The Second Boer War

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Causes of the Second Boer War

  • The Transvaal & the Orange Free State were run by the Boers, whilst Cape Colony & Natal were run by the British
  • The discovery of gold in the Transvaal led to an influx of foreign businessmen (uitlanders), who were not given voting rights by the Boers.

The Jameson Raid, 1895

  • A ploy, led by Cecil Rhodes, that was intended to give Britain an excuse to intervene in the Transvaal on the side of the uitlanders.
  • Failed when it could not prompt an uprising
  • Rhodes resigned as premier of Cape Colony
  • The Transvaal & the Orange Free State united under Kruger. The Boers & the British begin to mobilise

Outbreak of war

  • The Boers issued an ultimatum to Britain, which was rejected
  • October 1899: The Boers declare war on Britain
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The Nature of the British Army in 1899

  • Main aims of military reforms up to 1899 had been to increase numbers & boost professionalism, but the govt. did not want to invest
  • Victories in the colonial wars during the 1880s & 1890s meant there wasn't much impetus for change
  • There was acknowledgement of the importance of supply & logistics after the winter of 1854-55
  • Shortage of khaki uniforms
  • Failure to recognise the impact of fire from trench positions or the mobility of cavalry raids
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Significance of the Sieges of Ladysmith, Kimberley

  • The British were too slow to get organised
  • October 1899: Sir George White became trapped in Ladysmith after two disasterous battles
  • November 1899: Colonel Robert Baden-Powell raised men at Mafeking, but became trapped when the Boers besieged the fort
  • November 1899: Boers beseiged Kimberley


  • Other than one attempt to storm Ladysmith, the Boers made no attempt to capture the besieged towns. The intention was to starve the British into submission
  • The British commanders has underestimated the Boers
  • The British were on the back foot, and now had to plough more men and resources into relieving the towns.
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Black Week, 10th-17th Dec 1899

  • !0th December: Gatacare failed to take Stormberg
  • 11th December: Methuen launched an ill-judged attack at Magersfontein, failing to relieve Kimberley
  • 15th December: Buller failed to relieve Ladysmith


  • Buller signalled to White at Ladysmith to surrender. This led the British govt. to replace him with Field Marshal Roberts
  • Recruitment drive - 180,000 troops sent to southern Africa
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The First Phase

Dates: Oct. 1899 - Jan. 1900

Commander: General Sir Redvers Buller

Strategy / Outlook:

  • Originally wanted to attack the Boers in the Transvaal, but had to abandon this plan as the sieges had began by the time he arrived in South Africa
  • Thought it would be quick & easy to defeat the "amateur" Boers
  • Indecisive
  • Haphazard; lack of intelligence, scouting & reconnaissance


  • Attempted to relieve Kimberley, Ladysmith & Mafeking (Black Week)
  • Spion Kop (Jan 1900)
  • Led the guerrilla campaign in Natal, advancing in to the Transvaal, after being replaced as commander-in-chief
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The Second Phase

Dates: Jan. - Nov. 1900

Commander: Field Marshal Roberts

Strategy / outlook:

  • Wanted to raise morale, repaire railway lines & improve supply
  • Avoided frontal assaults in favour of outflanking the Boers
  • Began the scorched earth policy


  • Relieved Kimberley (15th Feb 1900)
  • Bloemfontein (13th March 1900)
  • Johannesburg (31st May 1900)
  • Pretoria (5th June 1900)
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Third Phase

Dates: Nov. 1900 - May 1902

Commander: Field Marshal Kitchener

Strategy / outlook:

  • War of attrition
  • Scorched earth policy
  • Concentration camps


  • Guerrilla warfare
  • End of the war - Treaty of Vereeniging
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Scorched Earth Policy

  • Began under Field Marshal Roberts & continued under Kitchener
  • Intended to deny food & shelter to the guerrillas
  • Removal and / or destruction of food, livestock, ammunition & anything of use to the enemy
  • Produced thousands of refugees, who were brought to concentration camps by the British
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Concentration Camps

  • Intended to house Boer refugees from the Scorched Earth policy
  • Would stop civilians giving aid to Boer fighters
  • Some thought it would encourage Boers to surrender, but others argued it would only stiffen stubborn resistance
  • Poor administration. Low priority
  • Poor sanitation & lack of food & medicine
  • March 1901: 27 camps holding 35,000 people. September 1901: 35 camps with 110,000 people
  • 25% of internees died from disease
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The Hobhouse Report

  • Hobhouse founded the South African Women & Children Distress Fund to collect money for Boer families
  • December 1900: Went to South Africa to investigate conditions in the concentration camps
  • Received help from the British high commissioner, Alfred Milner
  • Realised that people were in desparate need of food. Disease was rampant
  • British authorities in South Africa would not listen, so Hobhouse returned to Britain and her report reached the British govt. in June 1901


  • Liberal MPs and newspapers circulated the report
  • Conservative politicians & press were hostile
  • Committee of inquiry sent to South Africa, led by Millicent Fawcett. Hobhouse was not asked to join and was not allowed to return to South Africa
  • The Fawcett committee's report corresponded with the Hobhouse Report. There was outcry in Britain & the govt. was forced to act.
  • The camps were taken out of the hands of the military & put under civilian administration. Death rate fell to 2% by the end of the war.
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The Blockhouse System

  • Introduced by Kitchener to segment the countryside using barbed wire & blockhouses
  • The army sealed off sections before sending in mounted infantry & cavalry to clear out any Boers section by section
  • 8,000 blockhouses & 4,000 miles of barbed wire
  • Only a small force left over for offensive actions
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