Chapter 1


Take a community of Dutchmen of the type of those who defended
themselves for fifty years against all the power of Spain at a time
when Spain was the greatest power in the world. Intermix with them a
strain of those inflexible French Huguenots who gave up home and
fortune and left their country for ever at the time of the revocation
of the Edict of Nantes. The product must obviously be one of the most
rugged, virile, unconquerable races ever seen upon earth. Take this
formidable people and train them for seven generations in constant
warfare against savage men and ferocious beasts, in circumstances
under which no weakling could survive, place them so that they acquire
exceptional skill with weapons and in horsemanship, give them a
country which is eminently suited to the tactics of the huntsman, the
marksman, and the rider. Then, finally, put a finer temper upon their
military qualities by a dour fatalistic Old Testament religion and an
ardent and consuming patriotism. Combine all these qualities and all
these impulses in one individual, and you have the modern Boer -- the
most formidable antagonist who ever crossed the path of Imperial
Britain. Our military history has largely consisted in our conflicts
with France, but Napoleon and all his veterans have never treated us
so roughly as these hard-bitten farmers with their ancient theology
and their inconveniently modern rifles.

Look at the map of South Africa, and there, in the very centre of the
British possessions, like the stone in a peach, lies the great stretch
of the two republics, a mighty domain for so small a people. How came
they there? Who are these Teutonic folk who have burrowed so deeply
into Africa? It is a twice-told tale, and yet it must be told once
again if this story is to have even the most superficial of
introductions. No one can know or appreciate the Boer who does not
know his past, for he is what his past has made him.

It was about the time when Oliver Cromwell was at his zenith -- in
1652, to be pedantically accurate -- that the Dutch made their first
lodgment at the Cape of Good Hope. The Portuguese had been there
before them, but, repelled by the evil weather, and lured forwards by
rumours of gold, they had passed the true seat of empire and had
voyaged further to settle along the eastern coast. Some gold there
was, but not much, and the Portuguese settlements have never been
sources of wealth to the mother country, and never will be until the
day when Great Britain signs her huge cheque for Delagoa Bay. The
coast upon which they settled reeked with malaria. A hundred miles of
poisonous marsh separated it from the healthy inland plateau. For
centuries these pioneers of South African colonisation strove to
obtain some further footing, but save along the courses of the rivers
they made little progress. Fierce natives and an enervating climate
barred their way.

But it was different with the Dutch. That very rudeness of climate
which had so impressed the Portuguese adventurer was the source of
their success. Cold and poverty and storm are the nurses of the
qualities which make for empire. It is the men from the bleak and
barren lands who master the children of the light and the heat. And so
the Dutchmen at the Cape prospered and grew stronger in that robust
climate. They did not penetrate far inland, for they were few in
number and all they wanted was to be found close at hand. But they
built themselves houses, and they supplied the Dutch East India
Company with food and water, gradually budding off little townlets,
Wynberg, Stellenbosch, and pushing their settlements up the long
slopes which lead to that great central plateau which extends for
fifteen hundred miles from the edge of the Karoo to the Valley of the
Zambesi. Then came the additional Huguenot emigrants -- the best
blood of France three hundred of them, a handful of the choicest seed
thrown in to give a touch of grace and soul to the solid Teutonic
strain. Again and again in the course of history, with the Normans,
the Huguenots, the Emigr�s, one can see the great hand dipping into
that storehouse and sprinkling the nations with the same splendid
seed. France has not founded other countries, like her great rival,
but she has made every other country the richer by the mixture with
her choicest and best. The Rouxs, Du Toits, Jouberts, Du Plessis,
Villiers, and a score of other French names are among the most
familiar in South Africa.

For a hundred more years the history of the colony was a record of the
gradual spreading ,of the Afrikaners over the huge expanse of veld
which lay to the north of them. Cattle raising became an industry, but
in a country where six acres can hardly support a sheep, large farms
are necessary for even small herds. Six thousand acres was the usual
size, and five pounds a year the rent payable to Government. The
diseases which follow the white man had in Africa, as in America and
Australia, been fatal to the natives, and an epidemic of smallpox
cleared the country for the newcomers. Further and further north they
pushed, founding little towns here and there, such as Graaf-Reinet and
Swellendam, where a Dutch Reformed Church and a store for the sale of
the bare necessaries of life formed a nucleus for a few scattered
dwellings. Already the settlers were showing that independence of
control and that detachment from Europe which has been their most
prominent characteristic. Even the sway of the Dutch Company (an
older but weaker brother of John Company in India) had caused them to
revolt. The local rising, however, was hardly noticed in the universal
cataclysm which followed the French Revolution. After twenty years,
during which the world was shaken by the Titanic struggle between
England and France in the final counting up of the game and paying of
the stakes, the Cape Colony was added in 1814 to the British Empire.

In all our vast collection of States there is probably not one the
title-deeds to which are more incontestable than to this one. We had
it by two rights, the right of conquest and the right of purchase. In
1806 our troops landed, defeated the local forces, and took p05session
of Cape Town. In 1814 we paid the large sum of six million pounds to
the Stadholder for the transference of this and some South American
land. It was a bargain which was probably made rapidly and carelessly
in that general redistribution which was going on. As a house of call
upon the way to India the place was seen to be of value, but the
country itself was looked upon as unprofitable and
desert. What would Castlereagh or Liverpool have thought could they
have seen the items which we were buying for our six million pounds?
The inventory would have been a mixed one of good and of evil; nine
fierce Kaffir wars, the greatest diamond mines in the world, the
wealthiest gold mines, two costly and humiliating campaigns with men
whom we respected even when we fought with them, and now at last, we
hope, a South Africa of peace and prosperity, with equal rights and
equal duties for all men. The future should hold something very good
for us in that land, for if we merely count the past we should be
compelled to say that we should have been stronger, richer, and higher
in the world's esteem had our possessions there never passed beyond
the range of the guns of our men-of-war. But surely the most arduous
is the most honourable, and, looking back from the end of their
journey, our descendants may see that our long record of struggle,
with its mixture of disaster and success, its outpouring of blood and
of treasure, has always tended to some great and enduring goal.

The title-deeds to the estate are, as I have said, good ones, but
there is one singular and ominous flaw in their provisions. The ocean
has marked three boundaries to it, but the fourth is undefined. There
is no word of the `Hinterland;' for neither the term nor the idea had
then been thought of. Had Great Britain bought those vast regions
which extended beyond the settlements? Or were the discontented Dutch
at liberty to pass onwards and found fresh nations to bar the path of
the Anglo-Celtic colonists? In that question lay the germ of all the
trouble to come. An American would realise the point at issue if he
could conceive that after the founding of the United States the Dutch
inhabitants of the State of New York had trekked to the westward and
established fresh communities under a new flag. Then, when the
American population overtook these western States, they would be face
to face with the problem which this country has had to solve. If they
found these new States fiercely anti-American and extremely
unprogressive, they would experience that aggravation of their
difficulties with which our statesmen have had to deal.

At the time of their transference to the British flag the colonists --
Dutch, French, and German -- numbered some thirty thousand. They were
slaveholders, and the slaves were about as numerous as themselves. The
prospect of complete amalgamation between the British and the original
settlers would have seemed to be a good one, since they were of much
the same stock, and their creeds could only be distinguished by their
varying degrees of bigotry and intolerance. Five thousand British
emigrants were landed in 1820, settling on the Eastern borders of the
colony, and from that time onwards there was a slow but steady influx
of English speaking colonists. The Government had the historical
faults and the historical virtues of British rule. It was mild, clean,
honest, tactless, and inconsistent. On the whole, it might have done
very well had it been content to leave things as it found them. But
to change the habits of the most conservative of Teutonic races was a
dangerous venture, and one which has led to a long series of
complications, making up the troubled history of South Africa. The
Imperial Government has always taken an honourable and philanthropic
view of the rights of the native and the claim which he has to the
protection of the law. We hold and rightly, that British justice, if
not blind, should at least be colour-blind. The view is
irreproachable in theory and incontestable in argument, but it is apt
to be irritating when urged by a Boston moralist or a London
philanthropist upon men whose whole society has been built upon the
assumption that the black is the inferior race. Such a people like to
find the higher morality for themselves, not to have it imposed upon
them by those who live under entirely different conditions. They
feel -- and with some reason -- that it is a cheap form of virtue which,
from the serenity of a well-ordered household in Beacon Street or
Belgrave Square, prescribes what the relation shall be between a white
employer and his half-savage, half-childish retainers. Both branches
of the Anglo-Celtic race have grappled with the question, and in each
it has led to trouble.

The British Government in South Africa has always played the unpopular
part of the friend and protector of the native servants. It was upon
this very point that the first friction appeared between the old
settlers and the new administration. A rising with bloodshed followed
the arrest of a Dutch farmer who had maltreated his slave. It was
suppressed, and five of the participants were hanged. This punishment
was unduly severe and exceedingly injudicious. A brave race can forget
the victims of the field of battle, but never those of the scaffold.
The making of political martyrs is the last insanity of statesmanship.
It is true that both the man who arrested and the judge who condemned
the prisoners were Dutch, and that the British Governor interfered on
the side of mercy; but all this was forgotten afterwards in the desire
to make racial capital out of the incident. It is typical of the
enduring resentment which was left behind that when, after the
Jameson raid, it seemed that the leaders of that ill-fated venture
might be hanged, the beam was actually brought from a farmhouse at
Cookhouse Drift to Pretoria, that the Englishmen might die as the
Dutchmen had died in 1816. Slagter's Nek marked the dividing of the
ways between the British Government and the Afrikaners.

And the separation soon became more marked. There were injudicious
tamperings with the local government and the local ways, with a
substitution of English for Dutch in the law courts. With vicarious
generosity, the English Government gave very lenient terms to the
Kaffir tribes who in 1834 had raided the border farmers. And then,
finally, in this same year there came the emancipation of the slaves
throughout the British Empire, which fanned all smouldering
discontents into an active flame.

It must be confessed that on this occasion the British philanthropist
was willing to pay for what he thought was right. It was a noble
national action, and one the morality of which was in advance of its
time, that the British Parliament should vote the enormous sum of
twenty million pounds to pay compensation to the slaveholders, and so
to remove an evil with which the mother country bad no immediate
connection. It was as well that the thing should have been done when
it was, for had we waited till the colonies affected had governments
of their own it could never have been done by constitutional methods.
With many a grumble the good British householder drew his purse from
his fob, and he paid for what he thought to be right. If any special
grace attends the virtuous action which brings nothing but tribulation
in this world, then we may hope for it over this emancipation. We
spent our money, we ruined our West Indian colonies, and we started a
disaffection in South Africa, the end of which we have not seen. Yet
if it were to be done again we should doubtless do it. The highest
morality may prove also to be the highest wisdom when the half-told
story comes to be finished.

But the details of the measure were less honourable than the
principle. It was carried out suddenly, so that the country had no
time to adjust itself to the new conditions. Three million pounds
were ear-marked for South Africa, which gives a price per slave of
from sixty to seventy pounds, a sum considerably below the current
local rates. Finally, the compensation was made payable in London, so
that the farmers sold their claims at reduced prices to middlemen.
Indignation meetings were held in every little townlet and cattle camp
on the Karoo. The old Dutch spirit was up -- the spirit of the men
who cut the dykes. Rebellion was useless. But a vast untenanted land
stretched to the north of them. The nomad life was congenial to them,
and in their huge ox-drawn wagons -- like those bullock-carts in which
some of their old kinsmen came to Gaul -- they had vehicles and homes
and forts all in one. One by one they were loaded up, the huge teams
were inspanned, the women were seated inside, the men, with their
long-barrelled guns, walked alongside, and the great exodus was begun.
Their herds and flocks accompanied the migration, and the children
helped to round them in and drive them. One tattered little boy of
ten cracked his sjambok whip behind the bullocks. He was a small item
in that singular crowd, but he was of interest to us, for his name was
Paul Stephanus Kruger.

It was a strange exodus, only comparable in modern times to the
sallying forth of the Mormons from Nauvoo upon their search for the
promised laud of Utah. The country was known and sparsely settled as
far north as the Orange River, but beyond there was a great region
which had never been penetrated save by some daring hunter or
adventurous pioneer. It chanced -- if there be indeed such an element
as chance in the graver affairs of man -- that a Zulu conqueror had
swept over this land and left it untenanted, save by the dwarf
bushmen, the hideous aborigines, lowest of the human race. There were
fine grazing and good soil for the emigrants. They traveled in small
detached parties, but their total numbers were considerable, from six
to ten thousand according to their historian, or nearly a quarter of
the whole population of the colony. Some of the early bands perished
miserably. A large number made a trysting-place at a high peak to the
east of Bloemfontein in what was lately the Orange Free State. One
party of the emigrants was cut off by the formidable Matabeli, a
branch of the great Zulu nation. The survivors declared war upon
them, and showed in this, their first campaign, the extraordinary
ingenuity in adapting their tactics to their adversary which has been
their greatest military characteristic. The commando which rode out
to do battle with the Matabeli numbered, it is said, a hundred and
thirty-five farmers. Their adversaries were twelve thousand spearmen.
They met at the Marico River, near Mafeking. The Boers combined the
use of their horses and of their rifles so cleverly that they
slaughtered a third of their antagonists without any loss to
themselves. Their tactics were to gallop up within range of the
enemy, to fire a volley, and then to ride away again before the
spearmen could reach them. When the savages pursued the Boers
fled. When the pursuit halted the Boers halted and the rifle fire
began anew. The strategy was simple but most effective. When one
remembers how often since then our own horsemen have been pitted
against savages in all parts of the world, one deplores that ignorance
of all military traditions save our own which is characteristic of our

This victory of the `voortrekkers' cleared all the country between the
Orange River and the Limpopo, the sites of what has been known as the
Transvaal and the Orange Free State. In the meantime another body of
the emigrants had descended into what is now known as Natal, and had
defeated Dingaan, the great Chief of the Zulus. Being unable, owing
to the presence of their families, to employ the cavalry tactics which
had been so effective against the Matabeli, they again used their
ingenuity to meet this new situation, and received the Zulu warriors
in a square of laagered wagons, the men firing while the women
loaded. Six burghers were killed and three thousand Zulus. Had such a
formation been used forty years afterwards against these very Zulus,
we should not have had to mourn the disaster of Isandhlwana.

And now at the end of their great journey, after overcoming the
difficulties of distance, of nature, and of savage enemies, the Boers
saw at the end of their travels the very thing which they desired
least -- that which they had come so far to avoid -- the flag of Great
Britain. The Boers had occupied Natal from within, but England had
previously done the same by sea, and a small colony of Englishmen had
settled at Port Natal, now known as Durban. The home Government,
however, had acted in a vacillating way, and it was only the conquest
of Natal by the Boers which caused them to claim it as a British
colony. At the same time they asserted the unwelcome doctrine that a
British subject could not at will throw off his allegiance, and that,
go where they might, the wandering farmers were still only the
pioneers of British colonies. To emphasise the fact three companies
of soldiers were Bent in 1842 to what is now Durban -- the usual
Corporal's guard with which Great Britain starts a new empire. This
handful of men was waylaid by the Boers and cut up, as their
successors have been so often since. The survivors, however,
fortified themselves, and held a defensive position -- as also their
successors have done so many times since -- until reinforcements arrived
and the farmers dispersed. It is singular how in history the same
factors will always give the same result. Here in this first skirmish
is an epitome of all our military relations with these people. The
blundering headstrong attack, the defeat, the powerlessness of the
farmer against the weakest fortifications -- it is the same tale over and
over again in different scales of importance. Natal from this time
onward became a British colony, and the majority of the Boers trekked
north and east with bitter hearts to tell their wrongs to their
brethren of the Orange Free State and of the Transvaal.

Had they any wrongs to tell? It is difficult to reach that height of
philosophic detachment which enables the historian to deal absolutely
impartially where his own country is a party to the quarrel. But at
least we may allow that there is a case for our adversary. Our
annexation of Natal had been by no means definite, and it was they and
not we who first broke that bloodthirsty Zulu power which threw its
shadow across the country. It was hard after such trials and such
exploits to turn their back upon the fertile land which they had
conquered, and to return to the bare pastures of the upland veldt.
They carried out of Natal a heavy sense of injury, which has helped to
poison our relations with them ever since. It was, in a way, a
momentous episode, this little skirmish of soldiers and emigrants, for
it was the heading off of the Boer from the sea and the confinement of
his ambition to the land. Had it gone the other way, a new and
possibly formidable flag would have been added to the maritime

The emigrants who had settled in the huge tract of country between the
Orange River in the south and the Limpopo in the north had been
recruited by newcomers from the Cape Colony until they numbered some
fifteen thousand souls. This population was scattered over a space as
large as Germany, and larger than Pennsylvania, New York, and New
England. Their form of government was individualistic and democratic
to the last degree compatible with any sort of cohesion. Their wars
with the Kaffirs and their fear and dislike of the British Government
appear to have been the only ties which held them together. They
divided and subdivided within their own borders, like a germinating
egg. The Transvaal was full of lusty little high-mettled communities,
who quarreled among themselves as fiercely as they had done with the
authorities at the Cape. Lydenburg, Zoutpansberg, and Potchefstroom
were on the point of turning their rifles against each other. In the
south, between the Orange River and the Vaal, there was no form of
government at all, but a welter of Dutch farmers, Basutos, Hottentots,
and halfbreeds living in a chronic state of turbulence, recognising
neither the British authority to the south of them nor the Transvaal
republics to the north. The chaos became at last unendurable, and in
1848 a garrison was placed in Bloemfontein and the district
incorporated in the British Empire. The emigrants made ~ futile
resistance at Boomplats, and after a single defeat allowed themselves
to be drawn into the settled order of civilised rule.

At this period the Transvaal, where most of the Boers had settled,
desired a formal acknowledgment of their independence, which the
British authorities determined once and for all to give them. The
great barren country, which produced little save marksmen, had no
attractions for a Colonial Office which was bent upon the limitation
of its liabilities. A Convention was concluded between the two
parties, known as the Sand River Convention, which is one of the fixed
points in South African history. By it the British Government
guaranteed to the Boer farmers the right to manage their own affairs,
and to govern themselves by their own laws without any interference
upon the part of the British. It stipulated that there should be no
slavery, and with that single reservation washed its hands finally, as
it imagined, of the whole question. So the South African Republic
came formally into existence.

In the very year after the Sand River Convention a second republic,
the Orange Free State, was created by the deliberate withdrawal of
Great Britain from the territory which she had for eight years
occupied. The Eastern Question was already becoming acute, and the
cloud of a great war was drifting up, visible to all men. British
statesmen felt that their commitments were very heavy in every part of
the world, and the South African annexations had always been a
doubtful value and an undoubted trouble. Against the will of a large
part of the inhabitants, whether a majority or not it is impossible to
say, we withdrew our troops as amicably as the Romans withdrew from
Britain, and the new republic was left with absolute and unfettered
independence. On a petition being presented against the withdrawal,
the Home Government actually voted forty-eight thousand pounds to
compensate those who had suffered from the change. Whatever historical
grievance the Transvaal may have against Great Britain, we can at
least, save perhaps in one matter, claim to have a very clear
conscience concerning our dealings with the Orange Free State. Thus
in 1852 and in 1854 were born those sturdy States who were able for a
time to hold at bay the united forces of the empire.

In the meantime Cape Colony, in spite of these secessions, had
prospered exceedingly, and her population -- English, German, and
Dutch -- had grown by 1870 to over two hundred thousand souls, the
Dutch still slightly predominating. According to the Liberal colonial
policy of Great Britain, the time had come to cut the cord and let the
young nation conduct its own affairs. In 1872 complete
self-government was given to it, the Governor, as the representative
of the Queen, retaining a nominal unexercised veto upon
legislation. According to this system the Dutch majority of the colony
could, and did, put their own representatives into power and run the
government upon Dutch lines. Already Dutch law had been restored, and
Dutch put on the same footing as English as the official language of
the country. The extreme liberality of such measures, and the
uncompromising way in which they have been carried out, however
distasteful the legislation might seem to English ideas, are among the
chief reasons which made the illiberal treatment of British settlers
in the Transvaal so keenly resented at the Cape. A Dutch Government
was ruling the British in a British colony, at a moment when the Boers
would not give an Englishman a vote upon a municipal council in a city
which he had built himself. Unfortunately, however, 'the evil that
men do lives after them,' and the ignorant Boer farmer continued to
imagine that his southern relatives were in bondage, just as the
descendant of the Irish emigrant still pictures an Ireland of penal
laws and an alien Church.

For twenty-five years after the Sand River Convention the burghers of
the South African Republic had pursued a strenuous and violent
existence, fighting incessantly with the natives and sometimes with
each other, with an occasional fling at the little Dutch republic to
the south. The semi-tropical sun was waking strange ferments in the
placid Friesland blood, and producing a race who added the turbulence
and restlessness of the south to the formidable tenacity of the north.
Strong vitality and violent ambitions produced feuds and rivalries
worthy of medieval Italy, and the story of the factious little
communities is like a chapter out of Guicciardini. Disorganisation
ensued. The burghers would not pay taxes and the treasury was empty.
One fierce Kaffir tribe threatened them from the north, and the Zulus
on the east. It is an exaggeration of English partisans to pretend
that our intervention saved the Boers, for no one can read their
military history without seeing that they were a match for Zulus and
Sekukuni combined. But certainly a formidable invasion was pending,
and the scattered farmhouses were as open to the Kaffirs as our
farmers' homesteads were in the American colonies when the Indians
were on the warpath. Sir Theophilus Shepstone, the British
Commissioner, after an inquiry of three months, solved all questions
by the formal annexation of the country. The fact that he took
possession of it with a force of some twenty-five men showed the
honesty of his belief that no armed resistance was to be feared. This,
then, in 1877 was a complete reversal of the Sand River Convention and
the opening of a new chapter in the history of South Africa.

There did not appear to be any strong feeling at the time against the
annexation. The people were depressed with their troubles and weary of
contention. Burgers, the President, put in a formal protest, and took
up his abode in Cape Colony, where he had a pension from the British
Government. A memorial against the measure received the signatures of
a majority of the Boer inhabitants, but there was a fair minority who
took the other view. Kruger himself accepted a paid office under
Government. There was every sign that the people, if judiciously
handled, would settle down under the British flag. It is even
asserted that they would themselves have petitioned for annexation had
it been longer withheld. With immediate constitutional government it
is possible that even the most recalcitrant of them might have been
induced to lodge their protests in the ballot boxes rather than in the
bodies of our soldiers.

But the empire has always had poor luck in South Africa, and never
worse than on that occasion. Through no bad faith, but simply through
preoccupation and delay, the promises made were not instantly
fulfilled. Simple primitive men do not understand the ways of our
circumlocution offices, and they ascribe to duplicity what is really
red tape and stupidity. If the Transvaalers had waited they would
have had their Volksraad and all that they wanted. But the British
Government had some other local matters to set right, the rooting out
of Sekukuni and the breaking of the Zulus, before they would fulfill
their pledges. The delay was keenly resented. And we were unfortunate
in our choice of Governor. The burghers are a homely folk, and they
like an occasional cup of coffee with the anxious man who tries to
rule them. The three hundred pounds a year of coffee money allowed by
the Transvaal to its President is by no means a mere form. A wise
administrator would fall into the sociable and democratic habits of
the people. Sir Theophilus Shepstone did so. Sir Owen Lanyon did
not. There was no Volksraad and no coffee, and the popular discontent
grew rapidly. In three years the British had broken up the two savage
hordes which had been threatening the land. The finances, too, had
been restored. The reasons which had made so many favour the
annexation were weakened by the very power which had every interest in
preserving them.

It cannot be too often pointed out that in this annexation, the
starting-point of our troubles, Great Britain, however mistaken she
may have been, had no obvious selfish interest in view. There were no
Rand mines in those days, nor was there anything in the country to
tempt the most covetous. An empty treasury and two native wars were
the reversion which we took over. It was honestly considered that the
country was in too distracted a state to govern itself, and had, by
its weakness, become a scandal and a danger to its neighbours. There
was nothing sordid in our action, though it may have been both
injudicious and high-handed.

In December 1880 the Boers rose. Every farmhouse sent out its
riflemen, and the trysting-place was the outside of the nearest
British fort. All through the country small detachments were
surrounded and besieged by the farmers. Standerton, Pretoria,
Potchefstroom, Lydenburg, Wakkerstroom, Rustenberg, and Marabastad
were all invested and all held out until the end of the war. In the
open country we were less fortunate. At Bronkhorst Spruit a small
British force was taken by surprise and shot down without harm to
their antagonists. The surgeon who treated them has left it on record
that the average number of wounds was five per man. At Laing's Nek an
inferior force of British endeavoured to rush a hill which was held by
Boer riflemen. Half of our men were killed and wounded. Ingogo may be
called a drawn battle, though our loss was more heavy than that of the
enemy. Finally came the defeat of Majuba Hill, where four hundred
infantry upon a mountain were defeated and driven off by a swarm of
sharpshooters who advanced under the cover of boulders. Of all these
actions there was not one which was more than a skirmish, and had they
been followed by a final British victory they would now be hardly
remembered. It is the fact that they were skirmishes which succeeded
in their object which has given them an importance which is
exaggerated. At the same time they may mark the beginning of a new
military era, for they drove home the fact -- only too badly learned
by us -- that it is the rifle and not the drill which makes the
soldier. It is bewildering that after such an experience the British
military authorities continued to serve out only three hundred
cartridges a year for rifle practice, and that they still encouraged
that mechanical volley firing which destroys all individual aim. With
the experience of the first Boer war behind them, little was done,
either in tactics or in musketry, to prepare the soldier for the
second. The value of the mounted rifleman, the shooting with accuracy
at unknown ranges, the art of taking cover -- all were equally

The defeat at Majuba Hill was followed by the complete surrender of
the Gladstonian Government, an act which was either the most
pusillanimous or the most magnanimous in recent history. It is hard
for the big man to draw away from the small before blows are struck
but when the big man has been knocked down three times it is harder
still. An overwhelming British force was in the field, and the
General declared that he held the enemy in the hollow of his hand.
Our military calculations have been falsified before now by these
farmers, and it may be that the task of Wood and Roberts would have
been harder than they imagined; but on paper, at least, it looked as
if the enemy could be crushed without difficulty. So the public
thought, and yet they consented to the upraised sword being stayed.
With them, as apart from the politicians, the motive was undoubtedly a
moral and Christian one. They considered that the annexation of the
Transvaal had evidently been an injustice, that the farmers had a
right to the freedom for which they fought, and that it was an
unworthy thing for a great nation to continue an unjust war for the
sake of a military revenge. It was the height of idealism, and the
result has not been such as to encourage its repetition.

An armistice was concluded on March 5th, 1881, which led up to a peace
on the 23rd of the same month. The Government, after yielding to force
what it had repeatedly refused to friendly representations, made a
clumsy compromise in their settlement. A policy of idealism and
Christian morality should have been thorough if it were to be tried at
all. It was obvious that if the annexation were unjust, then the
Transvaal should have reverted to the condition in which it was before
the annexation, as defined by the Sand River Convention. But the
Government for some reason would not go so far as this. They niggled
and quibbled and bargained until the State was left as a curious
hybrid thing such as the world has never seen. It was a republic which
was part of the system of a monarchy, dealt with by the Colonial
Office, and included under the heading of `Colonies' in the news
columns of the `Times.' It was autonomous, and yet subject to some
vague suzerainty, the limits of which no one has ever been able to
define. Altogether, in its provisions and in its omissions, the
Convention of Pretoria appears to prove that our political affairs
were as badly conducted as our military in this unfortunate year of

It was evident from the first that so illogical and contentious an
agreement could not possibly prove to be a final settlement, and
indeed the ink of the signatures was hardly dry before an agitation
was on foot for its revision. The Boers considered, and with justice,
that if they were to be left as undisputed victors in the war then
they should have the full fruits of victory. On the other hand, the
English-speaking colonies had their allegiance tested to the
uttermost. The proud Anglo-Celtic stock is not accustomed to be
humbled, and yet they found themselves through the action of the home
Government converted into members of a beaten race. It was very well
for the citizen of London to console his wounded pride by the thought
that he had done a magnanimous action, but it was different with the
British colonist of Durban or Cape Town, who by no act of his own, and
without any voice in the settlement, found himself humiliated before
his Dutch neighbour. An ugly feeling of resentment was left behind,
which might perhaps have passed away had the Transvaal accepted the
settlement in the spirit in which it was meant, but which grew more
and more dangerous as during eighteen years our people saw, or thought
that they saw, that one concession led always to a fresh demand, and
that the Dutch republics aimed not merely at equality, but at
dominance in South Africa. Professor Bryce, a friendly critic, after
a personal examination of the country and the question, has left it
upon record that the Boers saw neither generosity nor humanity in our
conduct, but only fear. An outspoken race, they conveyed their
feelings to their neighbours. Can it be wondered at that South Africa
has been in a ferment ever since, and that the British Africander has
yearned with an intensity of feeling unknown in England for the hour
of revenge?

The Government of the Transvaal after the war was left in the hands of
a triumvirate, but after one year Kruger became President, an office
which he continued to hold for eighteen years. His career as ruler
vindicates the wisdom of that wise but unwritten provision of the
American Constitution by which there is a limit to the tenure of this
office. Continued rule for half a generation must turn a man into an
autocrat. The old President has said himself, in his homely but
shrewd way, that when one gets a good ox to lead the team it is a pity
to change him. If a good ox, however, is left to choose his own
direction without guidance, he may draw his wagon into trouble.

During three years the little State showed signs of a tumultuous
activity. Considering that it was as large as France and that the
population could not have been more than 50,000, one would have
thought that they might have found room without any inconvenient
crowding. But the burghers passed beyond their borders in every
direction. The President cried aloud that he had been shut up in a
kraal, and he proceeded to find ways out of it. A great trek was
projected for the north, but fortunately it miscarried. To the east
they raided Zululand, and succeeded, in defiance of the British
settlement of that country, in tearing away one third of it and adding
it to the Transvaal. To the west, with no regard to the
three-year-old treaty, they invaded Bechuanaland, and set up the two
new republics of Goshen and Stellaland. So outrageous were these
proceedings that Great Britain was forced to fit out in 1884 a new
expedition under Sir Charles Warren for the purpose of turning these
freebooters out of the country. It may be asked, why should these men
be called freebooters if the founders of Rhodesia were pioneers? The
answer is that the Transvaal was limited by treaty to certain
boundaries which these men transgressed, while no pledges were broken
when the British power expanded to the north. The upshot of these
trespasses was the scene upon which every drama of South Africa rings
down. Once more the purse was drawn from the pocket of the unhappy
taxpayer, and a million or so was paid out to defray the expenses of
the police force necessary to keep these treaty-breakers in order. Let
this be borne in mind when we assess the moral and material damage
done to the Transvaal by that ill-conceived and foolish enterprise, the
Jameson Raid.

In 1884 a deputation from the Transvaal visited England, and at their
solicitation the clumsy Treaty of Pretoria was altered into the still
more clumsy Convention of London. The changes in the provisions were
all in favour of the Boers, and a second successful war could hardly
have given them more than Lord Derby handed them in time of
peace. Their style was altered from the Transvaal to the South African
Republic, a change which was ominously suggestive of expansion in the
future. The control of Great Britain over their foreign policy was
also relaxed, though a power of veto was retained. But the most
important thing of all, and the fruitful cause of future trouble, lay
in an omission. A suzerainty is a vague term, but in politics, as in
theology, the more nebulous a thing is the more does it excite the
imagination and the passions of men. This suzerainty was declared in
the preamble of the first treaty, and no mention of it was made in the
second. Was it thereby abrogated or was it not? The British
contention was that only the articles were changed, and that the
preamble continued to hold good for both treaties. They pointed out
that not only the suzerainty, but also the independence, of the
Transvaal was proclaimed in that preamble, and that if one lapsed the
other must do so also. On the other hand, the Boers pointed to the
fact that there was actually a preamble to the second Convention,
which would seem, therefore, to have taken the place of the first. The
point is so technical that it appears to be eminently one of those
questions which might with propriety have been submitted to the
decision of a board of foreign jurists -- or possibly to the Supreme
Court of the United States. If the decision had been given against
Great Britain, we might have accepted it in a chastened spirit as a
fitting punishment for the carelessness of the representative who
failed to make our meaning intelligible. Carlyle has said that a
political mistake always ends in a broken head for somebody.
Unfortunately the somebody is usually somebody else. We have read the
story of the political mistakes. Only too soon we shall come to the
broken heads.

This, then, is a synopsis of what had occurred up to the signing of
the Convention, which finally established, or failed to establish, the
position of the South African Republic. We must now leave the larger
questions, and descend to the internal affairs of that small State,
and especially to that train of events which has stirred the mind of
our people more than anything since the Indian Mutiny.

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