Tuesday 22nd of October 2002 07:19 AM 
Foreign Political Involvement in the Anglo-Boer War

The interest of foreign countries in, and also their sympathy with, the two Boer republics in their struggle against England, already aroused by the visit of President T.F. Burgers to Europe in 1875 and 1876, was greatly strengthened by the Jameson Raid (1895-96), and encouraged by the efforts of the diplomatic representatives of the Republics, Dr. W.J. Leyds, Dr. H.P.N. Muller, Edgar Roels (Paris) and Montagu White (U.S.A.). The Press Office of the Algemeen Nederlands Verbond (Dordrecht) gave valuable help, and the cause of the Republics was strongly advocated by prominent journalists such as Charles Boissevain and Frederik Rompel. It seems that by the time of the declaration of war, almost the entire Western world, outside England and the larger Dominions (Australia, Canada and New Zealand) was already pro-Boer. Political pragmatism was the order of the day for foreign powers however, and help was limited to official observers and medical and financial aid from the outset.

Foreign attaches In the Netherlands feeling was particularly strong, and both there and in Germany the desire to give practical support to the Republics led to the formation of organisations for the purpose of combined action. On 2nd September 1899 the Netherlands Commission for the Transvaal sent a telegram to Queen Victoria asking her to maintain peace, and when war broke out, it co-operated with the Nederlands-Zuid-Afrikaanse Vereniging to raise funds for two ambulances. The Christelijk Nationaal Boerencomité opened a home for Boers in Amsterdam, and an amount of more than £200 000 was raised by the Broekhuizen fund and other funds.
Dr. A. Kuyper and Prof. J. de Louter and the journalist Charles Boissevain were important writers on behalf of the Republics, and men who fought in the war, such as H.J. Louw, C. Plokhooy, Andries de Wet, and Harm Oost gave lectures on it both in the Netherlands and in Belgium.

In Belgium the Algemeen Nederlands Verbond was active, and Flemings and Walloons combined to give assistance to the Boers. Committees in Ghent and Antwerp and leaders like Hippoliet Meert, Pol de Mont, Frans Reinhard and Prof. Paul Fredericq gave vigorous support. As early as November 1899 a Belgian-German ambulance was sent to the Transvaal; it arrived in Pretoria on 13 January 1900. Belgium and also France remained strongly pro-Boer throughout the war.

Germans, despite some discouragement by Kaiser Wilhelm II, showed sympathy with the Boers. On 2 November 1899, 4000 Germans sent a telegram of encouragement to Leyds. The Alldeutscher Verband, an organisation with a pan-German slant, was active on behalf of peace, for which it obtained no fewer than 950 000 signatures. The Deutsche Zentrale für Bestrebungen zur Beendigung des Krieges laid before the Reichstag an address bearing the names of 70 000 sympathisers, and later (December 1901) more than 200 petitions, signed by
166 000 people urged that efforts should be made to halt the bloodshed in South Africa. In 1901 the Frauenhilfsbund began to raise funds for the destitute in the concentration camps. A similar interest was shown in other German-speaking countries, such as Austria and Switzerland.

Foreign attachesIn Russia a Dutch clergyman, H.A. Gillot of St. Petersburg, was the life and soul of the pro-Boer movement. On behalf of about 70 000 Russians, a silver bowl, mounted on a stand of Russian marble, together with seven albums containing the names of the donors, was sent as a token of friendship to Gen. P.A. Cronjé. It is now housed in the Old Museum in Pretoria.

In Scandinavia a Nobel prize-winner, Björnsterne Björnson, advocated the cause of the Boers, and in Italy a committee was established in Turin to work on their behalf. In Hungary an address with 12 000 signatures was sent to President Kruger in 1901.

In the United States the sympathy of many Americans was shown as early as 1899, when a schoolboy, Jimmy Smith, travelled to Pretoria to deliver a memorial address from the school-going youth of his country. Towards the end of the war a petition, with the names of 200 000 signatories, expressing sympathy with the Boer cause, was laid before the American Congress. The Irish in the United States were particularly active in organising it. Public opinion however, did not reflect the governmental stance on the war. John. H. Ferguson captured the situation, commenting that "American public opinion supported the Boers, but the American government acted to support the British". American government policy regarding the Boer Republics stemmed from a critical view of the Transvaal's treatment of Uitlanders, a sizable minority of whom were Americans. For all intensive purposes, public opinion was divided along class lines. Big business held the view that the British war effort would directly effect the business community of the United States. The middle and working classes in America were decidedly pro-Boer and agitated right throughout the war. However, the lobbying power of big business effectively cancelled out any chances of being heard by the American government. This situation, along with a number of complicated European/American diplomatic issues weakened the effect of pro-Boer movements in the United States throughout the war.

In Britain itself the majority of the Liberal Party, then the official Opposition, was hostile to the war, and it was his courageous denunciation of it that brought Lloyd George first into prominence as a statesman. It would seem that the debt of gratitude owed to the English woman Emily Hobhouse for her sacrifices in connection with the concentration camps has still not been forgotten in South Africa.
When in August 1900 the Dutch warship Gelderland brought President Kruger to Europe, sympathy with the Boers reached a culminating point. In France he received an enthusiastic welcome, and was presented with many addresses, medals and objets d'art. He was received in Paris by President Loubet, while Henri Rochefort, editor-in-chief of L'Intransigeant, presented him with a sword of honour which was to be given to General P.A. Cronjé. He was also received by Queen Wilhelmina at The Hague, where the two Dutch Houses of Parliament gave him addresses, and German veterans of the wars of 1864 and 1871 presented him with a sword of honour. Names of several streets in the Netherlands and inns in Belgium bear witness to the intense pro-Boer enthusiasm of this time, and in the International Exhibition held in Paris in 1900 the Transvaal pavilion became a place of pilgrimage. A bust of General C.R. de Wet was unveiled at Schierstein near Wiesbaden, and a statue of the President himself was erected in Dresden. The Cronjé Committee in St. Petersburg presented him with an equestrian statuette as a token of welcome to Europe. In 1902 the gifts made to him and the Boer leaders - nearly 6000 in number - were housed in the Zuid-Afrikaansch Museum in Dordrecht, and in 1921 they were shipped to South Africa.

Laurie, Trevor. 'American Reaction to the Anglo-Boer War'. 1997: Unpublished paper.


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Further Reading

Boissevain, Charles. Open Letter to the Duke of Devonshire and the Struggle of the Dutch Republic. Amsterdam: Roeloffzen-Hubner, 1900. DT930B68.

Butler, J. 'The German Factor in Anglo-Transvaal Relations' in Gifford, P. & Louis, W. R. [eds] Britain and Germany in Africa. New Haven: 1967, pp. 179-214.

Germany. General Staff. History Section. The War in South Africa. London: Murray, 1906. DT930.2W35.

Mulanax, Richard. The Boer War in American Politics and Diplomacy. Lanham: University Press of America, 1993.

Prussia. Grosser Generalstaß. Kriegsgeschichtliche EinzelschriftenHeft 32: Erfahrungen Aussereuropaischer Kriege Neuester Zeit. Berlin: Mittler, 1908.

U.S. War Dept. General Staff. Selected Translations Pertaining to the Boer War. Wash, DC: GPO, 1905. U15U522no4.