Boer or Brit

The Liddell farm, Bluegumbush, with Qwa Qwa; Granny Sarah Liddell flanked by her much younger parents, James Greaves Liddell and Sarah Eleanor Clark; Harrismith Concentration Camp.

I was shocked when I discovered that my grandmother, Sarah Liddell, her parents, James Liddell and Sarah Clark, and seven of her siblings had been interned in the Harrismith Refugee Camp (Concentration Camp) during the Anglo Boer War (1899 – 1902), and that two of her sisters had died there. This was a shock because nothing had been said about this to me or my brother by either my father or my grandmother. The family was always presented as supporters of the British – Brits. Why then were they in the camp? Were they actually Boers or Boer sympathisers? What had happened to them? Why had no one said anything?

The answer to these questions is, surprisingly, quite simple, but reaching the answer was not. There is a lot of historic and family context as to why people made decisions and ended up in specific places at specific times. I started with little information about my family and would not have been able to answer the questions without the generous help of a number of people whom I have met along the way. All are members of the extended family who were unknown to me prior to this research:

  • Liz Finnie who is a descendant of my great-grandmother’s sister, Edith Clark, and her husband, Corry Cronje.
  • Jeff Leader who is a descendant of my great-grandfather’s brother, Jabez Liddell, and his wife, Martha Louisa Roux.
  • Lesley Angel who is a descendant of my great-grandfather’s sister, Emma Liddell, and her husband, Alexander Walker.
  • Leon Strachan who is a descendant of my great-grandfather’s brother, Robert Jesse Liddell, and his wife, Anna Margrieta Cadle. Leon lives in Harrismith and is a local historian who has published a number of books on the area and the war. Information on him and his books can be found here.

As with other aspects of the family history, this story is not just about one person or one family. The events of the war affected the wider Liddell family, the families with whom they were intermarried and also the neighbouring families with whom they interacted. I have set out to provide this wider perspective as well as the historic context for those who may not have a South African background. I have also provided the background to a number of the pivotal events of the war that impacted directly on a number of individuals. And also quite a bit of detail about the Harrismith Concentration Camp.

Die Vryheidsoorlog

The War for Freedom: Background to the Anglo Boer War especially for those with little or no background in South Africa.

The people and the places

Overview of the inter-related families, who the people were, how they were related, where they were living at the time of the war and how they came to be there.

The war and concentration camps

The main milestone events of the war and how and why concentration camps were part of the military strategy.

Harrismith and its concentration camp

Short description of the establishment of the town with a detailed description of the establishment, operation and closing of the concentration camp.

Military actions involving the families

Descriptions of the two campaigns of the war that directly impacted on the families and their farms and help explain why they were in the camps.
Brandwater Basin Campaign June – July 1900
Sweep of Brandwater Basin May – June 1901

The impact on the families

What happened to each of the interlinked families.


Why nothing was said.


Transcript of Committee of Ladies’s report on the Harrismith camp.


Footnotes and list of references.

The article has a number of references. References are presented in the format (Name Date, Page). Endnotes are presented as 1  and are used to present extra information and explanations. Clicking on a reference or endnote will open a separate window that will show the reference with links to the underlying documents where available. Clicking the  button will close the window and take you back to the article. Some browsers might block this, in which case, simply close the window yourself. Some text is ‘hot linked’. These links will take you directly to reference material available on the web. For instance, many place names are hot linked and will take you to a map showing that location. Most pictures will expand in a separate window if you click on them. Please read our Copyright notices.

©Alun Stevens 2020

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