The First Boer War
20 December 1880 - 23 March 1881
South African Republic also known as the Transvaal Republic. Supported by the Orange Free State
British Empire: United Kingdom, Natal Colony, Transvaal Colony.
Casualties and losses
South African Republic: 41 killed 47 wounded
British Empire: 408 killed 315 wounded
Pretoria Convention: a peace treaty on 3 August 1881 between the Transvaal Boers and the United Kingdom.
British recognition of South African Republic and Orange Free State.
Who were the Boer
In Dutch Boer can mean “husbandman,” and “farmer”. A Boer is a South African of Dutch, German, or Huguenot descent from the early settlers in the 1700s. Today the descendants of the Boers are commonly referred to as Afrikaners.
In 1652 the Dutch East India Company charged Jan van Riebeeck (Dutch colonial administrator who founded (1652) Cape Town and thus opened Southern Africa for white settlement.) with establishing a shipping station on the Cape of Good Hope. Immigration was encouraged for many years, and in 1707 the European population of Cape Colony stood at 1,779 individuals. For the most part, modern Afrikaners have descended from this group.
The Dutch colony prospered to the extent that the Cape Town market for agricultural produce became glutted. With market stagnation and with slaves providing most of the manual labour in the colony, there were few economic opportunities for the burgeoning white population. Eventually more than half of these people turned to the self-sufficient life of the trekboeren (literally “wandering farmers” but perhaps better translated as “dispersed ranchers”).
Transvaal and the Orange Free State
The Cape Colony became a British possession in 1806 as a result of the Napoleonic wars. Though at first accepting of the new colonial administration, the Boers soon grew disgruntled with the liberal policies of the British, especially in regard to the frontier and the freeing of slaves. Between 1835 and 1843 about 12,000 Boers left the Cape in the Great Trek, heading for the relatively rural spaces of the high veld and southern Natal. In 1852 the British government agreed to recognize the independence of the settlers in the Transvaal (later the South African Republic) and in 1854 of those in the Vaal-Orange rivers area (later the Orange Free State). These new republics committed themselves to apartheid, a policy of strict segregation and discrimination.
How the war started
The Boer war is also known as the First Anglo-Boer War, Eerste Vryheidsoorlog “First Freedom War” to Africans, Transvaal War and the Transvaal Rebellion.
The First Anglo-Boer is also known as the First Transvaal War of Independence because the conflict arose between the British colonizers and the Boers from the Transvaal Republic or Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR). The Boers had some help from their neighbours in the Orange Free State.
There were several causes of the First Anglo-Boer War.
- The expansion of the British Empire
- Problems within the Transvaal government
- The British annexation of the Transvaal
- The Boer opposition to British rule in the Transvaal
The expansion of the British Empire
The 4th Earl of Carnarvon was the British Secretary of State for the Colonies under Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, who was premier from 1868 to 1880. At the time the British government wanted to expand the British Empire.
Carnarvon wanted to form a confederation of all the British colonies, independent Boer republics and independent African groups in South Africa under British control. By 1876 he realised that he would not be able to achieve his goal peacefully. He told Disraeli that: "By acting at once, we may ... acquire ... the whole Transvaal Republic after which the Orange Free State will follow."
He was prepared to use force to make the confederation a reality, a fact that was proved by the Anglo-Zulu War in 1879.
Problems within the Transvaal Government
T. F. Burgers was the president of the Transvaal Republic from 1872 until its annexation in 1877. The Republic was in serious financial trouble, especially as a war had just started between the Boers and the Pedi under their leader, Sekhukhune, in the North Eastern Transvaal, and because the Boer people not paid their taxes.
The Transvaal public was disappointed with their leadership and although Sekhukhune agreed to peace in February 1877, and was willing to pay a fine to the Republic, it was too late. Carnarvon sent Sir Theophilus Shepstone, the former Secretary for Native Affairs in Natal, to the Transvaal as special commissioner. Shepstone arrived in the Transvaal on 22 January 1877 with 25 men as support. Initially, he was vague about his real purpose. He used the weakness in the Transvaal government by making the Boers aware of the dangers of a bankrupt state and focusing on the government’s lack of control over black people like the Pedi and the Zulu. This demoralised the Boers.
Burgers did very little to stop Britain from taking over the Transvaal. Shepstone had told Burgers what his intentions were by the end of January 1877 and Burgers tried to convince the Transvaal government to take the situation seriously, but they refused to see the urgency of the matter.
The British annexation of the Transvaal
Carnarvon thought that annexing the Transvaal would be the first step to confederation. English speaking people in the republic were positive towards the idea and the Boers were disappointed in their own government, which the thought would make it easier to convince them that they could not avoid annexation. Shepstone said that he had more than 3 000 signatures from people who wanted to be part of the British Empire. What he did not tell Carnarvon was that these were many more - the Boer population - who were against the idea and wanted to retain their independence.
On 12 April 1877 a proclamation of annexation was read out in Church Square in Pretoria, the capital of the Transvaal Republic. There was no resistance and the Union Jack replaced the Vierkleur. The Transvaal Republic or Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR) did not exist anymore, but was now the British Colony of the Transvaal Colony.
The Volksraad decided in May 1877 to send a delegation to England to make sure that the British government knew that most of the residents of the Transvaal Republic did not agree with the annexation but this delegation failed. They also asked citizens not to resort to violence because this would create a negative impression in Britain.
The Boer opposition to British rule in the Transvaal
Former President T. F. Burgers and other people loyal to the former Transvaal Republic objected to the annexation and Paul Kruger and E. J. P. Jorissen went to London, England, in 1877 to present their case to Carnarvon. They failed and in 1878 they took a petition with more than 6 500 signatures from Boers to London, but the British government insisted that the Transvaal remain a British possession.
Sir Theophilus Shepstone was now the administrator of the Transvaal Colony and he realised that running it was going to be much more difficult than annexing it. The British government had made promises to the Boers to allow them some self-government, but Shepstone was slow to initiate this process. The colony remained nearly bankrupt and British plans to build a railroad to Delagoa Bay had to be put on hold.
Shepstone became increasingly unpopular with the Colonial Office in London. British Native commissioners were trying to control the black people in the area, but they could not get Sekhukhune and the Pedi to pay the fine he owed to the Transvaal Republic because they did not have enough soldiers to force him to do so. Shepstone also failed to control the Zulus on the southeastern border of the colony and many farmers had to leave their farms. Sir Owen Lanyon replaced Shepstone as administrator in 1879. In September of the same year Sir Garnet Wolseley was appointed High Commissioner of South East Africa and governor of Natal and Transvaal.
The Anglo-Zulu War in 1879 was supposed to increase British standing in South Africa, but had the opposite effect. The Zulu and Pedi were both defeated by the British in 1879, but non-violent Boer opposition had grown. In January 1878 a large group of Boers gathered in Pretoria to protest against the annexation. Another Boer delegation had gone to London in 1877, but they also returned unsuccessful in 1879, even though they spoke to Sir Michael Hicks Beach, Carnarvon's successor, who was far less committed to confederation.
The Boers had hoped that the election of the Liberal Party in Britain in April 1880 would mean independence for the Transvaal, but the new Prime Minister, W. E. Gladstone, insisted on maintain British control in Pretoria. The Volksraad of the Orange Free State, south of the Vaal River backed the Transvaal Boers in their call for the independence of the Transvaal in May 1879. Even Boers in the Cape Colony gave moral support to their comrades in the north. In October 1880 a newspaper from Paarl in the Cape Colony took the view that: "Passive resistance is now becoming futile."
The first open conflict between the British and Boers began in November 1880 in Potchefstroom. P. L. Bezuidenhout refused to pay extra fees on his wagon saying he already paid his taxes. The British authorities then confiscated the wagon. On 11 November 1880 a commando of 100 men under P. A. Cronje took back the wagon from the British bailiff and returned it to Bezuidenhout.
Following this, between 8 000 and 10 000 Boers gathered at Paardekraal, near Krugersdorp on 8 December 1880. As a result, a triumvirate of leaders; Paul Kruger, Piet Joubert and M. W. Pretorius were appointed. On 13 December 1880 the leaders proclaimed the restoration of the Transvaal Republic and three days later raised their Vierkleur flag at Heidelberg, thus rejecting British authority. The events of the 13 December 1880 thus in effect started the war and ended passive resistance.
(note that the photo above is from the Great Trek)
The first shots were fired in Potchefstroom. The Boers had about 7 000 soldiers, and some Free Staters joined their fellow Boers against the British enemy. There were only about 1 800 British soldiers stationed in towns across the Transvaal so British were outnumbered.
Aftermath and end of the War
President Brand of the Orange Free State had been trying to get both the Transvaal Boers and the British to the negotiation table from the beginning of the conflict. Several peace offerings had been made from both sides with the most important ones being in January 1881, when Paul Kruger offered peace on the condition that the Transvaal independence was guaranteed. Another was made on 21 February 1881, when the British government offered peace if the Boers laid down their weapons.
Major-General Sir George Pomeroy Colley didn’t forward the message from the British government fast enough and because Paul Kruger was not in Natal, the battle of Majuba took place before peace negotiations could begin. On 5 March 1881 Sir Evelyn Wood and Piet Joubert agreed on an armistice in order to start peace negotiations at O’Neill’s cottage, which lay between the British and Boer lines. Negotiations were successful and the war ended on 23 March 1881.
The Pretoria Convention and the Independence of the Transvaal
After peace had been negotiated a British royal commission was appointed to draw up the Transvaal’s status and new borders. These decisions were confirmed and formalised at the Pretoria Convention that took place on 3 August 1881.
The new republic was named the Transvaal and was to be bean independent Republic, but it still had to have its foreign relations and policies regarding black people approved by the British government. The new state was also not allowed to expand towards the West. All these policies meant that the Transvaal was still under British suzerainty or influence. The Boer Triumvirate was worried about some of the requirements, but they took over the rule of the Transvaal on 10 August.
The conditions put forward by the British government were unacceptable from the Transvalers’ point of view and in 1883 a delegation including Paul Kruger, the new President of the Transvaal, left for London to review the agreement.
The London Convention
In 1884 the London Convention was signed. The Transvaal was given a new Western border and adopted the name of the South African Republic (SAR). Although the word suzerainty did not appear in the London Convention, the SAR still had to get permission from the British government for any treaty entered into with any other country other than the Orange Free State. The Boers saw this as a way for the British government to interfere in Transvaal affairs and this led to tension between Britain and SAR. This increased steadily until the outbreak of the Second Anglo-Boer War in 1899.
Thank you to everyone who read this post, I know this was a long one. Please leave a green thumb so I can be motivated to keep going.
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The Great Trek
Russian Civil War
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