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UPDATED: 14/10/2022

14 October 1899, The siege of Kimberley begins. It will last 124 days

Telegraphic communications cut with outside world

In the Kimberley region before the war began on 11 October 1899, Boer commandoes had been gathering at Boshof and on the border of the OFS and the Cape Colony since September 1899.


Siege of Kimberley 1899

Likewise the British had also been planning since mid-1899. The senior British specialist sent to Kimberley was Major Henry Scott-Turner of the Black Watch (Royal Highlanders), who had been stationed as the magistrate in Umtali, Rhodesia, then in the process of being developed as a town.

Seconded to the BSA Company, Scott-Turner was not only a friend of Rhodes but also the son-in-law of Sir Lewis Michell, general manager of Standard Bank SA who was destined to take Rhodes’ seat on the Board of De Beers upon the latter’s death in 1902. Major Scott-Turner was subsequently placed in charge of the Kimberley Mounted Corps and was responsible for raising the Kimberley Light Horse (known as Rhodes’ Own, or Rhodes’ Horse).

Kimberley proved an easy place to plan a defence with the many various mine dumps (tailings) around its perimeters, and with the power and expertise of the De Beers Company, by the time war began many of the dumps were already fortified, the view from these natural defensive positions stretching for many kilometres in all directions. The perimeter would eventually be some 24 kilometres long. Defenders of Kimberley (including the Town Guard) would total 5409 armed men. In overall command was Lt-Colonel Robert Kekewich.

War began on 11 October 1899. On 12 October Commandant CJ Wessels crossed the OFS border into the Cape Colony with the Boshof, Jacobsdal and Kroonstad commandoes, taking up positions along the line from Olifantsfontein to Alexandersfontein. His HQ was positioned at Olifantsfontein. The total Boers amounted to some 1400 burghers with 3 guns. Including the Transvalers, the Boers would, at most, total some 7100 burghers with nine guns.

On 14 October telegraphic communications between Kimberley, Cape Town and northwards to Mafeking were cut at 21.15 (north) and at 21.45 (south). Messages were sent to the Modder River advising that the siege had begun.

14 October 1899, The siege of Kimberley begins. It will last 124 days


The reasons for the Siege

1. Kimberley was in a strategic position, but more importantly, close to the border of the Republic of the OFS
2. Kimberley was wealthy through diamonds, and the fall of Kimberley would be worth its weight in propaganda
3. The arrival in the town of Cecil Rhodes made the capture of Kimberley militarily essential, although the inactivity of the Boers makes this hard to believe
4. Resentment over the annexation of the diamond fields from the OFS to the Cape Colony
5. The Boers believed that Kimberley would surrender through siege tactics, even though sieges had not worked well in the 1880-1881 conflict between Great Britain and the Transvaal. The fact that Cronje and Joubert had both been in high positions during the 1880-1881 conflict was probably a keen component in the decision to besiege Kimberley.

The war and comparison of the three major besieged towns

Mafeking: A waste of the Boer force, and gave the British Empire something to cheer about. Apart from the Game Tree Fort attack by the British and the Sarel Eloff attack shortly before the relief, Mahikeng (modern spelling) was very similar to Kimberley. The big difference between the two was that Rhodes was in Kimberley and he had a better intelligence network than the British army. He also had access to the British High Command, and his money (and the Jameson raid) ensured that Kimberley’s citizen force was well armed. Both Mafeking and Kimberley should have been captured, Mafeking easily, while the Comte de Villebois-Mareuil considered Kimberley ripe for the picking.

Ladysmith: This siege is very different in that it should never have happened. The British Army under General White that found itself besieged should have been defeated by the Boers prior to the siege. It was different in that an entire army was besieged whereas both Kimberley and Mafikeng were dependent upon civilians for their safety. Ladysmith saw some major siege actions from both the British and the Boers.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

About Steve Lunderstedt


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