King's College London
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On the Veldt: The British Army in South Africa 1899-1902

South Africa in the nineteenth century

Turmoil and Discontent: 1814-1854

Map of the Transvaal and Cape ColonyMap of South AfricaThe Boers were a mix of Dutch, French, German and native settlers who had each come in turn over several hundred years to South Africa. They had risked the treacherous journey to the Cape in search of new land and opportunities.

After defeating the Dutch, Britain took control of Cape Colony on the southern tip of South Africa in 1814. However, the Boers did not like British rule and their laws and began to protest.

The Boers believed in independent land and farm ownership and slavery. When Britain abolished slavery in 1834 this was the turning point and Boers began to move away, further in land, away from British control.

By 1837, the migration of vast numbers of Boers was known as the “Great Trek”.

Keen to regain loyalty and influence, the British promised the Boers better rights and freedom. After much negotiation, they agreed to establish the Transvaal Republic in 1852 and the Orange Free State in 1854.

First Boer War 1880-1881

Peace did not last long.

The First Boer War opened up in December 1880 after repeated calls for further self-government were rejected by the British parliament. In 3 months the British were defeated by the Boers, most famously at Majuba Hill on 27 February 1881. They capitulated and once more ceded the territory to the Boers. 

Argument, negotiation and the changing balance of power was the story of South Africa for much of the 19th century.

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