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THE CRITICAL MOMENT


It was arranged, as has been mentioned, that the rising at Johannesburg should take place on the night of the 4th of January. The arsenal at Pretoria was to  be seized, and Dr. Jameson with his troops was to make his appearance, assist the Reformers in urging their claims, and, if necessary, save the women and children from possible violence.

"According to the original  plan," says Mrs. Lionel Phillips in her ' South African Recollections," "what with the smuggled rifles, those in private hands, the spare weapons to be brought by Jameson's men, and those men (the Reformers)  themselves, Johannesburg must have mustered a little army of not less than 5000 men, to say nothing of the guns which might possibly be captured in the arsenal. It was believed that with this force the town could be held against any attack that might be made by  the Transvaal forces, and that, upon a failure in the first assault, the Doers would have adopted their well-known tactics of cutting off supplies, with a view to starving the town into submission. To meet this contingency the  town was provisioned for two months, and it was supposed that the British Government would never sit still and allow the Uitlanders to be forced into capitulation in the face of the wrongs which they had suffered. In November,  when J ameson came to Johannesburg, the supporting force had dwindled to 500. The telegrams apprising the Reformers of his advance spoke of 700, and in reality he started with less than 500 men."

But by the time the plot should have neared competion, the conspirators, as has been shown, had ceased to be of one accord on the subject. On Christmas Day Mr. Leonard  interviewed Mr. Rhodes in Cape Town, and represented to him the divided state of affairs. Meanwhile the Reformers in Johannesburg desired to make known to Dr. Jameson their change of front, and, to prevent him on the  expedition, despatched two messengers to starting Pitsani Camp by different routes. These messages were received on December the 28th, and with them other telegraphic ones from Mr. Leonard and Mr. Rhodes explicitly directing  the expedition not to start.

The news that Dr. Jameson had started, in spite of these messages, came on the Reformers like a thunderclap. They were not ready-they had not sufficient arms to fight with, and they were not of  one mind. The doing had been easy enough, and they had fancied the undoing would be as simple. They had laid their gunpowder train without thinking of the number of firebrands that surrounded it! Amazement gave way to  indignation, and the Reformers were not slow to hint that Mr. Rhodes or Dr. Jameson had disregarded the messages in order to further their personal ends. The most charitable decided that the Doctor's starting was due merely to  misunderstanding. Many rumours of discontent and disturbance were floating about, and it was believed that some of these might have reached the Doctor's ears and influenced his actions. Anyway the Reformers were at sea. All  they could do was to arm as many men as possible with a view to defence-to hiding the town against any attack that might be made by the Transvaal forces, and to decide to take no initiative against the Boers. No uneasiness was  felt regarding Jameson, for it was believed that he was well supported by not less than 8oo men, and that the Boers would stand a poor chance against a body so well equipped and trained as his was supposed to be. The position  taken up is explained in a notice of the Reform Committee in the Johannesburg Star'

"Notice is hereby given, that this Committee adheres to the National Union Manifesto, and reiterates its desire to maintain the  independence of the Republic. The fact that rumours are in course of circulation to the effect that a force has crossed the Bechuanaland border, renders it necessary to take active steps for the defence of Johannesburg and the  preservation of order. The Committee earnestly desires that the inhabitants should refrain from taking any action which can be considered as an overt act of hostility against the Government."

The High Commissioner and  the Premier of Cape Colony were communicated with and informed that Dr. Jameson, having started with an armed force, Johannesburg was in peril which there was no means to avert. The High Commissioner was further invited to come  to Johannesburg to effect a settlement and prevent civil war. Arrangements were then made for the arming of some 2000 men. These preparations and others speedily became known to the Government in Pretoria. No steps, it appears, had been taken to preserve secrecy, as the Committee did not hold  themselves responsible for Dr. Jameson's action. The result was the publication of the following Proclamation by the President:-

"PROCLAMATION BY HIS HONOUR THE STATE PRESIDENT OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN REPUBLIC

"Whereas, it has appeared to the Government of the South African Republic that there are rumours in circulation to the effect that earnest endeavours arc being made to endanger the public  safety of Johannesburg; and whereas the Government is convinced that, in case such rumours may contain any truth, such endeavours can only emanate from a smafl portion of the inhabitants, and that the greater portion of the  Johannesburg inhabitants are peaceful, and are prepared to support the Government in its endeavours to maintain law and order.

"Now, know you that I, Stephanus Johannes Paulus Kruger, State President of the South African  Republic, with the advice and consent of the Executive Council, according to Article 913 of its minutes, dated the 30th of December 1895, do hereby warn those evil-intentioned persons (as I do hereby urge all such persons to do) to remain within the pale of the law, and  all such persons not heeding this warning shall do so on their own responsibility; and I do further make known that life and property shall be protected against which attempts may be made, and that every peaceful inhabitant of  Johannesburg, of whatsoever nationality he may be, is called upon to support me herein, and to assist the officials charged therewith; and further be it known, that the Government is still prepared to take into consideration  all grievances that may be laid before it in a proper manner, and to submit the same to the people of the land without delay for treatment."

The High Commissioner also issued a Proclamation calling on Dr. Jameson to  return to British territory at once, and this was forwarded to him at different points in order that there might be no mistake and that the invasion might yet be arrested. Meanwhile Mr. Marais (the editor of the leading Dutch  paper) and Mr. Malan (the son-in-law of Joubert) were proceeding with a commando for the purpose of fighting for their Government should Dr. Jameson disobey the Proclamation. They excused themselves under the plea "that if  from unreasonable action of Johannesburg, fighting should take place between the Government forces and a revolutionary force from Johannesburg, they were in duty bound to fight, and that among their ranks would be found many  who had been active workers in the ranks of the Reformers."

It was subsequently decided that a deputation of Reformers should negotiate with the Government for a peaceful settlement on the basis of the Manifesto. Their  programme was somewhat broad. They were to approach the Government pacifically and at the same time insist on their rights and the redress of their grievances-" to avow the association of Dr. Jameson's forces so far as it  had existed, and to include him in any settlement that might be made."

They also, in answer to a telegram from the British Agent, refused to repudiate Dr. Jameson, and said, "in order to avert bloodshed on grounds  of Dr. Jameson's action, if Government will allow Dr Jameson to come in unmolested, the Committee will guarantee with their persons if necessary that he will leave again peacefully with as little delay as possible."

Meanwhile the committee remained in the most horrible doubt and suspense. No word came from Jameson. That he had started they knew, and that was the extent of their knowledge. They  still trusted that, on ascertaining that there was no necessity for intervention on behalf of the Uitlanders, he and his troops would obey the orders of the High Commissioner, and retire peacefully from the Transvaal.