Gateway to the Classics: Our Island Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Island Story by  H. E. Marshall

Victoria—Boer and Briton

I N the days when Cromwell was ruling Britain with his iron hand, a few stern-faced, silent men sailed out from Holland and landed in South Africa. There they made their home, and there they grew rich and prospered.

In the reign of George III., while Napoleon was conquering all Europe, British soldiers landed in Africa and took possession of Cape Town. Later still, when Napoleon had fallen, the Cape of Good Hope became a British possession by treaty with Holland. Soon thousands of British settled there, and slowly but surely the colony grew.

So side by side these two races, Dutch and British, spread and prospered. But they could not live together in peace. It seemed as if in all the wide veldt there was not room for both.

I cannot tell you here of all the quarrels and dispeace; of how the different colonies called Orange Free State, Transvaal, Natal, and Cape Colony arose; of how the Transvaal at one time owned British rule and at another did not; of how Britain fought and suffered until at last the long years of unrest and trouble ended in the great Boer War;—I cannot tell you of all this, for it would take too long, and much of it would not seem interesting to you. I will not talk much either about the Boer War, for the tears it caused are hardly dry; the graves it made are hardly green.

All through this book I have tried to give you reasons for the wars of which I have told, and, although now that we have come to our own time it becomes more difficult, I will give you one reason for the Boer War, which you may understand.

From the very beginning of our story you have seen how Britons have fought for freedom, and how step by step they have won it, until at last Britons live under just laws and have themselves the power to make these laws. For it is now acknowledged that the Briton who pays taxes has the right to help to frame the laws under which he lives. You remember how America was lost because King George III. tried to force the Americans to pay taxes, although they had not the right to choose and send members to Parliament.

Now the Transvaal was a republic, and the government was in the hands of the Boers, as the South African Dutch had come to be called. Yet in some vague way the Boers owned the Queen of Britain as over-lord. Those who lived in the Transvaal were chiefly Boer farmers, but gold was discovered in the country and then many other people went there hoping to make a great deal of money. Many of these people were British, and although the Boers were not glad to see them, and wished they would keep away from the land which they considered their very own, these British helped to make the Boer country rich. They paid heavy taxes, but they were called Uitlanders, which means, "outlanders" or "strangers." They were harshly treated in many ways, they were not allowed to vote for members of Parliament, and so had no voice in making the laws under which they had to live.

You have heard how Britons for centuries had fought for this very freedom which was now denied them in South Africa, and you can imagine how hard it was for Britons to bear what seemed to them so great an injustice. This is only one reason why the Boers and Britons could not live in peace together, but it is one which you can understand. The Boers, too, had their troubles and their grievances, and, when war came, they fought as patriots fight for their country.

The British in South Africa appealed at last to the mother-country for help. The mother-country gave help, and in October 1899 A.D. war broke out.

It was a dreadful war, and lasted for two years and a half. We have not yet forgotten the days of sick suspense during the long months when Ladysmith and "brave little Mafeking" were besieged; nor the gloom which fell upon us as we read of disaster and defeat; nor the cheers and sobs which greeted the news of the relief of Ladysmith and then of Mafeking.

But in the darkest hour one thing became certain. The little island was not fighting alone. The Empire of Greater Britain was no mere name. From all sides, from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, from every province of Greater Britain, from every land over which the Union Jack floats, came offers of help. Britain was fighting, not for herself, but for her colony, and right or wrong, her colonies stood by her, side by side, and shoulder to shoulder.

At length the dark days passed, and the whisper of peace was heard. It was a whisper which grew louder until it was plainly heard.

The Boer leaders gathered at a place called Vereeniging to talk together over the terms of peace. Vereeniging means "union," so it seemed a good place at which to have the meeting. The Boers were treated as the guests of the British, who prepared a camp for them and did everything for their comfort, but as they were led to the camp, through the British lines, the Boers were blindfolded and guarded by soldiers of the Black Watch. This was done because the Boers might not have agreed to make peace, and then the knowledge they had gained of the British camp would have helped them greatly.


The Boer leaders were blindfolded and guarded by soldiers of the Black Watch.

The meeting lasted about ten days, but at last, on Sunday, June 1, 1902 A.D., the good news reached London. Peace was proclaimed.

Here, where my fresh-turned furrows run,

And the deep soil glistens red,

I will repair the wrong that was done

To the living and the dead.

Here where the senseless bullet fell,

And the barren shrapnel burst,

I will plant a tree, I will dig a well,

Against the heat and the thirst.

Here, in a large and sunlit land,

Where no wrong bites to the bone,

I will lay my hand in my neighbour's hand,

And together we will atone

For the set folly and the red breach

And the black waste of it all,

Giving and taking counsel each

Over the cattle-kraal.

Here, in the waves and the troughs of the plains

Where the healing stillness lies,

And the vast, benignant sky restrains

And the long days make wise—

Bless to our use the rain and the sun

And the blind seed in its bed,

That we may repair the wrong that was done

To the living and the dead!

The south of Africa is now entirely a British colony, and we hope that soon it will be as loyal, as happy, and as prosperous as any other British colony.

Queen Victoria reigned for sixty-three years, which is longer than any other British sovereign has ever reigned. When she had been on the throne fifty years, great rejoicings were held.

On the 21st of June, the anniversary of the day upon which she ascended the throne, the streets and houses were everywhere decorated, and bonfires and fire-works blazed. This year was called the Jubilee Year.

Ten years later Victoria was still upon the throne, and again the people rejoiced. The whole air was filled with shouts and cheers as the white-haired lady, who was Queen of half the world, drove through the streets of London on her way to St. Paul's Cathedral, there to thank God for her great and glorious reign. This was called the Diamond Jubilee Year.

Three years later, while the dark war cloud still hung over the land, the news was flashed through all the great empire, "The Queen is dead." At the close of a dull winter's day, the sad toll of muffled bells rang out the message to every town and village; and from east to west, wherever the flag of red, white, and blue floats, hearts were sad.

May children of our children say,

She wrought her people lasting good;

Her court was pure; her life serene;

God gave her peace; her land reposed;

A thousand claims to reverence closed

In her as Mother, Wife, and Queen;

And statesmen at her council met

Who knew the seasons when to take

Occasion by the hand, and make

The bounds of freedom wider yet

By shaping some august decree,

Which kept her throne unshaken still,

Broad-based upon her people's will,

And compass'd by the inviolate sea.

King Edward VII. now reigns. He is the eldest son of Queen Victoria, and there is little need to tell his story, or the story of the great Empire over which he rules to-day, for it is the story of the world in which we live, and of our own deeds in it. Day by day we are making history, which those who come after us will read. May we make it fair and beautiful, and may Loyalty and Liberty be woven through the story.

God of our fathers, known of old,

Lord of our far-flung battle-line,

Beneath whose awful Hand we hold

Dominion over palm and pine—

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget—lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;

The captains and the kings depart;

Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,

An humble and a contrite heart.

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget—lest we forget!

— Rudyard Kipling


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