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A Handbook of the Boer War

And who had little confidence in military men


The defence throughout was more active than the attack. Reconnaissances and raids against the enemy's positions were made with effect; and the bombardment which followed a rejected summons to surrender did little harm. Communication with the outer world was not seriously impeded. Cattle grazed almost with impunity inside the line of investment and several thousands of the natives escaped.

But the difficulties of Kekewich, who had been in command since September 20, were not confined to those created by the military situation. He was thrown into close association with the man who was one of the indirect causes of the war, and who had little confidence in military men, or sympathy with their ideas and methods. Rhodes had come into his own Kimberley and for the first time he was not master in it. He found himself a sterilized dictator acting in an atmosphere too tenuous to support his vitality but sufficient to preserve it from extinction. He was subject to the authority of the military commandant, a galling position for a distinguished statesman who had not a high opinion of the professional capacity of the British officer. From the age of eighteen he had been his own master except during the intervals which he had spared from South Africa and spent at Oxford, when he was temporarily subject to the lax discipline of a University. While his contemporaries were amusing themselves at college, or performing routine duties in the Army or the Civil Service, or preparing to enter a profession, Rhodes was spending the critical years of his life in outlining the future and scheming for a South African Empire to be erected on the foundation of the Kimberley Mines.

It was inevitable from the nature of the case and from his intimate concern in the fortunes of Kimberley that he could not see South African affairs at large in their true perspective. The sparkle of his diamonds made him curiously colour-blind and out of this defect in his mental vision sprang the mischief. Kimberley, for the time being at least, stood so closely in the foreground that other objects were thrown out of focus. Nor did the disturbing influence of the glare and halation of Kimberley only affect the vision of the diamond men within the town. It closed the eyes of the besiegers without it to a great strategical opportunity which soon passed away.

The figure of Rhodes in Kimberley was the magnet which attracted and detained commandos which could have been more usefully employed elsewhere, and his presence, so far as it had this effect, was of great service to the perilously weak British force during the first few weeks of the war. If the commandos squatting before Kimberley had instead been sent to raid southwards towards the Karroo, and to inflame the Dutch districts in the Cape Colony, they would have met with little resistance, and advancing with daily increasing numbers would have had little difficulty in planting themselves firmly in the heart of the enemy's country. For the moment the war in the west was waged not against Great Britain but against the Man of Kimberley.

The diamond men, with Rhodes at their head, forgetting that the object of the war was the redress of the Outlanders' wrongs in the Transvaal, began to bellow for relief even before the Boers had completed the investment of the town. Telegrams couched in extravagant and almost hysterical language and betraying the egotism and the want of self-control of the senders were repeatedly despatched. One of these, in which on October 19 the De Beers directors asked for information as to the plans of the military authorities at Capetown, "so as to enable us to take our own steps in case relief is refused," was thought not unnaturally by Buller to hint at surrender; and although this was not the intention of the senders it is probable that they did not regret the interpretation that was put upon it.


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