Investment of Ladysmith, Mafeking, and Kimberley
of Affairs on the Western Frontier.
lies close to the Free State frontier and 647 miles north of Capetown. In
an analogous position close to the Transvaal frontier, 230 miles further
to the north, and on the long railway which descends from Rhodesia to the
sea, stands Mafeking, with Vryburg half-way between it and Kimberley. At
Mafeking had assembled a small British force of irregulars, raised by
Colonel Baden-Powell, an officer of exceptional dash and capacity, from
the splendid material available in Rhodesia, and some detachments of the
British South Africa Company's police. Still further to the north and more
than a thousand miles from the Cape were other small detachments under
Colonel Plumer, at Palapye, Makloutsi, and Tuli, on the northern frontier
of the Transvaal. Between these detachments and Mafeking, between Mafeking
and Kimberley, between Kimberley and Orange River, the communications
could not be protected, and were certain to be broken. Thus from the first
it was evident that Mafeking and Kimberley would have to stand sieges of
the southern frontier of the Free State handfuls of troops occupied the
important railway junctions of Naauwpoort and Stormberg, and there were
British outposts at Aliwal North. It should be explained that three
railways run from the littoral of Cape Colony inland to the Free State or
the Free State frontier. The first comes up from Capetown to Kimberley by
De Aar; the second from Port Elizabeth to Bloemfontein by Rosmead Junction
and Naauwpoort ; the third from East London by Stormberg to Springfontein
on the Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth railway. Lines from De Aar to
Naauwpoort and from Rosmead to Stormberg connect the three. Stormberg and
Naauwpoort were therefore points of the utmost strategical importance.
attitude of the Dutch Ministry in power in Cape Colony was so dubious that
defensive preparations were rendered more difficult. Mr. Schreiner, the
Cape Premier, allowed tons of ammunition and hundreds of railway trucks to
enter the Free State just before the war, and seems to have taken no steps
of any kind to protect the Colony against invasion. The Cape Mounted
Police, a superb body of men, 1,900 strong, the Cape Mounted Rifles, 1,000
strong, and the Cape Volunteers, 4,000 strong, were not drawn upon for
defence as they should have been. The volunteers were not properly armed
or supplied with ammunition. In fact, the Cape Ministry appeared to hold
to the view that a strict neutrality ought to be preserved by the Colony.
There may have been an object not altogether unfriendly in this--to keep
quiet the Cape Dutch--or there may have been real disloyalty. But had
5,000 or 6,000 Cape Colonials been available at the outset, Stormberg
could have been firmly held, and the Boers prevented from besieging
Act of War.
Boers seem to have anticipated an easy and an early success at Mafeking.
The resources of the place were small; the garrison all told did not
exceed 1,200 men, and was ill provided with artillery. But there was a
large accumulation of stores and ammunition, which would at least enable
the defenders to hold out or some months. Cronje had under him 4,000 or
5,000 men with good artillery, and had all the resources of the Pretoria
arsenals and magazines behind him, He could draw guns of the heaviest
calibre if he wanted them.
to Capture Mafeking.
the 24th the Boers placed three heavy siege guns in position, and with
them shelled the town, while the smaller weapons kept up a heavy fire.
Three bedrooms were wrecked, the gas plant destroyed, and the town set on
fire. Next day the bombardment was resumed, and the enemy massed for an
assault, compelling the little British force to leave the bomb-proofs and
line the trenches. Day after day these experiences continued till on the
31st an assault was actually delivered upon Cannon Kopje, an outlying hill
protected by a small fort. The Boers advanced under cover of the fire of
four 15-pounder field guns and of a 5.9-inch siege gun, but were repulsed
after a. long and desperate struggle, in which the little garrison
suffered severely and lost the services of Captains Marsham and Pechell
both of whom were killed.
keep his men in good spirits, always a hard task in a long siege, Colonel
Baden-Powell held impromptu
concerts, at which fragments of popular operas were given by the ladies
and officers in the town. He speedily obtained the complete confidence of
his men. No precaution was neglected; everything was foreseen; and in
spite of his limited resources be was never beaten. By common agreement
between the British and the Boers, Sunday was observed as a day of trace,
Once or twice when the Boers were noticed to be digging trenches on that
day, "B.-P." as his men called him, drew Cronje's attention to
the fact, and the digging stopped. The Boers however, persistently shelled
the hospital and a convent which the nuns had refused to abandon. These
heroic ladies attended the sick and wounded, and took the fullest share in
the hard work, setting an example Which was above all praise.
November 7 the garrison made a very successful sortie, drawing the Boers
under the fire of our ambushed artillery by a feigned retreat. The enemy
broke and fled in great disorder, losing heavily. After this an interval
of Boer inactivity followed, though the town was constantly shelled,
Cronje, with a good number of his men, was withdrawn, as his services were
wanted elsewhere, and Commandant Snyman replaced him. The position of the
biggest of the Boer guns was altered the Boer field artillery left for
accuracy of the Boer fire was great. Seven successive shots from the 5.9-inch
gun struck the front of one of the forts, completely destroying the
earthworks, though, strangely enough, there was no loss of life. The
convent was hit eight times; a shell struck a hotel and, bursting, moved a
billiard table some inches without injuring those who were playing
billiards. Another shell took off the roof of a house in which five men
were breakfasting without wounding any of the five.
from gallant little Mafeking to the earlier stages of the siege of
Kimberley, Boer forces had assembled at Boshof and Jacobsdal, the one to
the north-east, the other to the south of that town, in readiness for a
move when President Kruger gave the signal. On October 12 the Jacobsdal
commando crossed the frontier, seized Modder River station, telephoned to
Kimberley to try to find out the force in the town, and then made all
preparations for the destruction of the iron bridge which spans the river
at this point. The Boshof , commando advanced on Riverton, a station on
the railway to the north of the town, drove back a detachment of Cape
Police, and looted and wrecked the town.
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Copyright © Lewis P. Orans,