South African Military History 

P.O. BOX 12926


AGM 2019

We would to remind members that April 2019 meeting is our AGM. The committee appeals to all members to please make an effort to attend.

Bob Buser and Ian van Oordt, two of the current committee members, are unable to stand for re-election. We need some members to step forward and volunteer to stand on the committee. If you are interested could you please contact the chairperson, Carl Burger.

The committee would like to thank Bob Buser for the many years of service to the Society as their Treasurer. He has kept an impeccable set of accounts and has been very active on the committee.



We received a letter from the VOC Foundation requesting our support for their endeavour to improve the maintenance of The Castle. The Castle is in a deplorable state, lacking maintenance and care, with dirt and rubble strewn in the rear parking lot. The VOC Foundation is approaching SAHRA to remind them of their duty as custodians of a heritage resource and to get some action from the military. The Cape Town Branch fully endorses the action taken by the VOC Foundation.



Unfortunately, due to my personal commitment to complete the manuscript on the Battle of Blaauwberg by the end of this year, it means this will be my last Newsletter as I need to concentrate on my writing.

For myself, I would like to thank the committee for their support and in particular Mac Bisset. Mac’s notes on the talks has been invaluable in preparing the Newsletter.

Carl Burger has fulfilled the difficult role as Chairman. He has guided the Society over this year through many obstacles with great success.

Alan Mountain, the Vice Chairman, has provided the committee with many good ideas and was on hand to provide some very good talks.

Bob Buser has kept a steady hand on the accounts. I am sorry that we are losing a very valuable committee member whose contributions will be missed.

Jack Liebenberg has supported the committee and provided valuable input as and when needed.

Johan van den Berg although is no longer on the committee has assisted me by editing and sending out the Newsletter.

Lastly, I would like to thank the Society for giving me the opportunity to serve as the Secretary and I trust my performance was acceptable.



Mr. Alan Mountain gave an excellent audio-visual presentation of the first Anglo Boer War.

The First Anglo-Boer War was considered to be a small war, but its consequences evolved into a bigger war with England committing over 450 000 men to the follow-on Second Anglo-Boer War.

The battle on Amajuba Hill on the 27th February 1881 was deplored by the British as a shame and a strategically ill-conceived and tactically miss-managed disaster. The victorious Boers, on the other hand, celebrated victory as a glorious manifestation of God’s favour. Notwithstanding its symbolic importance, the battle was entirely unnecessary, resulting primarily from British political dithering.

By 1836 the early White settlers who had long ago moved away from Cape Town and had settled in various places had decided to abandon the Cape to get away from English colonial rule. They trekked into the largely unexplored interior.

The British feared that this would adversely impact on the Cape and therefore British interests. The Whig administration under Lord John Russell, in February 1848, established the Orange River Sovereignty. The Sovereignty, however, had very limited authority and jurisdiction. The Sovereignty did not last long as the Boers wanted independence. With the collapse of the Orange River Sovereignty the British Colonial government resolved that British paramountcy should be exerted indirectly to limit costs. The embryo Republic had decided in 1849 to unite with a single Volksraad or Peoples’ Council which had some form of dominion over the separate entities that made up the Transvaal.

In September 1853 the Boers living north of the Vaal River officially named their state De Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR). On the 23 February 1854 the British formally recognized the independence of the former Orange River Sovereignty now renamed Oranje-Vrijstaat. The Oranje-Vrijstaat wished to retained its existing economic and social ties with the Cape, but the ZAR wanted total independence.

Lord Carnarvon, the Colonial Secretary, proposed the establishment of a Confederation of Southern African States in the mid-1870s. The Confederation was to incorporate the existing political and administrative structures into a single state. There were obstacles to this grand plan. The most immediate was the independent Zulu kingdom of King Cetshwayo, whose goal was to re-establish the Old Zulu Order. This threatened Carnarvon’s plans for Confederation in South Africa. To overcome this meant war between the British and the Zulus. In 1879 the war started with the loss of 1 327 British soldiers on the slopes of Isandlwana.

The second obstacle to confederation was the Boers who had established their own independent republics. In August 1876 Lord Carnarvon arranged a conference in London specifically to bring the ZAR into the confederation. His overtures were spurned by the Boers and so Carnarvon annexed the ZAR.

The scene was set for a bloodless coup d’état. On the 12th April 1877 Sir Theophilus Shepstone read out the terms of the annexation. The ZAR became the British Transvaal Territory and Shepstone’s title was changed to Administrator of the Transvaal Territory.

However, things did not go well for Shepstone, he was simply unable to appease the burghers. Early in 1878 he was faced with widespread disturbances following the failure of the delegation the burghers had sent to London to protest against annexation. A second equally unsuccessful delegation was sent to London in 1878 with a petition. The newly appointed Colonial Secretary, Sir Michael Hicks Beach, flatly turned down the Burghers’ petition.

In July 1879 Colonel Owen Lanyon succeeded Shepstone but his authoritative approach did not go down well with the burghers. By December 1879 the Queen’s sovereignty was denounced at a large meeting called by Paul Kruger.

The Afrikaner press in both the Cape and Oranje Vrijstaat came out with strong support. Encouraged by this, Paul Kruger and Piet Joubert began an extensive speaking and fundraising tour of the Cape and the Free State to mobilize Afrikaner sentiment. So successful were Kruger and Joubert that in June 1880 the Cape Parliament flatly rejected a motion calling for confederation in South Africa.

In April 1880 the Liberals under Sir William Gladstone had won the British general election. Their victory gave the Transvaal Boer leaders renewed hope. Kruger came to the conclusion that further meetings and protests were a waste of time. Instead, as Kruger put it, “the best course appears to be, to set quietly to work and to prepare for the worst by the purchase of arms and ammunition.”

On the 8th December, 1880, Paul Kruger, now Vice-President of the ZAR, called for a meeting to be held at Paardekraal, a low rock-crested hillock in present-day Krugersdorp. About 6 000 people attended that meeting and, with Paul Kruger’s bold words and spirited enthusiasm, he urged his audiences to build a cairn of rocks on the low-crested hillock to symbolically represent the rights of the ZAR.

Major General Sir George Francis Pomeroy Colley was appointed High Commissioner for South East Africa, Governor of Natal and Commander-in-Chief of both the Natal and Transvaal forces.

With war clouds gathering, Colonel Bellairs, the British Commanding Officer in Pretoria, issued orders to Lt Colonel Anstruther in Lydenburg, to move the garrison to Pretoria. Anstruther in his relative isolated position did not fully appreciate Bellairs’ instruction. Anstruther received the instruction on the 23rd November, but only left on the 5th December.

On the 17th December, 1880, Anstruther received a communication from Pretoria and was warned to guard against the possibility of a surprise attack. In the afternoon of the 20th December, 1880, the column was about two miles (3,5 km) from Bronkhorstspruit. The surrounding area was level except for a low grassy ridge, concealed behind the ridge was a Boer commando led by Commandant Frans Joubert with orders to prevent Anstruther from reaching Pretoria.

The band leading the column suddenly stopped playing when the menacing sight of Boer horsemen lined up along the low ridge on their left flank. Anstruther ordered the column to halt and the soldiers to fall into line.

A Boer despatch rider, Paul de Beer, then approached the convoy under a white flag of truce and handed Anstruther a note. The note stated that the Boers were uncertain whether war had been declared or not and he informed Anstruther that further movement of the British troops was considered as a declaration of war. Anstruther refused. But before the reply could be delivered the Boer leader, a hardened fighter, signalled Nicolaas Smit to attack while they still had the advantage of surprise.

The Boers quickly dismounted and opened a devastating fire on the British. The British infantry were hopelessly exposed. Within a few minutes all but one of the nine British officers were either dead or seriously wounded. The carnage was astounding, 156 men and one woman were either dead or seriously wounded.

Although Anstruther had been shot five times he gave the order to surrender. He wrote a note which was taken to the Boers, it stated “the custom of every civilised nation is to furnish the wounded with shelter, care, food and transport.” Joubert needed little prompting, a camp was established near Bronkhorstspruit supplied with tents, blankets, a hospital wagon, water cart and rations. The Boers in the area tendered [sic] to the wounded. Anstruther died from his wounds the following day.

Major-General Sir George Francis Pomeroy Colley had just returned from a trip to India when the events at Bronkhorstspruit took place. Colley was well aware of the growing animosity between the Boers and the British.

To relieve the British garrisons in the Transvaal, Colley would be forced to follow the road from Newcastle that crossed the Drakensburg at Laing’s Nek. To Joubert, with about 2 000 Boers under his command, Laing’s Nek provided a perfect defensive position from which he could oppose any British move.

Colley established his camp at Mount Prospect, which was situated six kilometres south of Laing’s Nek.

On Friday 28th January 1881, Colley’s column comprising 1 211 officers and men with the Natal Mounted Police providing an advance guard left Mount Prospect Camp to locate the most suitable position for the four 9-pounder cannons to bombard the Boer positions. Colley’s intention was to distract and instil fear into the Boers. Initially the Boers were alarmed but the bombardment had little effect as the Boers were mounted and provided a series of rapidly moving targets.

The 58th Regiment began their advance in a tight formation, four men abreast. The advance, led by Colonel Deane led the assault on the Boer positions on the top of Table Mountain. Deane’s right flank was supported by Major William Brownlow of the 1st King’s Dragoon Guards. The Dragoons launched an attack on the Boers’ forward position on the top of Brownlow’s Kop, having charged up the hill the squadron’s horses were blown and the attack was repulsed.

With the threat to their left flank removed, the Boers advanced along Brownlow’s Kop to engage the advancing 58th Regiment. Having reached the top Table Mountain, the 58th Regiment was faced with a Boer entrenchment. Colonel Deane led a charge. He and others were killed in the great confusion and so the British were forced to retreat.

A party of Boers advanced and opened fire on the Naval Brigade and a company of the 60th Rifles managed to hold off the advancing Boers. The 60th Rifles advanced to support the withdrawal of the badly mauled 58th Regiment.

The British toll was heavy, seven officers and 77 men were killed and three officers and 110 men were wounded. The known Boer casualties were 14 killed and 27 wounded. Colley personally accepted the blame for the repulse they had suffered and he totally exonerated the 58th Regiment.

The next engagement was on the 7th February 1881 at Schuinshoogte an open undulating grassland approximately half way between Newcastle and Laing’s Nek. At around mid-day a horse-drawn cart delivering post and to pick up supplies and escorted by a detachment of six Dragoons was intercepted by a party of about 50 Boers. After a brief skirmish the Dragoons broke away and raced back to Mount Prospect to report the incident.

Colley decided to remove this threat so he assembled a force to retrieve the abandoned postal convoy. The force he selected consisted of two artillery pieces, three companies of the 60th Rifles and half a squadron of Dragoons.

Crossing the Ingogo River the track gently rose to a raised plateau, commonly known as Schuinshoogte. The plateau is a roughly triangular-shaped flat area with a perimeter littered with rocks and tall grass. Colley ordered his command to establish themselves on the heights. The artillery was brought up onto the plateau and the 60th Rifles extended around most of the perimeter of the raised plateau.

A Boer attempt to outflank the open British left flank was defeated with appalling casualties. Colley sent a despatch to Mount Prospect ordering two further companies of the 58th Regiment to join the fighting. The situation became dire as the fighting was conducted on a very hot summer’s day. Late in the afternoon it started to rain but the fight continued, until the light began to fade and the Boers raised a white flag. A chaplain was sent to negotiate a settlement, but soon after the Chaplain arrived the Boers recommenced firing. Smit, the Boer Commandant, tried to encourage his men to continue their attack but the Boers had had enough and they refused.

Colley was now in a serious predicament. His men at Schuinshoogte were without food and water and there was no chance to replenish their ammunition, his only option was to return to Mount Prospect as soon as possible.

British casualties were very heavy, the 60th Rifles had lost 58 men killed and 63 wounded while 7 men had drowned while crossing the Ingogo river. The artillery lost 3 men killed and 2 wounded. Boer losses were unclear but thought to be 8 killed and 10 wounded.

When Smit returned to Schuinshoogte on the following day he was flabbergasted to find that the British plus their artillery were nowhere to be found.

With his heavy losses Colley had no alternative but to consolidate his position at Mount Prospect and await the arrival of reinforcements from Newcastle.

Colley had landed in Durban 17 days before he led the Battle on Amajuba Hill. Although he had a committed and competent staff, there was much that Colley had to undertake personally. He had suffered two successive defeats at the hands of the Boers who fought a different kind of war. This lay heavily upon his mind and he made a strange decision. After silent and isolated contemplation, he decided to take possession of Amajuba Hill, not just for its beauty, but also, in Colley’s mind, to provide him with an unimpregnable and unassailable fortress. This decision he kept strictly to himself until the very last moment.

In the late evening of the 26 February 1881 Colley led his mixed force of 27 officers and 568 men, plus an unrecorded number of African guides. Each soldier was ordered to carry the regulation 70 rounds of ammunition, a greatcoat, a waterproof sheet and a full water bottle.

In the early hours of 27th February 1881 Colley’s column began the final ascent. The men found the going increasingly difficult and their guides frequently lost the path. The first troops breasted the summit in the dark while the rear of the column finally reached the top just as dawn had begun to lighten the sky.

It was Sunday morning and the Boers were preparing for prayers. A group of Highlanders stood silhouetted against the lightening skyline and shouted insults at the Boers. Joubert was in his tent when he heard that the British were on Amajuba. His heart sank as they expected artillery shells to soon rain down upon them.

When Smit and Joubert realised that the British did not have any artillery with them they called a council of war and it was agreed that they should attack. Volunteers were called for. Smit organized another group which rode off to the western side of the mountain to prevent any British reinforcements from intervening.

Two attacking parties were organized under the commands of Field Cornet Roos and Commandant Ferreira. Keeping slightly apart, the two groups began their advance up the northern slopes of Amajuba, Roos on the left and Ferreira on the right. They took advantage of the natural cover provided by a deep gully in the southwest and virtually unseen and unhindered approached the British.

When it was realized that there was to be no artillery attacks, two further groups to the left of Roos under command of Commandants Malan and Trichardt advanced forward. The Boer parties advance up the mountain with each Boer group providing covering fire for the others.

The summit of Amajuba is roughly triangular in shape. It has a rocky perimeter of about ¾ mile (1km) which encompasses a shallow, roughly basin-shaped depression. Stretching from east to west towards the northern end of the basin is a low rocky ridge, which, in the early morning darkness, Colley mistakenly believed to mark the northern perimeter of the summit.

The most northerly point of the British defensive perimeter was Gordon’s Knoll and a spur which extends to the mountain top. As the Boers built up their numbers, Gordon’s Knoll became increasingly important for the British to hold as it provided an opportunity to enfilade the Boers. As the Boers steadily advanced up Amajuba the Highlanders were eventually overwhelmed when their ammunition ran out.

The Boers soon over-ran the northern perimeter and took up attacking positions along the rocky ridge. Moving to more advantageous positions where they could shoot at the panic-stricken British soldiers who were gathering along the southern boundary hoping of find an easy way down. Advancing Boers appeared on Hay’s Kop and from where they added to the lethal fire on the retreating British. No attempt was made at a concerted stand at the far end of the mountain top as no cover was available.

The last resistance on the mountain-top was made by Lt Hector MacDonald, after whom MacDonalds’ Kop was named. He and a small group of 20 men held this position hoping that the main group would rally and push the Boers back. All were killed except Lt MacDonald and a soldier. They eventually surrendered and were taken prisoner by the Boers. In little over 30 minutes Colley’s force had been swept off what Colley had believed to be an “unassailable” position.

Little is known of Colley’s last moments. Colley was initially buried on the top of Amajuba mountain and later re-buried, with other officers, in a special cemetery at Schuinshoogte. Fifty-nine British dead were buried in a communal grave on the mountaintop and another 14 were buried below the mountain summit.

A peace agreement was reached between the Boers and the British on the 21st March 1881 and the terms of the agreement were ratified on the 23rd March.

Colley had a brilliant military career. He was placed under huge pressure cobbling together a military force to fight a war in an unknown terrain.

If blame is to be apportioned it should rest on the Gladstone Government. Eighteen years later, another war between the Boers and the British became inevitable; one which has left deep scars in the South African political psyche.

Mac Bisset thanked Alan Mountain for a most informative, as well as enjoyable presentation and presented him with the customary gift.




Cut off by sanctions in late 1965, the Rhodesians were forced to improvise in most fields, and met the challenge in some extra-ordinary ways, taming the landmine, for example.

Richard Wood was born in Bulawayo. He is a graduate of Rhodes and Edinburgh universities. He was a Commonwealth Scholar and the Ernest Oppenheimer Memorial Research Fellow at the University of Rhodesia and thereafter held a personal chair at the University of Durban-Westville, South Africa. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and of the Alexandrian Defence Group.

Richard is a well-known author on military history, books he has published include: The War Diaries of André Dennison; Counter-Strike from the Sky: The Rhodesian All-Arms Fireforce in the War in the Bush: 1974–1980; Africa@War Volume 1: Operation Dingo: Rhodesian Raid on Chimoio and Tembué, 1977 and Volume 5: Zambezi Valley Insurgency: Early Rhodesian Bush War Operations.

Fortunate to have sole access to the then closed papers of Sir Roy Welensky, he wrote The Welensky Papers: A History of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland: 1953–1963.



The Albany district on the Eastern Frontier by 1813 was still wild and untamed. For someone like William Burchell, the naturalist, roads and farm fortifications were indispensable for travelling in the area. Travel on a journey from Grahamstown to Algoa Bay with Burchell and the making of the first road and fortified outpost map of the area.

Roger Steward graduated as a medical doctor. Since 1998 he has been collecting historical Africana maps and books. He has published books on the history of the Cape. He is particularly interested in miniature maps and maps of pioneer travellers and scientists.

Roger also manages a business, Roger Stewart Antiquarian, dealing mainly in Africana maps as well as researching maps and the history of the Cape.


Ian van Oordt (Secretary)
076 315 7713

South African Military History Society /