The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

1922: Captain Fulford and the Boksburg Incident

by Terry Willson

Terry Willson's account commenced during his teenage years. An old family friend, a retired police officer, Lieutenant-Colonel J.M.L. Fulford encouraged his juvenile enthusiasm for arms collecting by giving him various pieces of militaria including his police sword and one he had used in the Boer War. Many years following the Colonel's death Terry, by chance, also acquired the revolver Fulford had carried during the Boer War and throughout his later career with the South African Police. This revolver had silver plates inletted into its grips recording the units in which he had served, which included Roberts' Horse and Steinacker's Horse.

With his interest now thoroughly aroused, Terry decided to do some archival research on his old family friend. This covered a wide field and was only completed following [Terry's] retirement. Fulford, Terry discovered, had lead a life of action. This included an incident which remains controversial to this day, for it was Fulford, then a captain, who had commanded the police detachment which first opened fire on strikers during the 1922 Rebellion, thus initiating violence which rocked South Africa and lead to the fall of the Smuts government in 1924.

During the research of Fulford's life leading up to the "Boksburg Incident", Terry had noted with interest that apart from his Boer War association with the notorious Steinacker's Scouts, he had been previously involved in other incidents which possibly supported a tendency towards the precipitate action and disregard for human consequences of which he was later accused. These were the 1913 Miners' Strike and the Bulhoek Massacre in which Fulford's roles were examined.

Terry then covered the details of the confrontation with the strikers during the "Boksburg Incident" and events leading up to it in some detail, basing his account upon various documents, including Captain Fulford's own report with its accompanying map. He pointed out that the actual violence and killings could have been initiated by unfortunate misunderstandings on the parts of both Captain Fulford and the strikers. Recent photographs of the site which included the Cinderella Prison in Boksburg and the crucial intersection of Osborne and Commissioner Streets were shown.

He continued with an account of the resulting coroner's inquest using the evidence and final judgement as found in various archives and studied in detail. Certain procedural anomalies and evidential contradictions were pointed out which left Terry with some reservations and also the feeling that political expediency may, to some degree, have influenced the outcome of the inquest. Here, both Fulford and his men were found to have acted in accordance with the law and he, personally, was absolved from having shot one of the three strikers killed, as originally accused. Significantly, perhaps, the inquest was held mainly over a period when the government was at pains to justify its actions during the strike which had resulted in over 700 casualties and more than 5,000 arrests and detentions. Following legal vindication and to emphasise the correctness of both his and subsequent government actions, Fulford was officially acclaimed.

Terry concluded his presentation by briefly outlining the short to medium and long-term implications of the Boksburg Incident. These lead to the fall of the Smuts Government in 1924 and a preservation of the white miner's underground status which lasted almost 70 years.

Address to SAMHS Jhb branch on 13 June 2013

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