Timeline and Context

I have learned over the years that, in the fevered, fanatical, Brandy-addled mind of a typical True Believer™, the timeline of the Boer War is essentially this:

Discovery of gold in the Transvaal (bizarrely, they will often say ‘diamonds’ here too)
The Jameson Raid
Bloemfontein talks breakdown
Britain mobilises her forces
Britain invades the Transvaal (sometimes, amusingly, they say ‘South Africa’ at this point)

You will notice that, despite this being a ‘time line’, True Believers do not often include any actual dates as they prefer to be as ill-read on the subject as possible, and, besides, the less information they provide, the less awkward questions they will face.

Now, obviously all those things happened, and in that order, but what the True Believers are desperately keen to ignore are all the other things which were also happening. Indeed, one could similarly draw up a timeline of WW2 that goes something like this:

Britain starts re-arming
Britain and France declare war on Germany
British Empire troops invade Ethiopia and Libya
British and American troops invade Italy
British, Canadian, American and Russian troops invade Germany

As a timeline of the Second World War it is, of course, totally meaningless in terms of understanding the war – but no less so than the one the True Believers adopt for the Boer War. Indeed, like everything else they come up with about the Boer War, their preferred timeline has nothing to do with actually understanding the conflict, and everything to do with preserving their bizarre fantasies about being the poor, defenceless, innocent victims of the nasty old British bully.

Obviously, no timeline can ever be absolutely exhaustive in every detail, but to those who do actually want to understand the Boer War, and why it happened, I would offer the following as a starting point:

Boer rebels achieve victory in the First Boer War, and resume running the Transvaal

In direct contravention of what had been discussed between the two governments at the end of the war, the new rulers of the Transvaal increase the qualification period for the franchise from 1 year, to 5 years.

Kruger elected as President of the Transvaal
Transvaal Boers annex parts of Bechuanaland (Stellaland and Goshen)
Senior figure in Kruger’s government boasts to a European audience that ‘The South African Flag shall yet wave from Table Bay to the Zambezi, be that end accomplished by blood or by ink. If blood it is to be, we shall not lack men to spill it.’
Boers annex a large chunk of Zululand, and call the newly acquired lands ‘The New Republic’

British intervene to prevent further Boer annexations of Bechuanaland and, after much pleading from local chiefs and kings, declare a Protectorate over the area

Boers annex a piece of Swaziland, and call the new acquired land ‘The Little Free State’
Witwatersrand Gold Rush begins – influx of Uitlanders to Johannesburg. Kruger will respond by continual changes to the voting rules over the following years, doing everything in his power to deny English-speakers the vote

Secret talks held between Transvaal and OFS, with a view to persuading the OFS to join in an offensive alliance against Great Britain. The leaders of the OFS reject this insanity out of hand
The New Republic is incorporated into the ever-expanding Transvaal

The Little Free State is incorporated into the ever-expanding Transvaal

Attempted Boer invasion of Rhodesia thwarted at the border by Dr Jameson and the BSAP

The Transvaal completes the virtual takeover of Swaziland, turning it into essentially a colony of the republic

Transvaal Secret Service Agents smuggling arms into Matabeleland and encouraging rebellion
‘Drifts Crisis’ ratchets up tensions in the region, as Kruger tries to force rail traffic onto his over-priced, monopoly rail network, prompting talk of war

The rather farcical Jameson Raid ends in failure, leaving the Uitlanders even worse off than they had been

Lord Milner arrives in Cape Town in May, to take up the twin roles of High Commissioner of Southern Africa and governor of the Cape Colony

Kruger’s forces invade and subjugate Venda land
Transvaal Secret Service agents continue gun-running and rabble-rousing in the British territories of Bechuanaland and Basutoland throughout the late 1890s
In March, German Staff Officers assist General Joubert to draw up plans for the invasion of British territory

After their peaceful protests and petitions are ignored by Kruger, the Johannesburg Uitlanders finally appeal to London for help
Transvaal Secret Service hatch their botched ‘Bogus Conspiracy’ false flag operation. It was an attempt to swing opinion behind their attack on the British Empire
Talks held at Bloemfontein between Kruger and Milner end in stalemate, with Kruger refusing to grant a fair franchise to the Uitlanders
Transvaal starts to mass forces on the border of Natal
In response, HM Government – under pressure from the Government of Natal – starts shipping reinforcements to South Africa. Even after their arrival, the Boers still enjoyed a 2.5 – 1 superiority in numbers
Transvaal mobilises (27 September)
Transvaal military takes control of the nation’s railways (29 September)
Orange Free State mobilises (3 October)
A Royal Proclamation is issued to call up the British army reserves, and orders are issued to mobilise the Army Corps, a Cavalry Division, and eight battalions for lines of communication duty, to South Africa (all on 7 October)
Boer republics declare war and invade Natal and the Cape Colony (11 October)
First elements of the British Army Corps (under General Buller) leave from Southampton (14 October)

Of course, far more happened in that period than any simple timeline can relate, but I think this will give the open-minded reader a little more background as to what was happening during that turbulent period, and also show that Kruger had been agitating for an attack on the British for many years.

Once you know that, for example, the British army started mobilising the reserves after both republics mobilised (indeed, a month after Kruger had dispatched men to the border of Natal), the True Believer’s excuses of a ‘pre-emptive’ strike are shown up as the hot air that they are.

Similarly, the increasingly shrill attempts to blame Lord Milner for absolutely everything are proved to be nonsense, when one learns Kruger was pushing the OFS to join his Transvaal in an offensive alliance a decade prior to Milner even arriving on the scene. Not that anyone would learn this inconvenient fact from reading Pakenham’s rubbish: frantic to maintain his preferred fiction, he disingenuously (and shamelessly) leaves the 1887 secret conferences out of his book entirely.
For more information, Chapters 1 – 4 of ‘Kruger’s War’ cover the run-up to the Boer War in enormous detail.

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