A brief history of the Second Boer War

Seminar Paper, 2007

14 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1 Introduction

2 Who are the Boers?

3 Brief history of British engagement in South Africa

4 The War
4.1 The way to war
4.2 The conduct of war
4.3 A disgraceful peace

5 Conclusions

6 Bibligraphy

1 Introduction

"Take a community of Dutchmen of the type of those who defended themselves for fifty years against all the power of Spain at a time when Spain was the greatest power in the world. Intermix with them a strain of those inflexible French Huguenots who gave up home and fortune and left their country for ever at the time of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. The product must obviously be one of the most rugged, virile, unconquerable races ever seen upon earth. Take this formidable people and train them for seven generations in constant warfare against savage men and ferocious beasts, in circumstances under which no weakling could survive, place them so that they acquire exceptional skill with weapons and in horsemanship, give them a country which is eminently suited to the tactics of the huntsman, the marksman, and the rider. Then, finally, put a finer temper upon their military qualities by a dour fatalistic Old Testament religion and an ardent and consuming patriotism. Combine all these qualities and all these impulses in one individual, and you have the modern Boer – the most formidable antagonist who ever crossed the path of Imperial Britain. Our military history has largely consisted in our conflicts with France, but Napoleon and all his veterans have never treated us so roughly as these hard-bitten farmers with their ancient theology and their inconveniently modern rifles.”[1]

Sir Arthur Conan Dolyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes detective stories, wrote two volumes about the Boer War. He was fascinated by the struggle of this people, called the Boers, against, what was then, the most powerful nation in the world. And he was by no means left all on his own with his keen interest in this war. Back then and still today people have been gripped by it. What is it that prevents this war between the British Empire and a “ragged band of Bible-wielding farmers”[2] to be buried in oblivion? What is it that sets apart this war from so many others?

2 Who are the Boers?

“No one can know or appreciate the Boer who does not know his past, for he is what his past has made him."[3]

European engagement in South Africa goes back to 1652, when the Dutch established Cape Colony. At first the sole purpose of this establishment was to create a provision-station for Dutch ships, which sailed the spice route to the East Indies.[4] A group of 90 Calvinist settlers, servants of the Dutch East India Company, were settled there to build a fort and work the land.[5] When the mission was about to fail, due to the lack of motivation on the part of the unfree settlers, the company introduced counteractive measures to save its enterprise. Letters of freedom were issued and the right to own property was granted. This did not only prove to be a strong incentive for the settlers to do well but also attracted other groups, such as French Huguenots, Frisian Calvinists, Flemish and German Protestants, who sought a place where they could freely practice their faith.[6] The Boers, as these people later came to be known, seized the chance to lead an independent and self-determined life. However, they still were in the sphere of influence of the British, who had annexed the cape from the Dutch at the beginning of the 19th century. Tasting liberty, they soon wanted to free themselves from any form of control and moved further into the country to escape British reach. This emigration from the safety of the civilized European colony towards the uncivilized wilderness went down in history as the Great Trek and provided the basis for the foundation of the two Boer republics, namely the Transvaal and the Orange Free State.[7] Yet, the country they claimed as their new homeland was not uninhabited. The foundation of settlements and towns in this region therefore led to conflicts with the native population. One of the major clashes between the Boers and a native power was the Battle of Blood River. It is of significance here as this battle played an important role in the development of the Boer mentality. Jackson describes it “as a defining moment in the creation of the Afrikaner[8] identity”[9]. A short outline of the conflict is therefore necessary: after supposedly successful negotiations between the Boers and the Zulus resulting in the signing of a treaty, it turned out to be part of a deception plan on part of the Zulus, who attacked shortly after. As means of retaliation, the Boer minority prepared for battle. The task ahead of them, to defeat 10.000 Zulus with just 530 Boer fighters, seemed to be humanly impossible. According to Calvinist and puritan tradition a covenant was sworn:

“[...] at this moment we stand before the holy God of heaven and earth to make a promise, if He will be with us and protect us and deliver the enemy into our hands so that we may triumph over him, that we shall observe the day and the date as an anniversary in each year and a day of thanksgiving like the Sabbath, in His honor [...]”[10]

With the assurance of God’s protection and superior firepower, the Boers killed about 3.000 Zulu worriors without suffering one casualty themselves.[11] One of the central elements in Calvinist belief, the self perception as being chosen by God, seemed to have been confirmed. God’s support had manifested. Mere belief became a certainty. With God at one’s side, nothing had to be feared and everything could be overcome.


[1] Doyle, A. C. (1900). The Great Boer War. Vol. 1. Leipzig: Tauchnitz Edition, p. 11.

[2] cf. Jackson, T. (1999). The Boer War. London and Basingstoke: Channel 4 Books, p. 27.

[3] Doyle, A. C. (1900). The Great Boer War. Vol. 1. Leipzig: Tauchnitz Edition, p. 12.

[4] cf. Jackson, T. (1999). The Boer War. London and Basingstoke: Channel 4 Books. p.9.

[5] cf. http://www.answers.com/history%20of%20cape%20colony

[6] cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boer#Nationalism

[7] cf. http://www.answers.com/topic/boer

[8] Afrikaner being a synonym for the Boers

[9] cf. Jackson, T. (1999). The Boer War. London and Basingstoke: Channel 4 Books, p.12.

[10] cf. Jackson, T. (1999). The Boer War. London and Basingstoke: Channel 4 Books, p.11.

[11] cf. http://sahistory.org.za/pages/chronology/thisday/1838-12-16.htm

Excerpt out of 14 pages


A brief history of the Second Boer War
University of Heidelberg  (Anglistisches Seminar)
Cultural Studies: History of British Institutions Part II
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Second, Boer, Cultural, Studies, History, British, Institutions, Part
Quote paper
Christian Weckenmann (Author), 2007, A brief history of the Second Boer War, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/111557


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