The Great Anglo-Boer War by Byron Farwell

The Great Anglo-Boer War

This book was an excellent read. It was a detailed account of the second war between the Dutch settlers of South Africa, called Boers (meaning farmers), and the English from 1899-1902.

The war came about as a result of the British denying the sovereignty of two independent Boer Republics; the Transvaal & the Orange Free State, which had initially been formed to escape English rule. These became independent in August, 1881. Not that English rule was inherently bad, but the Boers disliked it for several reasons, in addition to the more important fact that they desired to be independent.

The actual grievance that caused the British to deny the Boers their independence was that the Boers denied the right to vote to uitlanders (foreigners) who had immigrated to the Transvaal as a result of gold being found there. When gold was discovered in late 1887, a flood of European immigrants, mostly English, poured into the Transvaal. The great number of people pouring in alarmed the Boer people who feared they would soon be outnumbered and, therefore, raised the number of years an uitlander must be a resident of the country to become a citizen and gain the right of franchise from one to five, and eventually to 14 years. This was quite understandable, as the uitlanders represented totally different ideals than the Boers, and were turbulent and not necessarily scrupulous people.

The Boers themselves, mainly of Dutch & some little French Huguenot descent, were a truly Dutch people; stubborn, kind, hardworking, with unshakable faith in the Holy Scriptures. These people were an inherently Christian people with an irrepressible desire for liberty & independence. They were predominantly farmers.

When the Boers raised the franchise requirement, the Englishmen in the Transvaal, who had immigrated during the gold rush, sent a formal complaint to the Queen.

There was an outcry in Britain and the Governor of Cape Colony, Alfred Milner, was delegated to negotiate with the Boer President of the Transvaal, Paul Kruger. The Boer President of the Orange Free State, M. T. Steyn, arbitrated. Milner demanded that the franchise requirement be lowered back to five years. Kruger offered lowering it to seven years. This was a gigantic concession. Steyn privately advised Milner to accept this and move on to less significant issues, as this was a huge concession, and Kruger would not budge. Milner refused, and left the conference. Kruger rode away with tears streaming from his face, realizing that this was war. The English subsequently denied the independence of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State and sought to add them to the English Crown. Despite this, the Boers carried out their concession, and lowered the franchise requirement back to seven years. The Boer commandos, local militia, were organized and war ensued.

The book then describes the set piece battles of the early part of the war, the British triumph, the Boer determination to carry on the war through guerilla methods, and the British operation to destroy the Boer farms and place all Boer women & children in a series of concentration camps.

Negative: There is some slight use of foul language, somewhat violent battle descriptions, and graphic accounts of the depravity of the British Concentration Camps.

Positive: Well-written and very informative, this book really filled in a blank spot in history for me. It presented an extremely balanced view, giving both sides of the issue without drawing conclusions for you.

Overall: The Great Anglo-Boer War was an excellent read, well-worth the time spent. It is about 450 pages long, and is worth every minute spent. It really gives perspective on the time period and the ensuing Great War.


One thought on “The Great Anglo-Boer War by Byron Farwell

  1. Sounds like a great step on from the Victorian period bios I’m reading. Less lace, more drama. Good format, with the historical overveiw and then briefly examining the book’s own qualities. Few people have ever heard of the Boers…

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