The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 15 No 5 - June 2012

Bryce's Store, 1899-1900
An old photograph rediscovered ...

by Richard Tomlinson

In 2003 I published an article in this journal which made reference to the Anglo-Boer fight at Bryce's Store on 2 November 1899 in what is today Tuli Block, Botswana (see R Burrett, 'The Far North-Western Front. Events in the Fort Tuli Area, Part 3: The attacks on Bryce's Store and on Rhodes' Drift' in Military History Journal, Volume 12 No 5, June 2003, pp166-9). The purpose of this note is to share with readers the only photograph known to me of the store as it appeared in 1899.

Recently, while browsing around a second-hand junk shop in Bulawayo, I came across a small personal photograph album with several fish-moth damaged pictures. It is hard to describe my excitement at the time when I read one of the captions: 'Bryce's Store'. It must date to sometime in late 1899 or the first few months of 1900. I will not repeat the whole story of the fight here, but suffice to say that the Rhodesians were surrounded by a Boer party led by Commandant S Eloff. The Rhodesians took refuge in the store, but it was shelled. Several men were injured and subsequently captured. The fight at Bryce's Store was a mere skirmish in comparison to the events that were happening elsewhere during the Anglo-Boer War, but this was one of the few 'major incidents' that took place in this far north-western sector of the War.

An old photograph of Bryce's Store, c 1900, showing damage caused by the Boer attack

Contemporary records indicate that Bryce's Store was fired upon with small arms and that it received a direct hit from a shell fired by the Boer heavy gun that was positioned on nearby Pitsane Kop. The store was said to have lost its roof and crumbled. Both A S Hickman (Rhodesia served the Queen, Volume 1, Salisbury, Rhodesia Army, 1970) and I (R S Burrett, Plumer's Men: The Rhodesian Regiment & the northwest Frontier during the Second Anglo-South African War, 1899-1900, Durban, Just Done Publications, 2009) provide descriptions and illustrations of the site as we found it. Neither of us ever thought that there was a contemporary photograph sitting, unappreciated, in someone's drawer.

Now we have an image from that time. The structure looks forlorn with signs of rifle fire and the shelled roof, but the store appears far from destroyed. The image adds detail to our understanding of the physical remains. For example, it shows that there was also a back veranda, evidence of which is no longer obvious on the ground. More interesting, though, is the extent of the damage to the store. The structure in the photograph is in better condition than contemporary reports suggest. The Boer shell was not as destructive as reported and this appears to explain why the Rhodesian injuries were not that serious, which had always been a bit of a puzzle to me. Given the photographic evidence, it would not have taken much to repair the structure. This helps to account for its reoccupation later in the War by various Rhodesian, Australian and Imperial forces. The building's final demise was probably only after it was finally abandoned in 1901. The circular structure built in front of the store and shown on the previously published sketch maps of the remains probably dates to one of these later episodes of occupation (Hickman 1970, p155, reproduced in Burrett, 2009, p122). It was not there in November 1899.

Other images in the album show camp scenes at Fort Tuli, river scenes along the Shashe and Limpopo rivers, military hardware and various officers. I am sure your readers would agree that it is a valuable piece to discover. It has been copied and the original deposited in a suitable public archive so that others will be able to enjoy it in future.

Just one last thing: I must apologise for the pagination shown in the subject index of my book, Plumer's Men. Sadly the muddle does not match the pages you seek; the result of resetting of the text just before it was printed. It makes using this book very frustrating!

Rob Burrett

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