It was all about Coal!

We are used to True Believers pretending that the Boer War – you know, the one that started when Kruger’s Boers invaded British territory – was all due to Britain wanting to ‘steal our gold’ – you know, the gold mines that were already owned by (mainly) British private investors.

Perhaps realising that this ridiculous claim has run its course, I recently read an even more ridiculous one. Apparently British ‘aggression’[1] was not just about gold… now they are pretending it was also about coal:

True to form for such types, Mr Heunis shamelessly lies when he pretends that ‘the single battery of cannon and 2600 rifles’ form the “entire ‘proof of aggression’ case” against Kruger’s Boers. In his desperation to keep the self-serving myths alive, he conveniently forgets the dozens of other pieces of evidence which overwhelmingly prove the case of Boer aggression, things like the fact that Kruger had been pushing the Orange Free State to join him in an offensive alliance against the British since 1887, the tripling of the Transvaal’s Secret Service budget between 1892 and 1895[2], the Transvaal’s huge increases in military spending in the early 1890s[3] (including the purchase of 13,000 Martini-Henrys in 1894[4]), that Kruger’s agents had been rabble-rousing and gun-running in British territory for many years[5], the botched false-flag op which was the Bogus Conspiracy[6], and – how about this tiny little scrap of evidence that Mr Heunis seems to be blissfully unaware of – that it was the Boers who declared war, invaded Natal and the Cape Colony, and annexed thousands of square miles of British territory.

Some rather conclusive ‘proof of aggression’ right there, I would suggest – but only if one is prepared to remove one’s blinkers.

The purchase of the artillery pieces and rifles in question was merely mentioned by someone as evidence that the Transvaal had started increasing their expenditure on modern armaments prior to the Jameson Raid – a fact that True Believers find awkward and inconvenient, and which they therefore always desperately try to deny. Faced with this reality, and with his preferred fairy tales under challenge, Mr Heunis simply made up something else, went off on a tangent, and indulged in an entertainingly hyperbolic rant.

However amusing that might have been, what really made me laugh was his little list of places that nasty old Britain had apparently ‘invaded’ to snatch minerals, and especially his lunatic claim that Natal was ‘invaded’ because the horrid British bullies were desperate to steal the coal there. Needless to say, this is complete and utter rubbish, and yet another thing he just decided to make-up. It is noticeable that Defenders of the Myth are increasingly forced to do this, as more and more people see through their much-loved National Party propaganda.

In reality, the first white settlers in what became Natal[7] were English, not Boers. They arrived there in 1823, establishing a small trading post at Port Natal[8], a settlement which slowly grew into the city now called Durban. The area abounded with elephant and was almost uninhabited, though the Zulus claimed ownership of it. In 1824, and in return for providing medical attention to the famous / infamous Shaka Zulu after an assassination attempt, the king “granted, made over and sold unto F.G. Farewell and Company the entire and full possession in perpetuity to themselves, heirs, and executors, of the port or harbour of Natal, together with the islands there, and surrounding country”. The ‘surrounding country’ was confirmed in the document as ‘running about a hundred miles inland, and embracing the coast ten miles to the south-west and about twenty-five miles to the north of the harbour’.[9]

Accordingly, on 27 August 1824, the settlers hoisted the Union Jack, fired a Royal salute, and declared they had taken possession of the territory in the name of Great Britain.[10]

In 1835, the settlers renamed Port Natal to ‘Durban’, in honour of the Governor General of the Cape Colony, Sir Benjamin D’Urban[11]. They also submitted a petition to the man himself, requesting that he would assist them in their ambition of having the territory formally declared a British colony[12]. Despite the modern-day myths that London was desperately keen to grab land / minerals, in reality HM Government was always loathe to be saddled with extra responsibility and cost, and the petition was rejected: ‘His Majesty’s government was deeply persuaded of the inexpediency of engaging in any scheme of colonization or of acquiring any further enlargement of territory in South Africa’.[13] Thus the English settlers were left in something of a legal limbo.

It was not until 14 years after the establishment of the unofficial British toehold, that Voortrekkers under Piet Retief arrived in the region. Retief met with Dingane[14] – who had become the paramount Zulu chief after he’d helped murder Shaka[15] – in 1838, and it is alleged that he granted the newcomers ‘the place called Port Natal, together with all the land from the Tugela to the Umzimvubu river, and from the sea to the north’.[16] Obviously, if true, this contradicted the earlier agreement between the British settlers and Shaka Zulu. Either way, it soon became clear that Dingane had never intended to honour any such deal, as the moment had made the alleged agreement, he had Retief and his retinue murdered.[17]

After the massacre of Piet Retief’s group, other groups of Vootrekkers, in alliance with the English settlers at Port Natal / Durban, attacked the Zulus in retaliation. After several reverses, and with the power of the Zulus still not broken, the Voortrekkers issued a proclamation, claiming possession of Durban. This was not recognised by the Colonial authorities in the Cape, however, with Major-General Napier[18] pointing out that both the English settlers and the Voortrekkers were Her Majesty’s subjects[19], and the creation of a ‘pretended independent state by any of her Majesty’s subjects, which the emigrant farmers continued to be’ would not be tolerated.[20] Napier backed these words with actions, dispatching a company of Highlanders to occupy Durban, the troops arriving on 4 December 1838.

The fighting against the Zulus raged until the Boers won a famous victory at the Battle of Blood River on 16 December 1838. The British then negotiated peace between the Voortrekkers and Dingane[21], and, with the situation seemingly calmer, Napier withdrew the British troops from Durban.[22] Shortly after the Highlanders were withdrawn however, and not content with their self-declared republic, the ever-expansionist Boers soon entered into a new dynastic power-struggle among the Zulus. The Boers sided with a renegade chief called Mpande[23], and Commandant-General Pretorius led a 400-strong Commando, in support of some five or six thousand of Mpande’s warriors, in an invasion of Zululand. Dingane’s men were defeated, Pretorius installed Mpande as the chief of the Zulus and the Boers seized some 40,000 cattle as booty.

It is well known that True Believers tend to ignore any and all inconvenient facts, and so it is perhaps not surprising that they often attempt to equate the short-lived / unrecognised Boer republic of Natalia, with the later Colony of Natal. In truth, however, the republic of Natalia was not only established on distinctly shaky grounds – and in direct contradiction to the land granted to the British settlers by Shaka – but, unlike the later Colony of Natal, its northern border was formed by the Tugela River.

Not only that, but the self-declared / completely unrecognised ‘republic’ existed in a state of near-total anarchy:

‘Decisions of one day were frequently reversed the next, and every one held himself free to disobey any law that he did not approve of. The most violent language was used in discussing even ordinary matters. The landdrosts frequently found themselves without power to enforce their decisions, or even to compel the attendance before their courts of persons summoned for debt or accused of crime. Public opinion of the hour in each section of the community was the only force in the land. In the volksraad and in the public service, exclusive of Mr Lindley, there were only two individuals sufficiently educated to be able to write English correctly, and not more than five or six who were acquainted with the rudiments of Dutch grammar’.[24]

It should also be remembered that the anarchic ‘republic’ was never recognised by the British (or, indeed, by pretty much anyone else), and London was consistent in regarding the Voortrekkers as subjects of the Crown – which they most certainly were. Nevertheless, the Colonial authorities were still prepared to offer the Boers a civil government of their own (essentially: ‘self-rule’), though on the condition that they (heaven forbid!) eschewed slavery, and accepted a British garrison to defend against encroachment by one of the European powers. This came to nothing, however, when the Natal Boers got involved in another tribal squabble on the southern side of their territory, seizing 3000 head of cattle and 17 children as ‘apprentices’.[25]

This prompted a local chief, Faku of the Pondo, to request protection from the British.[26] Though the last thing London ever wanted was more expense and responsibility, the lawlessness and aggression of the Boer settlers in Natal was becoming troublesome, and there was a fear that they would create problems by driving more and more tribes southwards, towards British territory. British troops were thus moved to protect the tribes to the south of the ‘republic’.[27]

It was also decided to re-garrison Durban, and this was done on 4 May 1842 with the arrival of some 260 troops, and support elements. As the redcoats dug-in, Pretorius mobilised his forces, informing the burghers that they were in alliance with the Netherlands.[28] A claim which was, of course, nonsense. Pretorius laid siege to Durban, but was foiled when an English trader called Dick King broke through and raised the alarm by completing his epic ride to Grahamstown.[29] A relieving force duly arrived and the ‘war’ ended. Britain retained control of Durban, while up in Pietermaritzburg, the volksraad exerted an increasingly chaotic and feeble ‘control’ over their anarchic self-declared ‘republic’.

This farcical situation continued until June 1843, when – due to concerns over nefarious French activities in the region, and increasing concerns about the treatment of blacks by the Boers – it was finally decided to formally establish Colonial rule in Natal (as a dependency of Cape Colony). As Brookes and Webb write in their A History of Natal, Napier’s over-riding interest in Natal was humanitarian, and with an eye on the bigger picture in the region: ‘In despatch after despatch between 1838 and 1842 he urged British intervention in Natal to save the native tribes from oppression and to prevent a recrudescence of slavery… Moreover, only in this way [ie. annexation] could the danger be averted of the emigrants pressing down from Natal up on the tribes dammed up against the Cape eastern frontier’.

A special commissioner, Sir Henry Cloete[30], was sent to negotiate the arrangements with the settlers, but with instructions that ‘there should not be, in the eye of the law, any distinction or disqualification whatever, founded on mere difference of colour, origin, language or creed’.[31] Perhaps needless to say, this, together with other stipulations which ruled out any encroachment on native lands, and the banning of slavery, was not well received by the bulk of the Boers in Natal. Though the Volksraad accepted the terms, huge numbers of Boers trekked out of what became the Colony of Natal. The notion of a black man being an equal in the eyes of the law was clearly an absolute anathema to these delightful fellows.

Britain had no commercial interest in the region whatsoever, and had been forced into acting very much against their will. Even Napier, who was the most outspoken advocate of annexation, knew it would be a costly exercise, with little commercial or strategic gain, and wrote:
‘I have always had before me the dangers of the anchorage and the difficulty of entering the harbour; neither have I been sanguine as to the profit likely to be derived from colonising Natal. I have never for a moment viewed it as a lucrative possession, nor have I been unmindful of the expense of its settlement as a colony’.[32]

The sharp-eyed reader will have noticed by now that the ‘wicked’ British did not ‘invade’ Natal at all. The first settlers were English, and the Boers who arrived later were also Subjects of the Queen, so whether they liked it or not, their attempt to set up their own polity was an act of secession. The borders of the ‘republic’ they sought to establish overlapped those of the land which had been ceded to the British settlers more than a decade earlier, and at no time was their ’republic’ recognised.

It is also interesting to note that, after the negotiations, Sir Henry Cloete met with Mpande and the two agreed that the border between the Colony of Natal and Zululand should be the Buffalo River, not the Tugela as had previously been the case. This territory, a triangle of land bounded by the Drakensbergs on the west, and the Buffalo River on the east, was known as Klip River County, and ‘gave to Natal a large and valuable tract of country’.

In 1847 – ie. four years after Klip River County had been ceded to the British Colony of Natal by the Zulus – a group of Boer malcontents bought some land in the area from Mpande and decided to set up what they rather grandly called the ‘Klip River republic’. The penchant of the Boers for establishing tiny, and completely unviable, republics everywhere is remarkable, though the Klip River republic was especially ridiculous, given that its leaders attempted to set it up in what was already British territory – and thus Mpande had no right to sell it to them.[33]

The somewhat comical attempt at secession by this ludicrous breakaway micro-republic was termed ‘The Klip River insurrection’, and ended very quickly. After a visit from a British official, Mpande reneged on the deal, and not even a visit from Pretorius could get him to change his mind. The Colonial authorities sent a small military force to garrison the area, though treated the would-be rebels with great leniency, pardoning all those who took an oath of allegiance within 14 days.[34] Most didn’t and left Natal altogether.

One might be wondering why, after all this talk about Natal, there has not yet been any mention of the coal that Mr Heunis pretends was the reason why Britain ‘invaded’ the region (even though they didn’t). The reason for this apparent omission is that, despite the wild claims of Mr Heunis, the small surface coal deposits which had been observed in Natal’s Klip River County (which, let us remember, had never been part of the republic of Natalia), had been dismissed as early as 1842. The notion of Natal being a coaling station for the Royal Navy had been discounted because of the difficulties and high costs of transport between the potential (and still unproven) coal fields, and the coast.[35] Indeed, the first coal mine only opened in 1864[36], after a Scottish settler found workable quantities of coal on his farm, ‘Dundee’[37]. This was more than 20 years after Britain formally established the Colony of Natal, and more than 40 years after British settlers first arrived in what became Durban.

Even then, this was very small beer, and the full potential of the Dundee coalfields could still only be guessed at. As had been identified back in 1842, the rudimentary infrastructure of the region made it impossible to transport any commodity in bulk except during the dry winter months. It was not until September 1881, when Frederick W. North, the British geological expert who had been appointed to investigate Natal’s coal resources, confirmed that Klip River County was endowed with a viable coalfield, and it was only in 1889 that the Dundee Coal Company was formally established.[38]

Nevertheless, Mr Heunis expects us to believe that Britain, the biggest producer of coal in the world at the time[39], and the nation which had repeatedly rejected the requests by English settlers and Major-General Napier to establish a formal colony in Natal, actually ‘invaded’ the territory, desperate to seize coal mines which were only sunk decades later, and which were sunk, indeed, in land which had never been part of the Boer ‘republic’. And just to put the ‘importance’ of these mines into perspective, one should bear in mind that, in 1889, the Natal coal mines produced just 25,609 tonnes of coal[40], compared to the 175,000,000 tonnes produced in Great Britain that year[41].

This is the sort of sheer insanity which is spewed out by the increasingly desperate Defenders of the Myth.

In stark comparison, the authors of the definitive history of Natal state that evidence to support the wild claims that the annexation of the republic of Natalia was an example of ‘brash commercial imperialism’ is ‘practically non-existent’.[42] But one should always remember: in the bizarre universe / parallel dimension which True Believers inhabit, historical reality simply doesn’t matter: all they are interested in is clinging to the comfort-blanket provided by baseless myths of victimhood.


[1] To these people, the word ‘aggression’ means: ‘being attacked and invaded by the Boers’ – not, perhaps, a definition one will find in many dictionaries

[2] Heyer, A Brief History of the Transvaal Secret Service System, p. 14

[3] Fitzpatrick, The Transvaal from Within, p. viii

[4] Ibid, p. ix

[5] Heyer, p. 16

[6] Amery, Times History of the War in South Africa, Vol. 1, p. 302

[7] The name ‘Natal’ was bestowed on the area by Portuguese explorers, though the extent of the territory was not defined, and they had not settled there

[8] Theal, History of South Africa since 1795, Vol. 2, p. 321

[9] Ibid, p.327

[10] Brookes and Webb, A History of Natal, p. 19

[11] Lieutenant General Sir Benjamin D’Urban GCB KCH FRS (1777 – 1849). A decorated veteran of the Peninsular War, D’Urban served as Governor the Cape Colony from 1834 – 1838

[12] Theal, History of South Africa since 1795, Vol. 2, p. 344

[13] Ibid, p. 347

[14] Sometimes spelled Dingan, or Dingaan

[15] O’Connor, A Short Guide to the History of South Africa 1652-1902, p. 132

[16] Theal, History of South Africa since 1795, Vol. 2, p. 359

[17] Retief arrived for his meeting with Dingane with 67 white men, and 30 Hottentot servants. After being tricked into leaving their weapons outside at a celebration, they were suddenly set upon by the Zulus, dragged off to the hill of slaughter and clubbed to death, Retief last

[18] Lieutenant General Sir George Thomas Napier KCB (17841855). Napier was a long-serving British officer, who had lost an arm in the Napoleonic Wars. He replaced Sir Benjamin D’Urban as Governor of the Cape Colony, and served in that role from 1838 – 1844.

[19] Queen Victoria had become Queen in June 1837

[20] Theal, History of South Africa since 1795, Vol. 2, p. 377

[21] Brookes and Webb, p. 35

[22] Walker, A History of Southern Africa, p. 210

[23] Sometimes referred to as ‘Panda’

[24] Theal, History of South Africa since 1795, Vol. 2, p. 401

[25] Walker, p. 215

[26] Theal, History of South Africa since 1795, Vol. 2, p. 411

[27] The force initially comprised two companies of the 27th Regiment, 50 men of the Cape Mounted Rifles, and supporting elements.

[28] Walker, p. 216

[29] Richard Philip King (1811–1871) was born in Gloucestershire, and arrived in South Africa as part of the 1820 Settlers. Slipping through the Boer lines, King covered the 600 miles to Grahamstown in 10 days, crossing 120 rivers en route

[30] Sir Henry Cloete (1792 – 1870). Interestingly, Sir Henry’s younger brother, Colonel Abraham Josias Cloete, had commanded the relief force sent to raise the siege of Durban

[31] Theal, History of South Africa since 1795, Vol. 2, p. 444

[32] Brookes and Webb, p. 45

[33] The sum was apparently 1,000 Rixdollars, which was never paid

[34] Brookes and Webb, p. 63

[35] Ibid, p. 45

[36] Ibid, p. 162

[37] Which is now the name of the town that sprung up as a result – Dundee was thoroughly looted and then renamed ‘Meyersdorp’ by the invading Boers in 1899… despite their invasion being ‘defensive’, apparently

[38] Natal Society Foundation journal, Natalia v.18 (1988), p. 41

[39] In 1860, Britain produced 75 million tonnes of coal – significantly more than the USA and Germany (DECC figures). The USA only overtook British production in around 1900

[40] Natal Society Foundation journal, Natalia v.18 (1988), p. 44

[41] DECC online data

[42] Brookes and Webb, p. 45


  • James Grant Posted October 18, 2022 12:53 pm

    Bloody hell, what a pathetic fucking idiot this bloke is. Next he’ll be pretending the Brits attacked South Africa to steal the oil off Mossel Bay.

    • Bulldog Posted October 18, 2022 4:26 pm

      Nothing would surprise me; such extremists never let historical reality interfere with their fanatical defence of the much-cherished myths.

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