Water – what a choice

A recent perusal of the George Farrar documents at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, is responsible for this posting.

Going through Mrs Farrar’s visitors’ book for 1900 (she was in Cape Town for the duration of the Anglo-Boer War while George was working intelligence for Col Brabant), I came across a dinner menu with a list of Mineral Waters. I don’t know about you, but I thought the variety of mineral waters was a recent thing but it appears not. For Mrs Farrar’s dinner, the following was on offer:

Mineral Waters:
Van Riebeck
Victoria Water
Plain Water
Boiled Water
Hot Water

This was offered alongside: Soda, Lemon, Ginger, Sherbert, Apollinaris – if you are as curious as I was regarding the last mentioned, take a look here (p17) – ending with sparklets. Curious again, I found this, and this advertising.

Compare all these waters to the alcoholic drinks on offer. There were only Wines, listed as:
Sherry White Wine, Hock* (Johannesburg 1900) and Mariani Wine.
* I wonder if this is where the term Hoggenheimer (and a bit more) came from…
Some info on Hock bottles

One can’t say Mrs Farrar was not cosmopolitan in her tastes: Spannish, German and French.

Dinner was just as intriguing so I thought I’d include it here for others who might be interested to know what a typical dinner menu looked like and what was available when a colony was at war.

Warm soup (flavour not specified),
Sardine Fish. Not too surprising as South Africa is well-known for its Sardine Run
Boiled Duck and Caper Sauce. I found a Polish and American recipe
A roast ‘Ground Hornbill‘ (caught near Trarato) – this has stumped me. The closest I came was Tarata – a New Zealand plant or a place in Bolivia
Fricasee of Owl. I assume the owl is instead of chicken?
Cold Cream. Straight forward, I think.
Snoek on Toast – clearly a South African thing. I love it!!

and NO DESSERT. My emphasis. Was this Mrs Farrar’s attempt at saving costs during a war?

It appears that Mrs Farrar became disillusioned with South Africa following George’s involvement in the Jameson Raid and after his release tried to spend as little time in South Africa as possible. However, when the 2nd Anglo-Boer War broke out, George returned to South Africa to serve (he already had investments in ERPM, the gold mine in Boksburg) and Mrs Farrar (Ella) joined him although did not seem to leave the Cape. Here she had a stream of visitors including Frank Rhodes, Lord Milner, Richard Furse and many other ‘big’ names including Margaret of Tweck and the Duke of Westminster. It didn’t look like Kitchener, Roberts or Buller popped in, although there is a letter signed by Kitchener authorising Farrar to source horses for Brabant. When the war became a guerrilla or mobile war, Farrar resigned his commission and returned to the Transvaal to rebuild his mining empire.


A trip to Iceland was the inspiration for this blog. Visiting the house where Gorbachev and Reagan met to discuss the end of the Cold War, I found a board which read as follows:

The beginning of Free Telecommunications in Iceland

On June the 26th 1905 Iceland was first connected to the outside world by means of telecommunications.

The first wireless message was received here from Poldhu in Cornwall, England. The telecommunications equipment was provided by the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Co at the suggestion of entrepreneur and poet Einar Benediktsson. Messages were received here until October 1906, when the operation was terminated due to a government granted monopoly on telecommunications in Iceland.

This memorial plaque was donated by Vodafone

Reading Marconi immediately made me reflect on Africa – Marconi was the big telecommunications provider there too and during World War 1 provided radio support for the Lake Tanganyika Expedition.

On 7 December 1915, The Marconi Co [was] ordered to prepare two 1½ KW cart
sets. They will be ready to be shipped [on the Anversville] at Hull on or before 1 Jan.

The Marconi Company would pay for the services of the engineers who supported/worked the equipment. This included ‘One Engineer. 4 Operators … They would be borne on the ships books [sic] for disciplinary services’. They would be under the command of Spicer-Simson unless lent to the Belgians. The Engineer was Sub-Lieut EF Boileu, RNVR and the ship they were ‘borne’ on for disciplinary services was HMS Hyacinth. (The Lake Tanganyika Expedition Primary Source Chronology)

Prior to World War 1, Marconi had supplied equipment which was used during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902. M de Bruijn et al in The Social Life of Connectivity in Africa tell how wireless and radio developed in Africa including mention of L59, the German Zepelin which never reached Lettow-Vorbeck.

Interestingly though, the underwater cable which linked Zanzibar with Europe at the start of the war was managed by the Eastern and South African Telegraph Company. It merged with Marconi in 1929. In the 1930s, wireless was to have a major impact on the development and use of airpower across Africa and although Guglielmo Marconi died in 1939, his name continues as noted in an article on communications between South Africa and Nigeria in 2001.

The Marconi collection can be consulted at the Oxford Museum of History of Science and Bodleian.

Jan Smuts and the Chinese

On 24 May 2016, had he still been alive, Jan Smuts would be 146 years old. For those of you too lazy to do the maths, he was born in 1870.

At the age of 34, whilst out of a government role, Smuts was vexed by what was known in South Africa as the ‘Chinese Question‘ or ‘Problem’. Following the Anglo-Boer War (South African War) of 1899-1902, Lord Milner had arranged for Chinese labour to work on the South African gold mines as local black labour was not forthcoming and there was not enough white labour prepared to work at the unskilled labour rates of pay. Getting the mines operational after the war was vital for the economy and to cover the costs of the war. But, for the likes of Smuts, Botha and other South African politicians, the introduction of another racial group into the already volatile melting pot of Southern Africa was anathema.

Smuts felt strongly about this as noted in his letter to JX Merriman on 31 August 1905 (Hancock, vol 2):

You are quite right, the Chinese business is contaminating the very well-spring of our national and social life, and I feel sure that we shall not soon get another such opportunity for getting rid of it as now. Feeling in the Transvaal has been profoundly stirred; those people (along the Rand) who were for sordid reasons in favour of Chinese labour repent and suffer bitterly now … the question is great enough to found its own party, which will yet be the most powerful in South Africa – unless we are really going to be an annexe of China, a Hong Kong…

The last Chinese labourers were eventually sent back in 1910.

This was not the end of Smuts’ dealings wiht the Chinese, however. During World War 1, whilst he was commander in chief of the forces operating in East Africa, he would have encountered the Chinese Contingent. Unfortunately little is known of the work these men did in the theatre other than what Steve Lau has brought to light and which he shared at the 2016 Great War in Africa Conference.

South Africa, however, has retained a relationship with China in some form since these early days. Chinese restaurants provide a tangible link – interestingly during Apartheid Chinese people were classified as black, whilst Japanese were classified white. Yet dispensations were clearly given: there was a Chinese restuarant (Golden Lake) in the Boksburg Lake grounds for as long as I can remember.

Today, China itself is economically involved in developing infrastructure and providing loans to African governments.

Did Smuts forsee this development way back in 1905?

It might be worth a mention that Smuts’ World War 1 nemesis, Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck fought the Chinese during the Boxer Rebellion.

Review: Memoirs of the Boer War by Jan Smuts

I set myself the challenge ot read through Keith Hancock and Jean van der Poel’s 7 volume Selections from the Smuts’ Papers. So far, I’ve completed volume 1. As a specialist of WW1, I thought it would be interesting to see what documents and thoughts he’d written prior to the 1914-1918 war and to see how his younger days influenced his later…

What I didn’t expect to find though was a draft memoir of his Boer War experiences. Part V of volume 1 is the start of what was to be a book but which was never finished due to his getting more involved in politics from 1904. These almost 130 pages tell Smuts’s story from the Fall of Pretoria [*] June 1900 through to the start of The Potchefstoom Campaign in early 1901.

[* you can see some of the pages on Google books (the first page is 536)]

This is not a military account, I wouldn’t expect anything like that from Smuts; it is rather a personal reflection on how he saw the war (and no doubt how he wanted the public to see the war – compare this with his reports to the War Office which were published in the Gazettes in 1916 and 1917). Tucked within these pages, and the earlier part dealing with his correspondence during the Boer War, are insights into his views on military strategy and how these were received by others. For those with the patience to tackle military strategy, this should provide some good material for understanding (or confusing) what he did during the East Africa campaign. I couldn’t help but be struck by his comments about organisation and his take on small forces being chased by a force much larger than the numbers they were chasing.

Interspersed are accounts of meeting with his wife, how he got letters through to her and other family members on occasion, humour, and frustration. He explains the Boer take on fighting (or rather retreating) and their fear of being captured – one group being found reciting prayers aloud in the hope that they would not be mistaken for fighters. And to top it all we get some history lessons from Smuts – not least the significance of Dingaan’s Day (Day of the Covenant and now Day of Reconciliation) and the Great Trek – all in the context of the Anglo-Boer War. It was the day after 16 December 1899, a day of solemn reflection and rejoicing in the progress of the war, that things started to go awry. Smuts gives credit where it is due – I was surprised at the number of British officers he commented on: favourably. Another striking point was his regular references to Kitchener allowing the Boers to cross the lines to meet with fellow Boers or get messages to Europe where President Kruger was in exile. Surely, if one is at war, you don’t rely on the favour of the enemy to let you communicate with your own side which is positioned on the other side of the enemy? It clearly was a war with a difference…

It’s not the most gripping and exciting of reads, if I’m honest, but it is a worthwhile read for those interested in understanding Smuts’s behaviour and actions during the East Africa campaign of 1916-1917.

By me William Shakespeare

I had the privilege of seeing By me William Shakespeare on the preview night. Although there is no Africa mentioned in the exhibition, it is definitely worth a visit if you are in London near the Strand (King’s College London to be precise).

The basic requirement for me to write about something on this site is that it has to have a link with Africa, and there is no exception here. One of the first productions I saw at The Globe theatre was the Zulu rendition of Macbeth (Umabatha). What an experience – Old London, traditional Zulu dance with a modern audience and ticker tape telling us what was happening. Not long after, we saw Antony Sher, well known for his love of Shakespeare perform at the Globe too alhtough I can’t remember which production. We had seen him a few year’s before in South Africa at the Market Theatre doing a modernised version of Titus Andronicus. I don’t remember much about the production other than the armoured tanks and cars and his outburst at South Africans’ non-appreciation of the bard. I must admit, I really came to appreciate his acting when I saw ID, – a one-man production about the assassination of Hendrik Verwoerd, but that is taking us away from Shakespeare.

Shakespeare (1564-1616) was alive at the time the white man was discovering Southern Africa and deciding whether or not to settle there. The decision to set up victualling stations was finally made after his death with the Dutch under Jan van Riebeeck (video) forming a settlement at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652. The man has continued to be linked with South Africa appearing in correspondence such as that of Jan Smuts to NJ de Wet on 28 February 1901 when he quoted Hamlet v.ii.10 ‘There’s a divinity which shapes our ends, Rough-hew them how we will.’ This was in response to news of his wife being in a British concentration camp.

400 years on, Shakespeare is remembered fondly while there are mixed views over South Africa’s past… what they have in common is that the full story is not known and never will be. However, we have reminders of things past which we interpret based on our various life experiences – By me William Shakespeeare provides an opportunity for such reflection – seeing Shakespeare’s last Will and Testament, account books and various other bits of his life (note none of his plays on exhibition) gives a tiny insight to a different world – the forerunner of ours. How different to the life of those setting out to explore and inhabit new worlds 400 years ago. Today, the politics of Shakespeare’s plays, as demonstrated by Sher and others, continues to resonate in communities across the globe, in all languages: People are people

#BymeShakespeare @UKNatArchives #Africa

How the Raid dominates…

I don’t dispute the significance of the Jameson Raid in the lead up to the Anglo-Boer/South African War of 1899-1902, but I do wonder if by just focusing on the Raid without looking at what went before and after we are missing something.

I have started to question emphasis being placed on specific events to the exclusion of almost everything else when it comes to understanding or looking at an individual. Jameson is the most recent case in point, although it is by delving behind Kitchener’s avenging of Gordon‘s death at Khartoum, the Boer War concentration camps and Paardeberg that I’ve set myself the challenge of completing a biography of the man on the poster. There is so much more than what meets the eye.

This was brought home to me again by a reading of Chris Ash’s The ‘If’ Man – a biography on Jameson which by all accounts has had some mixed reactions.

What I did find intriguing in The If man is that there was no mention (or perhaps I missed it) of those others who were initially sentenced to death with Jameson – JG Farrar springs to mind. I would have expected some mention of Jameson and Fitzpatrick in terms of the court hearings and their fate especially as they were involved in organising the Uitlanders in Johannesburg. These men were also Members of Parliament and being in the mining world, their paths clearly crossed with Jameson’s.

There are numerous publications on the Jameson Raid – I wonder how many of them really have new insights into the events and how many just repeat the generally accepted views? One day I’ll get round to reading at least some of them… I might be as pleasantly surprised as what I have been reading the biographies on Kitchener.

Mafikeng vs Mafeking

One may well ask if I’ve been “mafeking” these past few weeks with fewer posts than normal making it onto the site. It is incredible how much one gets to rely on good internet access and electricity supply. A trip to Africa, whether it be south or east (or elsewhere for that matter) is enough to remind one that there is a life away from technology.

Back to mafeking though – it’s a word no longer used to explain joyous celebration and by all accounts it was only used for a short time after the Siege of Mafeking was raised on 16 May 1900. For those of you who have followed some of my blogs, I’m back to researching some aspects of the Anglo-Boer, South African or 1899-1902 war.

My lastest foray has, as you’ve no doubt gathered, taken me to Mafeking which is sometimes spelt Mafikeng. So, what is the difference in spelling? Well according to the gem of a find – The Boer War Diary of Sol T Plaatje: An African at Mafeking (edited by John L Comaroff), the Setswana called the area Mafikeng which means “Place of Stones”. After the British took over control of the territory they changed the spelling to Mafeking. But it appears that both place names were in use and referred to the black and white towns respectively. For some reason, it is also referred to Mahiking. Today it is referred to as Mafikeng and is the capital town of North-West Province.

The story of the siege of Mafeking is rather odd, if you ask me. By all accounts (at least those I’ve read), there was no reason for beseiging the town other than than it was British and it was near where the Jameson Raid started in 1895. There was no strategic reason for the siege. It also appears that despite Lord Baden-Powell achieving fame for bringing the town out of the siege, he had planned all along to be holed up in the town in order to avoid fighting! Brian Gardner’s Mafeking: A Victorian legend is not at all favourable towards BP and rather than crediting old BP as founder of the Boy Scouts, passes this accolade onto Edward Cecil, BP’s ADC and the son of the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury. Gardner also picks holes in BP’s scouting abilities.

After the siege was lifted, BP tried to get himself involved in another besieged town despite being chivvied on by Roberts. BP was soon told to put in for leave and his command was taken over by Plumer. Milner, Governor of the Cape, took the opportunity to employ BP in looking after the Cape Police for whom he designed a new uniform. He resigned from the Army in 1907 to devote his time to scouting and during the First World War was not called up to assist as other retired Army Officers had been. He and Kitchener did not get on and according to Gardner, Kitchener told him he would be more useful looking after the Scouts. Baden-Powell’s strength was his ability to keep the inhabitants positively focused which he did through Sunday games and performances. He also spent time sketching as noted in his publication Sketches in Mafeking and East Africa.

One of the challenges I’ve found investigating events during the siege is that Baden-Powell wrote the reports to the War Office which are his version. Reading through the few first-hand accounts from the day, it is clear he glossed over much of what was really happening and I wonder how much of the real story can be compiled from what else remains. Plaatjes’ account in itself is illuminating as it is the account of a literate black man who worked in the Courts as a translator and for a number of the reporters. He was involved in setting up South Africa’s first black newspaper and came to fame with his book, Native Life, on the impact of the 1913 Land Act. He was the first Secretary General of the South African Native National Congress (later the ANC).

Some other accounts can be found at:
FD Baillie – Mafeking: A diary of a siege
The Mafeking Mail (newspaper published during the siege)
Filson Young – Relief of Mafeking
while a full list of accounts in English can be found here.

I still haven’t managed to piece together the story I’m after, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to fully, but it did help me solve what had happened to Baden-Powell during WW1 and enticed me down some other fascinating garden paths. It also reinforces the need for a comprehensive re-telling of the Boer War as Thomas Pakenham’s version remains the most thorough account to date.