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Chapter 5


Accession of Mr. Gladstone to power--His letters to the Boer leaders
and the loyals--His refusal to rescind the annexation--The Boers
encouraged by prominent members of the Radical party--The Bezuidenhout
incident--Despatch of troops to Potchefstroom--Mass meeting of the 8th
December 1880--Appointment of the Triumvirate and declaration of
the republic--Despatch of Boer proclamation to Sir O. Lanyon--His
reply--Outbreak of hostilities at Potchefstroom--Defence of the
court-house by Major Clarke--The massacre of the detachment of the 94th
under Colonel Anstruther--Dr. Ward--The Boer rejoicings--The Transvaal
placed under martial law--Abandonment of their homes by the people
of Pretoria--Sir Owen Lanyon's admirable defence organisation--Second
proclamation issued by the Boers--Its complete falsehood--Life at
Pretoria during the siege--Murders of natives by the Boers--Loyal
conduct of the native chiefs--Difficulty of preventing them from
attacking the Boers--Occupation of Lang's Nek by the Boers--Sir George
Colley's departure to Newcastle--The condition of that town--The attack
on Lang's Nek--Its desperate nature--Effect of victory on the Boers--The
battle at the Ingogo--Our defeat--Sufferings of the wounded--Major
Essex--Advance of the Boers into Natal--Constant alarms--Expected attack
on Newcastle--Its unorganised and indefensible condition--Arrival of the
reinforcements and retreat of the Boers to the Nek--Despatch of General
Wood to bring up more reinforcements--Majuba Hill--Our disaster, and
death of Sir George Colley--Cause of our defeat--A Boer version of the
disaster--Sir George Colley's tactics.


When the Liberal ministry became an accomplished fact instead of a happy
possibility, Mr. Gladstone did not find it convenient to adopt the line
of policy with reference to the Transvaal, that might have been expected
from his utterances whilst leader of the Opposition. On the contrary, he
declared in Parliament that the Annexation could not be cancelled, and
on the 8th June 1880 we find him, in answer to a Boer petition, written
with the object of inducing him to act up to the spirit of his words and
rescind the Annexation, writing thus:--"Looking to all circumstances,
both of the Transvaal and the rest of South Africa, and to the necessity
of preventing a renewal of disorders which might lead to disastrous
consequences, not only to the Transvaal, but to the whole of South
Africa, our judgment is, that the _Queen cannot be advised to relinquish
her sovereignty over the Transvaal;_ but, consistently with the
maintenance of that sovereignty, we desire that the white inhabitants of
the Transvaal should, without prejudice to the rest of the population,
enjoy the fullest liberty to manage their local affairs. We believe that
this liberty may be most easily and promptly conceded to the Transvaal
as a member of a South African confederation."

Unless words have lost their signification, this passage certainly means
that the Transvaal must remain a British colony, but that England will
be prepared to grant it responsible government, more especially if it
will consent to a confederation scheme. Mr. Gladstone, however, in a
communication dated 1st June 1881, and addressed to the unfortunate
Transvaal loyals, for whom he expresses "respect and sympathy,"
interprets his meaning thus: "It is stated, as I observe, that a promise
was given to me that the Transvaal should never be given back. There is
no mention of the terms or date of this promise. If the reference be
to my letter, of 8th June 1880, to Messrs. Kruger and Joubert, I do not
think the language of that letter justifies the description given. Nor
am I sure in what manner or to what degree the fullest liberty to manage
their local affairs, which I then said Her Majesty's Government desired
to confer on the white population of the Transvaal, differs from the
settlement now about being made in its bearing on the interests of those
whom your Committee represents."

Such twisting of the meaning of words would, in a private person, be
called dishonest. It will also occur to most people that Mr. Gladstone
might have spared the deeply wronged and loyal subjects of Her Majesty
whom he was addressing, the taunt he levels at them in the second
paragraph I have quoted. If asked, he would no doubt say that he had not
the slightest intention of laughing at them; but when he deliberately
tells them that it makes no difference to their interests whether they
remain Her Majesty's subjects under a responsible Government, or become
the servants of men who were but lately in arms against them and Her
Majesty's authority, he is either mocking them, or offering an insult to
their understandings.

By way of comment on his remarks, I may add that he had, in a letter
replying to a petition from these same loyal inhabitants, addressed
to him in May 1880, informed them that he had already told the Boer
representatives that the Annexation could not be rescinded. Although
Mr. Gladstone is undoubtedly the greatest living master of the art of
getting two distinct and opposite sets of meanings out of one set of
words, it would try even his ingenuity to make out, to the satisfaction
of an impartial mind, that he never gave any pledge about the retention
of the Transvaal.

Indeed, it is from other considerations clear that he had no intention
of giving up the country to the Boers, whose cause he appears to have
taken up solely for electioneering purposes. Had he meant to do so,
he would have carried out his intention on succeeding to office, and,
indeed, as things have turned out, it is deeply to be regretted that he
did not; for, bad as such a step would have been, it would at any rate
have had a better appearance than our ultimate surrender after three
defeats. It would also have then been possible to secure the repayment
of some of the money owing to this country, and to provide for the
proper treatment of the natives, and the compensation of the loyal
inhabitants who could no longer live there: since it must naturally have
been easier to make terms with the Boers before they had defeated our

On the other hand, we should have missed the grandest and most
soul-stirring display of radical theories, practically applied, that
has as yet lightened the darkness of this country. But although Mr.
Gladstone gave his official decision against returning the country,
there seems to be little doubt that communications on the subject were
kept up with the Boer leaders through some prominent members of the
Radical party, whom, it was said, went so far as to urge the Boers to
take up arms against us. When Mr. White came to this country on behalf
of the loyalists, after the surrender, he stated that this was so at a
public meeting, and said further that he had in his possession proofs of
his statements. He even went so far as to name the gentleman he accused,
and to challenge him to deny it. I have not been able to gather that Mr.
White's statements were contradicted.

However this may be, after a pause, agitation in the Transvaal suddenly
recommenced with redoubled vigour. It began through a man named
Bezuidenhout, who refused to pay his taxes. Thereupon a waggon was
seized in execution under the authority of the court and put up to
auction, but its sale was prevented by a crowd of rebel Boers, who
kicked the auctioneer off the waggon and dragged the vehicle away. This
was on the 11th November 1880. When this intelligence reached Pretoria,
Sir Owen Lanyon sent down a few companies of the 21st Regiment, under
the command of Major Thornhill, to support the Landdrost in arresting
the rioters, and appointed Captain Raaf, C.M.G., to act as special
messenger to the Landdrost's Court at Potchefstroom, with authority
to enrol special constables to assist him to carry out the arrests.
On arrival at Potchefstroom Captain Raaf found that, without an armed
force, it was quite impossible to effect any arrest. On the 26th
November Sir Owen Lanyon, realising the gravity of the situation,
telegraphed to Sir George Colley, asking that the 58th Regiment should
be sent back to the Transvaal. Sir George replied that he could ill
spare it on account of "daily expected outbreak of Pondos and possible
appeal for help from Cape Colony," and that the Government must be
supported by the loyal inhabitants.

It will be seen that the Boers had, with some astuteness, chosen a very
favourable time to commence operations. The hands of the Cape Government
were full with the Basutu war, so no help could be expected from it. Sir
G. Wolseley had sent away the only cavalry regiment that remained in the
country, and lastly, Sir Owen Lanyon had quite recently allowed a body
of 300 trained volunteers, mostly, if not altogether, drawn from among
the loyalists, to be raised for service in the Basutu war, a serious
drain upon the resources of a country so sparsely populated as the

Meanwhile a mass meeting had been convened by the Boers for the 8th
January to consider Mr. Gladstone's letter, but the Bezuidenhout
incident had the effect of putting forward the date of assembly by a
month, and it was announced that it would be held on the 8th December.
Subsequently the date was shifted to the 15th, and then back again
to the 8th. Every effort was made, by threats of future vengeance, to
secure the presence of as many burghers as possible; attempts were
also made to persuade the native chiefs to send representatives, and to
promise to join in an attack on the English. These entirely failed. The
meeting was held at a place called Paarde Kraal, and resulted in the
sudden declaration of the Republic and the appointment of the famous
triumvirate Kruger, Joubert, and Pretorius. It then moved into
Heidelberg, a little town about sixty miles from Pretoria, and on
the 16th December the Republic was formally proclaimed in a long
proclamation, containing a summary of the events of the few preceding
years, and declaring the arrangements the malcontents were willing to
make with the English authorities. The terms offered in this document
are almost identical with those finally accepted by Her Majesty's
Government, with the exception that in the proclamation of the 16th
December the Boer leaders declare their willingness to enter into
confederation, and to guide their native policy by general rules adopted
in concurrence "with the Colonies and States of South Africa." This was
a more liberal offer than that which we ultimately agreed to, but then
the circumstances had changed.

This proclamation was forwarded to Sir Owen Lanyon with a covering
letter, in which the following words occur:--"We declare in the most
solemn manner that we have no desire to spill blood, and that from our
side we do not wish war. It lies in your hands to force us to appeal
to arms in self-defence. . . . . We expect your answer within twice
twenty-four hours."

I beg to direct particular attention to these paragraphs, as they have a
considerable interest in view of what followed.

The letter and proclamation reached Government House, Pretoria, at
10.30 on the evening of Friday the 17th December. Sir Owen Lanyon's
proclamation, written in reply, was handed to the messenger at noon on
Sunday, 19th December, or within about thirty-six hours of his arrival,
and could hardly have reached the rebel camp, sixty miles off, before
dawn the next day, the 20th December, on which day, at about one
o'clock, a detachment of the 94th was ambushed and destroyed on the
road between Middelburg and Pretoria, about eighty miles off, by a force
despatched from Heidelburg for that purpose some days before. On the
16th December, or the _same day_ on which the Triumvirate had despatched
the proclamation to Pretoria containing their terms, and expressing in
the most solemn manner that they had no desire to shed blood, a large
Boer force was attacking Potchefstroom.

So much then for the sincerity of the professions of their desire to
avoid bloodshed.

The proclamation sent by Sir O. Lanyon in reply recited in its preamble
the various acts of which the rebels had been guilty, including that
of having "wickedly sought to incite the said loyal native inhabitants
throughout the province to take up arms against Her Majesty's
Government," announced that matters had now been put into the hands of
the officer commanding Her Majesty's troops, and promised pardon to all
who would disperse to their homes.

It was at Potchefstroom, which town had all along been the nursery of
the rebellion, that actual hostilities first broke out. Potchefstroom as
a town is much more Boer in its sympathies than Pretoria, which is,
or rather was, almost purely English. Sir Owen Lanyon had, as stated
before, sent a small body of soldiers thither to support the civil
authorities, and had also appointed Major Clarke, C.M.G., an officer
of noted coolness and ability, to act as Special Commissioner for the

Major Clarke's first step was to try, in conjunction with Captain Raaf,
to raise a corps of volunteers, in which he totally failed. Those of the
townsfolk who were not Boers at heart had too many business relations
with the surrounding farmers, and perhaps too little faith in the
stability of English rule after Mr. Gladstone's utterances, to allow
them to indulge in patriotism. At the time of the outbreak, between
seventy and eighty thousand sterling was owing to firms in Potchefstroom
by neighbouring Boers, a sum amply sufficient to account for their
lukewarmness in the English cause. Subsequent events have shown that the
Potchefstroom shopkeepers were wise in their generation.

On the 15th December a large number of Boers came into the town and took
possession of the printing-office in order to print the proclamation
already alluded to. Major Clarke made two attempts to enter the office
and see the leaders, but without success.

On the 16th a Boer patrol fired on some of the mounted infantry, and the
fire was returned. These were the first shots fired during the war, and
they were fired by Boers. Orders were thereupon signalled to Clarke by
Lieutenant-Colonel Winsloe, 21st Regiment, now commanding at the fort
which he afterwards defended so gallantly, that he was to commence
firing. Clarke was in the Landdrost's office on the Market Square with a
force of about twenty soldiers under Captain Falls and twenty civilians
under Captain Raaf, C.M.G., a position but ill-suited for defensive
purposes, from whence fire was accordingly opened, the Boers taking up
positions in the surrounding houses commanding the office. Shortly after
the commencement of the fighting, Captain Falls was shot dead whilst
talking to Major Clarke, the latter having a narrow escape, a bullet
grazing his head just above the ear. The fighting continued during
the 17th and till the morning of the 18th, when the Boers succeeded in
firing the roof, which was of thatch, by throwing fire-balls on to
it. Major Clarke then addressed the men, telling them that, though
personally he did not care about his own life, he did not see that
they could serve any useful purpose by being burned alive, so he should
surrender, which he did, with a loss of about six killed and wounded.
The camp meanwhile had repulsed with loss the attack made on it, and was
never again directly attacked.

Whilst these events were in progress at Potchefstroom, a much more awful
tragedy was in preparation on the road between Middelburg and Pretoria.

On the 23rd November Colonel Bellairs, at the request of Sir Owen
Lanyon, directed a concentration on Pretoria of most of the few soldiers
that there were in the territory, in view of the disturbed condition of
the country. In accordance with these orders, Colonel Anstruther
marched from Lydenburg, a town about 180 miles from Pretoria, on the 5th
December, with the headquarters and two companies of the 94th Regiment,
being a total of 264 men, three women, and two children, and the
disproportionately large train of thirty-four ox-waggons, or an
ox-waggon capable of carrying five thousand pounds' weight to every
eight persons. And here I may remark that it is this enormous amount of
baggage, without which it appears to be impossible to move the smallest
body of men, that renders infantry regiments almost useless for service
in South Africa except for garrisoning purposes. Both Zulus and Boers
can get over the ground at thrice the pace possible to the unfortunate
soldier, and both races despise them accordingly. The Zulus call our
infantry "pack oxen." In this particular instance, Colonel Anstruther's
defeat, or rather, annihilation, is to a very great extent referable to
his enormous baggage train; since, in the first place, had he not lost
valuable days in collecting more waggons, he would have been safe in
Pretoria before danger arose. It must also be acknowledged that his
arrangements on the line of march were somewhat reckless, though it can
hardly be said that he was ignorant of his danger. Thus we find that
Colonel Bellairs wrote to Colonel Anstruther, warning him of the
probability of an attack, and impressing on him the necessity of keeping
a good look-out, the letter being received and acknowledged by the
latter on the 17th December.

To this warning was added a still more impressive one, that came to
my knowledge privately. A gentleman well known to me received, on the
morning after the troops had passed through the town of Middelburg on
their way to Pretoria, a visit from an old Boer with whom he was on
friendly terms, who had purposely come to tell him that a large patrol
was out to ambush the troops on the Pretoria road. My informant having
convinced himself of the truth of the statement, at once rode after
the soldiers, and catching them up some distance from Middelburg, told
Colonel Anstruther what he had heard, imploring him, he said, with
all the energy he could command, to take better precautions against
surprise. The Colonel, however, laughed at his fears, and told him that
if the Boers came "he would frighten them away with the big drum."

At one o'clock on Sunday, the 20th December, the column was marching
along about a mile and a half from a place known as Bronker's Spruit,
and thirty-eight miles from Pretoria, when suddenly a large number of
mounted Boers were seen in loose formation on the left side of the road.
The band was playing at the time, and the column was extended over more
than half a mile, the rear-guard being about a hundred yards behind
the last waggon. The band stopped playing on seeing the Boers, and the
troops halted, when a man was seen advancing with a white flag, whom
Colonel Anstruther went out to meet, accompanied by Conductor Egerton,
a civilian. They met about one hundred and fifty yards from the column,
and the man gave Colonel Anstruther a letter, which announced the
establishment of the South African Republic, stated that until they
heard Lanyon's reply to their proclamation they did not know if they
were at war or not; that, consequently, they could not allow any
movements of troops which would be taken as a declaration of war. This
letter was signed by Joubert, one of the Triumvirate. Colonel Anstruther
replied that he was ordered to Pretoria, and to Pretoria he must go.

Whilst this conference was going on, the Boers, of whom there were
quite five hundred, had gradually closed round the column, and took up
positions behind rocks and trees which afforded them excellent cover,
whilst the troops were on a bare plain, and before Colonel Anstruther
reached his men a murderous fire was poured in upon them from all sides.
The fire was hotly returned by the soldiers. Most of the officers were
struck down by the first volley, having, no doubt, been picked out by
the marksmen. The firing lasted about fifteen minutes, and at the end of
that time seven out of the nine officers were down killed and wounded;
an eighth (Captain Elliot), one of two who escaped untouched, being
reserved for an even more awful fate. The majority of the men were also
down, and had the hail of lead continued much longer it is clear that
nobody would have been left. Colonel Anstruther, who was lying badly
wounded in five places, seeing what a hopeless state affairs were in,
ordered the bugler to sound the cease firing, and surrendered. One of
the three officers who were not much hurt was, most providentially, Dr.
Ward, who had but a slight wound in the thigh; all the others, except
Captain Elliot and one lieutenant, were either killed or died from
the effects of their wounds. There were altogether 56 killed and 101
wounded, including a woman, Mrs. Fox. Twenty more afterwards died of
their wounds. The Boer loss appears to have been very small.

After the fight Conductor Egerton, with a sergeant, was allowed to walk
into Pretoria to obtain medical assistance, the Boers refusing to give
him a horse, or even to allow him to use his own. The Boer leader also
left Dr. Ward eighteen men and a few stores for the wounded, with which
he made shift as best he could. Nobody can read this gentleman's report
without being much impressed with the way in which, though wounded
himself, he got through his terrible task of, without assistance,
attending to the wants of 101 sufferers. Beginning the task at two P.M.,
it took him till six the next morning before he had seen the last man.
It is to be hoped that his services have met with some recognition. Dr.
Ward remained near the scene of the massacre with his wounded men till
the declaration of peace, when he brought them down to Maritzburg,
having experienced great difficulty in obtaining food for them during so
many weeks.

This is a short account of what I must, with reluctance, call a most
cruel and carefully planned massacre. I may mention that a Zulu driver,
who was with the rear-guard, and escaped into Natal, stated that the
Boers shot all the wounded men who formed that body. His statement was
to a certain extent borne out by the evidence of one of the survivors,
who stated that all the bodies found in that part of the field (nearly
three-quarters of a mile away from the head of the column), had a bullet
hole through the head or breast in addition to their other wounds.

The Administrator in the Transvaal in council thus comments on the
occurrence in an official minute:--"The surrounding and gradual hemming
in under a flag of truce of a force, and the selection of spots from
which to direct their fire, as in the case of the unprovoked attack by
the rebels upon Colonel Anstruther's force, is a proceeding of which
very few like incidents can be mentioned in the annals of civilised

The Boer leaders, however, were highly elated at their success,
and celebrated it in a proclamation of which the following is an
extract:--"Inexpressible is the gratitude of the burghers for this
blessing conferred on them. Thankful to the brave General F. Joubert and
his men who have upheld the honour of the Republic on the battlefield.
Bowed down in the dust before Almighty God, who had thus stood by them,
and, with a loss of over a hundred of the enemy, only allowed two of
ours to be killed."

In view of the circumstances of the treacherous hemming in and
destruction of this small body of unprepared men, most people would
think this language rather high-flown, not to say blasphemous.

On the news of this disaster reaching Pretoria, Sir Owen Lanyon issued
a proclamation placing the country under martial law. As the town
was large, straggling, and incapable of defence, all the inhabitants,
amounting to over four thousand souls, were ordered up to camp, where
the best arrangements possible were made for their convenience. In these
quarters they remained for three months, driven from their comfortable
homes, and cheerfully enduring all the hardships, want, and discomforts
consequence on their position, whilst they waited in patience for the
appearance of that relieving column that never came. People in England
hardly understand what these men and women went through because they
chose to remain loyal. Let them suppose that all the inhabitants of an
ordinary English town, with the exception of the class known as poor
people, which can hardly be said to exist in a colony, were at an hour's
notice ordered--all, the aged, and the sick, delicate women, and tiny
children--to leave their homes to the mercy of the enemy, and crowd up
in a little space under shelter of a fort, with nothing but canvas tents
or sheds to cover them from the fierce summer suns and rains, and the
coarsest rations to feed them; whilst the husbands and brothers were
daily engaged with a cunning and dangerous enemy, and sometimes brought
home wounded or dead. They will, then, have some idea of what was gone
through by the loyal people of Pretoria, in their weak confidence in the
good faith of the English Government.

The arrangements made for the defence of the town were so ably and
energetically carried out by Sir Owen Lanyon, assisted by the military
officers, that no attack upon it was ever attempted. It seems to me that
the organisation that could provide for the penning up of four thousand
people for months, and carry it out without the occurrence of a single
unpleasantness or expression of discontent, must have had something
remarkable about it. Of course, it would have been impossible without
the most loyal co-operation on the part of those concerned. Indeed,
everybody in the town lent a helping hand; judges served out rations,
members of the Executive inspected nuisances, and so forth. There was
only one instance of "striking;" and then, of all people in the world,
it was the five civil doctors who, thinking it a favourable opportunity
to fleece the Government, combined to demand five guineas a-day each
for their services. I am glad to say that they did not succeed in their
attempt at extortion.

On the 23d December, the Boer leaders issued a second proclamation in
reply to that of Sir O. Lanyon of the 18th, which is characterised by
an utter absence of regard for the truth, being, in fact, nothing but
a tissue of impudent falsehoods. It accuses Sir O. Lanyon of having
bombarded women and children, of arming natives against the Boers,
and of firing on the Boers without declaring war. Not one of these
accusations has any foundation in fact, as the Boers well knew; but
they also knew that Sir Owen, being shut up in Pretoria, was not in a
position to rebut their charges, which they hoped might, to some extent,
be believed, and create sympathy for them in other parts of the world.
This was the reason for the issue of the proclamation, which well
portrays the character of its framers.

Life at Pretoria was varied by occasional sorties against the Boer
laagers, situated at different points in the neighbourhood, generally
about six or eight miles from the town. These expeditions were carried
out with considerable success, though with some loss, the heaviest
incurred being when the Boers, having treacherously hoisted the white
flag, opened a heavy fire on the Pretoria forces, as soon as they,
beguiled into confidence, emerged from their cover. In the course of the
war, one in every four of the Pretoria mounted volunteers was killed or

But perhaps the most serious of all the difficulties the Government had
to meet, was that of keeping the natives in check. As has before been
stated they were devotedly attached to our rule, and, during the three
years of its continuance, had undergone what was to them a strange
experience, they had neither been murdered, beaten, or enslaved.
Naturally they were in no hurry to return to the old order of things, in
which murder, flogging, and slavery were events of everyday occurrence.
Nor did the behaviour of the Boers on the outbreak of the war tend
to reconcile them to any such idea. Thus we find that the farmers had
pressed a number of natives from Waterberg into one of their laagers
(Zwart Koppies); two of them tried to run away, a Boer saw them and
shot them both. Again, on the 7th January a native reported to the
authorities at Pretoria that he and some others were returning from the
Diamond Fields driving some sheep. A Boer came and asked them to sell
the sheep. They refused, whereupon he went away, but returning with some
other Dutchmen fired on the Kafirs, killing one.

On the 2d January information reached Pretoria that on the 26th December
some Boers fired on some natives who were resting outside Potchefstroom
and killed three; the rest fled, whereupon the Boers took the cattle
they had with them.

On the 11th January some men, who had been sent from Pretoria with
despatches for Standerton, were taken prisoners. Whilst prisoners they
saw ten men returning from the Fields stopped by the Boers and ordered
to come to the laager. They refused and ran away, were fired on, five
being killed and one getting his arm broken.

These are a few instances of the treatment meted out to the unfortunate
natives, taken at haphazard from the official reports. There are plenty
more of the same nature if anybody cares to read them.

As soon as the news of the rising reached them, every chief of any
importance sent in to offer aid to Government, and many of them,
especially Montsoia, our old ally in the Keate Award district, took the
loyals of the neighbourhood under their protection. Several took charge
of Government property and cattle during the disturbances, and one
had four or five thousand pounds in gold, the product of a recently
collected tax given him to take care of by the Commissioner of his
district, who was afraid that the money would be seized by the Boers.
In every instance the property entrusted to their charge was returned
intact. The loyalty of all the native chiefs under very trying
circumstances (for the Boers were constantly attempting to cajole or
frighten them into joining them) is a remarkable proof of the great
affection of the Kafirs, more especially those of the Basutu tribes,
who love peace better than war, for the Queen's rule. The Government of
Pretoria need only have spoken one word, to set an enormous number of
armed men in motion against the Boers, with the most serious results to
the latter. Any other Government in the world would, in its extremity,
have spoken that word, but, fortunately for the Boers, it is against
English principles to set black against white under any circumstances.

Besides the main garrison at Pretoria there were forts defended by
soldiery and loyals at the following places:--Potchefstroom, Rustenburg,
Lydenburg, Marabastad, and Wakkerstroom, none of which were taken by the

[*] Colonel Winsloe, however, being short of provisions, was
beguiled by the fraudulent representations and acts of the
Boer commander into surrendering the fort at Potchefstroom
during the armistice.

One of the first acts of the Triumvirate was to despatch a large force
from Heidelberg with orders to advance into Natal Territory, and seize
the pass over the Drakensberg known as Lang's Nek, so as to dispute the
advance of any relieving column. This movement was promptly executed,
and strong Boer troops patrolled Natal country almost up to Newcastle.

The news of the outbreak, followed as it was by that of the Bronker's
Spruit massacre, and Captain Elliot's murder, created a great excitement
in Natal. All available soldiers were at once despatched up country,
together with a naval brigade, who, on arrival at Newcastle, brought up
the strength of the Imperial troops of all arms to about a thousand men.
On the 10th January Sir George Colley left Maritzburg to join the force
at Newcastle, but at this time nobody dreamt that he meant to attack the
Nek with such an insignificant column. It was known that the loyals
and troops who were shut up in the various towns in the Transvaal
had sufficient provisions to last for some months, and that there was
therefore nothing to necessitate a forlorn hope. Indeed the possibility
of Sir George Colley attempting to enter the Transvaal was not even
speculated upon until just before his advance, it being generally
considered as out of the question.

The best illustration I can give of the feeling that existed about the
matter is to quote my own case. I had been so unfortunate as to land in
Natal with my wife and servants just as the Transvaal troubles began,
my intention being to proceed to a place I had near Newcastle. For some
weeks I remained in Maritzburg, but finding that the troops were to
concentrate on Newcastle, and being besides heartily wearied of the
great expense and discomfort of hotel life in that town, I determined
to go on up country, looking on it as being as safe as any place in the
Colony. Of course the possibility of Sir George attacking the Nek before
the arrival of the reinforcements did not enter into my calculations, as
I thought it a venture that no sensible man would undertake. On the day
of my start, however, there was a rumour about the town that the General
was going to attack the Boer position. Though I did not believe it,
I thought it as well to go and ask the Colonial Secretary, Colonel
Mitchell, privately, if there was any truth in it, adding that if
there was, as I had a pretty intimate knowledge of the Boers and their
shooting powers, and what the inevitable result of such a move would be,
I should certainly prefer, as I had ladies with me, to remain where I
was. Colonel Mitchell told me frankly that he knew no more about Sir
George's plans than I did; but he added I might be sure that so able and
prudent a soldier would not do anything rash. His remark concurred with
my own opinion; so I started, and on arrival at Newcastle a week later
was met by the intelligence that Sir George had advanced that morning to
attack the Nek. To return was almost impossible, since both horses
and travellers were pretty nearly knocked up. Also, anybody who has
travelled with his family in summer-time over the awful track of
alternate slough and boulders between Maritzburg and Newcastle, known in
the Colony as a road, will understand, that at the time, the adventurous
voyagers would far rather risk being shot than face a return journey.

The only thing to do under the circumstances was to await the course
of events, which were now about to develop themselves with startling
rapidity. The little town of Newcastle was at this time an odd sight,
and remained so all through the war. The hotels were crowded to
overflowing with refugees, and on every spare patch of land were erected
tents, mud huts, canvas houses, and every kind of covering that could
be utilised under the pressure of necessity, to house the many homeless
families who had succeeded in effecting their escape from the Transvaal,
many of whom were reduced to great straits.

On the morning of the 28th January, anybody listening attentively in the
neighbourhood of Newcastle could hear the distant boom of heavy guns. We
were not kept long in suspense, for in the afternoon news arrived
that Sir George had attacked the Nek, and failed with heavy loss.
The excitement in the town was intense, for, in addition to other
considerations, the 58th Regiment, which had suffered most, had been
quartered there for some time, and both the officers and men were
personally known to the inhabitants.

The story of the fight is well known, and needs little repetition, and a
sad story it is. The Boers, who at that time were some 2000 strong, were
posted and entrenched on steep hills, against which Sir George Colley
hurled a few hundred soldiers. It was a forlorn hope, but so gallant
was the charge, especially that of the mounted squadron led by Major
Bronlow, that at one time it nearly succeeded. But nothing could stand
under the withering fire from the Boer schanses, and as regards the foot
soldiers, they never had a chance. Colonel Deane tried to take them up
the hill with a rush, with the result that by the time they reached the
top, some of the men were actually sick from exhaustion, and none could
hold a rifle steady. There on the bare hill-top, they crouched and lay,
while the pitiless fire from redoubt and rock lashed them like hail,
till at last human nature could bear it no longer, and what was left of
them retired slowly down the slope. But for many, that gallant charge
was their last earthly action. As they charged they fell, and where they
fell they were afterwards buried. The casualties, killed and wounded,
amounted to 195, which, considering the small number of troops engaged
in the actual attack, is enormously heavy, and shows more plainly than
words can tell, the desperate nature of the undertaking. Amongst the
killed were Colonel Deane, Major Poole, Major Hingeston, and Lieutenant
Elwes. Major Essex was the only staff officer engaged who escaped,
the same officer who was one of the fortunate four who lived through
Isandhlwana. On this occasion his usual good fortune attended him,
for though his horse was killed and his helmet knocked off, he was not
touched. The Boer loss was very trivial.

Sir George Colley, in his admirably lucid despatch about this occurrence
addressed to the Secretary of State for War, does not enter much into
the question as to the motives that prompted him to attack, simply
stating that his object was to relieve the besieged towns. He does not
appear to have taken into consideration, what was obvious to anybody who
knew the country and the Boers, that even if he had succeeded in forcing
the Nek, in itself almost an impossibility, he could never have operated
with any success in the Transvaal with so small a column, without
cavalry, and with an enormous train of waggons. He would have been
harassed day and night by the Boer skirmishers, his supplies cut off,
and his advance made practically impossible. Also the Nek would have
been re-occupied behind him, since he could not have detached sufficient
men to hold it, and in all probability Newcastle, his base of supplies,
would have fallen into the hands of the enemy.

The moral effect of our defeat on the Boers was very great. Up to this
time there had been many secret doubts amongst a large section of them
as to what the upshot of an encounter with the troops might be; and with
this party, in the same way that defeat, or even the anxiety of waiting
to be attacked, would have turned the scale one way, victory turned it
the other. It gave them unbounded confidence in their own superiority,
and infused a spirit of cohesion and mutual reliance into their ranks
which had before been wanting. Waverers wavered no longer, but gave a
loyal adherence to the good cause, and, what was still more acceptable,
large numbers of volunteers,--whatever President Brand may say to the
contrary,--poured in from the Orange Free State.

What Sir George Colley's motive was in making so rash a move is, of
course, quite inexplicable to the outside observer. It was said at the
time in Natal that he was a man with a theory: namely, that small bodies
of men properly handled were as useful and as likely to obtain the
object in view as a large force. Whether or no this was so, I am not
prepared to say; but it is undoubtedly the case that very clever men
have sometimes very odd theories, and it may be that he was a striking
instance in point.

For some days after the battle at Lang's Nek affairs were quiet, and
it was hoped that they would remain so till the arrival of the
reinforcements, which were on their way out. The hope proved a vain
one. On the 7th February it was reported that the escort proceeding
from Newcastle to the General's camp with the post, a distance of about
eighteen miles, had been fired on and forced to return.

On the 8th, about mid-day, we were all startled by the sound of
fighting, proceeding apparently from a hill known as Scheins Hoogte,
about ten miles from Newcastle. It was not know that the General
contemplated any move, and everybody was entirely at a loss to know what
was going on, the general idea being, however, that the camp near Lang's
Nek had been abandoned, and that Sir George was retiring on Newcastle.

The firing grew hotter and hotter, till at last it was perfectly
continuous, the cannon evidently being discharged as quickly as they
could be loaded, whilst their dull booming was accompanied by the
unceasing crash and roll of the musketry. Towards three o'clock the
firing slackened, and we thought it was all over, one way or the other,
but about five o'clock it broke out again with increased vigour. At dusk
it finally ceased. About this time some Kafirs came to my house and told
us that an English force was hemmed in on a hill this side of the
Ingogo River, that they were fighting bravely, but that "their arms were
tired," adding that they thought they would be all killed at night.

Needless to say we spent that night with heavy hearts, expecting every
minute to hear the firing begin again, and ignorant of what fate had
befallen our poor soldiers on the hill. Morning put an end to our
suspense, and we then learnt that we had suffered what, under the
circumstances, amounted to a crushing defeat. It appears that Sir George
had moved out with a force of five companies of the 60th Regiment, two
guns, and a few mounted men, to, in his own words, "patrol the road,
and meet and escort some waggons expected from Newcastle." As soon as
he passed the Ingogo he was surrounded by a body of Boers sent after him
from Lang's Nek, on a small triangular plateau, and sharply assailed
on all sides. With a break of about two hours, from three to five, the
assault was kept up till nightfall, with very bad results so far as we
were concerned, seeing that out of a body of about 500 men, over 150
were killed and wounded. The reinforcements sent for from the camp
apparently did not come into action. For some unexplained reason the
Boers did not follow up their attack that night, perhaps because they
did not think it possible that our troops could effect their escape back
to the camp, and considered that the next morning would be soon enough
to return and finish the business. The General, however, determined to
get back, and scratch teams of such mules, riding-horses, and oxen as
had lived through the day being harnessed to the guns, the dispirited
and exhausted survivors of the force managed to ford the Ingogo, now
swollen by rain which had fallen in the afternoon, poor Lieutenant
Wilkinson, the Adjutant of the 60th, losing his life in the operation,
and to struggle through the dense darkness back to camp.

On the hill-top they had lately held, the dead lay thick. There, too,
exposed to the driving rain and bitter wind lay the wounded, many of
whom would be dead before the rising of the morrow's sun. It must,
indeed, have been a sight never to be forgotten by those who saw it. The
night--I remember well--was cold and rainy, the great expanses of hill
and plain being sometimes lit by the broken gleams of an uncertain moon,
and sometimes plunged into intensest darkness by the passing of a heavy
cloud. Now and again flashes of lightning threw every crag and outline
into vivid relief, and the deep muttering of distant thunder made the
wild gloom more solemn. Then a gust of icy wind would come tearing down
the valleys to be followed by a pelting thunder shower--and thus the
night wore away.

When one reflects what discomfort, and even danger, an ordinary healthy
person would suffer if left after a hard day's work to lie all night in
the rain and wind on the top of a stony mountain, without food, or
even water to assuage his thirst, it becomes to some degree possible to
realise what the sufferings of our wounded after the battle of Ingogo
must have been. Those who survived were next day taken to the hospital
at Newcastle.

What Sir George Colley's real object was in exposing himself to the
attack has never transpired. It can hardly have been to clear the road,
as he says in his despatch, because the road was not held by the enemy,
but only visited occasionally by their patrols. The result of the battle
was to make the Boers, whose losses were trifling, more confident than
ever, and to greatly depress our soldiers. Sir George had now lost
between three and four hundred men, out of his column of little over
a thousand, which was thereby entirely crippled. Of his staff Officers
Major Essex now alone survived, his usual good fortune having carried
him safe through the battle of Ingogo. What makes his repeated escapes
the more remarkable is that he was generally to be found in the heaviest
firing. A man so fortunate as Major Essex ought to be rewarded for his
good fortune if for no other reason, though, if reports are true,
there would be no need to fall back on that to find grounds on which to
advance a soldier who has always borne himself so well.

Another result of the Ingogo battle was that the Boers, knowing that we
had no force to cut them off, and always secure of a retreat into
the Free State, passed round Newcastle in Free State Territory, and
descended from fifteen hundred to two thousand strong into Natal for the
purpose of destroying the reinforcements which were now on their way up
under General Wood. This was on the 11th of February, and from that date
till the 18th, the upper districts of Natal were in the hands of the
enemy, who cut the telegraph wires, looted waggons, stole herds of
cattle and horses, and otherwise amused themselves at the expense of Her
Majesty's subjects in Natal.

It was a very anxious time for those who knew what Boers are capable of,
and had women and children to protect, and who were never sure if their
houses would be left standing over their heads from one day to another.

Every night we were obliged to place out Kafirs as scouts to give us
timely warning of the approach of marauding parties, and to sleep with
loaded rifles close to our hands, and sometimes, when things looked very
black, in our clothes, with horses ready saddled in the stable. Nor were
our fears groundless, for one day a patrol of some five hundred Boers
encamped on the next place, which by the way belonged to a Dutchman,
and stole all the stock on it, the property of an Englishman. They also
intercepted a train of waggons, destroyed the contents, and burnt them.
Numerous were the false alarms it was our evil fortune to experience.
For instance, one night I was sitting in the drawing-room reading, about
eleven o'clock, with a door leading on to the verandah slightly ajar,
for the night was warm, when suddenly I heard myself called by name in
a muffled voice, and asked if the place was in the possession of the
Boers. Looking towards the door I saw a full-cocked revolver coming
round the corner, and on opening it in some alarm, I could indistinctly
discern a line of armed figures in a crouching attitude stretching along
the verandah into the garden beyond. It turned out to be a patrol of
the mounted police, who had received information that a large number of
Boers had seized the place and had come to ascertain the truth of the
report. As we gathered from them that the Boers were certainly near, we
did not pass a very comfortable night.

Meanwhile, we were daily expecting to hear that the troops had been
attacked along the line of march, and knowing the nature of the country
and the many opportunities it affords for ambuscading and destroying one
of our straggling columns encumbered with innumerable waggons, we had
the worst fears for the result. At length a report reached us to the
effect that the reinforcements were expected on the morrow, and that
they were not going to cross the Ingagaan at the ordinary drift, which
was much commanded by hills, but at a lower drift on our own place,
about three miles from Newcastle, which was only slightly commanded. We
also heard that it was the intention of the Boers to attack them at this
point and to fall back on my house and the hills beyond. Accordingly, we
thought it about time to retreat, and securing a few valuables such as
plate, we made our way into the town, leaving the house and its contents
to take their chance. At Newcastle an attack was daily expected, if for
no other reason, to obtain possession of the stores collected there.

The defences of the place were, however, in a wretched condition,
no proper outlook was kept, and there was an utter want of effective
organisation. The military element at the camp had enough to do to look
after itself, and did not concern itself with the safety of the town;
and the mounted police--a Colonial force paid by the Colony--had been
withdrawn from the little forts round Newcastle, as the General wanted
them for other purposes, and a message sent that the town must defend
its own forts. There were, it is true, a large number of able-bodied men
in the place who were willing to fight, but they had no organisation.
The very laager was not finished until the danger was past.

Then there was a large party who were for surrendering the town to the
Boers, because if they fought it might afterwards injure their trade.
With this section of the population the feeling of patriotism was
strong, no doubt, but that of pocket was stronger. I am convinced that
the Boers would have found the capture of Newcastle an easy task, and I
confess that what I then saw did not inspire me with great hopes of the
safety of the Colony when it gets responsible government, and has to
depend for protection on burgher forces. Colonial volunteer forces are,
I think, as good troops as any in the world; but an unorganised colonial
mob, pulled this way and that by different sentiments and interests,
is as useless as any other mob, with the difference that it is more
impatient of control.

For some unknown reason the Boer leaders providentially changed their
minds about attacking the reinforcements, and their men were withdrawn
to the Nek as swiftly and silently as they had been advanced, and on
the 17th February the reinforcements marched into Newcastle to the very
great relief of the inhabitants, who had been equally anxious for their
own safety and that of the troops. Personally, I was never in my life
more pleased to see Her Majesty's uniform; and we were equally rejoiced
on returning home to find that nothing had been injured. After this we
had quiet for a while.

On the 21st February, we heard that two fresh regiments had been sent up
to the camp at Lang's Nek, and that General Wood had been ordered down
country by Sir George Colley to bring up more reinforcements. This item
of news caused much surprise, as nobody could understand, why, now that
the road was clear, and that there was little chance of its being again
blocked, a General should be sent down to do work, which could, to all
appearance, have been equally well done by the Officers in command
of the reinforcing regiments, with the assistance of their transport
riders. It was, however, understood that an agreement had been entered
into between the two Generals, that no offensive operations should be
undertaken till Wood returned.

With the exception of occasional scares, there was no further excitement
till Sunday the 27th February, when, whilst sitting on the verandah
after lunch, I thought I heard the sound of distant artillery. Others
present differed with me, thinking the sound was caused by thunder, but
as I adhered to my opinion, we determined to ride into town and see.
On arrival there, we found the place full of rumours, from which we
gathered that some fresh disaster had occurred: and that messages were
pouring down the wires from Mount Prospect camp. We then went on to
camp, thinking that we should learn more there, but they knew nothing
about it, several officers asking us what new "shave" we had got hold
of. A considerable number of troops had been marched from Newcastle that
morning to go to Mount Prospect, but when it was realised that something
had occurred, they were stopped, and marched back again. Bit by bit we
managed to gather the truth. At first we heard that our men had made a
most gallant resistance on the hill, mowing down the advancing enemy by
hundreds, till at last, their ammunition failing, they fought with
their bayonets, using stones and meat tins as missiles. I wish that our
subsequent information had been to the same effect.

It appears that on the evening of the 26th, Sir George Colley, after
mess, suddenly gave orders for a force of a little over six hundred men,
consisting of detachments from no less than three different regiments,
the 58th, 60th, 92d, and the Naval Brigade, to be got ready for an
expedition, without revealing his plans to anybody, until late in the
afternoon: and then without more ado, marched them up to the top of
Majuba--a great square-topped mountain to the right of, and commanding
the Boer position at Lang's Nek. The troops reached the top about three
in the morning, after a somewhat exhausting climb, and were stationed at
different points of the plateau in a scientific way. Whilst the darkness
lasted, they could, by the glittering of the watch-fires, trace from
this point of vantage the position of the Boer laagers that lay 2000
yards beneath them, whilst the dawn of day revealed every detail of the
defensive works, and showed the country lying at their feet like a map.

On arrival at the top, it was represented to the General that a rough
entrenchment should be thrown up, but he would not allow it to be done
on account of the men being wearied with their marching up. This was a
fatal mistake. Behind an entrenchment, however slight, one would think
that 600 English soldiers might have defied the whole Boer army, and
much more the 200 or 300 men by whom they were hunted down Majuba. It
appears that about 10.15 A.M. Colonel Steward and Major Fraser
again went to General Colley "to arrange to start the sailors on an
entrenchment" . . . "Finding the ground so exposed, the General did not
give orders to entrench."

As soon as the Boers found out that the hill was in the occupation of
the English, their first idea was to leave the Nek, and they began
to inspan with that object, but discovering that there were no guns
commanding them, they changed their mind, and set to work to storm the
hill instead. As far as I have been able to gather, the number of Boers
who took the mountain was about 300, or possibly 400; I do not think
there were more than that. The Boers themselves declare solemnly that
they were only 100 strong, but this I do not believe. They slowly
advanced up the hill till about 11.30, when the real attack began,
the Dutchmen coming on more rapidly and confidently, and shooting with
ever-increasing accuracy, as they found our fire quite ineffective.

About a quarter to one, our men retreated to the last ridge, and General
Colley was shot through the head. After this, the retreat became a rout,
and the soldiers rushed pell-mell down the precipitous sides of the
hill, the Boers knocking them over by the score as they went, till they
were out of range. A few were also, I heard, killed by the shells from
the guns that were advanced from the camp to cover the retreat, but as
this does not appear in the reports, perhaps it is not true. Our loss
was about 200 killed and wounded, including Sir George Colley, Drs.
Landon and Cornish, and Commander Romilly, who was shot with an
explosive bullet, and died after some days' suffering. When the wounded
Commander was being carried to a more sheltered spot, it was with great
difficulty that the Boers were prevented from massacring him as he lay,
they being under the impression that he was Sir Garnet Wolseley. As was
the case at Ingogo, the wounded were left on the battlefield all night
in very inclement weather, to which some of them succumbed. It is
worthy of note that after the fight was over, they were treated with
considerable kindness by the Boers.

Not being a soldier, of course I cannot venture to give any military
reasons as to how it was, that what was after all a considerable force,
was so easily driven from a position of great natural strength; but
I think I may, without presumption, state my opinion was to the real
cause, which was the villanous shooting of the British soldier. Though
the troops did not, as was said at the time, run short of ammunition,
it is clear that they fired away a great many rounds at men who, in
storming the hill, must necessarily have exposed themselves more or
less, of whom they managed to hit--certainly not more than six or
seven,--which was the outside of the Boer casualties. From this it is
clear that they can neither judge distance nor hit a moving object, nor
did they probably know that when shooting down hill it is necessary to
aim low. Such shooting as the English soldier is capable of may be
very well when he has an army to aim at, but it is useless in guerilla
warfare against a foe skilled in the use of the rifle and the art of
taking shelter.

A couple of months after the storming of Majuba, I, together with a
friend, had a conversation with a Boer, a volunteer from the Free State
in the late war, and one of the detachment that stormed Majuba, who gave
us a circumstantial account of the attack with the greatest willingness.
He said that when it was discovered that the English had possession
of the mountain, they thought that the game was up, but after a while
bolder counsels prevailed, and volunteers were called for to storm the
hill. Only seventy men could be found to perform the duty, of whom he
was one. They started up the mountain in fear and trembling, but soon
found that every shot passed over their heads, and went on with greater
boldness. Only three men, he declared, were hit on the Boer side;
one was killed, one was hit in the arm, and he himself was the third,
getting his face grazed by a bullet, of which he showed us the scar. He
stated that the first to reach the top ridge was a boy of twelve, and
that as soon as the troops saw them they fled, when, he said, he paid
them out for having nearly killed him, knocking them over one after
another "like bucks" as they ran down the hill, adding that it was
"alter lecker" (very nice). He asked us how many men we had lost during
the war, and when we told him about seven hundred killed and wounded,
laughed in our faces, saying he knew that our dead amounted to several
thousands. On our assuring him that this was not the case, he replied,
"Well, don't let's talk of it any more, because we are good friends now,
and if we go on you will lie, and I shall lie, and then we shall
get angry. The war is over now, and I don't want to quarrel with the
English; if one of them takes off his hat to me I always acknowledge
it." He did not mean any harm in talking thus; it is what Englishmen
have to put up with now in South Africa; the Boers have beaten us, and
act accordingly.

This man also told us that the majority of the rifles they picked up
were sighted for 400 yards, whereas the latter part of the fighting had
been carried on within 200.

Sir George Colley's death was much lamented in the Colony, where he was
deservedly popular; indeed, anybody who had the honour of knowing that
kind-hearted gentleman, could not do otherwise than deeply regret his
untimely end. What his motive was in occupying Majuba in the way he did,
has never, so far as I am aware, transpired. The move, in itself, would
have been an excellent one, had it been made in force, or accompanied
by a direct attack on the Nek--but, as undertaken, seems to have been
objectless. There were, of course, many rumours as to the motives that
prompted his action, of which the most probable seems to be that, being
aware of what the Home Government intended to do with reference to the
Transvaal, he determined to strike a blow to try and establish British
Supremacy first, knowing how mischievous any apparent surrender would
be. Whatever his faults may have been as a General, he was a brave man,
and had the honour of his country much at heart.

It was also said by soldiers who saw him the night the troops marched
up Majuba, that the General was "not himself," and it was hinted that
continual anxiety and the chagrin of failure had told upon his mind. As
against this, however, must be set the fact that his telegrams to the
Secretary of State for War, the last of which he must have despatched
only about half-an-hour before he was shot, are cool and collected,
and written in the same unconcerned tone,--as though he were a
critical spectator of an interesting scene--that characterises all his
communications, more especially his despatches. They at any rate give no
evidence of shaken nerve or unduly excited brain, nor can I see that
any action of his with reference to the occupation of Majuba is out of
keeping with the details of his generalship upon other occasions. He was
always confident to rashness, and possessed by the idea that every
man in the ranks was full of as high a spirit, and as brave as he was
himself. Indeed most people will think, that so far from its being a
rasher action, the occupation of Majuba, bad generalship as it seems,
was a wiser move than either the attack on the Nek or the Ingogo fiasco.

But at the best, all his movements are difficult to be understand by
a civilian, though they may, for ought we know, have been part of an
elaborate plan, perfected in accordance with the rules of military
science, of which, it is said, he was a great student.

H. Rider Haggard

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