The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 16 No 5 - June 2015


By David Saks


In the latter half of December 1880, three years after the arbitrary annexation of their republic, the Boers of the Transvaal rose in revolt against British colonial rule. The ensuing conflict, generally referred to thereafter as the First Anglo-Boer War, lasted just under three months and concluded with an agreement by the British to restore (under certain conditions) Boer independence. While at issue had been the status of the Transvaal, the decisive events of the war took place just across the border in north-west Natal, where a series of engagements were fought between a British relieving force under Major-General George Pomeroy Colley and a roughly equivalent number of Boers under Commandant-General Piet Joubert. This culminated in Colley's total defeat, and his own death, at Majuba Hill on 27 February 1881.

The operations in Natal have largely overshadowed events in the Transvaal itself, where the British garrisons stationed in various parts of the territory were pinned down and, in varying degrees, subjected to siege conditions for the duration of the conflict. Colley's initial aim had been to come to the relief of these garrisons and thereafter combine with them in quelling the rebellion and restoring British authority.

One of the beleaguered Transvaal centres was Pretoria, the capital. The others were Potchefstroom, Lydenburg, Rustenburg, Marabastad, Standerton and Wakkerstroom. All of the latter can genuinely be said to have been invested by the Boers. Their defence perimeters were within rifle range and with varying degrees of severity, were constantly under fire. Pretoria, by contrast, was subjected to a blockade rather than a formal siege, with neither the town nor the military camp set up on its south-west perimeter ever coming under direct attack. The Boers chose instead to confine the Pretoria garrison to the general area of the town, thereby preventing it from interfering with their activities elsewhere in the colony. This was effectively accomplished through setting up a series of roughly fortified camps near farms in the vicinity of the roads connecting Pretoria to other major settlements. It meant that British patrols were able to operate unopposed for miles around the town, and, in fact, for the first two months of the 'siege', it was the British who pursued an aggressive policy of actively engaging the enemy. In all, seventeen distinct actions were fought between 19 December 1880 and 9 March 1881. These ranged from a mere exchange of shots between rival scouting parties to several fairly hotly fought engagements involving hundreds of participants on either side and, on the part of the British, extensive use of artillery.

Zwart Kopje hill and the ground over which the British advanced.
In the foreground is Pienaar's River.

The British recorded an early success when they attacked and overwhelmed one of the smaller Boer encampments at Zwart Kopje north-east of the town. The Boers had the best of the subsequent encounters, with their decisive repulse of an attack on the Rooihuis laager in mid-February putting paid to further offensive action on the part of the Pretoria garrison.

The Pretoria garrison

Joubert's decision to blockade rather than actively besiege Pretoria was a sensible one, given the large size of the British force stationed there. In all, Colonel William Bellairs, commanding British troops in the Transvaal, had at his disposal some 1 340 combat troops for the defence, roughly evenly split between regular and colonial volunteer troops. The regular contingent comprised five companies of infantry (four from the 2/21 st Royal Scots Fusiliers - hereinafter referred to as 'RSF' - and one from the 94th Regiment), a troop of Mounted Infantry and sixty Royal Artillerymen, plus units from the Commissariat and Medical Corps. Volunteer forces totalled 640, made up of 433 Pretoria Rifles and 207 mounted troops divided into two corps - the Pretoria Carbineers and Nourse's Horse, a unit raised and commanded by Captain Henry Nourse. The total included a number of black and coloured troops, with the latter featuring prominently in the engagement at Kleinfontein on 16 January. This was in addition to a party of armed black scouts known as Melvill's Scouts, named after SurveyorGeneral S Melvill. While in overall command, Bellairs occupied himself mainly with administrative duties, entrusting operations in the field to Lieutenant-Colonel George Frederick Campbell Gildea, 2nd Battalion RSF.

In addition to enjoying 2: 1 superiority in manpower, the Pretoria garrison also had a sizable artillery element at its disposal. This comprised two 9 pounders, two 7 pounders, four Krupp 4 pounders, a 3 pounder Whitworth, rocket equipment and a Mitrailleuse (Hall, 1980). The Mitrailleuse, which had been used during the Franco-Prussian War and later presented to President Thomas Burgers, was a French version of the Gatling gun (one difference being that its barrels did not rotate). It had 25 barrels, with a calibre of 13 mm and a range of just over 1 100 metres. There is no record of it having played any part in the various actions around Pretoria (weighing 800 kg, it required a six-horse team to tow it). Particularly useful were the 7 and 9 pounders, which were extensively used in the field.

A Krupp was deployed to each of the four forts sited to the north, east and southern sides of the British camp a kilometre south-west of the town. Commencing north and moving clockwise, these were Convent Redoubt (a fortified enclosure between the Loreto Convent and the gaol), Fort Royal, Fort Tullichewan and Fort Commeline. The last two were positioned on what are today known as Salvo Kop and Magazine Hill. The forts were garrisoned by between twenty and thirty men of the RSF.

The Boer forces

Estimates of the number of Boers engaged in the Pretoria theatre range between 600 and 800, ultimately concentrated in six fortified encampments. They were commanded initially by Daniel J Erasmus, who was appointed Assistant Commandant-General and had been sent up from Heidelberg for that purpose. After the set-back at Zwart Kopje, he was replaced by General Daniel Schoeman.

The largest of the Boer encampments was the Rooihuis laager, located on the farm Brakfontein some sixteen kilometres to the south of the town near the Heidelberg road. An estimated 150 Boers were positioned there, under the command of Commandant J H Erasmus. Because of the presence of a building known as the 'Rooihuis' (Red House) and of the large stone kraal located nearby, the position came to be referred to as 'Rooihuiskraal', although there was never a farm there by that name (Coetzee, 2005).

Convent Redoubt, photographed (as were the other images reproduced in this article)
by Ferdinand Gros, a Pretoria resident of Swiss origin who had a photographic studio in the town.

The five other Boer encampments were:
Doornkloof, located 15 km south of Pretoria on the site of the present-day town of Irene, with about thirty men under Veld-Kornet D E Erasmus.
Zwart Kopje, 19 km to the east on or near the site of what is now Sammy Marks House, with forty men (mainly drawn from the Waterberg district) under Veld-Kornet J P (Hans) Botha. The camp was overlooked by a bushy, boulder strewn knoll that was to feature prominently in the successful British attack on the position on 6 January. Later, a new camp was established in its place on the farm Donkerhoek 6 km further east.
Wonderboom Poort, commanded initially by AssistantCommandant F Grobler and later by Commandant Jan du Plessis. The laager was positioned on the right bank of the Apies River about 11,5 km north of Pretoria.
Elandsfontein, sited on the Elandsfonteinrant about 17 km to the west and numbering about 100 men under VeldKornet Henning Pretorius. This was the second largest of the six camps. Shortly before the conclusion of the war, the laager was relocated about 6 km to the east on the Daspoort Rand.
Derde Poort, situated about 10,5 km north-east of Pretoria in the foothills of the Magaliesberg range. It was commanded by Commandant J G Fourie.

First shots

The First Anglo-Boer formally broke out on 16 December 1881 with a clash between Boer and British mounted detachments outside Potchefstroom. Three days later, the first shots in the Pretoria theatre were exchanged when a reconnoitring party under Lieutenant-Colonel Gildea was fired upon by a Boer scout about 20 km south of the town. Just prior to this, Gildea had succeeded in overtaking and capturing another Boer scout, who was relieved of his horse and rifle and presumably taken into captivity.

On 21 December, news was received of the disaster that had befallen Lieutenant-Colonel P R Anstruther's column at Bronkhorstspruit the previous day. Anstruther, with just under 250 regular troops mainly comprised of two companies of the 94th Regiment, had been en route to Pretoria from Lydenburg when he was confronted by a roughly equal number of Boers under Franz Joubert and informed that any. further progress on his part would be regarded as an act of war. Given how unprepared his men were, Anstruther's wisest course would have been to retire some distance the way he had come and there develop a properly thought-out plan of attack. Instead, he chose to stand his ground and, in the one-sided fire-fight that ensued, nearly two-thirds of his men were cut down before a cease-fire was ordered. In all, the British lost 77 killed or died of wounds, Anstruther amongst them, and the survivors were made prisoners. Just two Boers lost their lives in the affair.

Profoundly shocked by the news of Bronkhorstspruit, Sellairs immediately gave up on his previous plan of sending out two field columns to confront the Boer forces and also decided against defending Pretoria itself. Instead, a military camp was set up about a kilometre to the southwest and the entire civilian population, under the authority of martial law, was relocated there. As already noted, four fortified positions were established to guard its approaches against an anticipated mass Boer attack. When no such attack took place, the British resumed sending out patrols, and when these were not challenged felt sufficiently emboldened to go onto the offensive.

On 25 December, a reconnoitring party attempted, unsuccessfully on this occasion, to capture two Boer scouts near the Heidelberg road. Three days later, blood was drawn for the first time in a clash near Six Mile Spruit (so named because it was, at that time, six miles outside Pretoria to the south). One Boer was killed and two Volunteer troopers on the other side wounded in the exchange.

Early actions

The skirmish led to the British launching their first major operation against the encircling Boer forces. At 03h15 on 29 December, Gildea set out at the head of a column just over 400-strong to attack the Red House position. The force comprised the two 7 pounder guns manned by 37 men of the Royal Artillery, 200 infantry (2nd Bn 21 st Royal Scots Fusiliers) and 170 mounted troops including both regulars (mounted infantry detachments from the 94th Regiment and the above-mentioned RSF) and Volunteers (mainly the Pretoria Carbineers, with smaller detachments from the Nourse's Horse and Mounted Natives' units). Twelve wagons were taken along to transport the infantry.

The actual operation turned out to be a damp squib. The infantry and most of the mounted men were held back to protect the rear, flanks and guns while the Carbineers, in an attempt to seize some cattle near the Red House and kraal, were met by a heavy volley by the concealed Boers and forced to retire with some loss. In its first outing, the artillery also performed poorly, making such bad practice that Gildea ordered it to cease firing. Gildea claimed afterwards in his official report that he had gone out only 'to scout, and not bring on a general engagement', but this is belied by the large size of the force with which he set out (more than twice that of the number of Boers confronting him, while also recalling that the latter had no artillery). Actually, Gildea was probably guilty of excessive caution in this first attempt to come to grips with the enemy. In future operations, he would be a great deal more enterprising.

Two minor actions took place early in January 1881, the first in the vicinity of Six Mile Spruit on 3 January and the second the following day near Quagga's Nek on the western side of Magazine Hill. No casualties were incurred on either side in what were no more than long-range sniping duels. In all, despite the expenditure of a not inconsiderable amount of ammunition, the first two weeks of the investment resulted in just one Boer killed and six wounded on the British side. The results of the next encounter, however, would be different.

The battle of Zwart Kopje

Up until 6 January, all of the fighting (such as it was) had taken place to the south of Pretoria. On that day, the theatre of operations shifted abruptly to the east, with a full-scale dawn attack on the Zwart Kopje laager. The total force came to 462 officers and men, with the largest elements comprising the RSF (162, including Gildea), Pretoria Carbineers (79, mounted) and Volunteers (88, foot). The remainder was made up by detachments of Royal Artillery (19, with one 9 pounder), Nourse's Horse (28), 94th Mounted Infantry (25), 94th Regiment (25), RSF Mounted Infantry (16), Royal Engineers (11) and medical personnel (6).

Given that Veld-Kornet Botha had fewer than forty men under his command, his most sensible option, once he learned of the odds confronting him, would have been to abandon the laager, including the wagons if necessary. He chose instead to make a stand, taking up a strong position amongst the rocks and brushwood along the Zwart Kopje ridge itself. The Boers were clearly caught napping by the attack. For a start, they allowed the Pretoria Carbineers, under Captain Henry Sanctuary and guided by Corporal W Struben (who had a farm in the area), to approach undetected from the north and take up a position on a hill in their rear to cut off their retreat. Realising that he was positioned too far back to effect this purpose, Sanctuary left half his column where it was and led the remainder to a position along a line of low ridges about two kilometres further south. It was here, on the eastern side of the Zwart Kopje ridge that the morning's fight commenced, with the Carbineers opening fire on a party of Boers approaching from the laager. Soon, the two sides were hotly engaged. Sanctuary's little band managed to hold their ground, but could do little else. The Boers' fire, one of them recalled, was 'a great deal too close to be pleasant', and to expose oneself even momentarily was to invite a hail of well-directed bullets (Nixon, 1885). It was a relief, therefore, when, at around 06h00, the main body of Gildea's column arrived and the main focus of the battle shifted to the western side of the ridge. This was despite the artillery briefly mistaking the Carbineers for Boers (an understandable error, given the slouched hats that they wore and the dimness of the early morning light) and dropping a couple of shells on them. One of the troopers was killed while signalling to them to stop.

Cattle guard and foraging party, comprising contingents of
Nourse's Horse and the Royal Artillery, with one of the 7-pr guns.
In the background is Elandsfontein ridge.

The gun, from a distance of around 500 to 600 yards (460-550 metres), commenced firing at the western face of the ridge. Several shells were seen to hit the rocks and burst among the defenders while two companies of the RSF, some Royal Engineers and several dozen dismounted Volunteers began advancing 'in a sort of half-moon' on the position. Nixon describes how, after about twenty minutes, a flag of truce was hoisted by the defenders. Gildea duly ordered his men to cease firing and sent ahead LanceCorporal W G Burns (who spoke a little Dutch) to parley with the Boers. On seeing some of the latter taking advantage of the lull to ride away, he sent three of his scouts to the left to tell them not to do so while the flag of truce was flying. They were fired upon and, soon thereafter, so were Burns and himself.

It is uncertain whether the flag was raised by only a section of the defending force as a ruse to get away, or on Botha's instructions with a view to rather infamously luring the British into a trap. In any event, a justifiably angry Gildea ordered his men to renew the advance. A farmhouse to the right was taken 'at the point of the bayonet' (though it is doubtful whether there had been anyone there to resist), thereby turning the Boer left. Gildea then ordered the Fusiliers' regimental call and charge to be sounded, and cheering, the men surged forward together with several dozen Volunteers led by Captain Woolls-Sampson. Several Fusiliers were killed. and wounded, the regiment's first casualties of the day, but the remainder had almost reached the base of the ridge when the white flag was raised a second time. This time there was no trickery. The remaining defenders - numbering little more than a dozen - emerged from behind the boulders and rough skantzes and made their way down the hill into captivity. Including wounded, seventeen prisoners were talsen, with two succumbing shortly afterwards. Botha himself was wounded in five places but, against all expectations, went on to recover.

After collecting all the arms and ammunition that could be found, loading the prisoners onto two of the seven captured wagons and destroying those that remained, the column set off for home. For most of the way they were harried by parties of Boers on their left flank, suffering several further casualties before arriving back in Pretoria at around 14h30.

Compared with what had gone before, losses on both sides in the Zwart Kopje engagement were heavy. Five Boers were killed and sixteen taken prisoner, while on the British side, six were killed or died of wounds and thirteen were wounded, most of them severely. As a result of the unexpected setback, for which he was blamed, Erasmus was replaced by General Hendrik Schoeman. Under the latter, a system of signal fires was introduced to enable the widely separated bodies of Boers to communicate speedily and come timeously to one another's aid if required. This innovation would be of decisive importance when the next major encounter between the two forces took place ten days later.

Quagga's Poort and Elandsfontein

On 11 January, a minor action was fought near Quagga's Poort, where a Boer detachment under Commandant J Erasmus exchanged fire with a picket of the Pretoria Carbineers and then captured and disabled a mowing machine that was being used to cut forage for the garrison. It may be the only occasion in South African military history when a fire-fight took place over what was, after all, essentially a lawn mower. One Boer was killed and one wounded on the British side.

The next major British attack on a Boer position took place on 16 January. This time, Gildea targeted the Elandsfontein camp, seventeen kilometres to the west on the ridge of the same name and dispatched an even larger force of just under 600 of all ranks. The Pretoria Volunteers made up the largest component (154), followed by the RSF (129), Pretoria Carbineers (74) and Nourse's Horse (62). Again, the balance was mad(3 up by smaller detachments of 94th Infantry and Mounted Infantry, RSF Mounted Infantry, Royal Engineers and medical personnel. Both 9 pounders, a 7 pounder and the rocket equipment were taken along, manned by 39 officers and men of the Royal Artillery.

To mislead their opponents, the British put out a report that a foraging party would be setting out the following day for Muntz's Farm, in the opposite direction to that in which they would be going. At 03h15 on 16 January, a dozen scouts were duly sent out on that false errand, with orders to set off charges of dynamite at certain intervals. The ruse appears to have worked, at least partially, as a sizable party of Boers was subsequently reported to be moving in their direction. The main British column set out shortly afterwards, moving in a north-westerly direction. Some 12 km out, the Boers were observed to be in occupation of the Elandsfontein ridge, the extreme left of which was strongly fortified with skantzes and a blockhouse. The column's approach had already been observed, since a signal fire was burning.

Gildea directed Lieutenant Glynn of Nourse's Horse to occupy the right end of the hill and from there to move against the main Boer positions. This they did with elan, advancing steadily from rock to rock while their opponents fell back before them. Some came within 200 metres of the main Boer defences before the advance was held up. A contingent of the RSF and 94th were sent to assist while the Mounted Infantry and Carbineers deployed to the left. Meanwhile, the artillery had kept up a sustained but largely ineffective bombardment of the Boer defences. Gildea later complained that 'had it been what it ought to have been, he would have had possession of the ridge before the enemy's reinforcements arrived' (Coetzee, 2005, citing Gildea's, official report). He was just in the process of positioning the 7 pounder and rocket tube on a hill when a large number of Boers were seen approaching over the hills near Quagga's Poort to the south. The Carbineers had originally been deployed in this area to contest any threat from that direction, but had then been withdrawn to support the mounted troops.

Rather feebly under the circumstances, given that even with these reinforcements he still enjoyed a significant numerical advantage, Gildea decided to break off the engagement and return to camp. Bellairs, who had arrived shortly before this, concurred with the decision.

Ineffectual when shelling the Boer defences, the artillery put up a better show when covering the withdrawal. The Krupp 4 pounders in the four forts, for the first time during the siege, also came into action, with a shell from the Fort Royal gun being seen to land close to a party of Boers and causing them to retire.

It was during the withdrawal that Lance-Corporal James Murray of the 94th mounted troop and Trooper John Danaher of Nourse's Horse displayed the gallantry for which both would subsequently be awarded the Victoria Cross. Typically, their action took the form of attempting to rescue wounded comrades under fire, a feat by which sentimental Victorians set great store. Two of the RSF men had been hit and were lying in the open, too badly injured to rejoin their comrades. One, Private Charles Byrne, was already beyond help by the time Murray and Danahar reached him, and the other, Private George Davis, could only be carried for a short distance before Murray was himself hit in the back and likewise incapacitated. Danahar coolly fired a few more shots at the approaching Boers before rejoining his admiring comrades (Kinsey, 1980). Undoubtedly, it had been a gallant show by the two men; it had also been entirely pointless. It was not, after all, as if the Boers would have finished off the wounded men where they lay once they reached them. Indeed, they returned both Murray and Davis, together with the body of Byrne, the following day. Carrying away an already badly wounded man, with all the painful jolting this would have entailed, was also hardly preferable to simply leaving him to lie quietly and await succour. It may even have been a contributory factor in Davis' succumbing to his injuries a week later.

Given the duration of the fight, casualties on either side were not heavy. British losses amounted to four killed or died of wounds and six wounded, while eight (including Pretorius) were wounded on'the Boer side. In terms of actual results, it was a clear Boer success, since Gildea had been thwarted in his objective of capturing their Elandsfontein position. How the hunters had so abruptly become the hunted once reinforcements began arriving must also have been heartening to them. While Gildea does not explicitly label the action a set-back in his report, he concedes the fact by the number of excuses he makes. Had the artillery done its job, had better information about the Boer position been available, had 'a couple of squadrons of Light Cavalry' been at his disposal and had the Carbineers' Captain Sanctuary used his discretion and countermanded the order to leave his original position once the enemy began turning his flank were amongst the reasons provided for the failed operation. In Gildea's words, the Boers had 'excelled any previous performance of theirs I have seen in their rapidity of movement and their wonderful power of taking cover'.

The second attack on Rooihuiskraal

The four weeks following the Elandsfontein engagement were relatively quiet ones. Five minor actions are recorded as having taken place during this period, three in the Wonderboom Poort area (23 and 30 January and 7 February respectively) and the others at Six Mile Spruit and Derde Poort on 3 and 4 February. No casualties appear to have been incurred by either side in what were essentially long-range exchanges of fire by rival patrols. Colonel Bellairs for his part was content to adopt a defensive posture, seeing no point in conducting risky and potentially costly offensive operations when relief from Natal was thought to be arriving soon. Others, in particular Colonel Sir Owen Lanyon, British Administrator to the Transvaal, advocated a more aggressive approach. This eventually persuaded Bellairs, in the second week of February, to authorise another full-scale offensive operation. The objective on this occasion was again the Red House stronghold, last assailed in the abortive operation of 29 December.

Again, a mixed force of just over 600 men drawn from the various units in the camp took part in the attack. The artillery component consisted of the two 9 pounders and, for the first time in a field operation, one of the Krupp 4 pounders (manned by seven men of the Transvaal Artillery). In descending order, the largest regimental components comprised the RSF (180), Pretoria Rifles (158), Pretoria Carbineers (101) and Nourse's Horse (60). No troops of the 94th, whether infantry or mounted, were included on this occasion. Against this, Assistant-Commandant-General Erasmus had about 150 burghers, spread out between the main laager to the south-east of the Red House and the cattle kraal about a thousand paces further south.

After directing the RSF and some of the Pretoria Rifles to occupy three hills to secure his rear, Gildea sent the Carbineers under Captain Sanctuary ahead to attack the kraal. The Boers were fully alert, however, and wellpositioned to meet the assault. On coming within short range, the Carbineers were greeted with a series of heavy volleys and forced to retire behind some rising ground further back. Sanctuary and several others were amongst those hit in these initial exchanges. The men, who also included a number of coloured scouts and Nourse's Horse, formed a long crescent, the right of which extended to the artillery and infantry, while the extreme left faced the enemy. On being targeted at about 1 500 yards (1 371 metres) by the 9 pounders, the Boers defending the cattle kraal took up other positions offering an equal or even better field of fire. Some joined with those who had begun rapidly enveloping the Carbineers' left.

Under mounting pressure, the men in the centre abruptly gave way and retreated precipitously to where the artillery and infantry were stationed. This enabled the Boers to take up a sheltered position amidst a line of trees several hundred metres in the left rear and enfilade the British position. With the artillery, wagons and horses now exposed to increasing flanking fire, Gildea ordered the guns to take up a second position and then attempted to bring the infantry forward to attack the kraal. While standing upright in his stirrups to urge his men on, he was hit, as the official returns put it, in the 'lower extremities, gluteal region' (ie the buttocks) and put out of action. There was nothing for it but to order a general retirement, but for a while chaos reigned as his second in command strove to impose his authority at a time when many of the men, demoralised and confused, were starting to panic. It was an inglorious day for the regular infantry, who lost their nerve and fled without having fired a shot. Some reportedly threw away their rifles as they ran (Nixon, 1885, pp 203-6). Had it not been for the good work done by the mounted volunteers in covering the retirement, the guns may well have been captured. As it was, one of the ambulance wagons bearing some of the wounded and with the Surgeon-Major in charge was captured after advancing too far forward.

Boer prisoners taken at Zwart Kopje

Gildea's wound had in reality been a blessing in disguise, since his intention of throwing his infantry into the attack on the kraal would almost certainly have ended in disaster. The Boers, showing all the tactical genius that had already elsewhere gained them the day at Bronkhorstspruit, Laing's Nek and Schuinshoogte, were by then swarming around his flank and rear, subjecting his bewildered men to sustained rifle fire from multiple directions. It was an irretrievable situation, and only a matter of time before the entire operation dissolved into a panic-stricken rout. This, indeed, was what would happen at Majuba two weeks hence, when swift-moving Boer marksmen were able to get in the flank and rear of their opponents. Unlike the confined field of Majuba, fortunately, the terrain in this case allowed for a general withdrawal. The engagement, from its commencement at around 04h30 until its conclusion, had lasted some three hours.

Although only one man on the British side was killed outright in the fight, seven others, including Captain Sanctuary, were so badly wounded that they succumbed shortly afterwards. Eleven others were wounded, mostly severely. Just one man was wounded on the Boer side. Bearing in mind that they were outnumbered at least three to one and had no artillery, the day had been a remarkable success for the Boers.

The Rooi Huis engagement virtually ended the fighting in the Pretoria theatre. In all, twenty on the British side and seven Boers had lost their lives in those exchanges. Just two more, minor, actions took place, in the Daspoort-Wonderboom and Derde Poort areas on 8 and 9 March respectively. Small parties of British and Boer troops exchanged shots, while the artillery took the opportunity to engage in some gunnery practice. Neither side suffered any casualties in these exchanges.

For the garrison in Pretoria and its British residents, the expected relief from Natal never arrived. Instead, to their chagrin, the news was received on 28 March that peace had been concluded and that the independence of the Transvaal was to be restored. Thus Pretoria became a Boer town once more. It would remain so for just under twenty years before the British, in vastly greater numbers, returned for a considerably longer stay.

The Pretoria battle sites today

Since 1881, the size of Pretoria and its adjoining towns have expanded to incorporate all the major battle sites described above. In 1885, Zwart Kopje and the surrounding area were acquired by businessman and entrepreneur Sammy Marks, who built an impressive Victorian mansion - named Zwartkoppies - on the eastern side of the ridge. In March 1989, the house was declared a national monument, and now serves as a popular cultural history museum. In 1995, around 73 hectares surrounding the house was cut from the rest of the farm and expropriated for sale to the National Cultural History Museum.

The Elandsfontein terrain is today covered partly by Atteridgeville and by the residential areas slightly to the north. The position taken by the Pretoria Rifles to guard Kwaggaspoort is part of the built-up area of Kwaggasrand and about 5 km west of Westfort Hospital.

The Rooi Huis battlefield is located in the town of Centurion. In 1980, archaeologists of the 'Departement Argeologie, Nasionale Kultuurhistoriese Museum, Pretoria' excavated and confirmed the location of the 'Red Brick House', and in the following year - the centenary of the battle - the area was declared a national heritage site. It is today known as the Rooihuiskraal Historical Terrain and Animal Farm. The area does not incorporate the site of the cattle kraal defended by the Boers, which was located approximately at the intersection of Kraanvoël Drive and Hofsanger Road in the modern-day suburb of Rooihuiskraal. The remains of the kraal were exposed by archaeologists in 1986, but have long since been obliterated.


Primary sources

In preparing this article, the author made extensive use of Peet Coetzee's Pretoria and the Anglo-Boer War, 1880-1881 - The Clash of Arms: A record of the clashes between the British and the Boers during the siege of Pretoria (Pretoria, 2005). Compiled and edited by Coetzee, this combines his own field research with a wide-ranging collection of primary accounts and official reports relating to the various military operations. The author further thanks Mr Coetzee for placing at his disposal his latest work on the 1880-1881 War, a comprehensive record of all known casualties sustained by both sides during the conflict.

Secondary sources

Hall, Major D D, 'The Artillery of the First Anglo-Boer War, 1880-1881' in Military History Journal, Vol 5 No 2, December 1980.

Jordan, Rob, 'The Siege of Pretoria, 1880-1881' in Military History Journal Vol 5 No 2, December 1980.

Kinsey, H W, 'Nourse's Horse at Elandsfontein Ridge, 16 January 1881' in Military History Journal, Vol 5 No 2, December 1980.

Nixon, John, The Complete Story of the Transvaal (London, 1885).

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