Plot: With Buller in Natal, is set in the 2nd Boer War of 1899-1902. The Boers were Dutch immigrants who had settled in South Africa before the 18th Century. It was dominated by the English from 1806 onward. The 1st Boer war, 1880-81, was a Boer struggle for political freedom. They won this war mostly because of the timidness of English officials.
The 2nd Boer war came about because of the mass immigration of foreigners, Uitlanders to the Boers, who came because of the discovery of gold. This alarmed the Boers, who wanted a Dutch only state. The Dutch arrogance resulting from their victory in the first war caused them to declare war on the English government. This conflict was almost entirely new to me, so it was very interesting reading about it. According to Henty, the Boers were extremely rough, uncivilized folk, who denied every kindness to the English people. The main character and a number of people from Johannesburg, their place of abode and livelihood, made their way down to Maritzburg, held by the English, at the beginning of the story. On the way down, men, women and children were described as roughly insulted and very brutally treated by the Boers. The main character, Chris King, and a score of his friends from Johannesburg form their own corps, and are attached to the volunteer Maritzburg Scouts as an independent contingent. They armed themselves with rifles they had confiscated from a Boer farmer, and mounted themselves with money their fathers had given them to cover expenses for the trip down, as they were all from wealthy families. They often posed as Boers while scouting and engaged in a number of expeditions, repeatedly times defeating bands several times their size. Chris and three other young men from his band attempt to blow up a bridge connecting Portuguese East Africa and Boer territory, by which the Boers were importing arms. They were unsuccessful, but they instead blow up a large train carrying cannon, rifles, and a great deal of ammunition. This action brought Chris and his comrades to the attention of General Buller. They were mostly inactive during the big fights, since they were mounted, and the heavy fighting was carried on by infantry. Much of the book was centered on the relief of the town of Ladysmith, which was besieged by the Boers. The English relief force was commanded by General Buller, from whom the title of the book is derived. When the war is over, Chris joins his parents in England, who decided not to go back to Johannesburg. Other than that, there wasn’t much of a plot. It was mostly a historical account of the British campaign to thrash the Boers, with a few personal experiences of the main character thrown in. This type is not usually the rule with Henty’s books, but rather the exception, at least as far as I’ve read. He wrote about 120, and I’ve read about 40+. This definitely was not one of his better books.
Positive: He gives you a great historical account of the South African War, if you can manage to follow along and catch all the minute details.
Negative: The Boers are brutal. A Boer farmer who refuses to sell them bread and milk for the ladies, and then threatens them with a rifle, is severely thrashed by the main character.
It was fairly dry, and it wasn’t Henty at his best.
On the side, I have read elsewhere that the British first introduced the concept of concentration camps in this war, occupying them with women and children whom they forced to leave their homes so they could not aid Boer guerrillas. Though treated humanely, crowded conditions caused rampant disease. I don’t know how true that is, but it gives pause for thought. The part of the War dealt with in the book was on the campaigning of 1899-1900. Guerilla warfare continued until 1902, the year Henty died. This book is about 370 pages.
You can get a hardback version here.
You can get it from Gutenburg here.