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

Declaration of War 1899

Gold and Ultimatums: 1881 - 1899

The discovery of gold in the late 19th century put South Africa on the world map.

The Rand is the largest gold field in the world. It is a ridge which stretches for 60 miles and is located just south of Pretoria. After 1887 thousands of foreigners, many British, travelled to the Rand seeking riches and wealth. The influx of Utilanders, meaning “outsiders” in Afrikaans, to the region brought further troubles for the Boers who wanted to preserve their culture and way of life.

After protests from the Utilanders for better protection abroad, British politician Cecil Rhodes saw this as an opportunity to annex the region. If the Utilanders decided to rise up, a small armed force under Rhodes’ direction would ride in to support them. This was known as the Jameson Raid. In 1895 the raid failed when it was launched too early and outrage followed.

The Boers demanded the removal of British troops from the area while Britain refused to recognise Boer independence. Ultimatums were delivered before finally, on 11 October 1899, war was declared. Within weeks the first British troops landed in South Africa.

Opinions of the war

French anti-Boer War propagandaFrench anti-war propaganda poster According to some, the war was not just about resolving British and Boer demands. Anti-war propagandists believed the war was an excuse for land-grabbing and enhancing national prestige.

Joseph Chamberlain, the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, received a lot of criticism from the press, including this caricature from a French newspaper. Cecil Rhodes and the conduct of British troops were also the subject of scrutiny abroad.

As part of the “Scramble for Africa” by European nations, Anglo-German relations declined as Germany saw the war as an assertion of British power in the region rather than a just cause for settling disputes around sovereignty.

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