Tourism, Accommodation and Historical Attractions in Natal, South Africa

The Natal Battlefields

The First Boer War - Defeat at Laingsnek

British garrisons are besieged and the British army suffers embarrassing defeats.

The First Boer War (1881) - The Crisis Deepens

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Sir George Colley is despatched.

British garrisons at Potchefstroom, Pretoria, Leydenburg and Standerton were besieged for the duration of the war and in the first action at Bronkhorstspruit near Pretoria in December 1880 the British lost 56 men to the Boers' 2, the British having failed to adjust their rifle sights from 500 yards.

At Laing's Nek near Newcastle a month later the British lost 83 dead against the Boers' 14 and when a supply column was encircled at nearby Schuinshoogte on February 8th 1881, the British lost 76 dead against the Boers' 8 killed. It was said that the Boers, in order to spare the British lives, would fire only at their right arms. The Boers, on this occasion killed all the British gunners by firing from the saddle.

A thunderstorm finally ended the engagement. It was clear at this early stage that the British forces were no match whatsoever for the Boers. The redcoats expected to wage war according to established tactics and observing proper etiquette.

Enter Sir George Pomeroy Colley

The British commander was Sandhurst educated General Sir George Pomeroy Colley , the Governor of Natal and Commander of all British forces in South Africa. The scholarly Colley was regarded as one of Britain's most brilliant soldiers , having fought other engagements. He was also an artist and accomplished flautist.

Despite ongoing negotiations to resolve the impasse, and perhaps as a result of his previous two defeats, Colley decided to engage the Boers and invade the Transvaal to relieve the besieged British garrisons. To do so, his forces had to occupy the 6,000ft mountain of amaJuba (Mountain of the doves) on the border between Natal and the South African Republic in order to get above the Boers camped below.

Colley's opposite number was Petrus Joubert , Commandant General of the South African Republic and a member of the team (with Paul Kruger) who negotiated with the British to avoid the war. He was a peaceful, generous man known as 'Slim Piet' ('cunning Piet') and was reluctant to serve but once called, did his absolute best. Born in 1831, he died of illness in 1900.

Next: The British Routed at Majuba

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