Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

The raid on Johannesburg in the then Transvaal was named after the swashbuckling British doctor Leander Starr Jameson. It began with great bravado on December 29 1895, but ended four days later with a whimper when a weeping Jameson was led by his Boer captors to a cart to convey him to jail in Pretoria.

The event is the subject of the book The Jameson Raid: a Centennial Retrospective, edited by Jane Carruthers, which was sold for R2,800 at the Stephan Welz auction recently.

Some historians have seen the raid as comic opera, but it had important repercussions.

Thomas Pakenham describes what happened in his book The Boer War. He mentions that Gen Jan Smuts regarded the raid as "the real declaration of war in the great Anglo-Boer conflict".

Jameson’s plan was to ride to Johannesburg, where the uitlanders (British capitalists) would meet him and his raiders to stoke a rebellion to overthrow President Paul Kruger’s government.

But the uitlanders were not prepared for a rebellion. In fact, they were said to be "in a funk" and not ready to support Jameson. The last message Jameson received at his secret camp at Pitsani in Bechuanaland (Botswana) from the uitlanders was that he was not to move, Pakenham writes.

A special messenger to Jameson, a Major Heany, warned the uitlanders that "as sure as fate" Jameson would still come.

Pakenham describes how, after Jameson received the message from the uitlanders, he paced up and down outside his bell-tent. His mind was made up. "He was going in, despite everything, damn them. He’d ‘lick the burghers all round the Transvaal’." He would shake up "the fellows in Johannesburg".

Jameson had mustered a force of about 600 men, including 400 members of the Rhodesian Mounted Police. Armaments included "six Maxim machine guns, two seven-pounder mountain guns and a 12.5-pounder field piece". There was "a cask of Cape brandy for the men and crates of champagne for the officers".

Jameson, elsewhere described as "a small, slight figure with a pale face, nervous brown eyes and a boyish grin", then assembled the troopers. They were told that they were going into the Transvaal to help the uitlanders. He read from a piece of paper, supposedly a letter from them inviting his assistance.

A group of troopers knocked down the telegraph poles and cut the telegraph wires.

Jameson called for three cheers for the Queen, before his contingent moved out of Pitsani, and "across the border and into the Transvaal rode the 600", in Pakenham’s words.

Four days later, on January 2, the raiders reached a small farm near the Doornkop kopje on the West Rand. "They had travelled 170 miles into the Transvaal with hardly a halt for sleep." The men and the horses were exhausted and in no condition to launch an attack. Johannesburg was only a few hours away, but as Pakenham says, "their goal might ... have been the moon for all their chances of getting there".

The raiders then realised that they would not receive help from Johannesburg. Not a single armed uitlander had come out to join them.

Unbeknown to them, the Boers had been aware of their presence from the outset, and the telegraph line had been cut too late. Also, it is said the troopers were drunk and had cut the farm fence instead.

The Boers followed the raiders, but remained out of sight and the only signs of their presence were the puffs of smoke from their rifles as they shot at the raiders.

On the last night the raiders were huddled together behind the ammunition carts. The confrontation early the next morning was brief. According to Pakenham the British lost 16 men and the Boers one. The raiders hastily raised a white flag made from the apron of the domestic servant at the farm.

Many of the Boers who had come straight from New Year festivities were still dressed in their Sunday suits. The wounded were assisted, the raiders disarmed and the baggage seized, and it was all over.

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