Missing a Beating: What the Movie Excluded in Durban

The Richard Attenborough film left out a near lynching of Gandhi that was far more dramatic than any South African scene depicted in the Gandhi film.

Ships bearing several hundred Indians-indentured laborers, new immigrants, and returning Natal residents-docked at the port city of Durban. The British colony of Natal (part of present-day South Africa) was home to this port city and the site of already heightened xenophobia directed specifically at Indians.  In many panicked meetings that followed, the alarm was sounded of “flood-gates opened” to hordes of “useless” Indians invading Natal. Fear of Indians taking control of more property and eventually political power in Natal was whipped up. Demands to block further Indian immigration bellowed. 

In mid-December 1896, the SS Courland and SS Naderi were forced to wait out at sea just outside Durban with their 600 passengers. Their passengers were medically inspected for the bubonic plague which had recently broken out in Bombay, India. The Natal Advertiser whipped up a frenzy about one of the passengers writing, “the great Gandhi has arrived at the head of the advanced guard of the Indian army of invasion–the army that is to dispossess us of our country and homes.” The paper announced the plan to meet the disembarking Indians with “human lines three or four deep” to bar the immigrants’ entry. 

On January 12th, Durban authorities finally allowed the Indian passengers ashore after three weeks waiting aboard their ships. A mob of 5,000 Europeans meant to meet the passengers with violence. Natal’s Attorney-General had to make a speech to disperse the mob peacefully. This enabled Gandhi’s wife and children as well most other passengers to safely head to Indian areas of Durban. Refusing to ender Durban “like a thief in the night,” Gandhi and Durban attorney F.A. Laughton (Gandhi’s friend) disembarked later that afternoon. White boys nearby recognized Gandhi landing. The boys alerted the remaining mob who returned to confront Gandhi. Gandhi and Laughton hailed one rickshaw driver and then another. But both were intimidated by the mob into refusing the attorneys and their luggage a ride. So the two men walked. The two were followed by the evergrowing mob.

When the two attorneys reached the Ship’s Hotel, they were surrounded. Gandhi was kicked and punched and struck with a riding-whip. With blood flowing down his neck, eyewitnesses admired him for remaining stoic through the whole ordeal. Then Jane Alexander, the wife of the Superintendent of Police, burst in using her umbrella to shield Gandhi from the mob. Then constables evacuated Gandhi to Parsee Rustomjee’s (a local Indian) store and locked the growing mob out. The deputy mayor and Superintendent of Police, R.C. Alexander, tried unsuccessfully to convince the mob to leave. Instead, the mob broke into a song beginning with “We’ll hang old Gandhi on a sour apple tree.”

Alexander resorted to trickery. Gandhi swapped clothes with a government employee. His face blackened and covered with a muffler. He and two detectives exited through a side door unnoticed, then fled in a carriage to the police station. Alexander then announced to the crowd that Gandhi was no longer in the building. A three-man delegation from the mob confirmed this. The mob was dispersed and Gandhi’s lynching averted.

Ricksha boys in Durban, South Africa


More can be read on this in the following book:

Guha, Ramachandra. Gandhi Before India. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014: p. 107-119.

Irish Home Rule: A Crash Course

Daniel O'Connell

It is impossible to capture the entire history of Irish Home Rule in under 1500 words. But this article gives you a 30,000 foot view of the story of Irish Home Rule. This article owes many thanks to members of the Irish Folklore & History Facebook group who graciously pointed out holes in the first draft. 

The Irish Rebellion of 1798 broke out with inspiration from the earlier French Revolution. About a dozen Irish uprisings had been attempted up to this point. Ireland was the only British Empire State to have its own parliament. Ireland and France looked friendly upon each other. British Prime Minister William Pitt believed it was crucial to unite Ireland’s parliament with British to make sure Ireland (still Protestant) didn’t unite with a nation like France to invade England. Irish MPs were bribed by British to approve this union in 1801. As you can imagine, many Irish were sore about this.

The United States had Martin Luther King Jr. The Irish had Daniel O’Connell. Daniel O’Connell’s beliefs on non-violence actually influenced both Dr. King and Gandhi, as well as Frederick Douglass (who visited Ireland). O’Connell focused on Catholic emancipation-on getting Catholics their rightful, equal status in government and in the military and in civil society. In April 1829, Catholic emancipation was approved by Parliament. Catholics were finally able to serve in parliament as generals and in government. O’Connell then turned his attention to repealing the 1801 Act of Union. O’Connell’s movement was the dominant force in Ireland until Ireland’s most infamous potato famine.

One million Irish lost their lives during the potato famine that ravaged the island from 1845 until 1852. To add insult to death, landlords (many British) evicted half a million Irish-made indigent by the famine-from their cottages. Over 200,000 Irish families lost their farms; family-owned farms reduced from 300,000 to 88,000. Landlords consolidated their estates, tripling the size of large estates. The ensuing resentment led to Michael Davitt forming the Irish Land League’s (ILL) with Charles Parnell. Davitt’s own father was evicted as a tenant farmer in 1856. Several failed violent rebellions also were repressed during and after the Irish Potato Famine.

Charles Parnell also formed the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP). He insisted on nonviolent confrontation. The ILL would boycott landlords who evicted tenants. No one would rent or work for these boycotted landlords. Parnell continued to build parliamentary momentum for Irish home rule, for an Ireland much like the one that preceded the 1801 Act of Union. Most Irish Nationalists were Catholic. Not all Irish were on board. Irish Unionists around Ulster-Northern Ireland (a predominately Protestant area)-opposed home rule. They feared a Catholic ruled Ireland. They feared an economically depressed Ireland, as Northern Irish cities like Belfast were much more prosperous than the rest of Ireland. 

William Gladstone emerged as a sort of British champion for the Irish. He disestablished the Church of Ireland in 1871 during the first of four times he served as Prime Minister. This disestablishment stripped the Protestant Church of Ireland of its entitlement to collect tithes from the people of Ireland, Protestant or Catholic. He helped pass two different Land Acts in Ireland to give renters more rights and satisfy pacify the demands of Parnell’s Land League. 

Parnell and his IPP worked with Prime Minister William Gladstone’s Liberal Party on the first home rule bill. Joseph Chamberlain and other Liberal MPs broke with their party and this 1886 bill failed to attain a majority in the House of Commons. This bill’s failure split the Liberal Party. Irish home rule efforts were further sidelined when Parnell’s adultery with an IPP supporter’s wife came to light in 1890. Despite calls from most of his IPP lieutenants and Gladstone to resign as the IPP’s head, Parnell refused. This split the IPP. Home rule efforts sidelined. The appeal of violent insurrections further fueled. Parnell died of pneumonia in 1891.

Gladstone, during his fourth time serving as prime minister, succeeded in passing an Irish Home Rule Bill through the House of Commons in 1893. This bill took more time to debate than any other bill in the 19th century. 1,390 speeches lasting 210 hours delivered on this bill. But the House of the Lords-the far more conservative, unelected branch of the British legislature-refused to approve this act. For over a decade afterward, the Liberal Party showed no willingness to burn political capital on Irish home rule.

Conservatives took power in Parliament in 1895. They encouraged economic development in Ireland. Conservatives passed legislation buying out landlords in Ireland so that tenants could have the opportunity to own property.  However, these efforts didn’t pacify Irish nationalism.

John Redmond took leadership of IPP in 1900. He hoped to achieve home rule for Ireland peacefully while still remaining part of the British Empire. Liberal PM Henry Asquith proposed a 1910 bill that would force the House of Lords to accept budget bills passed by the House of Commons. The bill still left the House of Lords freedom to delay passage of Commons bills for 3 sessions-about 2 years. This bill removed the last barrier to Irish Home Rule. This made Ulster Unionists nervous about being ruled by Dublin Parliament so they formed a militia to oppose any future home rule efforts.

Liberal Home Secretary Winston Churchill, recent “traitor” to the Tory party, would craft a third home rule bill in 1912 that would exclude Ulster from the immediate effects of home rule. As the passage of a home rule bill looked increasingly likely, militias in both Northern and Southern Ireland formed and drilled and tried to smuggle tens of thousands of rifles into Ireland. The British did little to stop Ulster Unionists from arming but used armed force to stop Irish Volunteers from arming. Just after WWI broke out, Liberal PM Henry Asquith signed a Home Rule Bill. However, he and IPP leader John Redmond agreed to delay the enactment of the bill until after WWI was over. Many around Europe thought this war would be over by Christmas. Militias in both Ulster and the rest of Ireland enjoyed short-lived friendship as over 100,000 of their members and other Irish volunteered to serve with the British army.

WWI continued into 1916. Unity between Irish factions did not. As a matter of fact, many returning Irish WWI veterans found they were better off keeping their service a secret since many Irish saw them as traitors for serving with the British. After a failed attempt to acquire 20,000 rifles from Germany and many rebel leaders tried to call off a planned uprising, James Connolly and other Irish rebel leaders insisted on following through. Irish rebels occupied Dublin during the Easter Rising, but ultimately were outmanned and outgunned by British troops who shelled the rebels into submission by April 29, 1916. Over 3,000 alleged rebels (many were innocent bystanders) were imprisoned by the British. Rebel leaders were executed over the course of nine days. More Irish turned against the British after these detentions and executions.

WWI ended in Entente victory. Irish soldiers returned. PM David Lloyd George called a general election just before Christmas 1918. Lloyd George’s coalition remained in power. But he didn’t implement the home rule that so many Irish craved. In 1919, $5 million was raised in the US to aid resistance against British rule. Michael Collins led a guerrilla war in Ireland against the British. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) led a terror campaign against British authorities in Ireland. Lloyd George sent more British war veterans to ensure more law and order in Ireland. Sectarian violence (between Irish Catholic nationalists and Protestant unionists) increased in Ulster, especially after the Ulster town of Derry elected its first Catholic mayor. IRA terror and British police reprisals claimed the lives of dozens of people as 1920 dragged on.

Lloyd George proposed the fourth Irish home rule act towards the end of 1920. The act granted southern Ireland 26 counties and northern Ireland 6 northern counties. Both would send MPs to Parliament, but also have their own home parliaments in Dublin and Belfast. King George V even visited Ulster appealing for an end to violence. Fighting between the British and IRA continued until July 1921 as Parliament worked to clarify what home rule would look like. Lloyd George’s government concluded the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December of 1921. This gave the Irish Free State dominion status in the British Empire while allowing the six counties of Northern Ireland to opt-out. Northern Ireland did opt-out and remained a part of the United Kingdom.

Civil War broke out between anti-treaty and pro-treaty factions in the new Irish Free State from mid-1922 until mid-1923. But Irish home rule would endure for decades with relatively minor modifications.

Charles Parnell

William Gladstone

IRA prisoner escorted by National Army 

More can be learned at the following resources:

The Irish Identity: Great Courses Plus class

The Cabinet Papers | Irish Civil War

Irish History for Schools, a BBC documentary narrated by BJ Hogg. Available on Youtube


Why Ireland split into the Republic of Ireland & Northern Ireland. Available on Youtube


The Heliograph’s Chapter in Communication’s Story-Part 1

Heliographs in the Boer War

Military necessity mothered many metamorphoses of communication. The heliograph was one. 


The month is February. The year is 1900. The battle is near Paardeberg. The problem is General Piet Cronje’s Boer force is surrounded. Cronje’s men are outnumbered more than 3:1 by a 15,000-man British force led by General Frederick Roberts. Cronje has blundered repeatedly into this current situation, but fellow Boer leader Christian De Wet is just miles away with a force of 1,500 giving the British forces fits. If De Wet and Cronje can get on the same page,  De Wet can burst a secure a hole long enough in the British circle for Cronje’s beleaguered Boers to escape. 


Obviously, a dispatch runner could be an answer here, but beyond the obvious danger of slipping through British lines, there is no efficient way to guarantee receipt of the message or a speedy reply. Terrain feels constant while weather can change on a dime. Both constantly present challenges and opportunities to the soldier, to the tactician. Terrain and weather make distance irrelevant or prohibitive. So can timing. For the past 100 years, most conventional armies have leaned on some form of the radio or telephone. But telephone landlines required time to lay and control of the land, and took much less time to cut. Walkie talkies were not yet widespread. 


The two officers could use a system of shouting men to relay the message like the ancient Persians, but this would present at least four problems. This shouting relay team would risk garbling the message, would take longer greater depending on the distance, could be thwarted if the enemy was wedged between them, and would proportionately waste manpower based on the distance the message had to travel. Sending someone on horseback to relay the message could be an option, unless of course the enemy was already wedged between the general and the colonel.


If the message to the colonel were simpler, the general and colonel could communicate using flags much like the Egyptians or Chinese first did. Cretans four thousand years ago may have sent tactical messages using polished silver or bronze plates to flash messages, but these were likely simple as well. The Ponca tribe used reflective pieces of mica to communicate between hunting and war parties in the 1800s, but these were likely simple messages such as “enemy to your left” using say three flashes. Two men in the early 19th century would make waves felt by militaries for decades: Samuel B. Morse and Carl Friedrich Gauss. See part 2 for the rest of this story.

To learn more on your own see:


Evans, Nick. “THE BRITISH ARMY AND COMMUNICATIONS, 1899-1914.” Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research94, no. 379 (2016): 208-24. Accessed June 5, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/44232704.


Nasson, Bill. The Boer War: The Struggle for South Africa. Stroud, United Kingdom: The History Press, 2011. P. 167-179.


Smith, Steven Trent. “Light Conversation: The Heliograph” https://www.historynet.com/light-conversation-heliograph.htm

The Heliograph’s Chapter in Communication’s Story- Part 2

Heliographs during the Anglo-Boer War

Mathematics and mirrors are not what most immediately associate with the military. 

Gauss’s heliotrope made its debut in 1821 looking much like a surveyor’s transit pictured below,

but with a mirror mounted on top.

Gauss’s heliotrope could reflect light at precise angles for up to 20 miles to allow effective bearings to be taken. 

Samuel Morse’s electric telegraph transmitted its debut message “What hath God wrought” between Washington D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland in 1844 using its code of dots and dashes.

Just 33 years later, Henry Mance’s heliograph, which combined Morse code with aspects of the heliotrope (also pictured below), was wielded for the first time by the British in their punitive Jowaki Expedition against Indian freedom fighters.

Heliographs found an ideal climate in South Africa during the Boer Wars with messages being transmitted as far as 90 miles in sunny conditions. 

Some operators succeeded sending signals using the moonlight.

A well-trained team of heliographers could transmit messages of 12 to 15 words a minute. 

Cloud cover or missing lines of sight made heliograph use impossible.

Early in the Boer War, the British used heliographs as they struggled to gain control of South Africa. 

The more mobile that forces had to be, the more vital the heliograph since rapid mobile operations often didn’t leave time to dig and fortify telephone or telegraph lines.

Poor weather prevented Boer General’s Piet Cronje and his surrounded army from using a heliograph to coordinate a timely relief effort by Christian De Wet and his commando. Cronje would devastate the Boer war effort by surrendering his remaining 4,000 Boer soldiers to a British force 3 times larger, costing the Boers across South Africa 10% of its fighting force in one moment. 

As British troops numbers climbed to the hundreds of thousands and the Boers started to be reduced to thousands, the British were able to lay increasingly more telephone line. Telephone line that they had enough numbers and fortifications to protect against Boer attempts to cut them. 

These telephone lines and increasingly more secure telegraph lines would make heliographs with all their vulnerabilities and necessarily large communication teams less essential.

However, heliographs were crucial for a time in the Boer War and also used widely in many US campaigns to further dominate native American tribes (in the future states of Montana and Arizona for example).

They were even kept in supply by the British Royal Signals into the 1960s, and were still used by some forest services well into the 20th century.

Gauss’s heliotrope Surveyor’s transit

To learn more see:

Evans, Nick. “THE BRITISH ARMY AND COMMUNICATIONS, 1899-1914.” Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research94, no. 379 (2016): 208-24. Accessed June 5, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/44232704.

Nasson, Bill. The Boer War: The Struggle for South Africa. Stroud, United Kingdom: The History Press, 2011. P. 167-179.

Smith, Steven Trent. “Light Conversation: The Heliograph” https://www.historynet.com/light-conversation-heliograph.htm

German Finance and the Anglo-Boer War

The German-financed Netherlands South African Railway Company (NZASM) was founded in June 1887. The republic of the Transvaal, part of present-day South Africa, granted the NZASM a railway monopoly in the Transvaal in 1890. This company assumed the center of many controversies and a role in much future bloodshed-bloodshed brought by the Boer War. The Boer War pitted the British seeking economic and political paramountcy in South Africa against the Boer republics of the Transvaal (ZAR) and Orange Free State. The republics, especially the ZAR, wanted to increase their independence from British supervision and increase ZAR economic viability.

The Transvaal (ZAR or SAR) was a regional backwater that commanded little influence or commerce until 1886. Gold brought the ZAR its relevance and the NZASM its purpose. This Dutch company laid the rail that would transport supplies and resources to and from the gold mines of the Rand (the area in the ZAR where gold was discovered). Of the original two million shares, the ZAR and the company owned 35% while German banks and Amsterdam banks owned the remaining 1.3 million shares. British capitalists at first had no interest in investing in railway through Transvaal as late as 1886 with the London company Baring Bros. saying “they didn’t much like those Boers”. Then after gold was discovered in the Transvaal, the British started complaining about unfair treatment and undue German influence and favoritism when it came to the railway. When German trade with South Africa and the ZAR spiked in the 1890s, Britain noticed. British had an 80% share of imports to South Africa in 1891, then 76% in 1895, then 64% by 1900. However, German inroads were being made but weren’t wiping out British trade by any means. British imports in pounds increased from £9.8 million in 1891 to £14.7 million in 1900. 

The British enjoyed much better relations and much more influence in the Cape Colony of South Africa. The British had hoped to see the Cape Colony be the center of South Africa’s orbit only to see Transvaal gold discoveries-with more gold than anywhere in the world at the time-slowly crush this hope. The NZASM’s monopoly over railroad traffic into the Transvaal cost the Cape dearly as the NZASM placed high tariffs on shipping to and from the Cape Colony. The Cape’s share of traffic to the Rand dropped from 85% in 1895 to a mere 28.4% in 1898. The heavily German-funded and German-influenced NZASM countered Cape efforts to transport goods to the Rand (where gold was mined) by oxen through the ZAR by successfully lobbying ZAR President Paul Kruger to close the area to oxen-transport. The Cape appealed to the Britsh who coerced Kruger to reverse the ban. This would not be the only time that the NZASM helped fuel conflict between the ZAR and the British. 

Before the aforementioned Drifts crisis, one NZASM official said to another, “our origins are anti-English our goal is to make the SAR economically independent”. The NZASM wanted as much traffic going through their railway as possible. However, the NZASM did not try to make life easy for mining companies that depended on the NZASM’s railway. The NZASM’s high fees and many inefficiencies made gold mining company operations much more expensive and made them frustrated at the NZASM. Many of these gold mining companies were German-owned or German-financed. The NZASM sometimes even clashed with the ZAR government. The ZAR sometimes tried to force changes in railway pricing and even passed laws making it possible to expropriate the company, if even at a high cost. The NZASM tried to counter these efforts by bribing newspapers like the Vokstem to foster a better political climate for the company. 

By the late 1890s, previously friendly German capitalists began to view the ZAR and NZASM as the “main obstacles to cost minimization” and profit. The ZAR President Kruger had approved many monopolies-the most unpopular, a dynamite concession-that made mining operations very inefficient. The British had long desired a more pliable Transvaal state to ensure satisfactory British trade and investment in South Africa, but felt threatened by perceived German efforts to influence the Transvaal. The secret Anglo-German agreement of 1898 allayed this British concern over German influence. Germany’s government agreed to stay out of South African affairs in this agreement. The agreement and increasingly British-friendly German mining interests paved an even smoother path towards further British intervention in South Africa. This heightened British intervention eventually culminated in the Boer War from 1899-1902. The NZASM actively aided Boer forces by repairing artillery in its workshops, destroying bridges and tracks in front of advancing British troops, and operating captured Natal Railways stock. The Boers’ defeat in this war led to the NZASM’s demise as it was expropriated in 1901 with shareholders not being paid for years.

NZASM’s Park Station in 1897

Further reading available in the following article on Jstor:

Van-Helten, J. J. “German Capital, the Netherlands Railway Company and the Political Economy of the Transvaal 1886-1900.” The Journal of African History 19, no. 3 (1978): 369-90. Accessed June 16, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/181949.

Russia’s Support and Undermining of Boer Freedom Fighters

Russian & Dutch volunteer ambulance crews for the Boers

Years of simmering tensions between the British and the South African republic of Transvaal finally came to a culminating boil in October 1899. The Boer War began with the British fighting for South African paramountcy against the Transvaal (ZAR) and their republican ally, the Orange Free State (OFS). The struggle of these two Boer republics struck a cord in Russia. Just before Boer forces dealt British forces their first bloody nose near Dundee, the Novoye Vremya newspaper of Russia wrote fondly about the Boers in an October 16th article. “These God-fearing farmers spilling blood for the freedom of their Fatherland will forever be closer to the heart of the Holy Rus than our sworn enemy, the cold and haughty England.” 


As October passed, the Boer national anthem was hummed throughout Russian pubs and taverns. Many Russian men saw much in common with the deeply religious, very tall and tough freedom fighters of the ZAR and OFS. Churches took up collections for the Boer forces. A captured Boer general was even sent a humongous silver wine bowl carrying sheets of paper imprinted with over 70,000 Russian well-wishers’ signatures. The Russian government even made at least ostensible efforts to create an anti-British alliance with France and Germany after war erupted. However, France and Germany had other fish to fry. Both were embroiled in a dispute over regions that should ring familiar: Alsace and Lorraine. Russian Emperor Nicholas II also made a transparent bluff towards the British by partially mobilizing their Caucasus Army Corps near Britain’s Asian holdings. The sorry bluff was to no avail.


Only 225 Russians were willing and able to afford the journey to fight alongside the Boers. Subordination to military command was not a hallmark of Boer armies at the time or in the past. Boers would come and go as they pleased to their units, and were much more prone than their British counterparts to retreating without authorization. Russian volunteer Lieutenant Colonel Evgeny Maximov rose to the rank of general and greatly improved Boer reconnaissance. Maximov helped instill more needed subordination to military command, at least where he operated. Two Russian Red Cross units earned Boer respect-respect that was rare for Europeans-for their work as the largest contingent of European medics in South Africa.


One animal would undermine all of this Russian heroism and support. Scandal broke in September 1901 bringing the sale of 40,000 Russian horses to British forces to light. The Russian government tried as much as possible to “sabotage” these sales, but they remained legal.

Maximov sitting on the right

Further reading on this subject can be done in the following works, primarily in Egorov’s:


Davidson, Apollon. “The Study of South African History in the Soviet Union.” The International Journal of African Historical Studies 25, no. 1 (1992): 2-13. Accessed June 15, 2020. doi:10.2307/220141.

Egorov, Boris. “Why Russia wanted but couldn’t save the Boers from the British.” Russia Beyond. Last modified January 17, 2020. https://www.rbth.com/history/331562-why-russia-helped-boers.

Pakenham, Thomas. The Boer War. London: Abacus, 1979.

MacBride’s Brigade

Pro-Boer “fever” broke out across Ireland during the Boer War. Demonstrations were held. Riots ensued. British forces avoided a no-go area in Dublin. The no-go area was filled with flags of the Transvaal, one of the Boer republics in South Africa fighting for freedom. 

John MacBride, a member of the Celtic Literary Society, was one of about 1,000 Irish living in the Transvaal at the time war broke out in South Africa. Secret September meetings were held in a Johannesburg shop. Solomon Gillingham and other local Irishmen crafted a proposal to raise a 700-man Irish Transvaal Brigade. The Boer government approved. Buffalo Bill-looking John Blake (an American cavalryman) assumed command.

Only 300 men, many with no fighting experience, joined this commando. Four of those serving were father-son duos. On October 11, 1899, they rode into the British colony of Natal. Ironically, the colony was supervised by an Irish governor (Sir Henry Edward McCallum), led by an Irish prime minister (Sir Albert Henry Hime), and was defended by several British regiments raised in Ireland.  The Irish Transvaal Brigade fought against British Irish regiments for the first time on October 20, 1899, at the battle of Talana Hill.

One of the first of the brigade to perish was eighteen-year-old Tommy Oates at the battle of Modderspruit. His father was also in the brigade. The Irish Transvaal Brigade fought in major battles like Spion Kop. Later, British General Buller’s 5th Irish Brigade broke through the MacBride Brigade’s larger Boer force to relieve besieged British forces in Ladysmith. 

The MacBride Brigade harbored animosity toward Irish fighting on the British side. They also disdained rival Irish commandos that formed. When Colonel John Blake grew more distant, the Irish Transvaal Brigade became the MacBride Brigade when Major John MacBride emerged as its “defacto leader.” MacBride’s enemies within the brigade left to join a newly formed commando led by Irish-Australian Arthur Lynch. A loyal member of the MacBride Brigade referred to the Lynch commando members as “half-breeds” and “a gang of hobos.”

Fifty-eight Irish-American ambulance corps members from Chicago and New York joined the MacBride Brigade in Johannesburg. Only seven acted as doctors. The rest picked up arms to fight with the Boers. They had used their Red Cross status as a guise to make their trans-Atlantic trip to fight alongside the Boers. With this new infusion, the MacBride Brigade moved to the front line to face General Robert’s 45,000-man army. 

Robert’s growing armies helped turn the war against the Boers. So the Boers resorted to more guerrilla warfare. The MacBride Brigade fought in the thick of this new phase of the war, at battles of Diamond Hill and Dalmanutha. However, MacBride’s Brigade vacated South Africa for Portuguese territory in late September 1900 as the Boer cause grew bleaker. But Colonel Blake and many Irish “bitter-enders” remained. Boer leadership finally surrendered in May 1902. Ninety-one Irish commandos became casualties on the Boer side compared to 4,452 Irish casualties on the British side. 

MacBride and other former Irish Transvaal commandos fought the British again in 1916’s rising. British units discovered rifles with Boer carvings on the butts while “mopping up after the insurrection. MacBride told the firing squad poised to execute him after the insurrection the following: “I have looked down the muzzles of too many guns in the South African war to fear death, and now please carry out your sentence.”

Irish Transvaal Brigade in the field

Further reading available in the following articles:

Hime, Sir Albert Henry https://www.artefacts.co.za/main/Buildings/archframes.php?archid=767

McCracken, Donal P. “MacBride’s Brigade in the Anglo-Boer War.” History Ireland 8, no. 1 (2000): 26-29. Accessed March 31, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/27724742

McCallum, Sir Henry Edward (1852-1919) https://www.heritage.nf.ca/articles/politics/colonial-henry-mccallum.php#:~:text=Governor%2C%201899%2D1901,in%20Yeovil%2C%20Somersetshire%2C%20England.

Where Are All the Horses?

A long time ago, to be a properly equipped soldier, you had to be equipped with two to four … horses. 

Boer taught Britan very quickly the value of a highly mobile force with two horses to a man some 840 years later.

Due to poor Boer War preparations by the British, the deployed less than 15,000 calvary from 1899-1900 in South Africa. The Boers scored many a victory due to their far greater mobility. Boer horses (and many captured British horses) fueled their riders’ resistance far beyond December 1900 when  British General Frederick Roberts declared victory prematurely.

Eventually, the British caught up. 

Eventually, they fielded a force of nearly a quarter million calvary.

Eventually, their blockhouses, their barbed wire fences, their many mounted men could consistently frustrate Boer attempts to cut supply and communication lines.

Capturing Boer horses hurt the Boer cause more than British burning of Boer homes according to Boer commando leader Jan Smuts.

Buying British cavalry to defeat the Boers came at high costs that rippled worldwide. 

£22 million spent amounted to 10% of the British’s tab for winning the war. The British War Office spent over 400,000 horses, mules, and donkeys from all over the world. The Basotho tribe neighboring the Transvaal(?) happily sold nearly 20,000 of their best horses to the British. These sales profited some Basothos, but drove prices up so dramatically that Basotho’s leaving their land doubled during the war. The Basotho horse stock quality and quantity never recovered after selling their best to the British and after losing much of the rest to diseases like rinderpest. 

Argentina, Australia, and Britain exported hundreds of thousands of horses to the South African front. 

Scandal broke in Russia, a nation largely sympathetic to the Boers and at odds with the British, when its people discovered that their port city Odessa had become a horse hub for the British right under their noses. Forty thousand British bought horses at wholesale prices flowed through Odessa before the Russian War Ministry did its best to “complicate and sabotage” these sales. New Orleans shipped nearly 200,000 horses and mules in 65 steamships making over 150 voyages each at the cost of nearly $600,000 per month to the British.

The British not having these horses sooner came at a high human cost for both they and their enemy as the war dragged on longer as a result. 

Buying these horses came at a great financial cost to the British.

Shipping these horses at “a holocaust” in the words leading British military veterinarian Major-General Sir Frederick Smith. 

Perishing at a rate exceeding 60%, these horses met awful ends in the field or often even before the field. 

Traveling from New Orleans, horses made the voyage standing below decks with excrement reaching above their hocks (think “horse knees”) and temperatures eclipsing 114 degrees. 

Blinding and then craning these horses onto smaller vessels,  then craning them onto the pier at Port Elizabeth was a necessary, terrifying (for the horses) evil since the steamships couldn’t dock there.

Further reading available in the following sources:

Egorov, Boris. “Why Russia wanted but couldn’t save the Boers from the British.” Russia Beyond. Last modified January 17, 2020. https://www.rbth.com/history/331562-why-russia-helped-boers.

Homan, Philip A. “American Horses for the South African War, 1899–1902.” Environment & Society Portal, Arcadia (Spring 2016), no. 2. Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society. doi.org/10.5282/rcc/7418

Nasson, Bill. The Boer War: The Struggle for South Africa. Stroud, United Kingdom: The History Press, 2011.

The Oxford History of the British Army, edited by David G. Chandler and Ian Beckett, 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. In Chapter 1 THE ENGLISH MEDIEVAL ARMY TO 1485 by MICHAEL PRESTWICH.

Robinson, Peter. “THE SEARCH FOR MOBILITY DURING THE SECOND BOER WAR.” Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research 86, no. 346 (2008): 140-57. Accessed June 5, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/44231577.

Warwick, Peter. Black People and the South African War: 1899-1902. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

Women in Demand

Boers were broken, not in 1900 but in 1902. For more than five years, South African viceroy Alfred Milner had longed for and schemed for this. The British at the cost of millions of pounds and hundreds of thousands of men and four years of reduced international prestige had finally won the Boer War. Women had to be a part of winning the peace so argued Sir John Ardagh, head of the South African Compensation Commission. Remaining Boer power and influence in South Africa must continue to be broken by British settlement agreed Ardagh and the Colonial Office.
Almost 100,000 British men in South Africa currently had no hope of finding a British spouse.
The British Women’s Emigration Association was already trying to address this British concern.
To “transform” South Africa into a colony loyal to the crown and bring the colony out of “barbarism”, 10,000 British women each year needed to emigrate to South Africa.
Milner agreed to provide £15,000 per year (approximately $3.5 million in today’s dollars) to fund his Women’s Immigration Department in conjunction with the South African Colonisation Society’s (S.A.C.S.) mission of bringing thousands more British women to South Africa. The S.A.C.S. originally looked ominous to already suspicious Boers with its original name, the South African Expansion Committee; so the South African Colonisation Society (SACS) name was adopted instead in 1903.
The S.A.C.S. was only meeting half of its quota for the former Transvaal, sending 50 women per month beginning in October 1902. Even with additional funding and support from the Colonial Office, S.A.C.S. saw their average women sent per month dip to 32 to the Transvaal and 64 to South Africa at large by early 1904. Narrow character and medical requirements did not help their efforts. Applicants with illegitimate children, any pattern of intemperance or dishonesty, or significant family disease history on their record were rejected. The S.A.C.S. rejected these women lest the program fall into disrepute or fail to make the cultural difference in South Africa the British authorities wanted. Who was the prototype the S.A.C.S. was looking for? Middle class, educated governesses or lady-helps only needing a husband to help them realize their potential as good mothers and wives were who the S.A.C.S sought. However, it was mainly domestic servants that they got. Upon their arrival, 80-86% of female emigrants were judged morally satisfactory or higher by the S.A.C.S. Undersirables who slipped through the cracks caused considerable consternation within the S.A.C.S.
British in and outside the S.A.C.S. criticized the siphoning of domestic servants in high demand in Britain to South Africa, and argued there was a surplus of educated women who should be emigrating instead. Perhaps not surprisingly, not enough of these educated women wanted to emigrate to such a radically different and dangerous place.
S.A.C.S. program collapsed at the granting of responsible government to the Transvaal and Orange River Colony in 1907. British authorities determined it was impossible to continue the program without Boer support. The SACS tried to survive by arguing for the broader “need” to strengthen the “white element” in South Africa and opened up emigration to Dutch as well, but still only managed 300 emigrants per year from 1907 until the outbreak of WWI. In this failed effort first crystallized by Ardagh, only 5,748 women and children emigrated to South Africa between 1902 and 1914. Due to this and many other significant factors, the British did not make South Africa into the image they desired.

Further reading on this subject can be done in the following article available on Jstor:
Blakeley, Brian L. “Women and Imperialism: The Colonial Office and Female Emigration to South Africa, 1901-1910.” Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies 13, no. 2 (1981): 131-49. doi:10.2307/4049046.