Category: Anglo Boer War

The Kruger House

No reading about the Boer War would be complete without mentioning Paul Kruger, and there is no doubt that he was a significant person in the history of South Africa. His house is situated in Pretoria and is now a museum, so with some spare time I decided to pop in for a visit. 

It is strange to find the residential property of a State President at street level, but from what I read this is what Paul Kruger would have preferred. If anything he was a deeply religious person, not prone to outbursts of emotion, and well loved by his friends and countrymen, and respected by his enemies. Situated in  Church Street, The house was designed by Tom Claridge and built by the builder Charles Clark during 1883-1884. Right across from the house is the magnificent Gereformeerde Kerk Pretoria (aka Paul Kruger Kerk) of 1889.


The house is not overly complicated, but is well built and very simple when compared to a house like Melrose House. By 1899 it was one of the few buildings in Pretoria that had electricity and a telephone, although from what I saw water borne sewerage was not on the cards. Paul Kruger and his wife lived there until he left the country in 1900. His wife remained in the house until her death in 1901. The house was bought by the Union Government in 1925 and it was restored and opened to the public in  1934, being declared a National Monument in 1936.  

Sitting Room

A lot of the furniture and fittings do come from the original house, and while it does have a bit of a cluttered old fashioned feel about it I did find it was a very personal house, not really the sort of place that you would expect a  President to live in. 

One of Paul Kruger’s offices

Dining Room



There are also two display halls: The ZAR Hall, and the Exile Hall. 

Exile Hall

The ZAR Hall has some amazing historic artefacts that pertain to the Boer War, as well as many of the awards and gifts give to the President and people of the ZAR. The Exile Hall is more about the period when Paul Kruger fled the country on board the Gelderland, and his subsequent exile in Europe. 
Also on display are an oxwagon, and his state coach.
Of special interest to me is the State Railway Coach which is on the premises. Sadly this wonderful old clerestory coach, with its observation platform, is not open to the public. All I could really see inside it were a conference room, sleeping berths and a small kitchen.
 According to the information sign, the coach was used by Paul Kruger when he was at Machadodorp and Warterval-Onder, and carried him to Lourenco Marques from where he went into exile. It was restored in 1951 and placed at the museum in 1952. 
A final stop in my tour was the kitchen and scullery where some sort of inkling of domestic life was on view. 
Paul Kruger died in Switzerland on 14 July 1904, his body being returned to South Africa and given a state funeral on 16 December 1904. He is buried with his wife and members of his family in Church Street Cemetery.
Out of curiosity, in my visit to the archives in Pretoria I found a document that may have been signed by Kruger himself, ok, he is mentioned in it. 
DRW © 2013-2019. Images recreated 26/03/2016

Johannesburg Fort

In all the years I lived in Hillbrow I occasionally would pass the Johannesburg Fort and try to imagine what was inside those ramparts. I never thought that one day I would get a chance to have a look. History does not tell us much about this old building, it was built by Paul Kruger from 1896-1899 to protect the Zuid Afrikanse Republiek (ZAR) from the threat of a British invasion, and to keep watch over the miners flocking to the gold fields of the village (that later became the city of Johannesburg) below. Following the Boer War it incorporated into the jail complex that was built around it, although during the apartheid era only whites were held there. The luckless African male prisoners being held at the “Number Four” jail not too far away. The sloping entrance tunnel was the last view that many prisoners would have of the outside world before being taken into the buildings behind the earthern ramparts.

Entrance tunnel

Compared to Fort Klapperkop and Fort Schanskop in Pretoria the buildings within the ramparts are laid out very differently, but have not lost their military character. Sadly, there was no real access to any of the interior buildings, although I did get to stroll on the ramparts and explore some of tunnels beneath them.
The view in all directions is limited by the buildings that have sprung up on either side of the site, however, if one goes back 110 years, the view would have been very different, and the closeness to the railway lines would have made the transportation of prisoners and supplies more controllable.
Looking East to Pretoria Street in Hillbrow

Looking East to Pretoria Street in Hillbrow

Striking mineworkers from the 1922 Rand Revolt were held at the Fort, as were a number of political figures from our past. The whole fort complex was actually a series of jails, including a women’s jail, an awaiting trial jail,  the number 4 complex and the physical fort itself. All have now been transformed into the Constitution Hill complex.
The buildings at the back of the fort

The buildings at the back of the fort

Facade across the interior gate was created by Anton Van Vouw

The rooms that I explored were all beneath the eastern ramparts. They were entered through a curved tunnel and all had the curved ceilings and claustrophobic feel about them. The literature states that these rooms under the ramparts were used as barracks and storerooms and not for prisoners. I suspect that there were not pleasant places to live in, given the sparse ventilation.    

Ramparts and interior buildings

Ramparts and interior buildings

Looking South from the ramparts

Looking South from the ramparts

Today the fort does not really dominate the skyline, it is more of a curiously grassed hill that hides its interior from the world. Ironically it also faces onto the Constitutional Court and is a reminder that the constitution needs protection from those who would like to change it to suit their own political agendas. There are no guns here, but the reminder is there in those strange crenelated walls and isolated guard posts.

View northwards, Constitutional Court is on the right.

I need to do more research on this building and its history, because it has seen so much history and is one of the older surviving structures of Johannesburg.  The relevant Wikipedia page does not say much about it, and so far I haven’t seen anything really definitive. There is an interesting account of the fort in 1969 at the Artefacts site, but it is a small part of the chain in this area, and in later blog posts I will explore the other buildings around it.  
© DRW 2012-2018. Images and links recreated 23/03/2016

Dear Dr Jameson….

One of the more unsavoury events in our history is the Jameson Raid. Cecil John Rhodes and his friends planned this really ridiculous farce to…. wait, I will let you read about it yourself because I sure don’t understand half of it. I do know that it was one of the triggers that caused the Boer War, and so much misery in this country ever since. Who knows what might have happened had Jameson and his 600 men succeeded in their attempt to “restore order” in Johannesburg, or better yet, never embarked on such a haphazard scheme in the first place. But, given the really bad planning and a really stupid ideal in the first place, the chances of success were really very small. 
I deal with what is left over, and there is not too much. Many of the sites associated with the raid are long gone, or built over, graves have become part of the veld, and all that is really left are a few places along Adcock Street out near Dobsonville/Vlakfontein as well as Randfontein, Krugersdorp and possibly Magaliesburg.  There are three main memorials worth considering. Firstly there is the main memorial on Adcock Street.
This plinth is situated outside what is loosely known as “the brickworks”, behind which is what is known as the Vlakfontein Memorial. I first photographed it in May 2009, and it was still fenced and the area was badly overgrown. I revisited it on 2 Feb 2012, and the fences have all been stolen, and it is still overgrown!
Jameson Needle (2009)

Jameson Needle (2009)

Sadly, all that is left of the so-called Kraal is a low wall and this needle, and there does not seem to be any way of knowing where the original site was in the first place.  On the one side of the brickworks is yet another interesting spot, loosely known as “The Stump“. When photographed in 2009, it too was fenced and not too badly overgrown, sadly the fence has also been stolen and the stump fell victim to fire at some point.
From here we move across to Randfontein to what is loosely termed “The Randfontein Estates Gold Mine Military Cemetery” It took the good memory of a security guard to find this spot near the railway lines outside Randfontein, and when I first photographed it in 2009 it had already been badly vandalised.
On my visit today I was happy to see that the area had been cleared of vegetation but that does leave it more visible for scrap metal dealers and their ilk. These are the graves of Troopers William Charles Beatty-Powell, John Bernard Bletsoe, Harry Davies, John R.H. Forster, and C.E Hennessy.
In Burgershoop Cemetery in Krugersdorp, there is one more reminder of the Jameson Raid,  that was erected in 1917 to commemorate the casualties suffered by the Transvaal Burghers who opposed Jameson and his raiders. There are also 3 Jameson raiders buried in that cemetery, as well as the five Burghers. 
But what is missing?  The Vlakfontein needle mentions 26 casualties. Of these 5 are buried at REGM Military Cemetery and 8 are buried in Burgershoop cemetery. There are some raiders buried supposedly at Vlakfontein farm cemetery, as well as 3 that were supposed to be buried outside Doornkop Military base, there is one listed as being in Magaliesburg but that one has never been found,  and others are listed as burial location not known.
Dr Jameson and his cronies left a legacy that erupted into the Anglo Boer War; by all rights they should have been shot for treason. The punishment meted down to the plotters and leaders was surprisingly lenient. It was the ordinary soldier who once again caught the short end of the stick. Ironically Jameson became Prime Minister of the Cape Colony (1904–08) and was one of the founders of the Union of South Africa.
The physical remnants of the Jameson Raid are now hard to find, a recent visit to a farm in Magaliesburg revealed that the raiders may have travelled through one of the farms en route, 2 swords were ploughed up on the farm, so who knows, just maybe more answers may still be in that area.
© DRW 2012-2018. Images and links recreated 22/03/2016