBER OF CLAIM 7464 ON TRANSFER OF MM NOLTE
SENIOR TO JACOBUS EVERHARDUS NOLTE.
4) Not sure what this is
DESCRIPTION EX PARTE APPLICATION. JACOBUS EVERHARDUS NOLTE.