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Cape Colony

commissioner to inform Mr Chamberlain that he and his colleagues agreed in regarding President Kruger's Bloemfontein proposals as “practical, reasonable and a considerable step in the right direction.” Early in June, however, the Cape Dutch politicians began to realize that President Kruger's attitude was not so reasonable as they had endeavoured to persuade themselves, and Mr Hofmeyr, accompanied by Mr Herholdt, the Cape minister of agriculture, visited Pretoria. On arrival, they found that the Transvaal Volksraad, in a spirit of defiance and even levity, had just passed a resolution offering four new seats in the Volksraad to the mining districts, and fifteen to exclusively burgher districts. Mr Hofmeyr, on meeting the executive, freely expressed indignation at these proceedings. Unfortunately, Mr Hofmeyr's influence was more than counterbalanced by an emissary from the Free State, Mr Abraham Fischer, who, while purporting to be a peacemaker, practically encouraged the Boer executive to take extreme measures. Mr Hofmeyr's established reputation as an astute diplomatist, and as the trusted leader for years of the Cape Dutch party, made him as powerful a delegate as it was possible to find. If any emissary could accomplish anything in the way of persuading Mr Kruger, it was assuredly Mr Hofmeyr. Much was looked for from his mission by moderate men of all parties, and by none more so, it is fair to believe, than by Mr Schreiner. But Mr Hofmeyr's mission, like every other mission to Mr Kruger to induce him to take a reasonable and equitable course, proved entirely fruitless. He returned to Cape Town disappointed, but probably not altogether surprised at the failure of his mission. Meanwhile a new proposal was drafted by the Boer executive, which, before it was received in its entirety, or at least before it was clearly understood, elicited from Mr Schreiner a letter on the 7th of July to the South African News, in which, referring to his government, he said:—

“While anxious and continually active with good hope in the cause of securing reasonable modifications of the existing representative system of the South African Republic, this government is convinced that no ground whatever exists for active interference in the internal affairs of that republic.”

This letter was precipitate and unfortunate. On the 11th of July, after seeing Mr Hofmeyr on his return, Mr Schreiner made a personal appeal to President Kruger to approach the imperial government in a friendly spirit. At this time an incident occurred which raised the feeling against Mr Schreiner to a very high pitch. On the 7th of July 500 rifles and 1,000,000 rounds of ammunition were landed at Port Elizabeth, consigned to the Free State government, and forwarded to Bloemfontein. Mr Schreiner's attention was called to this consignment at the time, but he refused to stop it, alleging as his reason that, inasmuch as Great Britain was at peace with the Free State, he had no right to interdict the passage of arms through the Cape Colony. The British colonist is as capable of a grim jest as the Transvaal Boer, and this action of Mr Schreiner's won for him the nickname “Ammunition Bill.” At a later date he was accused of delay in forwarding artillery and rifles for the defence of Kimberley, Mafeking and other towns of the colony. The reason he gave for delay was that he did not anticipate war; and that he did not wish to excite unwarrantable suspicions in the minds of the Free State. His conduct in both instances was perhaps technically correct, but it was much resented by loyal colonists.

On the 28th of July Mr Chamberlain sent a conciliatory despatch to President Kruger, suggesting a meeting of delegates to consider and report on his last franchise proposals, which were complex to a degree. Mr Schreiner, on the 3rd of August, telegraphed to Mr Fischer begging the Transvaal to welcome Mr Chamberlain's proposal. At a later date, on receiving an inquiry from the Free State as to the movements of British troops, Mr Schreiner curtly refused any information, and referred the Free State to the high commissioner. On the 28th of August Sir Gordon Sprigg in the House of Assembly moved the adjournment of the debate, to discuss the removal of arms to the Free State. Mr Schreiner, in reply, used expressions which called down upon him the severest censure and indignation, both in the colony and in Great Britain. He stated that, should the storm burst, he would keep the colony aloof with regard both to its forces and its people. In the course of the speech he also read a telegram from President Steyn, in which the president repudiated all contemplated aggressive action on the part of the Free State as absurd. The speech created a great sensation in the British press. It was probably forgotten at the time (though Lord Kimberley afterwards publicly stated it) that one of the chief reasons why the Gladstone government had granted the retrocession of the Transvaal after Majuba, was the fear that the Cape Colonial Dutch would join their kinsmen if the war continued. What was a danger in 1881, Mr Schreiner knew to be a still greater danger in 1899. At the same time it is quite obvious, from a review of Mr Schreiner's conduct through the latter half of 1899, that he took an entirely mistaken view of the Transvaal situation. He evinced, as premier of the Cape Colony, the same inability to understand the Uitlanders' grievances, the same futile belief in the eventual fairness of President Kruger, as he had shown when giving evidence before the British South Africa Select Committee into the causes of the Jameson Raid. Actual experience taught him that President Kruger was beyond an appeal to reason, and that the protestations of President Steyn were insincere. War had no sooner commenced with the ultimatum of the Transvaal Republic on the 9th of October 1899, than Mr Schreiner found himself called upon to deal with the conduct of Cape rebels. The rebels joined the invading forces of President Steyn, whose false assurances Mr Schreiner had offered to an indignant House of Assembly only a few weeks before. The war on the part of the Republics was evidently not to be merely one of self-defence. It was one of aggression and aggrandisement. Mr Schreiner ultimately addressed, as prime minister, a sharp remonstrance to President Steyn for allowing his burghers to invade the colony. He also co-operated with Sir Alfred Milner, and used his influence to restrain the Bond.

The War of 1899–1902.[1]—The first shot actually fired in the war was at Kraipan, a small railway station within the colony, 40 m. south of Mafeking, a train being derailed, and ammunition intended for Colonel Baden-Powell seized. The effect of this was entirely to cut off Mafeking, the northernmost town in Cape Colony, and it remained in a state of siege for over seven months. On the 16th of October Kimberley was also isolated. Proclamations by the Transvaal and Free State annexing portions of Cape Colony were actually issued on the 18th of October, and included British Bechuanaland and Griqualand West, with the diamond fields. On the 28th of October Mr Schreiner signed a proclamation issued by Sir Alfred Milner as high commissioner, declaring the Boer annexations of territory within Cape Colony to be null and void.

Then came the British reverses at Magersfontein (on the 11th of December) and Stormberg (on the 10th of December). The effect of these engagements at the very outset of the war, occurring as they did within Cape Colony, was to offer every inducement to a number of the frontier colonial Boers to join their kinsmen of the republics. The Boers were prolific, and their families large. Many younger sons from the colony, with nothing to lose, left their homes with horse and rifle to join the republican forces.

Meanwhile the loyal Cape colonists were chafing at the tardy manner in which they were enrolled by the imperial authorities. It was not until after the arrival of Lord Roberts and Lord Kitchener at Cape Town on the 10th of January 1900 that these invaluable, and many of them experienced, men were freely invited to come forward. So strongly did Lord Roberts feel on the subject, that he at once made Colonel Brabant, a well-known and respected colonial veteran and member of the House of Assembly, a brigadier-general, and started recruiting loyal colonists in earnest. On the 15th of February Kimberley was relieved by General French, and the Boer general, Cronje, evacuated Magersfontein, and retreated towards Bloemfontein. Cecil Rhodes was shut up in Kimberley during the whole of the siege, and his presence there undoubtedly offered an additional

  1. See also Transvaal.