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Today in Kimberley's History


21 November 1899, Skirmish between the Boers and Cattle Guards outside Kenilworth.
21 November 1899, Lord Methuen’s British army leaves Orange River station and advances on besieged Kimberley.


Extract from T Phelan’s diary: The Siege of Kimberley

“The commandeering of cattle was an industry now well established. It was a pleasing spectacle, on Sunday morning, to behold the results of the preceding night’s operations as they were driven through the streets, and to witness the unconcern with which the languid quadrupeds suffered the loss of their independence. Nor was the calm indifference with which their drovers received the compliments shouted at them by passing Imperialists one whit less admirable. The sight of the enemy’s preserves excited a degree of interest which might be equalled—not surpassed—by the phenomenon (in pre-war days) of a procession of white elephants. And in the general chorus of favourable criticism—favourable because they were cheap, probably, if not exactly “gift” animals—nobody looked the cattle in the mouth. Very popular were these confiscations; and in view of so many augmentations of the stock at Kenilworth, it was not too much to hope that the ravenousness of the public appetite would be allowed its wonted scope. No longer was there meat for breakfast, not even on Sunday morning when we had leisure to masticate it. To tell anybody, to hint the heresy that eight ounces of meat sufficed to preserve health, would be indiscreet. To suggest that an extra plate of porridge with a few sardines thrown in (that is, to follow) might make up the deficiency, would be rude. Tinned sardines, salmon, crawfish, brawn, and such eatables were not reckoned fish at all; they were eaten—to stave off starvation—but they did not appease. As for butter; we had none for our bread! Fresh butter was unprocurable. Even the salted unguent sold in tins was hard to get, and only a very good customer could buy a tin, at a huge price, from his grocer. The hens stood the test of the times better, and laid their eggs generously as if nothing had happened. But their numbers were small, and not sufficient to provide for local consumption at any time—still less so since chops had been proscribed. The owners of the birds, sad to say, were in many cases small, too—mentally; they ate more eggs, in lieu of butter, on toast than was necessary. The price of eggs kept daily moving up by sixpences and shillings, and they were yet comparatively cheap at eleven pence each (each egg!). But it was some comfort, however cold, that money could buy eggs. They were indubitably fresh, but beyond the reach, too “high” (at eleven pence) for the average man, or even for men of substance opposed on principle to eating money. Ham and bacon, also, were expensive. The local pork had never been highly prized. The African pig is more noted for his speed than for the rashers he offers when his race is run; he is tough, and grunts vapidly; his tail corrugates rather than curls; he eschews jewellery—his nose is free; and the land also being free, he pays no rent. But the ox was “off” (in large measure), and the pig, hitherto despised, had come to be looked up to as an asset and a “gentleman.”

In the afternoon a heavy hailstorm passed over the town; the clatter of hailstones—of enormous size—was unprecedented. It furnished a new and refreshing topic of conversation, and the war was dropped for full five minutes—while the shower lasted. Rumours Of a meditated attack on the enemy’s fortifications were the subject of much speculation; that the morrow would be a big day was the general feeling at bedtime.

The big day came round in due course; we had a big thunderstorm, but in no other respect was Monday large. The Boers signalised the occasion by the inauguration of a new plan of campaign, which, if the gods were kind, would soon compel the surrender of the Diamond City. The plan—like all great plans—was simple; a dozen guns were trained on Kenilworth, where browsed the precious bullocks upon whose safety hung the fate of Kimberley. To kill them all was the end in view. Inspirited by the thought of the hunger and the “fall” that would follow, the enemy poured forth a liberal fusillade upon Kenilworth. The cattle-guards, exposed to grave danger, never shirked their duty. It was not until the Boers had well warmed to their work that we managed by the play of a Maxim to cool their ardour. The new departure was a failure. A most incomprehensible bombardment was subsequently opened on an isolated place, called “the Brickfields,” where no animate thing above the bite of a mosquito lived, moved, or had its being.”

21 November 1899, Skirmish between the Boers and Cattle Guards outside Kenilworth.
21 November 1899, Lord Methuen’s British army leaves Orange River station and advances on besieged Kimberley.


The coloured community, as well as their Indian and Malay counterparts of Kimberley volunteered for service in the local Kimberley or Beaconsfield Town Guard in order to defend the town, an offer which was turned down by the military authorities, albeit diplomatically. Major Henry Scott-Turner, a personal friend of Rhodes, and a special service staff officer seconded from the then Rhodesia in order to assist with the defence of the town, replied to the Town Clerk of Kimberley that “….it is not possible to consider the question of arming the coloured men. Colonel Kekewich however suggests that you take their names and if an opportunity arises he will gladly avail himself of their services, and he highly appreciates the spirit of their offer.”

Despite the official stand by the Kimberley authorities, black persons were utilised by both the military and civilian authorities in a quasi-military role, and in the Kimberley Town Guard, a unit known as the Special Location Police comprised mostly Coloured persons.


One of the British redoubts during the Siege of Kimberley

During the siege, Africans were used as drivers and conductors by the Royal Artillery, and as military intelligence Scouts and dispatch riders. The De Beers company also utilized Africans in collecting information on Boer movements and for sending and receiving messages to and from Lord Methuen commanding the British army at the Modder River camp some 30 kilometres south.

Africans armed with rifles guarded large herds of cattle close to the Boer positions, and on at least two occasions there was some heavy fighting between the cattle guards and the Boers at Dronfield and Tarentaalkop. In the fight at Tarentaalkop, Sgt-Major Gideon Scheepers of the OFS Artillery killed two and captured two Africans. On 18 January 1902, Scheepers was executed by the Imperial forces for, among several other charges, the killing of African spies in the employ of the British Army.

Kimberley had natural defensive works in the form of the many mine tailing heaps that surrounded the town and these were easily converted into fortifications using the thousands of Africans resident in Kimberley. This (initially) 14 kilometre long defensive line of redoubts, trenches, minefields and barbed wire entanglements, (and later enlarged to encompass the Wesselton Mine and Kenilworth village), was constructed by mine compound Africans supplied by De Beers, African convicts, African labourers supplied by contractors, and unemployed relief work “boys”, all under the supervision of 45 men of the 7th Field Company Royal Engineers. Only the Sanatorium defensive positions were built by whites, and even then they were built by regular soldiers of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. 


Gideon Scheepers

The Siege of Kimberley was from 14 October 1899 to 15 February 1900.

Pictured is Gideon Scheepers later in the war when Kommandant, as well as one of the British redoubts in Kimberley during the Siege 1899-1900.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

About Steve Lunderstedt


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