The camps were formed by the British army to house the residents of the two Boer republics of the South African Republic and the Orange Free State. They were established towards the end of 1900, after Britain had invaded the Boer republics. This database was designed to investigate mortality and morbidity in the camps during the war. Although it will include everyone listed in the registers during the war, it usually excludes returning prisoners-of-war and men who came back from commando at the end of the war, as well as the considerable movement of people which took place after 31 May 1902, when families were repatriated to their homes.
Pietersburg was the northernmost camp in the Transvaal system, isolated and difficult to service. Although Pietersburg itself was relatively open, the nearby Zoutpansberg was mountainous and forested, bordering on Mozambique. The town was only occupied by the British on 8 April 1901 and, initially, the people of this region were housed in Irene camp. It was only after some thought that it was decided to establish a camp in such a remote area, in May 1901. This was still, in some respects, frontier territory, vulnerable to attacks from local African societies who remained unsubdued by the Boers. While there were some established farmers, much of the wealth of the area was derived from lumber and mining. Slave trading (the capture and sale of black children as apprentices to Boer farmers) still occurred occasionally. Many of the families were subsistence farmers at best and the presence of the Buys clan of Mara was an indication of the ‘in-between’ status of some of the people. These were the descendents of a Cape colonial renegade, Coenrad Buys, who had married into local black families. His descendents, however, did not identify with black society (in the camp context at least) and refused to be classed with black camp inmates. Instead, they maintained a separate identity in Pietersburg camp, living largely in their own wagons but rationed by the camp authorities. The head of the family was ‘a big burly negro, who rules his camp with great discretion’, the Ladies Committee noted in November 1901. Pietersburg was close to malaria country and the health of the region was notoriously poor so it was inevitable that the mortality in Pietersburg camp should be high.