Justin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthy.

England under Gladstone, 1880-1885 online

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lutely waterless in the summer months — had been taken instead
of the ' upper ' road ordered by General Burrows. In conse-
quence of this fatal error all along the line of the retreat no
water was to be obtained, and the demoralised men refused to
follow General Burrows from this main road into the countiy
on either side in search of water. To within a few miles of
Candahar the fight and flight went on, every mile of the road
being marked with the dead bodies of English and Indian
soldiers. When the wretched remnant of the little force
reached the banks of the Argandab many of the suffering
soldiers di'ank water for the first time for two days, while
General Burrows hastened on to Candahar to tell tlie tidings of
his defeat, and the loss of half his men. General Brooke, who
was himself afterwards killed in a sortie, sent out with some
cavalry and conducted the unhappy survivors safely into can-
tonments. There was no further cjuestion of attacking Ayoob
Khan. The parts were i^eversed. Candahar was besieged.

The news of the defeat was received in England with
dismay and anger. Afghanistan had indeed been an accursed
country to England. Like the Oriental monarch who desu-ed
never again to hear the sound of the name of the race that had
again and again defeated him in battle, the English people
might well have prayed never to hear the name of Afghan king
or Afghan city again. Not just then, though, not until the
hateful memory of Maiwand was effaced by some English victory,
as in 1842 the triumph before the broken walls of Jellalabad


did somethinsr to obliterate the horror aud shame of the Jus-
dulluk Pass. The situation at Candahar was tei'rible. General
Primrose was shut up there with a small force and the rem-
nant of the men who had fought at Maiwand, Before them
were the victorious swarms of Ayoob's followers, flashed with
their victory over an English army. Military counsel at Cabitl
decided on one bold stroke ; if that failed, then indeed the
position of the British, not only in Afghanistan, but over all the
continent of India, was perilous indeed. General Sir Frederick
Roberts, with a force of some 10,000 men, British, Ghoorkas,
and Sikhs, the utmost that could be spared him, was sent from
Cabul to relieve Candahar and revenge Maiwand. He marched at
the head of his little band out into the trackless regions between
Cabul and Candahar, out into impenetrable darkness and
silence, as far as those were concerned who in every Indian and
every English community waited in hope and fear for news.
For three weeks nothing whatever was heard or known of
Sir Frederick Roberts and his 10,000. He disappeared as
Sherman disappeared when he plunged into the south on his
famous march to the sea. At length it was known that Sir
Frederick E-obex-ts had come to still untaken Candahar, had
hurled himself against Ayoob Khan and totally defeated him.
Everything had depended upon that chance, and it had been
won ; the English hardly dared to ask themselves, now it was
all over, how would it have been if they had lost %

In the meantime, while Roberts was on his way to Can-
dahar, the new Emir had been received as sovereign of Afghan-
istan. After much consultation v/ith his astrologers, Abdur-
rahman had learnt the lucky day for his entry. The stars, it
sterns, had written, too, that Abdurrahman must wear an
emerald ring on his finger on the fateful day, and in defiance of
Pliny's warning that an emerald must never be engraved, a
ring was accordingly prepared, bearing his name and the date
from the Hegira graven upon it. Before the auspicious day
when Abdurrahman, with the ring, might enter Cabul the last
of the British troops had left the Sherpur cantonments, and
followed General Stewart on the ^'ay to India. The line of



inarch lay thi'ough the passes which had been soaked ia blood
in 1842. The march was now peaceful enough, the hill tribes
were quiet ; the oppressive heat was the most serious antagonist
the troo^Js had to meet.



Difficulty and disaster in Afghanistan wore balanced by
diiEculty and disaster in South Africa. Difficulties with the
native tribes there had been ever since English colonists had
settled at the Cape, but the present difficulty was not with
Zulus, but with the Dutch settlers of the Transvaal. During
the whole history of the South African colony the relations
between the English and the original Dutch settlers had never
been cordiiil, had often been warlike. The Cape had originally
been a purely Dutch settlement, founded by the Dutch East
India Company in the middle of the seventeenth century. In
1795 it was taken by the British, under Admiral Elphinstone,
during the French war, only to be restored again at the Peace
of xYmiens. In 1806, when England and France were again
at war, the importance of the Cape as a military and naval
station induced the English to recapture it, after a brave and
vain resistance on the j^art of the Dutch. From that time the
colony remained a dependency of the British Crown. The early
history of the colony is a record of the struggles of the settlers,
both English and Dutch, against the despotic system of govern-
ment established by Lord Charles Somerset ; of Kaffir wars, in
which the colonists were often hard put to it to hold their
own; and of the struggle for the liberty of the Press, sustained
with success by John Fairbairn, and Thomas Pringle, the poet of
South Africa, the Ovid of a self-chosen exile. For a time the
Dutch and English settlers lived in peace and amity together,
but the EngUsh eftbrts to alleviate the condition of, and finally
emancipate the slaves, severed the two races. The Dutch
settlers held the old Biblical notions about slavery, and they


resented fiercely the law of 1833 emancipating all slaves
throughout the colony in 1834. The Boers at once determined
to ' trek,' to leave the colony which was under the jurisdiction
of the English law, and find in the South African wilderness,
where no human law prevailed, food for their flecks, and the
pastoral freedom of Jacob and of Abraham. The Boers would
live their own lives in their own way. They had nothing in
common with the Englishman, and they wished for nothing in
common. In the intensity of his religious feeling the Boer
presented a close parallel to the unbending Puritans who
founded New England. Next to his religion the Boer loved
isolation. He wished for personal as well as political independ-
ence. He likes, says Mr. Thomas Fortescue Carter, who knows
the race well — * he likes to be out of the sight of his neighbour's
smoke ; to live fifteen or twenty miles from any other man's
dwelling is a source of satisfaction rather than dissatisfaction
to him.' The patriarchal customs of the Boers, which invari-
ably led their children to settle in the vicinity of their parents,
pi^evented this isolation from being actually companionless.
They were a primitive people, farming, hunting, reading the
Bible, pious, sturdy, and independent \ and the colonial Govern-
ment was by no means willing to see them leaving the fields and
farms that they had colonised, in order to found fresh states
outside the boundaries of the newly acquired territory. But
the Government was powerless ; it tried, and tried in vain, to
prevent this emigration. There was no law to prevent it.
The Boers themselves might not have unreasonably challenged
the law, if it had existed, to bind them. They were Dutchmen,
not English ; their Dutch Government might cede its broad
lands in the Cape to England, but it could not cede the citizen-
ship and the liberties of the dwellers on the lands. They were
free to go where they pleased; they were no serfs bound by
unalienable ties to the soil they tilled. Even if it had been
argued that the lapse of time had practically made them
British subjects, there could be no means of hindering British
subjects from seeking, when they pleased, their fortunes else-
where thaii within the narrow limits of the Crown colony. So,


■witli their waggons, their horses, their cattle and sheep, their
guns, and their few household goods, the hardy Boers struck
out into the interior and to the north-east, in true patriarchal
fashion, seeking their promised land, and that ' desolate freedom
of the wild ass ' which was dear to their hearts. They founded
a colony at Katal, fought and baptized the new colony in their
own blood. The Zulu chief, Dingaan, who sold them the terri-
tory, murdered the Boer leader, Peter Eetief, and his seventy-
nine followers as soon as the deed was signed. This was the
beginning of the Boer hatred to the natiA'e races. The Boers
fought with the Zulus successfully enough, fought with the
English who came upon them less successfully. The Imperial
Government decided that it would not permit its sulijects to
establish any independent Governments in any part of South
Africa. In 1843, after no slight struggle and bloodshed, the
Dutch republic of Natal ceased to be, and Natal became part
of the Bi'itish dominion. Again the Boers, who were un-
willing to remain under British rule, ' trekked ' northward ;
again a free Dutch state was founded — the Orange Free State.
Once again the English Government persisted in regarding them
as British subjects, and as rebels if they I'efused to admit as
much. Once again there was strife and bloodshed, and in 1848
the Orange settlement was placed under British authority,
while the leading Boers fled for their lives across the Vaal
Biver, and, obstinately independent, began to found the Trans-
vaal Bepublic. After six years, however, of British rule in the
Orange territory the Imperial Government decided to give it
back to the Boers, whose stubborn desire for self-government,
and unchanging dislike for foreign rule, made them practically
tuimanageable as subjects. In April 1854 a convention was
entered into with the Boers of the Orange territory, by Avhich
the Impei'ial Government guaranteed the future independence
of the Orange Free State. Across the Vaal River the Trans-
vaal Boers grew and flourished after their own fashion, fought
the natives, established their republic and their Volksraad.
But in 1877 the Transvaal republic had been getting rather
the worst of it in some of these struggles, and certain


of the Transvaal Boers seem to have made suggestions to
England that she should take the Transvaal republic under her
protection. Sh- Theophilus Shepstone was sent out to investi-
gate the situation. He seems to have entirely misunderstood
the condition of things, and to have taken the frightened desires
of a few Boers as the honest sentiments of the whole Boer nation.
In an evil hour he hoisted the English flag in the Transvaal, and
declared the little republic a portion of the territory of the
British Crown. As a matter of fact, the majority of the Boers
were a fierce, independent people, very jealous of their liberty,
and without the least desire to come under the rule, to escape
which they had wandered so far from the earliest settlements of
their race. But in 1877 the republic was in a very crippled
condition from the Secocoeni wars and bad administration,
and no immediate resistance was made to the annexation.
There were even among the leaders of the national movement
many Boers who, at the time, accepted without a murmur the
rule of Sir Theophilus Shepstone. But the dissatisfaction was
none the less deep. The Boers of the Transvaal sent deputa-
tion after deputation to England to appeal, and appeal in vain,
against the annexation. Lord Carnarvon had set his whole
heart upon a scheme of South African confederation; his
belief in the ease with which this confederation might be
accomplished was carefully fostered by judiciously coloured
official reports. Lord Carnarvon believed that his dream was
about to become reality, and he was deaf or indifferent to
appeals which seemed to interfere with or prove obnoxious to
his cherished design. English representatives at the Cape made
it clear to the Boers again and again that they must not enter-
tain any hope of being allowed to return to their independence.
Sir Bartle Frere, ' as a friend,' advised the Boers ' not to beHeve
one word ' of any statements to the effect that the English people
would be willing to give up the Transvaal. ' Never believe,' he
said, 'that the English people will do anything of the kind.'
When the chief civil and military command of the eastern
part of South Africa was given to Sir Garnet AVolseley, Sir
Garnet Wolseley was not less explicit in his statements. He


proclaimed that the ' Transvaal tenitoiy shall be, and shall con-
tinue to be for ever, an integral portion of her Majesty's dominions
in South Africa.' With Napoleonic brusqueness of epigram,
he ainaounced, on another occasion, ' So long as the sun shines
the Transvaal will remain British territory.' The utterance of
such brave maxims as these was part of the Civil Commif^sioner's
official duty, but Sir Garnet Wolseley was compelled to admit,
in a despatch to the Colonial Office dated October 29, that there
was grave discontent in the Transvaal; that it seemed to be the
intention of the Boers to fight for freedom, and that * the main
body of the Dutch population are disaffected to our rule.'

In spite of the announcements of Sir Bartle Frere, Sir
Garnet Wolseley, and Sir Owen Lanyon, the disaffected Boers
were not without more or less direct English encouragement.
The Boer deputations had found many friends in England,
and when they came back to the Transvaal with their dis-
appointment they could at least tell their fellows that if the
zeal of confederation had eaten up Lord Carnarvon in England
and Sir Bartle Frere at the Cape, there were those in England
who sympathised deeply with the Boers in their hunger and
thirst for freedom. One of those who thus sympathised was
Mr. Gladstone. In his Midlothian speeches he denounced
again and again tlie Conservative policy which had led to the
annexation of the Traansval, ' a free Eurojoean Christian
republican community ; ' and had endeavoured to ' transform
republicans into subjects of a monarchy,' against the will of
more than three-fourths of the entire people. ' The Transvaal,'
Mr. Gladstone declared on November 25, 1879, 'is a country
where we have chosen, most unwisely, I am tempted to say
insanely, to place ourselves in the strange predicament of the
free subjects of a monarchy going to coerce the free subjects of
a republic, and to compel them to accept a citizenship which
they decline and refuse.' ' Is it not wonderful,' he asked again
on December 29, 1879, 'to those who are freemen, and whose
fathers had been freemen, and who hope that their children
will be freemen, and who consider that freedom is an essential
condition of civil life, and that without it you can have nothing


great and nothing noble in political society — that we are led
by an administration, and led, I admit, by Parliament, to find
ourselves in this position, that we are to march upon another
body of freemen, and against their will to subject them to
despotic government % ' While all the winds of the world were
carrying Mr. Gladstone's words to every corner of the earth, it
is not surprising that the Boers of the Transvaal, a people
' vigorous, obstinate, and tenacious in character even as we are
ourselves,' said Mr. Gladstone, should have caught at these
encouraging sentences, and been cheered by them, and animated
by them to rise against the despotism denounced by a former
Prime Minister of England, who seemed even then on the
highway to become again Prime Minister. They had talked of
freedom before, and seen their leaders imprisoned; they had
seen a military administrator, Sir Owen Lanyon, put over
them in the place of Sir Theophiliis Sbepstone ; now they
meant to act. For some time there seemed to be no reasonable
chance of liberty, but in the end of 1880 the Boers saw their
opportunity. They had seen the English defeated at Isand-
Ihana ; they had seen with how much difBculty the English had
at last succeeded in conquering and capturing Cetewayo.
Now in the end of 1880 they saw the Cape colonists engaged
in an uncertain struijfrle with a native race. The colonists
had ordered the disarmament of the Basuto tribe, and
were unsuccessfully endeavouring to carry out their decree
upon the rebellious natives. There were few troops in the
Transvaal. The Boer hour had come. As in most insurrec-
tions, the immediate cause of the rising was slight enough. A
Boer named Bezhuidenot was summoned by the landdrost of
Potchefstrom to pay a claim made by the Treasury oflScials
at Pretoria. Bezhuidenot resisted the claim, which certainly
appears to have been illegal. Curio visly enough, Bezhuidenot
was the son of a Bezhuidenot who sixty years before was shot
for resisting the law in Cape Colony, and was the cause then of
a Boer rising. The son was destined to be the herald of a new
insurrection. The landdrost attached a waggon of Bezhuide-
not's, and announced that it would be sold to meet the claim.


On November 1 1 the waggon was brouglit into the open square
of Potchefstrom, and the sheriff was about to begin the sale,
when a number of armed Boers pulled him off and carried the
waggon away in triumph. They were unopposed, as there was
no force in the town to resist them. The incident, trifling in
itself, of Bezhuidenot's cart was the match wliich fired the long-
prepared train. Sir Owen Lanyon sent some troops to Potchef-
strom ; a wholly unsuccessful attempt was made to arrest the
ringleaders of the Bezliuidenot affair ; it was obvious that a
collision was close at hand. While the English authorities
were delaying, uncertain how to act, the Boers were doing their
best to expedite the crisis. On Monday, December 13, 1880,
almost exactly a month after the affair of Bezhuidenot's
waggon, a mass meeting of Boers at Heidelberg proclaimed the
Transvaal once again a re[)ublic, established a triumvirate
Government, and prepared to defend their republic in arms.
The triumvirate, Paul Kvuger, P. Joubert, and M. "W. Pre-
torius, were remarkable men. The first who signed his name
to the proclamation which re-created the republic was Stephen
John Paul Kruger, * Oom ' Paul (Uncle Paul), as his people
fondly called him, a black-haired, black-bearded man of some
sixty years, of middle height, stooping, and round-shouldered,
with defective speech. He was one of the original emigrants
from the old colony, and a member of the strict Protestant
Dutch body known as ' DopperS:' He had been eminent in
many of the Boer and native wars, and seems, like many other
historical loaders of men, to be under the superstitious convic-
tion that he is invulnerable, and cannot be hit by any hostile
bullet. Next comes Peter Jacob Joubert, a low-set, stout,
coarse-looking man, with sharp dark eyes beneath beetle brows,
ruddy foce, and full beard and whiskers of a blackish brown.
He was younger than Ivruger, and entirely self-educated. He
was brought up like a Covenanter on Bible and Psalm book for
all literature, and never so much as saw a newspaper until he
was nineteen years of age. Like Kruger, he learned how to
fight in Kafiir wars. Max'tin "Wessel Pretorius was an elderly
man of great administrative ability, who had studied how to


rule as alternate president of the Transvaal and the Orange
Free State. Between these two states it was the great but
unsuccessful idea of his life to bring about a complete political
and social union. Besides this triumvirate, two other Boers
call for mention — Dr. E. F. Jorrissen, a divine from Holland,
deeply learned and fierce of temper and spirit, one of the prin-
cipal authors and organisers of the insurrection ; and W,
Edward Bok, the secretary of the new republic, a young man
of about thirty, a master of English, studious, tlioughtful, and
genial, likely to make himself a name.

The news of the insurrections aroused the Cape Govern-
ment to a sense of the seriousness of the situation. Movements
of British troops were at once made to put the insurgents down
with all speed. It is still an unsettled point on which side the
first shot was fired. There were some shots exchanged at
Potchefstrom on December 15, when a large party of armed
Boers entered the town in order to get their proclamation
printed. In this affair the Boers maintain that the English,
the English assert that the Boei'S, were the first to commence
hostilities. In any case, the first blood was drawn, and the
first victory gained, by the Boers. As soon as the republic
was proclaimed the triumvirate had sent a letter to Sir Owen
Lanyon, calling upon him to imitate the action of the Transvaal
Government in 1877, and yield up the keys of the Government
offices without bloodshed. Previously to this the- 94th regiment
had marched from Leydenberg to reinforce Pretoria on Decem-
ber 5, and had reached Middleburgh about a week later. On
the way came rumours of the Boer rising, and many of the
residents of Middleburgh were unwilling to allow the regiment
to leave. Colonel Anstruther did not regard the rumours
very serious, and set out with his regiment for Pretoria. It
was not for some days later, until the legiment was camped by
the Oliphants Ptiver, that the reports received any serious belief
in the minds of its officers. Colonel Anstruther seems to
have felt convinced that the force he had with him was quite
strong enough to render a good account of any rebels who might
attempt to intercept its march. The whole strength of his


force, however, officers included, did not amount to quite 250
men. The troops crossed the Oliphants River, left it two days'
march behind them, and on the morning of the 20th were
marching quietly along with their long line of waggons and
their band playing ' God save the Queen ' under the bright glare
of the sun. Suddenly, on the rising ground near the Bronk-
horst Spruit a body of armed Boers appeared. A man galloped
out from among them — Paul de Beer — with a flag of truce.
Colonel Anstruther rode out to meet him, and received a
sealed despatch warning the colonel that the British advance
would be considered as a declaration of war. Colonel An-
struther replied simply that he was ordered to go to Pretoria,
and that he should do so. Each man galloped back to his own
force, and firing began. In ten minutes the fight, if fight it
can be called, was over. The Boers were unrivalled sharp-
shooters, had marked out every officer ; every shot was aimed,
and every shot told. The Boers were well covered by trees on
rising ground ; the English were beneath them, had no cover
at all, and were completely at their mercy. In ten minutes all
the officers had fallen, some forty men were killed, and nearly
double the number wounded. Colonel Anstruther, who v.-as
himself badly wounded, saw that he must either surrender or
have ail his men shot down, and he surrendered. The wounded
and the survivors were taken prisoners. While the fight was
going on, and defeat was inevitable, conductor Egeiton, a
brave and gallant gentleman, hid the regimental colours under
his coat, and so concealed them from the eager eyes of the
victorious Boers. Egerton got permission to go to Pretoria
for medical assistance, but he was refused a horse, and allowed
to carry no weapon. There were forty miles between him and
Pretoria. For eleven hours he marched along, keeping often
out of the main road for fear of being surj^rised by parties of
Boers with the precious colours around his body. All that day
and part of the night, for eleven weary hours Egerton marched,
and in the early morning, with feet blistered and bleeding from
his tramp, he staggered into Pretoria with the news of the
defeat, but with the colours safe about him. The rescued


colours were given to Colonel Gildea of the Royal Scots
Fusiliers, who with graceful courtesy wound them inside those
of his own regiment.

Sir Bartle Frere called this affair a ' treacherous surprise '
and ' a massacre,' but such terms were hardly fair. The
accounts of the affair given by Colonel Anstruther and con-
ductor Egerton on the one side, and by Paul de Beer on the
other, show that fair warning was given of the Boers' deter-
mination to regard the British advance as an act of war. The
Boers' victory was due to their superior nuuibers and Ijetter

Online LibraryJustin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthyEngland under Gladstone, 1880-1885 → online text (page 7 of 38)