Recently I read a few books concerning the two (Anglo-)Boer Wars in South Africa. Some were written from a British perspective, another by a Dutch historian, a book on Paul Kruger was written by a German author. This current book has been written by an academic from the United States of America. Joseph Lehmann was at the time of writing professor at De Paul University in Chicago. He was a specialist in British history.

Lehmann takes his time, he does not rush into the war, but he knows how to build a story and how to put an event into perspective. The first Boer War took place from 1880-1881, just a short time, but a time with a lasting impression. The book takes its starting point in 1806 when the British seized power in Cape Town. We follow history and see the influx of British settlers, thhe liberation of slaves, the Great Trek in 1836, the battle at Bloedrivier between Boer and Zulu, Natal taken by British power, and next in line to be taken was Orange Free State, the Sands River Treaty between the British and Transvaal, limited freedom for Orange Free State, the amalgamation of four tiny republics into one Transvaal, gold at the Rand, the British Colonial Secretary who wanted to have alol territories in Southern Africa under the British Crown.

On the 12th of April 1876 Shepstone invades Transvaal (his secretary was Rider Haggard!). Then diplomacy start. The Boer leader Paul Kruger travels to London. The new Colonial Secretary is not in favour of a federation of all territories. It shows the fluency of ideas on the colonial state. Not everyone was convinced that the Boer Republics should be part of the British Empire. Gladstone is a good case. At first he opposed the federation, when he rose to power in British politics he changed his mind. On the other hand a man like Bartle Frere was in favour of independence for Transvaal.

Just a few days before Christmas Day 1880 there is a battle between the British forces and the Transvaal Boer. During the battle the British loose 57 men (later 20 men to be added) and the Boer have two casualities. It was not just a case of numbers for the British had many more men in the field. The next battle took place at Laing’s Neck, a few days after Christmas, the very same year. Another victory for the Boer. All over Transvaal the British kept small garrisons, the occupying forces had been depleted and that caused considerable problems in keeping the strongholds in British hands. In the vicinity of Laing’s Neck the British managed overnight to occupy Majuba, an extinct volcano. When the Boer found out that the forces of commander Colley has scaled the volcano they immediately decided to attack Majuba. Early in the morning the started the counter-attack and by 13.30 hours the Boer had reached the top. The British force was defeated and the commander Colley was killed. Afterwards many surviving British soldiers were positive about the attitude of the Boer forces. After the victory the Boer came together for a meeting and the sung psalms at that meeting to thank God

This victory at Majuba led to peace negotiations near Laing’s Neck. Paul Kruger and Field-Marshal Sir Evelyn Wood were the main negotiators, who agreed on a setttlement on 23rd of March 1881. The Boer ceelbrated with a thanksgiviong service and singing psalms. Many British, soldiers and burghers were disappointed. They felt left alone by the Crown. On the Boer side the People’s Council accepted the treaty. Gladstone was glad to get rid of Transvaal.

Lehmann has written a very readable and well researched book on this important war. As an outsider he is able to give each participant his own due.

Two short notes I want to add:

  • * The ‘natives’ were confused by the constant shift in British policy. “The English protect us only to eat us.” .
  • * The British army officers were required to grow a mustache. Most of the Boer fighters had a beard.

Joseph Lehmann – The First Boer War – 1972

P.S. In this book I found the original receipt of the “Cash Sale” of this copy. It was bought on 27.2.76 at the bookshop “Frank R. Thorold (Pty) Ltd.”, Fourth Floor, S.A. Fire House, 103, Fox Street Johannesburg. The buyer (name and address included) also bought another book on the Boer War.


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I enjoy reading about Africa. New books. Old books. By African writers. By non-African writers. Novel. History. Travel. Biographies. Autobiographies. Politics. Colonialism. Poetry.

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