A Celebration of Women Writers

"Chapter 110." by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-)
From: An Island Story: A History of England for Boys and Girls by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-) With pictures by A. S. Forrest. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, Publishers, 1920.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


IN the days when Cromwell was ruling Britain with his iron hand, a few stern-faced, silent men sailed out from Holland and landed in South Africa. There they made their home, and there they grew rich and prospered.

In the reign of George III., while Napoleon was conquering all Europe, British soldiers landed in Africa and took possession of Cape Town. Later still, when Napoleon had fallen, the Cape of Good Hope became a British possession by treaty with Holland. Soon thousands of British settled there, and slowly but surely the colony grew.

So side by side these two races, Dutch and British, spread and prospered. But they could not live together in peace. It seemed as if in all the wide veldt there was not room for both.

I cannot tell you here of all the quarrels and dispeace; of how the different colonies called Orange Free State, Transvaal, Natal, and Cape Colony arose; of how the Transvaal at one time owned British rule and at another did not; of how Britain fought and suffered until at last the long years of unrest and trouble ended in the great Boer War;–I cannot tell you of all this, for it would take too long, and much of it would not seem interesting to you. I will not talk much either about the Boer War, for those were sad days for Britain, although a far more terrible war has since almost blotted them from memory.

All through this book I have tried to give you reasons for the wars of which I have told, and, although now that we have come to our own time it becomes more difficult, I will give you one reason for the Boer War, which you may understand.

From the very beginning of our story you have seen how Britons have fought for freedom, and how step by step they have won it, until at last Britons live under just laws and have themselves the power to make these laws. For it is now acknowledged that the Briton who pays taxes has the right to help to frame the laws under which he lives. You remember how America was lost because King George III. tried to force the Americans to pay taxes, although they had not the right to choose and send members to Parliament.

Now the Transvaal was a republic, and the government was in the hands of the Boers, as the South African Dutch had come to be called. Yet in some vague way the Boers owned the Queen of Britain as over-lord. Those who lived in the Transvaal were chiefly Boer farmers, but gold was discovered in the country and then many other people went there hoping to make a great deal of money. Many of these people were British, and although the Boers were not glad to see them, and wished they would keep away from the land which they considered their very own, these British helped to make the Boer country rich. They paid heavy taxes, but they were called Uitlanders, which means, "outlanders" or "strangers." They were harshly treated in many ways, they were not allowed to vote for members of Parliament, and so had no voice in making the laws under which they had to live.

You have heard how Britons for centuries had fought for this very freedom which was now denied them in South Africa, and you can imagine how hard it was for Britons to bear what seemed to them so great an injustice. This is only one reason why the Boers and Britons could not live in peace together, but it is one which you can understand. The Boers, too, had their troubles and their grievances, and, when war came, they fought as patriots fight for their country.

The British in South Africa appealed at last to the mother-country for help. The mother-country gave help, and in October 1899 A.D. war broke out.

The struggle lasted for two and a half years, and at first the British were by no means always successful. For they understood the Boers in their ways of war as little as they had understood them in their ways of peace.

The Boers of the Transvaal and of the Orange Free State made common cause and invading British territory besieged the towns of Kimberley, Ladysmith and Mafeking. All three held out bravely, so that there was time to send soldiers from England to their aid. But the first efforts to relieve them ended in disaster, and at Magersfontein, Stormberg and Colenso the British were defeated.

These were trying days for those who waited at home anxiously hoping for news of victory. And when day by day they read only of death and disaster many hearts were sad.

But although the Boers fought bravely, their numbers after all were small. Soon more and more troops poured into the country from Britain, and from her colonies. For in the darkest hour one thing became certain. The little island was not fighting alone. The Empire of Greater Britain was no mere name. From all sides, from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, from every province of Greater Britain, from every land over which the Union Jack floats, came offers of help. Britain was fighting, not for herself, but for her colony, and right or wrong, her colonies stood by her, side by side, and shoulder to shoulder.

At length the tide turned. First Kimberley was relieved, and the army which besieged it was surrounded and forced to surrender. And with this surrender serious resistance from the Orange Free State was almost at an end. Very nearly at the same time Ladysmith was relieved; a few months later came the relief of Mafeking, and before the end of the first year of the war both the Orange Free State and the Transvaal were annexed to Great Britain.

When the news of the relief of Kimberley and Ladysmith reached home it was like the rolling away of some dark cloud, and people wept and laughed in joy. When Mafeking was relieved they seemed to go mad with delight. It was thought too that now the war must very quickly come to an end and that added to the joy of every one.

In January Lord Roberts, or Bobs as the soldiers loved to call him, had landed in South Africa as commander in chief with Lord Kitchener as his chief of staff. Even he thought that peace was now in sight and leaving Lord Kitchener in charge he sailed for home in December 1900. But he was mistaken, peace was still a long way off. Britain might proclaim that the Orange Free State and the Transvaal were henceforth British colonies, but the Boers would not so easily yield up their freedom, and the war went on for nearly a year and a half longer.

But from now onward the character of the fighting changed. There were no more sieges and set battles, but skirmishes and encounters over an enormous tract of land. The Boers had daring, dogged, and skillful leaders who knew every inch of the country, every secret of the hills and plains, and their men followed where they led with splendid devotion. They moved from place to place with lightning speed, often surprising, outwitting, and defeating the forces sent against them. Yet they were not trained soldiers, they wore no uniform even, they were merely farmers in arms.


But at length it became plain that this sort of warfare was most ruinous to the country, and that success in the end was impossible. So rather than ruin their country by continuing a useless struggle the Boers decided to yield. It was not easy for them to come to this decision. Many at first rejected the idea with scorn. But at length nearly all agreed that peace was a stern necessity.

"What good will it do us," said one of their bravest leaders, "if we fight till we men are all killed, and all our women die of starvation." So at length a meeting to discuss terms of peace was arranged.

The Boer leaders gathered at a place called Vereeniging to talk together over the terms of peace. Vereeniging means "union," so it seemed a good place at which to have the meeting. The Boers were treated as the guests of the British, who prepared a camp for them and did everything for their comfort, but as they were led to the camp, through the British lines, the Boers were blindfolded and guarded by soldiers of the Black Watch. This was done because the Boers might not have agreed to make peace, and then the knowledge they had gained of the British camp would have helped them greatly.

The meeting lasted about ten days, but at last, on Sunday, June 1, 1902 A.D., the good news reached London. Peace was proclaimed.

Never perhaps since the beginning of history had a conquered people been granted peace on such terms as it was now granted to the Boers. Save that their homeland was no longer a republic they seemed to gain rather than to lose. But to the Boers that one condition was a bitter one. As their great general Botha had said, "The blood and tears which this war has cost is hard, but giving up our country will be doubly hard."

Only time and wise government could heal the wound, and healing came swiftly. Little more than four years after peace had been signed the conquered colonies were given full self-government. It was a bold move and a perilous; to some it seemed even foolhardy. Britons had laid down their lives to win freedom in South Africa. Now all that they had died for was being given back into the hands of the Boers, and would be again lost. So thought the fearful.

Their fears were needless. The Orange River Colony and the Transvaal have truly entered into the brotherhood and freedom of the empire. The experiment indeed proved so much of a success that it was soon followed by a desire for union between the two Boer and the two British colonies. So on the 31st of May 1910, exactly eight years after the signing of peace, the four great South African States, Cape Colony, Orange River Colony, Natal and the Transvaal were formally united into the Union of South Africa.

The war was a grievous thing, but for once out of war came harmony. Mutual trust and regard wiped away the bitterness of years, and Boer and Briton joined in a common love for their land, and a common desire for its prosperity. And before many years had passed the Boers were to prove to all the world how, having once pledged their word, they could nobly keep faith.

"Here, where my fresh-turned furrows run,
  And the deep soil glistens red,
I will repair the wrong that was done
  To the living and the dead.
Here where the senseless bullet fell.
  And the barren shrapnel burst,
I will plant a tree, I will dig a well,
  Against the heat and the thirst.

"Here, in a large and sunlit land,
  Where no wrong bites to the bone,
I will lay my hand in my neighbour's hand,
  And together we will atone
For the set folly and the red breach
  And the black waste of it all,
Giving and taking counsel each
  Over the cattle-kraal.

"Here, in the waves and the troughs of the plains
  Where the healing stillness lies,
And the vast, benignant sky restrains
  And the long days make wise–
Bless to our use the rain and the sun
  And the blind seed in its bed,
That we may repair the wrong that was done
  To the living and the dead!" 1

1By the kind permission of Mr. Rudyard Kipling.

Queen Victoria reigned for sixty-three years, which is longer than any other British sovereign has ever reigned. When she had been on the throne fifty years, great rejoicings were held.

On the 21st of June, the anniversary of the day upon which she ascended the throne, the streets and houses were everywhere decorated, and bonfires and fire-works blazed. This year was called the Jubilee Year.

Ten years later Victoria was still upon the throne, and again the people rejoiced. The whole air was filled with shouts and cheers as the white-haired lady, who was Queen of half the world, drove through the streets of London on her way to St. Paul's Cathedral, there to thank God for her great and glorious reign. This was called the Diamond Jubilee Year.

Three years later, while the dark war cloud still hung over the land, the news was flashed through all the great empire, "The Queen is dead." At the close of a dull winter's day, the sad toll of muffled bells rang out the message to every town and village; and from east to west, wherever the flag of red, white, and blue floats, hearts were sad.

  "May children of our children say,
She wrought her people lasting good;

"Her court was pure; her life serene;
  God gave her peace; her land reposed;
  A thousand claims to reverence closed
In her as Mother, Wife, and Queen;

"And statesmen at her council met
  Who knew the seasons when to take
  Occasion by the hand, and make
The bounds of freedom wider yet

"By shaping some august decree,
  Which kept her throne unshaken still,
  Broad-based upon her people's will,
And compass'd by the inviolate sea."


Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

This book has been put on-line as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the
Celebration of Women Writers.
Initial text entry and proof-reading of this book were the work of volunteers at
Ambleside Online.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom