While these smaller expeditions were taking place in West Africa, storm-clouds were bursting over South Africa. The question had arisen as to whether that country should be part of the British Empire or whether the two Dutch Republics should become the dominant power in it.
Between the years 1885 and 1895 the Transvaal had, owing to the discovery of gold and the influence of European capital, become the richest and most important State in South Africa.
By 1890 the inrush of outsiders to the Transvaal alarmed the Boers, who prided themselves on their independent Republic under their President, Paul Kruger. Fearful of being swamped by these gold-seeking outsiders, or "Outlanders" as they were called, Kruger raised the franchise, so as to be only obtainable by those who had lived fourteen years in the country. This gave rise to bitter feelings between Outlanders and Boers. The former—eager European adventurers—were creating the wealth of the Transvaal; they were paying heavy taxes to the State, but they were denied the rights of citizenship. In vain were petitions addressed to Kruger.
At last, thoroughly exasperated, the Outlanders of Johannesburg arranged to rise upon a certain night and attack Pretoria. They appealed for help in their undertaking to Cecil Rhodes, then Prime Minister at the Cape as well as Director of the Chartered Company that administered the affairs of Southern Rhodesia. He allowed Dr. Jameson, Administrator at Rhodesia, to co-operate with the rebel Outlanders.
But the "Jameson Raid", as this incident is called, most deservedly failed. The Outlanders postponed their rising, but Dr. Jameson, with a force of five hundred mounted police of the Chartered Company and three field guns, crossed the Transvaal border, only to be surrounded by Boers and forced to surrender.
Kruger dealt mercifully with the rebels, and the leaders were handed over to the British Government to be dealt with. But a "grave injury to British influence in South Africa had been done ", and all hope of redressing the Outlanders' grievances in the Transvaal was at an end for the present.
The British Government now sent out Sir Alfred (afterwards Lord) Milner as High Commissioner to the Cape. The appointment was popular with both parties at home. In the summer of 1899 the High Commissioner met Kruger at a Conference at Bloemfontein to discuss, among other matters, the vital question of the franchise.
Agreement was impossible.
Still negotiations continued, Britain to the last hoping for a peaceful settlement of the question. But on October 11, 1899, the Boer ultimatum burst upon the world, President Kruger demanding the recall of British troops, and a war—destined to determine the fate of South Africa and to prove one of the most severe in recent English history—began.
Sir George White.
The two Dutch Republics, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, were well prepared. Under the skillful leadership of Piet Joubert, Cronje, De Wet, and others, thousands of swarthy bearded burghers rode, well armed and well mounted, to war. They knew their country, and they were patriotic to the heart's core.
The British forces under Sir George White, who had but just arrived at the Cape, laboured under great disadvantages. The main body of the army was in Natal. Thither Joubert led his troops, and the opposing forces soon came into conflict. After a fortnight's hard fighting, Sir George White and some 12,000 British troops were besieged by the Boers in Ladysmith. Here they remained for 118 days, till they were relieved by General Buller, but not till one-tenth of them had died from wounds and disease.
While Joubert was attacking the British in Natal, Cronje was besieging Mafeking—a small place just across the western borders of the Transvaal. In a few weeks Mafeking sprang from obscurity to fame.
For 218 days it was ably defended by Colonel Baden-Powell, and the day of its relief was one of almost unparalleled enthusiasm throughout the Empire.
Colonel (afterward General) Sir R. Baden-Powell.
Before the end of October, Kimberley—the diamond city—was also besieged by a formidable force of Boers, and was with difficulty held by Colonel Kekewich. At the end of October the situation in South Africa was sufficiently serious.
While General Buller, the commander-in-chief dispatched from England, sought to relieve Ladysmith, Lord Methuen advanced to the relief of Kimberley. Three battles, all fought within a week, at the end of November, resulted in the loss of 1,000 men to Lord Methuen, and Kimberley was yet unrelieved.
A darker hour yet was to dawn in South Africa. "The week which extended from December 10 to 17, 1899, was the blackest we have known during our generation, and the most disastrous for British arms during this century."
Before details of these reverses had reached England, Lord Roberts of Kandahar, with Lord Kitchener of Khartum as his Chief of Staff, was on his way to South Africa, charged with the supervision of the whole campaign. Already the colonies had given of their best: Australians, Canadians, Tasmanians, New Zealanders had fought shoulder to shoulder with their British brothers; now yeomen, trained and untrained, poured into the country together with the regulars of the British Army.
Early in the New Year the whole situation changed as if by magic. Resolutely and secretly Lord Roberts had made his plans. By February 15, 1900, Kimberley was relieved; by February 27, Cronje and 5,000 men had been skillfully surrounded and captured at Paardeberg, and the Boer plan of campaign broken up. By March 3, General Buller had relieved Ladysmith.
"A single master-hand had in an instant turned England's night to day."
On March 6 Lord Roberts was able to begin his march to Bloemfontein. Notwithstanding stout resistance from the Boers, he entered the capital of the Orange Free State a week later at the head of his troops. His men, worn with living on half rations and forced marches under semi-tropical sun, swung into the town "with the aspect of Kentish hop-pickers and the bearing of heroes"
It was not till six weeks later that the advance to Pretoria was resumed.
The distance to Pretoria, capital of the Transvaal, the seat of her Government and the home of Kruger, was some 220 miles. The obstacles to be encountered were numerous, the opposition from Boer forces was not slight, the hills surrounding the city were bristling with forts, which the President had announced would "stagger humanity".
Nevertheless, a month later Lord Roberts led his army into the famous Transvaal capital, from which Kruger had just fled, with the contents of the Treasure House, and from the summit of the Raad-Saal at last floated the Union Jack.
The issue of the war was now no longer uncertain, though a most troublesome and harassing guerrilla warfare continued for two years longer. The finish was left in the hands of Lord Kitchener, to whose organization the final success of the campaign was due.
Thus the two Dutch Republics were annexed to the British Empire, and Lord Roberts returned to England to tell the now dying Queen with his own lips of the heroic courage of her Imperial soldiers on the field of battle.
Before peace was declared the Queen had passed away.