Five months of beleaguerment and no nearer the end! Ruefully the caged crowd began to draw pictures of themselves as weird Rip Van Winkles, curious fossilised things that would some day be unearthed by the inquiring
historian. They wondered whether Ginevra in her sealed oaken chest felt more lost
to the world, more forgotten, more impossible of rescue! "We," said some one who
shall be nameless, "we are all modern Ginevras-
Fever, the fever of heat, ennui, and mental and bodily depression, had begun to assail
the unfortunate besieged. The climate of Mafeking-
On the 3rd of March a little peace was secured owing to the disappearance of the
Teuton who worked the huge gun. He had been what was described as "providentially
potted." On the other hand a more valuable life than that of the German mercenary
had been sacrificed, for Sergeant-
New brooms sweep clean. As a fresh gunner had come upon the scene, there now began some more active bombardment. But the activity was no longer what it had been, and but for the meagreness of the fare, and the fear that the rations might diminish till they became invisible, the besieged would have got on fairly well. On the 7th there died an adventurous Scotsman whose history would have delighted the heart of the late Robert Louis Stevenson. Major Baillie in his sparkling account of the siege gave a brief outline of his romantic career. "Trooper M'Donald joined the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in 1847, served in the Crimea (French and Sardinian medals and two clasps) and in the Indian Mutiny, was kidnapped when embarking home by Americans, fought for the North against the South, deserted the North and fought for the South, afterwards went to Australia, thence to New Zealand,
and served in the Maori War, in which he was taken prisoner. Later he came to South Africa, served in the Basuto War with Sir Charles Warren 's expedition, Carrington's Horse, the Bechuanaland Border Police, and transferred to the Cape Police, in which corps he has died of hardships and old age, fighting the Boers." The Major went on to say: "He is not the only Crimean veteran we have here. Both the Navy and Army are represented. Mr. Ellis joined the Royal Navy in 1854, served in the Baltic and the Black Sea, came to Africa and served in the Galika War. Mr Brasier served in the Crimea and the Mutiny, and there are others of service whose records of service I am not so certain. The contrast between them and the cadet corps, utilised for orderly work, &c., is remarkable, and if the Boers have their greybeards and boys fighting, why so have we. The cadet corps was composed of youths ranging from the ages of ten to fifteen years, game little fellows who did their duty splendidly.
The great news of the capture of Cronje and his horde now served to raise the drooping spirits of the community. It was also reported that Snyman was on the move, and that Malan, who was opposing Colonel Plumer, had come into the neighbourhood of Mafeking. Sounds of rejoicing came from the Boer camp, and on the following day Boers with their field kit were seen to be clearing off. The information that the force was marching to Bloemfontein, that Cape Colony was being swept of rebels, that Ladysmith was relieved, now poured in, and caused the whole place to become simply inebriated with joy.
On the 9th of March, to commemorate the victory at Paardeberg, a special siege slip was published at the newspaper office. The news was announced in the form of a poster, and concluded with the effectively printed information: "Cronje a prisoner. Snyman to be hanged." Copies were afterwards liberally pelted into the Boer quarter, who digested the news with their morning biltong.
On the 11th (Sunday) a truce was observed. The Colonel, writing at that date, said
"Our men, sitting upon the parapets, held a friendly conversation with a detachment of the enemy, and an enterprising photographer endeavoured to get them into line while he photographed them, but they were evidently suspicious, and feared the temptation to turn a Maxim upon them instead of a camera would prove too great. Small parties appeared throughout the day, and amicable relations were maintained until dark."
The Boers outside were a hardy and stalwart lot, brawny and uncouth and unkempt,
though from a distance not unpicturesque. In their rough-
A remarkable, almost a pathetic, feature of Mafeking fighting was the strange ability
of both sides to fraternise when hostilities were suspended. The fact was that the
combatants were linked together by ties of relationship so mysteriously interwoven
that the fights partook of the nature of civil war-
"Sergeant Currie has been promoted to the rank of a commissioned officer. He has
thus risen by gallantry and bard work from a third-
All were much perturbed at the sad news of the death of the genial young trooper,
Webb of the Cape Police, who was shot through the head while on guard in the brickfields.
This gallant fellow had been previously wounded in October, and had been carried
off under fire by Trooper Stevens, and had only just returned to duty when he lost
According to Colonel Baden-
them, killing one man, whose rifle and bandolier they secured. The enemy retired
for reinforcements, but the Baralongs ambushed these reinforcements from a convenient
ditch at Madibi Siding, and the enemy fell back in confusion, losing six men. The
Baralongs. being unable to cope with long-
It was impossible to prevent the Baralongs from retaliating by Mafeking were not
over credulous. The great ideal of the Bechuanas was Dr. Jameson, and he, it was
averred, was coming down from Buluwayo with an army to relieve Mafeking. One rumour
had it tat the famous raider had totally annihilated a Beer laager with a bomb from
a balloon! Over an extensive area, west and south of Mafeking, all the natives had
been compelled to leave their homes, and were placed near the Transvaal border with
On the 18th the Boers were found in occupation of the new trench which had just been triumphantly constructed by the besieged. It was, as Mr. Neilly said, "like the soldier crab who gets into the shell of a winkle when the winkle has gone out for a walk. As a rule the soldier crab keeps what he has gained, but in this case the winkle came back and recovered his shell." He did so very promptly. Lieutenant Feltham and a small party advanced and threw bombs at the intruders, which caused them quickly to evacuate their raids of this description upon those whom they called the murderers of their women and children. Mr. C. G. Bell, however, rendered invaluable service in dealing with the natives, and a board was appointed by the Colonel commanding to go thoroughly into the native question.
The Colonel described the effects of the bombardment on the following day
"On Tuesday a shrapnel shell, bursting just about my bomb-
The conduct of the Boers towards the natives varied according to the policy of the
commandant engaged in subduing Mafeking. A Scottish farmer who remained some ten
miles south of the heroic hamlet, said that in the beginning of the war the Boers
were not so severe on the natives as they were later on. About Christmas-
Towards the middle of March the attitude of the Boers towards the natives improved, and they began to allow fugitives to escape through their lines. The reason for this change of front was attributed to a desire to conciliate the Baralongs in the event of Boer defeat, and to keep them from raiding into Boer territory when their time for reprisals might come.
Native spies brought in all manner of rumours, to the effect that Colonel Plumer's
armoured train had reached Pitsani Pothlugo, notable as Jameson's starting-
On the 20th the Boers appeared to be breaking up their western laager, and on the 23rd it was discovered that the enemy had evacuated his positions in the brickfields. These were promptly annexed and dismantled by the Mafeking men. Major Panzera had what some one called "a real sporting day." From morn till night he plied his Hotchkiss and kept the Boers active till dusk. After dark the acetyline searchlight built by the railwaymen was erected at the main work, but no demonstration from the direction of the enemy took place. Then started off Lieutenant Murray and trooper Mallalen (Cape Police) to reconnoitre. On reaching the enemy S sap they crawled round cautiously on hands and knees to investigate. It was a ticklish moment, but they were rewarded. They peered in and made the discovery that the Boers had vanished. They crept still farther along the connecting trench to the rear of the main work and made assurance doubly sure. The Dutchmen were flown. So rapid had been their flight that biltong, biscuits and journals were left behind. Quick as thought the trench was dismantled. Then Sergeant Page (Protectorate Regiment) burrowed about for the mine which he and Mr. Kiddy had laid in the direction of this trench in the early days of the siege. The Boers had "slimly" unearthed the dynamite, and presently it was discovered that the evacuated trench was connected by a copper wire with the enemy's line. This was carefully cut. Then its direction was traced, and a neat little plot of the Boers exposed itself to view. They had arranged some 250 pounds of war gelatine and dynamite in the trench, which, at a given moment, a touch from the wily Dutchman on the lookout was meant to explode and blow some of the garrison into the air.
This failure served to depress the Boers, and for a time their siege gun ceased fire,
something having gone wrong with its works. Colonel Baden-
The captured newspapers afforded great satisfaction to the beleaguered company, for
they recounted the entry of Lord Roberts to Bloemfontein, the surrender of Cronje,
and the relief of Lady-
It must be noted that besides the Baralongs, who defended their own stadt, were
four other black contingents-
In default of other amusement some of the inhabitants interested themselves in the
Dutch snipers, and began to grow so familiar with them that they resorted to the
primeval mode of christening, that of designating each individual by his personal
attributes. One would be called "Bow4egs," another "Bluebeard," or "Draggle Beard,"
and so on. One Rip Van Winkle was particularly admired. Despite his years and his
probable "rheumatics," he would take up his post from dawn till dusk, and snipe with
persistence worthy a better cause. His patience and perseverance somewhat endeared
him to the garrison, and there was felt to be something missing in the excitement
of life when it was found that he, like many of his compatriots, had been "curried,"
otherwise "dished," by Lieutenant Currie, B.S.C.P., and his ever-
The correspondent of the Pall Mall Gazette quoted a sample scene to describe the style of friendly intercourse that took place.
"Cape 'boy' to Boer: 'Could you hit a bottle?' 'Yes, I think so. Put one up.' (A hand rises cautiously to the top of the British trench, and a black bottle is deposited there.)
"Boer: 'I can't see it. Put it higher.' (The Cape 'boy' balances a hat on the head of the bottle arid says, 'There you are; you can see that') The Boer fires, and the bullet flies wide.
"Cape 'boy': 'Wide to the left.' (Boer fires again and asks, 'Is that nearer?')
"Cape 'boy': 'Rather high.' Boer fires a third shot that comes through the loophole.
"The Cape soldier announces the result, and the Boer, fearing that he will lose
his good reputation for marksmanship, and angered by his bad display, sings out-
Curiously enough many of the Boers were hopelessly ignorant and unsophisticated. They hardly knew what, they were fighting for, and one raw individual was heard to declare that he didn't believe the Queen had caused this war, but the foreman of the English Raad. They retained their bumptiousness in all circumstances. After a victory they would brag of the number of British killed, about 8o,ooo as a rule, their news being gleaned from the imaginative columns of the Standard and Diggers' News. On the subject of defeat they were reticent, but fairly confident that the Dutch flag in a month or two was bound to be floating over South Africa.
On Sunday the 25th, a great Siege Exhibition took place-
It was annoying to hear perpetual rumours of relief and to find relief as far off
as ever. Runners continually brought in telegrams of congratulation, which added
not a little to the bitterness of incarceration. At one moment Plumer seemed to be
coming; he was said to be only eleven miles off, and the town was in ecstasies;
at another bombardment began briskly as ever, and spirits descended to zero. One
of the besieged, writing home on March 22, said :-
The menu was not variegated. You took your choice between a species of porridge (made from the husks of oats fermented for some hours prior to boiling) and a noxious brown biscuit, or, as the Indians called it, "chupattie." But it had none of the savouriness of the chupattie, and was described as a cross between a ship's biscuit and a baked brick. It was certainly filling at the price, so filling, in fact, that those who devoured it suffered from what was styled "hippopotamus on the chest" for some hours afterwards.
March 27th was described as the hottest day in the siege, the mud walls of Mafeking
being liberally dosed to the tune of 200 shells by Creusots and quick-
The congratulations of the Lord Mayor of London on the relief now arrived, and all began to hope that "coming events cast their shadows before." But cruel disappointment followed.
Heavy firing was reported from the north on the 31st, and there was tremendous excitement.
One and all agreed that it was Colonel Plumer coming to the rescue. They hoped, they
prayed, and when at last the sounds died away hope died with them. The next morning
explained it. General Snyman sent in a letter under a flag of truce requesting Colonel
|The Growth of the Transvaal|
|The Web Thickens|
|The Zulu War|
|Isandlwana, an hour by hour account|
|Affairs at Home|
|The First Anglo Boer War|
|Between the Wars|
|The Fate of SGT Elliot|
|The Siege of Pretoria|
|The Reform Movement|
|The Critical Moment|
|The Fate of the Raiders|