Tourism, Accommodation and Historical Attractions in Natal, South Africa
The Natal Battlefields
The First Boer War - "Milk and Flies"
The First Boer War (1881) - Calamity on Majuba Hill
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An Ignominious Peace
Colley was replaced by battle hardened Brigadier General Sir Evelyn Wood, who was certain that with reinforcements he could defeat the Boers. However, back in Britain, where the annexation had always been controversial, peace terms were submitted to Paul Kruger, Joubert and the other Boer leaders.
They included suzerainty by Britain over the Republic and the right to maintain a British resident in Pretoria. The 33 articles of the peace offer were described as a `cup of milk with 33 flies' by the Boers.
Many were reluctant to sign, believing that God had aided their victory over the Brits and would do so again. However, Kruger knew of Wood's intentions finally to defeat the Boers and reluctantly agreed to the terms on 6th March 1881 in O'Neill's farmhouse at the foot of Laing's Nek.
Another factor was that both horse sickness season and the harvest were approaching and the Boers, who operated on a purely voluntary basis and who could leave their units at any time, wished to return to their farms.
The British were also keen to sign the agreement because they wished to define the extent of the South African Republic (which at that time was unknown) and stop the Boers from expanding into Bechuanaland (Botswana).
The Royal Commission
A Royal Commission, composed only of English, was appointed to determine the peace treaty.
Explaining to the confused African population of the South African Republic that the annexation was a mistake, and that the British honourably were returning the land to its rightful owners elicited the response that if the British were so honourable, why did they not return the land to the African population?
While the peace terms were unpopular with the Boers, they were extremely unpopular with the British in South Africa, particularly with those in the beleagured garrisons that had held out in miserable circumstances for the duration of the war
All felt that they had been let down very badly by their Government. Desertions and resignations were very high amongst the British and there were demonstrations that involved dragging the Union Jack through the mud, burning the flag and carrying out a mock funeral.
During the 75 year reign of Queen Victoria, more than 80 wars were fought by the British and this amounted, in military terms to little more than a skirmish. However, there were to be repercussions.
The British Army, in particular, saw Majuba as an unqualified defeat to be avenged. There were grave misgivings from many that Britain would eventually have to invade the Boer territories and that the peace only delayed the inevitable.
Amongst the Boers too, there was grave concern that the 'Verdomde Engelsmen' (damned English) would inevitably take their land from them. Further, their successful besiegment of the British lead them to believe this could be repeated and they tied many men up the sieges of Ladysmith, Kimberley and Mafeking in the following war.
To their great credit, the Boers sought no revenge amongst the British in the republic nor amongst their own who had supported the British. There was great sympathy for the Boers amongst many European countries, several of whom bestowed their highest honours on Boer commanders. The outcome of the war also gave hope to the Irish, who were struggling to be released from the English yoke.