The Siege of Kimberley
by T. Phelan
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Its Humorous and Social Side

ANGLO-BOER WAR (1899-1902)





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CHAPTER I Week ending 21st October, 1899

CHAPTER II Week ending 28th October, 1899

CHAPTER III Week ending 4th November, 1899

CHAPTER IV Week ending 11th November, 1899

CHAPTER V Week ending 18th November, 1899

CHAPTER VI Week ending 25th November, 1899

CHAPTER VII Week ending 2nd December, 1899

CHAPTER VIII Week ending 9th December, 1899

CHAPTER IX Week ending 16th December, 1899

CHAPTER X Week ending 23rd December, 1899

CHAPTER XI Week ending 30th December, 1899

CHAPTER XII Week ending 6th January, 1900

CHAPTER XIII Week ending 13th January, 1900

CHAPTER XIV Week ending 20th January, 1900

CHAPTER XV Week ending 27th January, 1900

CHAPTER XVI Week ending 3rd February, 1900

CHAPTER XVII Week ending 10th February, 1900

CHAPTER XVIII Week ending 17th February, 1900


The famous Ultimatum had gone forth to the world. War had come at last. We, in Kimberley, were in for it—though happily unconscious of our destiny until it was revealed by the gradations of time. Nothing awful was anticipated. The future was veiled. The knowledge of what was to come was brought home to us by a gradual process that kept us permanently sane. Dull Kimberley was to be enlivened in a manner that made us wish it were dull again. We felt it from the first—the sense of imprisonment—the deprivation of liberty. But that was all, we thought—all that we should be called to endure. Nobody could leave Kimberley for a little while; it was awkward, certainly; but nothing more. How long would the Siege last? "About a week" was a favoured illusion; until reflective minds put our period of probation at a fortnight. But the higher critics shook their heads, and added—another seven days. Three weeks was made the maximum by general, dogmatic consent. Nobody ventured beyond it; in fact, nobody dared to. Suspicion would be apt to fall upon the man who suggested a month. Feeling ran high, and as we all felt the limits of our confinement narrow enough already, we entertained no wish to have them made narrower still, by knocking our heads against the stone walls of the gaol. Not then. There came a time, alas! when we reflected with a sigh upon the probability of our rations being more regular and assured if we broke a window, or the law in some way, and gave ourselves up. For the nonce, however, three weeks would pass, and with them all our woes. The idea of eighteen weeks occurred to nobody; it would have been too farcical, too puerile. That starvation must have killed us long ere the period had fled, would have been our axiom, if it were pertinent to the issue, when the 'pros' and 'cons' of the situation were being eagerly discussed on the opening days of a Siege that was to send the fame of the Diamond City farther than ever did its diamonds. A few weeks would terminate the trouble; and if, in the interim, we ran short of trifles, like salt or pepper, well—we would bear it for sake of the Flag. Kimberley is a British stronghold, with a loyal population imbued with a fine sense of the invincibility of the British army. Many people were surprised to find that they could descant sincerely and patriotically upon the might and glories of the Empire. Even the Irish Nationalist seemed to feel that it took a nation upon whose territory the sun itself could not set to subjugate his native land; and he was moved to remind his Anglo-Saxon mates that the absent-minded beggars of the Emerald Isle had contributed to the promotion of daytime all night.

The Diamond City was in certain respects well adapted to withstand a siege. The old residents delighted to call it a city. Newcomers, who had Continental ideas on the subject, inclined to think the term a misnomer, and a reflection upon Europe and America. But although its buildings were not high, nor its houses very majestic, Kimberley was a rich place, and a large place, with a good white population and a better coloured one. It had its theatre, and it had its Mayor. Arrogant greenhorns were soon made to cease winking when we talked of the "city"; for Kimberley was a city (after a fashion), and the most important centre in the Cape Colony. The young Uitlander (just out) who described it as "a funny place, dear mother; all the houses are made of tin, and all the dogs are called 'voet sak,'" was more cynical than truthful.

The numerous debris heaps surrounding the city made excellent fortifications, and it was not surprising that the Boers put, and kept, on view the better part of their valour only, when from their own well-chosen positions they looked across at our clay Kopjes. To have attacked or taken Kimberley, they would have been obliged to traverse a flat, open country; and they have an intelligent antipathy to rash tactics of that sort, when fighting a foe numerically stronger than themselves. They were reputed to believe that Providence was on their side; it was even stated that their ardour to "rush" Kimberley knew no bounds, until it was cooled by the restraining influence of General Cronje. That astute leader, though fully cognisant of the virtues of his people, had a respect for "big battalions," and thought that the virtue designated patience would best meet the necessities of the situation. Accordingly, he and his army, well primed with coffee, lay entrenched around Kimberley, in the fond hope of starving us into submission. Artillery of heavy calibre was utilised to enliven the process—with what result the world knows.

And how were we prepared to meet the attentions of this well-equipped and watchful enemy? We had a few seven-pound guns capable of hurling walnuts that cracked thousands of yards short of the Boer positions; and a Maxim or two, respected by the enemy, but easily steered clear of. Of what avail were these against the potent engines of destruction on the other side? And as for men; with great difficulty, and by dint of much pressure, the authorities had been persuaded to send us five hundred (of the North Lancashire Regiment, and Royal Engineers) under command of Colonel Kekewich (who constituted himself Czar, in the name of the Queen)—a small total with which to defend a city—"a large, straggling city, thirteen miles in circumference," as Lord Roberts subsequently observed, that he could hardly have thought it possible to defend so long and so successfully with the forces at our command, that is to say, with five thousand men; for such was the strength of the garrison when the shop boys, the clerks, the merchants, and the artisans had stepped into the gap with their rifles.

In anticipation of trouble, a Town Guard had already been formed when the Federal forces invaded the Cape. The noisy and discordant hooters of the mines were to signal the approach of the foe, and to intimate to the members of the Guard that they were to proceed to the redoubts of their respective Sections to prepare a greeting. Over at the Sanatorium, facing the suburb of Beaconsfield, the movements of the enemy were being closely watched. A conning tower soared high above the De Beers mine, from which coign of vantage a keen eye swept the horizon for signs of their advance. At the Reservoir, a look-out was on the qui vive. The Infantry were encamped in a central position, ready for instant despatch to wherever their services might be needed most. The Kimberley Regiment of Volunteers had turned out—to a man—for Active Service. War was certain; its dogs, indeed, were already loosed. The Boers, by way of preliminary, had been cutting telegraph wires, tearing up rails, blowing up culverts, and had taken possession of an armoured train at Kraaipan. Our defences were being strengthened on all sides. The enemy appeared to be massing in the vicinity of Scholtz's Nek. Such was the condition of things on the fourteenth of October (1899). Next day (Sunday) the siege of Kimberley had begun.




Week ending 21st October, 1899

The news relative to the tearing up of the railway line, and the cutting of the telegraph wires at Spytfontein, spread fast and freely on Sunday morning. Rather by good luck than good management there happened to be an armoured train lying at the railway station, and into it, with a promptitude that augured well for his popularity, the Colonel ordered a number of his men. The train had not proceeded far when it was discovered that the rails had been displaced at points nearer home than Spytfontein. They were soon relaid, however, by the Royal Engineers, and the train in due course reached its destination. A number of residents in the neighbourhood were taken on board for conveyance to the beleagured city. These included the local stationmaster, whose services were not likely to be in demand for some weeks,—three as we conceived it. It shortly became evident that there were Boers in the vicinity who had been watching the progress of operations, and had deemed it prudent to sing dumb until the train made a move for Tiome. They then opened fire and hurled several shells at it; but though a carriage was struck by the fragments, no serious damage resulted. In appreciation of the compliment, the invisible soldiers sent back a disconcerting volley, which led, as excess of gratitude often does, to some confusion. It proved, indeed, to be a kindness that killed one burgher and wounded half-a-dozen. The armoured train steamed back to Kimberley in triumph.

Meanwhile the excitement in town was great. The situation, in all its bearings, was being eagerly discussed by gesticulating groups of men and women. Intelligence arrived that the enemy had cut off our water supply; and the public were commanded to use what remained in the reservoir with circumspection, and for domestic purposes only. The public became duly alarmed, and just retained sufficient presence of mind to take a drought by the forelock, by filling their buckets, crocks, and cooking utensils with water. It was one of many little contingencies that had not been bargained for; the idea of water evaporating while there was yet tea to brew with it was both ridiculous and appalling. But there was not much danger of such a calamity; the reservoir was yet half full, and when it was empty, ways and means could be devised—with the permission of De Beers—to fill the tea-pots. The ladies were reassured.

Huge posters, proclaiming Martial Law, adorned the dead walls, and were being eagerly scanned by the populace. The publicans of the town had been noting events with the composure of men who had already made their "piles"; but they were, nevertheless, smitten with sudden fury when they read that all bars and canteens were to be shuttered each evening at nine o'clock. They showered anathema upon the Colonel, and gave expression to opinions of his administrative capacity which were at variance with the views of people outside the "trade." Pedestrians were warned against walking out before six in the morning, or after nine in the evening—under pain of a heavy penalty. All persons not enrolled in the defence forces, the proclamation went on to say, were to deliver up whatever arms and ammunition they possessed. This was an article of much significance and importance. We had in our midst a number of people, enjoying the rights and privileges of British subjects, whose "loyalty," in the minds of the authorities, was an uncertain quantity. Their sympathy with the Boers was natural enough; but it was at the same time too deep—in the eyes of Martial Lawyers—to be compatible with the duty due to the Queen. A house to house visit was inaugurated by the police—the sequel to which was the lodgment of some twenty persons within the solid masonry of the gaol. The most prominent of the prisoners was one employed as a guard in the mines. De Beers had always been credited with a desire to observe strict impartiality in their choice of servants, and the prisoner had hit upon a curious way of demonstrating his appreciation of such a policy. Ever since they had learned to handle an assegai the pugnacious natives shut up in the compounds had been spoiling for a fight; and, having heard of the Ultimatum, they were just then particularly restless, and keen on expediting a Waterloo. The obliging guard had thrown open the gates to gratify the "niggers"—on condition that British heads only were to be hit! The natives itched to hit somebody, and could not afford to let slip so good a chance by dilly-dallying over details. They agreed to the terms; but were fortunately herded together again before they could strike a blow. It may have been only a slip of the tongue on the guard's part; but the canons of martial law held such "slips" to be unpardonable. The one in question lost a man his liberty for two years, and his billet for ever.

The public were enjoined to hold no communication with the enemy, and to give them no direct nor indirect assistance. Finally, the proclamation informed us, a Court of Summary Jurisdiction had been established, armed with power and authority to hang traitors until they were dead; to confiscate their property; to lash them (when they escaped death); and even to deal severely with Imperial persons who failed to comply with the various regulations set forth in the plain English of one who had the advantage of being only a Martial lawyer.

It was not until eleven o'clock—during the hours of Divine Service—that the hundred thousand ears adorning the anatomy of the human population were first shocked by the horrisonous banshee wail of the hooters. The music was awe-inspiring, and ineffably weird. It seemed to portend the cries of the dying; and it was small wonder that the people subsequently endeavoured—as they did successfully—to have a more tuneful instrument employed. The immediate effect of the alarm was to send members of the Town Guard running from their respective homes and churches to the Town Hall, and thence, in orderly squads of four, with grim and stern faces, to the redoubts. Non-combatants, in compliance with the proclamation, went reluctantly to their houses. Tram-loads of scared women and nonchalant babies were hurried in from Beaconsfield. The streets were soon deserted. There was no panic; but many a poor woman felt that the life of a husband, a father, a lover, or a brother was in jeopardy, and many a fervent prayer went up to heaven.

The battle, however, did not begin. Large commandoes of Boers had been seen hovering about, and by boastful display had given us the impression that they purposed attacking the city. It was merely display; the wily Boer did not yet mean business. He eventually betook himself to coffee as a more profitable way of spending the afternoon. Late in the evening the Town Guard entertained some similar ideas with respect to tea, and were permitted to go home and drink it there.

Next morning, the armoured train was out early; but the Boers discreetly connived at its effrontery—having, doubtless, still in their minds unpleasant recollections of its volley-firing. At Modder river, twenty miles away, the enemy, it was said, were making prisoners of inoffensive persons, and blowing up the bridge. Bridges seem to have been their pet aversions everywhere. At Slipklip one was blown sky-high; and artistic skill was displayed in the picturesque wreck that was made of Windsorton Road Station.

The town, preparing for anything that might happen, presented a scene of bustle and confusion. What with strengthening and extending the defence works, levelling native locations (which might possibly prove advantageous to the Boers as a cover), and finding new homes for the evicted, Kimberley looked a stirring place—though train and telegraph services were suspended.

The ranks of the Town Guard were being augmented daily; fresh men were coming up in batches to be "sworn in." There was no medical examination, nor any such bother. Anybody in trousers was eligible for a hat, a bandolier, and a rifle; and lads in their teens affected one-and-twenty with the sang froid of one-and-forty. Camp life, and, mayhap, a little fighting, would be a novelty—for three weeks. Certain employers were at first disposed to keep their employees exclusively to the work they engaged them to perform; but the most obtuse among the captains of industry were soon made to realise that such an attitude, if persisted in, would scarcely pay. This truth was brought home to them so forcibly that they forthwith developed the fighting spirit, and became the most blood-thirsty entities in, the service of the Queen. All were needed, and When afterwards a merchant found himself "officered" by his factotum, he enjoyed (after a fleeting spasm); the humour of the revolution as much as anybody.

The manner in which the drills were muddled through at the beginning was primitive and amusing. The agony depicted on the faces of the "raw"; the hauteur of the seasoned campaigner; the blunders of the clerks; the leggings of the lieutenants: made spectators risk martial law and laugh in the face of it. Ever and anon, the butt of a rifle would come in contact with some head other than that of him who carried the gun, and the victim—not the assailant—would be sharply reprimanded for omitting to "stand at ease." The marching and the turning movements were comical, too; but practice did much to make perfect the amateur soldiers in mufti. They, naturally, desired a little target practice. With many of them experience in the use of arms had been limited to a snowball, a pop-gun, or a bird-sling; and they were not only dubious of their marksmanship, but fearful that their rifles in the rough and tumble of war's realities would "kick" to pieces their 'prentice shoulders. The authorities, however, could not allow ammunition to be wasted; it might all be needed for actual warfare. This only tended to make the men anxious to try conclusions with the Boers—or, better still, the foreign officers who, it was supposed, directed operations "from behind, when there was any fighting," like the Duke of Plaza Tora in the play.

The De Beers Corporation continued with untiring energy to do what in them lay for the further protection of the town, and on Monday offered to provide the military with a thousand horses. The offer was gladly accepted. It was decided to form a mounted corps of men who could ride well and shoot straight. We had a good few denizens of the Rand in our midst, and there was no difficulty in finding men proficient in both accomplishments to place on the backs of the horses. There came into being, accordingly, the famous Kimberley Light Horse—a corps destined to play an heroic, a tragic part in defence of the Diamond City. To the refugee the pay was convenient, the work bracing and congenial, and the prospect of "potting a Boer" not at all bad. With the Light Horse were soon to be associated some hundreds of the Cape Police (who came in from Fourteen Streams); and the combined forces inflicted considerable damage, and were a perennial source of irritation to the enemy all through. De Beers came out strong in another direction by heading the list of subscriptions to a Refugee fund which had been opened. The amount subscribed ran up to four figures. Much distress prevailed, and the Refugee committee set about distributing the fund to the best advantage. The ladies came out strong here, and gave yeomen service—scooping out flour, meal, tea, and sugar to the needy, and in sifting and rejecting, with rare acumen, the bogus claims of the "Heaps" who affected humble poverty.

The Summary Commission sat for the first time, and with a courageous disregard for the despotism of red tape, proceeded to business. The first case called was that of one, Pretorious, whose open and vehement condemnation of the war, and the policy that led to it, had rendered him an object of suspicion. A search of his house had resulted in the discovery of a revolver and two rifles, with ammunition to suit all three. The Proclamation had been very clear as to the seriousness; of this offence, and the penalty it entailed. The Court pronounced the accused guilty, and sentenced him to six months' imprisonment. The cases of minor offenders were postponed, and some of the prisoners awaiting trial were released on bail. The fate of Pretorious was paraded by mischief-makers as something which had produced a salutary effect in the Dutch element at large. It induced them to cultivate a remarkable reticence; but reticence is not essentially a product of good government.

On Wednesday, the Boers—in so far as their demeanour could be gauged from a distance—betrayed a tendency to wax indignant with us and our determination to fight. Large numbers of them perambulated to and fro, keeping nicely out of rifle range. A section of the Town Guard went out to the Intermediate Pumping Station, and sought to entice them into battle; but they were not to be drawn. The Beaconsfield Town Guard was afterwards deputed to try its powers of persuasion—to no purpose. The armoured train was finally resorted to as a decoy; but beyond eyeing it from a distance—and if looks could smash, it would have been reduced to small pieces—the Boers made no attempt to catch it. So far from being lured or wheedled by us, they rather conveyed by their wariness that green had no place in their eyes.

A copy of a Boer proclamation, which had been wafted into Kimberley by a cynical breeze, gave rise to much astonishment and criticism. In substance, it presented the Transvaalers with all territory north of the Vaal river; the Free Staters with the Cape Colony; and the British with—the sea! The Colonel read and appreciated the excellence of the joke, but thought it politic to give people who lacked a sense of humour a little illumination. He, accordingly, issued a counter-proclamation which made the "point" of the other clear: it was not to be taken seriously. The British element, which largely predominated, found scope for their humour in the Boer proclamation; that the enemy should limit his pretensions to portions of a single continent was surprising. Punch subsequently published a cartoon which represented President Steyn artistically painting all territory south of the Equator a pleasing Orange hue. Oom Paul, looking on in dismay, enquires: "Where do I come in?" "Oh," Steyn replies airily, "there is the rest of the British Empire."

But to return to the proclamations. Colonel Kekewich had yet another to draft; the conduct of the natives compelled it. Many of the aborigines were addicted to drinking more than was good for them of a species of brandy—a fiery concoction, with a "body" in it, called Cape Smoke. They staggered through the streets, rolled their eyes, flourished big sticks, and sang songs of Kafirland in a key that did not make for harmony. So the Colonel reasoned that he might as well write out another proclamation while he was about it, and had pen and ink convenient. He restricted the sale of "smoke," and decreed that all Kafir bars and canteens were to remain open between the hours of ten and four o'clock only. He also provided for the imposition of heavy penalties upon all and sundry who dared to disobey.

The bar-keepers, it need hardly be said, were angry; it was going rather too far, they thought. Was it the province of a military man to advocate, still less to enforce, temperance? Had not the "black" an "equal right" to quench his thirst? The canteen-men thought so; some of them, indeed, were sure of it, and went so far as to defy "despot sway," by ignoring it. They continued ministering to the needs of the horny-handed sons of toil. But the police—miserable time-servers—would do their duty; they were forced to uphold the Colonel's law, and to requisition the services of the celebrated local "trappers." The rebel Bonifaces were thus duly indicted, arraigned before the Summary Court, and heavily fined or deprived of their licenses.

The death of a sergeant of the Diamond Fields' Artillery threw a gloom over the city. He was mourned for as one who, indirectly, had sacrificed his life in defence of Kimberley. It was our first casualty; and made us wonder how many more there were to be—or rather, if there were to be any more.

Friday came, and with it came two English prisoners who had made good their escape from the Boers. Their story was interesting. They carried Martini-Henry rifles, but (as they explained) given a choice in the selection, would have chosen Mausers. Their friends, the enemy, had presented them with the weapons—conditionally; all they had asked in return was that the recipients should join the Republican ranks. The Englishmen scratched their heads, hesitated about striking a bargain, and were promptly commandeered. They determined, however, to get the best of the bargain at last; they escaped; and here they were in our midst, easing their consciences with expressions of their intention to restore the rifles to their rightful owners when the war was over, and as much of the ammunition as possible, on the instalment plan, while it lasted.

They had heard pitiful tales of the straits to which we had been reduced. Imaginative natives had assured them that there was "no more Kimberley"; the "fall" of Mafeking, forsooth, had staggered us so much that we did not want to fight. We were in our last gasps for a drop of water. Terrible guns were being wheeled to the diamond fields, to scatter it to the four winds of heaven. The diamonds were first to be blown out of the mines, and with them the local "imaginative" shareholders; while the Verkleur was to be unfurled Over the City Hall. All the perishable property was to be confiscated, and consumed as a sort of foretaste of what was due to the proud invaders' valour. Such was the romance dinned into the ears of our visitors. Happily, they made allowances for Bantu palsy, and did not hesitate to ignore it.

Saturday proved altogether uneventful, and prolific in nothing but outrageous lies. One item of news, however, was but too true: the good folk of Windsorton had surrendered to the Boers. Intelligence of a more agreeable nature followed soon after. Cronje's repulse at Mafeking, and the British victory at Glencoe, made us hopeful at the end of a week, the beginning of which had looked so ominous; and nearly all things were to our satisfaction on Saturday night when the third part of our "time" had formally expired.


Week ending 28th October, 1899

After a hard and anxious week, Sunday was indeed a day of rest. We enjoyed it because we felt instinctively that an enemy who sincerely believed that Providence was necessarily on his side, would leave us unmolested on the Sabbath. We were therefore justified in feeling a sense of immunity from stray shells and bullets. We enjoyed the day, too, because it gave us time and opportunity to look about us; to make a general inspection; and to pronounce the arrangements for the city's defence satisfactory. The volunteer forces had assumed gratifying proportions, and their eyes were all "right." Walls and buildings on the outskirts of the town, which might serve as a cover for the invader—in the improbable event of his drawing so near—or that might stand within the zone of our gun-fire, had been ruthlessly levelled to the ground. A high barbed wire fence surrounded the various camps, and the vigilant piquet had orders to shoot down anybody who attempted to cross it. Every imaginable precaution had been taken to hold the fort at all costs. The rumour-monger had formally made his debut, and was busy drawing upon the reservoirs of his excellent imagination, and disseminating information gathered from a mystic source known only to himself. He knew the exact day and hour of the entrance into Kimberley of the British troops; he could detail their plans to the letter, and a lot more than anybody else (including the British troops) concerning them. The rumour-monger became a character, a siege character, an adventitious celebrity, destined to receive attention from a facetious press and the tongues of men. So the day passed, with plenty to encourage, plenty to talk and laugh about, plenty to predict about, plenty to see and hear, and as yet, thank goodness, plenty to eat and drink.

Early on Monday morning, a mounted detachment, accompanied by the armoured train and two hundred men of the Lancashire Regiment, went forth to reconnoitre. The procession was an imposing one; at least the Boers encamped at Scholtz's Nek appeared to think so; they made no attempt to interfere with it, and thus debarred the procession from interfering with them.

But meanwhile domestic concerns were getting serious, and absorbing the minds of the people. The grocers of Kimberley are a respectable and, in the aggregate, a public-spirited body of citizens; they are men of substance; most honourable; most humane, too; and, as events were to show, most human. With fine foresight they detected in the conflagration of patriotism which consumed the consumer, a chance of bettering themselves. Having a constitutional right to do it, they took this tide in their affairs at what they (rather hastily) conceived to be its flood. Actuated by motives of the new ("enlightened") self-interest, they had proceeded to run up the prices of their goods by nice and easy gradations of from ten to twenty, thence to fifty, and were well on their way to a hundred, per cent., when a thunderbolt, an unexpected projectile, smashed the ring. It was a pity, in a way, for the process of welding the ring, so to speak, had been carried out with admirable skill. Rich folk, whose balances at the bank ran into six, and seven, figures, had commenced operations; they were buying up supplies of all and sundry, and hanging the expense. People with a thousand or two were nowhere in the aristocratic rush, and they waxed indignant; they could buy a quantity of provisions, to be sure; but semi-millionaires could buy so much more—a shop or two, perchance. Thus it was that the "comfortable classes" deemed it their duty to protest. And right royally did the common people, who had only the sweat of their brows, join in the protest. The public, in fine, were thoroughly roused, and denounced in unmeasured terms the conduct and the "enterprise" of the grocers. The women were much alarmed; they collected together in wrathful groups to enquire where the matter was to end, and with peculiar unanimity, not to say satisfaction, to prophesy a revolution. This bound in the cost of living brought us nearer to a state of panic than ever did the sharp practice of the Boer artillery. The Colonel heard of it—what did he not hear? Deputations waited on him; his intervention was solicited; he agreed to intervene. And then came a splendid exhibition of the autocracy of Martial Law. We had not yet seen all that it could do (far from it!), and it was a pleasure, in the circumstances, to see the Colonel put his foot down, since the step was highly approved and ratified by the people.

Forth from Lennox Street, accordingly, another popular proclamation was launched, A whole page of our local newspaper was commandeered for its insertion. By virtue of the powers reposed in him, Colonel Kekewich fixed the prices to be charged for "necessaries," such as tea, sugar, coffee, meat (the butchers also had been brushing up their Shakespeare). Goods were to be sold practically at ordinary rates; and if any storekeeper charged more, or affected to be "sold out" of this, that, or the other, the Colonel was to be told, and he would talk to the storekeeper. There followed, of course, a grand slump. The combination of the "upper" and "lower" middle-classes was irresistible. The Commanding-Officer's prompt action was highly esteemed, and even those who afterwards inveighed against him most severely (for other actions) never denied him credit for it.

Paraffin oil is worthy of special mention. Coal not being much in evidence in the diamond fields—where the sun is ever shining with all its might—paraffin was an important factor in the culinary sphere. When, therefore, a few gentlemen formed a syndicate, to vaunt their loyalty in a crisis by cornering all the kerosene in town, another outcry followed. They bought all they could lay hands on at market price (sixteen and six per case), and next day imperturbably continued buying at twenty-five shillings. On Tuesday the wide-awake vendors asked fifty shillings, and were paid it cheerfully. Another sovereign was added to each case of what remained on Wednesday, and the seventy shillings was put down without a murmur. How much farther the bidding would have gone will never be known, for a vicious little bird must needs tell the Colonel all about it. That gentleman happened to be engaged in his favourite (proclaiming) pastime; he sat ruminating on the high price of coal, and evolving schemes to bring wood back to its proper level. The latter article was what the poorer classes used as fuel. The Colonel had no scruples about dotting down a reasonable figure for coal; but wood was new to him; he sympathised with the woodman, yet could not spare the tree. Water (sold in casks) had evinced propensities to bubble over, and to prevent consequent waste it was necessary to make it simmer down to its normal tepidity. Having settled these little difficulties, the worried autocrat was about to affix his signature to the magic manuscript, when the little feathered informer alighted on his shoulder and warbled "wacht-een-beitje, what price oil?" The Colonel had no hesitation in pouring it on troubled waters, by making eighteen shillings the maximum charge per case.

What the feelings of the syndicate were is not recorded. There was only one thing certain, the deal was not a profitable thing—for the buyers. Rumour had it that one gentleman, "with a pigtail," had paid fifty shillings each for two hundred cases. The story was false—rumour is never quite right; the man wore no pigtail. A Celestial speculator indeed he was, but he had long since discarded, if he had ever sported, his national plait.

The afternoon brought a fight—a fight at last. Nothing less sensational could explain the wave of excitement that set men, women, and children struggling in a wild scramble for the debris heaps, which commanded a view of the match. Yes; a battle at last, was the cry on all sides,—varied with divers witticisms apropos of the "beans" the Boers were sure to be given. The military critic, perched high above everybody else, held his glass to his eye, giving expression the while to a paradoxical longing to be "blind," etc. He criticised, candidly, the tactics displayed by both sides—but this chapter would never be finished if I reproduced, in their entirety, the banalities of the military critic.

The railway line had been torn up again, and a patrol of mounted men under the command of Colonel Scott-Turner had been out since early morning to superintend repairs. The repairs were soon effected, and after the patrol had rested at Macfarlane's Farm it meandered in the direction of Riverton. A large body of the enemy shortly became visible to the right of Riverton, and after a little seductive manoeuvring on the part of Turner's men, they were drawn within range of Turner's rifles. The rifles went off; a few Boers toppled from their horses, while the rest drew rein and rode back at a goodly speed. Reinforcements, however, were galloping to their assistance, and soon a lively duel was in full swing. Colonel Kekewich, who was an interested spectator away back on the conning tower, thought he detected a movement on the enemy's part to surround Turner; and to frustrate this design, he forthwith despatched a "loaded" armoured train. The maxims (in the armoured train) came into play, and spread confusion in the Boer ranks. Their Commandant was killed and left behind on the field. The rifle duel was maintained with dogged perseverance on both sides for some time afterwards. We were not without losses—three men having been killed and nineteen wounded. The enemy's casualties were estimated to be thirty. Our men had conducted themselves throughout with conspicuous courage and coolness, though many of them were quite new to the game of war. To the Boer, too, a meed of praise is due; for, contrary to popular tradition, he could—and did—fight a good fight on the open veld. Turner's force returned to the city, well satisfied with their first brush with the enemy. The news which appeared in a special edition of the Diamond Fields' Advertiser, relative to the successful dash of Atkins at Elandslaagte (Natal), added to the enthusiasm that prevailed during the evening; and made optimists—there were no pessimists—more sanguine than ever in regard to the speedy capitulation of the Boers.

Our men, on Thursday, patrolled in different directions—alert for a second encounter, if the fates were propitious. But the foe declined to oblige; he lay low all day, presumably imbibing coffee. In the afternoon, heavy rains, which made piquet duty none too pleasant, came down in torrents. Tents had just been pitched at our redoubts in the nick of time. The three men killed on Tuesday were buried with military honours. The funeral was large—the Colonel, his staff, and several sections of the Town Guard marching in processional order.

Meanwhile a detachment of the Cape Police were endeavouring, with all due prudence, to lure the Boers into battle. But they did not succeed. It was advanced as an explanation of this singular inactivity that the nerves of the enemy were shattered—since Tuesday. It was rumoured, too, that a number of our "friends" had gone off on a recuperating pilgrimage to Windsorton and Klipdam—two villages which had been taken without the waste of a cartridge and placed under the Verkleur. Looting operations, it was said, were being carried out on an extensive scale, and property was being destroyed. Such was the local estimate of Boer shortcomings—based on flimsy data, or no data at all. In Kimberley, we only laughed at looting, and if the Boers effected an entrance we had no objection to the exercise of their talent for vandalism. We said so; because we were profoundly confident of our collective capacity to keep them out. Cynicism was the fashion. There was so much to say on the great topic, and so little to read about it. The evenings seemed so long; at half-past five, when the shops were closed, it appeared to be much later. Nice people exchanged visits as usual, albeit they had to be home at the disgustingly rural hour of nine o'clock, sharp. It was amusing sometimes to watch the abnormal strides of fat men and women, and to see them dodging the night patrol when they had to do a ten minutes' walk in five. The patrol was not a policeman. Oh, dear, no; he was far more stern, and had banished his politeness for three weeks. If at nine-fifteen you wished to be directed to Jones Street, you would be shown the way to the gaol instead. No explanations would be accepted, no protests heeded, no excuses listened to; no consideration for persons, no bank-balance however huge, would soften the inflexible patrol. "I did not read the proclamation," would not do; you must have heard of it. You might swear you had not, or at the insulting sceptic, but he would neither yield nor apologise. He was always armed with a rifle, and accompanied by three or four men with ammunition. It was a common experience with us to wake up during the night and list to the same old hackneyed dialogue. "Halt!" in a voice of thunder, "who goes there?" "A friend," would be the invariable response, the tone, pitch, and temper of which would be regulated by the "pass" the friend had or had not in his pocket. "Advance, friend, and give the countersign," Excited families would by this time have their heads thrust through the windows to watch the denouement. Satisfactory explanations would generally follow the final command; but occasionally a babel of recrimination would ensue, and become gradually indistinct as the poor law-breaker was hustled off to prison.

The people, for the most part, sat on their steps, discussing the events of the day, the paucity of news, the doings of the army, the destruction of the Republics and the probability of its easy accomplishment by Christmas (1899). They would break off now and then with a reference to the activity of the searchlight. The searchlight was of powerful calibre and shed a brilliant radiance which, revolving, illuminated the surrounding country. Needless to say, it shone all night; a surprise visit from the Boers was out of the question. We felt light-hearted on Saturday, and profoundly satisfied, that we were too intrepid for the enemy. Our patrols kept vainly seeking to provoke a quarrel. At the camps the "Death of Nelson," and "comic" melodies not less doleful, were rendered with much feeling. At the hospital, the wounded were doing well, and one man was quite himself again. They were extremely well tended, and thanks to public solicitude, were the recipients of countless delicacies, including bottled cheer.

Thus two weeks were over—well over, it was affirmed. Alas! we had another sixteen to put behind us; but no; nonsense! what am I saying? Even the wags, and everyone was inclined to be waggish in the first great fortnight of faith, never put the number higher than eight, lest their jokes should lose point or their wit its subtlety.


Week ending 4th November, 1899

The day of opportunity for reflection was with us again, and since so little occasion for action presented itself we talked about war in peace. The man in the street—omniscient being!—discussed it threadbare on the pavement. A man who knew the Boers was the man in the street. He knew the British army, too, though; and was sanguine of its ability to go one better—the shrewdness of which view was loudly applauded. And he really did much to make morbid people easy, and to lighten the burden of weak minds. The man in the street was respected. It was deemed a privilege to chat on the situation with this exalted personage, whom it took a rare and great occasion to make.

On the Stoep, after dinner, the history of the 'eighty-one struggle was reviewed and punctuated with commentaries on the character of Mr. Gladstone. The probable date of the relief column's arrival was settled, and the consequent discomfiture of the enemy laughed at. The talk was all of war. The children on their way from Sunday school halted the passer-by to enquire "who goes there"; they formed fours, stood at ease, and shouldered sticks enthusiastically. The natives shut up in the compounds eulogised the sword in their own jargon; they were filled with ambition to lend an assegai in the fray, and to have a cut at the people who treated them as children—with the sjambok!

It was remarkable the unanimity of opinion which obtained among Kimberley men at the beginning of the campaign with reference to the attitude of the Free State. They were in the first place convinced that war was certain, inevitable, unavoidable; Great Britain would enforce her demands, and the Boers would "never" give way to them. So much was agreed. But the idea of the Free State joining hands with the Transvaal—to stand or fall with it—was ridiculed as a monstrous proposition. England had no quarrel with the Free Staters, and they were not such "thundering fools" as to pick one with England, or to be influenced by shibboleths bearing on the relative thicknesses of blood and water. When, however, we learned how very much mistaken folks may be, the "villainy" of President Steyn was—rather overstated, and the continued independence of his country pronounced an impossibility.

This was all very well; but it involved some inconsistency, in that we had veered round to the belief that the Transvaal would never have faced the music alone, and without the aid of the neighbouring State! That is to say: war was certain from the beginning; the Free Staters were equally certain to be neutral; but since they were not neutral, responsibility for the war was theirs, and theirs only. Perhaps it was; but how was the view to be reconciled with our previous positiveness to the contrary? As a fact, few were conscious of any weakness in their way of laying down the law, and they (tacitly) admitted their fallibility.

On Monday the enemy betrayed signs of activity in the building of a redoubt opposite the Premier Mine. This was disappointing; it looked as if the purpose was to place a gun in the redoubt—to shy shells at the Premier. A special edition of the Diamond Fields' Advertiser lent colour to the assumption. The Boers, the special stated, had a gun fixed up at Mafeking, and had actually trained it on that town. The shells, we were assured, had not burst; but (flying) they could hit a man in the head, we thought. Whence they (the Boers) got the gun was a puzzle to not a few; and how they managed to make it "speak" was beyond the comprehension of others. "They might have another gun," these people exclaimed in horror! They might indeed; the question soon ceased to be one of speculation, for when a body of the Light Horse attempted to cross the Free State border, the boom of "another gun" was unmistakably real. Shell after shell was burled at the Light Horse; none of them were hit, and not having bothered bringing artillery with them, they were unable to retaliate.

Later in the day an express rider made his way through the Boer lines. The most interesting news he was able to impart was summed up in the Proclamation he carried in his pocket. It bore reference to the prohibition by the Governor of the sale of arms and ammunition throughout the Cape Colony. It was feared that the Africanders might buy the goods and throw them across the border; it had been done. But information in disproof of this was forthcoming when the story reached us that a number of the Cape Dutch had risen in rebellion and needed the weapons for themselves! Kimberley's voice at once favoured the extreme penalty—death for high treason! Even moderate men, who allowed for racial sympathies, held that neutrality was in the circumstances the proper attitude to assume. But the local extremist—and he was the man of the hour—argued that the object of the rebels was to sweep the English into the sea, and to make Africa the exclusive privilege of the Africander. In the evening, a terrific explosion was heard; a dynamite magazine had been blown up at Dronfield. It was stated that some people went up along with it; but that part of the story has yet to be verified.

All this made Wednesday an interesting day, but the gallant Colonel had yet to crown it with his quota. Having previously omitted to fix a charge for meal and flour, he now brought back to their normal modesty the prices of the two commodities. The two hardly provided sufficient material for a proclamation, but with some stretching they were made to do so. It was easy to discover a disparity in the relative quantities of the two foodstuffs in Kimberley; we had a great deal of the one, and comparatively little of the other. Thus when Kekewich in his wisdom deemed it prudent to take precautions, the populace did not object. We knew in our wisdom that precautions were superfluous, but we approved, in a general way, the principle of prudence. The proclamation accordingly ordained that every loaf baked in future should be three parts meal and one part flour. The bakers were given the recipe gratis, with instructions to sell it (the bread, not the recipe) cheaply, namely, at three pence per loaf. Theoretically, the new loaf was to prove a palatable change; practically, the wry expression of countenance it evoked in the process of mastication demonstrated the contrary. The bread was light "khaki" in colour, and only in this respect was it fashionable;—not too fashionable, because "Boer meal" was its chief ingredient, and racial prejudice was strong. The sweetness of the old-fashioned white loaf was wanting, and we soon clamoured for its restoration. But the brazen baker would talk of colour-blindness, and insist that yellow was white. And when we hit upon the plan of demanding brown bread, the fellow would argue that yellow was brown! When black was asked for—well, we did not ask for that. But there was no option in the matter; the Colonel's prescription had to be accepted. The sensible course was to try to acquire a taste for it; and we did; we succeeded—too well!—until at last we could not get enough of the dough. The unkindest cut of all, however, did not come until pies, pastry, and sweet cakes of all kinds were pronounced indigestible. The refined cruelty of this revolutionary decree was bitterly resented; not only by the confectioners, whose shop windows were works of art, but also by the public, who loved art. Even gouty subjects and folk with livers protested. As for the ladies, the war on sponge cakes almost broke their hearts. Pastry was to many of them a staple sustenance, and conducive—besides being nice—to a, wan complexion. Five o'clock teas lost prestige; the tarts were gone. It was a case of Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark. The propriety of a deputation to the Colonel, to test his gallantry, was mooted; but the proposal, strange to say, found no seconder. Meanwhile, he (the Colonel) was on the trail of the butcher again. Prior to the promulgation of the eight-penny regulation the butcher had been in his element, charging what he liked, and liking generally a shilling. The small people in the trade had sold their cattle to their richer brethren who now made hay in the "ample sunshine" with great ardour. Their prices, it is true, had been limited by proclamation; but they still catered for the wealthy classes, and the "greater number" suffered much in consequence. Some people could get no meat, and when the Colonel awoke to the situation he suddenly limited the allowance of each adult to half-a-pound per diem. A howl of indignation followed, and Kekewich was denounced as a "high-handed vegetarian." To be limited to less meat in a day than a man was accustomed to "shift" at one meal, was at once "too much" and "too little." Even this restriction worked badly. Coaches and fours were driven through the proclamation; the well-to-do got good weight, and the toiler—shinbone! The system of meat distribution was a source of trouble to the end.

Friday morning was one to live in our memories, it brought the execrable hooters again. No pen-picture can be drawn of their effect on the nerves; their unearthly melody must be heard. It sounded incidental to carnage, and wailed forth that the enemy was at last about to grapple with us. The shops were promptly closed; employers and employees rushed off in carts, on bicycles, or on foot to their respective redoubts. It was admirable: the readiness, the despatch with which every man hurried to his place. Women and children—liable to arrest—hastened to their homes. Soon the streets were completely deserted, save by the alert constable who walked his 'beat'—ready wherever he saw a head (outside a door) to crack it. All ears were strained to hear the first shot; and the suspense was probably more poignant than in later times when we had grown accustomed to the cry of wolf.

But there was no first shot; the cautious Boer had not made up his mind to beat us just yet. By a series of elaborate movements he had affected to gird his loins for a swoop that nothing could withstand, and adroitly managed the while to capture some oxen and horses—the property of our local Sanitary Conductors. When this was discovered, a batch of mounted men were deputed to ride out and question the legality of the proceedings. The enemy, nothing loth, opened the arguments themselves with a pungent volley, and when our side proceeded to reply, through a similar medium, the other would not listen. Later in the afternoon the Light Horse went out again, and got near enough to unlimber their guns and to plant a few shells among the Boers who guarded the route to the Reservoir. In this skirmish one of the Cape Police was killed—a regrettable circumstance which brought our list of deaths up to five.

The enemy still kept showing signs of activity, and of resolution to make it not only impossible to get out of Kimberley, but also unpleasant to live in it. They brought a gun as close as they dared to the De Beers Mine, and impudently endeavoured to shell it. They seized a second position at Kamfers Dam, and placed a second gun there. We had good people in Kimberley who asserted that the gentle Boer knew not how to use a gun; that he considered it so much lumber, an incumbrance. These were apart from the school given to postulate that the farmers had no guns to use. No need to say that both theories were dispelled, by sight as well as by hearing. Much attention was devoted to Otto's Kopje—our most exposed position—and many missiles dropped dangerously close to it. They burst, too, though nobody was hit. But they burst; and that was a visible fact that astounded a host of knowing people. There was a story in circulation about a respectable refugee from Johannesburg who, irritated by the fallacies that passed for facts in regard to Boer armaments and resources, always made it a point to speak the truth on the subject. He was an Englishman, quite loyal, and stimulated by a glass of beer was one evening in his boarding house unfolding the facts of the case. He discoursed fluently on the calibre and the accumulation of modern instruments of warfare he had beheld in Pretoria with his own eyes. His candour nettled his listeners, and on going outside he was threatened by one with pains and penalties if he did not curb his tongue and be careful. Another gentleman indulged in some vigorous criticism of spies and traitors in the abstract; while a third produced a pocket-book and took down the name of the frank offender, with a view to having him arrested. They went on in this strain until quite eight or ten muscular men had formed a cordon round the transgressor. "What did I say?" he enquired, plaintively. "You said a lot too much," was the crushing retort. One Ajax finally removed his coat and invited the Radical to a fistic encounter in the garden—if he felt aggrieved. The challenge was declined, more in sorrow than in anger, and the clamour subsided.

Contempt for the Boers, their methods of warfare, and their resources, was so marked that facts—traitorous things—were best left unspoken.

We had been informed that the ranks of the enemy had been largely augmented by commandoes from the north. Thus when on Saturday morning an alarm was raised we expected a tug-of-war for sure. The Boers were apparently massing for a concentrated attack on Wesselton, which was situated a couple of miles from the city proper. The day was particularly ugly; a dust storm blew with blinding fury. The portion of the Town Guard on duty the previous night had just settled down to slumber when they were obliged to jump out of "bed" and betake themselves in hot haste to their posts. But the Boers were only joking; they retired after an out-of-range demonstration of pugnacity. The citizen soldiers went back to "bed," but ere their winks had totalled forty they were again roused by the sacred goose-cackie of the hooters and again running to their trenches. The scenes in the streets were pretty similar to the pictures of the day before. We waited six hours, in expectation that "the hope which shone through them would blossom at last." It was all in vain; the Boers—incorrigible humourists—would not be serious, or draw close enough to be shot at. It was suggested that the hooters told them a march was not to be stolen on us; hence so many postponements of the "fall" of Kimberley. The sound, the weirdness of the hooters in itself, would keep back a braver foe. We wanted them silenced, however, and were beginning actually to desire a fight. All the hardships of active service, minus its real excitement, were ours; and the cadets of the Town Guard—who cared not whether they lived to be one-and-twenty—were dying to fire and definitely to learn from the "kick" of a gun whether there was really "nothing like leather."

Other things contributed to the eventfulness of Saturday; the Boers continued to display the same ominous energy, digging trenches, erecting forts, and making themselves generally comfortable—pending our submission to the inevitable like practical men. To emphasise the wisdom of surrender on our part, it was freely stated that the town was to be bombarded from Kamfers Dam. There was a feeling—it was in the air—that mischief was brewing. In obedience to a sudden order, the women and children of Otto's Kopje and the West End were hurried into the city for better protection. Finally, a letter from the Boer Commandant was received by the Colonel, the contents of which went far to justify the feeling of anxiety which was abroad.

The Commandant was a Mr. Wessels—and a very courteous gentleman his note proclaimed him. After some conventional preliminaries, he commenced by suggesting how natural it would be if the Dutch families living in Kimberley desired to betake themselves to more congenial surroundings. The Colonel thought it would be natural. Mr. Wessels would take it as a favour if said families were permitted to trek. Mr. Kekewich would gladly grant the favour; but the people concerned could not take a natural view of the matter at all; they decided to remain where they were. Mr. Wessels next graciously proposed that all women and children, irrespective of race, should be expatriated. The Colonel was still anxious to oblige, but the women, unfortunately, were not. They scouted the proposition. Its impertinence had attractions, but they declined to leave. It was too ridiculous; living in a desert as they were, with railway communication cut off on every side. They never heard the like! The surrender of the entire city was the final little favour solicited by the Commandant; and lower down it was hinted that the bombardment of Kimberley would be the painful alternative to a refusal. Here all courtesy was brushed aside, and Wessels was challenged to "take it—if he could."

In the evening a "special" was published which contained a few vague assurances of the satisfactory progress of the war in Natal; also some items concerning Mafeking, and the philosophic pluck of Baden-Powell. "The British troops," the special protested, "were rapidly arriving." At the redoubts the news was enthusiastically digested to the strains of "Rule Britannia," "Tommy Atkins," and kindred national ballads. The troops were arriving, but had not yet reached Kimberley. The prophets were false; the three weeks were over; but not so the siege. One, two, aye, three weeks more of it distinctly stared us in the face.


Week ending 11th November, 1899

The three weeks were over, and there was nothing to show that our inspirations in regard to the duration of the siege might yet prove to be substantially true. No immediate prospect of relief was observable, and our thoughts mechanically took a gloomy turn. How sanguine we had been, to be sure. Hardened sinners there were, of course, to sing that fine old chorus, "I told you so!" They never did! Nobody had ventured to tell us anything so inexplicit. The three weeks dogma had never been questioned. It was not, however, the detraction from our repute as prophets that saddened us, so much as the wearing off of what was novel in our beleagured state. It was beginning to pall a little. The day was beautiful, and notable for an absence of dust. In the morning, the Colonel sent out a patrol to have a look around. He also issued some stringent regulations, affecting the privileges and liberties of persons residing outside the town's barriers. These good people were thenceforward obliged to submit to the indignity of being searched, as a condition precedent to permission to come or go like ordinary mortals. The right to read their newspaper across the breakfast cup was also denied them; the duty had to be performed In town, lest the wind should blow the local journal into the hands of the enemy and reveal—nothing at all. The position of the barrier guard ceased to be—if it ever were—a sinecure, and he was kept busy picking pockets, examining bills, perusing love-letters, written in all sorts of prose, and in verse which was homely, if not exactly Homeric.

As already pointed out, the day was fine, and the Boers were silent; so that, recent disappointments notwithstanding, there was little credit in being jolly on such a Sunday. The Tapleys of the city had accordingly no great trouble in inducing us to amuse ourselves. The united bands of the Kimberley and Lancashire Regiments were to give a concert in the Public Gardens; and at four o'clock some thousands of people, arrayed in their best, had gathered there. The Gardens were crowded; cares were forgotten; the Boers were chaffed; while the strains of the melodists were awaited with pleasurable anticipation. At the psychological moment the music began. The tune was not unfamiliar; we had heard it before—and prayed that we might not hear it again! It was not from the bandstand the discord was wafted; when I say, in a word, it was the hoot of the hooters, sounding the alarm, it will be understood how far from soothing was its spell. The exodus from the grounds was a treat to watch; the ladies in their finery made a dash for home, while the gentlemen rushed for their rifles with equal despatch. The bandsmen laid aside their lutes for more deadly instruments, and prepared themselves to give the Boer as much music as he cared to face. It was altogether a magnificent dissolution, rapidly accomplished. And, of course, it was as usual, all for nothing. Wessels was a wag.

Monday morning revealed the Boer clans foregathering in force on the south side of the city. The citizen soldiers were quietly directed to get behind their sandbags, while a mounted body was ordered out to anticipate events, and, if practicable, to knock over a few of the clansmen. But it was only bluff again. Our women folk, although they dreaded a fracas, were particularly impatient of this time-honoured game. During the day, a good many shells were expended on the Premier Mine. The mines, it may be said, were the objectives of special bombardments until the end; but, so far, we were not inclined to think highly of the enemy's marksmanship. The shells fell a long way short, albeit not so short as at first; the aim was improving. Given time, the Boer would yet hit his target; but of course he would not get time.

Practice was resumed next morning at an hour sufficiently preternatural to deprive us of a portion of our legitimate sleep. We rose early in Kimberley—long before the lark—to our credit be it sung; but four o'clock was too far removed from breakfast time, and four was commonly the hour chosen by the churlish Boers to commence operations throughout the tedious months of our investment. The whiz and the explosion were not invariably audible, but the boom was always heard. Our "friends" rarely missed making a noise, and, to secure proper rest, this break-of-day penchant sent people early to bed. A big gun had been placed by the enemy on the top of Wimbleton Ridge, wherefrom—as our Garrison Orders grandiloquently stated—"the strength of the fortress of Kimberley was tested." The shells landed safely on the bare veld, and even when the dissatisfied gunners brought their gun closer, no harm was done. Wimbleton was three or four miles away, and we were not therefore in a position to reciprocate the attentions we received from it. Another assault was subsequently made on the Premier fort. Our seven-pounders were this time able to do a bit of bowling, and a ball was hurled at the enemy's wickets that stopped play for the day.

There was considerable elation in town at the non-success of the Boer as an artillerist, and the belief was entertained that his stock of ammunition would soon be blown to the winds. Nearly a hundred shells had been thrown at us, without angering or damaging anyone or anything save—a cook and his cooking-pot! The cook resided in a redoubt; his pot had had the lid broken, and worse still, the stew it covered driven through the bottom of the utensil, to be incinerated in the blaze beneath; and he vowed—well, the profanity entwined in his vow of vengeance will not admit of its publication. The whole bombardment was a grand joke. In the Law Courts, where the Criminal Sessions were being conducted in the ordinary way, the lawyers waxed witty. The witnesses responded. Even the prisoners laughed sorrowfully as each abortive boom rang out. It was a superb joke. The judge let fall some funny things and the jury smiled—without prejudice. His lordship said it was a novel experience for him, as indeed it was for all of us, who were to live and learn that—the last laugher laughs best.

The results of the Colonel's mild and forbearing efforts to keep the natives in check were not satisfactory. The exuberance of the Kafirs knew no bounds; they continued to glory in intoxication, and to "do" the breadth of the streets, like the gay Bohemians of more advanced civilisations. They did more; they defied authority, and varied their pleasures with occasional bouts of house-breaking and burglary. They appropriated such property as they could lay hands on in the sequestered houses of the West End, and played tug-of-war with mahogany that lacked the merit of being portable. An epidemic of looting prevailed—and fine sport it seemed to offer.

But Colonel Kekewich did not think it a time for sport, and lost no time in ventilating his thoughts on the subject. Drastic measures were adopted to suppress the fun. Another proclamation adorned the dead walls—decreeing that native bars and canteens were to be closed altogether. To deal effectively with the hooligan school stern methods were necessary, and total prohibition was the initial step—a step highly lauded by the public in general, and by the white topers of the city in particular. The coloured bibbers were thus suddenly reduced to water, and some twenty of them—caught red-handed in crime—were lashed and sent to prison for two years. One or two got off with a caution, and with instructions to preach to the locations on the heinousness of hooliganism, and of the power of Martial Law to hang "boys" for less than murder—as the next roost-robber would learn to his cost. No remarkable curiosity to be learned in the "Law" was afterwards manifested for some time.

As for the aggrieved liquor people, the Colonel's proclamation well-nigh broke their backs. Their feelings must be left to the sympathetic imagination of the reader. That thirty thousand of her Majesty's subjects should be "by law forbid" to quench their thirst was incredible. That men in the "trade" should by consequence suffer financial loss, and have the sweat of their brows, as it were, confiscated, was an evasion of the Constitution (superseded though it was by Martial Law) which outraged the name of liberty. It was a bitter pill to swallow; but it had to be swallowed under pain of penalty for even a grimace. Some of the patients could not let the purgative down; they deliberately let nature take its course—the sequel to which was the mobilisation of the Trapper Reserves for active service. And still the slimness of the native contrived to dodge the wiles of civilisation. With the assistance of some Coolie shop-keepers (who acted as middlemen) he yet managed to drink a fair share. But the middlemen, too, were hauled over the coals. A few Indians went so far as to establish without license little canteens of their own, thereby outraging all law, civil and military. In such cases the canteens were confiscated. The Summary Court had altogether a busy time, and the Official Interpreters, Dutch, Kafir, and Indian, were "sweated" at last.

Wednesday was quiet; so also was Thursday, our peace being marred by neither shells nor hooters. The hooters, indeed, were never to do it again—a graceful concession, for which we gave thanks; their cat-calls had been so nerve-shaking. The monotony was relieved on Friday by some shells which came right into the city—as far as the Post Office. They omitted to burst. The boom of a gun, which had been wont to play havoc with the nervous, had come to be regarded as of no consequence, a mere tap on a drum, eliciting a nonchalant "Ah, there she goes," and nothing more. Everybody was alive for fragments of the dead missiles; curio-hunting was a craze, and hundreds of people were ever ready to pounce upon the projectiles that wasted their sweetness on the desert air. The tiniest crumb of metal was treasured as a valuable memento. The shells fell and broke as would a tea-pot, a brick, or an egg of the Stone Age. No explosion followed; no fragments flew to hurt one's ribs, or to play the dentist with one's teeth. The missiles declined to burst.

It was natural that much speculation should arise as to the cause of this anomalous state of things; and there were people to doubt its being so much due to obstinacy on the part of the shells as to inexperience on the part of the Boers. One wiseacre held that the missiles were antique and obsolete relics of the 'eighty-one struggle. Others questioned whether "the Boer" then knew that shells were invented. A lot more contended that "the Boer" was unacquainted with the mysteries of a fuse, and knew as little about "timing" a shell as he did about discipline. One or two suggested, tentatively, as a solution of the puzzle, that "he had forgotten to put the powder in." Another argued that he did not know how; while there were a few who doubted whether "the Boer" considered powder in any sense explosive. There was a garrulous "bore" (from somewhere over-sea, not Holland) who advanced a still clearer elucidation of the mystery. "What was Rhodes doing in Germany for twelve months," he cried, "tell me that?" The relevancy of this rather startling query was a little obscure, but somebody replied: "He was visiting the Kaiser." This was too much for our interlocutor; he pitied our ignorance of the world, lamented our neglected education, and, as if our weakness in arithmetic was peculiarly discreditable, deplored our inability to put "two and two together."

Alarms were now nightmares of the past, and the people could pursue their avocations undisturbed and undistracted. There was little firing in the afternoon—nothing more deafening than a rifle-shot. A Boer, on sniping bent, was hit by one of our sharpshooters; three men approached, and two only were observed to rush back with their shields. Of what the British troops were doing we knew nothing. Thousands of them, it was said, were congregated at Orange River (seventy miles away), and we were curious to know when they were to "move on"; only curious—not impatient. The summer was yet in its infancy (as also was the siege) and our patience was destined to be lost soon enough. Meanwhile, we had not much cause for complaint in the matter of food. Meat, some said, they found it hard to procure; one young lady asserted positively that her family had had no meat for dinner on Sunday, and that she herself had to dine off "tea." She was the daughter of a public house, too! Just fancy the daughter of a public house having to do with "tea" for dinner! Hers, however, would have been a case of exceptional hardship; there was the "half pound" for everyone who went shopping in time.

We were startled from our slumbers at an early hour on Saturday morning by the booming of artillery and a succession of very distinct explosions. The shells fell broadcast, and whistled—while we sought vainly to see them—with a disconcerting whiz above our heads. Their contact with mother earth resulted in a loud crash; it was hard to believe that the theorist who opined that the Boers had "forgotten the powder" (before) was a clever fellow. They had remembered it this time; its odour was everywhere. It was our first real taste of a bombardment, and a nauseating taste it proved. Men and women had a vague belief that hundreds must be dead. Consternation reigned; and when it was reported that a woman had been killed in Dutoitspan Road, the excitement was at its height. The fatality sent a thrill of horror through the people, who awaited in dread anticipation the news of further massacres. The victim was a poor washerwoman, and the possibilities it conjured up before the mind's eye made her death doubly unfortunate. But, happily, no further damage to life or limb was to be recorded. A good many houses were hit, though not injured materially. A shell entered the Gresham Bar, and it was surprising that so few glasses should have been smashed; more marvellous still that the fair bar-tender should have remained fair; she was merely frightened. As for the proprietor, he held up fairly well. There was a hole in his roof (I don't mean his head), but he made the price of a decent patch in ten minutes. The men about town flocked in to have a laugh at the mess, and were amazed to find a bottle intact, or a bigger utensil to drink from than a "thimble" indeed.

Feeling against the Boers grew strong. Enquiries about the British troops, their movements, their dilatoriness, were sternly renewed; it was reckoned time to "clear the border." That Colonel Kekewich was angry goes without saying; he despatched two mounted forces in opposite directions to record a general protest. One of these, led by Colonel Scott-Turner, rode towards Otto's Kopje. The enemy, however, were apparently prepared for Turner; they opened fire with a gun, and endeavoured to cut him off. In this they failed; they drew rather too near, and so far from intimidating the fighting Colonel, enabled him to register his protest very forcibly. Nine Boers were shot down; three on the British side were injured. Meanwhile the force under Major Peakman was protesting at Carter's Farm. The enemy there made a bold effort to silence Peakman. But a Maxim gun has a remarkable gift of the gab; the Major had one with him, and he let it do all the talking—with results that quickly drove the Boers beyond the range of its Phillipics.

Notwithstanding these castigations, or perhaps because of them, the bombardment was resumed in the afternoon. Wesselton was assailed; a few shells also fell into Kimberley, with no serious consequences. Silence reigned at six o'clock. It was an exciting finale to the week. The morrow would be Sunday, and glad we were to hear it. And still relief was deferred; but the troops were at Orange River, and seventy miles, they told us, was a trifle in darkest Africa. That they (the troops) would soon arrive did not admit of a doubt. And then?—and then the Boer would run away or die.


Week ending 18th November, 1899

Sunday again! the most popular day of the seven; pre-eminently so since the war began. The peace that marked an occasional week-day was the certain accompaniment of the Sunday. The conditions of life were normal on Sunday; its advent made us happy. Following upon the unpleasant experiences of the previous day it was peculiarly welcome, albeit, mayhap, the herald of troublous times. The death of the poor washerwoman had opened up a world of possibilities; morbid forebodings were conjured up by morbid people, and nobody dreamt of measuring future fatalities by so low an average as one per day. But yesterday, we were as safe as if we were "in Piccadilly." A great man had said so—a great man and millionaire. His name was Rhodes, Mr. Cecil Rhodes, Chairman of the De Beers Corporation, and "no mean judge of a situation," our newspaper stated in substantiation of his Piccadilly peccadillo. He had come up specially for the siege, it was said by some who, had they but half his foresight, would have "specially" gone away for it. Well, Mr. Rhodes, felt safe and we, too, had felt safe until the sad event of Saturday rather neutralised the confidence inspired by the shrewd, but human, millionaire. There was a minority, indeed, who could not logically look for aught but ruin and disaster as a sequence to the shock of Saturday. "Look at the narrow escapes so many had," the minority argued. There were plenty of stories. Legends of hairbreadth escapes were legion. They were well told by fluent liars, by such raconteurs as talk of prodigious things in fishing, and catch nothing but colds. The narrow escapes were yet to come. Our wounded in the hospital were doing well; some of them had already been discharged. Their escapes had been narrow enough, in all conscience; but they were not romantic; they occurred on the field of battle.

The enemy apparently "slept it out" on Monday. There was no firing until eight o'clock when a beginning was made with Wesselton. A number of shells fell in the vicinity of the mine; but, as a lady afterwards reported: "they did not hit even a dog." Some missiles fell also on the Bulfontein side, and were buried in the debris heaps. A more serious assault was subsequently opened on the town itself; for several hours shells came pouring in from Kamfers Dam and the Lazaretto Ridge. The firing did not cease until upwards of seventy missiles had burst in the streets. In the market square a horse was killed—one of two attached to a Cape cart. The other animal remained alive, very much alive, as its kicking testified. The driver of the vehicle, a Dutchman, received a wound in the arm. Another Dutchman, curiously enough, was injured slightly while injudiciously exposing himself on top of a debris heap. Happily, no more serious casualities occurred. The Municipal Compound and the Fire Brigade Station had to bear the brunt of the bombardment, but the damage done was small.

Despite the real element of danger now attending the mania, the thirst for souvenirs was unquenchable yet, and the masses of struggling humanity that seemed to drop from the clouds simultaneously with every missile to be in at its dismemberment, were as fierce as and more reckless than before in the fight for fragments. When the shells had been wont to crumble accommodatingly, as would a clay pipe, the winning of a curio had—I mix the metaphor advisedly—merely involved participation in a football scrimmage. But since the ball had, as it were, begun to turn "rusty" the popularity of the game, so far from diminishing, increased. All day long its devotees "scrummed" and "shoved" for the coveted trophies. Quite a brisk trade was done in souvenirs, the smallest scrap of iron fetching a tickey (threepence), and so on in proportion to weight and size as far as half a sovereign. These souvenirs included sundry nuts and bolts which had been kicked about the neighbourhood of De Beers workshops for a quarter of a century. Whole shells, intact, were sold for a couple of pounds each, and the hundred or so received up to date circulated a good bit of money. One of the funny spectacles of the bombardment was a local entomologist, who had a sense of humour, endeavouring to catch the missiles with his butterfly net; the "buzzing," he said, attracted him. This humourist is still alive—he caught nothing.

Healthy folk who lived to eat were at this stage beginning to complain of hunger, and to assert—not quite truthfully—that they got but "one meal a day." Eight ounces of meat was not enough for them; they could devour it all at a single sitting; they were slowly starving. Little sympathy was felt with these uneasy gourmands. Our sources of supply were by no means inexhaustible, and the Colonel's restriction was intelligible to all reasonable men. The Boers, on the other hand, appeared to possess more live stock than they needed, and it was upon this hypothesis that the plan of confiscating a portion of the one to equalise the other was conceived by the artful and gallant Colonel. No sooner thought of than done. From among the coloured fraternity whose love of looting had occasioned trouble in the past he selected the most expert, and commissioned them to resume their bad ways. On the Monday night operations were commenced, and carried out successfully. By dint of much patience and caution, the trusty looters were enabled (unperceived) silently to segregate some seventy oxen and drive them into Kimberley. Splendid animals they were, too, and an addition to our depleted flocks and herds which gave us solid satisfaction.

Whether it was that the enemy was engrossed in a vain search for the missing cattle—if they were missed at all—he gave no expression to his indignation next morning. Not until lunch time had we any indications of annoyance. The vials of Boer wrath were then let loose in earnest, and from the Lazaretto Ridge we were peppered furiously. The shells fell thickly in the principal thoroughfares—eighty or ninety of them—one for every bullock "pinched." Fortunately again, the assault was unattended by loss of life. The tin walls of Saint Cyprian's Church were perforated by pieces of shell. Another hissing monster dropped in Dutoitspan Road in front of a tobacco-shop, but thanks to the picturesque array of pipes and pouches in the window the missile, as if it had an eye for art, refrained from bursting; instead it made a little grave to the depth of several feet and buried itself with honour. Three or four buildings were struck, and a funny man spread an alarming rumour relative to the loss of eighteen lives in the Queen's Hotel! On enquiry it transpired that two cats had met their doom. The victims had been serenading in an out-house when the fatal missile (very properly) slit their throats. The dear people of the neighbourhood affected little sympathy for the slain whose orgies had kept them awake at night. Indeed a wish was expressed that a few more of the cult might get hissed off the world's stage. And curiously enough a second shell did fall at the hotel; but the feline minstrels were out of the way—and their well-wishers so much in it that they made peace with the cats at once.

The night had been dark, with vivid flashes of lightning to brighten it now and then, and nature's artillery had rolled until the Boers on Wednesday morning took Up the refrain with theirs. One poor old man was wounded in the arm as he lay sleeping in his bed. Houses here and there up Newton way were damaged, the occupiers escaping injury. The firing went on for several hours until heavy rains came down and put a stop to it.

A further note was received from Mr. Wessels. The Dutch folk in our midst were fairly numerous and not only as liable to laceration as the British, but, judging by our records so far, rather more so. They had experienced rank bad luck altogether, and a little bird may have whispered it to Wessels. However that may be, the Commandant reiterated his former request in their regard. Now, Colonel Kekewich was only too willing to accede to the request, in proof of which he wrote up a special proclamation on the subject. But the Dutch adhered to their first determination; there is no place like home; leave it they would not. Mr. Wessels, they insinuated, would not find them new houses and gardens; nor too much to eat—not even half a pound of meat (perhaps). There were only three or four families prepared to pack up and with more reluctance than exultation take their departure.

The possibility of springing something in the nature of a surprise upon the enemy was a thought which had long exercised the mind of Colonel Kekewich. The idea culminated in a stiff fight on Thursday. Three or four hundred of our mounted men had remained up all night, and two guns of the Diamond Fields' Artillery had no sleep either. It was still dark when the cavalcade fell into line and proceeded noiselessly along a ridge leading to Carter's Farm (occupied by the Boers). Daylight had not yet broken when the men in khaki reached their destination—reached it, because owing to the recent rains a thick mist obscured the landscape, and the invaders found themselves in closer proximity to the Farm than they desired to be—in fact they were right among the "Grabbers." The surprise was complete—far too complete, for the attackers were as much astonished as were the yawning Boers. Both sides, however, retained sufficient presence of mind to shoot at each other; and they did. The enemy roused from their slumbers had their vision clarified effectively, an operation which had the drawback of enabling them the better to see their visitors. The battle waxed fierce, and when re-inforcements came galloping to the assistance of the Boers it looked as if the Light Horse must be worsted. But the artillery was behind them, and from it was belched forth a hail of shrapnel which compelled the re-inforcements to draw rein and "pant to the place from whence at first they flew." Our guns away back at the Reservoir also contributed to this result. Thus it was that the task of evicting the Boers was in the end a comparatively easy one. Thirteen of their number lay dead or wounded on the Farm. We had one killed and three severely wounded, seven others, including Major Peakman, getting slightly hurt.

That a bombardment would follow these events was to be expected: nor were we disappointed. The town, its thoroughfares and houses were left alone for the nonce, while the guns were trained on the redoubts. This was a precedent we could have wished to see followed oftener; but it was mainly the heart of Kimberley that was assailed at all times. The new departure did not prove successful; no great harm was done, for the shells lighting on the soft veld were kinder than the shellers, and generally failed to burst. As for the citizen soldiers, they received these attentions with a nonchalance that would reflect credit on older campaigners. They did not get enough of them; there was money in the missiles; and the local army had a way of appreciating a good cigar, with a puff of "Cape Smoke." A barter in souvenirs would admit of these things, and their indulgence would not be the less sweet because payment of the damage would really fall upon the producer (President Kruger).

It was at this stage in the vicissitudes of our siege existence that the authorities and the public were confronted with a fresh difficulty and made to feel the presence of a new danger. The outbreak of hostilities had sent a large number of natives from the adjoining districts into Kimberley, and these added to the permanent coloured population increased our responsibilities. There was not sufficient work for so many. This idle host was a menace to the maintenance of law and order, and unless something was done for it internal trouble of a serious kind was sure to arise. These men had no money wherewith to buy food, and although they could not get liquor to drive them to deeds of desperation, hunger would soon supply an impetus. And so it came to pass that the philanthropic spirit was awakened in the breasts of philanthropists and simulated by others who loved themselves only. That work must be found for the coloured horde was the unanimous verdict of the Upper Ten. It was a problem, peculiarly complex at a time when the "first law of nature" (in a restricted sense) was so stern in its exactions. But it was a problem which had to be solved and which puzzled everybody until—Mr. Rhodes entered the breach with a solution. He had been relieving distress in a quiet, unostentatious way, and he now settled the native question with characteristic celerity. He held a short conference with the Mayor; evolved a scheme of road-making; had some thousands of men employed next day; and, in fine, completed arrangements to pay away two thousand pounds per week with as little fuss as another man—or millionaire—would make about a collar lost in the wash. Indigent "whites," also, were provided for; Mr. Rhodes made himself responsible for the formation of an auxiliary Fire Brigade for the behoof of refugees more accustomed to a pen than a pick. The Colossus had some enemies in Kimberley; but they were less severe—less numerous, perhaps—from that day onward.

Our defences were by this time in thorough ship-shape, and the connection of the several redoubts by telephone had just been completed. From the reservoir another brand new searchlight beamed down upon the Boers. The Town Guard had taken up permanent residence in the camps. Its members were supplied with soldiers' rations; also with professional cooks—who knew better hotels—to cook them. The camp cook was quite a character, much deferred to and patronised, and was ever eager to drop his ladle in favour of the refrigerator which he kept ready to make cold meat of the cool Boer who ventured within range of it. The chef whose cooking-pot had been scuttled was particularly thirsty for "the vengeance blood alone could quell."

On Friday a party of the enemy approached the reservoir, presumably to see if there were water in it. But when our gunners metaphorically advised them that there was danger of falling in, the party took the hint and retired. Later on, the Boers advised us with numerous tokens of their good-will. While this was being done a large force of the enemy were massing at Alexandersfontein, as if they had finally decided to take Kimberley without more ado. They deployed in battle array, preparatory to sweeping all before them. The hooters had been relegated to oblivion and already, swan-like, sung their sad, sweet song. Whether the silence of these atrocious mimics induced the Boer to fancy that he might surprise us, is not known. Certain it was that we did see him, and were awaiting his coming with composure. It was a long wait. The mounted men got tired sitting in their saddles, and were ordered out to query the delay. They broke up into skirmishing parties and shook their fists at the foe. But it was all to no purpose; the foe declined to be caught with chaff, and decided "to fight another day."

The townspeople expected a sensational sequel to the affair and assembled in thousands to greet the returning horsemen. Mr. Cecil Rhodes, attired in duck pants, a slouch hat, and a necktie, happened to be passing in a cart at the same moment, and to his profound disgust was greeted with cheers. He raised his hat, however, and smiled, with a sigh.

Saturday, contrary to expectation, was quiet. There was the capture of a lot of cattle to avenge. A good haul had been made on the Friday night—of fine corpulent cows, worth a deal of money, dealers said. They were worth a deal of beef, and that was the feature about them of most immediate interest. We had had no news from anywhere for a long while; despatch riders, we conjectured, must have fallen at or into the hands of the enemy. No matter; the British Army, colloquially speaking, knew its way about. Thus when the shades of night were falling, the general disposition was one of willingness to wait. The food, to be sure, lacked something of its wonted excellence; but it served (in the summer), and we did not grumble. The shelling, too, had fallen somewhat flat. Mafeking was more out of the way and in a worse plight than Kimberley. Reflections of this kind begot condescension and a noble willingness to wait.


Week ending 25th November, 1899

The commandeering of cattle was an industry now well established. It was a pleasing spectacle, on Sunday morning, to behold the results of the preceding night's operations as they were driven through the streets, and to witness the unconcern with which the languid quadrupeds suffered the loss of their independence. Nor was the calm indifference with which their drovers received the compliments shouted at them by passing Imperialists one whit less admirable. The sight of the enemy's preserves excited a degree of interest which might be equalled—not surpassed—by the phenomenon (in pre-war days) of a procession of white elephants. And in the general chorus of favourable criticism—favourable because they were cheap, probably, if not exactly "gift" animals—nobody looked the cattle in the mouth. Very popular were these confiscations; and in view of so many augmentations of the stock at Kenilworth, it was not too much to hope that the ravenousness of the public appetite would be allowed its wonted scope. No longer was there meat for breakfast, not even on Sunday morning when we had leisure to masticate it. To tell anybody, to hint the heresy that eight ounces of meat sufficed to preserve health, would be indiscreet. To suggest that an extra plate of porridge with a few sardines thrown in (that is, to follow) might make up the deficiency, would be rude. Tinned sardines, salmon, crawfish, brawn, and such eatables were not reckoned fish at all; they were eaten—to stave off starvation—but they did not appease. As for butter; we had none for our bread! Fresh butter was unprocurable. Even the salted unguent sold in tins was hard to get, and only a very good customer could buy a tin, at a huge price, from his grocer. The hens stood the test of the times better, and laid their eggs generously as if nothing had happened. But their numbers were small, and not sufficient to provide for local consumption at any time—still less so since chops had been proscribed. The owners of the birds, sad to say, were in many cases small, too—mentally; they ate more eggs, in lieu of butter, on toast than was necessary. The price of eggs kept daily moving up by sixpences and shillings, and they were yet comparatively cheap at elevenpence each (each egg!). But it was some comfort, however cold, that money could buy eggs. They were indubitably fresh, but beyond the reach, too "high" (at elevenpence) for the average man, or even for men of substance opposed on principle to eating money. Ham and bacon, also, were expensive. The local pork had never been highly prized. The African pig is more noted for his speed than for the rashers he offers when his race is run; he is tough, and grunts vapidly; his tail corrugates rather than curls; he eschews jewellery—his nose is free; and the land also being free, he pays no rent. But the ox was "off" (in large measure), and the pig, hitherto despised, had come to be looked up to as an asset and a "gentleman."

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