The impact on the families

Postcard of Harrismith Concentration Camp; Liddell Camp Memorial; Mrs Davie (Martha Maria Liddell); Bessie Walker and Charles Davie; Walker Camp Memorial; Burt’s Island POW Camp; Smith Camp Memorial.

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Military actions involving the families ◄ ● ► Conclusion

The major military campaigns across the eastern Free State are the big picture backdrop for the much more personal experiences of the families. The impacts on the families are outlined in claims for compensation they made after the war to the Central Judicial Commission that had been set up for this purpose under the terms of surrender. There are some common themes, but each family experienced its own challenges and heartbreaks.

The Harrismith Liddells

Robert Jesse Liddell and his family, because they lived in Harrismith, were at the centre of many of the events befalling everyone. It is undoubtable that the related families living in the concentration camp visited them and called on them for help and support. Records, in fact, show that they did help especially with the sick.

At the time of the war, Robert Jesse was the Town Clerk of Harrismith. He lived on the large property in Bester Street that is now occupied by the Eliza Liddell Retirement Home (which is named after his daughter). This was only a short distance from the concentration camp in its second location. He was also a horse breeder in conjunction with his three eldest sons as partners in the business Liddell & Sons. Their business dealings and the impact of the war on the business and their personal lives is detailed in compensation claims made to the Central Judicial Commission after the war. Claims were organised by category: British Subjects, Burghers, and Protected Burghers. Liddell & Sons, represented by George Cadle claimed as British Subjects. 21   Joseph Bruwer submitted a separate claim on his own behalf as an Ex-Burgher. 22  

Liddell & Sons rented a farm on the Harrismith Townlands just south of Platberg. Here they operated a stud with hundreds of horses and mules. They also maintained crop land for fodder and an orchard, and had built a number of significant sheds and kraals. They had a lucrative business selling horses via an agent, Mr. Piccione, of Port Natal, to the farmers of the Western Cape. Prior to the war Robert was approached by the Free State government who wanted to purchase his marketable stock in order to provide horses to Commando members who could not afford their own. He refused to sell because of his contractual obligations in the Cape. The government approached him again once war was declared and he again refused to sell for the same reason and because he felt the conflict would be short lived. (Leon Strachan Pvt. Comm)

As Burghers, the men in the family were caught up in the Free State government’s call-up to Commando duty. The three eldest sons, Joseph Bruwer, George Cadle and John Henry were commandeered on 2 October 1899 to proceed on horseback to the Natal border, armed and with eight days rations. They did not do this. Instead they crossed into Natal and went to Ladysmith and then Pietermaritzburg. Joseph Bruwer’s wife joined them a few days later. They remained in Natal until after the British occupation of Harrismith. Joseph Bruwer and his wife returned on 27 August 1900 and the other two returned on 22 August 1900. Joseph Bruwer was one of the people fined £500 or 5 years while John Henry was fined £300 or 3 years. It is not clear what happened to George Cadle, but one must assume that he too was fined. Robert and his son-in-law, Charles Davie, however, presented themselves for commando duty alongside the majority of English-speaking citizens. It is unclear what part they played, possibly town guards, but after the fall of Bloemfontein in March 1900, and prompted by wholesale Boer surrenders, they left their posts – deserted, if you like. (Leon Strachan Pvt. Comm)

The arrival of the British in August 1900 was undoubtedly heartening to the English-speaking community of Harrismith, but it had a downside for Robert and his family. On 17 December 1900, the British cancelled all passes to access the Townlands – essentially taking over the land. This included the Liddell farm. There was confusion with the military first ordering stock to be removed to Natal, then prohibiting their removal. The result was that the Liddell horses, mules and cattle remained on the farm and were available to be requisitioned by the military. Which they did. The Liddell farm was also taken over as a quarantine farm for “Lung Sick” cattle. 23   The cattle destroyed the fodder crops and orchard. The cattle and the troops also destroyed the fencing and damaged buildings. The troops also damaged and removed equipment and implements. This would have been a significant financial blow to Robert and is considered to have been a major contributor to his death in January 1901.

The claims demonstrate the extent of the physical and financial losses. Joseph Bruwer’s claim was a simple one for 19 horses and two mules removed, without receipts, by the Remount Officer from the top of Platberg where they were agisted. He claimed £127 and this was awarded in full.

The claim by Liddell & Sons was much messier. The Liddells, and George Cadle in particular, appear to have had a real problem with the Remount Officer, Lieutenant Arthur Lane, who was responsible for removing the horses and mules. Over many pages George Cadle recounted not getting receipts for horses and mules taken, or of getting receipts for smaller numbers than he was able to count in the Remount Depot yard – readily identifiable by their L5 brand. He presented evidence of British officers and soldiers being seen riding his branded horses in Harrismith which were not included in the receipts. He also presented pages of evidence in support of valuations well above those placed on the animals by the Remount Officer. He even went further and presented what he saw as instances of corruption on the part of the Remount Officer. Specifically, he claimed that Lt. Lane was issuing receipts at depressed valuations which Mr Piccione, the horse agent, was buying at face value (to provide cash to the erstwhile owner) and was then having them reissued by Lt. Lane at higher prices which Piccione was then able to present for payment. His altercations with Lt. Lane eventually resulted in Lane having him arrested at one point and held for five days and cautioned by the Provost Marshall.

The Liddell & Sons claim, which, apart from horses and mules, included cattle taken, crop and property damage, and the loss of equipment and implements was for £3,794 – a good sum in 1903. They were awarded £1,000 with the file containing a number of notes from British officials indicating that George Cadle’s valuations were “Excessive”. One statement decrying excessive valuations was by the Remount Officer, Lt. Lane, undoubtedly unbeknownst to George Cadle. The proper level of valuations is difficult to assess today, but some of the valuation evidence presented by George Cadle was given by relatives without their relationships being disclosed. Joseph Bruwer’s father-in-law, George Petty, a local business man, was one. Their cousin, William Herbert Lyons, who worked in the Remount Department, was another.

These disputes did not stop the Liddells serving the British cause. In January 1901, the British established a local militia unit to assist with the defence of the area, the Harrismith Volunteer Light Horse (HVLH). The Liddell brothers and Charles Davie joined up. This included the two youngest Liddell boys, William Alexander aged 17, and Wright Greaves aged 15. The unit’s duties were mainly confined to the town and environs, but they also acted as scouts and guides for Imperial troops. They only took part in one real action, against a party of Boers under Commandant Jan Jacobsz on the farm Zaaihoek in the Witsieshoek district which was owned by Hester Cronje and her husband Frederik Moolman. The raid was a failure. (Strachan 2009) The unit was disbanded in August 1902, three months after the war ended. Charles Davie, Joseph Bruwer Liddell, George Cadle Liddell, John Henry Liddell, William Alexander Liddell, and Wright Greaves Liddell were all awarded the Queen’s South Africa Medal with clasps for Orange Free State, South Africa 1901 and South Africa 1902. 24

The family remained in Harrismith after the war and, despite their strong British allegiances, there was, apparently, ongoing bitterness regarding the damage to their business by the military and the inadequate compensation. (Leon Strachan Pvt. Comm)

The Liddells of Bluegumbush

The story of the impact of the war on my great-grandparents is most poignantly and succinctly told by them and those associated with them in statements made in support of James Greaves’s claim for compensation as an Protected Burgher. 25   James Greaves said the following:

I live on the farm Bluegumbosch. At the outbreak of the war I was a Burgher of the late O.V.S. I was commandeered and went on Commando. The British Column under General Bruce Hamilton came near my farm near Besters Vallei. Lieut. Ferris came to my house and asked me what I was. I am English. This was at the end of July 1900. He told me to surrender at once. He took me to his camp and I was given a permit to remain on my farm. At that time all my stock was on the farm. The permit I got from General Bruce Hamilton was that I remained on my farm and that none of my stock was to be taken without payment.

Col Driscoll came to my place after that and ordered me & son to report to Major Cavendish. We did on the 21st August 1900 and got a further protection pass. I handed all serviceable horses to Lieut. Ferris and got a receipt from Capt. Drake.

About the 13th Sept 1900 I saw Boers around my place and I came in to report to Lord Castletown who was then District Commissioner. I left my wife and family. Lord Castletown said it would be dangerous for me to go out, so I remained in town for 5 or 6 days and joined as a Conductor to the end of the war, and also worked as guide and scout until the end of the war.

On the 21st Jany. 1901 my wife and family came in with a wagon & span of oxen of mine & said that Paul van Rooyen Capt of Boer Scouts had ordered them off and confiscated all my stock as I was growing associated to the British.

On 1st August 1900 I surrendered to General Bruce Hamilton at Bestersvlei (called by Military Golden Gate). …. In beginning of ensuing month some Boers were on the farm, so my herd [herdsman] told me. I thought things were not all right and came into town to report to Lord Castletown, who would not allow me to return. From that time everything of mine was at the mercy of Boers. On 21st January 1901 my wife and family arrived in town in one of my wagons drawn by my oxen, saying that Boers had confiscated everything of mine because I was with the British. I was employed by the British for 23 months from 19th September 1900 to 10th August 1902, and I produce discharge to civil employer, for the information of the Board. I began with the Military as Conductor. Then was Guide to General Rundle, then I was Sub Conductor in No. 12 Company Army Service Corps.

Commandant Jan Jacobsz [confiscated my property], as stated by Paul van Rooyen sent with two other men to drive Mrs J.G. Liddell and family off the farm.

George McWilliam, the storekeeper from Witsieshoek gave some insight into what happened on the day that the family were driven off the farm:

I think that it was in or about January 1901 that Mrs JG Liddell sent for me. I went to Bluegumbush (Liddell’s farm) leaving my horse at a Native village close by. I hid in the orchard at Bluegumbush, having seen on my approaching the farm that the livestock was being gathered at the homestead. I could see and hear that they were counting the livestock. (Boers were counting them.) I had also seen Boers on horseback driving the livestock toward the homestead. I stayed that night in the house at Mrs Liddell’s request. After counting the stock the Boers rode away. …. I saw a wagon outside with some goods on which Mrs Liddell told me the Boers allowed them to take to town with them; but nothing else would the Boers allow them to take. I saw some 150 or 200 bags of grain on the loft of the wagon house. …. I saw all the livestock mentioned at the homestead at or about that time. I saw an iron house on the farm, away from Liddell’s homestead, and other houses under iron roofs. There was a good big standing crop at the time the Boers counted the livestock. …. There is no iron house now where I saw it and only parts of the walls of the other buildings.

Neighbour Herbert Wicksteed Smith from nearby Rydal Mount supported these comments:

The day Mrs Liddell left the farm I saw the Boers catching Liddell’s horses, some branded JA, in the kraal on Bluegumbush, close to the house. I saw oxen, cows and calves belonging to Liddell in the paddock also on that day. I saw there were mealies (from the outside) on the wagon house loft.

A number of farm workers also provided evidence of what had happened on Bluegumbush. Aaron Mabesa indicated that he lived in Witsieshoek and worked for James Greaves and added:

The British took away all Mr Liddell’s horses. I was present and saw them taken away. I also saw the British burn down a house belonging to Mr Liddell. I was present and saw a Paul van Rooyen come to the farm of Mr Liddell take away all his sheep. …. The grain which was in the wagon house was taken away by a boer named Cornelis Jacobsz. The standing crops of mealies and kaffir corn [sic][sorghums] were destroyed by the British. After the outbreak of the war there were standing crops of potatoes and forage and barley, and a field of sunflowers and vegetables. The boers cut the forage and took it away they also took away the potatoes.

I saw the store burning on Bluegumbush farm. English troops burnt it in the summer 1901.

Maras Kumaku indicated that he lived on Bluegumbush and also worked for James Greaves. He corroborated Aaron Mabesa’s statement and explained that the standing crops had been destroyed by cattle belonging to the military being driven into them to feed rather than burning. Weze Kuman, who lived on neighbouring Bestersvallei, also corroborated these statements.

James Greaves had been commandeered for service in the Boer forces and had served, but there is no indication of what this service was or where it took place. He would seem to have left/deserted this service because when the British forces trying to block the Boer escape from the Brandwater Basin arrived, he was on his farm and was not part of the mass surrender of members of the Harrismith Commando on Klerksvlei. He instead surrendered to General Hamilton on Bestersvallei on 1 August 1900 and his Concentration Camp record shows that he swore an Oath of Neutrality “on Farm” the same day. This made him one of Lord Roberts’s “Protected Burghers” and, to the Boers, a Hendsopper.

A few weeks later he was ordered into Harrismith to undertake a more formal surrender to Major A.E.J. Cavendish who was the Deputy Assistant Adjutant General for Intelligence [DAAGI] for General Rundle’s 8th Division and for the Harrismith area. He was a consequential member of Rundle’s staff and interacted with most of the families as will become clear. His imprimatur was required for the long term passes needed for a semi-normal life. He similarly signed off on the passes for Robert Jesse Liddell’s sons on their return from Natal at about this time, and also for other family members. The pass that James Greaves received explains the situation:


The bearer J.G. Liddell of Bluegumbosch district of Harrismith has permission to reside at Bluegumbosch having surrendered to the British Military Authorities at Harrismith and his case having been enquired into his property should only be taken on requisition or payment.

This pass holds good so long as his conduct is satisfactory

(Signed) A. Cavendish, Major, D.A.A.G.I. 8th Division, Harrismith, 21st August 1900.

Once the British troops moved on, however, the Boer Commandos returned, and they included a number of neighbours who had not surrendered. By mid September, James Greaves had decided that he needed to report the Commando activities to the military authorities and was persuaded to stay in Harrismith for his safety. He then effectively joined the British Army. Conductors were Warrant Officers (Sergeant Majors) in the Army Service Corp. He moved from being a Hensopper to being a Joiner and is, interestingly, recorded as such in the Anglo Boer War Museum‘s database. His experience as a Transport Rider would have been invaluable.

This was a fateful decision because, as he said, it left everything at the mercy of the Boer forces. And they clearly took retribution. They forced his family off the farm, confiscated his stock and stored produce, and demolished his store (probably for building materials). The family arrived in Harrismith on 21 January 1901 (a few days after the death of James’s brother, Robert) with what they could carry on the one wagon they were allowed. The camp records show that the family, including James, was admitted to the camp on that day making them some of the earliest inhabitants of the wet and ill provided initial camp and they would have suffered all the documented hardships and deprivations.

Harrismith Concentration Camp Memorial (Click to see)

They were in this unhealthy and poorly resourced first camp in March and April when typhoid spread throughout the town and into the camp. Their eldest child, Isabella Jane, was one of the victims of this epidemic. She contracted typhoid and died on 1 April 1901, aged 21, “at the house of Mrs Davie”. 26   As voluntary inmates they clearly had some privileges and were allowed to have their daughter cared for outside the camp. Mrs Davie was, of course, Isabella’s cousin, Martha Maria Liddell, whose wedding photograph was presented earlier, and who lived across the road from her recently bereaved mother.

The family would have been part of the move to the second, better camp site but this, unfortunately, did not remove the risk of infection. Their third daughter, Eliza Greaves, was another victim of the continuing epidemic. She too contracted typhoid and died on 1 June 1901 also “at the house of Mrs Davie.” 27   Both are recorded on the Harrismith Concentration Camp memorial at the Harrismith Cemetery. Eliza Greaves, for some reason, is shown as M, Manlik/Male, rather than V, Vroulik/Female.

There was fortunately no other deaths in the family, and they left the camp on 4 December 1901. This was before the camp closed and well before the end of the war. The reason for this timing isn’t clear. Maybe the military situation had improved to the extent that they felt safe returning to the farm? Possibly it was linked to James’s change in position with the military. On 20 November 1901, he volunteered to become a Guide and Scout for the British Army’s Field Intelligence Department. His record of appointment shows him as having “Family in Harrismith” and his Character as “Good & Loyal”.

It is also possible that the deteriorating health situation in the camp motivated them. Their niece/cousin, Bessie Walker of Bethel, died that same day from dysentery. Whatever the reason for leaving, they escaped the worst period in the camp for infectious diseases and deaths. The family was discharged to Harrismith, probably to stay with family, and then returned to their farm, Bluegumbush, at Witsieshoek.

Bluegumbush with homestead nestled under Qwa Qwa
©Gillian Symons

The fate of their second child and eldest son, Theophilus, is not clear. He went with his father to surrender to Major Cavendish, but did not go into the camp with the rest of the family. Given that a number of his similarly aged male cousins, an uncle, an aunt and his paternal grandparents, “escaped” to Natal, it seems possible that he did too. After the war, he married Susanna Cronje from Patricksdale.

The family’s return to Bluegumbush would not have been easy. James Liddell’s compensation claim makes it plain that they suffered significant losses which would have made life very difficult. British forces removed the bulk of the horses in August 1900. Boer forces removed the remaining stock, much of the stored produce and a store in January 1901, and there were subsequent Boer forays, with their neighbour, Cornelis Jacobsz, taking his share. The British column of June 1901, when it returned via Witsieshoek, burnt any remaining produce as well as storage “houses” and rounded up any remnant livestock. The herd of confiscated cattle accompanying the column destroyed all standing crops. The troops also destroyed, removed, or deliberately damaged implements and equipment so that they could not be used by Boer forces. There was also widespread pilfering of furniture and household goods from the abandoned buildings – probably by troops, people from neighbouring farms and the local population.

All in all a traumatic situation. James Greaves claimed £6,492 for losses including £1,800 for horses, £1,700 for cattle, £700 for sheep, goats and other livestock, and £900 for crops. The claim for crops was disallowed and valuations were challenged, but the Liddells were still awarded £3,065 – a substantial sum at the time and an indication of the extent of their losses.

They did recover, but the deaths of two daughters and the destruction of their livelihood and what they had built on their farm would have been very painful.

The Clarks

The Clarks, Leonard and Sarah, my great-great-grandparents, were living on Bestersvallei prior to the war. At some point they left and escaped to the New Hanover region of Natal, from which they had originally moved to the Free State via Colworth. There is no record of when they went, but their daughter, Edith, also went to New Hanover at about this time. This suggests that the move was some time after the British occupation of Harrismith, because Edith mentioned crossing British lines to enter Harrismith with her pregnant friend. This would suggest that the move took place sometime between August and December 1900, but could have been later.

Edith’s “sweetheart” Cornelis “Corry” Cronje also went to Natal and they were married in August 1901 at Howick, Natal. His movements are well described in the claim he made for compensation. 28  

I was a burger of the late Orange Free State when I voluntarily surrendered to the Military authorities at Klerksvlei district Harrismith on the 2nd Aug 1900 whereupon I took the oath of neutrality & received a pass to return to the farm. I also obtained further passes on 17 August & 31st October 1900. I resided on the aforesaid farm continuing at my occupation of a farmer up till the 19th January 1901 when I was ordered by the Boers to join their forces, but rather than to break my oath of neutrality I fled to Natal leaving everything behind. I made my way direct to Ladysmith & reported myself first to the Natal Police at Oliviers Hoek who took me to the magistrate & from there I was sent to Ladysmith where I got permission from the Military authorities there to proceed to & reside with Mr. Thomas Morton, Ashley, Howick Rail.

Thomas Morton was Edith Clark’s brother-in-law from her first marriage.

He indicated that he surrendered because of Lord Roberts’ Proclamation which he had seen at the Boer laager at Bezuidenhouts Pass which was one of the Drakensberg passes guarded by the Harrismith Commando. The fact that he immediately swore an Oath of Neutrality on surrender and was allowed back to his farm suggests that he had in fact gone back to his farm when the Commando was ordered to the Brandwater Basin and was not part of the subsequent surrender of that force. His brothers were part of that surrender and they were sent to Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Corry may therefore well have been the first to flee into Natal and was later joined by his future wife and parents-in-law. But we don’t know for sure.

The date of 19th January 1901 is also notable because this would have been the date on which the Liddells of Bluegumbush were baled up and forced off their farm. There was clearly a fair bit of Commando activity in the area at the time.

Great-great-grandmother, Sarah, did not return to the Free State. She died at New Hanover on 11 June 1902, less than a fortnight after the end of the war. Leonard did return and went to live with Edith and Corry Cronje on Mountainview at Witsieshoek. He died in 1913.

Corry Cronje was the half-brother of Susanna Cronje who married Theophilus Liddell.

The Cronjes

Corry’s brothers were more conspicuous in defending the Boer cause. They were members of the Harrismith Commando and would undoubtedly have participated in the actions in the Drakensberg passes, the actions against the British in Natal in the early stages of the war, and the defence of Naauwpoort Nek during the Brandwater Basin Campaign. They would have been part of the force that retreated to Witsieshoek to escape the British advance.

After their return to Witsieshoek from the Brandwater Basin action, two of the brothers decided that they had had enough. In their claims for compensation, Adolph Johannes Cronje and Isaac Adolph Cronje indicated that they surrendered together on Klerksvlei on 3 August 1900, the day after Corry. 29   30   Their fate was different from Corry’s. Prisoner of War (POW) records show that Prisoner 11687, Adolph Cronje, aged 22, and Prisoner 11688, Isaac Cronje, aged 32, were captured at Harrismith and sent from Natal to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) on 22 August 1900. They went on the SS Bavarian which departed Port Natal (Durban) on 25 August 1900, and arrived at Colombo on 5 September with 612 prisoners and 19 officers destined for the Diyatalawa POW Camp.

SS Bavarian
Diyatalawa POW Camp Sri Lanka

Brother, Andries Petrus, did not surrender and remained a Boer combatant until the end of the war – a Bittereinder. He made two claims for compensation. One for cattle sheep and horses taken by the British and one for horses and fodder requisitioned by the Boers. 31   His statements show that he was Acting Commandant at Witsieshoek before and at the beginning of the war, and was proud of serving until the very end and cocking his snoot at the British:

I surrendered in Harrismith on 13th June 1902. I have not sworn allegiance having been one of those last in the field.

I saw the cattle taken by the British Troops in Sept. 1901. I was close by at the time. In Nov. 1901 I saw the sheep and horses taken.

Brother Antonie Michael’s involvement is not known, but he was old enough for Commando duty so undoubtedly served in some capacity. He did not make a compensation claim, but did return to Comet and died there of ‘Flu in 1918.

By the end of June 1902, a month after the peace was finalised, the prisoners at Diyatalawa were permitted to go home provided they swore an Oath of Allegiance. They could leave immediately at their own expense or could wait their turn for repatriation by the government. Whichever choice they made, the Cronje brothers were home fairly quickly because on 4 September, Isaac lodged a British Army receipt for payment from Patricksdale. (Liz Finnie Pvt. Comm.)

The claim is interesting because the receipt was in respect of provisions and a horse requisitioned from Patricksdale and “Taken by Imperial Military Forces” – ie not forcibly removed. The requisitions by IOU were dated 6, 9 and 10 August 1900. This was during the week after Isaac and his brother surrendered at Klerksvlei, while British forces were taking occupation of Harrismith. These items did not form part of his formal claim for compensation so it seems probable that the IOU was honoured.

The Patricksdale farmstead did at some stage come under attack and one of the houses, which had hay in its loft, was burnt down. Liz Finnie recollects that the back door of the surviving house had a bullet hole in it and there was a Pom Pom shell embedded in one of the gum trees. (Liz Finnie Pvt. Comm.) There is no indication of when this attack occurred or who participated. It was possibly one of the actions in early June 1901. Maybe Andries Petrus and Antonie Michael were involved? Isaac claimed £200 for damage to the house which was considered reasonable by the Commission and paid. 30  

We do know that none of the women were removed to a concentration camp which suggests that they did what a lot of the women did – left the farm and hid in the mountains when Khaki came calling. Eldest daughter, Hester Philippina, however, was directly involved in the raid by the Harrismith Volunteer Light Horse on the homestead on the farm Zaaihoek. Hester was married to Frederik Jacobus Moolman, and Zaaihoek was their farm. Frederik had surrendered with the Cronje brothers and been shipped to Diyatalawa. Hester then operated a Boer hospital out of the homestead with her six daughters, and possibly her mother, Julia. After the Boer victory, Hester took in and cared for the British wounded who were later taken to Harrismith. As a result, the British then recognised her hospital and left them in peace for the remainder of the war. (Strachan 2009; Liz Finnie Pvt. Comm.)

The Smiths

Heber Rix Smith from Castle View, despite his English heritage, was an active member of the Harrismith Commando. He did not surrender following the Brandwater Basin campaign and would have been amongst the “Harrismithers” that Boldingh went to meet the following year on the evening of 3 June 1901 as British columns swept the area. He would have been involved in the subsequent actions around Witsieshoek, but, unlike Boldingh, his luck ran out. POW records show that Prisoner 21462 Heber Rix Smith, aged 43, of the farm Castle View, was captured at Witsieshoek on 7 June 1901 and was transported to Bermuda from the Ladysmith POW camp. He arrived at Bermuda on 19 July 1901. 32   This means that he was transported on the SS Ranee as it was the only ship to arrive that day. All its passengers were incarcerated on either Burt’s or Darrell’s Islands.

These are two islands in the inner bay of Bermuda separated from each other by a short stretch of reef that could be crossed at low tide.

Burt’s and Darrell’s Islands, Bermuda.

Unlike Diyatalawa Camp in Sri Lanka, accommodation in these camps was in tents much like in the concentration camps back in South Africa.

Burt’s Island meat rations and Darrell’s Island accommodation.

The following photograph of POWs on Darrell’s Island intrigues me. Consider the man at the back on the right. Compare him to the photograph of Heber Rix Smith at Martha Maria Liddell’s wedding:

POWs on Darrell’s Island, Bermuda.

Heber Smith’s family was rounded up on the same day that he was captured and it is possible that he had simply surrendered on his farm at the same time. Lettie Smith and their seven children, including 5-week-old, unbaptised, John Bruwer, were interned at the Harrismith camp on 10 June 1901 when British forces returned to the town. Being the family of a Boer POW, they would not have received the same privileges as the Liddells did. They didn’t get to go home before the end of the war. They were sent to Ladysmith on 2 February 1902, immediately after the unruly event that so incensed Kitchener, and could well have been amongst the 400 “irreconcilables”. They left Harrismith with instructions to go from Ladysmith to the Pietermaritzburg camp, which they did on 28 February 1902. From there they were released to the community in the New Hanover region of Natal.

Harrismith Concentration Camp Memorial (Click to see)

Unfortunately, just two weeks prior to their departure to Natal, their three-year-old daughter, Annie Margaret, died of enteritis. She died in the camp without the benefit of treatment in the comfortable home of Mrs Davie who was her cousin too. Was she perhaps refused access to the community because she was an “undesirable”? Her name is also recorded on the concentration camp memorial at the Harrismith Cemetery.

There is no record of when Heber Rix or the family returned to their farm, but they were back on the farm by January 1903 when he provided a statement in support of his brother, William’s, compensation claim. Heber and Lettie were still there in 1923, but left the district at some stage after that and moved to Ermelo where they both died in the 1930s. After the war, their eldest daughter, Martha Maria, married Adolph Cronje and settled on Patryskamp.

The roundup of the Smiths wasn’t confined to the family of the Boer combatant. His two brothers and their families were also forcibly taken off the adjoining farms. Mary Grace Liddell, her husband William Greenwood Smith, and their family from Greenwood, were also removed from their farm on 7 June 1901 and interned at the Harrismith camp on 10 June 1901. They would have accompanied Lettie Smith and her family. This forced removal is documented in the claim for compensation lodged by William Greenwood. 33   Brother, Herbert Wicksteed was present to witness their removal and the burning of their stored grain and forage by British troops. William was compensated for this loss as well as the loss of furniture and household goods either removed on the day or subsequently pilfered from the deserted homestead.

William was also compensated for the requisitioning of horses on 2 February 1901 by Boer forces. What is interesting about this requisition is that it was by a Lieutenant B. Enslin of Theron se Verkenningskorps/Theron’s Recconnaisance Corps, a legendary scouting group operated by folk hero Danie Theron. Brother, Heber Rix, was present at this requisition, but it is not clear whether he was supporting his brother or the requisitioner.

The family managed to get through their internment unscathed. They were part of the final group to leave the Harrismith camp when it was closed down. They were sent to the Pietermaritzburg camp on 17 May 1902 where they remained until 3 September 1902. The camp records show their reason for departure as “returned home; destination Harrismith.” Given that William did not go on Commando, and the treatment of brother, Herbert Wicksteed, it is not clear why they didn’t leave earlier and return to their farm once the situation had settled down. They may have been released from the Pietermaritzburg camp into the New Hannover community like many others were. William’s compensation claim shows that by December 1902 the family was back on his farm, but he was “very old & sick” and unable to deal with the claim himself. He died in 1906.

The third brother, Herbert Wicksteed, his wife Susanna and five-year-old daughter, Cornelia, were also removed from their farm at this time and they too were admitted to the camp on 10 June 1901. Herbert made two claims to the Central Judicial Commission which provide some details. 34   He indicated that he had not gone on Commando and had voluntarily surrendered on 2 August 1900 “to General McDonald in Solomon Raath’s house on Klerksvlei,” the same day that Corry Cronje surrendered at Klerksvlei and James Greaves Liddell swore his Oath of Neutrality. Herbert swore his Oath of Neutrality a month later and was allowed to remain on his farm. A statement in the claim by Major Cavendish, DAAG Intelligence, states, “whence he was removed by Genl. Campbell in June 1901 and sent to refugee camp.” The family was forcibly removed to the camp after the burning of stored provisions, the orchestrated destruction of equipment and the removal of livestock.

He too had horses requisitioned by Theron’s Scouts in early February 1901. There was clearly a lot of Commando activity in the Witsieshoek area in late January/early February 1901. Bluegumbush, Patricksdale, Greenwood and Rydal Mount all received “visits”, and the other farms undoubtedly did too.

In his claim, Herbert indicated that the family remained in the camp for about three months and were then allowed to move into the town. Camp records, however, show that they left the camp on 10 January 1902 – six months after they entered it. Their destination is shown as ” H Smith” which probably simply indicated that they moved to the house that Herbert had secured in town where they were still living when Herbert made his claim in July 1902. The family then returned to Rydal Mount with Herbert recorded as having died at the “dwelling house at Rydal Mount Farm” in 1923. Susanna died in 1910 in Durban where they appear to have been living at that time.

The Liddells of Clifton

Emily Hobhouse in her book, The Brunt of the War and Where It Fell, provides a context for the difficulties faced by the Clarens families with a quote from an unnamed British journalist who was in the area in the immediate aftermath of the Brandwater Basin campaign. The journalist met with General Campbell (who had earlier occupied Harrismith) on 6 September 1900 at Generals Nek, a mountain pass about half-way between Ficksburg and Fouriesburg. He wrote:

The General told me that he had received orders to ‘sweep’ the country, and a view of his following soon made it obvious that he had not failed to carry out his orders. All farms on the line of march were cleared of horses, cattle, sheep, waggons, carts, etc., the forage being burnt, and the owners bidden to join the ranks of the prisoners, of whom there were already a goodly number. In several cases I ventured humbly to point out that many of these men, in fact most of them, had been paroled, and allowed to return to their farms, and had received a protection certificate for their property from the District Commissioner. Some of them were Britishers, who rather than take up arms against their country had sacrificed all and taken refuge in Basutoland. My pleas were of no avail. All who had once been on commando, in spite of having been paroled, were retaken prisoners. Britishers were allowed to remain at liberty, but their live stock was taken and their stacks burnt. (Hobhouse 1902, 29)

Alexander Watson, “Sandy”, Liddell was one of those “Britishers”. His claim to the Central Judicial Commission explains his situation: 35  

I was a Free State Burgher. I was never on Commando. I was commandeered to the Basutoland Border & went there & did service for three months when I was allowed to return to my farm. While on the Basutoland Border, I was ordered to go to Colesburg [sic]; I remonstrated about going there not wishing to take up arms against the British & was let off by giving away a wagon & 10 oxen. I returned from the Basutoland Border during April or May 1900 & remained there until the British came there.

My farms are situated in the Brandwater Basin. I surrendered at the time of the Prinsloo surrender & obtained permission to return to my farm & was there for 2 months when I went over to Basutoland where I remained for nine months. I then came from the Basutoland Border with General Rundle’s Column to my farm where I took up my wife & family & went to Harrismith with the column, where I obtained a permit from Major Cavendish to proceed to Durban where I remained until declaration of peace.

His neighbour, and it would seem friend, Edward Christiaan Daniel Roos, provided a supporting statement in which he said that he was the Veld Cornet in command of Sandy on the Basutoland (Lesotho) border and that it was he who had commandeered Sandy to go to Colesberg and had accepted the wagon and oxen in exchange for permitting Sandy to return to Clifton. Colesberg was the scene of some significant battles between December 1899 and February 1900 when the Free State Commandos unsuccessfully attempted to invade the Northern Cape so it was good he avoided the action there.

Sandy remained on his farm while British forces entered the Brandwater Basin and subdued the sizeable Boer force they trapped there culminating in the mass surrender at Surrender Hill on 30 July 1901. Sandy was not just a spectator to this event. He was one of those who surrendered, swore an oath of Oath of Neutrality and then returned to his farm. Once the British forces had moved on to Witsieshoek, however, the Commandos returned. This is demonstrated by the receipts from Boer forces for the requisitioning of hundreds of sheep, oats, barley and forage that Sandy submitted in his claim. In his claim, he also detailed significant stock, fodder and grain simply removed from his property by Boer forces without receipts. The Commando activity and his position as a Hendsopper left him vulnerable and he went to Lesotho after two months at much the same time as General Campbell was carrying out his farm clearing.

Annie Cooper, Sandy’s wife, remained on Clifton keeping everyone fed and clothed, including Sandy. Loyal farm workers travelled between Clifton and Lesotho daily. Sandy was at Qalo which is just across the Caledon River in Lesotho, 18km south west of Clifton. He recorded in his diary that he left the Mission Station at Qalo and the Lorrioux family at 3.30 on the morning of 1 June 1901 and returned to Clifton. (Howard 2008, Lesley Angel Pvt. Comm.) A short ride would have got him to the Fouriesburg to Clarens road where he encountered Rundle’s support column moving up to Naauwpoort Nek which Rundle’s forces had occupied the previous day. Their presence undoubtedly provided some protection against the Commandos.

Peter Howard, a descendant of the Walkers of St Fort, has written a book, Beneath the Mushroom Rock, based on Sandy Liddell’s diary. He comments on Sandy’s diary entry at the time:

The English have gone to Bethlehem and from there to Witzieshoek to clear family and stock from the farms, our way as well, he notes, with real consternation. fully realizing how vulnerable his little Clifton family is. (Howard 2008, Lesley Angel Pvt. Comm.)

The actions of Rundle’s forces at Witsieshoek have already been documented. Unsurprisingly, they carried out similar actions in the Clarens district. Sandy noted in his claim that British forces removed large numbers of sheep, goats, horses, mules and pigs from the farm as well as significant quantities of stored produce. Some of the latter may have been burnt, as it was at Witsieshoek, but they did not burn any buildings. While this was underway, Sandy assembled his family and they left with Rundle’s column on 3 June 1901. They went via Witsieshoek to Harrismith where Sandy stored household goods with family, obtained a pass from the ubiquitous Major Cavendish and went to Durban where his eldest son was living. By 15 July 1901, he was living at Calthorpe, Sydenham, near Durban. He went on to buy property in Natal and manage a brick works.

The family returned to Clifton after the war although the exact timing is not clear. Whenever it was, the farm was not as it had been before. The British had undoubtedly removed and damaged equipment to prevent it being used by the Boers, but the abandoned buildings had also been vulnerable to pilfering and damage. Sandy’s neighbour, Edward Roos, made this clear in his sworn statement:

I was on the farm Clifton during the latter part of the war and personally resided in Claimant’s house. Other families resided there before I went there, & when I came there all his furniture had been removed.

The doors & windows of the dwelling house were broken, and the roof of the cowshed had been removed. On instructions I received I personally removed the flooring boards of the loft of the granary & cut out some of the beams. The roof of the dairy and all wood work was removed by my brother while I was still living on the farm.

The fences on Clifton were greatly damaged. The farming implements had all been removed when I went to the farm.

Sandy’s claim for damages and losses was for £3,757 with the Resident Magistrate concluding his assessment of the claim with the words, “Claimant is a man in affluent circumstances.” The claim was assessed and paid at £2,594.

The family clearly recovered from the trauma and loss because the farm was until recently still owned and occupied by descendants of Sandy and Annie. Sandy died in 1925 and Annie in 1933. Both are buried on the farm.

The Walkers of St Fort

Alexander Walker and Emma Liddell on the adjoining St Fort, suffered the same deprivations and threats as the Liddells on Clifton, but they were not removed to Harrismith. Despite being in a similar position to Sandy Liddell, Alexander Walker’s claim for compensation was assessed as a British Subject. 36   He explained the family’s circumstances as follows:

I was a Burgher of the Free State. I exercised my voting rights. I was never on Commando. I was not commandeered. I have two sons who were commandeered and did service on the Basutoland Border. The elder was there until January 1900 when he was commandeered for the front. I then assisted him to escape into Basutoland, where he remained for a few months & he then joined the Military & remained with them until after the declaration of peace.

Because I assisted my son to escape I was made prisoner by the Boers for three days after which I was allowed to return to my farm.

My second son was on the Basutoland Border until May 1900 when he was discharged and allowed to return home & remained there until February 1901 when he went into Basutoland & remained there until the end of the war.

I stayed on my farm till the British arrived – the time of the Prinsloo Surrender, when my son & I also surrendered. Both my son & I were allowed to return to the farm & I was there until November 1901 when I was removed with my family to Brindisi by Gen. Campbell. After remaining there about a week I was sent to Hlotse Heights & after a few weeks went through to Ficksburg in order to obtain medical treatment for my wife & was there until declaration of peace.

Previous to the Prinsloo Surrender I was requested by Mr Samuel Strapp my neighbour who was in communication with the Authorities in Basutoland & also with the Military in Bethlehem to assist him in making a Diagram of the road through Naauwpoorts Nek, and to write his reports for him, this I did & the documents were conveyed to Bethlehem. I did this because my sympathies were with the British & I wished to assist them.

Notes indicate that Alexander was not commandeered for Commando duty because of his indifferent health although his wife’s ill health may have contributed to this decision. His two sons, however, were commandeered to the Lesotho border. The eldest, Francis, deserted when commandeered to the front in January 1900. This would probably also have been to Colesberg because Commando activity on that front was most intense at that time. Alex helped him to escape to Lesotho and was jailed for his trouble, although only for a short while. Francis then joined the British Army for the balance of the war. On a receipt in Alex’s claim, Francis was shown as “R.E.”, Royal Engineers.

The younger son, Allan, remained on the Lesotho border until May 1900 and was then allowed to return to the farm just prior to the major British campaign into the Brandwater Basin. His father, in the meantime, had been helping his neighbour, Samuel Strapp, provide intelligence to the British in support of this campaign. Samuel Strapp explained in a supporting statement:

Claimant rendered service to the British before the Prinsloo Surrender.

He collected news which he gave to me to be transmitted to the British, he also drew a sketch of Naauwpoorts [sic] Nek which I forwarded to the authorities in Basutoland to be transmitted to the British. Claimant was left on his farm by the British & was still there when I went to Basutoland in July 1901, his wife being too ill to be removed at the time.

Allan and Alex were also not just spectators to the 30 July 1900 surrender at Surrender Hill, but participants. Alex, however, made it clear in a letter to the Compensation Commission that being unarmed and believing himself to be a British Subject, he did not formally surrender, “but simply reported myself at Genl. Hunter’s camp, near SlaapKraantz and received a pass from Capt. Kirkpatrick, Intelligence Officer, to return to my farm.” Allan remained on the farm until February 1901 when, probably due to Commando activity similar to what was occurring at Witsieshoek at that time, he crossed into Lesotho. He remained there for the balance of the war and operated as a Transport Rider. (Howard 2008, Lesley Angel Pvt. Comm.)

Interestingly, one of the receipts from Boer forces that Alex presented for compensation was for the requisition of a brown riding horse (een Bruin Rij Paard gewaardeerd tegen £18.0.0 ) dated 26 July 1900 – just four days prior to the surrender and the day on which many Boers fled up the Little Caledon River valley. Possibly a Boer needing a horse on which to get away?

In common with what occurred on Clifton and at Witsieshoek, depredations and requisitions by Boer forces continued once the British had left. And then, almost a year later, on 31 May 1901, General Rundle returned in force on his campaign of farm clearing through the Brandwater Basin. Livestock, stored grain and produce were removed or burnt. Major Cavendish provided a statement to the Compensation Commission indicating that 350 sacks of unthreshed grain, 4,000 bundles of oat hay and 185 sheep were “burned & used.” This was 3 June 1901, the day Sandy Liddell and his family were removed to Harrismith. In a letter to the Commission amending his claim, Alex stated:

The 75 muids Kaffir Corn in my claim of 3rd June were not destroyed by Major Cavendish. I had written out my claim before going with him to see my crops destroyed. When at the fields, he decided not to burn the Kaffir Corn.

Muid: An old Dutch unit of dry volume measure used for grain in South Africa equal to three bushels – 24 gallons or 109 litres.

This presents a rather bleak picture and we meet Major Cavendish yet again, who was clearly more than just someone who issued passes. Riding around one’s own farm watching it being burnt must have been quite harrowing. Alex didn’t benefit from Major Cavendish’s generosity though. He noted in his claim that a few days after the military had left his farm, the Boers came and removed the “Kaffir Corn” in wagons.

Because of Emma’s poor health, the Walkers were left on the farm and not forced to join the column to Witsieshoek and Harrismith. In Beneath the Mushroom Rock, Peter Howard explains:

Mother Emma’s health had steadily deteriorated quite literally leaving her at death’s door. This dreadful situation continued for many weeks and nerves were frazzled while their food supply had dwindled alarmingly, much having been savagely taken by fighting forces from either of the sides. Aleck was in despair, fully realizing his family were on the brink of starvation. Constant harassment of the Walkers continued and even the Boers were becoming more and more ruthless and aggressive as well.

The British insisted that they be moved for their own safety and the family was taken to a settlement camp in the vicinity of Verliesfontein and then onto another “camp”.

The British captain sent some strong fellows to physically carry the sick Emma some 7 kilometers to the vicinity of Verliesfontein and the older children had to carry the three youngest…………… clothing, bedding, kitchen utensils and food – only what they could physically carry those 7 kilometers!
(Howard 2008, Lesley Angel Pvt. Comm.)

Alex indicated in his claim that they were removed from the farm on 27 November 1901 on the orders of General Campbell. They were then taken via Verliesfontein to Brindisi. A week later they went to Hlotse in Lesotho where they stayed for a few weeks until moving to Ficksburg where they arrived on 28 December 1901 – a month after they had left the farm. There is still a farm called Brindisi about 13 km south west of Fouriesburg, but British maps from the war show that there was also a Brindisi Drift and settlement nearby on the Caledon River which is where they would have stopped off. Hlotse is a town on the Caledon River in Lesotho, 20 km further south west and a short 15 km to Ficksburg. The camp there was operated by local Anglican missionaries. Peter Howard comments that while at Hlotse, “Emma continued to suffer with pneumonia and was endlessly confined to her bed, a sack-lined cot strung between two wooden poles only a few inches off the ground.” They were undoubtedly quite pleased to reach Ficksburg and move into the house that Alex had found for them with access to medical treatment.

After the peace, they returned to St Fort and recovered their household possessions from where they had secreted them in the historic Cannibals’ Cave. The cave is secluded and secure and was a good place in which to hide their possessions. Today it is the feature of the well-known tourist hiking destination, The Cannibal Trail, on St Fort. The story of its naming is fascinating, but outside the scope of this article.

The buildings were not badly damaged and Alex made a relatively modest claim for £1,107 and was awarded £713. It is clear that his losses were greater than this, because he mentioned receipts for requisitions and the destruction of equipment, crops, grain etc. which were paid out separately from the compensation claim.

Emma recovered because she gave birth to their youngest child in 1905 and only died in 1944 aged 83. Alex died in 1913 and is buried on the farm.

The Liddells of Bethel

At the time of the war, Eliza Jane Liddell and her sister Isabella were living on Bethel. Also living with them was their niece, Bessie Walker, daughter of their deceased sister, Elizabeth. Peter Howard records:

Sandy states – sisters Eliza-Jane and Bella Liddell, niece Bessie Walker and Mr Potts have left Bethel yesterday and somehow as expected, he gives us no idea where they were destined. (Howard 2008, Lesley Angel Pvt. Comm.)

“Mr Potts” was Charles Potts the brother of Elizabeth Potts who married Allan Walker of St Fort in 1906. He worked on and moved between the farms.

“Sandy” was Alexander “Sandy” Liddell from the farm Clifton. Landowner of Bethel.

We, however, do know where they were destined, and when. “Yesterday” was 2 June 1901, the date on which the four of them were forcibly removed from Bethel by General Campbell’s column and taken to Harrismith. It was an inauspicious day for the inhabitants of Bethel because Eliza Jane recorded in her claim for compensation, that it was the day British forces arrived on the farm and proceeded to confiscate and destroy their property. 37  

Eliza Jane recorded that they had made their first acquaintance with British troops on 4 August 1900, just after the mass surrender at Surrender Hill. Nothing untoward came of that meeting and they had remained on their farm until the British turned up again this time. She stated that farming implements were destroyed by the troops and that the furniture she was forced to leave in the house was taken by the Boers. Her sister, Isabella, indicated that when they left the farm, the cattle, sheep, horses and pigs were driven away with them by the military. She also noted that she had seen a soldier carrying off her sister’s sausage machine. Charles Potts indicated that he was present when soldiers burnt a round hut containing implements and had seen soldiers carrying off yokes and chains. Before he was removed that day, he had been taken around the farm and notified of which implements and equipment would be destroyed because they were potentially useful to the Boers. The destruction of these items was later confirmed to him.

Eliza Jane, interestingly, withdrew 50 goats from her claim because, in the meantime, they had been returned to her by a Mr Daniel van Zyl, a neighbour. He seems to have taken them in and looked after them to prevent them being stolen. Some community spirit on display.

Harrismith Concentration Camp Memorial (Click to see)

Camp records show that all four were admitted to the Harrismith Camp on 12 June 1901. They appear to have taken the route along the Little Caledon River valley to Golden Gate and Witsieshoek because Eliza Jane presented a receipt for horses received at Witsieshoek on 7 June 1901 (also mentioned on her Camp record). These timings would not have been possible if they had travelled via Bethlehem as suggested by Sandy Liddell in his diary.

Whilst they were forced from their farm, they appear to have been treated with some consideration. Eliza Jane had strong pro-British sensibilities which undoubtedly helped. She impressed Major Cavendish who was moved to provide a single line endorsement to her compensation claim. He wrote, “Miss Liddell of Bethel is a lady of pronounced British sympathies.”

Leniency, however, couldn’t protect them from the scourge of the camps. The months of December 1901 and January 1902 were the worst months for infectious diseases and deaths at the Harrismith camp and Bessie Walker was unfortunately caught up in this wave. She contracted dysentery and died on 4 December 1901, aged just 21. This was the same day that the Bluegumbush Liddells left the camp. She was being treated at the Harrismith Cottage Hospital when she died, rather than in the camp hospital which suggests some preference from the authorities. 38   One can but wonder who from the family was there to support her. She is also remembered on the Harrismith camp memorial.

There is an intriguing reference in Emily Hobhouse’s book, The Brunt of the War and Where it Fell, that could connect to Bessie and also provides some insight to the experiences of those sent to Ladysmith. It is a letter from a young girl to a former teacher:


You’ll doubtless be surprised to see that we have again been moved.

We arrived at this place on the 2nd of February. I suppose the whole of the Harrismith Camp is to be sent here. But as yet there are many of our friends there still.

We have certainly made a great change for the better, inasmuch as we are now in nice comfortable houses, with decent windows and floors. One feels quite another being since one can walk and sit straight again in a nice high room.

Some of the Harrismith townspeople have been sent here too. Here are quite a number of our old Seminary girls in the camp. Bessie and Helena are both in Harrismith Hospital with fever. The death-rate in that camp was frightful during the last month of our stay there. . . . Five of us were confirmed the day before we left the camp at Harrismith. There were more than forty ‘catechisanten’ and so the little building used as a church being too small, Ds. [Dominee] Theron had the service in the open air. It certainly was the most imposing scene I had ever been present at. It was a beautiful afternoon, and nearly the whole camp was assembled there. Mr. Theron said he thought it certainly was the first time since the days of the ‘Voortrekkers’ that confirmation was held in the open air.

It is with something of a shock I realised I am really and truly eighteen years already, and oh! how very far I am still from that rung of the ladder where I’ve always determined to stand at that age. However, God knows it’s through no fault of mine. It is so very hard to understand why I should have been so completely checked in the course of my studies just when it was all growing so immensely interesting. However, I have not at all given up hope yet, and am going to apply again. I suppose you know that Lottie also wishes to go to Stellenbosch. Perhaps we may be allowed to go together. The last answer I had from the ‘Powers that be’ was that they have nothing against my going, but only could not allow me to go at present. . . . You’ll answer me soon, won’t you? (Hobhouse 1902, 301)

The author is not identified, but she would have been from Bethlehem because the letter is addressed to a teacher and she mentions the Seminary, which was a school for girls in Bethlehem. She mentions two old Seminary girls, Bessie and Helena, who were in the Harrismith Hospital (not the camp hospital) with fever. Whilst there is no certainty that the girl named was Bessie Walker, she did attend the Seminary and had been in the Harrismith Hospital. A connection perhaps?

The author went to Ladysmith on 2 February which was the same date on which Lettie Smith and her family were moved there. The comments about the deaths in the Harrismith camp reinforce earlier commentary. The Lottie she refers to was probably Charlotte Theron, the Dominee’s daughter, who was a Seminary girl and did go to Stellenbosch later in the year.

Tin Town, Ladysmith.

Lettie Smith would have undoubtedly also welcomed the improvement in accommodation and would have been able to later share opinions with her husband, Heber Rix, because Tin Town was where he was held prior to being sent to Bermuda.

Eliza Jane Liddell, Isabella Liddell and Charles Potts did not go to Ladysmith – another indication of their preferential treatment. They left the camp on 5 February 1902 and went into Harrismith probably to their family in town. Eliza Jane indicated that they remained there until peace was declared. The exact date of their return to the farm is not known. Eliza made a claim for £310 for damage and losses of equipment and furniture. She was awarded £216. She was also a diligent keeper of receipts for livestock, grain and other produce requisitioned from the farm and a dogged pursuer of recompense. The undisclosed amounts received were in addition to her formal claim.

Eliza Jane and Isabella both died in Bethlehem. Isabella in 1906 and Eliza Jane in 1914. They are buried together there.

The Lyonses of Verliesfontein

Alice Liddell and her husband, Joseph Lyons, owned the farm Verliesfontein at Clarens. They suffered the same deprivations, impositions and threats as their Walker and Liddell relatives on the neighbouring farms, but with their own unique experiences. Joseph Lyons, like Alexander Walker, made a claim for compensation after the war as a British Subject. 39   His son, Joseph Arthur Lyons, also made a claim as a British Subject. 40   Their stories are intertwined and give some insight into what happened to the families.

Joseph was a Burgher of the Free State, but was not called on for Commando duty because of his age. Joseph Arthur, however, was commandeered and like Sandy Liddell from Clifton and the Walker boys from St. Fort, was sent to the Lesotho border. He too was ordered to do service at Colesberg, and, like them, refused to do so. He was allowed to remain on the Lesotho border and did not have to flee like Francis Walker or provide compensation like Sandy Liddell. In May 1900, just prior to the Brandwater Basin campaign, he was discharged back to his farm alongside Allan Walker and Sandy Liddell. Father and son remained on the farm until the British arrived which Joseph Arthur noted was at the time of the Prinsloo Surrender which he said took place “in the immediate vicinity” of Verliesfontein.

They would undoubtedly have needed to surrender to the British forces like the other men did, but neither mentioned this formality. They were then allowed to remain on the farm. The receipts they presented in their claims show that the British requisitioned 36 bags of oats and 26 bags of mealies on 31 July 1900 (the day after the surrender) and over the first few days of August, but otherwise appear to have left the family alone.

They didn’t report any further actions or requisitions by either the British or Boers until the British returned with Rundle’s second sweep through the Brandwater Basin at the end of May 1901, but would undoubtedly have had similar calls on their resources to the Liddells and Walkers on the adjoining farms. The return of the British brought a lot of trauma as it did to the neighbouring families. Major Cavendish made an appearance on Verliesfontein too. On 2 June 1901, the day before he went out with Alexander Walker to burn crops on St. Fort, he did the same on Verliesfontein. He also destroyed 75 sacks of mealies and 64 sacks of oats as well as a threshing engine and three wagons. Joseph indicated that they were burnt.

The British left for Witsieshoek a few days later and the Boers returned, as they did to the other farms. On 7 June 1901 they took Joseph prisoner. He was taken to Fouriesburg and then to “the vicinity of Bethlehem” where he was held until 20 August 1901 and then released. He went into the town which was then under the control of General Campbell who had returned from Harrismith. While this was happening, the Boers removed Joseph Arthur from the farm on 17 July 1901 and put him across the border into Lesotho, which is where he remained until the peace.

No mention is made of what happened to Alice while this was occurring. Alice and Joseph’s two daughters were married and living in Bethlehem when the war began. Their eldest son, William Herbert, was in Harrismith. In statements he made in support of the claims by Joseph Bruwer Liddell and Liddell & Sons, he indicated that by the beginning of 1901 he was working for the Remount Department and like his uncle, Thomas Liddell, took horses to Mooi River in Natal on a regular basis. By the end of 1901 he was working as a Conductor alongside his uncle James Greaves Liddell. It seems likely that he was either living in Harrismith when it was occupied or moved there soon afterwards. Nothing was said about any involvement he might have had with Commando activity.

Joseph, Joseph Arthur and William Herbert all make it clear in their statements that the farm was abandoned when Joseph Arthur was removed so it seems most likely that Alice was living with one of her daughters in Bethlehem and would have been joined by Joseph on his release by the Boers. It is also not clear what happened to Joseph Arthur’s wife, Martha Elizabeth van der Merwe, but she too must have been living away from Verliesfontein and probably in Bethlehem.

Joseph and Alice remained in Bethlehem until the end of October or early November 1901 when they were escorted to Lesotho by General Campbell. From there they went to England and returned after the peace. The timing of the trip to England is not provided, but Joseph signed a declaration in Ficksburg on 21 February 1902 stating that he was living in Lesotho. They must have left for England some time between then and the declaration of peace on 31 May 1902. They did not stay for long. Shipping records show that they left Southampton bound for Durban on 20 September 1902 per the SS Gascon and would have undoubtedly been “home” by November 1902. By August 1903 they were living in Bethlehem with Joseph Arthur living on Verliesfontein to which he had returned immediately after the peace.

Modern rebuild of homestead on original floorplan with new and original stones
©Gillian Symons 2021

The abandoned farm was vulnerable to the depredations of both belligerent forces. All vehicles, household goods, appliances and furniture were taken from the house by Boer forces, and probably by others too. The roofs and woodwork of all the buildings were removed by Boer forces with some buildings being completely demolished. The house and stables, or what remained of them, were burnt by British forces in late October 1901, at about the time Joseph and Alice were being taken to Lesotho. The British also destroyed the remaining equipment on the farm with one of the threshing machines being destroyed by explosives.

Original stone work
©Gillian Symons 2021
Ruined outbuilding behind homestead
©Gillian Symons 2021

Although their poultry was taken by the Boers there were fortunately no stock losses because all the animals had been sent into Lesotho after the Prinsloo surrender. This would have been a simple matter because the southern boundary of Verliesfontein is the border with Lesotho.

View to South West across Caledon River valley from cliffs on southern boundary. Surrender Hill just to right out of shot.
©Gillian Symons 2021

Despite the significant destruction, the Lyons’s claims for compensation were relatively modest when compared to their relatives’ claims. Joseph claimed £2,892 and was paid £1,950. Joseph Arthur claimed £225 (almost entirely for household and personal goods) and, surprisingly, was paid £255.

After the war, Joseph and Alice remained in Bethlehem where they owned a number of properties. Alice died there in 1905 and Joseph in 1921. Joseph Arthur took over and later inherited Verliesfontein which is where he died in 1959 and where Martha Elizabeth died in 1962.

Thomas Liddell

At the time of the war, Thomas and Johanna Liddell were living on the farm Florence in the Reitz district of the Orange Free State. Their experiences were starkly similar to those of the other families. Thomas lodged a claim for compensation as a Protected Burgher in which he stated: 41  

I was a Burgher of the O.V.S. I was on commando. I surrendered under Lord Roberts Procl[amation] on 6th July 1900. I then returned to my farm till October when I went to Harrismith with General Rundle’s Column where I was employed by the Remount department till I returned to my family in the R Camp [Refugee Camp] at Heilbron in October 1901. I took my family to Cape Colony in February 1902 & remained there until the end of the war.

Johanna added:

He was a Burgher of the O.V.S. He was on Commando and surrendered to the British in July 1900. My husband … was on Commando on the Basutoland Border he never fought against the English.

Thomas’s claim was for two horses requisitioned by Boer forces on 10 October 1900; cattle, pigs and fencing requisitioned by British forces in October 1900; and for equipment, furniture and buildings burnt, damaged and destroyed by British forces in July 1901. This is a familiar pattern. Boer forces requisitioning horses. British forces requisitioning material and supplies when they passed through in the middle of 1900 and those same forces burning and damaging equipment, supplies and buildings on a sweep through the same areas in the middle of 1901.

From the statements, it would seem that Thomas went on Commando to the Lesotho border in the initial stages of the war, probably with the Reitz Commando. He then appears to have returned to his farm following the occupation of Bloemfontein and surrendered there to the large British force which moved down from Heidelberg through Reitz to the Brandwater Basin in July 1900. He remained on his farm with his family until General Rundle came calling on one of his forays out of Harrismith in October 1900. He then returned to Harrismith with Rundle and took a position as an overseer with one of the contractors employed by the Remount Department.

It is clear from the passes he presented in evidence that he tended to government horses on farms in the Harrismith district and drove horses to the Remount Department in Mooi River, Natal. One pass mentioned a herd of 910 horses. There were undoubtedly Liddell & Sons horses amongst these. Sandy Liddell, in his claim, indicated that Thomas stopped working for the military because of ill health. This would appear to have been an injury related to his work because Charles Davie assisted him in his claim in June 1901 due to him being, “in Natal suffering from injuries caused by a kick from a horse.” He then returned to his family in the Heilbron Concentration Camp in October 1901. 42  

We know little about the family’s time in the Heilbron camp because no records survive. The problem with a number of Free State camps is that near the end of the war, a new civilian administrator took over responsibility for the camps. He introduced a new system for record keeping and the clerks set about transferring the older records to the new format. Unfortunately, the war ended before this task was completed and the older records were lost including those that hadn’t yet been transcribed. It seems likely, however, that the family was removed to the camp in July 1901 because that is when the British troops burnt buildings and destroyed equipment on the farm. The family would have had little ability to remain on the farm after that.

We do, however, know something of their stay in the camp because of the death records for three of Thomas’s and Johanna’s daughters which show that they died at the camp soon after Thomas returned from Natal. Florence Wilhelmina Liddell, aged 20, died on 9 November 1901 from measles and bronchitis – with the disease probably developing much as described by Charlotte Theron in respect of Mrs L in the tent next to hers. 43   Florence’s seventeen-year-old sister, Lucy Olive Liddell, died two days later, also from measles and bronchitis. 44  

This would have been terrible but just over two weeks later, on 29 November 1901, their fourteen-year-old sister, Agnes Louisa Liddell, died of typhoid. 45   She died at the “Refugee Camp Hospital Heilbron” and not just in the camp which may have been because she had typhoid rather than the more common measles. The only photograph I have been able to locate of the Heilbron camp is in fact of the hospital:

Heilbron Camp Hospital and Staff

It is quite likely that it was these nurses who cared for Agnes.

Much better burial records were kept than at Harrismith so most graves can be located even though only a few are individually named. The memorial at the Heilbron Camp Cemetery shows that Florence Wilhelmina and Lucy Olive are buried together in Grave 10 of Block C Row 7, along with JS Hennings. Agnes Louisa is not listed so, unfortunately, cannot be located, but is probably buried in one of the many graves shown as Onbekend (Unknown). The size of the graveyard is a graphic illustration of the scale of the deaths.

Honour Roll
Quarta Pretorius
Block C Row 7
Quarta Pretorius
Grave 10 on left
Quarta Pretorius

[Thank you to Quarta Pretorius of Heilbron who generously took the trouble to go to the cemetery and take the photos of the grave and memorial for this article. Baie dankie. There is also a video about the Heilbron Concentration Camp featuring Quarta that can be found here.]

The family stuck it out at the camp until February 1902 when they went to the Cape Colony. Sandy Liddell in his claim said they went to Cape Town, but this seems unlikely. Eliza Liddell and Thomas himself simply said, “Cape Colony.” Johanna was from Prince Albert so it seems more likely that that is where they went, but there is no evidence. They returned to their farm, probably late in 1902 or early 1903. In August 1903, they sold the farm and moved to Frankfort. Thomas’s claim was for £847. He received £512.

Johanna died in 1918 at Illovo, Natal, “in the house of her husband”. Thomas died in 1923 at Vrede.

Jabez Liddell

Jabez Liddell, his wife, Martha Louisa, and their family were interned at Winburg. 46   Their record of internment 47  shows them with their daughters Martha and Johanna and five day old Margrieta at the time of their departure from the camp on 8 January 1903 – seven months after the end of the war. There is no indication as to when they arrived.

Winburg Concentration Camp

Winburg Concentration Camp Memorial (Click to see)

The record does not mention their infant daughter, Mary Eliza Liddell, aged 6 months, who died at the camp on 17 October 1901 of measles and broncho-pneumonia – the lethal combination. 48   She was buried in Grave 34 of the New Military Cemetery 49   and is remembered on the Winburg Concentration Camp memorial.

The Liddells appear to have been living in Winburg prior to the war. Their camp record shows that Jabez was an employee of “Winburg Rail” prior to the war and Mary Eliza’s death notice shows that she was born in “Winburg Town” with her parents “lately residing at Cottage No. 2 Winburg Railway Line.” Eliza Jane Liddell in her compensation claim also stated that she had a fifth brother who was living at Winburg. It would seem most likely that they went to the camp around July 1901, as most of the other families also did.

Family stories suggest that they were transferred to the Bloemfontein 50   camp at some stage. This seems unlikely as this would have required a move to and then from the Bloemfontein camp between 17 October 1901 and 8 January 1903, when they were discharged from the Winburg camp to “Town.” There are also no records of them at the Bloemfontein camp. After leaving the camp, the family believe that they returned to Bethel for a period before moving to Brakpan in the Transvaal which is where both Jabez and Martha Louisa died – he in 1938 and she in 1964.

Martha Louisa retained an intense antagonism to the British until her death which, together with the fact that they were interned past the end of the war, suggests that they were forced inmates. The camp records show that Jabez was the Camp Policeman which suggest that maybe they weren’t. It may well be that they were forced into the camp like many of their relatives were and were similarly not regarded as Boer sympathisers and allowed some dispensations. Jabez did not make a claim for compensation after the war so there is no hint from that direction. (Jeff Leader Pvt. Comm.)

Military actions involving the families ◄ ● ► Conclusion

©Alun Stevens 2021

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