During the Siege of Kimberley October 1899 to February 1900
by Winifred Heberden
with annotations by Colonel D.E. Peddle
11 December 1899 to 15 January 1900
Dec 11th. At daybreak the welcome sound of the guns of the Relief
Column was heard in one continuous boom for nearly five hours. It brought
an indescribable feeling of joy and gaiety to think that we were in touch
From observations from the Conning Tower and Sanatorium it was gathered that a big artillery battle was going on at Spytfontein, some seven to ten miles off, where, probably, the Boers had been in a magnificent position on the kopje many days before.
At 9 a.m. I went with Major McGregor to the Belgravia Fort and mounted up to the Conning Tower, where, with glasses, we could see the English balloon apparently watching the progress of affairs(53). The gun-fire was then slackening off, and we all hoped that some bayonet practice was following up the shelling.
News came in, while we were at this Fort, of Lord Methuen's slight wound at the Battle of Modder River; and also of a disaster to the Highlanders, who were surprised by the Boers while alighting from a train, but this has not since been officially confirmed(54). We could see nothing of the firing, but men on the Wesselton look-out could see shells bursting on Magersfontein Ridge.
This evening a very pleasant open air concert was given at the Mounted Camp, crowds of people turning up and listening with enjoyment to a long and varied programme, performed almost entirely by the hard-worked Troopers themselves. Electric light, and the moon, and many refreshments, added to the pleasure and as the hours of 8 to 10 p.m. are the sleepiest and laziest of the Boers, we were allowed to enjoy ourselves without even an alarm being given.
Dec 12th. Everybody expected to hear the Imperial guns again, but
everything was quiet. Curiously enough no signalling to us from the English
occurred. In the night, though, it was stated, unofficially, that the Boers
had signalled to us from the same kopje that the Column had shelled that
morning. It was stated that the Boers, representing themselves to be Lord
Methuen's Column, signalled to say that they were obliged to give up and
go away entirely as the enemy held all the positions, and it was impossible
to get them out!(55)
The kopje the Boers are on is practically impregnable, one side of it being a sheer precipice. Their water supply is at Spytfontein, however, and though there are two other Boer positions round there, our army may at present be cutting off the water(56).
Jack and I rode to Wesselton that afternoon and saw how very strongly fortified this distant (6 miles) point of Kimberley is. About 100 of the Lancashires are there, and all the miners act as armed guards; and though Wesselton is so close to the Free State the position of the Debris Heaps makes it altogether too strong for the Boers to attack with any success, and their shells have done absolutely no damage there.
Dec 13th. Lord Methuen has sent a message to Colonel Kekewich ordering
all women and children to leave by train immediately the line is opened.
This message has leaked out through one of the Councillors, and in the
meantime the question is being fought out by Mr Rhodes and other influential
people. A widespread dismay has seized all except those few whose future
will not be seriously concerned if this order has to be carried out. Free
tickets are in any case to be granted, and so far about 600 have registered
their names as willing to go.
People who have been quite cheerful and happy throughout the siege say that this is the first time they have felt the least depression, and in many cases there is great alarm(57).
This morning an American youth, captured eighteen days ago, escaped from the Boers at Intermediate Station, and reached the Barkly Road Redoubt all right. It seems he was on his way in from Barkly when caught, and was suspected of being a spy. He was on the point of being sent to Bloemfontein when he managed to jump on one of their horses this morning, and lying flat on its back, in spite of being shot at, arrived safely at the Barrier. He came to Jack this evening and told him Frank was all right in Barkly 18 days ago, and had wanted him to bring in a note for us, which he dared not do, however. Barkly had not been damaged or looted, and the residents were respected - with the exception of the Inspector of Police (Mr Blyth), and Sergeant Williams, C.P., with two troopers, who had been sent as prisoners to Bloemfontein. Dr Croghan and Mr Franklin had gone via Douglas to try and join the English Column.
Dec 14th. Another quiet day to-day. Boers have been observed to
be trekking away by twos and threes, probably Free Staters - for they are
known to be half-hearted. At Belmont they actually ran away back to the
Free State in large numbers.
Our Relief Column, it is rumoured, is laying a light railway line across the flats out of range of the Boer guns round Spytfontein, so we are hoping to see them pop in by the Sanatorium one morning(58).
The Newspaper and two Specials have been published to-day. This plethora of news is owing to various 'finds' of newspapers on different farms - the Cape Argus and Standard and Diggers' News amongst them(59). The latter is an amusing tissue of Boer lies, whereby the 'Dutch Courage' is kept up with false reports of their successes everywhere - though they own they have not taken Kimberley or Mafeking - only parts of them! Stating also that the Sanatorium and Town Hall in Kimberley are knocked to bits - whereas they have not even been touched.
Dec 16th. Had a pleasant time in the afternoon watching sports at
the Mounted Camp, and listened to the combined bands. Considering the hard-worked
condition of the men and horses it was surprising to see what energy they
displayed in all the events. The beheading of the 'Turk's Head' was the
only thing the horses refused to do - the preliminary jump over a bundle
stuffed with blue-bush being quite against the principles of an Afrikander
pony. Owing to the state of the siege an old tuber potato was used in the
traditional 'lemon-cutting' event, and though it had not quite the 'go'
of the familiar fruit, it made an excellent substitute. The Officer's tent-pegging
was a great success, Captain Harris, K.L.H. winning the final heat with
the peg placed edge-on in the ground. During the afternoon UK PNDS 60 was
collected in boxes for the 'Widows and Orphans' Fund.
A letter from the non-Conformist parson in Barkly, named Jennings, came in to Mrs Granger by a native runner. It said that the Boers had left Barkly in possession of a Landdrost and a few Dutch policemen, and these would not allow any rumours to be circulated about the Boer losses(60). Several people had already been fined UK PNDS 10 each. Also a Mrs Gennising had been sent to Bloemfontein for speaking her mind too boldly. Food was all right, only sugar and soap running rather short. The Landdrost had collected the Mining Licences in the district and sent them to the O.F.S.
Dec 18th. Good news from Ladysmith published in the paper this morning.
Our men captured and destroyed several Boer guns in a sortie. Sir Charles
Warren has arrived at the Cape, and 10 000 more men are on the water.
Details of the Battle of Magersfontein, the guns from which we heard on the 11th, were also in the paper. It appears to have been a very heavy engagement, 12 000 Boers being estimated to compose the force against Lord Methuen. We lost in killed and wounded about 800 men. General Wauchope, C.B., C.M.G., the Marquis of Winchester, and Colonel Coode were amongst those killed. We partly carried the enemy's entrenchments, and at night they vacated what were left and retired to their base. They are supposed to have lost about 2 000, Cronje's Commando of Scandinavians being completely wiped out(61).
Dec 20th. Very early this morning all our available Mounted Men
with some artillery made a reconnaissance along the Free State border towards
the Boer position at Olifantsfontein, to find out the position of their
guns, etc. We were fired on at a distance of 2 000 yards, and at 8 000
by the enemy's 9-pounder, the shells dropping in among our men, but harmlessly,
owing to the soft sand. The Boers might, however, have supposed that some
men were wounded as a dash was always made for the pieces as soon as the
Our guns replied in their turn - to the joy of the numerous dogs that always accompany them on these occasions. The Pointers remain by the Maxims which have a somewhat more sporting sound than the 7-pounders; but they (the Pointers) seem to expect game to fall from the skies. When the men lie down to fire their rifles, the dogs lie down, too. In the course of the ride out several hares got up which the dogs and a few of the men were unable to resist, and some good sport was seen. A small bag which, nevertheless, must have been a welcome addition to the siege soup at the Trooper's Mess.
Owing to the struggle for meat every morning, orders have been issued that no person is to be served before 8 a.m. Only about four butcher's shops keep open for the sale of meat, so often the struggle is terrible, and as the best parts are put on one side for the Hospital, the Camp, and the Hotels, housekeepers come badly off at the end of the struggle, and often go away day after day without getting any at all. Tea and coffee are running short, these and breadstuffs, as well as meat are now controlled by the Military. Whiskey and cigarettes are nearly finished; whilst tinned milk has for some time been only obtainable through a doctor's certificate - and that at the rate of one tin only for each permit.
Dec 22nd. Our men made another sortie early this morning. One portion
going towards Carter's Farm, and the others with some of the Lancashires
went in the direction of Kamfersdam. In the case of the former the enemy's
pickets promptly retired, so our men were able to fill up the wells at
Carters, and destroyed all means of the Boers getting water from there.
After this they returned to Kimberley for breakfast.
Jack told me that the evening before a Corporal in the Cape Police (Hambly) had been shot by mistake while on picket duty. Without letting his men know he proceeded to reconnoitre by himself, and riding out for some distance was mistaken by two Troopers for a Boer and shot through the head. The body was brought in to the Barrier where Jack went to see it, and he had it brought in that night.
Dec 23rd. Details of a heavy engagement at Colenso at the Tugela
River came in today(62). Buller was in command, and they found the enemy
in formidable positions and number. Owing to the fact that they did not
send out pickets in front of them the artillery, under Colonel Long, got
too close to the enemy, and when nearly all our artillery horses were shot
they had to abandon 10 guns, leaving men in trenches to watch them, which,
however, did not save them after all.
All this, it is feared, may have a bad moral effect on the Boers, especially on the Colonial ones, to whom, of course, an exaggerated account is carried. Here the excitement of Christmas is beginning to cheer us up a little; and, but for the scarcity of things in the grocers shops, and the ancient fashions in the drapers' windows, one could forget there was a siege at all. In the American Stores, which still have the best supply, there is a big crowd that has to be regulated behind an iron grating at the street entrance, a few only being allowed in at a time. The toy shops are also thronged. But, alas, sign of the times, the jewellers are deserted, and seem to do no business at all. The present of something pleasant to eat is the only present appreciated by big people nowadays. The heat is appalling. But big thunder clouds look promising.
De Beers have given up hope of the Relief Column being able to finish their task at Spytfontein for some time; so have consented at last to the making of the big gun by their engineer, Mr Labram(63). It will be very useful to turn on to Kamfersdam, which is at present beyond the range of our 7-pounders and too strongly entrenched for our men to storm with the bayonet.
Christmas Eve. After fearful dust and heat a refreshing shower fell, but the coolness did not last long. However, the children managed to enjoy themselves, for this evening the Proprietors of our hotel had a great Xmas Tree to which they invited all children in the building, and any grown-ups who cared to come in. The Tree was brilliantly decorated and the toys really good ones; while cakes, dried fruits, and champagne (saved up for the purpose through the siege) were handed round during the singing of songs by the children.
Christmas Day. Jack and I went to the 6 o'clock Celebration, leaving
Reggie to gloat over the bag of toys Father Christmas has brought him.
There were a great number of people in Church, in spite of two Celebrations
following, and the many uniforms dotted about the Church gave it an unusual
appearance, and one could not help praying that they all might be alive
next Christmas Day.
Later on we took Reggie to Church - his first privilege of that sort. His behaviour was excellent - though more a quaint imitation of other people's attitudes than anything else. The rest of the day was passed in watching dust storms which darkened the light and effectively prevented one from going out to wish one's friends 'A Merry Christmas'. In the evening an excellent dinner was laid before us - oyster soup, turkey, guinea-fowl, sucking-pig, veal, plum pudding, mince pies and jelly, dried fruits and walnuts. Not a bad menu after nearly three months of siege!
Dec 26th. The men stood to arms both yesterday and to-day at 3 a.m.,
expecting 'Christmas Boxes' from the Boers, but everything was quiet
at our end of Kimberley. At Wesselton they sent about 35 shells to try
and wreck the signalling apparatus which is used to communicate with Lord
Methuen's Column, but they did no damage, and the R.A. replied with 19
About ten refugees from Vryburg arrived in Kimberley via Barkly West, where they crossed the river in one punt and got through the Boer lines in the dead of night. A proclamation from Colonel Kekewich still further limits the sale and supply of foodstuffs, though the prices are the same - 10 ozs of flour, or 14 ozs of bread is the limit to Europeans. Coloured people are allowed to have more meal; and Indians are allowed to buy rice. Tea is limited to a quarter oz, and coffee half oz each person per diem. Eggs are now 6/6 a dozen, and so scarce that their price is sure to rise rapidly. Potatoes have vanished, and we have dried beans or crushed mealies with our meat. Occasionally some vegetables or salads appear, and we can buy a little fruit as an addition sometimes, which the hotel cook stews if necessary. Permits are now required before you can buy certain things at the grocers, and you must get your week's supply at the time, stating how many are in the house. Hotels are supplied for their regular boarders, so guests, or a dinner at another hotel than your own, are now impossible.
Sounds of firing from the direction of the Relief Column were heard, so the hope is that Lord Methuen has been reinforced, and is now storming kopje by kopje till he is left with only Scholtz's Nek to take. Our fond hope that a railway on the flats is being laid is now very faint.
Dec 27th. Gun-fire heard again, but at a very great distance. Jack
is not well, but he is busy arranging for the removal of the Mounted Camp
to a site beyond the Sanatorium, the present position being no longer healthy.
We shall miss the troops riding daily past our hotel, particularly Reggie, who enjoys all military parades. Major McGregor was extremely amused the other day to see Reggie standing stiffly to attention on the pavement outside our hotel as he rode by with his Troops - so suddenly gave the Command: 'Eyes - Right!' - a compliment that delighted Reggie, even if he was not old enough to fully appreciate the honour implied.
Typhoid daily on the increase(64).
Dec 28th. Very quiet day. More details from Natal come in but nothing cheerful. Heat intense.
Dec 29th. The officers of the Lancashires went to the Colonel and asked if the swimming bath in the Gardens might be filled 'Because, you know,' they said, 'our Tommies are getting so very fruity!' This graphic appeal had the desired result, of course.
Dec 30th. Had a long walk round Kimberley to get a Condensed Milk
'Permit', signed by the military authorities. It has first to be made out
by your family doctor (Jack was very convenient in this case). The limit
is two tins a week for each child. The hotel has now finished up its stock,
so I must get some for Reggie myself.
There was a big crowd all morning at the Town Hall where they issue tea and coffee permits, and those for bread and flour, etc. As groceries lessen the struggle at the butchers becomes worse every morning, and yet many people, especially those who have not large families, prefer to go without meat for many days together. De Beers have announced that they will not pay a Dividend this year in order not to encroach on their resources. Xmas and New Year's messages have come in from the Queen and from Ladysmith garrison, which is still holding out grandly.
Dec 31st Reggie and I went to Church this morning, and in the afternoon paid end of the year visits. The usual regret for the loss of the Old Year that one generally hears, is today, quite reversed; and everyone, on the contrary, seems to feel a burden beginning to slip away from them which the New Year will soon effectively remove.
Jan 1st, 1900. Jack had to be at the Camp, and Reggie had a bad
croupy cold, so neither Jack nor I could go to Church this morning, which,
I hope is not a bad omen for the New Year.
There was a movement of our Troops out this morning in the direction of Otto's Kopje. About 150 natives, guarded by our available Mounted men and some artillery, were taken to the kopje to cut down trees and bush to prevent the latter affording shelter to the Boers in case of an attack on the slope, the summit of which is to be fortified and occupied permanently by us. The wood, also, will be useful, as the available stock in Kimberley is of course much reduced.
I heard our guns several times and had a great shock at lunch when an old German dentist came in and said clearly to some men at his table: 'There is very bad news. All the Light Horse have been cut off and taken prisoners by the Boers.'
He seemed so certain about it, and nobody was in a position to deny it, that I immediately went out with Reggie and drove in a cart to Schmidt's Drift Barrier, where I knew the troops had passed through, and where I half expected, if the news was untrue, I might find the Ambulance Party waiting.
Knowing that Jack always rides with his regiment and does not remain behind with the Ambulance, it was not much comfort even to expect that; but one snatches at straws when the ground seems to be giving way beneath one. However, at this Barrier the sentry assured me that this calamity could not have happened, as he would have been the first to know. And he was so certain that the news was untrue that I could not help being reassured, and felt, somehow, that he was to be believed.
The reaction was, perhaps, my weakest moment, but everything was all right when Jack turned up not very long after. As for the unlucky dentist, he suffered 'Un mauvais quartre d'heure' after dinner, when Jack buttonholed him, and ever since then he has been grovelling, poor old man!
Jack told me that he had ridden up to the Ridge where Colonel Scott-Turner had been killed, and found quantities of empty Mauser and Martini cartridges on the ridge beyond from where the Boers had fired on to him. He also found a paper wrapper with the words 'Nickel plated sporting bullets' on it; so it is placed beyond doubt that these were used that day at any rate.
The enemy fired with rifles while the wood-cutting was going on, and also with a big gun at very long range. One very sly thing they did was to put about 40 large fat sheep at some distance from our men, evidently with the idea that we are all starving, and trying to tempt the troops close to where there was a body of Boers in an ambush. Of course this miserable trick was seen through at once, and our officers only refrained from mowing down the sheep with a Maxim because it seemed such a waste, and thought, perchance, an opportunity of getting the mutton into our own hands would soon occur.
The Queen's Xmas and New Year's wishes were read tonight at the Club dinner, which Jack was just in time to hear after his engagement with the German dentist; The Queen had added: 'I watch with admiration your determined and gallant defence, though I regret the unavoidable loss of life incurred.'
Jan 2nd. The Boers fired at our cattle guards this morning. We replied
and silenced them. The veld is very poor round Kimberley itself; all the
best grass being within dangerous proximity to the enemy. Thirteen head
of our cattle straying a little too far were captured. But we also scored.
For two fine horses belonging to a Commandant came our way, and were promptly
brought into the town.
Our meat allowance is only a quarter lb a day each; and 2 ozs for children under 12. The butchering arrangements are now taken charge of by the Military, who have erected strong barriers and gates outside two entrances to the Market House, whilst the third is used as an exit. The people are drawn up in double file according to the Municipal Ward they live in, and the lines extend a good way across the Market Square. Vegetables are also divided and sold after the meat. It was amusing to see rich and poor, high and low, standing together. The Secretary of De Beers and his basket jostling a little shoemaker; an ex M.L.A. (Member Legislative Assembly) standing behind a cabby - and so on; but the crowd was mostly composed of women, the male relations being in the Forts at that early hour. Several photographers were busy.
The sun was frightfully hot from the time it rose, and many poor women who probably had left home without waiting even for a cup of coffee nearly fainted from the long delay. Directly the meat and vegetables were secured and paid for, most people went on to the grocer (who has very little but pickles and sauces left), and there joined another crowd. And so, from shop to shop, Permit Office to Declaration Office, they generally spend the first and hottest part of the day.
We all here pray that this hotel will hold out till everything is all right again.
Jan 3rd. A fresh Military Notice in the paper states that the Wards
to receive meat are to be changed to alternate days; the people receiving
two days' allowance at a time. This will greatly lessen the crowds and
the delay every morning. We are also to put out our lights at 9.30 p.m.;
and on no account, except in cases of real sickness, are they to be lighted
again - a Permit being given in the latter case. This notice does not,
however, apply to electric light or acetylene gas.
To-day is quite the worst one for dust and wind that we have had since we came, and that is saying much! The unfortunate men at the new Mounted Camp are enduring and saying terrible things, for their tents, even in the best weather, stand in 6 inches of sand but today they are often invisible. When Jack's fellow officers see him they shake their fists at him for causing their removal from the original camp, though in their hearts they know it was the best thing that could he done for them.
Our cattle guards were sniped at today near Carter's. They were also shelled at from Wimbledon, under cover of which the enemy attempted to advance. Reinforcements were sent out and the Boers retired.
News has come in that Douglas has been retaken by the Australian Contingent from Lord Methuen's Column, with a loss of three killed on our side; but greater loss to the Boers, and 40 of them taken prisoners(65).
Jan 4th. Before daybreak this morning I woke suddenly and heard
what I thought was the Town Hall clock striking; and in counting the somewhat
irregular strokes I realised it was a bell, and on looking out of my window
I saw smoke and flames bursting from the roof below of a shop adjoining
the hotel. I alarmed the people on our floor, while Jack began to dress
in order to take Reggie downstairs in a blanket. After dressing myself,
we both got our possessions hurriedly together into two sheets. The flames
were licking the walls of the hotel by then, and though the engine had
arrived no water was turned on.
The rooms and passages were full of smoke, and everybody congregated below in the hall amongst a confusion of bags, boxes, and bundles. Luckily, Mr Labram, the De Beers engineer, still sleeps in the hotel, and he had gone round to the De Beers' fireplug and turned it on; so presently, and just in time to save the building we were in, a strong stream of water was in use.
The burning shop was one of the oldest in Kimberley, and built of wood and iron, so it soon fell in, and by 7 a.m. everything was over, and we had no further anxiety as to where we should go if anything happened to the hotel.
A troop of our Mounted Men returned about this time from escorting a gun to Otto's Kopje under cover of the night. A camp has been formed there, under Lieut. Dunbar, of some of the roughest men in Kimberley(66). They are protected by this gun and various mines round the summit, and have also bomb-proof shelters, as they lie within somewhat easy distance of the Boer gun on Kamfersdam, and also one on Carter's Ridge.
Water is to be turned on in Kimberley every afternoon from today for the sake of the gardens so that we may have more vegetables in the town. People are buying seeds largely and putting their ground in order.
Jan 5th. Some of the Mounted Troops under Colonel Peakman with gun
made a reconnaissance this afternoon in the direction of and beyond Hull's
Farm. Jack remained at the latter place. There was nothing dangerous done
by the Boers, who drove off their cattle in a great hurry, and many were
seen to be in full flight.
Our men, and also the guns at Wesselton, dropped a few shells into the Boer laager, and then the Troops returned.
Jan 6th. The permission to water gardens has been abruptly taken
off owing to the selfishness of some people who left the water running
all night to water their plots - 38 000 gallons being used in one night.
An outbreak of influenza at the Mounted Camp has greatly increased the sick list, and though the allowance of half a lb. of meat to the troops has not been reduced, as our own has, it is not nearly enough to keep the men in good health, especially in a country like this where they eat much more meat than anything else.
Hans Badenhorst, a Coloured boy from Barkly, came in with letters for certain people. He reports that meat and breadstuffs are very short in Barkly. I sent off a letter to Frank, but was not allowed to send any war news, of course.
Jan 7th. A quiet day, being Sunday, though there was an attempt on the part of the Boers to capture some of our cattle. Sixty Dutchmen dashed forward towards Kenilworth, but the moment the Maxim turned on them they fled as fast as they could.
Jan 8th. Had a pleasant ride out to Newton, leading the artillery
with Major May and Major McGregor(67). There the men went through and through
drill exactly as if they were in action on the field, with the exception
of actually firing off the shell. The way they sight the 7-pounders was
explained to me, and how they fire off preliminary shells till they get
the range, in this case it took four. And how they regulate the time fuse
in order that the shell may not burst too high and yet not on the ground.
This is performed to the smallest fraction of a second. Artillery officers
stand between the guns in a line and shout on the order from the Commanding
Officer. This drill was in all probability watched by the Boers from Spitzkop,
which was the hill our guns were sighting; but they kindly abstained from
planting a shell amongst us. We returned to Kimberley, making a great noise
through the streets, and I left the guns at their home in the Gardens.
About an hour later our guns at No. 1 Redoubt opened fire on Kamfersdam and kept up a duel for about 2 hours.
A Dutchwoman came in this morning, said she had been left behind by the Boers on Wimbledon Ridge, who, she said, had all suddenly cleared, and as she had no food she came in to Kimberley. Our troops went cautiously out in this direction, when suddenly at a distance of 5 000 yards on Wright's Farm, the Boers opened fire on them with a Krupp from this very Ridge. In spite of some excellent practice they were not lucky, for though a shrapnel shell burst within ten yards of our men nobody was hurt; and they returned to Kimberley after noting the position of the gun.
Today we had horse-flesh for the first time, and very excellent it was, though many people foolishly refused even to taste it. The proportion served out was one third horse-meat and the rest ox-meat. There are said to be still about 700 head of cattle, but as forage is running very short and must be kept for the mounting of the troops, it was thought better to kill a few spare horses while they are still in good condition(68).
Eggs are now 7/- to 10/- a dozen, but all other foods are regulated in price. All Mr Rhodes's fowls and ducks and eggs are sent to the Hospital; and most of his fruit from Kenilworth, where peaches and grapes are now ripening fast.
Delicious rains fell this afternoon, making everyone feel very cheerful, though somewhat more hungry between meals, which is annoying, as you cannot make or buy a biscuit in the town. A quantity of butter from the Colony for Bulawayo, detained in the Railway Station since the line closed, has gone bad from being kept in a hot place.
Jan 9th. Mr Field, a Despatch Rider from here who was captured some
weeks ago and sent to Bloemfontein, escaped, and arrived back this morning.
He had had most exciting adventures and been practically 9 days without
food. Jack says his complexion is marvellously pale and clear, almost like
that of a person who is dead. Mr Field saw Inspector Blyth, who is quite
contented, and is allowed to walk about a garden on parole in Bloemfontein.
There was sad news from Mafeking to-day, dated December 26th, where the defenders had made an unsuccessful sortie and lost 21 killed and 26 wounded; the Boer Fort and laager proving to be absolutely impregnable.
In the afternoon I had tea at the Artillery Mess while the band played. I was shown how they carry ammunition for the guns in the leather cases behind, and the use for the various parts contained in these cases.
Jan 10th. Very early this morning the Kamfersdam 9-pounder began
to shell the De Beers' searchlight, but did not succeed in hitting it.
Soon after, the Boer guns, from their old position on Lazaretto Ridge,
fired into Wesselton, also without success. So by 7 a.m. everything was
At 9.30 I went with Major McGregor on his inspection of the guns at No.1, 2, and 3 Redoubts. I had a good view of the Kamfersdam and Otto's Kopje side of the country, and the more one sees from these Forts round Kimberley, the more impossible it seems that Kimberley can be taken.
The advantages of the numerous high Debris Heaps, most of which are strongly fortified, and the further advantage of open country beyond them across which the Boers would first have to come, make an attack on the town too hazardous for Boer or German to attempt, whatever big guns they bring up to bear upon it now(69).
At No.3 Redoubt they gave me a lecture on the Maxim gun showing the different parts and how they worked. One can easily realise the expression: 'Mowed down by the Maxims'.
Mr Field, (the Despatch Rider) says that the dissatisfaction of the Free State Boers is universal. They have interviewed President Steyn to know what they are fighting for. 'They have no quarrel with the English and their independence they had before,' they tell him.
Jan 11th. I went to the inspection of the gun at the 'Stone Crusher
Fort', riding on Jack's steady old charger, as the climb up was rather
steep. This gun, being placed on such a high Debris Heap, commands a wide
range of country looking towards Felsted's Farm, Dronfield, Intermediate
Station and the Waterworks. We saw through a telescope the Boer Laager
of tents and wagons between Dronfield and the Intermediate. Cape Police
are in charge of the gun we inspected.
We returned through the old Mounted Camp ground and saw the improvements in drainage and gravelling they are making for the reception of the troops again. Afterwards we went on to De Beers' Workshops to look at the big gun being made under Mr Labram's directions.
They were boring it at the time, and as it slowly revolved in a horizontal position one could see what a big fellow he is(70). The length is about 10 foot, and the weight of the shells about 28.5 lbs. Next week it is to be finished. The carriage for it is made of iron also. The calibre of the gun is 4.1 inches. Between 30 and 40 men are engaged on it, and it will cost between UK PNDS800 and 1,000, which includes the extra wages to the men.
Close by the Workshops is the Cold Storage place, recently finished and capable of taking quite 500 carcases(71). It will also be useful for storing frozen meat after communication by rail is opened up. There is a reserve of meat already in store in case anything happens to the last of our live-stock.
Jan 12th. News has come in of a victory of Sir George White's at
Ladysmith, which the Boers actually attacked. The English took and retook
the positions several times; the enemy finally being driven off on all
sides at the point of the bayonet with heavy losses(72). This is the first
time Boers have attacked a fortified position with anything but artillery.
Our Relief Column is still at Modder River and have occasional skirmishes with the enemy. We suppose they are waiting for Lord Roberts and reinforcements - so possess our souls in patience still.
We hear today that poor little Kuruman has had to surrender after a whole day's fighting against the Boers, who had returned after being beaten before, with a big gun, and the weak defences of the place were unable to withstand a bombardment. Captain Bates, the 'Jameson Raid' man, who cut the wires and fences then, was taken prisoner; and also our old friend Mr Hilliard, the Magistrate, amongst them. The fight took place on New Year's Day, and is one of the pluckiest incidents of this part of the country.
Jan 14th. Sunday. There is now a 'Milk Depot' opened where you take
your Permit for fresh or condensed milk. The latter is coming to an end
and is strictly limited to one tin only per week, and is no longer allowed
to adults, so old people must feel the deprivation severely. There is a
fair supply of fresh milk still, but only half a bottle a day is given
to each medically certificated case at the rate of sixpence a bottle. The
hospital uses a great deal as there are now over 50 cases of typhoid there.
The Boers snipe at our cattle every day now, so two of our 7-pounders go out behind the cattle in addition to the Police Maxim, which so far has been sufficient.
The Cold Storage Chamber has had a good deal more meat put into it, as the risk of losing all our livestock grows greater every day. Moreover, the veld is wretched, and almost entirely eaten up within available distance.
The heliograph is freely used with the Relief Column, but we are told little or nothing, and are afraid that there is nothing to tell(73).
Jan 15th. Owing to Mr Rhodes's suggestions, which were at first
opposed by Colonel Kekewich, 60 or more natives from the Compounds have
been paid off and provisioned, and allowed to try and get through the Boer
lines to their own countries(74). It takes several hours to talk to them
before all their questions, fears, and arguments are answered, and they
are satisfied to leave. This tiresome task is accomplished by Mr Fynn,
an agent of Mr Rhodes, who can speak several of the Native dialects.
A body of Coloured people left under the White Flag the other day and returned frightened a few hours after. They were eventually persuaded to try again, and we did not see anything more of them, so gathered they had got through. About 7 000 have left Kimberley within the last few weeks, which helps considerably the state of our Commissariat.
Jack is having a good deal of trouble with the men at the Camp who won't eat horse-flesh. Some have not touched meat since it was first served out, and as they only have bread and coffee besides, with occasionally mealie meal porridge, their condition when they arrive on 'Sick Parade' is very low and weak, and unless they are sent to the already congested Hospital, there is nothing much to be done for them at the Camp where the stock of medical comforts, except cocoa, is finished. However, Jack is doing his best to requisition for bacon and ham and cheese, having been told by a 'Little Bird' that they have been carefully saved up somewhere.
Major Fraser reported that from Beaconsfield shells could be seen dropping in the vicinity of Scholtz's Nek last night, and a considerable amount of heavy firing could be heard. About 80 waggons have been seen during the last 48 hours trekking away from the Boer laagers round us to Cronje's Commandos around Spytfontein.
We hear the Boers have christened Barkly West 'New Boshof'.
(61) Maj-Gen A.G. Wauchope, commanding the Highland Brigade; Maj the Marquis
of Winchester, 2nd Coldstream Guards; Lt-Col J.H. Cootle, commanding the
2nd Black Watch. The newspaper report quoted was somewhat imaginative and
the figures of Boer strength and casualties wildly exaggerated.
(62) The Battle of Colenso, 15 December, 1899.
(63) Mr George Labram, an American, and Chief Engineer to De Beers, designed and supervised the manufacture of the 4.1-inch breech-loading gun later known as 'Long Cecil'. The diary may be misleading here as it was apparently some of the military authorities who initially opposed the manufacture of the gun, not De Beers! Rhodes issued instructions on Christmas Day, 1899, for work to commence on the gun and, together with a supply of ammunition, the gun was completed on l8 January, 1900. According to his diary, Kekewich heard about Rhodes's instructions only on 27 December!
(64) Typhoid was endemic in Kimberley during the summer months, but according to statistics prepared by the town's Medical Officer of Health at the time, the death rate was proportionately no higher during the siege than before it. It is interesting to note that this disease did not appear to affect the non-White population.
(65) Probahly the action at Sunnyside Farm on 1 January, 1900, when Lt-Col Pilcher, commanding a mixed force of Australians, Canadians and Imperial troops from Maj-Gen Sir Elliott Wood's force at Belmont, surprised and routed a Boer commando. They then occupied the town of Douglas for one night before returning to Belmont. British casualties were 2 killed and 2 wounded; Boer losses are known to have been about 15 killed and 38 prisoners.
(66) Lt J.B. Dunbar, ex-Cameron Highlanders, and his men were nicknamed 'The Forty Thieves'.
(67) Maj May commanded the Diamond Fields Artillery and Maj McGregor was a Cape Police officer.
(68) mounting of the troops should probably read mounted troops
(69) German is a figment of the imagination as used here
(70) The lathe used to turn the barrel is still in use in Kimberley, 75 years later!
(71) Designed also by Mr Labram, it was completed and in use by 14 December.
(72) The Wagon Hill action on 6 January, 1900.
(73) Heliograph communications were first established on 13 January, 1900, between signallers of the 1st Gordon Highlanders, then at Enslin, and one of the forts at Bultfontein Mine, a distance of 68 km.
(74) Owing to the closure of the mines some 9 000 African mineworkers were unemployed and, in addition, there were about 16 000 other Africans in the town, many of whose jobs had also ceased. None could be used for military purposes in what was regarded as a 'White man's war.' From a food-supply point of view it was desirable that as many Africans as possible should leave the town. Several thousand succeeded in getting away through the Boer lines.
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