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A Handbook of the Boer War

And was now mounted before Kimberley


Fortunately,

however, Kekewich was a cool-headed man who did not suffer himself to be hustled. While preserving amicable personal relations with Rhodes, he was careful to let Capetown know that the situation in Kimberley was by no means desperate and that it would be able to hold out for several weeks.

The impetuous and childish letters and telegrams sent out by the diamond men induced Buller, who said afterwards that "although I had every confidence in Colonel Kekewich's military capacity I did not trust the other powers within the city," to send Lord Methuen northwards on November 10 with instructions to help Kimberley by removing unnecessary non-combatants and natives, and "to let the people understand that you have not come to undertake its defence, but to afford it better means of maintaining its defence."

The news of Methuen's approach did not allay the excitement of the townsmen. His movement was not an essential part of the general plan of campaign but only a raid in force with the object of putting men and supplies into Kimberley and enable it to hold on until pressure elsewhere upon the Boers should raise the siege automatically.

The dignity and the self-respect of the diamond men was affronted. Like the Syrian captain Naaman, when offered relief of his leprosy by the prophet Elisha, they resented the simple process by which their own relief was to be effected. They had looked

to an Army Corps at least marching on Kimberley with all the pomp of war and speedily enabling it to resume its normal occupation of diamond grubbing; and now they found that the town was not considered of much account in the scheme of the military, who regarded it as a mere besieged place of little strategical importance; which, after some assistance, was to be left dependent for its safety upon its own exertions while the main army advanced through the Free State.

On December 4 Kekewich was instructed to make arrangements for the deportation of a large proportion of the white and coloured population, Methuen hinting that Rhodes himself might be included. Although Rhodes had a few weeks before complained of the difficulties caused by the presence of non-combatants and had even endeavoured to send them away, he now vehemently opposed their removal. His reasons for so doing are not very clear, but they appear to be part of the systematic obstruction which he offered to every proposition of the military authorities which tended to restrict the output of diamonds. His objections were transmitted to Buller, who speedily put the question in its proper light by telegraphing to Kekewich that "what we have to do is to keep the Union Jack flying over South Africa without favour to any particular set of capitalists," and Methuen met his protest with the answer that "Rhodes has no voice in the matter." After the defeat at Magersfontein the plan of deportation had necessarily to be given up.

In his own proper sphere of a civilian working with civilians Rhodes was usefully active and his services were great. He employed the persons thrown out of work by the closing of the mines in labour for the general benefit of the town, and did much to relieve the distress among the poorer inhabitants.

The manufacture of a heavy gun, to which the name of Long Cecil was given, in the De Beers engineering establishment, was soon countered by the Boers, who brought into action a gun throwing a much heavier shell which had been disabled by the Naval Battery at Ladysmith, repaired at Pretoria, and was now mounted before Kimberley. The appearance of Long Tom, supervening on a reduction on the daily rations, caused a panic among the civilians. On February 9 Rhodes threatened to call a public meeting to consider the situation unless he was informed of the plans for the relief of the town: but Kekewich was authorized by Lord Roberts not only to forbid the holding of the meeting, but even if necessary to arrest Rhodes. A private meeting was then held at which a remonstrance was drawn up for transmission to Lord Roberts through Kekewich; and for the second time a communication from the Kimberley men was interpreted as a threat to surrender. It was probably sent with that intent in order to elicit information as to Lord Roberts' plans.


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