Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

 
 
The Transvaal War. Wanted Facts.
(S571: 1899)

 
Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: Printed on page 365 of the 18 November 1899 issue of The Clarion. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S571.htm


    It appears to me that much of the difference of opinion on this subject arises from the endless flood of "misstatements" which, after having been once or twice quoted, are thereafter referred to as "facts." I have been trying to get at the actual facts for some months past, and it is with much regret I find that even the Clarion writers (some of them) state as "facts" what I have never been able to find any valid evidence for. I have neither time nor inclination to write at length on this subject, but with your permission will give one or two examples of what I mean.

    1. I have read daily all the reports and telegrams from the seat of war, and I find no single reference to the Boers carrying any arms but a rifle. Neither sword nor revolver has been once mentioned, but it has been distinctly stated that their rifles have no bayonets. Hence, whenever our troops--infantry and cavalry--get to close quarters, the Boers are practically in the position of unarmed men, and are, as has been described, ridden through and through, slashed and bayonetted "with great slaughter!" I presume these are facts which will be universally admitted. Yet in the latest Clarion we have Mont Blong saying: "They have a well-drilled, splendidly-armed, and equipped force (native and foreign) of some 50 or 60 thousand men." "Splendidly armed and equipped!" Surely this is not a statement of fact, if words have any meaning. And this huge misstatement is also at the bottom of Nunquam's deprecatory statement in the previous Clarion that their methods of fighting were those of "the bandit, the redskin, and the Afridi." I must say this seems to me ungenerous to a brave enemy. How else can they fight, imperfectly armed as they are? Then Mont Blong says they are "well drilled." Where is the evidence of this? It was stated in the newspapers about a month or so ago that the new Mauser rifles were only distributed quite recently, and that numbers of the Boers did not know how to load them; and so far as I know, no evidence has been given of the systematic drilling of these fifty thousand men, almost all workers on their farms or elsewhere.

    2. Again, the present theory that the Boers have been preparing, ever since 1884, to form one South African Republic, independent of Great Britain, is adopted by Mont Blong, as it is now put forth by the Government as their reason for going to war. But I have never seen one particle of evidence of this intention--often called "a great conspiracy"--while their preparations are said to have made them "a great military power." There is, on the contrary, direct and good evidence that no great preparations, even for defence, were made before Jameson's raid. Just before that incident the Chartered Company sent a British officer--Colonel the Hon. R. White--to Pretoria to find out the exact state of the defences of that city, and his report is published in the Blue Book on the raid. He says he saw only a few old guns and mortars of different dates, a cavalry troop with 250 horses in miserable condition, three Maxims and three batteries of three and six pounders. He also writes: "The system of conscription consists in the commandants sending two men from their districts to be trained every two years." This statement is made in a letter to the Daily Chronicle of last Thursday (November 9), signed "Alfred Marks," and I presume the facts thus precisely stated may be taken to be "facts." It was this report that led the organisers of the raid to believe that Jameson's 500 troopers, with help from Johannesburg, could easily capture Pretoria, and thenceforth, with the help of our Government, keep hold of the whole country.

    Neither do I like Mont Blong's accusation, that "for years the Boers have been smuggling arms into their country." I thought the Clarion men were, at all events, literary--that they used words in their right meanings. Now, smuggling implies illegality and secrecy. The Johannesburg Committee did smuggle arms. The Boer Government did not (and could not). For them to import arms was certainly not illegal, and it certainly could not be, and, as a fact, was not, secret.

    Again, in the 6th column, front page, of the latest Clarion, I find a par. beginning: "Is it not true that the Boers treated the British residents in the Transvaal as an inferior race?" followed by four other questions implying other supposed iniquities; and the par. ends: "What are all these facts but overwhelming proofs of Boer arrogance?" Well, I have read through the Blue Book--"Complaints of British Residents in the South African Republic"--and neither there, nor elsewhere, have I been able to find any evidence of real grievances. The alleged "facts" are either exaggerations of incidents that are liable to occur to any residents in a country where the laws and customs are different from his own, or even when true are not important grievances when fair consideration is given to the altogether unprecedented state of society in Johannesburg, where a good deal of the worst dregs of the great cities and mining camps of the world are gathered together. Thousands of men have lived in Johannesburg for years without finding out that they were oppressed. As an example, there is the Johannesburg engineer, now at Leeds, who was interviewed for the Leeds Mercury, and declared, when asked about his grievances: "I didn't know I had any really serious grievances till I started taking the newspapers. The Star told me I had some, and the Leader told me the same so often that I came to the conclusion I must have a lot which I hadn't noticed"; and to the detailed questions as to many of the statements you have made, as above quoted, he gave practical denials to all. Mr. Thomas Ratcliffe, a miner, of Preston, also just returned, says practically the same thing; and as regards the Outlanders' petition to the Queen, he says: "To my own knowledge the names of men were signed who had been dead two or three years," adding that miners who did not sign were not given work, and he concludes: "Taking the whole thing, it is a most rotten and corrupt enterprise we have entered into war about--a dishonour to our nation and a dishonour to the British flag. That is the opinion of the working class in the Transvaal."1 Of course, these men may be wrong or may be liars, but that seems very unlikely. I have read scores of similar statements by men of all classes, who have lived in the Transvaal as Outlanders, and declare that they were as well off as anywhere in the world, and were well treated by the Boers of all classes, as were all decent and well-behaved people.

    I do not say that these witnesses, who are certainly not bribed to tell lies on the unpopular side, are always right, but I do say that the very fact of there being such a body of evidence on the other side should make us hesitate to accept as indisputable "facts" any accusations against the Boers, unless supported by reference to some individual cases of hardship and oppression quite beyond what is liable to occur to every person living in a foreign country. The Blue Book can adduce only two or three such cases, and these are simply ridiculous as the foundation for a general accusation against the Transvaal Government. I venture to hope, therefore, that the Clarion will not again quote these very disputable statements as if they were demonstrated facts.


Note Appearing in the Original Work

1. For these quotations see Daily Chronicle, November 9th.


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