Transvaal War, 1880-81

The British annexation of the Transvaal was carried out in the early part of 1877, when it seems to have been expected by the authors of that act that the people, after having been accustomed to republican or even individual independence ever since the country was first settled, would quickly become reconciled to the high-handed change made to a Crown-colony form of government — a form from which the colonies in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and at the Cape had for some time past shaken themselves free.

The declarations made at the time by Sir Theophilus Shepstone led the people to suppose that the withdrawal of their liberties was intended to be merely temporary, and that self-government would, in due course, follow a short transition period. How delusive were the promises thus held out, time plainly showed.

Even a Dutch clergyman, writing in 1869, described the system of apprenticeship of natives which obtained among the Boers “as slavery in the fullest sense of the word." These representations on the part of the Barolong, and the Bamangwato under Khama, supported by the representations of Cape politicians, led in 1878 to the military occupation of southern Bechuanaland by a British force under Colonel (afterwards General Sir Charles) Warren. A small police force continued to occupy the district until April 1881, but, ignoring the wishes of the Bechuana and the recommendations of Sir Bartle Frere (then high commissioner), the British home government refused to take the country under British protection.

On the withdrawal of the police, southern Bechuanaland fell into a state of anarchy, nor did the fixing (on paper) of the frontier between it and the Transvaal by the Pretoria convention of August 1881 have any beneficial effect. There was fighting between Montsioa and Moshette, while Massow, a Batlapin chief, invited the aid of the Boers against Mankoroane, who claimed to be paramount chief of the Batlapin. The Transvaal War of that date offered opportunities to the freebooting Boers of the west which were not to be lost. At this time the British, wearied of Seuth African troubles, were disinclined to respond to native appeals for help. Consequently the Boers proceeded without let or hindrance with their conquest and annexation of territory.

It would — seem that, until the time came when it was at last seen that the prospect of forcing on a confederation was hopeless — in June 1880, when the Cape Parliament rejected the proposal for a Conference on that head — it was deemed politic to withhold the grant of self-government, in the hope that the malcontent Boers might be the more disposed to fall in with the views of the Imperial Government, and lend their influence towards confederation, in the desire to obtain representative institutions themselves, by joining the selfgoverned Cape Colony. These expectations were doomed to be disappointed, and the Cape Colony, having declined to join in a Conference, unmistakably intimated its intention of standing by itself for the present. The time had thus, then, clearly arrived for the adoption of one of two courses with regard to the Transvaal — either to annul the annexation, or endeavor to satisfy the legitimate wishes of its people by giving them representative government.

The various mass meetings, held at intervals, convened and attended by the Boers—the landed proprietors of the country, a singularly quiet, undemonstrative class, forming the large majority of the white population— gave unanimous expression to the desire to be cut adrift from Britain. Their pastoral farms being of great extent — generally upwards of 6000 acres each — dotted over the more fertile parts of a country estimated to have an area of 120,000 square miles. The Boers — numbering about 40,000 souls — from their scattered, and more or less necessarily isolated condition of life, were naturally an independent people, disliking change, especially when brought upon them without their consent or instrumentality.

The underestimate of the warlike qualities of the Boers, formed very generally by Englishmen before the outbreak—the main cause of subsequent reverses to our arms—was largely due to a too hasty judgment, engendered by generalising from the want of success attending the Boer commandoes [Burgher levies] in prosecuting the war against Sekukuni, and their failure Chap. to support their native allies, the Swazis, when storm- — ing his place, followed by their break-up and ignominious retirement in 1876. The successive mass meetings, attended by upwards of 6000 men, who took their arms with them, were, however, sufficient testimony to the disaffected state of feeling throughout the country, and showed the alarming extent of readiness for insurrection.

It may yet be reasonably doubted if there would ever have been occasion for them to have resorted to open hostilities, had not the Bezuidenhout incident, — an attempt to levy taxes which were, in amount, if not illegal, certainly inequitable, — been most unnecessarily undertaken. This maladroit action of the local government, who thus suddenly fanned into a flame the smouldering discontent of the country, and so infuriated the people that not only did they rise en masse, but, worst of all, escaped from the ordinary control of their leaders, who were even threatened with death if they did not head the movement, and assist the former in obtaining by arms what they conceived to be their rights.

Big things have often small beginnings, and the Boer rebellion, that has brought so many complications in its train, commenced with a very small incident. A certain Bezeidenhout, having refused to pay his taxes, had, by order, some of his goods seized and put up to auction. This was the signal for the malcontents to attack the auctioneer and rescue the goods. The attempted arrest of Bezuidenhout by a body of constables occasioned the immediate assembly of several hundred armed men to guard Bezuidenhout from arrest. A mass meeting was held at Paade kraal, where Krugersdorp now stands, and the rioters unanimously decided to commit their cause to the Almighty, and to live or die in the struggle for independence. Thereupon Messrs. Kruger, Pretorius, and Joubert were elected a triumvirate to conduct the Government, and on 16 December 1880 (Dingaan's Day) the Republic was formally proclaimed, and its flag again hoisted.

The whole strength of Boers and Free Staters was permitted to launch itself against an army which was entirely without reserves, and which could not be reinforced under a month. That brave and unfortunate soldier, Sir George Colley, had a theory that small, well-organised troops were worth as much again as large and desultory ones; but he took no account of peculiar facilities which are almost inherent to armies fighting on their own soil, as it were, and habits of warfare which have, so to speak, become ancestral with the Boer. The small Natal army was, on Sir George Colley's principle, allowed to pit itself against a fighting mass, dense and desultory it may be, but a fighting mass of enormous dimensions, which, whatever their failings, had weight, equipment, courage, obstinacy, and intimacy with their surroundings entirely in their favor.

Seven detachments of British troops, aided by volunteers — Pretoria, Potchefstroom, Rustenburg, Marabastadt, Lydenburg, Standerton, and Wakkerstroom — successfully defended their posts under enormous difficulties, such as have rarely fallen to the lot of British soldiers. Thrown suddenly on their own resources and responsibilities, isolated at widely distant points of a territory almost as extensive as France, beset by foes without, and—in the case of Pretoria — secret foes within, fighting day by day for three weary months, in the midst of troubles, anxieties, discomforts, even — at Potchefstroom — want of food, and with depressing, disheartening influences all round them, they yet beat back, and made themselves respected by, the enemy.

Hidden away in a remote country, these garrison posts were without special correspondents or telegraph wire to enable them to supply a daily summary of their proceedings, and claim the attention of the public at home. They could not—as seems so often arranged nowadays by would - be heroes in the estimation of their countrymen—get delicately rendered little communiques about their doings inserted in the papers, or even — as perhaps more generally done — prompt "their sisters, their cousins, and their aunts," to do this wirepulling, and judiciously keep them constantly before the public So it happened that, at the close of the war, the people of England knew little of the facts connected with, or the sacrifices made for, the defence of the Transvaal capital, and other towns and military positions so well retained in possession.

British reinforcements sent out in December 1880 and January 1881. The great question of reinforcements filled all minds. Nothing indeed could be looked for till they should reach the Cape. Fifteen huge transports were due to arrive between the end of December and the beginning of January, bringing on the scene some 15,000 troops of all arms. The Fifth Division, under Sir Charles Warren, consisting of eight battalions of Infantry and its complement of Artillery and Engineers was expected, also the Household Cavalry Composite Regiment, the 14th Hussars, a siege train, a draft of Marines, and various odd branches of the service. Later on more troops would follow.

Sir George Colley took command of the British troops in January 1881. His attack on Laing's Nek was repulsed with heavy loss. Colonel Deane and Majors Poole and Hingiston were killed. A severe engagement was fought near Ingogo River, on 08 February 1881. The British were repulsed after 12 hours under fire. Sir E. Wood joined Colley with reinforcements. The Orange Free State declared neutrality. At Majuba Hill, on 27 Febbruary 1881, Colley was killed along with 3 other officers and 82 men; 122 British were taken prisoners. Sir F. (now Lord) Roberts sent out on 28 February 1881. An armistice was proposed by the Boers on 05 March 1881; accepted on 23 March 23, and peace was proclaimed on 21 March 1881.

After the Boers rose in arms, the independence was re-established, subject to British control over external affairs. But the subsequent discovery of gold brought in large numbers of foreigners, chiefly English, who demanded a voice in the government. After fruitless appeals to Pretoria, and a disastrous attempt at insurrection in 1896 (known as the "Jameson Raid"), the Uitlanders appealed to the British government. After three years of negotiations England, in October 1899, rejected an ultimatum addressed to it by the Transvaal government, which thereupon invaded British territory. After a series of remarkable initial successes had been gained by the Boers, the two republics were finally occupied by British troops, and their annexation to the British Dominions was proclaimed 01 Sept. 1900, although hostilities continued until June 1902.

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