~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. Ardagh and the Colonial Office agreed that remaining Boer power and influence in South Africa must continue to be broken by British settlement.

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. Undesirables 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.

Farwell, Byron. The Great Anglo-Boer War. W. W. Norton & Company: New York, 1990.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>