The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 7 No 3 - June 1987


by A de V Minnaar (HSRC)

The Graaff-Reinet experience of the Second Anglo-Boer War is of particular interest in that it covered a spectrum of the happenings and effects in the wider South African context. Although not directly involved in the early phase of fighting, Graaff-Reinet had direct experience of the later guerrilla warfare with its concomitant problem of colonial rebels. The town itself was also garrisoned by imperial troops and a number of military trials and executions took place there. In effect Graaff-Reinet provides a microcosm of the Cape Colonial experience of the Second Anglo-Boer War.

The first Boer invasion of the Cape in November 1899 did not advance much beyond Colesberg in the direction of Graaff-Reinet. In Graaff-Reinet there was no general movement by young Cape Afrikaners to join the Boer commandos. Although young men did run away from home to fight against the British (especially from the Aberdeen district), the number of rebels from Graaff-Reinet itself was small. Nevertheless, political passions were aroused. Graaff-Reinet chose sides largely along racial lines (English or Afrikaners) and the possibility of a racial clash was never far below the surface. Tension at times threatened to break out into open hostility, as when the loyalists held a fireworks display to celebrate the relief of Ladysmith. On the other side the wearing of the Transvaal and Orange Free State colours by Afrikaners offended loyalists. The Anglo-Boer War was also not without its effect upon municipal affairs. Occupying a seat on the town council could be hazardous for anyone with pro-Boer sentiments. To avoid adverse publicity from attaching itself to councillors, all important council meetings were held in camera. It was under the circumstances not surprising that by July 1901 three town councillors had been sent to Port Alfred as 'undesirables'. It was also understandable that when the term of office of other councillors expired, they should have declined to stand. The effects were seen in other spheres as well for with the increase in racial tension, the English services in the Dutch Reformed Church (started by the Rev Andrew Murray (sr) in the 1830s) were stopped in 1900. The Dutch language newspaper, De Graaff-Reinetter, was suspended while its rival, Onze Courant, also felt it politic to stop publication on 4 March 1901.(1)

As the war progressed in favour of the British so the loyalists of Graaff-Reinet became more arrogant. They were particularly incensed by the revelations concerning their local MP, Dr T N G te Water. From letters found in Bloemfontein after its capture in March 1900 it appeared that on 27 may 1899 Dr Te Water had written to President M T Steyn of the OFS sending him the private telegraphic code of the Cape Colony's cabinet. Te Water's rationale for this action was that Steyn might need to communicate in a hurry with the Cape government and that there were also leaks in the telegraph service. Luckily for Te Water, he was overseas at the time of the discovery of the incriminating letters as there were strong calls for him to be tried for treason. However, at the same time, the end of March 1900, 350 men and officers of the Sherwood Foresters (Derbyshire Regiment) arrived in Graaff-Reinet and, although feelings about the war ran high, they were treated hospitably by the erfholders in town, eventually leaving on 20 May 1900.(2)

First map

The complacency of the Graaff-Reinet loyalists was rudely shattered by the start of the guerrilla phase of the war. On 15 December 1900 Cmdt Pieter H Kritzinger had crossed the Orange River with approximately 700 men and entered the Cape Colony. Amongst those who followed him into the Cape were Wynand Malan, Gideon Scheepers,J C Lotter and Willem D Fouche, all of whom were subsequently very active in the Graaff-Reinet and surrounding districts.(3) This second invasion was not an aimless mission as the Boer commandos had been ordered to disrupt the enemy lines of communication, to blow up railway lines wherever possible, to wreck trains, to encourage Cape Colonials to rebel and join the Boer cause, and last, but most significantly, to burn down the houses of those Afrikaners who helped the enemy. The commandos harrassed the British troops constantly, capturing their trains and wagon convoys, taking what they needed - horses, weapons, ammunition, blankets, saddlebags, riding breeches, boots and hats - and destroying the rest.

On 20 December 1900 martial law was declared in Graaff-Reinet, but the loyalists in town were given a bad fright when news reached them that Kritzinger was in the neighbourhood of Middelburg and was heading their way. Kritzinger in fact, with a commando of approximately 400 men (sections having split-off under the other leaders), made for, and occupied, the village of New Bethesda in the Graaff-Reinet district, north of the town. Any plans he may have had to occupy Graaff-Reinet were forestalled by the arrival at midnight on Old Year's Eve, 1900, of 600 of the Coldstream Guards.

Second photo

Camp of the Coldstream Guards, 1901-1902.
(Photo: William Roe Collection)

Third photo

Coldstream Guards camp on Van Ryneveld's Square.
(Photo: William Roe Collection)

By the end of the week there were some 2 000 imperial troops, mainly mounted, encamped on the slopes of Magazine Hill and on Van Ryneveld's Square. Soon after the arrival of these troops in town a Graaff Reinet Town Guard force of about 100 strong was raised. (By March 1902 they numbered 220). On 7 January 1901, after rifles and ammunition had been handed out, they elected their officers. The commanding officer was Cmdt J Gardner, assisted by Capt F Rubidge as second-in-command. Lieutenants F Watermeyer and W G Cinnamon, Sergeants E Heaven and F S Tilbrook together with the surgeon, Dr W E de Korte (assisted by Drs J L Rubidge and H C Hudson) made up the rest of the officers.(4) The raising of a town guard allowed the imperial troops to concentrate on tracking down the Boer commandos active in the district. This task was made that more difficult by the mountains of the district which gave considerable help to the Boer commandos in avoiding British pursuit. Further, the isolated valleys of the Sneeuberg and adjoining mountain ranges were an ideal retreat where the Boer commandos could recuperate after sorties into the plains to derail or hold up trains and to commandeer supplies from shops and stores in the villages of the surrounding districts.

Fourth photo

Derailed train on the Midlands line in the Sneeuberg.
(Photo: E S Whitlock Collection)

There is a good deal of confusion as to the actual chronology of the movements of Boer commandos in and around the Graaff-Reinet district during the latter half of the war, (from 1900-1902). One of the problems was that newspaper reports of the time often confused which commando leader was involved in a particular action. Then, too, there were hundreds of small skirmishes which were difficult to separate and identify. Secondary sources were also, in some instances, in conflict as to the particulars of a number of the major actions. The first patrols of imperial troops in the district began on 3 January 1901 and on 4 January Boers were sighted in the Wellwood Mountains. Soon after this Kritzinger's commando of 400 men entered New Bethesda and stayed for two days looting the local stores. British troops were soon in the vicinity and Kritzinger found himself being pursued by Col H M Grenfell's troops in the direction of Murraysburg. On 11 January Kritzinger was involved in a sharp skirmish with Lt Col J H G Byng's column in the hills just north of Murraysburg but on 15 January they invaded Aberdeen. By 18 January Kritzinger with about 400 men had reached Willowmore (a distance of more than 100 kilometres from Aberdeen. These commandos had, in fact, travelled a distance of almost 500 kilometres in a month). The British troops were fast learning of the extreme mobility characteristic of all the Boer commandos. On 19 January the Boers were at Uniondale which was briefly occupied by Scheepers who burnt the magistrate's papers. The commandos then split in two and moved towards Oudtshoorn before doubling back. On 6 February Kritzinger's men overwhelmed a small detachment of 25 British troops at Klipplaat while on 12 February a patrol of Imperial Yeomanry was surprised and captured near Willowmore. These Boer commandos, all the time pursued by British columns, then fell back towards Graaff-Reinet and Murraysburg via Aberdeen.(5)

Scheepers and Fouche now split off from Kritzinger who moved northwards and was in the vicinity of Bethesda Road siding on 19 February with the columns of Col G F Gorringe (whose flying column was noted for the rapidity of its movements and nicknamed 'Gorringe's Light Oxen') and Lowe on his heels. He was in an engagement with Col Gorringe north of Cradock at the Fish River Station on 23 and 24 February but gave the British the slip and on 3 March 1901 surrounded the village of Pearston. They were able to overwhelm the town guard and loot the town, remaining there until 6 March. From here Kritzinger moved on to the Somerset East and Bedford districts sacking Sheldon Station on 9 March before continuing northward through the Adelaide and Tarkastad districts. When he reached Maraisburg (the present-day town of Hofmeyr) Lotter split off and Kritzinger carried on towards the OFS. This northward trek culminated in the retirement across the Orange River of half his commando (300 men) under Cmdt G H P van Reenen. Kritzinger then led the remainder of his commando south meeting up again with Lotter, and eventually based themselves in the country between Tarkastad and Cradock.(6)

Fourth photo

Derailed train on the Midlands line in the Sneeuberg.
(Photo: E S Whitlock Collection)

At this stage Cmdt Malan entered the Midlands. On 25 February 1901 his commando had attempted to occupy Richmond but was repulsed. The following day he captured a patrol of Kitchener's Fighting Scouts. Meanwhile Scheepers and Fouche, who had not taken part in the northward movement, were working, sometimes in concert and sometimes independently, in the area south of Graaff-Reinet. They could not, in fact, stay together for long because of the problem of fodder and food. The efficacy of the Boer commandos was always to depend on their small numbers and separate movements. On 27 February Scheepers and Fouche were in a skirmish with Col L W Parsons' column and were forced out of the Willowmore district towards the north. On 6 March (i) they attacked Aberdeen but were repulsed by the town guard and retreated into the Koudeveld Mountains (a lower range of the Sneeuberge) north-east of Aberdeen. These commandos were a constant thorn in the flesh of the British forces and Scheepers in particular stood out for his daring and elusiveness. (A reward of 250 UK pounds was eventually placed on him for his capture). He constantly clashed with the columns of Cols Parsons, Grenfell and Henry J Scobell, who were hoping to capture him by encircling movements. On 15 March Scheepers was in a contact with Maj Mullin's troops west of Graaff-Reinet losing 9 killed and 7 wounded after which he moved south.(7) After blowing up the railway line at Marais Siding Scheepers and Fouche headed for Jansenville during 17/18/19 March but were pursued by Col Scobell (later joined by Col Grenfell and assisted by Kitchener's Fighting Scouts) who, after a forced march, occupied Jansenville denying the Boers access. Scheepers then took refuge in the Sundays River basin below Jansenville laagering at Blaaukrantz. It was around this time that Cmdt Malan first met up with Scheepers. On 20 March the British troops attacked the Boers at Blaauwkrantz and after a severe skirmish 14 Boers were killed and 4 prisoners taken while the rest managed to escape, although they left behind more than 100 horses in good condition (plus 50 lame ones).(8) The Boer commandos now split up, some moved north-west towards the Camdeboo Mountains (an off-shoot of the Koudeveld Mountains). On 26 March they were sighted near Jakhalsfontein while a section under Fouche were seen near Stockdale before crossing and breaking the railway line at Bethesda Road. The first group encamped in the Camdeboo Mountains at three places; Roodepoort, Komplaats and Zuurpoort. The many kloofs of these mountains situated between Graaff-Reinet and Aberdeen made direct British attacks impossible, as was proved by a number of futile assaults, but as the Boer commandos had to remain constantly on the move the British continued with their tactic of encirclement. Early in April Gen H H Settle endeavoured to deal with them by driving the Camdeboo Mountains from west to east with the columns of Grenfell and Scobell, while mounted men from Aberdeen and Graaff-Reinet watched the eastern exits. The plan miscarried and on 6 April Scheepers overwhelmed and captured 75(ii) men of the 5th Lancers and Imperial Yeomanry at Zeekoegat near Aberdeen.(9) A few days later, in the same area, Malan also trapped a large patrol of Brabant's Horse sent out from Aberdeen on a Mr Probart's farm, Newlands.(10) April was a particularly active month for the commandos in the Midlands with numerous cases of derailments on the Cape Colony railway lines, the commandos being especially troublesome in the neighbourhood of Graaff-Reinet and Cradock. As a result the night service of trains had to be suspended.(11)

Scheepers remained for a while in the Koudeveld Mountains with Fouche near him in the vicinity of Murraysburg. Kritzinger was near Middelburg and derailed a train on the Cradock line on 8 April, looting the village of Conway on 9 April. Scheepers now moved closer to Aberdeen while Malan descended on Kendrew Station, south of Graaff-Reinet, fired on a passing train, burned a goods shed, and retired back into the hills.

Scheepers and Malan then left the Camdeboo Mountains and travelled east tracked by Scobell and Col A C Henniker, to the neighbourhood of Pearston where they split up. A small commando of 60 men under Cmdt F Swanepoel now became active in the New Bethesda area. Fouche had in the meantime rejoined Kritzinger in the Cradock district. Kritzinger as a result of Col D Haig's operations had moved off north again and on 29 April 1901 crossed the Orange River into the OFS. (Fouche at the last moment had decided to remain in the Cape Colony basing his operations in the Aliwal North and Jamestown districts. On 14 July 1901 he was involved in a fight with the Connaught Rangers at Zuurvlakte near Aliwal North). In mid-May Kritzinger, accompanied by Van Reenen, re-entered the Cape.(12)

At the beginning of May Scheepers had crossed the Great Fish River and established himself in the vicinity of Daggaboer's Nek in the Baviaansberg. While he was there the town of Bedford lived in fear of an attack by his commando. On 7 May 1901 he had a brush with the Bedford Town Guard and on the 8th clashed with Henniker. He was also involved in further fighting at Gannashoek near Mortimer on 9 May. On the 10th he was again in a skirmish, this time with Gorringe. Scheepers lost some men at Vaaldraai and on the 11th he was attacked at Buffelshoek but gave the British the slip by doubling back on his tracks (a tactic used very profitably by him). On 11 May part of Scheepers's force appeared in Pearston and looted two stores. Soon after he was involved in another skirmish, this time at Swaershoek. Meanwhile Malan, on 2 May, had attacked a patrol of Diamond Fields Horse near Cradock, capturing 8 men; a day or two later he blew up the line at Mortimer south of Cradock before moving off eastwards and back into the Koudeveld Mountains, but by 23 May had been driven north into the Richmond district. Scheepers now moved south-westwards passing through the districts of Pearston and Jansenville. He had been joined by the remnants of Swanepoel's commando, as Swanepoel had been killed on 9 May near the farm Bo-Rietvallei in the Somerset East district. On 1 June 1901 Scheepers made a surprise attack on Willowmore but was repulsed. A few days later he captured a train between Graaff-Reinet and Aberdeen Road while on 9 June he had attacked Aberdeen and on 11 June had burnt down the homestead on the farm Featherstonehaugh near Klipplaat before returning to the refuge of the Camdeboo Mountains. Scheepers in this westward flight, relentlessly pursued by Henniker, was down to 100 commandos having lost men all along the way. One of his more serious losses was that of an officer, Lt Izak Liebenberg, who was captured in a barn on the farm Paardefontein near Pietersburg on 8 June 1901. Of Liebenberg's 17 men, 14 were killed and buried in a shallow grave.(iii)(The remains were later removed and reburied on the farm Nooitgedacht). Liebenberg later stood trial and was executed on 11 January 1902 at Aliwal North.(13)

The Boers continued to move about the countryside much as they willed and any small patrol which came their way was sure to be overwhelmed. No commando stayed in one place for long. They split up under different leaders and re-grouped for action; by night they were constantly on the move. They kept moving in wide circles, so that they could leave tired horses to recover, and pick them up again later, on their return to the same hidden valley or flat-topped mountain. In addition the activities of the Boer commandos caused farming in the district to suffer severely. Loyalist farmers, fearing the visits of commandos, moved with their families into the town of Graaff-Reinet where they would at least have the protection of the imperial garrison of Coldstream Guards. Farm servants also showed a tendency to seek refuge in the town as Blacks were often harshly treated by the Boer commandos (a number being summarily shot) if there was the least suspicion of their acting as spies for the British. Farming was further hampered by the attempts of the military authorities to deprive the Boer commandos of provisions. In May 1901 all forage was ordered to be brought into Graaff-Reinet and if it could not be transported it had to be burnt. In June 1901 the British commander-in-chief, Lord Kitchener, gave Gen J D P French supreme command for combating guerilla warfare in the Cape Colony. Due to the expanding activities of the Boer commandos in the Cape more British troops had to be detailed to guard the Cape railways and from July 1901 onwards blockhouses were built, eventually all the way down to Wellington in the Western Cape. Lord Kitchener was also forced to divert increasing numbers of troops from the occupied Boer Republics to aid the colonial detachments in dealing with the Boer commando threat. Counter-measures against the commandos were tightened up. Many families, both Dutch and English, were brought in from the farms on the Sneeuberg to live in the town of Graaff-Reinet, so that they could not supply the men of the commandos. All horses had to be registered and all bicycles had to be handed in to the authorities. On 18 June 1901 police went round the district with a notice for all farmers to report at the courthouse in town on Friday 21 June at 10 am for the purpose of forming a District Defence Force (DDF). But not many men attended the meeting and it seemed as if the plan for a DDF had fallen through. Howevever, on 28 June a DDF was officially formed which incorporated the already esta- blished Town Guard and a second section, the District Mounted Troops (DMT). By 9 July the DMT under Capt F L McCabe had about 80 men signed up and on 15 July the first patrol was sent out. On the same day this patrol had its first skirmish with the Boers at the stables on the farm of Johan Theron where W Biggs and W J Calverley were wounded by the Boers while Capt Moore was accidentally shot and killed by one of his own force when the DMT rushed the shed. This was not an auspicious start but the DMT, although never more than 100 men, provided a valuable service with their local knowledge of the district, by serving as scouts for the imperial troops in the latter's efforts to track down Boer commandos in the Graaff-Reinet district.(14)

Regardless of these intensified efforts by the British the Boer commandos continued to wreak havoc, eluding the special 'flying columns' and raiding villages to replenish supplies. On 2 June Kritzinger had attacked Jamestown forcing the surrender of the town guard of 60. On 21 June Malan and Kritzinger captured a British patrol at Waterkloof near Swaershoek killing 9, wounding 12 and taking 66 prisoners. Leaving Kritzinger, Malan had moved westwards and attacked Richmond on 25 June. Towards the end of June 1901 Malan had left the Camdeboo Mountains and rode eastwards south of Graaff-Reinet over Petersburg and to the north of Cradock up to Maraisburg. At the beginning of July he crossed into the OFS with a small deputation in an effort to raise recruits for the commandos in the Cape.(15)

On 13 June Scheepers had entered Murraysburg unopposed and replenished his supplies, leaving on the 14th. For a time he remained in the Camdeboo and Koudeveld Mountains. He liked the area, finding it, with its many kloofs which made direct British attacks impossible, a convenient and relatively safe place to rest his men and horses. There were also many Afrikaner farmers in that area who gave him their full support although there were also a number of pro-British ones who revealed his movements to the British troops. Some of these loyalist farmers were caught by his commandos and beaten with sjamboks while a number of farmhouses were burnt down and destroyed. On 6 July Scheepers made another raid on Murraysburg (which was mockingly renamed Scheepersburg) and overwhelmed the town guard. There he burnt down the public buildings as well as some houses of loyalists. His commando also stopped at Vleiplaats, the farm of the local MP, A J Herholdt, where they burnt down the homestead. During July 1901 Cmdts Scheepers and Schalk Pypers had made their base in the most rugged part of the Camdeboo Mountains. One camp was on the farm Langfontein and the other on Middelplaas. (It was known from an intercepted letter that Scheepers at this stage had 240 men with him, of whom 40 were Free Staters, the rest being Cape rebels.) Frequent raids were being made from these two camps by small Boer patrols on the neighbouring farmers whom they compelled to bring wagonloads of grain and lucerne to the laagers. When the military authorities were informed of these activities they organized a big drive. On 14 July Gen French ordered four columns under Sir Charles P Crewe, G Wyndham, Col Beauchamp Doran and Scobell into the Camdeboo Mountains to try to trap Scheepers. Scheepers was, however, able to escape with the bulk of his commando up the steep sides of a small kloof. Only 28 of his men were captured of whom 8 were later executed. A further 6 OFS men were sent to POW camps while the remaining 14 captured rebels were sentenced to imprisonment.(16)

The only other success of the July drive was a skirmish between Col Tim Lukin on 21 July(iv) and Cmdt H Lategan's commandos at the farm Tweefontein on the road to Richmond. Lategan's men were dispersed resulting in the capture of 20 Boers, 105 horses, 80 saddles, 70 rifles and their entire kit.(17) This was a serious blow to the commandos operating in the Sneeuberg around new Bethesda. However, the Boers, even though increasingly hard pressed, had some successes. Kritzinger had once again returned to the OFS leaving Lotter behind. On 10 August 1901 the commandos of Lotter and Cmdt J Theron captured a party (50-60 men) of French's Scouts near Bethesda Road, stripping them of all their clothing before letting them go. In the bitterly cold month of August in the Sneeuberg these commandos were in desperate need of extra clothing. Theron moved from New Bethesda to the Camdeboo and on south where he joined up with Scheepers(18) while Lotter moved on to Rhenosterberg. On 2 September he was attacked by Col Doran at Garstland Kloof near Cradock. He then proceeded to Spitzkop south of the Bankberg pursued all the way by Col Scobell. On 3 September he was sighted at Strick's Farm near Swaershoek making for the hamlet, Petersburg. On the night of 4 September Lotter's men laagered at a shed and kraal on P du Toit's farm Groenkloof near Petersburg.(v) Lotter believing himself safe, (as Scobell had made a feint northwards but then used a rapid night march to get into position) found his entire commando (of 114 men) surrounded the next morning. Although completely outnumbered he put up fierce resistance but was eventually forced to surrender, suffering 11 killed and 46 wounded (18 British troops fell).(vi)(19)

Fifth photo

Members of Lotter's captured commando being escorted into Graaff-Reinet.
(Photo: Cape Archives, AG 2483)

This was a severe setback to the activities of the Boer commandos and soon after they suffered a second blow with the death of Cmdt P van der Merwe and the loss of 28 men either killed or captured out of a total of 79 at the farm Driefontein between Ladismith and Laingsburg. A month later, on 11 October 1901, Scheepers was captured. After Gen French's July drive he had moved southwards and was involved in a skirmish with the DDF from Willowmore at Hartebeeskuil on the Kariega River. His commando, in conjunction with Van der Merwe's, had got as far south as Montague. He had fallen sick and, being unable to continue travelling, was captured at Koppieskraal near Prince Albert. He was brought to trial in Graaff-Reinet and was eventually executed on 18 January 1902.(20)

Sixth photo

Cmdt Gideon Scheepers in Graaff-Reinet gaol during his trial.
(Photo: Cape Archives, AG 2477)

With the capture of Lotter's commando it was hoped that there would be a lessening of Boer activity south of Graaff-Reinet but, in October 1901, Cmdt B. Bouwer had left Gen J C Smuts's commando force and moved towards Graaff-Reinet. On 6 October 1901 he clashed at Springvale with the DDF capturing 20 and chasing the rest back into Somerset East. Bouwer then moved off towards Pearston. After a number of small skirmishes he found refuge and rested his horses in the Camdeboo Mountains. On 13 October Cmdt J L van Deventer, also of Smuts's commando, clashed with a CMR force at Doornbosch near Swaershoek, first overwhelming the post of about 50 men there and then capturing the entire relieving force of 130 men of the Somerset East DDF and taking 220 horses.(vii) They then moved northwards crossing the Graaff-Reinet railway line near Letskraal and camped at Steilhoogte. But on 21 October Col Lukin surprised them, forcing them to disperse, leaving behind 14 captured and 60 horses and mules. These commandos then travelled off towards Victoria West.(21)

From November 1901 onwards the main commando activity was concentrated in the north west Cape under Generals Smuts, Malan and Manie Maritz with the Cape Midlands area around Graaff-Reinet relatively quiet, although on 15 December 1901 Kritzinger once more crossed the Orange River and returned to the Cape. The very next day, however, he was wounded and captured at Hanover Road. In mid-December Cmdt Louis Wessels, who had taken over from Kritzinger, moved from Richmond to the Koudeveld and Camdeboo Mountains. While there, Wessels and 20 men entered Murraysburg where the inhabitants welcomed them with open arms. In the new year Wessels returned to Murraysburg for fresh supplies, plundering the store of one Cohen but was soon pursued by Col H A Smith-Dorrien's column.

Wessels got away and moved in the direction of Bethesda Road where his men burnt down the station building and then on towards Cradock clashing with the column of Col C Warren. At the beginning of February 1902 this commando was successful in capturing a supply train on the Middelburg-Cradock line. Wessels now travelled southwards and then turned eastwards towards Bethesda again. Soon after they were in another skirmish near Richmond before proceeding further on to Victoria West. Cmdt Bouwer was meanwhile forced out of the Camdeboo by Scobell and he moved southwards, eventually meeting up with Cmdt Schalk Pypers who was in command of the remnants of Scheepers commando.(22)

In early 1902 the commando forces in the north-west divided up and four commandos (those of Pypers, Smit, Hugo and Van Reenen) under Gen Malan were delegated with the task of returning to the Midlands area. On 17 February on their way back, near Three Sisters' Station, Cmdt Henry Hugo was killed and his place was taken by J Rudolph. Eventually it was only the men of Malan and Rudolph who made it across the railway line. The commandos under Pypers, Smit and Van Reenen decided, in the light of the build-up of British forces along the Beaufort West-De Aar railway line, to remain in the north-west and operate independently. During early March, Malan and Rudolph were active in the Richmond and Middelburg districts but on 11 March Rudolph was captured and Carel van Heerden, a rebel from Aberdeen who had joined Scheepers early in 1901, was appointed commandant. In late February Fouche and Cmdt Stoffel Myburg had left the north-east Jamestown district) and entered the Midlands, meeting up with Malan on 18 March 1902. With their constant movement the Boer horses were in poor condition and, to give them adequate rest, it was decided to remain for a time in the Camdeboo and Koudeveld Mountains and, during April and part of May, they were active in this area. Cmdt Van Heerden had spent some time on the farm Vrede. After leaving there one of his patrols had raided De Beer's store at Adendorp only 6 kilometres below Graaff-Reinet. On 16 April 1902 the whole commando of approximately 170 men stopped over at John Ebenezer Biggs's farm, Brooklyn. While there, Van Heerden had taken a patrol and visited the farm Mooifontein of Peter Booysen who had given evidence against Scheepers at the latter's trial in Graaff-Reinet. Van Heerden gave Booysen a severe thrashing with a sjambok before returning to Brooklyn where his commando stayed for two days. At the beginning of May they had moved up to Murraysburg where Van Heerden was involved in a skirmish with a number of British patrols in the hills between Voetpad and Grootplaas.(23)

Around this time there occurred the death of a local man, Lt Robert H Murray. On 2 May 1902 Lt Murray, out on patrol, was killed near the farm Groenvlei. The patrol had met up with Boers dressed in khaki whom Murray mistakenly took to be native scouts. He went out to meet them but on discovering his mistake tried to make a getaway and was killed by a volley fired by the Boers. (His men had carried his body back to their bivouac on the farm Tweefontein, hence the official designation of his place of death as Tweefontein.)(24)

On 18 May Malan and Fouche assisted Van Heerden in his attack on Aberdeen. Malan and Fouche guarded the escape route while 80 of Van Heerden's men and 20 of Fouche's entered the town and surprised the garrison. They made off with a large number of horses but in the process Van Heerden was killed. Malan and Fouche now moved south towards the Rooiberge and on past Jansenville and Waterford. On 27 May 1902 Malan was severely wounded and captured near Sheldon station (only four days before the final peace treaty was signed at Vereeniging) while Fouche, on being informed of the war's end, surrendered in the Cradock district on 3 June. (Of those who surrendered 134 were colonial rebels of which the biggest number (29) came from the Aberdeen district.)(25)

The effects of the Anglo-Boer War on Graaff-Reinet were traumatic to say the least. It left deep scars and the divisions were exacerbated by a number of trials which had taken place in the town. From April 1901 the trial of rebels and captured Boers accused of atrocities was in the hands of the military authorities. Two of the best known trials held in Graaff-Reinet were those of Lotter and Scheepers. Although many of those accused were sentenced to death in Graaff-Reinet, the death sentences on only eight men, including Gideon Scheepers, were carried out in Graaff-Reinet. (Boers executed in Graaff-Reinet: 19.8.1901 - P J Fourie, J B L van Rensburg, L F S Pheiffer; 26.8.1901 - D F Olwagen, J W Nel; 7.10.1901 - J H Roux; 18.1.1902 - Cmdt Gideon Scheepers; 14.2.1902 - J F Geldenhuis.)(26)

Seventh photo

Promulgation of sentence on Scheepers (in white trousers, second from right in centre), 17 January 1902. (Photo: William Roe Collection)

Although things settled down with martial law being lifted and the Coldstream Guards eventually leaving Graaff-Reinet on 15 September 1902, the war left a long legacy of bitterness in the town and district, especially in the sphere of politics.(27)


1. K.W. Smith, From frontier to midlands, a history of the Graaff-Reinet district, 1786-1910 (Grahamstown, 1976), pp. 108, 179 and 333: Graaff-Reinet Advertiser, 13.9.1900 and 25.8.1952.
2. Smith, pp. 109-110; Graaff-Reinet Advertiser, 30.3.1900, 27.4.1900 and 23.5.1900.
3. G. Preller, Scheepers se dagboek; en die stryd in Kaapland (1 Okt 1901-18 Jan 1902) (Cape Town, 1938), p.126; H.W. Wilson, After Pretoria: the guerrilla war (London, 1902), p. 272.
4. Smith, p.179: Graaff-Reinet Advertiser, 25.1.1901 and 24.1.1902; Wellwood; Farm Diaries, 20.12.1900: Roodebloem: Farm Diaries, 21.12.1900.
5. Roodebloem: Farm Diaries, 3.1.1901, 4.1.1901 and 6.2.1901; A.C. Doyle, The Great Boer War (London, 1902), p.577; Preller, p.126; Wilson, pp. 292 and 296.
6. L.S. Amery, The Times History of the War in South Africa 1900-1902 (London, 1907), Vol. V, p. 244; Doyle, p.578; Wilson, pp. 293,475-476, 479-480 and 482.
7. T. Shearing, 'Coloured involvement in the South African War in the Cape Colony', Quarterly Bulletin of the South African Library 40(1), Sept.1985, p. 7; Wilson, pp.478, 485-486 and 696.
8. Graaff-Reinet Advertiser, 20.3.1901 and 27.3.1901; H.J.C. Pieterse, Oorlogsavonture van Genl. Wynand Malan (Cape Town, 1946), p.160; J. Meintjes, Sword in the sand; the life and death of Gideon Scheepers (Elsies River, 1969), p.116; Wilson, p.487.
9. Wilson; pp.488-489: Amery, p.244: Doyle, p.478.
10. Wilson, p.489: Pieterse, pp.168-169.
11. Wilson, p.490.
12. Wilson, p.492-493 and 753.
13. J.A. Smith, Ek rebelleer (Cape Town, 1946), pp.16-17; Wilson, p.493 and 700-702; Amery, pp.309 and 314; Meintjes, pp. 125-126 and 131; Shearing, p. 7; Graaff-Reinet Advertiser, 26.1.1986.
14. Graaff-Reinet Advertiser, 13.2.1901, 17.4.1901 and 29.5.1901; Roodebloem: Farm Diaries, 18.6.1901, 21.6.1901, 28.6.1901, 9.7.1901 and 15.76.1901; N.M. Pitman, 'The peoples of Graaff-Reinet and district.' Lantern 35(2), July 1986, pp.25-26.
15. Meintjes, pp.122 and 139-140; Wilson, pp.721 and 726.
16. Amery, p. 315; Doyle, p. 647; Graaff-Reinet Advertiser, 15.7.1901.
17. T. Pakenham, The Boer War (London, 1979), pp. 527-528; Amery, pp.317 and 319-320; Doyle, pp. 649-650; Wilson, pp. 737-738; Graaff-Reinet Advertiser, 6.9.1901
18. Amery, p.319; Doyle, p.647; Wilson, pp. 735-736.
19. T. Pakenham, The Boer War, (London, 1979), pp.527-528; Amery, pp.317 and 319-320; Doyle, pp.649-650.
20. Amery, p.316; Meintjes, pp. 143-144; J.A. Smith, pp.66 and 70-71.
21. Preller, pp.204-205; Amery, p.395; Wilson, pp. 749-750.
22. Amery, pp. 543-544; Preller, pp.132-137 and 206; Wilson, pp. 751 and 965.
23. W. Starke, Cambedo cameo; Brooklyn 1886-1984 (Grahamstown, 1965), pp.59-60: Amery, pp 549-550; J.A. Smith, pp. 122,128-130,144,148,150,152-153 and 156-157; Wilson,p.965.
24. Graaff-Reinet Advertiser, 5.5.1902.
25. J.A. Smith, pp.157, 153,175-176 and 181-183; Meintjes, p. 228; Pieterse, pp.332-333, Wilson, p.989.
26. Graaff-Reinet Advertiser, 14.10.1901; Plaque on Anglo-Boer War Monument, Graaff-Reinet.
27. Roodebloem: Farm Diaries, 15.9.1902.

Page notes:

Wilson, p. 485, gives the date as 5 March.
Pieterse, p. 166, mentions 50; Wilson, pp. 488-89 states 100.
Pakenham, p. 527, mentions 6 June with 6 killed and 25 captured.
Preller, p. 140, gives the date as 20 July.
Amery, P. 320, mentions the adjoining farm, Bouwershoek.
Pakenham, p. 528, puts the number as 10 British and 13 Boers killed with 46 Boers wounded and 61 taken prisoner, while Wilson, pp. 739-740, numbers Boer Killed as 19 with 62 unwounded prisoners and 10 British killed and 8 wounded.
Amery, p. 395, gives number captured as 157 men and date as 15 October while Preller, P. 205, gives the number captured as 210.

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