Tuesday 22nd of October 2002 07:02 AM 
Essay [18]

by Bertil Häggman

It was widely believed that when war broke out in October 1899 between the Afrikaner republics Transvaal (South African Republic)/the Orange Free State and the British empire, it would be a short affair. But the war would last until May 1902 and attract world wide attention. Around Europe and in the United States many groups were looking forward to a British defeat. One can certainly compare the Anglo-Boer war with other international conflicts with extensive foreign involvement: the American Revolutionary War and the Italian wars of reunification. The ongoing conflict spread anti-British and pro-Boer feelings to Spain and the United States. Also Sweden, Norway, Italy, Portugal, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Flanders, and Russia. The presence of foreign volunteers on the Boer side combined with often successful Boer diplomatic and informational offensives seemed to bring large parts of the world on the side of the Boer struggle for life and liberty.

In all there were probably close to 2,000 foreigners in the volunteers corps and an additional 1,000 foreigners in various Boer units.

In 1922 a statue of General Christiaan de Wet(1) was unveiled near Apeldoorn in the Netherlands. Another Boer military leader that rose to fame after the war had ended was Jan Christian Smuts, educated at Cambridge but guerrilla leader during the conflict and later prominent in South African politics.

Even in distant Sweden, one of the countries in Europe geographically furthest away from South Africa, the Anglo-Boer War received great attention in media and Swedes joined countrymen already in South Africa to fight in the Scandinavian Corps.

The Cape Colony was a British territory in South Africa and the forces in the colony were put at the disposal of the British. But it was not only inhabited by British immigrants. Many burghers moved there to settle before the Anglo-Boer War. The Old Colony became the target of Boer warfare as hope of victory faded Boer commandos invaded hoping that their presence would persuade the Cape colonists to join their ranks in a guerrilla war against the British.

By the summer of 1901 the Boer guerrillas had initiated campaigns in most of the parts of the Colony and the British began to fear that Boer advances on their own territory would be harmful to their image. The guerrilla phase had started on December 15th, 1900, when General Pieter H. Kritzinger(2) with 700 men crossed the Orange River into the Cape Colony. Especially the Midlands was a worry for the British. Here General Kritzinger and his two subcommanders Commendants Gideon Scheepers and Wynand Malan fought a successful guerrilla war. In all 13 generals and 60 commandants carried the battle into the Cape Colony during the guerrilla phase of the war. In June 1901 a general uprising did not seem far away. Around 600 rebels had joined the Boer forces from Cradock district and 200 from Somerset East.(3)

The British countermove was to appoint General Sir John French as supreme commander in the Cape Colony. French designed a new counter-guerrilla technique and he reorganized the British forces. By the end of November 1901 the new strategy lead to the isolation of Boer commandos in the north-west part of colony. French to a great degree used local troops, the Colonial Defence Force (later the Cape Colonial Forces).

Before 1899 it was estimated that there were 4,000 Boer sympathisers in the Cape Colony and earlier in connection with the sieges of Kimberley and Mafeking around 6,000 British citizens had risen in rebellion. In April, 1901, the British were forced to re-introduce capital punishment for high treason. New military courts were established and from July, 1901, around 800 rebels appeared before the courts. Of them around 40 were sentenced to death and others exiled to Bermuda and St Helena as prisoners of war. Most of the death sentences were however commuted.

A leading expert on the guerrilla phase of the war, Taffy Shearing, in March 1999 wrote to this author:

"The whole of the Eastern Cape, with its British settler background were loyalists, as were those on the southern seaboard, while those adjacent to the Orange Free State, the Cape Colony north of the Orange River and the north-west Cape were pro-Boer and the general population initially supported the rebels. However towards the end of 1901 farmers squeezed between Martial Law and hungry commandos turned against the Boers."(4)

In the final phase the Treaty of Vereeniging was not signed by the Cape rebels. 388 remained to lay down arms south of the Orange River in June, 1902. A clause in the peace treaty stated that Cape rebels were to be tried before ordinary courts for high treason, though death penalties were not to be used.

On the Boer side the strategy was to reorganize Boer forces in the colony and reinforce them with new invasions. The areas where Boer guerrilla commandos operated could then be regarded as republican territory and all Boer soldiers could legally be regarded as citizens of the Afrikaner republics.

The aim was also to disrupt British lines of communication, blow up railway lines, wreck trains, and also burn houses of Afrikaners who supported the enemy. But the main strategy was of course to recruit Boers. When capturing British trains and wagon convoys the rebels took what they needed - horses, weapons, ammunition, blankets, saddlebags, riding breeches, boots and hats. The rest was usually burnt.

Gideon Johannes Scheepers, born 1889, had started his career as a telegraphist and heliographer in the Boer army. He had joined the South African Republic Staatsartillerie in Pretoria at the age of 16. It consisted of the Artillery and Field telegraph section and Scheepers was accepted as a recruit in the latter section. Later he became scout for General de Wet. In December, 1900, his campaign in the Orange Free State was over. He had proved himself there to be a methodical person with an eye for detail. Now he was second-in-command to General Kritzinger. One of his lieutenants was Izak Liebenberg, who will be of importance later on in this article.

Scheepers was to become one of the great Boer heroes of the Anglo-Boer war, captured, sentenced to death and executed at Graaf-Reinet in January, 1902. The execution squad consisted of soldiers from the Coldstream Guard, who had experience of earlier executions.
Scheeper was tied to a chair and a photograph taken of his execution shows him falling over backwards on the impact of the bullets. Scheeper was buried in an unmarked grave and although his mother for decades campaigned for British revelation of the whereabouts of the grave, it is still unknown.

Frederick Toy, on whom more later, had emigrated to South Africa from Sweden and lived in Willowmore in the Cape Colony from January to the beginning of April, 1901 5). He joined the guerrillas at Beaufort West in April, 1901, so he was probably recruited by Lieutenant Stephanus Swanepoel of Scheeper's Command who was in that area at the time rounding up horses.

The Capture
Toy was captured by a column commanded by Lieutenant Col. H J Scobell of the 9th Lancers and Cape Mounted Rifles (CMR) on 12th July, 1901. Lt. Col. Timsin Lukin leading a unit of the CMR came upon Lt. Liebenbergs group of Boer guerrillas. The Cape rebels attempted to escape. Scobell had now arrived and with his men attempted to block the getaway. Most of the Boers escaped but Liebenberg, trying to get stragglers from his group out had to make a dash for a kraal nearby. Before they could make a stand Captains Lord Douglas Compton and E. Bell captured 19 Boers including Toy.

Toy with the others was kept in military prison until he stood trial on August 5th, 1901.

The Trial
Already a few days after the capture correspondance indicates that the British military authorities had problems with Toy. The commandant of Graaf-Reinet wrote to the Assistant Adjutant General asking what to do with Toy and a Dutchman, H.J. Veenstra, captured with the others of Liebenberg's group:

"G. 0. C. Mid... 8233/58/9
21. 7. 01.
From Commandant,

To A.A.G.,
Graaff-Reinet, 17.7.01


Discriptive account of 6 Prisoners and 23 Rebels captured by Mobile Column for instructions as to disposal.
Of the men placed on the 1ist of "Rebels" there are two somewhat doubtful cases.
No2. H. J..Veenstra, states he is a subject of the Queen of Hollland but he has resided in Cape Colony for the past 18 months working on his uncle's farm in the Murraysburg District. He has also been guiIty of offences against private property.
No. 22 Frederick Toy claims to have become a naturalised Burgher after the Jamieson Raid. He is a native of Sweden.
I should be glad to know whether bona fide Prisoners of War should be tried by Court-Martial for burning private houses wrecking passsenger trains and such Iike offences against persons and property.
Whether Prisoners of War can be sent, to Cape Town if not to be proceeded against on account of crowded state of prison.

I have &c

Sgd. H. Shute, Maj.

The answer to the letter came quickly, only three days afterwards. Both Veenstra and Toy were to be treated as prisoners of war and to stand trial before a military court. One wonders why the British did not report the capture to diplomatic representatives of Sweden and the Netherlands so that the Swedish and Dutch governments could be notified. Also it seems as if Toy had claimed that he was a Transvaal burgher since the time of the Jameson raid in 1895. That would of course make him more liable to treatment as prisoner of war. Had he retained his Swedish citizenship that might have saved his life.

"No. 176/C.

S.O.Prisoners of War
For your instructions as regards the two prisoners of War.
Orders have been given for all the rebels to be tried by Gen. French, Mily. Comd.

(Sgd) H. Heath Col.

A.A.G. Mid. Dist. C.c.

G. 0. C . Midland
Any Prisoners of War (not rebels) for deportation may now be sent to Cape Town.
If there are good grounds for believing Veenstra and Toy to be rebels they should be tried by Military Court
If found not guilty of treason they can be sent here as Prisoners of War for deportation. But according to the statements on attached list, one is a foreigner and one a burgher of the Transvaal in which case they can only be treated as bona fide Prisoners of War.
The native is not to be sent here on any account.

By Order.
(Sgd.) C. Heyman Lt. Col.

C. T. /24.7.01. S. O. Prisoners of War, C.C.D.

Please return the lists when done with.

There are complete records of the "trial" of Toy 7). These show that Toy was charged with High Treason and attempted murder. He pleaded guilty to high treason and not guilty to the second charge but was found guilty on both charges. The latter charge was based on a Lt. Wynn claiming that Toy had deliberately fired on him after surrender. The British Military Court seems to have believed that prior to Toy's capture "he was apparently a spy" in Boer service.

President at the trial was Lt. Col. W. Doran of the Irish Regiment and the two other judges were Major R.L. Mullens of the 2nd Dragoon Guards (Brabants Horse) and Lt. T.P. Dawson.
The court opened at 10.30 and Capt. F.M. Sandys Lumsdaine appeared as prosecutor.

The charges on the charge sheet read in full:

"The prisoner FREDERICK TOE(8) an alien residing within HIS MAJESTY'S DOMINIONS in a district now under Martial Law, is charged with

1st. Charge HIGH TREASON

In that he at Beaufort West in or about the month of April 1901 joined the armed forces of the late ORANGE FREE STATE AND SOUTH AFRICAN REPUBLICS, between whom and HIS MAJESTY a state of war then existed, and served with them until captured at Onbedacht on the 12th. July 1901.


In that he at ONBEDACHT on the 12th. July 1901 deliberately and intentionally fired at one Lieutenant R.V. Wynn 9th. Lancers to whom his companions had surrendered, with intent to murder him.

Lt. Wynn then proceeded to the witness stand. He said that he recognised Toy as being one of ten prisoners surrendering to him on July 12th. "I believe the prisoner to be the man who when the others had surrendered, fired three shots at me at a range of not more than ten yards. One bullet killed a pony of a man behind me who was on his feet to take away his rifle and bandoliers. And I went on. About an hour afterwards I came back to where the prisoners were and accused the man whom I believed to be the man who fired at me as being a bad shot for missing me at that distance. About 10 p.m. the same night I was officer in charge of the outposts when the prisoner was brought to me as having been caught trying to escape between my posts. He had with him a bandolier and rifle, and his rifle was loaded. I then took him over myself from the man who had brought him in to me, and took him to where the other prisoners were. On the way there he was inclined to be very impertinent. I cannot positively swear to the prisoner's face as being the man who shot at me, but the man who did fire at me was similarly dressed, and I can swear to the hat. The man to whom I spoke accusing him of firing at me did not deny it. I spoke to him in English and he answered me in the same language.

The other men who had surrendered had let their horses go, and some of them had thrown down their rifles. The firing in that particular part of the fight had quite ceased, and this man deliberately fired at me. When I was bringing the prisoner back to where the other prisoners were that night, I asked him in Dutch where the commando was, and he replied in English that he could not speak Dutch, he was a Swede."

Toy had called a number of witnesses that all testified to not seeing him shooting at Wynn and then Toy himself was put on the stand:

"I was coming up on the footpath and my horse had gone and I heard firing and saw someone up on the hill and I sat down on the footpath 'till it got dark, and I saw the grass on fire. Then I came up to the top of the hill and I saw two men who asked me where I was going and told me to put down my rifle and took me prisoner.

One man took my rifle and bandolier and another man brought me to the officer, who asked me my name and what I belonged to, and afterwards took me to where the other prisoners were. The next morning we got up at sunrise and every one was asked who had fired and that at first a couple of men were pointed out and then they pointed to me and said you must be the man that was shooting. I said No. I had surrendered about 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. to the pickets."

Toy was sentenced to "suffer Death by being hanged". The sentence was confirmed by Lord Kitchener.

The Execution
After the sentence Toy remained in prison in Graaf-Reinet and was brought with Veenstra and Van Vuuren to Colesberg in an armoured train on September 3rd. Colesberg might have been chosen because of the Veenstra family connection.(8a) They were executed by firing squad at Colesberg on September 4th, 1901.

From the Colesburg Museum three items have been made available to this author. The first is a handwritten order to a Colesberg citizen, L. Kemper, to attend the promulgation of the proceedings in Graff-Reinet:

"You are hereby directed to attend the promulgation of proceedings of Military Courts which will be held at 5 p.m. this day in front of the Town Hall.

You will be so good as to report yourself to Captain White, Staff Officer to the Area Commandant there at 4. 50 p.m.

Please acknowledge the receipt of this order.

Colesberg Signed Captain (name unreadable)
3rd September 1901. Acting Commandant"

The second "invitation" is dated the same day and reads:

"If you want to be present at the execution of the three prisoners condemned to death, please inform the Staff Officer in writing on or before 8 p.m. this day."

And finally there is a copy of a "Special Permit", also dated 3rd September.

"The Bearer, Mr. L. Kemper, has leave to pass the Examining Guard on the Hanover Road for the purpose of attending the execution of the condemned prisoners

Frederick Toe
Hendrik J. Veenstra
Hendrik Van Vuuren

Who are sentenced to be shot.

The execution will take place on Wednesday the 4th instant at 7 a.m.

All persons desiring to be present must have passed the Examining Guard by 6.45 a.m.
No persons will be allowed to pass the barrier after that hour.

Absolute silence must be preserved."

Colesberg is a small town on the edge of the Karoo, the Western and Eastern Cape. It is full of houses that are National Monuments including a Pioneer Museum, formerly the Colesberg District Bank building of 1864. The Hanover Road site is no longer there. It has been cut off by the National Road (N1). But the camp where the executions took place is still there - it was called Plateau Camp. It is just across the N1 - behind the police station - which stands on the site of the old prison.

Who Was Toy?
Even if we know with certainty that Toy was tried and executed by the British we still know very little about him. The Death Notice(8) gives information that he was born in Sweden, his father is given as unknown in that death notice, the age is given as 29 at the time of his death which would mean that he was born in 1872. His occupation is given as bricklayer and he is put down as unmarried. Toy, according to the Death Notice left £10 in cash. Toy also left a will.

The Death Notice is signed by J. Schmidt, Gaoler, present at death.

There are a few other hints. One Alexander Rennie, a lieutenant of the Willowmore Town Guard gave evidence on Toy at the trial:

"I know the prisoner Frederick TOE now before me. I remember him residing at Willowmore during the months January, February, March and a portion of April last. He left Willowmore on the 22nd of April last for Beaufort West, thence to Cape Town. I always suspected him as a spy. He lived near No. 3 post in Willowmore and I used to watch him particularly. He occupied Mrs. De Jager's house. I frequently saw him about the village. I remember on one occasion going to his house to inspect it for plague purposes, and having an altercation with him, because he refused to clean the house. He however did clean it up before the period allowed him to do so had expired."

Search in the spring of 2000 has been undertaken by me at the regional archives in Gothenburg, which is supposed to have been Toy's city of origin, but he is not recorded in the Books of Birth. Of course he could have been born somewhere else in Sweden and moved with his parents to Gothenburg before leaving for South Africa. No trace of Toy has been found in South African archives concerning his biography for the time between he came to South Africa to the time of his residence in Willowmore.

Then there is the claim by Toy that he became a burgher after the Jameson raid. That raid, led by Dr. L.S. Jameson took place on December 29th, 1895, when Dr. Jameson with five hundred hand-picked policeman crossed the Transvaal border on the way to Johannesburg. The group was met by Boer commandos at Dornkop near Roodepoort and forced to surrender on 2nd January, 1896. So if the information is correct Toy was in South Africa in 1896 at the age of 24. But nothing is known about him from 1896 to 1900.

New archival material may come to light in the future but as for now we have to be content with what is at hand. A Swedish citizen, possibly a Transvaal burgher by the time, was apprehended by British forces in the Cape Colony, brought to trial, sentenced to death and executed in Colesberg in 1901. Toy's fate is only one of those of many thousand foreigners, who fought on the Boer side and paid with their lives. But the main burden was of course carried by rebels of Boer origin. The foreigners were more a sign that others cared about the fate of the Boer republics.

Bertil Häggman was born in Helsingborg, Sweden, in 1940. Master of Law,. Lund University, Sweden in 1964. Assistant District Attorney, Stockholm, and Assistant Judge, Hedemora District Court, Sweden . State employed jurist. Member of the Swedish Writers' Union since 1978. Extensive travels in connection with the authorship in South East Asia, East Asia, Europe, Africa and North America. Participation in a number of international conferences. Contributions to books, magazines, journals and daily newspapers in England, the United States, Germany, Norway, the Republic of Korea and Sweden and other countries. Grants from the Swedish Authors Fund in 1976, 1979 and 1994 and from the Swedish Photocopy Fund in 1990.

Christiaan Rudolf De Wet and his three sons were summoned for commando service in October, 1899. Father De Wet fought in the Heilbron Commando as a common burgher but was fast elected Commandant and in December received the rank of Vecht-Generaal - Fighting General. By the end of the war he was Commandant General and Commander In Chief of all Boer forces of the Orange Free State. After the British occupied the Boer states De Wet continued fighting and established a world wide reputation as a guerrilla leader. He was the man the British could not capture. The book on his guerrilla years, Three Years War, originally published in 1902 is available in a 1986 facsimile edition, Galago Publishing (Pty) Limited .

2) General Pieter H. Kritzinger (b. 1870) was originally a trader and farmed in the Rouxville district. He fought on commando since the outbreak of the war and was a citizen of the Orange Free State with natural leadership abilities.

3) Taffy and David Shearing, Commandant Gideon Scheepers and the Search for His Grave,
Cape Commando Series No. 2, Sedgefield, 1999, which provides a wealth of information on much of the Cape rebellion.

4) In the archive of the author. Thank you Jozua.

5) According to testimony at Toy's trial in Graaf Reinet by Alexander Rennie, a Lieutenant in the Willowmore Town Guard.

6) These letters are from the private collection of Jozua van Vuuren, a descendant of Hendrik Jan van Vuuren of Willowmore district. He had joined Scheepers Command on June 1st, 1901. Van Vuuren managed to escape at Onbedacht but was captured at Houtconstant, Graaf-Reinet, on July 15th. He admitted belonging to Lt. Liebenberg's group. He was tried already on July 30th and executed with Toy and Veenstra by firing squad at Colesberg on 4th September.

7) No. In the Martial Law Blue Book 31, National Archives of South Africa, Cape Town.

8) His real name seems to be Toy. The British court officials mistakenly used the name Toe.

8a) Hendrik J. Veenstra was 22 years old when captured, born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. He had joined Scheeper's commando in April, 1901. Veenstra had come to South Africa in 1899 to visit his uncle Frans van der Ahee at Colesberg.

9) Record No. MOOC 6/9/434, no 3006.


Main Essays Page - Next Essay



This site designed and maintained by Bowler Hat Design
All enquiries to info@bowlerhat.com.au
All rights reserved - 1996-2002, except content in the Public Domain.
No unauthorised copying or use of site material.



Further Reading

Olin, K.G.. Afrikafeber. (Africa Fever), Jakobstad, Finland: Ab Olimex Oy, 2000.
(Several richly illustrated chapters of this book deal with the struggle of the Finlanders in the Scandinavian Corps and the battles of Magersfontein and Paardeberg. There is also a chapter on the fate of the Finnish P.O.W.s on St. Helena.)

Uddgren, H.E. Hjaeltarna vid Magersfontein. Stockholm: 1924.