Home  |  Authors  |  Books  |  Stories  |  What's New  |  How to Get Involved 
   T h e   B a l d w i n   P r o j e c t
     Bringing Yesterday's Classics to Today's Children                 @mainlesson.com
Search This Site Only
 
 
South Africa by  Ian D. Colvin

[Illustration] Hundreds of additional titles available for online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics

Learn More
[Illustration]

 

 

THE FAMILY QUARREL—CONTINUED

[295] NOW let us turn to the course of events north of the Vaal. Here the wildest and most bitter of the emigrant farmers had settled, and they were joined by criminals of all nations who found in the Transvaal an Alsatia where they were secure from pursuit by the minions of the law. The farmers spread themselves in all directions, thinning out over the vast plains and mountain valleys until they had covered an area as large as France, with a population of only a few thousand. Behind them the Boers left Natal, Zululand and Swaziland; on the east was Portuguese Africa; on the north the Limpopo bounded their horizon; on the west the Bechuana tribes lay between them and the Kalihari. They had thus a country rich in nearly everything that man could desire. Its western portion was a high plateau, six thousand feet above sea-level in parts, with a glorious climate, cool and dry, and magnificent grazing for their cattle and sheep. Gold and coal were underfoot in abundance; and the English digger was gradually penetrating the mountains on the east. The plateau fell in great terraces westward to the bushveld, much lower and therefore much hotter, and thickly populated by native tribes who preferred the low country to the cold climate of the plateau. These natives of the west were a very different people from the [296] Zulus. Unwarlike in their habits, they cultivated their mealies and grazed their cattle with the occasional excitement of a tribal raid. Numerous as they were they were not a formidable enemy to the Boer invaders who took their pasture, their cattle, and their children, much in the same manner as the tribes of Israel used the Canaanites.

We have seen how after Sir Harry Smith left the Cape, the British Government abandoned the loyal farmers and the natives north of the Orange to their fate. It was a policy of scuttle, and in the same way British sovereignty over the Transvaal was formally renounced two years after by the Sand River Convention, which gave the country up to the Boers on the almost sole condition that there was to be no slavery.

But this condition the Boers had no intention of keeping. On the contrary, they legalised a system of thinly disguised slavery of perhaps the worst form ever invented by man, for the apprenticeship system was a direct incitement to fraud and murder. Under this law Boers could keep Kafirs in their service without payment of wages until they were twenty-five years old. These young slaves were called apprentices. They were either bought from the Kafirs or taken in a raid. If they were bought, it only meant that they were raided second-hand, for very few Kafirs would sell their own children. But the common method was to get up a quarrel on any pretext, shoot the men and women and take away the children and cattle. It was seldom that they were either liberated or paid when they came of age for nobody knew their age and they could appeal to no one. They were openly bought and sold: the entries of sale have been copied from the Landdrost's registers.

That this system should exist in the third quarter of the nineteenth century was of course a blot on the scutcheon of Great Britain, and not only missionaries like [297] Livingstone, but the English diggers and the British colonists and officials denounced it But there were other reasons for interference. The Boers were divided among themselves, and one commando was sometimes in actual warfare with another. These divisions, and the extent of country they covered, so weakened their power that even the less warlike of the native tribes began to pluck up heart and attack them. Moreover the Zulus, who had again gathered great strength under Cetewayo, as bloodthirsty a tyrant as Dingaan himself, were eager to wipe out old scores. The most powerful of the Bechuana were also determined to revenge themselves; and the Swazis were almost as hostile.

The direct cause of this native outbreak was the attack on Sekukuni, a Bapedi chief, who occupied a mountain stronghold to the north-east of the Transvaal. The Boers attacked the country with some Swazi allies; but allowed the allies to do the fighting in the same way as they had used Panda to fight Dingaan. There was enormous slaughter; but Sekukuni took up a strong position in the mountains and defeated the Boer commando. This was the most ignominious defeat ever suffered by white men in Africa. Burgers, the President, in vain tried to stop the rout. The burghers turned tail, and fled, and the news went humming round the black circle of the Transvaal that the white man had been defeated by the despised Bapedi.

And now Cetewayo determined to strike. He collected a great army and would have marched upon the disunited and helpless Boers, had not Sir Theophilus Shepstone, the Native Secretary of Natal, a man who was almost worshipped by the natives, used his enormous influence to restrain them. The Boers were in a desperate state. They had been compelled to engage mercenaries to fight Sekukuni; they were almost [298] bankrupt; they were refusing to obey their President or to pay their taxes, and they were being driven off their farms by native invaders. The position was not only dangerous to the Boers; it was dangerous to the rest of South Africa, and against its will the British Government was compelled to interfere. The Boers themselves were sick of the position, and when Sir Theophilus Shepstone annexed the country on the 12th of April 1877, not a musket was fired to prevent him. Indeed, a large number of Boers, headed by Paul Kruger, who had been intriguing against the President, welcomed the change.

The British Government, wisely guided by Lord Carnarvon, stepped in in the nick of time. Parliament voted 100,000 to meet the most pressing liabilities of the new colony. Sekukuni, who had become arrogant owing to his success against the Boers, and was raiding friendly natives, was checked and punished by British troops, and when Cetewayo refused to obey Sir Bartle Frere's orders to disband his standing army and atone for the outrages he had committed, he was attacked by Lord Chelmsford.

The Zulu war began with the British disaster at Isandhlwwna. This was a hill against the rocky sides of which was placed the headquarters camp, a good enough position if Chelmsford's orders had been obeyed, and the wagons formed in laager after the Boer fashion. But this was not done, and the defence of the camp fell on a force of 1600 men, of whom half were Zulu friendlies. They were unexpectedly attacked by an army of 20,000 Zulus. Many of the warriors were now armed with guns, so that they were even more formidable than in the old days of Chaka and Dingaan, and they bore down on the camp, regiment upon regiment, like the waves of the sea. The English troops, part of the 24th Regiment, made a fine defence, mowing down the Zulus as they came on; but the native [299] contingent gave way under the weight of the attack, and thus left the British defence open on its flank and rear. The Zulus swarmed in with their stabbing assegais before the soldiers had time to fix bayonets, and in a moment all was lost. The camp was one seething mass of Zulus and soldiers stabbing and firing. Then the whites broke and fled, with the savages after them over the rough broken country towards the Buffalo River. Here the fugitives were caught in a trap; many were drowned, many assegaied, and only a few got over the torrent, but among them Melville and Coghill with the colours of their regiment. It was a terrible day, not only for the 24th, but for their gallant comrades the colonial troops. Twenty-six imperial and twenty-four colonial officers fell, with 600 non-commissioned officers and men.

At Rorke's Drift, on the Buffalo River, a little force consisting of one company of the 24th under Lieutenant Bromhead and Lieutenant Chard of the Engineers, guarded the ford and the stores and hospital. When they heard of the disaster in front they barricaded the place with walls of mealie bags and biscuit tins, and waited for the attack they knew must come. And they had not long to wait. Four thousand Zulus surrounded the little post and a desperate fight began. The savages broke into the hospital, where they were met with the bayonet, and in doorways and passages black men and white fought hand-to-hand. The place went up in flames, but not before most of the sick had been carried to an inner position, where the soldiers threw back charge after charge all through the night. In the morning the enemy drew off beaten, leaving 870 of their dead round the post.

The stirring events of this great war would occupy a volume. There was the disaster at Intombi Drift, where a convoy was wiped out owing to the carelessness of those in charge. There was the death of the [300] Weatherlys, father and son, in the fight with Umbelini. Colonel Weatherly's Horse went into action eighty strong, and of these more than half were killed. The last seen of the old colonel was as he stood facing the enemy, mortally wounded by assegais, but still wielding his sabre, while with his left he held the hand of his son, who preferred death with his father to retreat. In the same grim fight died Piet Uys, the leader of a brave band of Dutch farmers, who served splendidly alongside their British comrades. We have already heard of his family in the old fights with Dingaan. "Splendid, manly, honest, simple and taciturn Piet Uys," as an English officer called him. He died to defend the retreat of his men. "He was last seen with his back to the cliff, standing across the body of his favourite mooi paard, with six large Zulus lying dead in a circle round him, his empty revolver in his left hand, and his body pierced by two assegais." There was the death too, of that young and gallant soldier, Prince Louis Napoleon, a miserable disaster of which no Englishman can think without shame, for it was due to carelessness, if nothing worse, on the part of those responsible for his safety.

There were many checks upon Chelmsford's advance, as was little to be wondered at, since he had a foe of 40,000 fighting Zulus in some of the wildest and most rugged country in South Africa. But he broke the Zulu power nevertheless. At Kambula a Zulu army of 20,000 braves was defeated with tremendous slaughter. Colonel Evelyn Wood had made his camp upon a narrow ridge, guarded on its right flank by a precipice, and on its other sides by strong entrenchments and several guns, as well as by outer and inner lines of wagons laagered in the Boer fashion. Here the Zulus attacked with all their usual bravery, regiment upon regiment, seething up to the muzzles of [301] the guns. It was one of the fiercest fights in our history, and it ended in the complete defeat of the Zulus, and the loss of 8000 of Cetewayo's bravest warriors. Lastly, or almost lastly, there was the great battle of Ulundi, where Chelmsford struck his most tremendous blow. His army was drawn up in a hollow square, and was attacked by the Zulu impis that guarded the king's kraal. It was Cetewayo's Waterloo. Redvers Buller's horsemen, firing and retreating as the Boers used to do with Moselekatse's warriors; drew the Zulu regiments on. The square opened to let the cavalry enter, then closed again, and received the desperate attacks of the enemy with unbroken lines. At the critical moment, as in the fight of the Blood River, the cavalry issued forth again and fell with lance and sabre upon the broken enemy. The Zulu army was over twenty thousand strong, and it lost about three thousand men before the day ended. At this moment Lord Chelmsford, a fine soldier and brave man, was superseded, an action on the part of the home authorities that might be compared with the recall of Sir Harry Smith. But the war was over. Sir Garnet Wolseley succeeded him; but the work was done, and the king, Cetewayo, deserted by his impis, was dragged from his hiding-place and made prisoner.

It was a great campaign, in which the Zulu power was completely broken at enormous cost of British blood and money. It was a task that had to be done, and one of its chief objects was to protect the Boers of the Transvaal as well as the Boers of Natal; but, except for Uys and his gallant little band, the Dutch held aloof and allowed the British to carry out the task alone.

We have seen then that the Transvaal was made a British colony for very good reasons. The Boers were bankrupt, they had re-established slavery, they were surrounded by a ring of hostile natives, their misrule [302] was giving trouble to the whole of South Africa. England stepped in largely at the request of the Boers themselves, re-established the authority of Government, broke the power of the Zulus, the Swazis, and Sekukuni, paid the outstanding debts of the country, and generally put things right. Here you might have thought was a claim for gratitude. But gratitude there was none. The new Government, perhaps, was too full of energy, a trifle unsympathetic. Sir Theophilus Shepstone, whom the Boers liked, had to neglect the Transvaal for the more pressing Zulu question. Then the Government collected taxes, a terrible thing in the eyes of the Boer; and, no doubt, it was a mistake to claim not only the taxes due to the new Government, but the arrears which had not been paid to the old. Native raiding was stopped, and other disagreeable reforms carried out. Moreover, the Government was largely in the hands of military men, who, though they meant well, were naturally despotic, and the promise of representative government was not fulfilled, though, no doubt, it would have been fulfilled in time.

The Boers grumbled. They agitated for their independence. Sir Bartle Frere told them gently but firmly that England could not abandon the country she had undertaken to protect. Sir Garnet Wolseley said that the Transvaal would remain British territory "as long as the sun shone." The statesmen at home said the same. But two things gave the Boers hope. One was that after Sekukuni was defeated and captured by Sir Garnet Wolseley, the troops were withdrawn from the Transvaal, and the other that Mr. Gladstone, who was fighting the Government in the Midlothian election, took up the cause of Boer independence, which, like the Chinese question later on, was a useful brick to throw at the head of a Ministry. He said that if places like the Transvaal "were as valuable as they [303] were valueless, he would repudiate them because they were obtained by means dishonourable to the character of the country." Such statements as these delighted the Boers. But when Mr. Gladstone became Prime Minister and Joubert and Kruger reminded him of his words, he only replied that what was done could not be undone, and that the Government had "given a pledge . . . to the native population" which could not be set aside; and the new Government telegraphed to Sir Bartle Frere—Under no circumstances can the Queen's authority in the Transvaal be relinquished." Mr. Gladstone's sentences were long and involved like the coils of a snake, from which the head sometimes seems to peep out on one side and sometimes on the other. But so much was plain: what he had condemned in Opposition he supported in office.

The most disastrous blunder of all, however, was the treatment of Sir Bartle Frere, the greatest governor and one of the best men South Africa had ever seen, or certainly since Simon van der Stel. He was trusted by the Boers, and the curtailment of his power, and then his recall, struck a deadly blow at the Imperial cause for which he stood in South Africa.

So the Boers thought it was time to act for themselves. They called a meeting at Paarde Kraal, near Pretoria, and proclaimed the republic.

It is quite untrue that the whole country was behind this proclamation. A considerable number of the Boers were quite content with the British Government, and had to be bullied into opposition, while there was a considerable British population which was enthusiastically in favour of England. The natives, too, were practically all for the new Government.

At that time, of course, there was no Johannesburg; but Pretoria was a flourishing little town of some five thousand inhabitants, mainly English. Then there was [304] Potchefstroom, near the southern frontier, a handsome township, more Dutch than Pretoria; and there were other villages like Lydenburg, Wakkerstroom, Rustenberg and Standerton. These places had their small British garrisons, and their British residents who enrolled themselves as volunteers and joined gallantly in the defence. They were soon besieged by the Boer commandos, little separate points of resistance in a hostile country.

The first big event of the war was the disaster of Bronkerspruit. Part of the 94th regiment had been ordered from Lydenburg to join the garrison at Pretoria. There were five officers and 230 soldiers with a number of women and children and a long train of wagons. Colonel Anstruther, who was in command, did not know that war had broken out; but he had been warned to be on his guard. That he was not on his guard is clear, for there was only one scout out in front. The main body was marching along gaily behind the band, which was playing "Kiss Me, Mother," with no thought of any trouble. A large force of Boers, at the lowest estimate 500, formed an ambush on a hill which commanded the road at a point where it dipped down into a little ravine called Bronker's Spruit. The Boers suddenly appeared and under cover of a flag of truce demanded a surrender. Anstruther refused, and the Boers immediately opened a deadly volley at 200 yards, wounding Anstruther and killing or wounding most of the other officers and a large number of men. The rest of the men spread themselves out and returned the fire; but they were in a hopeless position. After half-an-hour's fighting, the colonel, who was wounded in five places, and saw that his force was being massacred, ordered the "Cease Fire!" and surrendered to Franz Joubert, the commandant. It was high time, for of the little force fifty-seven had been killed and a hundred wounded.

[305] But greater disasters were to follow. The Boers, by besieging the British garrisons, forced the English commanders to fight them on their own ground just as they did long after in the last Boer war. There were about 1200 troops in Natal, and it was certain that these would march to the relief of the garrisons, so the Boers made their plans to oppose them in the wild passes of the Drakensbergen, the great range of mountains that leaps up from the Natal plains in a wall of rock several thousand feet high. It was through these mountain passes that they had trekked long before when they refused to submit to British government at Pietermaritzburg, and they knew that the troops would wind up the same road as they had followed themselves, by way of Laing's Nek, a narrow pass between high precipices, the chief of which is the mountain tower of Majuba. In these eyries they could watch the redcoats as they painfully scaled the rocks, and block their way in one natural fortress after another.

Sir George Pomeroy Colley, the general in command in Natal, understood as well as any one the desperate nature of the task. But the Bronkerspruit disaster, which left the Pretoria garrison dangerously weak, and the unprovided state of the Potchefstroom garrison, which, he calculated, could only hold out for a month, forced his hand. As he said himself, towards the end of January (1881), "If Potchefstroom could hold out, one might sit and smoke here with advantage, but they cannot last beyond the middle of February." A large part of his little force were mere recruits who could neither shoot nor ride; he knew that a force double his strength would oppose him at Laing's Nek. There were big risks, but as he said himself, "You may class men, soldiers especially, as those who see the difficulty of a thing and why it cannot be done—and those who see the way of overcoming difficulties and doing it; and I have certainly always aimed at belonging to the latter [306] class." But in this case the difficulties were too great, even for so brilliant a soldier as Colley. When he got to Laing's Nek, he found the Boers had defended the pass with stone sangars. On the left of the road, looking towards the Transvaal, towered the apparently inaccessible mountain of Majuba; on the right, commanding the road, was a table hill, six hundred feet above the level of the plateau, with rocky ridges extending away to the right. The Boer right rested on Majuba, its centre occupied the plateau hill, and its left stretched away among the broken knolls and ridges.

Colley had to attack this natural fortress, defended by some two thousand Boers, with only a thousand men. For his point of attack he chose a place on his right where the ascent to the Table Hill was over blind ground. The attack very nearly succeeded; indeed, the hill was won by the first troop of mounted men under Brownlow who shot the leading Boer with his revolver. The Boers were running to their horses when a sudden panic seized the supporting troop and they turned tail and fled. The key of the position was thus lost; the infantry attack failed in consequence, and Colley was forced to retire on his fortified camp with heavy loss.

Then came the Ingogo affair. The Boers had cut off communication with Colley's base at Newcastle, and Sir George marched back with a part of his force to escort the post and bring up some wagons. He crossed a little stream called the Ingogo, and on a plateau above his force was surrounded by the Boers, who were able to advance over covered ground. A long grim fight followed, which ended only with the darkness, under cover of which Sir George withdrew his troops and guns and made a masterly retreat to his camp, though he was compelled to leave the wounded where they lay on the field.

These two engagements taught Colley that his men [307] were poor shots, and not over steady. It was a desperate position. But Colley was not yet beaten. He decided on a bold movement which had in it a fair promise of success.

We have already seen how the great mountain of Majuba, 6500 feet above the sea, towered over the right of the Boer position. It was a tremendous rock with sides that grew steeper till they ended almost in sheer precipices near the top, and the top itself was a plateau where a whole army could make its camp. If a British force were once lodged on the summit, Colley thought, the Boer position in the pass below would be at its mercy. Like a good general he first made himself master of the geography of the mountain and its surroundings, and he found that it could be scaled on the western side and that water was to be found at the top. Then he made his plans, not on the spur of the moment, but silently and secretly. He knew that the Boers picketed the summit during the day but abandoned the position at night, and it was obviously a case for a night movement. He had received reinforcements—a battalion of the 92nd Gordon Highlanders, fifty of the Naval Brigade with two guns, and a squadron of Hussars. These, with the 800 men left of his original force, gave him enough troops to garrison his strongly entrenched camp, and occupy the mountain without much apparent danger if he could once get there.

On the night of 26th February all seemed quiet in the British camp to the Boers who watched it from their entrenchments on the Nek. The bugle sounded and the lights went out. It was a dark night, but the sky was clear and the stars shone brightly. At 9:30 the little force detailed for the movement silently fell in. It consisted of three companies of the 92nd, two of the 60th, and two of the 58th, with sixty-four of the Naval Brigade, 554 rifles in all. Two of the companies were to be left on a ridge on the way and a third near [308] the foot of the mountain, while the remaining four were to occupy the summit. Everything was in order, all Colley's arrangements worked well, and with only one delay, the result of the darkness, the four companies reached the top. It had been a hard climb for the men laden with ammunition and supplies for three days. At first the track was through clumps of thorn-bushes strewn with great boulders that had fallen from the heights above; but the last 200 feet was a rock face, where the men had to dig in hands and toes to pull themselves up.

The crest was gained at four o'clock in the morning, and Colley must have exulted at the strength of his position. He was on a little hollow tableland about twelve hundred yards in circumference, dipping from its rocky rim to a basin in the centre of from ten to forty feet deep, and about 900 yards round. From the outside rim projected at several points a rocky spur, and on the north-western side a little peak, which served as tower and bastions to this natural fortress. Colley garrisoned the kopjes and placed a line of men almost round the rim. The place did not look as if it needed to be fortified, and indeed it might have been held by determined men against a far greater army than the Boers could bring against it; but Colley planned out a series of redoubts to be built of the stones that lay strewn about; and the men were told to secure their positions by fire-shelters of stone and turf. This they did, but carelessly. They were in fact in a state of dangerous exaltation. Their defeats had depressed them; they now saw the tables turned and shouted with glee, and when dawn revealed the Boers far below, showing "scarce as gross as beetles" among their tents and wagons, the Highlanders, standing defiant on the sky-line, shook their fists at them.

Colley did not expect an immediate attack: indeed no attack seemed possible, and the sight of the enemy [309] busy inspanning their cattle gave ground for the belief that they meditated flight.

But soon a long range musketry-fire began from the lower slopes of the mountain. It did no harm to the besieged, who lay quite secure behind the edge of their mountain wall. So the morning wore on; Commander Romilly, a gallant sailor, was mortally wounded, and three men received slight wounds; but the garrison seemed secure, and exultingly looked down at the Boer laager breaking up and moving away. But now the enemy was observed coming closer up the steep slopes at the base of the mountain. Their fire grew more accurate, so that moving became risky; but still the soldiers laughed at all thought of danger, for the flanking koppies completely guarded the last hundred feet of the climb—"that smooth ascent bare of trees, rounded like a skull and so steep that only on hands and knees could it be climbed." The reserves were dozing in the central hollow, the outer ring were lying on their stomachs and occasionally potting at a Boer in the valley below, when suddenly a volley rang out at short range, and the garrison of one of the koppies, who had been standing up and firing, were tumbled over like so many rabbits. A force of sixty Boers had crept up the rugged slopes, like hunters stalking mountain buck, and when they had got to within eighty yards of the koppie suddenly delivered this fatal volley.

The effect was tremendous. The soldiers, who had been lulled by false security, were taken completely by surprise. There was an instinctive recoil from the vital point attacked; the Boers rushed upwards, firing rapidly and well; the panic spread and intensified; the men fell back into the central hollow or behind its inner rim, and now on the outer rim was a line of Boers concealed behind the rocks and pouring in a deadly fire upon the crowd below. In vain the officers tried to rally their [310] men. The panic became a headlong flight; the fleeing soldiers were shot by the score as they rushed in a helpless torrent down the steep sides of the hill. Colley, who had never lost his head for a moment, and had done all a brave man could to rally his men, fell with his face to the enemy, shot through the forehead.

It was a miserable business; but Colley was not to blame. If the men had not been seized by a panic, which he could not have foreseen, the Boer attack must have failed. There have been such panics in the world before, and they will no doubt happen again. Only a few years before the Boers had fled in a manner quite as ignominious from a more ignoble foe, when Burgers begged of them to shoot him rather than disgrace the Republic, as they ran from the despised Bapedi. In the Majuba case perhaps a doctor would look for the cause in the fatigue of the night march, and the strain of watching from the height, as well as the excitement of the men. But the plain man will not find anything to say except that the Boers behaved like heroes, and the majority of the British in a manner entirely unheroic.

Poor Colley! he indeed was a brave man. Perhaps he had some inkling of his untoward fate, for before setting out from camp he wrote his wife a letter of farewell: "I am going out to-night," he wrote, "to try and seize the Majuba Hill, which commands the right of the Boer position, and leave this behind, in case I should not return, to tell you how very dearly I love you, and what a happiness you have been to me. Don't let all life be dark to you if I don't come back to you. It is a strange world of chances; one can only do what seems right to one in matters of morals, and do what seems best in matters of judgment, as a card-player calculates the chances, and the wrong card may turn up and everything turn out to be done for the [311] worst instead of for the best. But if one sticks to this steadily I don't think one can go wrong in the long run, and, at any rate, we can do no more."

But after all, Majuba was not the real disgrace of the war. What British troops have lost, they may be always trusted to retrieve. "Let no one ever say that England lost prestige through Sir George Colley," wrote Sir Bartle Frere. "I do not like the word so much as 'character' or 'conduct' which create it. But no country ever lost real prestige through defeat. Nelson, wounded and repulsed at Teneriffe; Grenvil, overpowered and dying on the deck of the Revenge, did as much for England's prestige as Marlborough at Blenheim or Wellington at Waterloo. Sir George Colley miscalculated his own and his enemy's strength, but he had nothing to do with disgraceful surrender, and I am sure had rather be where he now rests than sign a disgraceful peace, which is the only thing that can injure England's prestige."

Before we come to the "disgraceful peace," let us see what was happening in the Transvaal all the time that Colley was breaking his nails on the wall of the Drakensbergen.

When the war broke out the military in Pretoria realised that they could not hope to hold the town, which was too straggling to be defended, and the whole population was moved into a more tenable position. The volunteers did well; the regulars, who were foolishly clad in scarlet coats and white helmets, less well, if we are to believe Mr. Nixon's excellent account in his Story of the Transvaal; but the best infantry in the world could do little against a mounted enemy, and the important thing is that the place held out, giving at least as good as it got to the end of the war. At Potchefstroom there was a more terrible siege. A small garrison of two hundred men held a badly placed fort against a force of six hundred Boers. In [312] the last fortnight of the siege all the garrison had to eat was some rotten, evil-smelling mealies taken from the bags in the earthworks where they had been placed for the purpose of defence at the beginning. But the greatest misery of the siege was surrender, forced upon Colonel Winsloe by starvation after a desperate siege of three months. Standerton made a happier defence, as did Lydenberg; and Rustenberg also, in spite of an ingenious breech-loading gun made by a Boer out of wagon-tires.

It must be said that some of the Boers at times behaved badly, but on this aspect of the war it is perhaps better to say nothing.

Let us draw this last unhappy chapter to an end. Gladstone, who had encouraged the Boers to rebel and then disgusted them into war by breaking what they regarded as a promise, now changed his mind again at the moment when the fortunes of war were blackest for England. Roberts and his reinforcements were withdrawn, the country was given up, and the natives and the loyalists abandoned to the tender mercies of the Boers. The story of this humiliating transaction is well known; its results are too sad to dwell upon. Colonel Lanyon, the brave and loyal Administrator, whose heart was almost broken by the surrender, has described them in letters (quoted on p. 417 of Mr. Martineau's Life of Frere) which one cannot read without being overpowered by a desolating sense of shame. Loyalists, English and Dutch, who had stood by the Union Jack through the war, were ruined and had to leave the country in beggary to escape the persecution of the other side. The natives, who had with difficulty been restrained from joining in the attack upon the Boers, were robbed and murdered [313] and enslaved as before; but worse than this, the surrender laid up terrible trouble for all South Africa in the future, for one white race was put in a position to be the tyrants of the other. The Outlanders were treated as the subjects of a conquered race might expect be treated, and the result was the Jameson Raid and the second Transvaal War.


 Table of Contents  |  Index  | Previous: The Family Quarrel  |  Next: Conclusion
Copyright (c) 2000-2017 Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.