The Second Boer War

  • Created by: Ellie
  • Created on: 19-04-14 16:51

war overview

dates: 1899 - 1902

fought between: British Empire vs. the Boer Republic of South Africa

British controlled parts of South Africa while the Boers controlled the Orange Free State and the Transvaal


  • strategic: British wanted to expand empire in Southern Africa as this was of key strategic importance to them as a route to India and other parts of the British Empire
  • gold: Boer regions became more attractive when gold was found there in 1886, this also worried the British as they thought that with the Boers new wealth they would become too powerful
  • the uitlanders: British annoyed that the uitlanders (mainly British foreigners living in Boer lands) were denied the vote in the Transvaal and the Orange Free State
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Main events of the war: 3 phases

1) oct 1899 - jan 1900 - British Defeats: Boers declared war on British after British refused to withdraw the troops they had gathered on the borders of Boer territory. The British suffered a series of humiliating defeats during Black Week and Spion Kopm and were beseiged at Ladysmith, Kimberley and Mafeking. The commander of the British Forces was General Redvers Buller.

2) feb 1900 - june 1900 - British Victories: British releived Ladysmith and Kimberley and eventually Mafeking in May. By June, Johannesburg and Pretoria taken - British thought they had won. British Commander was Field Marshall Lord Roberts

3) late 1900 and throughout 1901 - Guerilla war: Boers fought with determined Guerilla campaign. They attacked British railways and supply lines, British responded by destroying Boer farms, clearing Boer areas and establishing concentration camps. Eventually the British gained the upper hand and the Peace of Vereeniging was signed: the Transvaal and Orange Free State became part of the British Empire. British commander was Field Marshall Horatio Kitchener

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reporting and propaganda


  • most supportive of war effort, anti-war newspaper circulation (e.g. Manchester Guardian) declined whereas pro-war increased sales (e.g. Daily Mail), some newspapers changed from anti to pro (e.g. Daily Chronicle). The Morning Post and The Times were pro-war but critical of government planning and organisation of war effort

war correspondents:

  • mostly uncritical about war, sometimes even gave false info to help British and make boers seem nasty. Churchill reported for the Morning Post and gave true accounts of British defeats, death, injuries and the boers but was still pro-war. A reporter of the Daily Telegraph criticised the army after Black Week. Emily Hobhouse reported on concentration camps in the Manchester Guardian.

the army and the press:

  • Boer War first to have official British army censor, Buller didn't cooperate with war correspondents and received bad press as a result. Roberts tried to gain press support by giving correspondents info and allowing them to relay despatches to London via army telegraph. Kitchener introduced greater censorship during the guerilla phase of the war 1900-1901
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s = supporters, o = opponents


  • S: Conservative Party (in power) - Joseph Chamberlain in particular (imperial secretary and MP for Birmingham. Also the 'Limps' (liberal imperialists) - pro empire section of lib party
  • O: some of lib party inc. MP David Lloyd George who made a name for himself by being anti-war. Also leader of lib party Henry Campbell-Bannerman (changed from pro to anti after concentration camps)

The Public:

  • S: newspaper sales, Khaki election (victory for Conservatives), response to relief of Ladysmith & Mafeking, support for Soldiers' Wives & Childrens fund = £70,000 (sponsored by Daily Mail), support high in Birmingham and London, historians believe middle class more supportive as empire brought more benefits for them rather than working class
  • O: Lloyd George's anti-war message received most positively in Bristol, Irish nationalists anti-war as were negative about British imperialism, 1906 election after the conflict had clear liberal victory - many of the Party were anti-war

Pro-boers (opponents) viewed negatively:

Lloyd George had to escape meeting in Birmingham when attacked by pro-wars, other MP's received hostile reaction if gave anti-war speech (Leonard Courtney)

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Guerilla warfare

tactics 1900-1902:

  • scorched earth policy: destruction of homes, settlements and agricultural land of Boers
  • blockhouses: mini-forts that enabled British troops to have a network of military control across Boer lands

concentration camps:

  • housed Boer women and black Africans from Boer areas
  • Poor sanitation, supplies and medical provision meant lots of disease and hunger
  • also overcrowding (at peak camps contained 140,000 people)
  • death toll 34% in white camps
  • black African camps were worse - indicated by Hobhouse but nobody investigated - less food and medical attention
  • estimated 20,000 Boers and 12,000 black Africans died in camps
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Emily Hobhouse and Millicent Fawcett

Hobhouse's reports and their impact

  • visited concentration camp in Bleomfontein in Jan 1901 and wrote to her brother (journalist for Manchester Guardian) about horrendous conditions
  • her letters were first circulated as a report amongst MP's then published in Man Guardian
  • many MP's and public outraged, Campbell-Bannerman made famous speech condemning camps and scorched earth policy as 'methods of barbarism'

The Fawcett Commission

  • Millicent Fawcett - leading campaigner of women's suffrage was asked by gov to report on camps following Hobhouse's reports
  • Fawcett and her commission supported Hobhouse's findings and recommended rations, hygeine and medical care in camps be improved and that camps be administered by civilian authorities not military authorities
  • death rates fell to 6.9% and eventually to 2%
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the empire and national efficiency


  • patriotic and pro empire songs: Land of Hope and Glory (AC Benson) and Transvaal (AC Swinburne)
  • periodicals: Boy's Own Paper and the Union Jack were popular and encouraged pride in empire
  • Baden Powell established the Scouting movement in 1907 which promoted patriotic values

criticism for the war and Britains imperial role:

  • anti-wars criticised motivation for war - fought to benefit rich businessmen e.g. Cecil Rhodes, who were in persuit of gold mines - not for genuine national interest
  • JA Hobson (Man Guardians correspondent in SA) wrote book 'Imperialism - A Study' claiming that war fought to benefit arms manufacturers, aristocrats and financiers - read mostly by left-wing but had influence on wider public during 1906 elections

national efficiency:

  • refers to notion that Britain losing its position as world's leading power
  • struggle to win Boer war indicated decline in national efficiency
  • recruitment problems highlighted poor health of British - 1/3 volunteers turned away for this (e.g. Manchester, 3 in 5 turned down)
  • poor health and poverty led to concerns for Britains ability to defend empire - led to lib reforms
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army reforms

Esher reforms - Lord Esher - prompted by Lord Salisbury (conserv PM 1902):

  • organisation: better defined roles - e.g. chief of the general staff in control of planning and training
  • improved training and professionalism: drill books and military training base at Salisbury Plain and officer training at Camberley
  • new and better weapons: e.g. Lee Enfield Rifle

Haldane reforms - Lord Haldane - secretary of state for war under lib gov:

  • British Expeditionary Force (BEF) - permanent battle-ready fighting force introduced - made important contribution to WWI
  • Territorial Army (TA) improved - also played important role during WWI

The combined impact of these reforms made British Army stronger, more effective and more efficient.

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social reforms

The Liberal Reforms 1906-14 - designed to improve health and wellbeing of the poorest, introduced partly as a result of the Boer War

  • The Free School Meals Act 1906 - local authorities to provide meals for poorest children
  • The National Insurance Act 1911 - compulsory for poorest workers and workers in industries most prone to unemployment to participate in scheme to provide insurance against sickness and unemployment
  • measures also taken to restrict exploitation of workers and provide medical checks for school children
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