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KIMBERLEY - THE SIEGE - INTRO


 Kimberley, as has been said, is by no means a picturesque place. On first acquaintance it appears to be surrounded by redoubts or forts, being dotted with  mounds of greyish slag, technically called "tailings," which represent the refuse soil from which the diamondiferous ore has been extracted. The buildings are somewhat formal and unpleasing, being for the most part of  corrugated iron, and conveying the impression that they are constructed with a view to being carried off at any moment. There are a few private residences, which the orthodox house-agent might style "handsome" or  "commodious." The hotel is merely useful as a place for passengers to alight at and depart from, and that it is no more may be accounted for by the fact that Kimberley hospitality is so double-handed that visitors are  seldom left to the tender mercies of public caterers. The Kimberley Club dispenses hospitality royally, and for this reason travellers are made independent of outside luxury. Round Kimberley are the suburbs of Beaconsfield,  Kenilworth, and Gladstone. Beaconsfield, which was once a growing town, has become stunted, while Kenilworth has blossomed forth under the auspices of Mr. Rhodes.

When the Boer Ultimatum was pronounced, all eyes turned  naturally in the direction of the Diamond City, and as naturally the Diamond City, under the direction of Colonel Kekewich, prepared to defend itself. The population to be protected numbered some 30,000of whom 19,000  were blacks. Among these latter were 4000 women. At that time it was doubtful if the Zulus, Matabele's, and Basutos were to be trusted, and consequently the position of the Colonel in supreme command was one of great  responsibility. Fortunately the place was stocked with arms and ammunition, though the number of the regulars was absolutely inadequate to the requirements of so large an area.

The Imperial garrison sent to Kimberley for the  defence only consisted of the 23rd Company Royal Garrison Artillery, with six 7-pounder mountain guns, Major Chamier commanding; one section of the 7th Field Company Royal Engineers, under Lieutenant M'Clintock; (Captain Gone  and three non-commissioned officers and men of the Army Service Corps, and the headquarters and four companies of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, under Major Murray; in all, 564 officers and men. The staff included  Lieutenant-Colonel Kekewich, North Lancashire Regiment, commanding; Major Scott-Turner, Royal Highlanders (staff officer) ; Captain O'Meara, Royal Engineers (Intelligence Officer); and Lieutenant Maclnnes, Royal Engineers. The  volunteer forces, when first called out for active service, consisted of one battery Diamond Fields Artillery, six 7-pounder field-guns, Major May, 3 officers, and 90 rank and file; Diamond Fields Horse, Major Rodger, 6  officers, 142 rank and file; Kimberley Regiment, Colonel Finlayson, 14 officers, 285 rank and file -total all ranks, 1060.

The whole garrison was reviewed, and a town-guard was formed at Beaconsfield, under the command of  Major Fraser. Colonel Harris commanded the Volunteers, most of these being employees of the De Beers mines. Preparations were made for the arrival of Mr. Cecil Rhodes, who was hastening to the scene of his early life-work, and  for whose body, alive or dead, it was reported the Boers had sent out an offer of £5000. The artillery was exercised and defences were erected on all sides. Ladies and children made haste to leave by every train, but one lady  of note, the Hon. Mrs. Rochfort Maguire, remained. The Commandant of Kimberley gave orders that trees should be felled and the bush cleared, in order to open a fine field for firing, the garrison to a man exerting themselves so  as to give a warm reception to the enemy directly he should show a head above the kopje. On the 12th of October Mr. Cecil Rhodes arrived. His entry was somewhat melodramatic, as his train was delayed and spies were actually on  the platform lying in wait for him. Fortunately he was not recognised. The magnetism of his presence added fresh zest to the proceedings in the town, while the calm confidence of his bearing became absolutely infectious. In  fact, he soon delighted every one by stating that he considered Kimberley to be every bit "as safe as Piccadilly." At this time the town was well provisioned and the mines were kept working. Most of the garrison  occupied the brigade grounds, while the detachment of regulars and the Kimberley regiments were stationed at the Sanatorium. The Town-Guard soon numbered 2000.

Skirmisbing took place on Friday, the 14th of October, and on the  following day there were more encounters. One squadron in an armoured train was held up by the Boers, and their attack was supported by a second force. The second squadron of the Protectorate regiment grandly repelled the  attack. The train, in which were several Imperial officers, was uninjured. The Boer artillery gave way at last, and the forces withdrew, but not before having sustained heavy loss.

On the 15th a proclamation was made  establishing martial law in Griqualand West and Bechuanaland. Persons not members of the defending forces were ordered to register their firearms, and no one was allowed to leave their houses between nine at night and six in  the morning. The canteens without permits were opened only for a few hours during the day. Death was to be the punishment for acts contrary to civilised warfare. Fourteen Streams and Vryburg were now evacuated, the police  detachments retiring from them on Kimberley.

In order to maintain internal order, Colonel Kekewich divided the town into four sub-districts, and the people were cautioned against holding communication with the Queen's  enemies. The consumption of meat was regulated, each man being allowed 1 lb. daily, while the exports of foodstuffs and forage were prohibited. Roads were closed, and no one without authority or a permit was allowed to pass in  or out. The defences everywhere were strengthened.

On the 21st of October, an armoured train that went out to reconnoitre discovered the enemy in the neighbourhood of Spyfontein. A proclamation having been issued by the Boers  at Vryburg annexing Bechuanaland, most probably for the purpose of impressing the disloyal Dutch, Colonel Kekewich forthwith issued another, threatening that British subjects found assisting the Queen's enemies would be  summarily dealt with as base rebels. He also declared that, in spite of the hoisting of the Vierkleur in Vryburg, the status of British subjects in Griqualand and Bechuanaland would remain unaltered. An armoured train was again  engaged on this date, but only one man was killed. Two trucks of dynamite, however, which had been safely removed, were blown up by the Boers. The town was now completely isolated, the railway line being cut north and south.

On the 24th inst. the garrison, supported by two armoured trains, had a fresh and an exceedingly animated encounter with the enemy. Colonel Scott Turner and 270 mounted volunteers marched north to Macfarlane's Farm. There they  off-saddled and kept a look-out for the Boers. Soon afterwards they appeared, and Colonel Turner opened fire. The Boers promptly intrenched themselves behind a sandheap, and from thence kept up a hot fusilade. To Colonel  Turner's assistance there came the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, followed at noon by their Colonel-Colonel Murray-with two guns, two Maxims, and 70 mounted men.

The Boers advanced on Colonel Murray and tried to cut off the  party, and in endeavouring to frustrate their efforts Colonel Turner found himself in the thick of a furious fire which burst from a dam wall 500 yards on his left.

The British guns promptly began to blaze on the enemy, who  very briskly responded. In the end, however, they were compelled to fall back. At this juncture the Lancashires, whose pluck and dexterity were magnificent throughout, hastily occupied the position, fixed bayonets, and  gallantly drove off the enemy whenever he turned to make a stand. The fight, which was in every way a brilliant success, lasted four long hours. The British loss was three killed and twenty-one wounded, while that of the Boers  was considerable. Commandant Botha was said to be among the killed. During this; engagement Kimberley, as may be imagined, was in a state of frantic excitement, and the return of the troops was looked for by swarms of  people, including women, who crowded the trenches and received the gallant defenders with great enthusiasm. Mr. Rhodes afterwards made an amusing speech to the Volunteers, complimented them on their splendid work, and explained  that there was one man whom the Boers wished to capture, and that man was himself. Owing to the efficiency of the troops; however, he declared that he rejoiced in a sense of complete security. Cheers followed, for the Queen,  the Governor, Mr. Rhodes, and the officers of the corps. After this things were fairly quiet, though the garrison remained on the alert. Lord Methuen, it became known, had started from the Orange River on the 22nd, and was  daily decreasing the distance between his relieving force and the town; and, in order to meet his energetic advance, the Boers were unable to afford a sufficient number of troops to force the town into surrender. So Kimberley  kept up its spirits-it viewed life with "one auspicious and one drooping eye "-mingling the discharge of guns with the chime of marriage-bells. This is no figure of speech, for there was actually a wedding-two people,  at least, having found time to be romantic in their love amid the storm and stress of war. A dance and a concert also took place. Indeed, things were conducted with such high spirit and in so convivial a manner that it might  have been imagined that the Boers were commissioned to supply the fireworks, and that a species of "Brock's benefit" was got up whenever events were inclined to wax monotonous. Reports computed the investing force at  4000, and it was further stated that General Cronje's commando would be reinforced by the arrival of some 1500 more. Yet the gallant little town smiled within itself. and said "The more the merrier. Colonel Scott Turner  made a reconnaissance on the 1st of November, found the enemy posted on a kopje, was thundered at with thirteen shells, but returned with his force in safety. On the 4th of November Commandant Wessels invited Colonel Kekewich  to hand over the troops and town on pain of bombardment. The exact terms of the invitation are not known, but some portions of the communication were as follows

"In case your Honour should determine not to comply with  this demand, I hereby request your Honour to allow all women and children to leave Kimberley, so that they may be placed out of danger, and for this purpose your Honour is granted time from noon on Saturday, November 4, 1899,  to 6 A.M. on Monday, November 6, 1899. I further give notice that during that time I shall be ready to receive all Afrikander families who wish to remove from Kimberley, and also to offer liberty to depart to all women and  children of other nations desirous of leaving.

The Boers soon began to receive the reinforcements which have been mentioned. These came from the direction of Mafeking, that place having proved too much a "spitfire"  for their liking. As a last resource, they directed their attention to Kimberley, and by way of exercise blew up some £3000 worth of dynamite which was stored in some huts belonging to the De Beers Company. While these exciting  events were taking place, and with the roar of intermittent explosions in his ears, Mr. Rhodes pursued a placid way. His labours were eminently horticultural-at least so they appeared on the surface. He engaged himself at  Kenilworth, the suburb which he may be said to have created, in planting an avenue a mile long with orange-trees, espalier vines, and pepper-trees. It was called his Siege Avenue. There was suggestion in the arrangement, and  the mind instinctively conjured up visions of mystery-mystery somewhat prolonged and clinging, with spice of a stimulating kind thrown in.

News from the Orange River, which came in by fits and starts, hinted that after the  evacuation of Colesberg would come the abandonment of Stormberg. Stormberg was intended to be the dep’t where stores, tents, ammunition, and all the commissariat details of the Third Division under General Gatacre would be  accumulated. These stores, owing to the Boer advance from Bethulie and Aliwal North, were now being removed to Queenstown, some sixty miles down the line.