G. W. (George Warrington) Steevens.

From Capetown to Ladysmith; an unfinished record of the South African war online

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FROM CAPETOWN


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G. W. STEEVENS.



FROM CAPETOWN



LADYSMITH



AN UNFINISHED RECORD OF THE SOUTH
AFRICAN IV AR



G. W. STEEVENS

AUTHOR OF " WITH KITCHENER TO KHARTUM,"
"IN INDIA," ETC., ETC.



EDITED BY

VERNON BLACKBURN



NEW YORK

DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY

1900



J *. >



Copyright, 1899, igco,

BV

G. W. STEEVENS.



Copyright, 1900,

BY

DODD, MEAD & COMPANY.



THE MERSHON COMPANY PRESS,
RAHWAY, N. J.



4

J



XT'



CONTENTS,



A-



V



CHAPTER

I. First Glimpse of the Struggle,

II. The Army Corps — Has Not Left England

III. A Pastor's Point of View,

IV. Will It Be Civil War ?
V. Loyal Aliwal : A Tragi-Comedy

VI. The Battle of Elandslaagte,

VII. The Bivouac,

VIII, The Home-Coming from Dundee

IX. The Story of Nicholson's Nek,

X. The Guns at Rietfontein,

XI. The Bombardment,

XII. The Devil's Tin-Tacks,

XIII. A Diary of Dulness,

XIV. Nearing the End,

XV. In a Conning-Tower,
The Last Chapter, .



PAGE
I

II

21

31

39
48

63
74

82

90
102

"5
124

135
146

157



2:



.2






FROM CAPETOWN TO LADY-
SMITH.



CHAPTER I.

FIRST GLIMPSE OF THE STRUGGLE.

Capetown, October lo.

This morning I awoke, and behold the
Norman was lying alongside a wharf at
Capetown. I had expected it, and yet it
was a shock. In this breathless age ten
days out of sight of land is enough to
make you a merman : I looked with
pleased curiosity at the grass and the
horses.

After the surprise of being ashore
again, the first thing to notice was the
air. It was as clear — but there is nothing
else in existence clear enough with which



2 FROM CAPETOWN TO LADYSMITH.

to compare it. You felt that all your
life hitherto you had been breathing mud
and looking out on the world through
fog. This, at last, was air, was ether.

Right in front rose three purple-brown
mountains — the two supporters peaked,
and Table Mountain flat in the centre.
More like a coffin than a table, sheer
steep and dead flat, he was exactly as he
is in pictures ; and as I gazed, I saw his
tablecloth of white cloud gather and hang
on his brow.

It was enough : the white line of houses
nestling hardly visible between his foot
and the sea must indeed be Capetown.

Presently I came into it, and began to
wonder what it looked like. It seemed
half Western American with a faint smell
of India — Denver with a dash of Delhi.
The broad streets fronted with new-look-
ing, ornate buildings of irregular heights
and fronts were Western America ; the
battle of warming sun with the stabbing



FIRST GLIMPSE OF THE STRUGGLE. 3

morning cold was Northern India. The
handsome, blood-like electric cars, with
their impatient gongs and racing trolleys,
were pure America (the motormen were
actually imported from that hustling clime
to run them). For Capetown itself — you
saw it in a moment — does not hustle.
The machinery is the West's, the spirit is
the East's or the South's. In other cities
with trolley-cars they rush ; here they
saunter. In other new countries they
have no time to be polite ; here they are
suave and kindly and even anxious to
gossip. I am speaking, understand, on a
twelve hours' acquaintance — mainly with
that large section of Capetown's inhabit-
ants that handled my baggage between
dock and railway-station. The niggers
are very good-humoured, like the darkies
of America. The Dutch tongue sounds
like German spoken by people who will
not take the trouble to finish pronounc-
ing it.



4 FROM CAPETOWN TO LADYSMITII.

All in all, Capetown gives you the idea
of being neither very rich nor very poor,
neither over-industrious nor over-lazy,
decently successful, reasonably happy,
whole-heartedly easy-going.

The public buildings — what I saw of
them — confirm the idea of a placid half-
prosperity. The place is not a baby, but
it has hardly taken the trouble to grow
up. It has a post-office of truly German
stability and magnitude. It has a well-
organised railway station, and it has the
merit of being in Adderley Street, the
main thoroughfare of the city ; imagine it
even possible to bring Euston into the
Strand, and you will get an idea of the
absence of push and crush in Cape-
town.

When you go on to look at Govern-
ment House the place keeps its character ;
Government House is half a country
house and half a country inn. One sen-
try tramps outside the door, and you pay



FIRST GLIMPSE OF THE STRUGGLE. 5

your respects to the Governor in shep-
herd's plaid.

Over everything brooded peace, except
over one flamboyant many-winged build-
ing of red brick and white stone with a
garden about it, an avenue — a Capetown
avenue, shady trees and cool but not
large : attractive and not imposing — at
one side of it, with a statue of the Queen
before and broad-flagged stairs behind.
It was the Parliament House. The
Legislative Assembly — their House of
Commons — was characteristically small,
yet characteristically roomy and charac-
teristically comfortable. The members
sit on flat green-leather cushions, two or
three on a bench, and each man's name
is above his seat : no jostling for Cape-
town. The slip of Press gallery is above
the Speaker's head ; the sloping un-
crowded public gallery is at the other
end, private boxes on one side, big win-
dows on the other. Altogether it looks



6 FROM CAPETOWN TO LADYSMITH.

like a copy of the Westminster original,
improved by leaving nine-tenths of the
members and press and public out.

Yet here — alas, for placid Capetown ! —
they were wrangling. They were wran-
gling about the commandeering of gold
and the sjamboking — shamboking, you
pronounce it — of Johannesburg refugees.
There was Sir Gordon Sprigg, thrice
Premier, grey-bearded, dignified, and
responsible in bearing and speech, con-
versationally reasonable in tone. There
was Mr. Schreiner, the Premier, almost
boyish with plump, smooth cheeks and a
dark moustache. He looks capable, and
looks as if he knows it : he, too, is con-
versational, almost jerky, in speech, but
with a flavour of bitterness added to his
reason.

Everything sounded quiet and calm
enough for Capetown — yet plainly feel-
ing was strained tight to snapping. A
member rose to put a question, and pref-



FIRST GLIMPSE OF THE STRUGGLE. 7

aced it with a brief invective against all
Boers and their friends. He would go on
for about ten minutes, when suddenly
angry cries of " Order ! " in English and
Dutch would rise. The questioner com-
mented with acidity on the manners of
his opponents. They appealed to the
chair : the Speaker blandly pronounced
that the hon. orentleman had been out
of order from the first word he uttered.
The hon. gentleman thereon indignantly
refused to put his question at all ; but,
being prevailed to do so, gave an opening
to a Minister, who devoted ten minutes
to a brief invective against all Uitlanders
and their friends. Then up got one of
the other side — and so on for an hour.
Most delicious of all was a white-haired
German, once colonel in the Hanoverian
Leo^ion which was settled in the Eastern
Province, and which to this day remains
the loyallest of her Majesty's subjects.
When the Speaker ruled against his side



8 FROM CAPETOWN TO LADYSMITH.

he counselled defiance in a resounding
whisper; when an opponent was speak-
ing he snorted thunderous derision ;
when an opponent retorted he smiled
blandly and admonished him : " Ton't
lose yer demper."

In the Assembly, if nowhere else,
rumbled the menace of coming war.

One other feature there was that was
not Capetown. Along Adderley Street,
before the steamship companies' offices,
loafed a thick string of sun-reddened, un-
shaven, flannel-shirted, corduroy-trousered
British workingmen. Inside the offices
they thronged the counters six deep.
Down to the docks they filed steadily with
bundles to be penned in the black hulls
of homeward liners. Their words were
few and sullen. These were the miners
of the Rand — who floated no companies,
held no shares, made no fortunes, who
only wanted to make a hundred pounds
to furnish a cottage and marry a girl.



FIRST GLIMPSE OF THE STRUGGLE. 9

They had been turned out of work,
packed in cattle-trucks, and had come
down in sun by day, and icy wind by
night, empty-bellied, to pack off home
again. Faster than the shiploads could
steam out the trainloads steamed in.
They choked the lodging-houses, the
bars, the streets. Capetown was one
huge demonstration of the unemployed.
In the hotels and streets wandered the
pale, distracted employers. They hur-
ried hither and thither and arrived no-
whither ; they let their cigars go out, left
their glasses half full, broke off their talk
in the middle of a word. They spoke
now of intolerable grievance and hoarded
revenge, now of silent mines, rusting ma-
chinery, stolen gold. They held their
houses in Johannesburg as gone beyond
the reach of insurance. They hated
Capetown, they could not tear them-
selves away to England, they dared not
return to the Rand.



lO FROM CAPETOWN TO LADYSMITH.

This little quiet corner of Capetown
held the throbbing hopes and fears of all
Johannesburg and more than half the two
Republics and the mass of all South
Africa.

None doubted — though many tried to
doubt — that at last it was — war. They
paused an instant before they said the
word, and spoke it softly. It had come
at last — the moment they had worked
and waited for, and they knew not
whether to exult or to despair.



CHAPTER II.

THE ARMY CORPS — HAS NOT LEFT
ENGLAND.

Stormberg Junction.
The wind screams down from the
naked hills on to the little junction sta-
tion. A platform with dining-room and
telegraph office, a few corrugated iron
sheds, the station-master's corrugated
iron bungalow — and there is nothing else
of Stormberg but veldt and kopje, wind
and sky. Only these last days there has
sprung up a little patch of white tents a
quarter of a mile from the station, and
about them move men in putties and
khaki. Signal flags blink from the rises,
pickets with fixed bayonets dot the
ridges, mounted men in couples patrol
the plain and the dip and the slope.



12 FROM CAPETOWN TO LADYSMITH.

Four companies of the Berkshire Regi-
ment and the mounted infantry section —
in all they may count 400 men. Fifty
miles north is the Orange River, and
beyond it, maybe by now this side of it,
thousands of armed and mounted burgh-
ers — and war.

I wonder if it is all real ? By the clock
I have been travelling something over
forty hours in South Africa, but it might
just as well be a minute or a lifetime. It
is a minute of experience prolonged to a
lifetime. South Africa is a dream — one
of those dreams in which you live years
in the instant of waking — a dream of dis-
tance.

Departing from Capetown by night, I
awoke in the Karroo. Between nine and
six in the morning we had made less than
a hundred and eighty miles. Now we
were climbing the vast desert of the
Karroo, the dusty stairway that leads on
to the highlands of South Africa. Once



THE ARMY CORPS. 1 3

you have seen one desert, all the others
are like it ; and yet once you have loved
the desert, each is lovable in a new way.
In the Karroo you seem to be going up
a winding ascent, like the ramps that
lead to an Indian fortress. You are ever
pulling up an incline between hills, mak-
ing for a corner round one of the ranges.
You feel that when you get round that
corner you will at last see something :
you arrive and only see another incline,
two more ranges, and another corner —
surely this time with something to arrive
at beyond. You arrive and arrive, and
once more you arrive — and once more
you see the same vast nothing you are
coming from.

Believe it or not, that is the very
charm of a desert — the unfenced empti-
ness, the space, the freedom, the unbroken
arch of the sky. It is forever fooling
you, and yet you forever pursue it.
And then it is only to the eye that can-



14 FROM CAPETOWN TO LADYSMITH.

not do without green that the Karroo is
unbeautiful. Every other colour meets
others in harmony — tawny sand, silver-
grey scrub, crimson-tufted flowers like
heather, black ribs of rock, puce shoots
of screes, violet mountains in the middle
distance, blue fairy battlements guarding
the horizon. And above all broods the
intense purity of the South African
azure — not a coloured thing, like the
plants and the hills, but sheer colour
existing by and for itself.

It is sheer witching desert for five hun-
dred miles, and for aught I know five
hundred miles after that. At the rare
stations you see perhaps one corrugated-
iron store, perhaps a score of little stone
houses with a couple of churches. The
land carries little enough stock — here a
dozen goats browsing on the withered
sticks goats love, there a dozen ostriches,
high-stepping, supercilious heads in air,
wheeling like a troop of cavdlry and trot-



THE ARMY CORPS. 1$

ing out of the stink of that beastly train.
Of men, nothing — only here at the bridge
a couple of tents, there at the culvert a
black man, grotesque in sombrero and
patched trousers, loafing, hands in
pockets, lazy pipe in mouth. The last
man in the world, you would have said,
to suggest glorious war — yet war he
meant and nothing else. On the line
from Capetown — that single track
through five hundred miles of desert —
hang Kimberley and Mafeking and Rho-
desia : it runs through Dutch country and
the black man was there to watch it.

War — and war sure enough it was. A
telegram at a tea-bar, a whisper, a gather-
ing rush, an electric vibration — and all
the station and all the train and the very
niggers on the dunghill outside knew it.
War — war at last ! Everybody had pre-
dicted it — and now everybody gasped
with amazement. One man broke off in
a joke about killing Dutchmen, and could



l6 FROM CAPETOWN TO LADYSMITH.

only say, " My God — my God — my
God!"

I too was lost, and lost I remain.
Where was I to go ? What was I to do ?
My small experience has been confined to
wars you could put yours fingers on ; for
this war I have been looking long enough,
and have not found it. I have been ac-
customed to wars with headquarters, at
any rate to wars with a main body and a
concerted plan : but this war in Cape
Colony has neither.

It could not have either. If you look
at the map you will see that the Trans-
vaal and Orange Free State are all but
lapped in the red of British territory.
That would be to our advantage were our
fighting force superior or equal or even
not much inferior to that of the enemy.
In a general way it is an advantage to
have your frontier in the form of a re-
entrant angle ; for then you can strike on
your enemy's flank and threaten his com-



THE ARMY CORPS. 17

munications. That advantage the Boers
possess against Natal, and that is why
Sir George White has abandoned Lang's
Nek and Newcastle, and holds the line of
the Biggarsberg ; even so the Boers
might conceivably get between him and
his base. The same advantage we should
possess on this western side of the theatre
of war, except that we are so heavily out-
numbered, and have adopted no heroic
plan of abandoning the indefensible. We
have an irregular force of mounted in-
fantry at Mafeking, the Loyal North Lan-
cashire Regiment at Kimberley, the Mun-
ster Fusiliers at De Aar, half the York-
shire Light Infantry at De Aar, half
the Berkshire Regiment at Naauwpoort
— do not try to pronounce it — and the
other half here at Stormberg. The
Northumberlands — the famous Fighting
Fifth — came crawling up behind our
train, and may now be at Naauwpoort
or De Aar. Total: say, 4100 infantry,



1 8 FROM CAPETOWN TO LADYSMITH.

of whom some 600 mounted ; no cavalry,
no field-guns. The Boer force available
against these isolated positions might be
very reasonably put at 12,000 mounted
infantry, with perhaps a score of guns.

Mafeking and Kimberley are fairly
well garrisoned, with auxiliary volunteers,
and may hold their own : at any rate, I
have not been there and can say nothing
about them. But along the southern
border of the Free State — the three
railway junctions of De Aar, Naauwpoort,
and Stormberg — our position is very
dangerous indeed. I say it freely, for
by the time the admission reaches Eng-
land it may be needed to explain failure,
or pleasant to add lustre to success. If
the Army Corps were in Africa which is
still in England, this position would be a
splendid one for it — three lines of supply
from Capetown, Port Elizabeth, and East
London, and three converging lines of
advance by Nerval's Pont, Bethulie, and



THE ARMY CORPS. I9

AHwal North. But with tiny forces of half
a battalion in front and no support behind
— nothing but long lines of railway with
ungarrisoned ports hundreds of miles at
the far end of them — it is very dangerous.
There are at this moment no supports
nearer than England. Let the Free
Staters bring down two thousand good
shots and resolute men to-morrow morn-
ing — it is only fifty miles, with two lines
of railway — and what will happen to that
little patch of white tents by the station ?
The loss of any one means the loss of
land connection between Western and
Eastern Provinces, a line open into the
heart of the Cape Colony, and nothing to
resist an invader short of the sea.

It is dangerous — and yet nobody cares.
There is nothing to do but wait — for the
Army Corps that has not yet left Eng-
land. Even to-day — a day's ride from the
frontier — the war seems hardly real. All
will be done that man can do. In the



20 FROM CAPETOWN TO LADYSMITH.

meantime the good lady of the refresh-
ment-room says : " Dinner ? There's
been twenty-one to-day and dinner got
ready for fifteen ; but you're welcome to
it, such as it is. We must take things as
they come in war-time." Her children
play with their cats in the passage. The
railway man busies himself about the new
triangles and sidings that are to be laid
down against the beginning of December
for the Army Corps that has not yet left
England.



CHAPTER III.
A pastor's point of view.

BuRGHERSDORP, October 14.

The village lies compact and clean-cut,
a dot in the wilderness. No fields or
orchards break the transition from man
to nature ; step out of the street and you
are at once on rock-ribbed kopje or ravi'
veldt. As you stand on one of the bare
lines of hill that squeeze it into a narrow
valley, Burghersdorp is a chequer-board
of white house, green tree, and grey iron
roof ; beyond its edges everything is the
changeless yellow-brown of South African
landscape.

Go down into the streets, and Burghers-
dorp is an ideal of Arcady. The broad,
dusty, unmetalled roads are steeped in
sunshine. The houses are all one-



22 FROM CAPETOWN TO LADYSMITH.

storeyed, some brick, some mud, some
the eternal corrugated iron, most faced
with whitewash, many fronted with shady
verandahs. As blinds against the sun
they have lattices of trees down every
street — white-blossoming laburnum, pop-
lars, sycamores.

Despite verandahs and trees, the sun-
shine soaks down into every corner —
genially, languorously warm. All Bur-
ghersdorp basks. You see half-a-dozen
yoke of bullocks with a waggon, stand-
ing placidly in the street, too lazy even
to swish their tails against the flies ; pass
by an hour later, and they are still there,
and the black man lounging by the
leaders has hardly shifted one leg ; pass
by at evening, and they have moved on
three hundred yards, and are resting
again. In the daytime hens peck and
cackle in every street ; at nightfall the
bordering veldt hums with crickets and
bullfrogs. At morn comes a flight of



A pastor's point of view. 23

locusts — first yellow-white scouts whirring
down every street, then a pelting snow-
storm of them high up over the houses,
spangling the blue heaven. But Bur-
ghersdorp cared nothing. "There is
nothing for them," said a farmer, with
cosy satisfaction ; " the frost killed every-
thing last week."

British and Dutch salute and exchange
the news with lazy mutual tolerance.
The British are storekeepers and men of
business ; the Boers ride in from their
farms. They are big, bearded men,
loose of limb, shabbily dressed in broad-
brimmed hats, corduroy trousers, and
brown shoes ; they sit their ponies at a
rocking-chair canter erect and easy ; un-
kempt, rough, half-savage, their tanned
faces and blue eyes express lazy good-
nature, sluggish stubbornness, dormant
fierceness. They ask the news in soft,
lisping Dutch that might be a woman's ;
but the lazy imperiousness of their bear-



24 FROM CAPETOWN TO LADYSMITII.

ing stamps them as free men. A people
hard to rouse, you say — and as hard,
when roused, to subdue.

A loitering Arcady — and then you
hear with astonishment that Burghers-
dorp is famous throughout South Africa
as a stronghold of bitter Dutch partisan-
ship. " Rebel Burghersdorp " they call
it in the British centres, and Capetown
turns anxious ears towards it for the first
muttering of insurrection. What history
its stagnant annals record is purely anti-
British. Its two principal monuments,
after the Jubilee fountain, are the tomb-
stone of the founder of the Dopper
Church — the Ironsides of South Africa —
and a statue with inscribed pedestal
complete put up to commemorate the
introduction of the Dutch tongue into
the Cape Parliament. Malicious com-
ments add that Afrikander patriotism
swindled the stone-mason out of ^30,
and it is certain that one of the gentle-



A PASTOR S POINT OF VIEW. 2$

men whose names appear thereon most
prominently now languishes in jail for
fraud. Leaving that point for thought,
I find that the rest of Burghersdorp's
history consists in the fact that the
Afrikander Bond was founded here in
1 88 1. And at this moment Burghers-
dorp is out-Bonding the Bond : the
reverend gentleman who edits its Dutch
paper and dictates its Dutch policy
sluices out weekly vials of wrath upon
Hofmeyr and Schreiner for machinating
to keep patriot Afrikanders off the
oppressing Briton's throat.

I went to see this reverend pastor,
who is professor of a school of Dopper
theology. He was short, but thick-set,
with a short but shaggy grey beard ; in
deference to his calling, he wore a collar
over his grey flannel shirt, but no tie.
Nevertheless, he turned out a very
charming, courteous old gentleman, well
informed, and his political bias was



26 FROM CAPETOWN TO LADYSMITII.

mellowed with an irresistible sense of
humour. He took his own side strongly,
and allowed that it was most proper for
a Briton to be equally strong on his own.
And this is more or less what he said :

"Information? No, I shall not give
you any : you are the enemy, you see.
Ha, ha ! They call me rebel. But I
ask you, my friend, is it natural that I —
I, Hollander born, Dutch Afrikander
since '60 — should be as loyal to the
British Government as a Britisher
should be ? No, I say ; one can be
loyal only to one's own country. I am
law-abiding subject of the Queen, and
that is all that they can ask of me.

" How will the war go ? That it is
impossible, quite impossible, to say.
The Boer might run away at the first
shot and he might fight to the death.
All troops are liable to panic ; even
regular troop ; much more than irregu-
lar. But I have been on commando



A PASTOR S POINT OF VIEW. 2/

many times with Boer, and I cannot
think him other than brave man. Fight-
ing is not his business ; he wishes always
to be back on his farm with his people ;
but he is brave man.

" I look on this war as the sequel of
1 88 1. I have told them all these years,
it is not finish ; war must come. Mr.
Gladstone, whom I look on as greatest
British statesman, did wrong in 1881.
If he had kept promises and given back
country before the war, we would have
been grateful ; but he only give it after
war, and we were not grateful. And
English did not feel that they were
generous, only giving independence after
war, though they had a large army in
Natal ; they have always wished to re-
commence.

" The trouble is because the Boer have
never had confidence in the Enorlish Gov-
ernment, just as you have never had con-
fidence in us. The Boer have no feeling



28 FROM CAPETOWN TO LADYSMITH.


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Online LibraryG. W. (George Warrington) SteevensFrom Capetown to Ladysmith; an unfinished record of the South African war → online text (page 1 of 8)