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

I have now received details of the compensation claims made by the various families after the war. These have provided a lot of new information which changes the narratives in some cases.
I am in the process of updating those narratives. I will post a new blog when I am done.

With the details of the geography, the history and the notable events of the war explained, the task of recording what befell the families is much simpler. All that remains is to slot the families into this backdrop.

The Harrismith Liddells

We will start with Robert Jesse Liddell and his family because, being in Harrismith, they were at the centre of many of the events befalling everyone. It seems extremely unlikely that, for instance, the related families living in the concentration camp did not visit and call on them for help and support. In fact, in some instances, records show that they specifically did help especially with the sick. These will be discussed in due course.

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 to the concentration camp in its second location.

He was also a horse breeder with hundreds of horses on a property south of the town. He had a lucrative business selling horses via Port Natal to the farmers of the Western Cape. Prior to the war he 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.

The men in the family were caught up in the Free State government’s call-up to commando duty. Their responses were mixed. Robert’s 24-yer-old son, John Henry, ignored the call up and was fined £300 or 3 years. Robert’s eldest son, 30-year-old Joseph Bruwer, absconded to Natal to avoid the call-up, and was fined £500 or 5 years in absentia. 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, 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. General Rundle, in fulfilment of orders from Kitchener to acquire horses, commandeered all of Robert’s horse stud. As was standard British army practice, the requisition was by means of an IOU rather than paid for in cash. This would have been a significant financial blow to Robert and is considered to have been a major contributor to Robert’s death a few months later in January 1901. By all accounts, the IOU was not honoured after the war.

In January 1901, the British established a local militia unit to assist with the defence of the area, the Harrismith Volunteer Light Horse (HVLH), and Charles Davie joined up. 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 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.

The family remained in Harrismith and there were two claims from them in 1903 to the Central Judicial Commission that was established by the British to adjudicate on claims for damages and losses. Claims were organised by category: British Subjects, Burghers, and Protected Burghers. Joseph Bruwer Liddell claimed as an Ex-Burgher in 1903. There is also a claim for compensation from Liddell & Sons of Harrismith which may relate to the horses. I am still to receive copies of the documents from the South African National Archives.

The Liddells of Bluegumbush

I started on this quest in order to explain what happened to James Greaves Liddell and Sarah Elizabeth “Nellie” Clark, my great-grandparents, and their family. The detail of the back story has been assembled to this end so the explanation of what occurred to them in the war is reasonably simple.

Harrismith was occupied on 4 August 1900 by General Campbell’s column that had participated, with General Hamilton, in sealing the Golden Gate and taking the surrender of Boer forces on Klerksvlei on 1 and 2 August. Troops from this force clearly visited neighbouring Bluegumbush because on 2 August, while Boer forces were surrendering over the back of Qwa Qwa, James Greaves was swearing an Oath of Neutrality. The record shows that this occurred “on his farm”. He thereby became one of Roberts’s “Protected Burghers”.

Once the British troops moved on, however, the Boer commandos returned, and they included a number of the Liddell’s neighbours. Lucas Cornelis Jacobsz, next door on Bestersvallei, was a Boer commandant, and, as will be detailed in due course, a number of the Cronje brothers from Patricksdale, and Heber Rix Smith from Castle View were members of the Harrismith Commando. The stress and the potential threat were clearly more than the Liddell’s were prepared to endure because when the Refugee Camp was established at Harrismith in January 1901, they chose to move there for protection.

When the first forced inmates arrived on 24 January 1901, there were already 30 voluntary inmates in the camp including the Liddells and eight of their children (my grandmother included) who are shown in camp records as having arrived on 21 January 1901 (a few days after the death of James’s brother, Robert). This means that they were located in the wet and ill provided initial site of the camp and would have been part of the later move to the slopes of Platberg.

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, contracted typhoid as part of this epidemic and died on 1 April 1901, aged 21, “at the house of Mrs Davie”. 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 parents.

Harrismith Concentration Camp Memorial (Click to see)

Unfortunately, moving the camp to the better, second site did not remove the risk of infection and their third daughter, Eliza Greaves, also contracted typhoid and died on 1 June 1901, aged 16. She too died “at the house of Mrs Davie.” 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 were no other deaths in the family, and they left the camp on 4 December 1901. This was well before the camp closed and well before the end of the war. Their departure was probably prompted by James Greaves having volunteered on 20 November 1901 to be a guide for the British Army’s Field Intelligence Department, a position he retained until 31 October 1902 – well after the war finished. His record of appointment shows him as having “Family in Harrismith” and his Character as “Good & Loyal”. In the terminology of the day, he had moved from being a “Hendsopper” to being a “Joiner”.

They fortunately managed to escape 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. Their discharge coincided with events involving the Liddells from Bethel which we will discuss in due course.

Bluegumbush with the buttress of Qwa Qwa on the left
©Liz Finnie

I have not been able to find any information as to what their second child and eldest son, Theophilus, did. He 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 that is what he did too. After the war, he married Susanna Cronje from Patricksdale.

James Greaves made a claim for compensation in 1903 to the Central Judicial Commission as a Protected Burgher having sworn an Oath of Neutrality. I still await the documents so do not know the outcome.

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 had to cross British lines to enter Harrismith with her pregnant friend. This would suggest that the move took place sometime between August and December 1900.

Edith’s “sweetheart” Cornelis “Corry” Cronje also went to Natal and they were married in August 1901 at Howick, Natal. The timing of Corry’s move to Natal is also not known. He would have been called up for Commando duty by the Free State government in anticipation of war and it would seem likely that he would have served as such in some capacity with the Harrismith Commando. We know he swore an Oath of Neutrality at some point. This would have been after Roberts captured Bloemfontein in March 1900 and before the Brandwater Basin campaign in July 1900. At this stage of the war, the Harrismith Commando was guarding the passes through the Drakensberg. The only British forces with whom he could have had contact would have been the forces in Natal, probably at Ladysmith. He would have had no contact with the British forces in the Free State. This suggests that he was possibly 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.

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 later 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 have participated in the actions in the Drakensberg passes and in defence of Naauwpoort during the Brandwater Basin Campaign. They would have been part of the force that made its way back past Witsieshoek and then dispersed.

After their return from the Brandwater Basin action, two of the brothers decided that they had had enough of the conflict and were part of the surrender in Harrismith on 8 August 1900. 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.” Brother Antonie Michael’s involvement is not known, but he was old enough for Commando duty so undoubtedly served in some capacity.

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 claim for compensation from Patricksdale.

The claim is interesting because it was in respect of provisions and a horse purchased from Patricksdale and “Taken by Imperial Military Forces” – ie not forcibly removed. The requisitions by IOU were dated 6, 9 and 10 August 1900. The first would have been while British forces were taking occupation of Harrismith, the second, the day after the Cronje brothers surrendered, and the third a day later. One wonders whether 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 lodged in one of the gum trees. There is no indication of when this attack occurred or who participated. Maybe this was one of the actions in early June 1901. Maybe this action involved Andries Petrus and Antonie Michael. (Liz Finnie Pvt. Comm.)

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. They 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 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 and her six daughters then operated a Boer hospital out of the homestead which was attacked during the raid. After the Boer victory, she 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)

The Cronjes also lodged claims with the Central Judicial Commission in 1903. Julia Cronje lodged her claim as an Ex-Burgher, and Isaac Adolf and Andries Petrus lodged their claims as Burghers. Adolph Johannes, interestingly, lodged his claim as a Protected Burgher despite having been a POW. How this could be, I don’t know because I still await the documents from the South African National Archives. Antonie Michael did not make a claim. He returned to Comet and died there of ‘Flu in 1918.

The Smiths

Heber Rix Smith from Castle View, despite his English heritage, was also 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. 20   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 at much the same time as he was captured. 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 a comfortable home despite her mother’s sister and the wider Harrismith Liddell family having helped other family members. Was she perhaps refused access to the community because she was an “undersirable”? 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. Heber and Lettie were still on the farm in 1923, but did leave the district at some stage and moved to Ermelo which is 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 taken off the adjoining farms. Mary Grace Liddell, her husband William Greenwood Smith, and their family from Greenwood, were also interned at the Harrismith camp on 10 June 1901 so were undoubtedly part of the same party with Lettie Smith and her family.

They managed to get through their interment 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 1901 where they remained until 3 September 1901. The camp records show their reason for departure as “returned home; destination Harrismith.”

The timing of their internment and the fact that they were transferred to Pietermaritzburg and held until three months after the war ended, all suggest that they too were forced internees. William Greenwood, however, made a claim for compensation in 1903 to the Central Judicial Commission as a Protected Burgher which suggests that he too had sworn an Oath of Neutrality. The question then is why he didn’t leave earlier and return to his farm once the situation had settled down. It is also possible that at the Pietermaritzburg camp, the family had access into the community. I await the documents related to his claim.

The third brother, Herbert Wicksteed, his wife Susanna and five-year-old daughter, Cornelia, were interned on 15 June 1901 which indicates that they moved to the camp independently of the other two families. The camp records provide no information as to when they left. Herbert’s claim to the Central Judicial Commission fills in the gaps. He indicates that he had not gone on Commando and had voluntarily surrendered on 2 August 1900, the same day that James Greaves Liddell swore his Oath of Neutrality. He was allowed to remain on his farm. A statement in the claim by the local military intelligence officer states, “whence he was removed by Genl. Campbell in June 1901 and sent to refugee camp.” The family were forcibly removed to the camp.

Herbert indicated that he had remained in the camp for about three months and had then been allowed to move into the town where he was still living when he made his claim in July 1902. This short stay is probably why the camp records are so poor. They 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)

Sandy Liddell, it would appear, was likely one of those “Britishers”. Peter Howard, a grandson of Alexander and Emma Walker from the neighbouring St Fort, has published a book based on Sandy Liddell’s diaries and the memoirs of Alexanders’s and Emma’s son, Allan, titled Beneath The Mushroom Rock. (Howard 2008) He records:

Sandy has spent the best part of nine months in Basutoland and we arrive now at the last two weeks of this enforced and disquieting sojourn before he returns to Clifton – initially for a few days …..”

Sandy leaves Qalo Mission Station and the Lorrioux family at 3.30 on the morning of 1 June 1901. (Howard 2008, Lesley Angel Pvt. Comm.)

Qalo is just across the Caledon River in Lesotho, 18km south west of Clifton.

Sandy went to Lesotho as a refugee much as described by the journalist at about the time the journalist was meeting with General Campbell. 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 returned just as Rundle’s forces, who were encamped just up the road at Naauwpoort, were about to leave and return to Harrismith via Witsieshoek. Peter Howard comments in regard to Sandy’s diary record:

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.)

At this point, the family packed up and went to Durban, storing their household goods with friends in Harrismith. Sandy bought property in Natal and managed a brick works. They returned to Clifton after the war.

In 1903, Sandy submitted a claim to the Central Judicial Commission for compensation as a Protected Burgher indicating that he too would have sworn an Oath of Neutrality, which clearly wasn’t worth much as he felt the need to take refuge in Lesotho and then Natal. I await the documents.

The Walkers of St Fort

Alexander Walker and Emma Liddell on the adjoining St Fort suffered the same deprivations and risks as the Liddells on Clifton. They too were having their crops and livestock raided by both the British and the Boers. They eventually decided to also seek refuge in Lesotho. I have no definitive date for this move, just that it was in the early part of 1901. Peter Howard records in Beneath The Mushroom Rock:

Initially the Walkers would not be drawn into taking up arms or become involved in this conflict due to loyalties to both sides. Aleck aged 53 was vitally needed at home to tend to a very sick Emma age 40.

Francis (20) and Allan (16) had to do all they could to keep out of the hands of both Boers and British. The younger children, Hugo (13), Charles (10), Helen (6), Ethel (3) and Mabel (1) were cared for by the older daughters, Marion (18) and Barbara (14).

The war was a mere few months old when both residents from St Fort and Clifton were in the thick of things due to the homes being close to the road. Living with cannon fire daily. [These would have been the activities of the two belligerent forces as part of the Brandwater Basin campaign as previously described.]

Francis was conscripted into the Boer laager in the valley against his will. He was sent to the war front from Bethlehem, but the Boers soon realised they were not going to have any success with Francis and his friends so they were sent to and imprisoned in Bethlehem.

He escaped and fled into Basutoland. The Boers searched far and wide for them and would often go to Aleck Walker and threaten him re the whereabouts of Francis as they believed he was hiding Francis. Fortunately he did not know the whereabouts of Francis.

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 kilometres!

After some months at the settlement [the second “camp”], which we believe must have been in the proximity of Joel’s Drift, Andrew’s shop and the Qalo Mission station, they were re-established at the Hlotse Camp which really was no better than the settlement. 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………… in the end shortly before “peace” was declared, Allan was asked to fetch them to move to a house in Ficksburg. (Howard 2008, Lesley Angel Pvt. Comm.)

The Joel of “Joel’s Drift” was Joel Malapo, the Basotho Chief of the Buthe Buthe region. He was well known for being accommodating to families from the Free State who had fled the war.

Hlotse is a town on the Caledon River in Lesotho, 35 km south west of Qalo and a short 15 km to Ficksburg. The camp there was operated by local Anglican missionaries.

“Andrew’s shop” can’t be found.

Qalo, of course, was where Sandy Liddell had also sought refuge. The Walkers’s move to Qalo in early 1901 would suggest that he was in Qalo at the same time as they were.

The two eldest Walker boys went to Lesotho independently. The eldest, Francis, escaped to Lesotho to avoid military service as described above. His sixteen-year-old brother, Allan, also did so. They became transport riders for the duration of the war.

The family left Hlotse in early 1902 and moved to Ficksburg, where Alexander had managed to find them a home. After the war, 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 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.

In 1903, Alexander Walker submitted a claim to the Central Judicial Commission for compensation as a British Subject of the Orange River Colony. I await the documents.

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 Allan married in 1906. He worked on and moved between the farms.

“Sandy” was Alexander “Sandy” Liddell from the farm Clifton.

I have no indication of the date of Sandy’s communication, but it must have been after his return from Lesotho on 1 June 1901, and could not have been more than a day or two later because we do know where they went. All four were admitted to the Harrismith Camp on 12 June 1901. This was only two days after the return of Rundle’s forces that left Naauwpoort on 2 June after sweeping the Brandwater Basin. They were either in one of the convoys that accompanied these forces (one to the north and one to the south of the Rooiberge) or followed closely behind one of them. From their location, it would have probably been more sensible to take the southern route down the valley of the Little Caledon to Golden Gate and Witsieshoek.

Harrismith Concentration Camp Memorial (Click to see)

There is nothing in Sandy’s statement to suggest that they were forcibly removed. Camp records show that Eliza Jane brought stock (ie animals) into the camp which, along with later occurrences, reinforces the view that they were voluntary inmates. Like Sandy Liddell and the Walkers, they undoubtedly felt, and were, vulnerable on the farm, so, accompanied by Charles Potts for support, they sought the protection of the Harrismith camp, much as James Liddell had done six months earlier.

As discussed, the months of December 1901 and January 1902 were the worst months for infections and deaths at the Harrismith Camp. 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. As a voluntary inmate she had some dispensations and was being treated at the Harrismith Cottage Hospital when she died, rather than in the camp hospital. 21   One can but wonder who from the family was there to support her. She is also remembered on the Harrismith camp memorial.

I found 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 that they were voluntary inmates. They left the camp on 5 February 1902 and went into Harrismith probably to their family in town.

In 1903, Eliza Jane submitted a claim to the Central Judicial Commission for compensation as a British Subject. I await the documents.

Thomas Liddell

We know very little about Thomas Liddell’s family and their experiences of the war. The family was definitely interned at the Heilbron concentration camp, 22   but no records of their stay 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.

We only know of their presence in the camp because of the death records for three of Thomas’s daughters which show that they died at the camp. 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 her tent neighbour, Mrs L. Florence’s seventeen-year-old sister, Lucy Olive Liddell, died two days later, also from measles and bronchitis.

Just over two weeks after that, on 29 November 1901, their fourteen-year-old sister, Agnes Louisa Liddell, died of typhoid. Maybe it was because she had typhoid rather than the more common measles that she is shown as having died at “Refugee Camp Hospital Heilbron” and not just in the camp. 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.

There are no memorials for those who died at the Heilbron camp.

It is not clear why Thomas and his family were in the camp. Florence Wilhelmina was a confirmed member of the Reitz Dutch Reformed Church so I thought there was a possibility that the family was Boer oriented, but Thomas submitted a claim to the Central Judicial Commission for compensation as a Protected Burgher. He and his family therefore probably went to the camp voluntarily for protection.

It is unclear what happened to the family after the war. Thomas died in 1923 at Vrede.

Jabez Liddell

Jabez Liddell, his wife, Martha Louisa, and their family were interned at Winburg 23   and Bloemfontein. 24   There are no surviving official records of their internment either, but there is some oral history amongst their descendants. They went to the Winburg camp initially, but there is no record of when:

Winburg Concentration Camp

Their infant daughter, Mary Eliza Liddell, aged 6 months, died there on 17 October 1901 of measles and broncho-pneumonia – the lethal combination. They must, therefore, have gone to the camp in the same January 1901 to June 1901 period as the other family members did. They had been living and working on Bethel in the lead up to the war so this internment at Winburg suggests that they may well have been somewhere else when interned.

They were later transferred to the Bloemfontein camp which is where they were when the war ended. The family history indicates that they then 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. Jabez did not make a claim for compensation after the war so there is no hint from that direction. His daughter’s death certificate, however, notes that the family was living in a cottage and Jabez was allowed to work as a Ganger which possibly indicates that they were voluntary inmates. (Jeff Leader Pvt. Comm.)

The Lyons family of Bethlehem

Alice Liddell, her husband, Joseph Lyons, and their family lived in Bethlehem and owned the farm Verliesfontein at Clarens. I have not been able to find any information relating to them in respect of the war. As residents of Bethlehem, they were obviously impacted by the comings and goings of the two warring parties, each with their own requirements for the citizenry, but I have no information on what the specific impacts might have been on the family. The fact that they were not part of the removal of “undesirables” from Bethlehem to the Harrismith camp in August 1901 indicates that they were probably, like most of their family, inclined to the British side.

It is a similar story with respect to the farm which was undoubtedly criss-crossed by British columns, British patrols and Boer commandos and wagon trains. The only references I can find are to the fact that the farm was very close to Surrender Hill and that its name has the ironic meaning of “Loss”.

Military actions involving the families ◄ ● ► Conclusion

©Alun Stevens 2020

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