Boer War

Date start:
11 Oct 1899
Date end:
31 May 1902

The Boer War was intended to be an easy victory. Beginning in October, conventional wisdom believed the war would be over by Christmas. Though Britain did eventually declare victory, it was only after great expense, two years, and much embarrassment to their reputation as an imperial power.

Parts of South Africa were colonised by the Dutch in the 18th and19th centuries, and the Afrikaans speaking farmers descended from these colonisers called themselves Boers. In the late 19th century the Transvaal Republic and Orange Free State rebelled against the imperial powers of Britain which they felt encroached on their freedom, and more importantly their economic welfare. Rich seams of gold ore were found in several places in Boer territory, and the British hoped to gain control of the mines for themselves.

British leaders in the Cape region including Prime Minister of the colony, Cecil Rhodes, and British Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, clashed with Paul Kruger, President of the Transvaal, over British rights in Boer colonies, and particularly over a tax Kruger placed on the dynamite necessary for mining interests. In 1896 Leander Starr Jameson led a raid on the Transvaal in the hopes of inspiring a rebellion amongst the British inhabitants of the region. Though this goal failed, the Boer leadership understood the action as a prelude to war and took measures to prevent it.

The British however refused attempts at conciliation, and Kruger issued an ultimatum in September 1899 which was literally laughed at in London. Nevertheless, the Boer offensive proved difficult to fend off, and inroads at Mafeking, Ladysmith, and Kimberley depleted existing resources, and more troops had to be called up.

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