The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 18 No 5 - June 2019

Kitchener and Botha at
Middelburg, 28 February 1901

by Robin Smith

This very remarkable photograph appeared in Richard Steyn's book, Louis Botha, with an incorrect caption. If you have bought a later copy, the error has been corrected. The internet purveyor of the image also had the caption wrong, identifying these men as the delegates at the peace conference in Pretoria in May 1902. In fact, the photograph shows Lord Kitchener, Louis Botha and their respective staffs at the preliminary meeting held in Middelburg, more than a year earlier, in February 1901.

Botha and Kitchener agreed on peace terms to end the Anglo-Boer War, but the final British Government version did not find favour when Botha submitted it to his fellow officers. Consequently, the war carried on for another fifteen months until the peace accord known as the Peace of Vereeniging was signed at Melrose House in Pretoria just before midnight on 31 May 1902.

This is the original photo that appeared in After Pretoria, Volume 1, which was issued from 1901 until the war’s end, in instalments. (A second volume, After Pretoria II, covered the last few months of the war). This is the original caption for the image, as it appears in After Pretoria I: ‘This reproduction has been made, by special and exclusive arrangement with Mr Barraud, the owner of the copyright, from the very fine guinea carbon print (size 15in by 12in) published by Messrs Mayall of 126 Piccadilly. The original negative was taken by permission of Lord Kitchener by Messrs Barraud and Pavey of Middelburg; it forms a unique record of a very interesting event. With their usual cunning some of the Boer leaders promulgated the report among their more ignorant followers that Lord Kitchener and his staff had been made prisoners by Botha and released only on parole, and they produced this photograph to prove their assertion.’

The original caption is a good description of a photograph taken by a commercial photographer to mark a formal occasion. The correct names are given in the margins of the original picture but note the references to a ‘Mr de Wet’ and a ‘Colonel Hamilton’. The meeting took place at the headquarters of Lieutenant-General Neville Lyttelton, commander in the Middelburg area, on 28 February 1901.

The image appears in several publications and on the internet, sometimes with an incorrect caption that makes an assumption that the De Wet referred to here is ‘General Christiaan de Wet’ and the Hamilton, ‘Colonel Ian Hamilton’. Closer inspection shows that the Mr de Wet in the photograph looks nothing like the more famous Boer general of that name, who, in any case, had not been invited to attend the conference. In fact, he and Free State President, Marthinus Steyn, did not hide their displeasure at not being party to the discussions. There were quite a few senior British officers with the surname of Hamilton. Ian, who rose to the rank of General and was given command of the expedition to Gallipoli in 1915 is perhaps the most well-known, but there were others, notably the brothers Hubert, Bruce and Gilbert, and E O F Hamilton. Hence the confusion.

Those who attended the Middelburg meeting were members of the staffs of Generals Lord Kitchener and Louis Botha, except for a Mr H Fraser. Seated in the front were Nicolaas de Wet, Botha’s military secretary, Louis Botha and Lord Kitchener, and Colonel Hubert Hamilton, senior colonel of the staff complement in Pretoria. Behind stand Colonel David Henderson, Chief of Intelligence in Pretoria, Mr D E van Velden (who served after the war as the State Secretary of the Transvaal Government), Major Watson, Intelligence staff officer, Mr H Fraser (see comment on him below), Captain Frank Maxwell VC, and Mr A de Jager, of Botha’s staff.

Mr H Fraser was the brother of Tibbie Steyn, the wife of the President of the Orange Free State. In what capacity he attended the meeting is unknown. At that time, he was farming in what was then known as the Transvaal.

Nicolaas Jacobus de Wet was 28 years of age in 1901. He had a long career as a member of parliament and then as a senator. He was Minister of Justice in both Botha’s and Smuts’s cabinets. By 1939 he was Chief Justice of South Africa. In November 1939 he became a member of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. The Governor- General, Sir Patrick Duncan, suffered a serious illness in 1942 and De Wet assumed his functions as Officer Administering the Government. On the death of Sir Patrick in 1943, he declined the offer of the post of Governor General as he was still Chief Justice. He died in Pretoria in 1960.

Mr D E van Velden became State Secretary of the Transvaal Government in 1907 and co-wrote, with J D Kestell, Peace Negotiations between the Governments of the South African Republic and the Orange Free State, and the Representatives of the British Government. Mr A de Jager was a member of Botha’s staff.

Colonel Hubert Hamilton was Kitchener’s military secretary and had an extensive military career. By the outbreak of the First World War, he was a major-general and commander of the 3rd Division. He was killed in October 1914 during the so-called ‘race for the sea’, hit in the head by shrapnel. He was buried where he fell, the area still under fire from nearby fighting, but later reburied in a village churchyard in England.

Colonel David Henderson was the Head of Intelligence in Pretoria. As a major in besieged Ladysmith, he formed a Corps of Guides which operated within (and sometimes outside) the extensive perimeter. He became the leading authority on tactical intelligence in the British Army. Later, his knowledge of aviation caused him to be given command of the Royal Flying Corps. The Royal Air Force became a separate service due to his efforts.

Captain Francis Maxwell was awarded the Victoria Cross after the action at Sanna’s Post, outside Bloemfontein, on 31 March 1900. In 1901 he was aide de camp to Lord Kitchener. Before the Boer War, he had seen service in India as a member of the elite Corps of Guides. During the First World War, he was killed in 1917 near Ypres. By then, he was serving as a brigadier-general. Despite his rank, he was often seen near the front lines and he was killed by a sniper’s bullet.

Another casualty of the First World War, who appears in this photograph, was Lord Kitchener himself. He was drowned when the cruiser HMS Hampshire, was torpedoed off the Orkney Islands on its way to Russia in 1916.

The four seated figures all had different chairs. De Wet was given a rocking chair and its twin was left unused to the left. Nobody saw fit to move it out of range of the photographer!

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