Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Passengers to Natal: Evangeline and Priscilla 1860

Arrival of the Evangeline and Priscilla, Natal Mercury 20 September 1860


September 13 - Walter Glendining, brigantine, 111 tons, N Glendining, from Table Bay, September 1
JD Koch, agent

September 15 - Evangeline, barque, 231 tons, G Wigg, from London, sailed June 18
Evans and Churchill, agent

Mr and Mrs Blunt
George Lyall
Hamilton McCreight
William Jalland
PJ Sanders
James Ellis

September 16 - Priscilla, barque 253 tons, G Brown from London, sailed June 10
W Hartley and Co, agents

Mr and Mrs Roach and infant
Mr and Mrs Crowder and five children

106 immigrants in Steerage [see separate list below]


September 17 - Early Morn, barque, 315 tons, Lowry for Algoa Bay and London
Evans and Churchill, agents


Donald Toyner
Ann Russom
Jane, Angelina, Sarah, William, Robert, Charles, Dalcie Taylor
Amelia Richardson
Charles and Julia Dunton with five children
George Parry
John and Christiana Tennant and six children
Emma Lurridge
John and Margaret Thompson and five children
Mary and Ann Willliams
David Williams
Benjamin and Honor May and six children
Walter Gray
Joseph Dickens
Edwin and Katherine Brown
John and Jane Dyer and five children
James and Mary Henwood and five children
James and Isabella Cass and one child
William and John Cass
Robert and Phoebe Moore and five children
William and Caroline Pigeon and three children
Ann and Annie Merrick
George Pinkney
Alexander and Nancy Lindsay and two children
Elizabeth Lindsay
Samuel Goldsworthy
Henry L and Mary Ann Thurston and two children
Ellen Kirkwood
Margaret Graham
Samuel and Jane Deane and two children
Thomas and John Davidson
Robert Hall
Henry Furlong
Alkin Gollan

In all 106 souls, equal to 77 statute adults.

For more on the Priscilla: 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Wreck of the steamer Australian: Table Bay, March 1854

The South Australian Register, Adelaide, Saturday, June 3 1854.


A report was current in town yesterday that the A.U.M.S.N. Co.'s screw steamer Australian was wrecked in Table Bay, the Cape of Good Hope. This rumour, though exaggerated, was founded in fact. The Australian struck on a rock at the entrance of Table Bay, on March 30th, while entering the harbour. The intelligence of the disaster was brought to Melbourne by the schooner Caroline,which left Cape Town on the 2nd of April.

The Cape Town Mercantile Advertiser of April 1st contains the following account of the accident:

The Australian steamer arrived at the Cape from Australia on Thursday morning, the 28th March, but unfortunately went ashore on the rocks between the two lighthouses; the guns which she fired very speedily brought assistance, and her mails and passengers were very soon landed, as well as the gold which she conveyed, about 100,851 ounces. She has been lightened as much as possible, and every exertion has been made to get her off at high water, but as yet without effect; as, however, she is an iron vessel, and at present makes no water, hopes are entertained by some that she may be restored to her proper element, specially if the weather continues favourable, and the assistance of the Die [?] steamer be made available, for which purpose it is rumoured she is to come round from Symon's Bay.
The Australian had the following passengers from this colony on board:
Mr. and Mrs. Hagen, child and servant
Mr. and Mrs.Judah Moss Solomon, three children and servant
Mr. and Mrs. Marks and servant
Mr. Peak
Captain Corbett
Mr. and Mrs. Birdseye.

The following extract is from a letter from Mr. J. M. Solomon to Mr. Isaac Solomon of this city: 

"Table Bay, Cape of Good HopeApril 1st, 1854. 
A vessel is this moment going to sail, and the whole of the family must excuse my not writing, as this letter will answer for all. We are now cast on shore, the Australian being on the rocks at the entrance of this place. We entered it at 1 o'clock on Thursday morning. I was on deck, but the family all in bed. We struck on the rocks where she now lies, and will, I expect, go to pieces in the first gale of wind. I had time to get the whole of the family into the boats, and every soul got on board different vessels in the bay until day light. We were on board the Royal Shepherdess,and met with every kindness and attention. We succeeded in getting our luggage at an expense of about £25. Had it not been a calm night every soul would have been lost. We are all well, thank God,quite well, and happy at our providential escape. I expect we shall have to find our way to England the best way we can, at our own expense. We can still get on board the ship, but if the wind comes from north-west I think she must be dashed to pieces. The cause of the accident is one of the lighthouses not being lighted."

Another passenger writes as follows:
"Cape Town, 1st April, 1354. 
Dear Sir — We are in the way of ill-luck, having been shipwrecked coming into the Cape. We left immediately the ship struck, and were most kindly received on board the Royal Shepherdess till daylight, when I returned to the wreck and cleared out our cabin. The next day I got the bulk of our luggage from the hold, and yesterday all the remainder, excepting one package, which I believe is safe. M. is pretty well, although much fatigued. We had no cause of immediate alarm, excepting in the act of getting into the boats. When daylight came, we found the ship had run so close ashore that men for a lark waded in and touched her at low water. With the usual mystery observed by Capt. Gilmore, no cause for the mistake has been assigned, or rather it has not reached my ears (excepting perhaps that the lighthouse was so dim, and the lights on shore so bright that they could not be distinguished from one another ; but this I believe is only a surmise of the reasons he could give). We went ashore between two lighthouses a quarter or half-a-mile apart. They have been trying to get the ship off, but it seems hopeless. Mr. J. Snooke [a crew member?] is dead." 

Note: Grounded near the lighthouse at Green Point, the Australian was refloated after several days. Passengers, mail and the gold she was carrying were landed.

Undelivered mail recovered from the wreck of the Australian. Cover endorsed
'Per Steam Ship Australian', with Adelaide Paid date stamp. 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Passengers on steamer 'Natal' April 1854

Arrival and Departure of the Natal

This screw-steamer, part of the General Screw Company Cape-Natal line, first appeared in March 1854, followed some 8 months later by a sister-ship, the Cape of Good Hope, which had been carrying troops from England to Malta. At the time of this report, April 1854, both the Natal and the Cape of Good Hope were employed on the coastal service between Table Bay and Natal. The Natal was not long seen in South African waters as the General Screw Company withdrew from the Cape and disappeared altogether in 1857. The Natal was chartered to the French Government and finally wrecked on the Spanish coast in March 1855 on her way to the Crimea. There was another later ship named Natal, a coaster of the Union Line, built in 1866.

Natal Mercury 12 April 1854

April 6 - Natal, scr-steamer, 680 tons,
Lowen, - from Table Bay.


Miss and Mr Churchill
Masters Shepstone (2)
Master Goodricke
Mr Durrant
Capt Glanville (45th Regt)
Ensign Close (45th Regt)
Miss Dunn
Miss Ellerman
Mrs Miller and 2 children
E Snell, agent.

Apr 12 - Gitana, schr. - Mitchell,
from Table Bay - Cargo, sundries.
John Brown, agent.

April 10 - Natal, scr-stmr. 680 tons,
Lowen - for Table Bay

The Lord Bishop of Natal
Mr Clerk's servant
the Bishop's servant
Mr and Mrs Williams
Mr and Mrs Simons and 2 children
Mr Pepworth
Mr Scorgie and son
2 coloured women
1 woman, child and infant
For Algoa Bay
Mrs Griffin
Miss Cato
Miss Lake

Jane Morice, bq. 256 tons, - Captain Joseph Browne - to sail from Liverpool about Feb 14.
EP Lamport, agent.
Leontine Mary, schr. 29 tons, - Baragwanath, - from Algoa Bay.
E Snell, agent.
Anne, schr. 99 tons, - Cameron - from Table Bay.
J Brown, agent.
Heath, bq. 307 tons, - W Whightman, - from London, - to sail on the 1st March.
John Millar and Co. agents.

On the 6th instant, the lady of William Smerdon, Esq., of this place, of a son.


The Natal Mercury, Durban, Wednesday, 12 April, 1854
Arrival of the Natal. [includes reference to wreck of the Australian]

This long expected namesake steamed round the Bluff shortly after 12 o'clock at noon, on Thursday, the 7th inst., and immediately crossed the Bar to the inner anchorage, although it was at the time low water of neap tides. This fact, accomplished without difficulty or danger by a vessel of 700 tons burden, is an appropriate practical commentary on the letters we have lately published, by the Resident Engineer of the Harbour Works, and a satisfactory illustration of the effects already produced by those Works, even in their present comparatively incipient state.

The Natal is a remarkably fine vessel, and besides having capacity for a large cargo - a great desideratum at present to our Colonial trade - she possesses ample and elegant accommodation for passengers. On this subject, and with reference to her general management, we elsewhere publish the testimonial of her recent passengers.

The Natal arrived at the Cape on the 20th March, and left with our Mails on the 27th, two days after the arrival of the Argo from England. She encountered heavy south easterly gales after she left the Cape, which occasioned her passage to be protracted to nine days.

The Peel which left this Port on the 22nd, had been fortunate in her run, having touched at Mossel Bay a day before the Natal arrived there; and as the wind, which was unfavourable for the Natal, was most propitious for the Peel [Sir Robert Peel steamer], it is highly probable that the latter would reach Table Bay in time to put the Mails on board the Lady Jocelyn, the homeward bound steamer which was to leave on the night of the 27th, the day on which the Natal left; but the south eastern blowing, would probably detain her, - and this is another circumstance favouring the probability of our mails being in time to be forwarded by her.

The Anne, Capt Cameron, had made a quick passage of nine days from this Port, having arrived on the 22nd ulto, and of course therefore in time for the English Mail. The Anne was reloading for Port Natal, and the Gitana was also chartered to bring cargo waiting for shipment. Both vessels may be expected daily.

The Natal met on the other side of Mossel Bay the Australian steamer, Australian, from Melbourne and Sydney, which had put into Algoa Bay for coals; and on the arrival of the Natal at the latter place, the disastrous news had arrived overland of the wreck of the Australian, which, through some at present unexplained mischance, had been run upon the rocks at Green Point at the entrance to Table Bay. The night was clear and fine; and the passengers and cargo, including a large quantity of gold, were all saved; but it was believed that this fine but singularly unfortunate vessel would be a total wreck.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Passengers to Natal: Rydal 1854

Natal Mercury October 11 1854


The 'Rydal' - This fine barque, which arrived in the outer anchorage on Wednesday afternoon, crossed the Bar without difficulty on Sunday.

Natal Mercury 11 Oct 1854
October 4th - Rydal, bq., 
Capt J Robbins - from Liverpool
Mrs Allen and 4 children            
Miss Allen and servant
Mr and Mrs Methley
Mr Nettleship
Mr GW Newmarch
Mr Atkinson
Mr and Mrs Solomon and child
Mrs Mack, son and daughter
EP Lamport, agent.

Manifest list [see image]

October 7 - Cape of Good Hope
screw-steamer, 700 tons
Captain Lowen - for Table Bay.

Saloon to Cape Town
Captain Gawler
Mr Burrows
Capt Gawler's servant on deck
Fore-cabin, Cape
Mr Boyne
Mrs Collier, child and infant
To Algoa Bay
Mr McCorkindale
Manifest list

Spirit, schr, 84 tons, - Milner - from London
Milner Bros, agents.
Princeza, 3-masted schr.,149 tons, - Gordon - from Liverpool
EP Lamport, agent.
Rydal, bq., - Captain J Robbins, - from Liverpool,
EP Lamport, agent.

Natal, scr.-stm., 700 tons, - from Table Bay
E Snell, agent.
Gitans, schr., - Duncan, - from Cape.
J Brown, agent.
Pantaloon, 260 tons, - from London, - to sail about the 15th July.
John Millar and Co., agents.
Lady of the Lake, bq. - Scott - from London, - to Sail in July
E Snell, agent.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Chemists and Druggists in Colony of Natal 1899

Natal Almanac 1899

CC   Cape Colony
SAR South African Republic
OFS Orange Free State

Monday, December 16, 2013

Tracing Siege Ancestors

Ladysmith 1900 thronged with troops and wagons


The 50th anniversary of the Siege of Ladysmith 1950 with names of those who attended the celebrations, and more on Siege nurse Kate Champion.

Keiron Spires provides a searchable database of approximately 2 000 nurses who served during the Anglo-Boer War.
There is a linked blog at http://boerwarnurses.com/wp/

Site owner Brian Kaighin, a specialist in Ladysmith history and genealogy, has compiled two databases, one recording details of residents of the town and the other for all known British personnel who died during the war. The latter includes information such as regiment, date, where they died, how and any relevant memorials. 
UPDATE Sept 2014: see Brian's new website www.boerwardeaths.com

David Biggins' site packed with information, plus active forum: a must for all researching Anglo-Boer War ancestors.

Ladysmith Siege Museum: a visit to the museum in Murchison Street, Ladysmith is highly recommended for anyone with Siege ancestry. Built in 1884, the building was used as a ration post for civilians during the Siege.The museum holds a large collection of diaries, letters, books, photographs, maps, firearms and uniforms.

Ladysmith Siege Museum


Chisholm, R: Ladysmith (Osprey 1979)
Watkins-Pitchford, H: Besieged in Ladysmith (Shuter & Shooter 1964)
Diary of The Siege of Ladysmith, 7 vols (Ladysmith Historical Society)
Hall, D: The Hall Handbook of the Anglo Boer War 1899-1902 (UNP 1999)
Watt, S: In Memoriam; Roll of Honour of Imperial Forces in the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902 (UNP 2000)
Pakenham, T: The Boer War (Weidenfeld & Nicholson Ltd 1979

Ladysmith Town Hall today

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Christmas in Ladysmith: Boer War 1899 6

'He is out on active service,
Wiping something off a slate ...': Kipling's Soldier

Kipling, in his poem entitled South Africa, wrote: ‘So she filled their mouths with dust, And their bones with fever ...’ He could have been speaking of Ladysmith. 

Siege diarists and letter-writers complained about the dust, but in rainy weather the ground became a quagmire and it was hard to know which was worse, especially for the soldiers under canvas. There was a lack of fresh drinking water. The only supply for troops posted on the outlying areas was the murky water of the Klip River

W A Poulton of the 5th Lancers recalled that when making tea, the liquid had to stand for a while to allow the mud to settle at the bottom of the container.  The flies were awful and it was no wonder that diseases spread quickly. 

Although several hospitals were situated within the town, with the permission of the Boers a tented camp at Intombi Spruit had been established in the first week of November and to this facility many sick and wounded were sent. By Christmas over 700 patients with enteric were accommodated there. This number had more than doubled by January. Bella Craw wrote: ‘It is time we were relieved … for the sickness is most distressing. We are hearing every day of the death of someone we sent out to Indombi (sic) … men are dying for want of attention and proper food …’

The exhausted medical staff were fighting a losing battle, and themselves often falling victim to illness. Disinfectants and other medical necessities were scarce, the water supply erratic and rations were decreasing daily. Army biscuits were pulped for the sick. When the inevitable slaughter of horses for food began, a meat extract known as Chevril was made. It may have been nutritious but people found it difficult to stomach. 

The Horse Memorial, Port Elizabeth, commemorates 300 000 horses
lost during the Anglo-Boer War

Nurse Kate Driver’s diary reveals the hell that was Intombi in the final weeks of the siege: ‘The moans and groans that came to one from these wards through the hours of darkness, and often rain, were more dismal and ghastly than I have words to describe’.


Eighteen nursing sisters served with the Natal Volunteer Medical Corps during the siege. Some were mentioned in White’s dispatch of 2 December: Lucy Yeatman (in charge at Intombi), S Otto, Ethel Early, Margaret Nicolson, Chrissie Thompson, Kate Driver, Kate Champion (who nursed the dying William Dixon Smith, Lieutenant Quarter-Master of the Border Mounted Rifles, and wrote a compassionate letter to his widow), R Davies, Santje Ruiter and Elaine Bromilow. Another, Constance Addison, was the sister of a Durban doctor. 

Dr Oswald Currie and family
The Natal Mounted Rifles later presented the nurses with silver shield brooches in recognition of their services and Royal Red Cross nursing decorations were also awarded. The doctors were equally dedicated, among them Dr Oswald J Currie who came from India to South Africa to work on the prevention of malaria. At the start of the war he joined the Natal Carbineers as Surgeon Captain and proved indispensable at Intombi.

Let's not forget the courageous stretcher bearers under the leadership of a young man named Mohandas Gandhi who was later to be very famous indeed; and the nameless African runners who risked life and limb carrying letters through enemy lines. 

They were heroes all, as were the weary troops, ‘hungry and gaunt as ghosts’, who continued with their duties while wondering where Buller was and if they were to be left to their fate. 

Stretcher bearers of the Indian Ambulance Corps: Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
 5th from left 2nd row


Buller was on his way but progress was ponderously slow; he seemed to go one step forward and two back. His troops suffered a disastrous defeat at Spion Kop on 24 January and the final month of the siege had yet to be endured – the darkest hour before dawn. It was the hottest time of year in Natal and the frequent rains, while filling the water tanks, made the weather steamy. There was mud underfoot and cloud-cover prevented the use of the heliograph so the besieged felt completely cut off, with no cheering news. 

Gordon Highlanders
Rations were down to the bare minimum and nerves were frayed. Watkins-Pitchford found a big Gordon Highlander sitting at the side of the footpath, crying like an infant: 

‘He had gone all round the town and various camps begging for food, and finding none had given way in this manner … for ½ lb of horseflesh and ½ lb of hard biscuit is little short of starvation’.

By 21 February 1900 the Relief Force was again advancing across the Tugela towards Ladysmith. Boer resistance was fierce and there were several engagements with heavy losses on both sides, culminating in a decisive victory for the British at Pieters Hill on 27 February. The Boers withdrew and the way to Ladysmith lay open. 

On 28 February riders could be seen approaching the town and it became apparent that they were not the enemy, but British cavalry. The Natal volunteers, most of whose horses had so far escaped slaughter, rode towards them, ‘yelling and howling like packs of wild dogs. Caps and helmets were waved, guns frantically brandished … and in a moment the two columns were merged into a struggling mass of horsemen, besieged and deliverers mixed inextricably in one disorderly mass of cheering, gesticulating, hand-shaking, back-slapping men. Tattered and lean and brown, the one side with privation and exposure and long anxiety, and the other with hard fighting and desperate derring-do’. 

Relief had come.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Christmas in Ladysmith: Boer War 1899 5

View of Ladysmith from a sandbagged position


Anniversaries relieved the monotony of the siege and were opportunities for celebration. Despite furious bombardment on the Prince of Wales’s birthday, 9 November, a 21-gun salute was fired and a tot of rum issued. Perhaps the salute was unnecessary additional noise. Herbert Watkins-Pitchford remarks that nearly a thousand Boer shells were directed at the town, ‘and the crash of our answering artillery, and the shatter of bursting shells, together with the incessant crackle of rifle fire, made the day a memorable one’.

With the approach of Christmas everyone pushed aside the depressing reality that they were still under siege and rose to the occasion, collecting whatever could be found to contribute to the festivities.

The Border Mounted Rifles staged a concert on 22 December, using improvised instruments such as a drum made of a flour cask with sheepskin stretched over it; the ensemble’s wind section included several tin whistles. Some officers organized a party for the town’s 200 children, providing toys, cake and ginger pop. There were four decorated Christmas Trees at this gathering, representing South Africa, Britain, Australia and Canada.

The Australia Christmas tree

Members of the Natal Mounted Rifles built a large brick oven to cook chickens bought at exorbitant prices - 5/- to 7/6. Plum cakes were on sale at 30/- and plum puddings at 40/-. The nurses at Intombi hospital weren’t forgotten: White himself sent each one a parcel with port wine, lime juice, currants, cornflour and tinned tongue. Kate Driver wrote that these items were put into a common fund for use throughout the hospital and that ‘later, when our sick nurses were in great need of such things, we wished we had all taken our parcels!’

Siege Menu

On Christmas Eve there were church services and carol-singing. The Boers started Christmas Day off with a bang, shelling beginning at 5 a.m. and continuing for three hours; there were no casualties. One 15 pounder shell didn’t burst and when examined was found to contain not explosive but plum pudding, and a message, ‘With the compliments of the season’.

Natal Carbineer Arthur Crosby attended Communion at All Saints and later reported, ‘Our dinner consisted of soup, stewed goat and baked beef, both very tough, and plum pudding, very elastic’, but there was rum to wash it down. Cecil William Park of the Devons did rather better ‘with tablecloths and real wine-glasses’ and a menu comprising hors d’oeuvres, soup, beef, olives, roast chicken, plum pudding and figs. Park had just been promoted Lieutenant Colonel and, after the loyal toast to the Queen, the men drank his health, with further toasts to sweethearts, wives and absent friends, followed by a singsong and hot rum punch.

The best Christmas present would have been the arrival of Buller’s army, but news of his disastrous defeat at Colenso on 15 December, with the loss of over a thousand men and ten guns, had put paid to that hope.

Saving the guns at Colenso: Freddy Roberts, son of Lord Roberts,
was killed in this action; he was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously.

Captain W Arnott, Adjutant of the Border Mounted Rifles, who had been wounded at End Hill, kept himself occupied during his convalescence by writing a serial letter to his wife mentioning that he’d had a very pleasant Christmas, but a note of foreboding crept in:

‘We got a present of some potatoes from Mrs Tatham and some jam. We managed a very good plum pudding and with a ration of rum instead of brandy or whisky we did very well. We had sports in the afternoon and a concert later in the week. Xmas week and New Year week were extremely wet and uncomfortable and with the wet we got a lot of sickness’. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Christmas in Ladysmith: Boer War 1899 4

Boers in entrenched position near Ladysmith


During the four months of the siege, Ladysmith became a world in microcosm, a stage where everyday events were played out against the stark backdrop of war. Caught in the spotlight were the ordinary men and women who had suddenly had greatness thrust upon them. Their response to the situation as they endeavoured to maintain some semblance of normality while dealing with abnormal, often tragic, circumstances, brought forth flashes of individual heroism and an underlying stoicism that was remarkable.

Not everyone was a hero, of course. Some shop-owners concealed their goods hoping for higher prices as the siege continued, but the offenders were rooted out and punished. A trooper in a colonial unit was caught signalling the enemy and immediately executed. A civilian was court-martialled and given twelve months hard labour for attempting to create despondency amongst the troops. Three privates were shot for disobedience and one hanged for sleeping while on guard.

Life went on. Children were born: the first siege baby, a Mrs Moore’s, made its entrance on 12 November. There was an addition to the family of Ladysmith’s ex-Mayor G W Willis, a son, born on 6 December and christened Harry Buller Siege. Ladysmith resident Bella Craw notes in her diary that Mrs Coventry’s baby had a ‘short, sad little existence’, born in a cellar during the first week of the bombardment and dying on 21 February.

Royal Hotel Ladysmith damaged

Death was ever-present in the shape of shell or sniper-fire. Dr Stark was killed instantly on 18 November at the doorway of the Royal Hotel when this building was hit for the third time. A railway worker named Mason died when a shell struck the station on 16 November; he was buried wrapped in the Union Jack, coffins being in short supply. On 17 December, a shell killed six members of the Natal Carbineers and fourteen of their mounts; another exploded in the same regiment’s lines the following day, killing four troopers. Thirteen men died and twenty-one were wounded when the Gloucesters’ and Devons’ camps were hit on 22 December. As the siege dragged on, familiarity with the shelling bred contempt, and people went about their daily business scarcely aware of impending danger. Considering the fact that the besieged residents were sitting ducks for the enemy guns, it’s amazing that casualties weren’t more numerous.

Ladysmith Town Hall damaged during Siege

Each week brought accounts of narrow shaves. Saddler Sergeant Lyle was seated on a box inside a tent when a shrapnel fragment flew between his legs, leaving him and a man asleep nearby unscathed, but destroying a stack of rifles. Civilians weren’t safe at home: Bert Anderson was taking a bath in his back yard when a shell struck, fortunately inflicting no injuries.

Gen White's house struck by shell

There were some random accidents: an African drowned in the Klip which was swollen after heavy rains, when he attempted to swim across the river for a 5/- bet. A young Natal Carbineer drowned after walking into the river in a delirious state.

Worst of all, though, were the slow and lingering deaths from disease as enteric fever (typhoid) and dysentery began to take their toll.


Boredom was an enemy of a different kind. To keep up their spirits the beleaguered inhabitants turned to various forms of recreation: football and cricket matches were held in defiance of falling shells and the cavalry played polo (while they still had horses). There were musical concerts and the Gordon Highlanders were much in demand with their bagpipes. Two siege newspapers, The Ladysmith Lyre and The Ladysmith Bombshell, provided light-hearted information and amusement, something to read at increasingly meagre mealtimes and to help lessen the tension.

With the meat ration reduced and beer and tobacco supplies running out, it can’t have been easy to retain a sense of humour, yet diaries and letters written during the siege aren’t all doom and gloom. Some reported events may not have been funny at the time, such as the first train to Intombi hospital camp being derailed because it hit a cow. However, no doubt there were some smiles at Colonel Ward’s response to the complaint that soldiers bathing in the river were upsetting the town’s female population: he suggested that the ladies need not look.  

All Saints' Church Ladysmith damaged

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Christmas in Ladysmith: Boer War 1899 3


Sir George White
It’s strange that White didn’t send more people out of Ladysmith while the railway was operating southwards. As it was, he was left with about 22 000 mouths to feed. The Town Clerk of Ladysmith, George Lines, noted that there were 2 200 white civilian residents, 1 200 Indians and 1 500 Africans, probably a conservative estimate. 
There had been an influx of refugees from outlying areas prior to the start of the hostilities. White’s fighting force consisted of 572 officers and 13 000 men, including the regulars (infantry, cavalry and artillery), irregulars, Natal volunteer units and the Naval Brigade.

The biblical analogy of the loaves and fishes comes to mind, but the situation in Ladysmith at the beginning of the siege didn’t appear quite that critical. An immense number of stores had been stockpiled. True, some of these had been sent up to Dundee and subsequently lost. However, there remained 979 000 lbs of flour, 173 000 lb of tinned meat, 142 000 lbs of biscuit, 267 000 lbs of tea, 9 500 lbs of coffee, plus quantities of maize, oats, bran and hay, as well as wine, spirits and medical supplies. There were 9 800 horses and mules, 2 500 oxen and a few hundred sheep, and these animals could be eaten if necessary. Additionally, tinned and other provisions held by Ladysmith’s citizens were purchased by the Army.

There was no immediate prospect of relief. White’s army made some forays out of Ladysmith, including a night sortie on Gun Hill undertaken on 7 November and an attack on Surprise Hill on 10 November. It was fortunate that the big Naval guns had reached Ladysmith before the trap shut tight. Without these to match the might of the Long Toms, the story of the siege could have been a much briefer narrative.

Now it became a waiting game. As White said to his staff on 20 November, ‘We have two things to do – to kill time and to kill Boers – both equally difficult.’

Col. Royston C.O. Natal Volunteers and Staff, Ladysmith

Gen. Piet Joubert
Ladysmith and its defenders were all that stood between the Boers and the port of Durban. Commandant-General Piet Joubert allowed thousands of his burghers (whose real value lay in their mobility as mounted infantry) to be stuck outside Ladysmith, which proved to be a tougher nut to crack than expected. General Ben Viljoen in his later reminiscences remarked, ‘The whole siege of Ladysmith and the manner in which the besieged garrison was ineffectually pounded at with our big guns for several months, seem to me an unfathomable mystery…’.   

The truth is that Joubert thought Ladysmith would surrender. He couldn’t have been more wrong.

Boers firing during Siege of Ladysmith