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Anglo Boere Oorlog/Boer War Kampe/Camps

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Profiles

  • Project Marker (deceased)
  • Andrew Murray McGregor (1873 - 1943)
    Andrew Murray McGregor (1873 - 20 September 1943) was predikant van die Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk, waarvan 'n kwarteeu in Drieankerbaai, Kaapstad. Andrew Murray McGregor was die tweede seun van An...
  • William James Gardner (c.1840 - 1901)
    Personal Details Name: Mr William Gardner Born in camp? No Place of death: Volksrust RC Age died: 60 years Died in camp? Yes Cause of death: asthenia & syncope Gender: male Race: white Nationality: Tra...
  • Sarel Johannes Marais (1846 - 1901)

The purpose here is to list all the camps separately and to give a short history of each, the people interned there and the history or every day life in each camp.

Please add Profiles of persons who died in or survived the British concentration camps to this project. This project is a tribute to them. Also included are British soldiers and doctors stationed in the camps .

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TRANSVAAL

BALMORAL

Balmoral camp was established relatively late, on 25 July 1901, coming into use a week later – a remarkably short time in which to set up a camp. It was created to take the overflow from the Middelburg and Belfast camps and was divided into the districts from which most of the inmates came – Balmoral, Lydenburg and, later, Ermelo. The move from Middelburg had been precipitated by the poor health in that very large camp and the people arrived unwell. Later arrivals included fugitives from the Bronkhorstspruit district, who were starving and exhausted. By November 1901 they were coming in from the Lydenburg and Barberton districts, in a very bedraggled state, it was noted, because they had been out on the veld for some time. Although by the end of 1901 Kitchener had ordered that no more families should be sent to the camps, his instructions were often ignored and some continued to trickle in. On 27 April 1902 125 people arrived, half of them men, in a pitiful state. ‘They were literally in rags and it was hard to discern the original material of the men’s clothing. When compared with the inmates of the camp they looked a very unkempt lot’, the superintendent noted.

The original site was an old military camp, just south of the railway station, and was strewn with refuse. E.R Harvey, the first superintendent, had hard work getting the area into a reasonable condition, as he was limited by lack of transport. This was often a problem for the camps when the military requisitioned all the available animals. The camp was unfenced as the entire area was protected by blockhouses. Within this vicinity camp inmates were allowed to wander freely. Because Balmoral was established so late, it was easy to pitch the camp with the mathematical tidiness favoured by the British officials. The tents had dung floors.

The death rates, which give a more reliable indicator of what was happening, indicate that the authorities had reason to be concerned about deaths in Balmoral camp for it was somewhat higher than the Transvaal camp average (compare the grey and black lines). The adult lines also show that the typhoid epidemic was relatively serious. Men, especially suffered quite badly.

By January 1902 various reforms had greatly improved the health of the camp but childhood diseases remained a worry. In April 1902 two children died of diphtheria, the result of their tents being too close to the black location and the cattle kraals, the MO believed. In the same month mumps, though not a killer, ran through the camp. As winter approached, respiratory ailments increased. There was always a trickle of typhoid cases and the medical officers devoted much time to identifying the source. In April 1902, the current MO, Dr W.M. Montgomery, thought the infection might be due to the dust storms. Flies were not very prevalent, he explained, and the disease did not appear to be waterborne.

As in most camps, the women preferred to have their babies born in their own tents, helped, in Balmoral, by a camp midwife, an experienced and sensible woman, the Ladies’ Commission was told. Milk was relatively generously supplied, with all children under six receiving a bottle a day. Dr Lee was concerned, however, by the ‘maternal incompetency’ in feeding the newborn infants, leaving a highway, he explained, to the ‘ravages of artificial feeding’. The ailments of women are barely mentioned in this male-dominated environment and in a world in which anything sexual was deeply private. One woman in Balmoral, however, died of ‘septic peritonitis’ following childbirth, a relatively uncommon phenomenon.

A camp chaplain, the Rev. de Beer, was appointed only in 1902, a step in the right direction, the superintendent thought. Previously the camp inmates had only had the occasional services of the town dominee. His services were so popular that part of the congregation was forced to stand outside the church tent in the broiling summer sun. The school was usually well attended and occasioned no special comment.

The camp seems to have closed by the end of November as there is no report for December.

Read the whole story here

Survivors

B

D

F

J

M

P

R

S

V

Casualties

BARBERTON

Barberton camp was opened at the beginning of February 1901 but it grew slowly. By the end of August 1901 it only had about 2,000 inmates, small by the standards of most camps. It was situated to the south-west of the town on high ground. Both Dr Kendal Franks and the Ladies Committee were very taken with the lovely setting, surrounded by high hills, close to the Swaziland border. B. Graumann, who was superintendent throughout the war, sent in terse reports so it is often difficult to glean much about the life of the camp. He appears to have been an efficient man, however, and he was much praised by Kendal Franks, when he visited the camp in August 1901. The camp was beautifully pitched, the tents laid out with the utmost regularity (which always impressed the British authorities) and there was a general appearance of order and cleanliness. At the beginning of August there was an influx of over 1,000 Boers and a second camp was established in the local agricultural showgrounds.

This new group included 121 Africans, amongst them women and children, forty-seven of whom drew rations. For some time they slept and ate in the same tents as their employers but Graumann eventually moved them into a separate location, adjacent to the camp. Such ‘undue familiarity’ could not be allowed, he considered. Here they were rationed on a ‘native’ scale, which usually included less meat and mealie meal rather than flour. Nevertheless it would seem that some still slept in the main camp for Graumann later moved them further away and fenced in the new camp, as well as establishing a system of inspection to ensure that the people slept in their own camp after ‘lights out’.

Read the full story here

Survivors

B

C

D

E

H

J

L

N

S

V

Casualties

J

  • Cause of death – Bronchitis
  • Cause of death – Convulsions

BELFAST

Belfast was one of the later camps, started by the civilian administration rather than the military, between 4 and 10 June 1901. The camp reports only give the British side of the story and we often have to read between the lines to understand the realities of camp life. The first superintendent, G.F. Esselen, did not remain long as he was transferred to Irene. The reports of his replacement, David Murray, suggest that he was a kindly man, but not as efficient as Graumann at Barberton, for instance. He refused either to stop rations as a punishment or to put the recalcitrant into a separate wired enclosure, as occurred in many camps. Unlike most camps, Belfast had no camp police (usually appointed from the inmates) until March 1902, but the need to isolate the potentially infectious newcomers made such a step necessary. However, the Ladies Committee commented on the dirty and ragged appearance of the people and their dwellings. The first camp inmates were described as being fairly well-off, able to afford the goods at Poynton’s store. The inmates’ money did not last long, however; by September 1901 most had exhausted their savings and were left only with SAR ‘blue-backs’ which were useless as currency. As in most camps, there were some black inmates as well, a total of fifty-four in August 1901, including twenty children. The black men were critical to the running of the camp, as Murray admitted. ‘I get an immense amount of work done by the natives, and if it were not for them, some of the departments of the camp would suffer.’ As an encouragement, they were given fresh meat if they were considered to have done a fair day’s work.


Belfast camp was not easy to administer since it was scattered thtough the damaged town. In the beginning accommodation included houses, the Dopper church and the ‘township’ (this was probably not the black township which was then more usually called a ‘location’). By the time that Dr Kendal Franks visited the camp in late August 1901 tents had been erected, some in a square in the middle of the town, others on a vacant site to the west, while more were to be pitched further north. When the Ladies Committee arrived in October 1901, about two-thirds of the camp inmates were still living in houses. Town and camp were surrounded by blockhouses and the people could move freely within these limits. The authorities were often edgy, however, for Belfast was often close to the lines of fighting. On 3 September 1901 ten of the ‘more prominent’ members of the camp absconded (presumably to join the commandos) and the camp was raided by the Boers on 15 September, for the goods in Poynton’s store. In the fracas one woman was killed and two children were wounded. Women had been detected sending off clothing and food from the camp via black messengers (some had been described by Esselen as being ‘very bitter’). Under these circumstances, it was not surprising that control became fairly tight.

http://www2.lib.uct.ac.za/mss/bccd/Histories/Belfast/

Survivors

B

D

F

H

J

K

P

  • Camp History: Tent 470 Arrived 14/9/1901
  • Farm History:Pelser family Lydenburg
  • Camp History: Tent 470 Arrived 14/9/1901
  • Farm History:Pelser family Lydenburg

Casualties

J

  • Belfast Concentration Camp
  • Cause of death – Whooping Cough & Convulsions
  • Belfast Concentration Camp
  • Cause of death – Diarrhoea & Debility
  • Belfast Concentration Camp
  • Cause of death – Whooping Cough and Pneumonia
  • Belfast Concentration Camp
  • Cause of death – Diarrhoea and General Debility

HEIDELBERG

Heidelberg was one of the oldest camps and was probably already in existence in October 1900, when families harbouring Boer commandos were brought into the town, although there may also have been substantial numbers of destitute Boers for whom the British had to provide. By February 1901 there were over 1,200 people living there but the camp was never very large. At the end of June 1901 there were only 751 inmates and the number remained at under 1,000 for most of the period of the existence of the camp. Later a number of the families were moved to the Natal camps. Unusually, the superintendent for the entire life of the camp was a local Heidelberg man, 32-year-old Lieutenant Arnold Allison, previously with the Corps of Guides, who was married to a Boer woman.1 A number of Free State families had fled to Heidelberg as the British army advanced and they also found themselves in the camp. In May, however, they were returned to Kroonstad. It was some time before a similar exchange took place from the Free State, however, since Transvaal ‘refugees’ were not accepted until English-speaking Uitlander refugees were also allowed back – an indication of how sensitive the British authorities were to the anxieties of the impoverished Uitlanders at the coast. A black camp was probably formed early in 1901 but there is little information about it. There were also a handful of black servants in the white camp – 49, including 20 children in November 1901.


The camp soon outgrew its original site and a second camp was established towards the end of May 1901, linked by a deep sluit and a bridge of poplars and stone, it was reported. Later a third camp was also set up. Dr Kendal Franks considered the site a good one on high ground, well supplied with water. The camp seems never to have been fenced although both Dr Franks and the Ladies Committee recommended it, the former because the people, who were allowed into town twice a week, tended to bring back ‘quack remedies’, Boer traditional medicines, while the Ladies Committee wanted to keep out animals. The British doctors, schooled in a more modern medical tradition, heartily disapproved of Boer medicine. Heidelberg was one of the camps where the use of folk remedies was commented upon, including cow dung mixed with sulphur, giving rise to diarrhoea, and cotton tied round babies’ wrists to prevent convulsions. ‘Would that all Boer “remedies” were equally harmless’, the Ladies Committee lamented. Another medical curiosity in the camp, upon which Dr Franks commented, was a pair of dwarfs, brothers, both burghers and both of whom were married with large families. The children, he noted, were well formed.


Allison was an easy, sympathetic superintendent, untroubled by Boer habits which disturbed the visiting British inspectors. While the tents were always clean, the appearance of the camp was scruffy. A number of people lived in sod houses, roofed with galvanised iron and others remained for some time in their wagons with tents pitched at the side. As the camp expanded, however, tents were pitched in the approved style in neat rows. Facilities tended to be rudimentary. There were no washing facilities for the women at all and only rough provision for the men, the Ladies Committee noted in November 1901. ‘Small black boys’ were employed to keep the latrines clean which also seemed hardly ideal. Nor was Allison inclined to force the children into hospital. The people preferred nursing their own children, he noted, until it became necessary to send them to hospital. The low rate of sickness during the early months made this laissez faire attitude possible. In July 1901 there were only eleven deaths, nine of them from measles.

http://www2.lib.uct.ac.za/mss/bccd/Histories/Heidelberg/

Survivors

A

B

Casualties

A

B

IRENE

Irene has received more attention than any other camp, for a number of reasons. Because it was located so close to Pretoria, it was under the eye of the senior camp authorities. The presence of a group of Boer women from Pretoria who nursed in the camp and who expressed themselves strongly on conditions there, at the time and later, gave it additional notoriety. But there were other factors as well. The Irene camp superintendents and medical officers wrote long, detailed reports reflecting on many aspects of life in the camp. Taken with the accounts of the Pretoria women, we have perspectives on Irene camp from many different standpoints. These accounts have to be interpreted carefully but they give us a valuable sense of the life in Irene.


Even before the British reached Pretoria, the capital was overflowing with refugees and the arrival of the British triggered a fresh influx. As a result, Pretoria was forced to supply relief to a substantial number of people from the start of the war. Some of the Boer families were housed in a camp on the banks of the Apies River, where Henrietta Armstrong, one of the Pretoria women, worked already in 1900. Irene camp may have been formed shortly after Kitchener’s notice of 22 September 1900 that camps should be established in Pretoria and Bloemfontein; it was certainly in existence in December 1900 and the Apies River families were then moved to Irene. At this stage, in December 1900, when there were 891 inmates, the camp was managed by the military under Capt Hime-Haycock.


Irene was transferred to civilian control in February 1901 when N.J. Scholtz, was appointed superintendent. He was originally a Cape colonial but latterly had been employed by J.B. Robinson’s company. Although he was not popular, Scholtz must have been fairly efficient for he was promoted to travelling inspector in July 1901, when he was replaced by G.F. Esselen, a man who inspired little confidence. Johanna van Warmelo, one of the Pretoria women, had little time for him. ‘I think we are going to bully this new man – he looks so small and sickly and afraid’, she wrote. The Ladies Committee agreed. They thought him ‘weakly amiable; he has no authority and no force of character’.2 Esselen was finally replaced in January 1902 by Lieutenant L.M. Bruce, RAMC, previously quartermaster of the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital. Despite his lowly rank, Bruce transformed Irene into a model camp.3 As a man with a medical background, Bruce’s philosophy behind the management of the camps was sanitation ‘from first to last’. ‘I view the Camp more or less, as a large hospital, and as such have given to Sanitary matters particular and unremitting care’, he wrote.

Irene was a large and constantly changing camp, reaching 5,641 inmates at its peak, but averaging about 4,000 people

http://www2.lib.uct.ac.za/mss/bccd/Histories/Irene/

Survivors

A

D

H

J

S

Casualties

A

B

JOHANNESBURG

Johannesburg was an unusual camp in that it was the only urban camp in the entire system. Like Pretoria, from the start of the war Johannesburg had large numbers of refugees who needed help, and these increased when the British arrived. While many people were housed in the homes of the Uitlanders who had left for the coast, some kind of camp probably came into being fairly early, certainly by December 1900. At the end of December 1900, writing to Lady Hobhouse, Emily Hobhouse noted that there were rumours of ‘some sort of prison camps’ in Johannesburg with 4,000 women and children. With its mines and compounds, the town appeared to have plenty of accommodation and, in the early days, some women were housed in the men’s quarters at Robinson’s Deep and Village Deep.1 In the end, however, the camp was located at Turffontein – the Johannesburg racecourse – where the people lived in the grandstands. While they may have been relatively waterproof, the stands were not ideal, being dark and stuffy, and it was not long before the superintendent was recommending bell tents for the inmates. In the meantime, some sheds were built while other people were housed in nearby suburbs, making administration very difficult. Nevertheless, the Ladies Committee was pleasantly impressed by Johannesburg camp when they visited it in September 1901, describing it as being in a ‘charming situation’. They were particularly struck by the quality of the accommodation which they considered better than in any other camp they had visited, and they regarded the superintendent as thoughtful and efficient. Dr Franks, visiting earlier in July 1901, commented that ‘If every burgher camp be as well managed as this one there is very small ground for complaint’.


The earliest superintendent, Captain Snowden, had been replaced by A.A. Noble when the camp passed into civilian administration in 1901. Noble had a particularly arduous task for he was also responsible for the town refugees on poor relief. Nevertheless, he appears to have been one of the most competent of the camp superintendents. The camp was run, not only efficiently, but with compassion and the Ladies Committee commented that the people greeted Noble with a ‘pleasant smile’ wherever he went.3 Unfortunately the camp reports he wrote were, in general, brief and terse, dealing largely with administrative matters, so it is difficult to get much sense of life in Johannesburg camp.


Johannesburg was not without its problems. In the beginning, health was a major concern. Many of the people were desperately poor. The British authorities described them as ‘low class’, ‘hopeless, helpless, sick and vermin-ridden’. As in Pretoria, measles struck early and very severely and the MO remarked on the virulent character of the disease, complicated by pneumonia. Persistent diarrhoea and sore eyes suggest wider health problems. It was particularly difficult to keep the camps which were close to large towns free of disease, and infections appear to have been rife in Johannesburg. Measles was followed by scarlet fever, whooping cough and mumps, although none had the tragic results of the measles and strict isolation kept the worst effects at bay. The poor health led the Dutch Reformed Church to send a deputation to the authorities to protest against conditions, especially amongst the people at Robinson Deep. The first doctor, Dr Crozier-Durham, was unable to cope and was replaced by Dr Herbert Crook, who had worked previously on the mines. Crook, in turn, was followed by Dr Robert James.

http://www2.lib.uct.ac.za/mss/bccd/Histories/Johannesburg/

Survivors

A

H

J

S

Casualties

J

  • Cause of Death – Heart Disease

KLERKSDORP

Klerksdorp was a somewhat contradictory camp. It seems to have been well run but, despite this, there was a good deal of disease and a mortality rate which was considerably higher than the average camp rate. The result was that Klerksdorp had a poor reputation amongst Afrikaners in the twentieth century. One explanation may have been the camp’s propinquity to the town which was unhealthy.


It is not clear when Klerksdorp camp was formed but Emily Hobhouse believed that it was in existence by the end of 1900. By 22 March 1901, after the civilian administration had taken over, there were 456 people recorded in camp. Such a small number suggests that the camp had not, in fact, been established for very long and the lack of documentation indicates that it was a very minor camp at this stage. The camp was located just south of the town and was tidily laid out in the neat rows the British preferred. It was unfenced until almost the end of the war and the fences were erected only to keep out marauders. When Dr Franks visited the camp in August 1901, he commented favourably on the organisation of the routines. All tents were cleaned out before 8 each morning and clothes, blankets and bedding were aired outside when the weather allowed, until midday. The tent skirts were rolled up to make certain that the tents were adequately aired. Regular inspections, under the management of Mr Jooste, ensured that all these regulations were properly followed. As a result, the inmates looked ‘clean, healthy and happy’, Dr Franks believed.


Numbers increased rapidly from May 1901, with nearly 1,000 arriving in that month, brought in by columns operating west and north-west of Klerksdorp. H. Howard, the first camp superintendent, commented on the ‘deplorable’ condition of most of these arrivals, with tattered clothing and few possessions. The troops with the convoys claimed that the people were ‘improvident’, failing to load up the wagons when they were collected but later arrivals were equally destitute, and the superintendent felt that the people had not been allowed enough time to collect their possessions. A few, however, brought pianos and organs which ‘might well have been left behind’. One woman, apparently a widow, was able to retain her sewing-machine, the source of her livelihood. In the camp it was gave her an invaluable income.

http://www2.lib.uct.ac.za/mss/bccd/Histories/Klerksdorp/

Survivors

A

B

Casualties

A

B

KRUGERSDORP

Krugersdorp camp was formed relatively late, only on 15 April 1901. Emily Hobhouse, however, suggested that a nucleus existed as early as August 1900, when families were brought into Krugersdorp after their farms had been burnt. The camp was located about ¾ mile from Krugersdorp, under some koppies. It grew quite rapidly. By the end of May there were 1,531 residents and this had risen to over 4,000 by July. Many of these early arrivals were destitute and ill, short of clothes and without bedding. Their condition was so bad, in fact, that three died of starvation shortly after their arrival. These families may have come from a group which had been put into a laager by the Krugersdorp commando and subsequently attacked and broken up by local Africans. Despite the poor state of the early arrivals, Dr Franks thought that the Krugersdorp people seemed affluent, with the children looking well nourished and healthy. The Ladies Committee concurred, noting that more than £5,000 had been spent in Poynton’s store in three months, apart from purchases in the town. This, they noted, was much resented by the English-speaking store keepers whose families were still refugees at the coast. A black camp was also established in Krugersdorp, although there is little information about it. Black servants were allowed in the white camp and rationed, although at a lower rate than the whites. In February 1902 a separate hospital tent was erected for their use.


The superintendent, P. Tomlinson, remained with the camp throughout its life. Prior to this he had been with the Imperial Light Horse and had participated at Spion Kop and a number of other battles during the war. He seems to have been an efficient man but, like several such capable superintendents, his reports were terse and to the point, giving limited insight into the life of the camp. Together with the MO, Dr Aymard, who took ‘great pride’ in his work, and the hospital matron, Mrs Harnett, the three formed an harmonious team which generally made for a contented camp, as an English nurse testified. She told a British nursing journal that there was ‘a perfect feeling of goodfellowship’ throughout the camp and that the inmates had ‘unbounded confidence’ in the doctors and nurses.


Admittedly this was a self-interested perspective but one indication of this relative satisfaction was the attitude to the young Boer women working in the hospital and camp. Dr Aymard noted on one occasion that ‘the manner in which they carry out their duties is in the highest degree satisfactory, and a credit to their intelligence and trainer [the matron, Mrs Harnett]’. Before the young women were taken into the hospital, they acted as ‘messengers’, visiting the tents, reporting on sickness and lack of cleanliness and delivering medical comforts and food. They were well received by the camp people, the superintendent believed, and much preferred to outsiders. The Ladies Committee, too, was impressed by the Boer women. They reported that ‘These girls looked very smart in their neat blue uniforms, and, what is better, they were trying to be nurses, and were proud of their wards’. Indeed, so successful was the training of these young women, that at least one was able get independent employment in the town, ‘earning good wages’.

http://www2.lib.uct.ac.za/mss/bccd/Histories/Krugersdorp/

Survivors

A

B

G

H

J

M

Casualties

A

B

H

  • Cause of death – Senile Decay

J

  • Cause of death – Measles & Diarrhoea

MEINTJIESKOP

Although Meintjes Kop was part of the Transvaal system, its purpose was slightly different from the majority of the camps, since it was established specifically to house the families of National Scouts – those Boers who were fighting for the British. Such families often had a hard time in the main camps, for they were despised by the women whose men were still on commando or were prisoners of war. The camp came into being only in December 1901 to replace Van der Hoven’s Drift camp nearby. After some indecision, for the camp was established first at Bronkhorstspruit and then at Eerste Fabrieken, it was finally located on the hill above Pretoria (on which the Union Buildings now stand) and opened on 11 January 1902.


Despite its late formation, and the fact that this was a loyalist camp, the first superintendent, Major A.M. Lloyd, had to contend with the usual range of problems. He was desperately short of male labour, black or white, to pitch the tents, dig trenches and perform all the necessary tasks of camp life. Storms knocked down the tents after they were pitched, there was no transport and people were sent in without prior notice. Sickness increased rapidly, from eight to forty-one within the month largely, the MO explained, because people were imported in a weakly condition from other camps. Fortunately few were really serious.


By March the camp had reached nearly 2,000 and they were running out of tents. Other amenities were rapidly introduced, including a school where, Lloyd noted, the families were particularly anxious that their children should learn to speak English. They were, at least, contented for, the superintendent noted, ‘All the inmates like this camp and many have given up their homes in town to come out and live here’.


By May the camp was full, with applications coming in all the time for more places, but the lack of tents limited the number who could be admitted. The superintendent announced proudly that General J.G. Celliers, who had joined the National Scouts, wanted some of his relatives accommodated in the camp which was, the General said, the cleanest he had seen.


The position of such a camp was always bound to be controversial and some of the inmates found themselves the subject of abuse when newly-surrendered men visited the camp after the war had ended. The National Scouts themselves were disbanded on 17 May, with the men coming into the camp before returning home. This did not solve the labour difficulties, for these men refused to do camp work at the offered rate of 2s 6d a day. Not surprisingly, as loyalists, they participated enthusiastically in coronation festivities, however. Although one might anticipate that National Scout families would receive preference in repatriation, by no means everyone wanted to return home. As the season advanced, and the lack of transport also delayed repatriation, families feared being stranded on the farms if they were unable to plant in time. At the end of November there were still a substantial number of people in camp but Meintjes Kop appears to have been closed early in December, for there is no report for that month.

http://www2.lib.uct.ac.za/mss/bccd/Histories/Meintjes_kop/

Survivors

A

B

Casualties

A

B

MIDDELBURG

Middelburg camp presents a problem in trying to understand why so many people died in the camps. It was the largest camp in the Transvaal system, reaching over 7,000 inmates at one point, and the reports of Dr Kendal Franks and the Ladies Committee suggest that it was very badly run. Dr Franks was critical of the layout of the camp and complained that the administration was ‘lax’, while the Ladies Committee thought it ‘one of the most unsatisfactory we have seen’.1 An intake of over 3,000 in May 1901 brought in desperately impoverished and debilitated people, which precipitated disease. By all these criteria the mortality in Middelburg ought to have been amongst the worst in the system, yet this was not the case, as a comparison with Mafeking camp shows. Indeed, apart from the May peak (a pattern which appeared in almost all the camps) mortality was little worse than the camp average, which was a record few camps achieved. How does the history of Middelburg camp help to explain this anomaly?

http://www2.lib.uct.ac.za/mss/bccd/Histories/Middelburg/

Survivors

A

B

Casualties

A

B

NYLSTROOM

Nylstroom, the main town in the Waterberg district, located on the confusingly named Nile River, was on the northern railway line to Pietersburg. Situated in the lowveld, it was an unhealthy spot in the nineteenth century with both malaria and tsetse fly plaguing the inhabitants. When Dr Kendal Franks visited the place in August 1901, he thought poorly of it. This was not a town, he declared. ‘It is rather a dorp or village composed of widely-scattered houses, some are cottages, some are little better than huts or cabins’. The Ladies Committee had a much more favourable impression of the town, describing the ‘scattered cottages with fine gardens full of fruit trees, and with large crops of vegetables and mealies coming on’ and further on ‘pretty cottages with palms and vines growing in the gardens’.


The camp itself, though not large, was a jumble of ancient bell tents, sail-covered tents and a marquee. A number of people lived in the little town houses while the gaol was also occupied, as was the church. According to Franks, the camp was started on 31 May 1901, relatively late. By June 1901 there were 1,100 inmates and the superintendent was expecting more. Early reports were optimistic for health was good and the superintendent, Henry Cooke, believed that the people were relatively contented. The camp, he explained, was entirely open and unprotected but no-one had absconded. The doctor, Percy Green, was experienced for he had been seconded from Irene camp.

http://www2.lib.uct.ac.za/mss/bccd/Histories/Nylstroom/

Survivors

A

B

Casualties

A

B

PIETERSBURG

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.


Given the hostilities that had marked Boer relations with the local black societies over many years, the white families felt particularly vulnerable when war broke out. One of the greatest fears that loomed over the women was the threat of armed blacks. While these were often exaggerated, there seems little doubt that farms in the Zoutpansberg were sometimes cleared by black allies of the British. Inevitably, accounts of these ‘atrocities’ crept into the women’s testimonies. The men of the Bushveldt Carbineers were also active in bringing in the women and children. Lieutenant George Witton’s distasteful and untruthful account of the Breaker Morant affair illustrates vividly the calibre of the men engaged in this work

http://www2.lib.uct.ac.za/mss/bccd/Histories/Pietersburg/

Survivors

A

B

Casualties

A

B

POTCHEFSTROOM

At the start of the war refugees from Griqualand West flowed into Potchefstroom. Although the British were forced to evacuate the town shortly after their arrival, when they returned they found the disruptions had created a substantial refugee population for which they had to provide. A camp was probably established quite early; certainly it was in existence by October 1900. A black camp was probably created alongside the white camp, although little is known about it.


The camp, which had been run by Mr Duncan under the supervision of the military, was turned over to civilian administration in February 1901. At that point there were over 4,000 inmates, about half in tents and the other half living in the town. Some had started to build reed houses with tarpaulins for roofs. An Afrikaner burgher, Mr Jacob Swart, was appointed superintendent. By March the camp had risen to over 5,500 inmates. When Dr Kendal Franks visited the camp in August 1901, he noted that the camp was divided into four, with a water furrow, which supplied both the camp and town, winding its way through the middle. As late as this there were still 3,651 people living in the town on rations, in addition to the 5,000 camp people, making this a very large camp.


Throughout the life of Potchefstroom camp accommodation seems to have been a problem. Not only was there always a shortage of tents but the quality of the canvas seems to have been exceptionally bad. New stocks, often rotten themselves, were used only to replace those which had disintegrated entirely. As the Potchefstroom residents began to return to the town in April 1902, pressure on lodgings increased since a large number of camp people still lived in the vacated houses. The new superintendent, Mr R. Duncan, insisted that those on rations live in the camp but a number opted to fend for themselves and remain in the town, ‘thus proving that they were able to sustain themselves’, he noted. Still, as late as May 1902, at the end of the war, there were over 1,000 camp inmates living in Potchefstroom town.


In August 1901 the camp was moved to a new site on sloping ground with better drainage. At the same time, people were continually moving in and out. In September there were over 600 new arrivals. Superintendent Swart had hoped to house them all in the camp but the tents he received were too worn to use and many people still had to live in the town. At the same time, the deportation to Natal of families whose men were still on commando, began.

http://www2.lib.uct.ac.za/mss/bccd/Histories/Potchefstroom/

Survivors

A

B

Casualties

A

B

STANDERTON

Few camps can have had as miserable a start as Standerton. The camp was probably begun about December 1900. Before it was handed over to the civilian administration in February 1901, the local district commissioner had put Mr van Musschenbroek in charge but the camp was left ‘(more or less) to run itself’. There were no records of arrivals or departures as families poured in, while some were deported to Natal or transferred to other camps. A small camp which had been started at Platrand was also amalgamated with Standerton, although a black camp remained there. These movements took place in the bucketing rain in which the local black pot clay dissolved into a ‘deep thick glutinous mud’. General Superintendent Goodwin reported in February 1901 that the condition of the people was ‘pitiable in the extreme’. To add to the woes, Dr Leslie, who had been sent from Cape Town, took one look at the camp and refused to take up his duties, causing ‘considerable inconvenience’.


It was hardly surprising that the Boer families were bitter and Standerton remained a disaffected camp for many months. The people complained that they had been taken from their homes with no time to collect any belongings. Goodwin was sceptical. He admitted that it was probably true in some cases but many families brought a considerable quantity of furniture with them. The people were also incensed about the food, for the system of restricted rations to the families whose men were on commando was at first implemented in Standerton. However, Goodwin took the decision by the end of February 1901 to move everyone in the Transvaal camp system onto Scale A, with Scale B (which lacked meat) used as a means of punishment of the ‘unruly and troublesome’. This, he believed, ‘materially assisted in obtaining a better feeling throughout the various camps, and encouraged both the men and women to be more helpful’. At first W.K. Tucker, a capable man who soon became General Superintendent of the Transvaal camp system, was sent to Standerton as superintendent to straighten things out

http://www2.lib.uct.ac.za/mss/bccd/Histories/Standerton/

Survivors

A

B

Casualties

A

B

VAN DER HOVENS DRIFT

Van der Hoven’s Drift existed for a short time as a camp for the families whose men were in the loyalist British forces. It is not clear when it was first established nor who ran it. On 27 August 1901, however, it was taken over by the government relief committee in Pretoria and R.I. Wilson installed as superintendent. He was later replaced by M.J. Stucki. The camp was tiny, consisting of 511 people when the government took it over, but by the end of September it had declined to only 185.


At this stage facilities were very limited, consisting only of a supervisor, assistant and issuer. Sanitation was carried out by Pretoria municipality. In September a more formal administration was set in place. A marquee was set up as a hospital and Nurse A. de Villiers was appointed in the place of Nurse van Smallen from Irene, who had proved unsatisfactory. A soup kitchen was run by Mrs Carinus, with the Pretoria Benevolent Society usually providing the meat. When meat was in short supply, it was replaced with rice and sago pudding, which was ‘much appreciated’. Two bake ovens had been erected along with a hot water tank.


In early January van der Hoven’s Drift camp was closed down and the inmates moved to Meintjes Kop.

Sources

Published camp reports: CD 853, pp.46-47; Cd 902, pp. 52-53.

Survivors

A

B

Casualties

A

B

VEREENIGING

Vereeniging was probably the most contented of all the camps. Like Heilbron and Kroonstad in the ORC, it was located in the maize-growing belt of the highveld, but on the north bank of the Vaal River, in the Transvaal, sloping down to the river. It was already in existence when the first civilian inspection took place on 19 February 1901 but it probably started about September 1900 (Dr Kendal Franks dated it from December 1900). G.W. Goodwin, then chief superintendent of the Transvaal camps, reported in February 1901 that the people were of a ‘superior class’ and appeared in good health, happy and contented. If this was the case, it may have been due to the first superintendent, Captain Bentinck, a remarkably capable man. But the people themselves, many of them employees and tenants of Sammy Marks’s Vereeniging Estates Company, had benefited from the burgeoning markets of the goldfields and were probably relatively affluent. Dr Kendal Franks, who visited the camp in September 1901, thought them ‘a superior class of burgher, better educated and more advanced in the manners and arts of civilisation’. Their tents were often well furnished, some with carpets, and the inmates were active, sewing, making jam tarts and the like. One benefit from the association with the Vereeniging Estates Company was the lavish supply of coal so the inmates were never short of fuel. Like the wiser superintendents, Bentinck had immediately adopted the ration scale which included meat and food was always fairly plentiful and good.


By the time that the first formal camp report was submitted for May 1901, Bentinck had been replaced by Burton Tucker as part of the civilian administration, with Dr Allan Stuart Boyd as medical officer. The camp remained small, with never more than about 1,000 inmates but there was a black camp nearby, with over 2,000 people, mainly women and children. A school was started early, by two young women in the camp, and about 100 children attended, rising to over 300. In time the camp was divided into two parts, with a small section, the ‘Burgher [Scout] Camp’, consisting of about twenty-five families (150 people). Their men were employed mainly in the ‘looting’ corps, bringing in cattle and horses. They were allowed to keep 75% of the stock they caught but had to hand the horses over to the British army. The camp must have had a slightly untidy appearance. The Scouts’ camp, where the families used their own tents and were not under the same discipline, was neither as clean nor as orderly as the main camp. Some fifteen families lived in their own ‘nachtmaal’ tents while another seventeen lived in the town, where they paid rent.

http://www2.lib.uct.ac.za/mss/bccd/Histories/vereeniging/

Survivors

B

  • Maria Susanna Britz Took care of the three little Meyer girls who's mother and brother died in the camp, and returned them to their father after the war. She married the father, Cornelis Floris Johannes Meyer and they had other children.

S

Casualties

A

B

VOLKSRUST

Volksrust camp was beautifully situated, in the shadow of Majuba mountain, on the border of Natal, where the Boers had defeated the British some twenty years before, reminding them of ‘the most glorious episode in their history’, as Dr Kendal Franks noted. But Elizabeth Neethling described the place as one of the most miserable in the Transvaal. For her, this was a bleak spot, enclosed by high barbed wire fences, with monotonous rows of bell tents. ‘Nothing bright, nothing pleasant, strikes the eye’. Even J.J. Carter, the first superintendent, shared her opinion. ‘Owing to the altitude of the place, and the unprotected nature of the situation, the cold is intense at night, and when a breeze is blowing the days are also very keen’, he wrote. This ‘bracing’ climate might be beneficial for the healthy but it affected the aged and very young severely, and it was hard on the families who came from the milder districts of Vryheid, Utrecht and Piet Retief.


It is not clear when Volksrust camp was formed but in May 1901 there were already nearly 5,000 inmates. At first the Boers in this camp seemed less impoverished than those in some of the other camps. Even later arrivals were described as ‘fairly well clothed’, possessing the ‘wherewithal for tent life’. By September 1901, however, the new inmates were considered ‘of a very low class’ and badly provided for. Another group, from the Ermelo, Utrecht and Wakkerstroom districts, were ‘in a very filthy and destitute condition, and altogether a most undesirable lot’. The Ladies Committee also noted that 500 who came in November were ‘in a very destitute condition’. This steady influx of impoverished arrivals may have been one reason why the health of the camp deteriorated towards the end of the year, although Volksrust village was also sickly. Cold, heavy rain and the increase in numbers meant that tents were in short supply and worn.


The camp did not remain long in its original position where the water supply was poor. Before long it was moved to an area about half a mile from Volksrust village, on better drained ground. Here the water supply was more abundant, piped from a local reservoir a mile away. The fence, a double row of barbed wire, which Neethling so disliked, was erected by the military to protect the camp from Boer attack, for the inmates were allowed to roam freely in the village and within the military lines during the day. The greatest disadvantage of the fencing was the fact that the camp could not be easily extended, contributing to the cramped pitching of the tents of which the authorities regularly complained. Nor could the tents be taken down and the ground disinfected, as happened in Vereeniging camp, for instance

http://www2.lib.uct.ac.za/mss/bccd/Histories/Volksrust/

Survivors

A

B

Casualties

A

B

  • Cause of death – Diarrhoea & Marasmus
  • Cause of death – Measles & Dysentery

D

  • Cause of death – Measles & Pneumonia

H

  • Cause of death – Asthenia

NATAL

HOWICK

The Natal camp system was somewhat different from the Transvaal and ORC systems although the majority of the inmates came from the Boer republics. Howick was one of the oldest camps, established originally by the military to take families from northern Natal. Certainly it was in existence by March 1901 when the military reported that there were 705 inmates, all housed in marquees. The sick were cared for in a separate ward in the general Howick hospital. The Rev. van der Horst ministered to the inmates and taught at the school. The camp was not fenced but the inhabitants and their friends needed passes to visit since the country was under martial law.

Reports were scrappy, providing only the barest information but the camp appeared to be run reasonably well and the people were healthy, apart from a few cases of typhoid, bronchitis, pneumonia and rheumatism. Numbers increased slowly – at the beginning of August 1901 there were still only 648 white inmates and 13 black, while a handful of people had reported sick. There were no deaths at all. In August, however, three families arrived from Klerksdorp, one of them with measles. Although the case was isolated, it was an ominous trend. At some stage the superintendent, Mr Caldecott, was subsequently replaced by Dr Hunter.

Only on 1 November 1901, a full year after the Transvaal and ORC camps, was Howick camp handed over to civilian management. This coincided with the removal of families from the Transvaal camps and a month later it was reported that there were now 3,383 people in Howick camp, when it was full. With the Transvalers came disease and an epidemic of measles was followed by scarlet fever. Mortality rose although it was never as great as that of the Transvaal and ORC camps. Nevertheless, when the Governor of Natal, H.E. McCallum, visited the camp in February 1902, he found it in good condition, largely because of the efforts of Dr Hunter, he believed.

The Ladies Committee had a somewhat different impression when they arrived in Howick on 2 December 1901. They considered it a somewhat haphazard camp. It was divided into two sections with a marshy depression separating them. The older camp consisted mainly of marquees while the newer had bell tents, most of them squalid and neglected. In almost every respect, they considered, the second camp was inferior to the older establishment. Towards the end of the period many of the residents were moved out of tents into huts. This was a relief when a gale in June 1902 ripped through the camp, destroying most of the tents.

Although the camp was not bad, it made a poor initial impression on the new inmates from the Transvaal; many remembered only the misery of arriving in the pouring rain. Mrs Sue Nicholson from Pietersburg, who had some descriptive powers, described their plight.

‘In the afternoon a train of open trucks would pull up at the siding, and its freight of draggled human beings, wet to the skin, would be disgorged with all their belongings as saturated as themselves. These poor women, some walking with the aid of a stick, or with children in their arms and children clinging to them, would be marched along the muddy roads, knee deep in the slush. Some were barefooted, for their shoes refusing to be withdrawn with the foot from the sticky mud, remained buried there. Children nipped with cold and crying with hunger, the mothers dumb, trudging on, only clasping their babies closer to their breasts to infuse a little warmth, were it possible. . . .’

Mrs Nicholson herself had more positive memories. She had nothing but praise for the superintendent, Dr Hunter (as did others). Her family included two ‘native servant-girls’ who were not rationed but she had some money and was able to supplement her rations from the stores in the camps, at a cost of £12 a month – an astonishing amount of money to spend on food, but vegetables were expensive with onions at 9d a lb. This additional nourishment, she believed, enabled herself and her children to survive the diseases which attacked them. These were numerous. Mrs Nicholson, apart from giving birth shortly after arriving in the camp, suffered from typhoid fever, while her children were infected with whooping cough. The new baby was sickly but, to everyone’s surprise, survived on a diet of extract of beef and French brandy. She speculated on the virtues of the Dutch medicines as opposed to modern scientific practice. Coming from the Zoutpansberg district, where there were few doctors, she had recourse to traditional remedies but, she believed, properly administered by experienced people, they always worked and she used them regularly for minor ailments.

The Natal government, when it took over the camps, was determined to show that they could run the system more cheaply than the military had done. Consequently they produced a comparison of costs which gives us some idea of the economy of these camps. By far the most costly item in Howick camp was the meat, 46,386 lbs in January 1902 for about 3,000 inmates cost £942 4s 7d, while bread, 73,278 lbs, was the next most expensive item at £381 13 3d. £1736 7s 3d had been saved in that camp alone, the Governor proudly told Milner.

While the food was monotonous, it was certainly far better than that of the inland camps. Dr J.B. Haldane, a pro-Boer who analysed the camp rations after conditions in the camps had become public in 1901, considered that the Howick inmates were did not suffer from serious nutritional deficiencies. On the whole the government analyst, Dr Sidney Martin, agreed although he considered that none of the inmates received an adequate ration of calories.

As in the other camps, the British seized the opportunity to inculcate imperial values into their new subjects. The Natal Mercury, reported proudly that a course of lantern slides had been shown to the camp inmates. ‘It is an excellent notion to give the Boer adult some perception of the vastness of that Empire of which his country now forms a part’, it stated.

At the end of the war there was a moment of excitement when the camp was visited by some of the Boer leaders, including Schalk Burger, to explain the terms of surrender. The Natal camps were closed down rapidly at the end of the war and by August 1902 Howick had only two families remaining. Because it was used partly as a transit camp a few people lingered on, however, into November when the camp was finally closed.

Survivors

E

S

Casualties

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