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THE COMMENCEMENT OF REBELLION


When the Liberal Ministry came into power, it will be observed, Mr. Gladstone's attitude changed, and that he was compelled to abandon the sympathetic tone of his Midlothian speeches.  How far he really meant to be bound by the promise made that "the Queen cannot be advised to relinquish her sovereignty over the Transvaal" is not known, for later on, in June 1881, in a letter to the Transvaal loyalists,  he explains that there was "no mention of the terms or date of this promise. If the reference be to my letter of the 8th of June 1880 to Messrs. Kruger and Joubert, I do not think the language of that letter justifies the  description given. Nor am I sure in what manner, or to what degree, the fullest liberty to manage their local affairs, which I then said her Majesty's Government desired to confer on the white population of the Transvaal, differs  from the settlement now about being made in its bearing on the interests of those whom your committee represents."

This letter was a masterpiece of one whose talent for ambiguity was becoming world famous, and a stone in  shape of a loaf was thus hurled at the heads of the expectant loyalists.

But to return to the events of 1880. Finding that the Premier was no longer to be the mainstay of their hopes, the Boers began to renew their agitations.  These agitations, it will be remembered, during the end of the Zulu war and Sir Garnet Wolseley's arrival in the Transvaal, were merely suppressed, because at that time British ascendency throughout the country seemed to be  established. An excellent opportunity for rebellion now suggested itself. The Cape Government was engaged with the Basuto war. Sir Owen Lanyon, who succeeded Sir T. Shepstone in March 1879, had supplied a body of 300 or more volunteers-mostly loyalists-to assist in the military operations, while  the only regiment of cavalry had been sent elsewhere by Sir Garnet Wolseley. Big things have often small beginnings, and the Boer rebellion, that has brought so many complications in its train, commenced with a very small incident.  A certain Bezeidenhout, having refused to pay his taxes, had, by order, some of his goods seized and put up to auction. This was the signal for the malcontents to attack the auctioneer and rescue the goods. So great became the  uproar and confusion, the women aiding and abetting the men in their disobedience of the law, that military assistance was summoned. Major Thornhill, with a few companies of the 21 st Regiment, was sent to support the Landrost in arresting the rioters, and special constables were  enrolled to assist him in restoring order. But these united exertions were unavailing. All attempts to carry out the arrests were openly set aft defiance. This scene occurred on the 11 th of November 1880. On the 26th Sir George Colley-who had relieved Sir Garnet Woseley as  Commander-in-Chief-was applied to for more troops. Sir George, who was daily expecting an outbreak of Pondos, and a possible appeal for help from Cape Colony, merely suggested that the "authorities should be assisted by the  loyal inhabitants." This, it must be owned, was hard on the royalists, who from that time to this have had to pay dearly for their allegiance to the Crown. A mass meeting was held at Paarde kraal, where Krugersdorp now stands,  and the rioters unanimously decided to commit their cause to the Almighty, and to live or die in the struggle for independence. Thereupon Messrs. Kruger, Pretorius, and Joubert were elected a triumvirate to conduct the Government,  and on the 16th of December 1880 (Dingaan's Day) the Republic was formally proclaimed, and its flag again hoisted. The proclamation, dealing with the events of the preceding years, and offering terms to her Majesty's Government,  was forwarded to Sir Owen Lanyon. The Boer leaders therein expressed their willingness to enter into confederation and to guide their native policy by general rules adopted in concurrence "with the Colonies and States of South  Africa," and at the same time declared that they had no desire for war or the spilling of blood. "It lies," they said, " in your hands to force us to appeal to arms in self-defence."

On the very day of  the proclamation, however, blood was shed. Commandant Cronje', with a party of burghers; marched into Potchefstroom for the purpose of printing the proclamation. They promptly seized the printing-office, and Major Clarke, who  thought it advisable to interfere, was refused admittance. Soon after a Boer patrol fired on our mounted infantry, who returned the compliment. That was the signal for the opening of hostilities. On this matter it may be urged that  Boer reports differ from ours, but Boer veracity may be defined by the algebraic quantity x , and cannot be accepted. Lieutenant-Colonel Winsloe, of the 21st Regiment, who was commanding at a fort outside the village, signalled orders to Major Clarke to begin  firing. This officer was fortified in the Landrost's office with a small force of some twenty soldiers and twenty civilians, while the Boers occupied positions in the surrounding houses. The siege lasted two days (during the 17th  and the morning of.the 18th), and then when one officer (Captain Falls) and five men had been killed and the thatched roof fired, Major Clarke deemed it best to surrender Colonel Winsloe held the camp throughout the war,  surrendering only after an armistice was declared.

A still more terrible disaster was in store. Mr Rider Haggard, who is perhaps the best authority on the subject, describes it as a "most cruel and carefully planned  massacre." Other writers, however, hold that the outrage could scarcely be called a massacre, since Colonel Anstruther had been fully warned of the risks he ran of Boer treachery and Boer artifice. It appears that Colonel  Anstruther had received orders from Sir Owen Lanyon to concentrate his forces in Pretoria. Accordingly, he marched from Lydenburg-situated about 180 miles from Pretoria-with such troops as he had at his disposal. These were two  companies of the 94th Regiment. They were accompanied by three women, two children, and a ponderous train of luggage-waggons. Their progress was necessarily slow, but the Colonel, in spite of having been warned of Boer ways and  Boer tactics, evinced no anxiety. Indeed, from all accounts it appears that he followed the good old British habit of under-estimating the enemy's physical, while over-estimating his moral, qualities. For this reason he probably  disregarded the precautions necessary after the warnings he had received on starting. Be this as it may, on the 20th of December he and his long waggon-train were nearing a point called Bronker's Spruit, about thirty - eight miles  from Pretoria, when suddenly there appeared a huge crowd of some five hundred mounted Boers. From this crowd a man was seen approaching with a white flag. The column, about half a mile in length, halted; the band ceased; Colonel  Anstruther advanced to the parley. The messenger then handed a letter. It was an intimation of the establishment of the South African Republic, and declared that till Sir Owen Lanyon's reply to the proclamation was received, and  they were aware whether war was or was not declared, they could not allow the progress of troops. The Colonel's reply was plain. He was ordered to proceed to Pretoria, and proceed he would.

Then, before Colonel Anstruther had  rejoined his column, a volley was poured in on them by the farmers, who, emerging from the cover of rocks and trees, had gradually closed round the troops. A vigorous but short resistance followed. The Boers, skilled by long  practice in marking their most cherished enemies, picked off the officers one by one. Seven out of nine dropped to their guns, while a perpetual hailstorm of bullets beat over men, women1 and waggons. In a few minutes so many were  disabled that the Colonel, himself mortally wounded had to surrender. Out of the party 56 were killed and 101 wounded. One of these was a woman.

A great deal was said at the time by British sympathisers of the kindness of the Boers to the prisoners and wounded of their antagonists; but the  opinions of Mr. Rider Haggard and Sir Owen Lanyon are worth considering. The former, in writing of this engagement, says that "after the fight Conductor Egerton, with a sergeant, was allowed to walk into Pretoria to obtain  medical assistance, the Boers refusing to give him a horse, or even allow him to use his own. . . . I may mention that a Zulu driver, who was with the rear-guard, and escaped into Natal, stated that the Boers shot all the wounded  men who formed that body. His statement was to a certain extent borne out by the evidence of one of the survivors, who stated that all the bodies found in that part of the field, nearly three-quarters of a mile away from the head  of the column, had a bullet-hole through the head or breast, in addition to their other wounds." The Administrator of the Transvaal in Council thus comments on the occurrence in an official minute: "The surrounding and  gradual hemming in under a flag of truce of a force, and the selection of spots from which to direct their fire, as in the case of the unprovoked attack of the rebels upon Colonel Anstruther's force, is a proceeding of which very  few like incidents can be mentioned in the annals of civilised warfare."

Sir Owen Lanyon, writing from the scene of action in Pretoria, says-" The Boers were very clever in being kind to our wounded soldiers, for they  well knew that such action would obtain sympathy at home. But where it was impossible for their deeds to become known their conduct was far from creditable to them. Poor Clarke and Raaf were kept for two months in a dark room, and  were only allowed out twice for exercise. Barlow was robbed of everything, and only left the clothes he stood in. A Hollander, who is secretary to Cronj6 at Potchefstrom, is still wearing the rings of poor Captain Falls, who was  shot. Englishmen have been murdered, flogged, and robbed of everything. The Boers at Potchefstrom forced the prisoners of war to dig their trenches, and some were shot from the Fort while so employed. Woite and Van der Linden were  shot as spies, because they had been in the Boer camp and left it some days before they proclaimed the Republic. Carolus, a Cape boy, was shot by Boer court-martial because he left the Fort when food became scarce. A white man and  nine natives were similarly shot without any trial. Explosive bullets were used, notwithstanding that Colonel Winsloe pointed out to the Boer leader in a letter that such was against the rules of war."

There is ample  evidence that acts of treachery and barbarity similar to and worse than those mentioned by Colonel Lanyon were perpetrated by the insurgents.