«UNIONDALE, 1901. T he Christmas holidays are over. W ill 1901 be as exciting as 1900? I feel refreshed by my rest at Beach Road, Three Anchor Bay. I ...»
he Christmas holidays are over. W ill 1901 be
as exciting as 1900?
I feel refreshed by my rest at Beach Road, Three
Anchor Bay. I think I shall call on my medical agent.
Two District Surgeons wish to have a holiday. One is
surgeon for the district of_________, in the north
part of Cape Colony. No thank you. The Boers and
the British troops are there. The other is at
Uniondale. There are no Boers there and they are
not likely to visit it. To go to Uniondale you can take the coasting steamer to Knysna, and then travel by cart. Uniondale is about a hundred miles from the coast. The engagement will be for four or, if necessary, five months, at so much per month and travelling expenses, also your board and lodging at Uniondale will be paid.
―You don't think the Boers will come so far south?‖ ―I do not.‖ ―Then I shall go!‖ ―The boat leaves on such a day.‖ ―You will wire to the District Surgeon and tell him I am going up‖ ―All-right‖ ―Good-bye.‖ ―A safe journey.‖ F or the first few days in Uniondale my life is very happy, I walk and chat with some of the residents. The Boers will never come so far south is the prevailing opinion, then a rumour comes that a band of Boers are coming south, then reports that the Boers have attacked a town some thirty miles away, have been repulsed and are coming to Uniondale, where there are neither armed men nor rifles. On the tenth or eleventh day after my arrival, the Boers ride in and I am practically a Boer prisoner. Two months ago I was in Medical charge of a Prisoners of War Camp now I am a prisoner of a roving band of Boers and rebels, Such is War.
For two days before the Boers arrived, ladies and men were burying their valuables and clearing off to the coast.
The night before they came I went to see a friend who had shown me much kindness. His family had been away for a holiday and were returning. He had sent a message to prevent their return. He said: "The Boers will be here at midday to-morrow.‖ ―I leave about one o'clock in the morning.‖ ―I shall leave all my doors unlocked.‖ ―There will not be anyone in the house.‖ ―What are you going to do?‖ ―You had better clear out or they will certainly shoot you.‖ I replied: ―I cannot leave my post and if I am to be shot then I can't help it.‖ ―I shall die at my post.‖ The Boers and rebels, under the then notorious Scheepers, were looked upon as a merciless crowd. About eleven o'clock my friend and I parted.
―You won‘t go, doctor?‖ ―No. I will not.‖ ―Then we'll never meet ―That may be.‖ ―Good night, old man !‖ ―God bless you!‖ ―A safe journey.‖ I again returned to the hotel and went to bed. ―Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.‖ I slept soundly.
The morning of the eventful day has come, I rise, breakfast, and attend to my duties as acting-district surgeon. The day is gloomy and a mist hangs over the town and hills. The town is very quiet, It is Sunday. A few anxious people are seen here and there, evidently talking about the Boers. The coloured people are in their little homes and as silent as death, for, if reports be true, to Scheepers the life of any of them is of little or no value. Many familiar faces are absent.
Some men have horses and carts in readiness to clear out. They wait to the last moment hoping something may turn up to prevent the approach of the Boers. I quietly await developments. ―A watched pot is long in boiling.‖ At last the monotony ends. A man rushes to me. ―Good-bye, doctor, the Boer outposts are on the hills.‖ ―My cart is ready, I'm off.” It is now 11 a.m. About mid-day the Boers ride into town, most of them leading a spare horse. There is no demonstration on the part of the Dutch inhabitants, for Lord Milner's proclamations are posted all over the town warning the people against aiding in any way the Queen's enemies.
The Telegraph operator quickly despatches a message to the head office: ―The Boers have arrived,‖ and decamps taking a part of the telegraphic apparatus with him. A loyal woman residing outside the town sends a coloured messenger to a distant telegraph station with a message to be wired to the premier.
The Resident Magistrate meets the Boers as they enter the town. ―Who are you coming into this town armed?‖ ―We are the advanced guard of the Federal Army.‖ ―Then you take the responsibility of your action on yourselves.‖ ―Oh! that's all right.‖ ―We want your keys.‖ He accompanies them to the Court House, hands them the key and goes to his home. During this time the Boers have been to all the stables and have seized all horses suitable for riding.
I ask my landlady to get me something to eat. There is an old saying that an army moves on its stomach. I am not an army nor indeed do I feel like one, but as the Boers may eat all the food in the hotel and in war time the rule ―first come first served‖ holds good, I feel justified in looking to my own interests and quickly and quietly get outside enough food to suffice my inner man for at least twelve hours. I wish to go to the offices of the district surgeon but armed Boers are everywhere and it is my desire to avoid any friction, so I enter the smoking room. In a few minutes Scheeper's comes in. He has a bundle of letters, taken apparently from the Post Office, also a hunting
whip. He looks at me and I at him. At last, to use a pugilistic phrase, I break ground:
―It looks like rain.‖ ―Excuse.‖ ―It seems we are going to have rain.‖ ―Oh! yes.‖ He sits down to read the letters, some of which seem to be official, and I retire. I go to the district surgeon's offices some distance up the villiage. I remain here some hours, I have forgotten to take something to read with me. I pace about the rooms. I shall venture to the hotel. I shall go to my bed-room, lock myself in and pass the rest of the day as quietly as possible.
As I enter the hotel I meet Scheeper's Captain, a Free State lawyer, named Hugo.
―You are doctor —?‖ ―Yes.‖ ―You have been attending the Boer prisoners at Cape Town?‖ ―Yes.‖ ―I want to ask you about them.‖ ―We are going to have a drink in the bar.‖ Step this way and join us.‖ In the bar the Landlord, an Anti-English German, is busy serving drinks. There are villagers whom I know and whom I do not know - men whom I afterwards found are loyalists and men who were subsequently arrested for disloyalty. I answer all Captain Hugo' s questions – ―I can only speak well of the treatment accorded by the British to their prisoners.‖ ―The small death rate surprises all.‖ Then the conversation turns to Stormberg and Captain Hugo gives us his experiences there.
Now comes the drink, and I feel myself in the tightest corner I have ever been in South Africa. All the town folk present look to me, as my social rank comes next to that of the clergymen and magistrate, who, unfortunately for me, are absent. To wish him success I cannot. To decline to drink with him may lead to trouble and to bloodshed. What shall I say? My Irish fertility of resourse, or what some people unkindly call knavery, comes to my aid. I have some whisky and soda. I feel that intelligence officers are present who will report all I say and do. ―Well! Captain Hugo, the only toast I can in the circumstances offer you is the wish that you may never trouble a doctor.‖ ―Thank you, Doctor.‖ There are no musical honours. ―Now, Sir, I shall take the liberty of asking you to excuse me.‖ Someone then says: ―O! you will excuse the doctor as he may have work to attend to.‖ ―Certainly, doctor.‖ I bow and retire.
That afternoon the Boers released any white prisoners who were in the jail and put the magistrate and the jailer into the darkest cell. The English Church Minister who was disliked by some Dutchmen for his outspoken loyalty, was asked to take an oath of allegiance to the Boers and refused to do so. He was then told he must take one of neutrality. This he also refused to take. He was informed that if he did not do so he would be shot, and was marched to jail and locked up with the magistrate and jailer. The clergyman was a young Englishman. His wife is a British South African. I shall not cease to admire the bravery of this woman. Her life had been one of continuous toil for her family. Her husband‘s income was slender. In fact, he taught some private pupils to make ends meet. This brave woman, without a murmur, without a tear, saw her husband marched off to jail, with death staring him in the face. She felt her husband must die rather than make a concession to the Queen's enemies. When I learned of the clergyman's arrest I immediately went to his house.
His wife told me she had been to the Boer officers and had asked and obtained permission to take a blanket, cushion and some food to her husband. For this she was grateful to them and smiled an anxious and grateful smile.
Night sets in, the Boers singing hymns, drinking Coffee, and enjoying the company of the young Dutch girls all over the town. Many of the so-called Boers are foreigners. All apparently have much gold in their pockets, etc. ―Now, Mr. Dutchman, you promised to help the cause.‖ ―Where is your money box?‖ ―So much cash, or we burn down your house and carry you off.‖ My bedroom not having been molested I retire early, feeling that before twenty-four hours I shall have some excitement, and that a good night's rest will be beneficial. During the day I had had a slight intimation that the British Troops on Friday were some 40 miles away, but we could neither receive nor send out any messages. The Loyalists are very grave.
They know Boer methods. The Boers do not shed blood on Sunday. What will they do tomorrow?
The Boer officers slept in rooms adjoining mine (only removing their boots). They drove pigs to market the whole night - snoring here, snoring there. I fear I also was in the pig driving contest or line, for my sleep, though several times interrupted, was most refreshing.
Doubtless they considered the capture of an unarmed town a great achievement. They had damaged Government property, had burned records of certain years, had declared the town a Boer possession, and had established a court of justice (?) to try us offenders next day.
Monday morning! I rise early and go to the surgery avoiding every Boer I see. About 9.30 I think I might have some breakfast, and that the Boers being early risers will have breakfasted and left the hotel. I proceed to the hotel, I enter the breakfast room. All the Boer officers are enjoying their morning meal of meat, eggs, etc. I say, ―good morning,‖ and sit down to breakfast. Captain Hugo asks how it is I am not frightened like the other people, and I, outwardly gay, cheerfully reply, ―I have not yet seen anything to frighten me.‖ In a few minutes an armed Boer comes in. He wishes to see commandant Scheepers, who is at the head of the table. He whispers some message to him. Before five minutes elapse all the Boers have quietly gone out of the room and I am alone.
Something is up! Is it the advance of the British?
After breakfast I sit a few minutes on the stoep (under the Hotel verandah), little thinking that a British 15 pounder on the distant hill is pointing to the Hotel. There are not any Boers about the front of the hotel. They are watering their horses, etc.
Taking my overcoat, as the morning is damp, I venture to cross over and see a Moravian Missionary living under a large hill. He is ill, and I have not been able to visit him for two days. While at his bedside I hear a noise similiar to that caused by a man hammering a wooden box. The clergyman's wife rushes into the room, saying, ―the hill is covered with soldiers and they are firing.‖ I wish to see the fight. Taking my leave and my overcoat I set out for the town. The British soldiers seeing me leaving the house with an overcoat mistake me for a Boer and fire on me. I know nothing of this. The Missionary's wife and family see the ground being torn up behind me by bullets and hear a bullet strike the house. After I leave the clergyman's house I see the Boers galloping out of the town, then I see the people rushing to the main street and a soldier riding through the villiage to see if all be clear. As I approach the town I hear loud cheering. The coloured people are rushing out of their homes cheering. Tables are being placed outside the court-house. Boiling water, steaming coffee, biscuits and cigarettes for the soldiers and coming from all directions. The Union Jack is flying once more in the breeze over the court house. The jail has been broken open and the clergyman, magistrate and jailer released. The ladies are pouring out coffee for the troops, who are now entering the town. Hats off, gentlemen! Haul off your caps, boys (to the coloured men).
―GOD SAVE THE QUEEN!‖ The excitement as the British troops march in is intense. All the British, and I feel confident at least sixty per cent. of the Dutch, are very pleased to see them. The average Dutchman likes to lead a peaceful life, and I am of opinion that most of them wish the Boers had never come here. The sympathy of many of them may flow towards the Transvaal and Free State, but they do not want trouble, and, therefore, do not care to take up a hostile attitude towards the British Government.
What would have happened to-day if the troops had not arrived? No one can definitely say. Would they have shot the clergyman? I do not think so. Would they have killed the magistrate and the jailer? Some people say they would have. Scheepers I certainly did not trust, but his officer, Hugo, is an educated man, and so far as I could see and learn is of a genial and kind disposition - a man who would enjoy giving one a fright but would not take life in cold blood. Would not Hugo have had at least some restraining influence over Scheepers? Of the men under Scheepers a few seemed to be jolly fellows and apparently looked upon fighting as a pastime, but many were morose and sullen and presented many traits of the murderous and daring criminal. I do not think these villainous looking men are natives of any part of South Africa. They certainly do not resemble any of the many Boers whom I have attended, and I fear acts of violence are not foreign to them. Scheepers, however, had them well under control. for his first instructions were that none of his men should have drink under any pretext without an order from him.