Boer War Revision Cards

Set of Revision cards on the Boer War. 

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Causes of the Boer War

The Great Boer War began on the 12th October 1899 following the rejection by the British government of a Boer ultimatum but what caused the war to begin?

  • Because of the very nature of the British Empire they were interested in retaining the Cape as part of their Empire. As well as this the Cape was an important stop-off point for British trade. 
  • The attempts of Jameson Raid who led 600 armed uitlanders to attempt to seize Johannesburg and overthrow Kruger's government emphasised the situation of the British people in the area. Thousands of British were present in the Dutch Republics and they were taxed highly by authorities, as well as denied any political rights. The British government pressed for increased rights for these uitlanders. A petition to the Queen from thousands of Uitlanders applied pressure upon the British to act. 
  • It was discovered that the Transvaal had huge supplies of gold within its territory and by 1898 it produced 27% of the world's gold and millions of mainly British capital had been invested there. The British very much wanted access to the vast quantities of diamond and gold reserves. 
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Stages of the Boer War

At the start of the war the Boers had an advantage because they were severely underestimated and had an innovative approach to warfare. Their quick and early mobilisation resulted in early success against scattered British forces. The Boers seiged Mafeking, Kimberly and Ladysmith. Thousands of men were lost in the attempts to relieve the seiges however they were relieved and this constituted the only major victories for the British early in the war.

The tide of the war began to change at this point in 1900 when there was a string of British victories. This coincided with the 1900 general election (Khaki election) which resulted in a conservative victory. 

Despite losing their major cities the Boers now introduced guerilla tactics and the war dragged on for more than a year. It pushed Kitchener, who was commander from November 1900, to move tens of thousands of people into concentration camps as well as adopting a scorched-earth policy to restrict Boer movement. 

Boers were forced to surrended in May 1902. 

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Problems highlighted by the Boer War

  • British casualties had been heavy. 6% of the 450,000 recruited died. The war emphasised the inadequacy of the army and the unhealthy state of many recruits (37% failed the medical tests)
  • There was a huge financial cost to the war
  • The effect on national morale was even more serious. The British had only just managed to defeat an army made up of largely farmers. 
  • The way that the war was carried out was condemned in 1904 by the Committee of Imperial Defence
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Haldane's Army Reforms

The great majority of soldiers in the Boer war were volunteers who enlisted for the duration. The experience of the war convinced the government that change was necessary, this was because war was becoming increasingly technological and training had become essential. 

  • Regular Army was organised into a continental Expeditionary Force. All other units were united into a home-defence Territorial Force based on country associations. 
  • The Expeditionary Force would be a highly trained force capable of reacting quickly in case of an emergency. 
  • A new Territorial Force of fourteen infantry divisions, fourteen cavalry brigades, and a large number of support units was created. 
  • General Haig, who was director of war studies at the war office, produced an entirely new training manual to cover all areas of organisation. 
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Impact of press reporting

Originally support for the war was widespread in Britain. Unlike the Crimean War, which had been fought on mainland Europe, it did not involve any European entaglements. 

Almost immediately when war broke out in South Africa, Churchill was appointed as war correspondent for the 'Morning Chronicle' and he sailed with the British forces. 

Churchill accompanied troops on the front line and sent reports back to Britain. He was a strong supporter of the Empire and his reports made excellent reading and it also encouraged popular support for the war. 

Relief of Mafeking and Ladysmith were events that sparked huge amounts of public support (led to the conservative success at the Khaki election. 

Popular support began to wane as the war went on. Emily Hobhouse's findings on the concentration camps published in June 1901  greatly damaged support. 

Fawcett Commission was set up by government to investigate and was highly critical demanding better rations and improved medical treatment. More than 27,000 Boers died in camps. 

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National Efficiency

The Boer war (1899-1902) emphasised and showed the poor health of recruits. 37% of recruits were refused entry to the army on grounds of physical unfitness (in some city centres the number who failed the medical reached 90%). 

The state of the nation's health was contrasted with that of the German people, who enjoyed various social benefits from unemployment and sick pay. 

1906- Education (Provision of School meals) Act- By 1914 the service was providing more than 14million school meals for about 158,000 children. 

1907: Education (Medical Inspection) Act: Provided an annual inspection for all elementary school children in an effort to counteract diseases. 

1908: Children and Young Persons Act- Borstals and juvenile courts were introduced. Buying of alcohol and tobacco by children was banned and parents became legally responsible for their children's welfaire for the first time. 

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Social Reforms

1908 Old Age Pensions: Giving 25p per week to single people over 70 and 37.5p to married couples. 

1908: 8 hour and a half working day introduced for miners

1909 Trade Boards: These were set up to assist workers in the 'sweated' industries. They were intended to set minimum pay levels in occupations where there was no trade union representation. 

1910 Labour Exchanges: These were set up to assist the unemployed find out about job vacancies. About 410 laour exchanges were set up and they were greeted with much enthusiasm especially since before they had to walk from factory to factory seeking jobs.

1911/12 National Insurance Act: Provided a payment of 50p a week to a person who was off work because of illness. This was for workers earning up to £160 per year. Covered about 2.5 million workers.

1912 School clinics were set up to provide treatment after medica inspections. 

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Were the reforms effective

For the first time the government had accepted responsibility for the well-beng of some of the people Britain. By 1913, the Liberal government had shown that it was prepared to intervene in many more areas of an individual's life. 

  • The Health Insurace legislation covered 13million people by 1914
  • By 1914 almost one million people were claiming the old age pension and the cost to the exchequer was about £12 million .
  • Many regarded these social reforms as the beginnings of what became the welfare state. 


  • Old Age Pensions were only paid at the age of 70, when the average life expectancy was about 47
  • Only the lowest paid workers were covered by National Insurance (and it only included men)
  • Health Insurance was not administered on a national basis. There was as yet no Ministry of Health- this was set up in 1919
  • Medical treatment offered by the act did not include dentists and opticians and only covered the worker NOT HIS FAMILY.
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