UPDATED: 13 JANUARY 2021
13 January 1900, The price of meat raised – beef 1/- and horse flesh 9 pennies per pound.
Week ending 13th January, 1900
The rumour-monger and the quidnunc—to whom only brief allusion has so far been made—had come to be regarded as distinct public nuisances. I have hitherto refrained from commenting often on the actions and the utterances of these monomaniacs in our midst. Any attempt to summarise their mendacities would be foredoomed to failure; the output of rumours would exceed the limits of an ordinary tome. There were indeed some enterprising spirits who did embark upon the task of collecting these rumours, but they dropped it in despair, before economy in foolscap was even thought of. These fanciful canards grew more nauseating as the Siege advanced in seriousness, until anything in the nature of news was deemed of necessity a lie. A local scribe, “The Lad,” took the romancers severely to task in a series of pithy articles, which the Diamond Fields’ Advertiser—domiciled though it was in a glass house—did not scruple to publish. The “lovely liar” was hanged, drawn, and quartered. The “Military critic” was satirised, too; he was the lynx-eyed gentleman who had detected the Lancers approaching Kimberley at a fast gallop two hours after the Column had departed from Orange River. We had strained our eyes for weeks on the strength of that man’s eyesight, for ‘hope springs eternal in the human breast.’
But all these far-seeing mortals had fallen discredited from their high estate; and it was at this pregnant turning point in our fortunes that the need of a little originality (for their credit’s sake) appeared to strike them. They set themselves to weave a romance as weird, as diabolical, as their perverted ingenuity could suggest. And a masterpiece it proved to be.
They began to tell us of horseflesh, to recite legends of how under conditions similar to ours it had been eaten, positively eaten, in the past by human beings, who without it would have died, and who did not die when they ate it! For our part, we should have elected to die first—but I must not anticipate. Gradually and tentatively—just as a man who saw virtue in cannibalism would hem and haw before he advocated its practice—the subject of horseflesh was furtively discussed in whispers, which ultimately developed into audible commentaries in regard to its odour, taste, and general nutritiousness.
A plea for cannibalism could scarcely encounter fiercer opposition or evoke greater disgust than did the mere suggestion of horseflesh, even as a last resort, a possible infliction, an alternative to surrender. In no circumstances would we tolerate it. The very name of such a diet was revolting to our conservative tastes, and filled us with horror; it was bad form to mention it. If the British army ever brought us to such a pass terrible things would happen; loyalty would be a memory of the digestive past; wholesale forswearing of allegiance to the Queen would be the patriotism of the day. Horseflesh indeed! The dish was hounded down as something too utterly inconsonant with the culinary decencies of civilisation.
So strong and bitter was the feeling against the horseflesh fable—for fable, our anger notwithstanding, we insisted it was—that thinking meat-eaters began to look upon it as a bad omen, and to wonder why a baseless rumour should stir up so much indignation. Tales of this kind, whether or not they tallied with probability, had come to be pooh-poohed, to be treated with disdain. Hence it was rather odd that an anecdote so racy should excite so much ferocity.
Meanwhile, the enemy, unaware of our internal troubles, had placed three new guns on Wimbleton Ridge. This was ominous; it brought about an armistice; that is, a cessation of hostilities in the war of words against Gorle and his hippophagous designs. A bombardment was expected; and as we might easily have our teeth incapacitated by the shells, the absurdity of bidding the hoofed gentleman good-day before we met him gave us pause in our campaign against his friends. But the assault was directed to Kenilworth; the cannon rattled all day with a view to killing the cattle sheltered there. Our guns, after a while, took part in the firing, and when the smoke cleared away the kine were still there—on their feet. A second contingent of Basutos had taken their departure in the morning, and as they did not return we presumed they had passed in safety through the Boer lines. This accommodating spirit, while their policy of exhaustion was doing so well, must have gone against the Boer’s grain; but then Lerothodi was a sleeping dog; it was important that he should be let lie.
The vindication of the fama was completed on Monday when horseflesh in all its naked iniquity was offered for sale, as horseflesh, at the Washington Market. Its virtual effect was to reduce our meat ration by a quarter; the authorities with rare consideration refrained from extremities, and started us with small doses of one ounce added to three of ox-flesh. Perhaps some credit was due to the military for horse-feeding us by degrees; but certain it is, they never got it. The people generally declined to intermix their curtailed rations with “strange food” of any kind; and the strange food accordingly remained in the shambles to do service another day—when means could be employed, if need be, to exorcise the demon of fastidiousness that had taken possession of us.
Our historians, our booky men, were on Tuesday glib to inform us that the Siege had now extended to eighty-seven days—the exact duration of the Siege of Lucknow. The tribulations of Lucknow were comparatively short and sweet; for our troubles, horseflesh made us feel, were only about to begin. Our clamour for relief had abated, and, except for an occasional spasmodic outburst, Methuen was left in peace.
Agitation in the wilderness was futile; it could not hasten emancipation from the thraldom of Martial Law. We developed a lethargy on the broader (Imperial) issue. The guns still threshed the air, but with an increasing feebleness suggestive of the Column’s return by easy stages to Orange River. Our disappointments had been manifold, and whispers with reference to the ultimate terms of surrender were not uncommon. Not that there was in any mind a disposition to give in until it was humanly impossible to hold the fort. But it was coming to that stage. Horseflesh on the top of other trials had implanted the canker of despair in more than one sensitive soul. We had a great deal of horseflesh of the tram and cab kind, and much as the obligations of Empire might induce us to perform, it was too much to expect us to rise to the occasion on foreign food. The physical needs of the moment demanded something less repulsive to the palate. No wonder the gloomy picture of digging trenches for the Boers obtruded itself on our mental vision. Opinions conflicted as to the aggregate quantity of meal and flour in the military stores; most people held the view that it was much less than was actually the fact. The scarcity of fodder, too, was felt acutely, and necessitated the curtailment of the tram and cab services.
More horses had to be unharnessed and sent out to graze on the veld!—to live, as it were, on their wits. It was even rumoured that some Indian members of the community were inviting tenders for a supply of cats, and were prepared to pay for them as much as two shillings per puss. No evidence, however, in support of this tale from the Hills was forthcoming; nor was it in any event likely to prove a remunerative venture, since rabbit pie—ever a convertible term—would be the last delicacy to inspire trust where all animal food was suspect.
Pictured are scenes of the ration ticket queues during the siege.
UPDATED: 13 JANUARY 2020
13 January 1900, The price of meat raised – beef 1/- and horse flesh 9 pennies per pound.
by Winifred Heberden
Jan 12th. News has come in of a victory of Sir George White’s at Ladysmith, which the Boers actually attacked. The English took and retook the positions several times; the enemy finally being driven off on all sides at the point of the bayonet with heavy losses. This is the first time Boers have attacked a fortified position with anything but artillery.
Our Relief Column is still at Modder River and have occasional skirmishes with the enemy. We suppose they are waiting for Lord Roberts and reinforcements – so possess our souls in patience still.
We hear today that poor little Kuruman has had to surrender after a whole day’s fighting against the Boers, who had returned after being beaten before, with a big gun, and the weak defences of the place were unable to withstand a bombardment. Captain Bates, the ‘Jameson Raid’ man, who cut the wires and fences then, was taken prisoner; and also our old friend Mr Hilliard, the Magistrate, amongst them. The fight took place on New Year’s Day, and is one of the pluckiest incidents of this part of the country.
Jan 14th. Sunday. There is now a ‘Milk Depot’ opened where you take your Permit for fresh or condensed milk. The latter is coming to an end and is strictly limited to one tin only per week, and is no longer allowed to adults, so old people must feel the deprivation severely. There is a fair supply of fresh milk still, but only half a bottle a day is given to each medically certificated case at the rate of sixpence a bottle. The hospital uses a great deal as there are now over 50 cases of typhoid there.
The Boers snipe at our cattle every day now, so two of our 7-pounders go out behind the cattle in addition to the Police Maxim, which so far has been sufficient.
The Cold Storage Chamber has had a good deal more meat put into it, as the risk of losing all our livestock grows greater every day. Moreover, the veld is wretched, and almost entirely eaten up within available distance.
13 January 1900, The price of meat raised during the siege – beef 1/- and horse flesh 9 pennies per pound.
DID YOU KNOW
The Africans evacuated from Kimberley during the siege were the mine workers employed by the De Beers company, the first mass exodus of some 2000 being on 8 November 1899. Mining had ceased totally by 4 December 1899, and by 6 February 1900, the majority of the mine workers had been evacuated through the Boer lines excepting the Xhosa speaking Africans. Many mine workers, having been evacuated, went to Johannesburg seeking work. One such group of miners were attacked by the Transvaal police (ZARPS) for refusing to lay down their traditional weapons, and several lost their lives.
There were two types of black refugees during the siege, those who came from farms, villages and other towns, and who were genuine refugees; and then there were the internal refugees, those forced by either military or civil authorities to leave their homes for various reasons. Many hundred refugees came into Kimberley in the ten weeks prior to the war, and the night before the siege, at least 400 were housed in the City Hall. Many blacks living in Numbers 1, 3 and 4 Locations within the municipal limits were removed to the centre of the horse racecourse in the south-east. Although the Africans in No 2 Location were able to stay in their homes, many came into the town and were housed at the Salvation Army Barracks and the Jubilee Hall.