BATTLE OF RENSBURG (Hobkirk's Farm "Pink Hill"), 12 February
Account by a Boer prisoner to a
correspondent of the The Daily Mail of the trap into which the 2nd/Worcesters
had fallen and the attempted rescue of them by the Australians under Major Eddy,
at Hobkirk's Farm, near Colesberg, 12th February 1900.
I saw a long row of their dead and
wounded laid out on the slope of a farmhouse that evening - they were all young
men, fine big fellows. I could have cried to look at them so cold and still.
They had been so brave in the morning, so strong, but in the evening a few hours
later they were dead, and we had not hated them nor they us.
It was a cruel fight. We had ambushed a
lot of the British troops - the Worcesters, I think they called them. They could
neither advance nor retire; we had them penned in like sheep, and our field
cornet, van Leyden, was beseeching them to throw down their rifles to save being
slaughtered, for they had no chance. Just then we saw about a hundred
Australians come bounding over the rock in the gully behind us. There were two
great big men in front cheering them on.
We turned and gave them a volley, but
it did not stop them. They rushed over everything, firing as they came, not
wildley, but with the quick sharp upward jerk to the shoulder, the rapid sight
then the shot. They knocked over a lot of our men, but we had a splendid
position. They had to expose themselves in order to get to us, and we shot them
as they came at us. They were rushing to the rescue of the English. It was
splendid but it was madness.
On they came and we lay behind the
boulders, and our rifles snapped and snapped again at pistol range but we did
not stop those wild men until they charged right into a little basin which was
fringed around all its edges by rocks covered with bushes. Our men lay there as
thick as locusts, and the Australians were fairly trapped. They were far worse
off than the Worcesters up high in the ravine.
Our field cornet gave the order to
cease firing and called on them to throw down their rifles or die. Then one of
the big officers -- a great rough-looking man, with a voice like a bull, roared
out "forward Australia! no surrender!" These were the last words he ever uttered
for a man on my right put a bullet clean between his eyes and he fell forward
dead. We found later that his name was Major Eddy, of the Victorian Rifles. He
was as brave as a lion but a Mauser bullet will stop the bravest. His men dashed
at the rocks like wolves; it was awful to see them. They smashed at our heads
with clubbed rifles or thrust their rifles up against us through the rocks and
fired. One after another their leaders fell. The second big man went down early,
but he was not killed. He was shot through the groin, but not dangerously. His
name was Captain McInerney.
There was another one, a little man
named Lieutenant Roberts; he was shot through the heart. Some of the others I
forget. The men would not throw down their rifles; they fought like furies.
One man I saw climbed right on to the rocky ledge where big Jan Aldrecht was
stationed. Just as he got there a bullet took him and he staggered and dropped
his rifle. Big Jan jumped forward to catch him before he toppled over the ledge,
but the Australian struck Jan in the mouth with his clenched fist and [he] fell
over into the ravine below and was killed.
We killed and wounded an awful lot of
them, but some got away; they fought their way out. I saw a long row of their
dead and wounded laid out on the slope of a farmhouse that evening - they were
all young men, fine big fellows. I could have cried to look at them so cold and
still. They had been so brave in the morning, so strong, but in the evening a
few hours later they were dead, and we had not hated them nor they
Wrote to her mother on June 15th 1900 from Umtali, Rhodesia.
Sister Dorothy Smith had a nasty accident to her hands. She poured pure
carbolic over them, but has not gone off duty at all. The left hand is so deeply
burnt that she has a neuralgic pain in it nearly all day and night.
Sister Langlands had a touch of fever but worked through it. So far I
have been all right but working very hard.
There have been between 50 and 60 Yeomanry in the hospital for the last
ten days or two weeks. Seven deaths in one week - two coma after malaria, and
We have been at our wits end to keep clean towels, or whatever we could
get hold of, to change the beds of the patients ill with dysentery. The cases
that have been sent out by the Warrnambool, Bendigo and Brighton people have
been our salvation. We do want foment flannel and bandaging material badly.
The men are lying on stretchers, their own mackintosh, sheet and
blankets, and overcoats if further warmth is needed. Fortunately the doctors
bought a supply of pillows, and where we are short we use the men's coats folded
into pillow cases, the kindly gift of the Umtali ladies.
SOURCE: THE ARGUS, THURSDAY 2nd AUGUST
AUSTRALIAN NURSES IN THE BOER
By Max Chamberlain
More than 60 Australian nurses appear to have gone to the Boer war,
either provided by governments or by privately raised funds or at their own
expense. They served with the New South Wales Army Medical Corps units, in
British hospitals - Field, Stationary and Base - or on hospital ships and
trains. Initially they experienced some resistance from the regular British Army
Nursing Service and local nurses, but performed well in scattered groups or
singly from Cape Town and Durban to Rhodesia. They nursed the wounded but found
a higher proportion of cases suffered from diseases such as enteric fever
A group of 14 New South Wales nurses departed Sydney on the
Moravian with the 2nd NSW contingent on 17 January 1900:
E J Gould P Frater E W Lister N
Newton M Steele J B Johnston A C Garden
M Martin E Nixon
T E Woodward A Austin E Hoadley A J
Matchett A B M Pocock
Arriving at Cape Town in February 1900, six went to the Base General
Hospital (BGH) Wynberg, Cape Town, four to No 2 Stationary Hospital, East
London, and four to the Field Hospital, Sterkstroom, serving with the NSW AMC.
Following the advance from Bloemfontein they served at No 3 BGH, Kroonstad and
No 2 BSH, Johannesburg. In August 1900 four were at No 17 BSH, Middelburg, No 6
BGH, Johannesburg, and then No 25 BSH, Johannesburg, from September 1901 to
February 1902, then at No 31 BSH, Ermelo.
A group of nine nurses was raised with private funds in South
M Bidmead A G Cocks A Watts Milne
N B Harris M A O'Shanahan M A
A B Stephenson.
Bidmead, Glenie and Harris are believed to have gone earlier than
the others who sailed on the Australasian on 21 February 1900. They
served at No 2 BGH, Wynberg and at Bloemfontein and until March 1901 at
Pretoria. Some served on hospital ships and one served on No 4 Hospital
A group of ten nurses from Victoria went on the Euryalus with the
3rd Victorian Bushmen contingent on 10 March 1900:
M Rawson F E Hines E Smith A E H Thomson
D Tiddy E Walter D Smith E
Langlands I Ivey
J B Anderson.
They accompanied the Bushmen contingent to Rhodesia and served at
Salisbury, Fort Charter, Bulawayo, Hillside, Mafeting, Springfontein and Tuli.
Nurse Hines died at Memorial Hospital, Bulawayo on 7 August 1900, the only
Australian nurse to die in this war.
A group of 11 nurses raised by a public appeal in Western Australia
sailed on the Salamis from Albany on 21 March 1900:
M Nicolay L A Naylor M Plover E A
Bole I Tchan A Emmins B Brooks E
S Armstrong B Milne L E Rogers
They were employed in the Natal area at Mooi River, Howick, Estcourt and
Volksrust. One reference states that they were disbanded in Cape Town and
individuals joined Princess Christian's Army Nursing Service Reserve
Individuals who went to this war served in several theatres. Some appear
to have been with PCANSR, enlisted direct into the Imperial service:
A R Chutt (V) R Gwyer (N) M G A Warner (T) L Dawson (T) D Burgess (V) L H
M O'Ryan (T) A Teesdale (SA) M A Grace (T) G Fletcher (N) M A Robertson (T) K O
Others who paid their own way are mentioned in the references: B Hutson
(Q) R L Shappere (?V) J M Lempriere (V) E Orr B Kennedy A McCready (N) E Marsh E
M McCarthy A M Chatfield (Q) L Mansfield (T) R A Hinton (Q).
Hutson served at BFH, Rondebosch, Green Point, near Cape Town, where she
nursed Boer prisoners; No 11 BFH, Kimberley, and at Somerset. McCready was at
Fort Napier Hospital, Pietermaritzburg, Kennedy at Estcourt and Shappere was in
Ladysmith and at Johannesburg. Fletcher and McCarthy were Australians in the
British Army Nursing Reserve.
Three Australian nurses were awarded the Royal Red Cross - Sisters
Bidmead (SA), Nixon (NSW) and Rawson (Vic.); three were mentioned in Dispatches
- Sisters Ivey (Vic.), Pocock (NSW) and Shappere (?Vic.); and two received the
Devoted Service Cross - Sisters Bidmead and Glenie (SA).
Max Chamberlain is a member of the Anglo-Boer War Study Group of Australia.
VICTORIAN NURSES IN BULAWAYO
DURING THE ANGLO-BOER WAR
With sickness taking its toll of the Bushmen in Bulawayo, the Victorian
nursing sisters established an Australian hospital in the pavilion at the
Sister Ellen Walter wrote on 15 July 1900:
'We started the hospital here for the troops, and it has been a great
business getting things fixed. It is just a large room in the athletic sports
ground, formerly used for a gymnasium and which we use as a ward. The grandstand
is boarded up for the doctors and for our rooms-all wood and iron-hot in the day
and cold at night. Sister Julia Anderson and I are doing all the nursing work at
present, as it takes Sister Marianne Rawson all her time looking after the
housekeeping. Sisters Diana Tiddy and Annie Thomson are still at the civil
hospital here, as there are a few men there still.
'Each intake of men who arrived in camp had such a lot ill with fever,
dysentery and pneumonia. So far no typhoid among our men. We now have 30 in the
ward, and 11 in tents with measles, and such a lot of New Zealanders arrive with
it. Four nurses are still at Umtali and will come on here later, as the base
hospital is to be here. Sister Frances Hines is at Enkeldoorn, but we expect her
here soon. She has been a long time alone there. We are anxious to go with
troops, and the Colonel in command has promised to send some of us on when the
Imperial contingents have passed.'
The Victorian nurses suffered a fatality when Sister Frances Hines
contracted pneumonia. She was buried at Bulawayo with full military honours.
Captain W. W. Dobbin, a Victorian Bushman, wrote: 'You have no doubt
heard of all the misfortunes, disease and discomfort encountered by the troops
unfortunate enough to be sent to Beira, Marndellas, etc. Our nursing sisters
were the only sisters who ventured into these districts, and they have indeed
done more than their share of work. At times one, sometimes two, would be
trekked off on a week's coaching journey to some fever bed where the troops are
falling ill, with possibly no accommodation but a deserted public house. I have
seen two sisters on their knees scrubbing and cleaning such a place to receive
their patients, and in the middle of their work 10 or 12 sick and dying men
dumped down from an ox wagon, and no orderlies detailed and no native
'The nurses would be obliged to take off some of their own clothing to
make pillows for sick men, and then go outside to cook food under a blazing sun.
They were never with us after Beira, but some of our troops, and men from other
contingents write and speak in most grateful terms of their willing
SOURCE: Wallace R.L.: The Australians at the Boer War: AWM & AGPS :
Canberra: 1976: pp.249-250
PROCEEDINGS OF A COURT OF INQUIRY ASSEMBLED AT
UITGEDACHT, TRANSVAAL, 15TH JUNE 1901, by order of MAJOR GENERAL S.BEATSON,
taking evidence with regard to the night attack on the camp at WILMANSRUST on
the night of the 12th June 1901.
LETTER FROM MAJOR C.J.N.MORRIS, R.F.A. TO MAJOR GENERAL BEATSON,
Uitgedacht, 15th June 1901:
Sir, I have to report that my camp at Wilmansrust (consisting of 4
companies of V.M.R. [E, F, G, H] and the B/B and E/E sections Pompom) was rushed
and taken by the Boers on the 12th inst. at about 7.30 p.m.
The position of the camp will be best described by a reference to the
accompanying sketch. The camp was across a spur and faced south-east. The high
ground to the right was over 2000 yards distance. The spruit which runs round
the front of the camp, the direction from which the attack came, was at least
800 yards. On this side after crossing the spruit the camp could not be seen
until within 250 yards owing to the fall of the ground; down this forward slope
between four and five hundred yards to the front where they could see down into
the spruit was placed the picquet (marked [C] in the sketch). About 70 to 80
yards to the right rear was a good sized stone cattle kraal [A] and close to
this was a small farm house. It was in a lean-to against this house that I was
sitting with Captain Watson, my staff officer, when the attack commenced.
To the rear of the camp the spur dropped slightly making that end of it
on which the camp was situated almost a knoll. The position of the picquets are
marked A, B, C, D on the sketch; they were reported to me as having men mounted
about half an hour after dark.
The positions of the picquets were chosen personally by me and I took
Captain Watson round the ground to where each picquet was to be; he in turn
showed them to Lieutenant Power, an adjutant of the VMR, who afterwards stated
that he had mounted them himself.
My information led me to believe that there might be from 150 to 200
Boers within ten miles of me, and during the afternoon some 20 came down the
opposite slopes to within 3000 yards of the camp. These were driven away by a
few shots from the pompom, one man being wounded.
About 7.30 p.m. I was talking to Captain Watson when a crash came
followed by rapid firing. We at once rushed towards the horse lines, he going by
the north side of the house, I by the south. This was the last time I saw him
alive. The Boers were then in line across the front of the camp, inside the
pompoms and the fire coming from their rifles made a long line of continuous
flame. Many horses stampeded and what followed can best be described as a panic
and in the pitch darkness I was quite unable to rally the men. Three time I
mistook Boers for my own men, but the fourth time on approaching three of them I
was seized by two of them and pushed down on to the ground where there were
three other men under the charge of a sentry. It was at this same moment that
the cease fire was sounded twice on the bugle, by whose order I am unable to
say, but from the commencement of the attacks there had been cries of cease fire
all over the camp. The whole affair could not have lasted more than ten minutes.
When the firing ceased it was 7.40 p.m. At this time there did not appear to be
more than 30 men in the camp and they were without arms.
When the attack commenced the Boers advanced in a straight line through
the camp discharging their rifles rapidly in many cases without raising them to
their shoulders. The main attack came upon the front of the camp, but there was
another attack at the same time, the fire from which swept across the rear of
the horse lines at right angles to the frontal attack. This fire ceased directly
the main line of the Boers reached the end of the horses, the latter continued
to advance clearing the ground in front of them.
My intention had been to rally what men I could and take them to the
kraal [A] but I found it impossible to get hold of any men with arms. It was
whilst attempting to do this that I was made a prisoner and the firing ceased
almost at the same moment. I then told the man who was sentry over me who I was
and requested to be taken to their commandant. This was done and he told me he
was General Muller. The latter then placed me under charge of one man and
permitted me to go round the lines. Being unable to find the doctor I asked
General Muller to release a group of prisoners to collect the wounded from
amongst the horses. This he did on my giving a promise that they would not touch
any rifles. At this time I imagined that the remainder of the men had got away.
I now discovered that the Doctor was amongst the killed and I requested General
Muller to permit me to send two men to the main camp for medical assistance and
to give them a written pass for their safe conduct to the camp. This request was
at once granted and he supplied me with two horses for the purpose. The Boers
cleared away about 10.45 p.m. taking with them practically all blankets and
clothing. It was now that I became aware for the first time that there were over
100 of my men in the hands of the Boers. We were all marched down to the spruit,
when General Muller told me that the men could return to the wounded, but that
he would give me a horse and take me with him. A little later he told me to
return with my own men.
On getting back to the camp I organised a thorough search for wounded and
missing men, collected all the wood that could be found and lighted big fires to
keep them warm. During this search I found that about 100 rifles had been
overlooked by the Boers and 44,000 rounds of ammunition. I directed the kraal to
be strengthened and occupied by the men whom I was able to arm. I also had all
rations which could be found taken there. At daylight I discovered that the
picquet to the south west of the camp in the rocks, consisting of 20 men had
remained undiscovered by the Boers. I gave orders to hold on to this post. About
6.30 a.m. on the 13th inst. a few Boers rode down to collect straying animals,
but on being fired on they dispersed leaving one killed. Soon afterwards General
Beatson arrived with relief.
To my knowledge 3 Boers were killed and their wounded were taken away in
our Cape carts.
Veterinary Lieutenant Sherlock in the absence of a doctor did all that
was possible for the wounded men.
In addition to the above-mentioned picquets, I always had an inlying
picquet of 20 men who slept in front of the guns. This picquet did not go to its
post until after their evening meal, and was probably not there on the night of
the attack owing to the early hour at which it was made. The total strength of
the force was 342 officers, N.C.O.s and men.
Strength of the picquets: A - N.C.O. and 12 men B - 1 N.C.O. and 6 men C
- 1 N.C.O. and 6 men D - 1 Officer and 20 men Inlying picquet - 20 men
I have the honour to be, sir, your obedient servant. Etc
GENERAL SIR BINDON BLOOD'S SUMMING-UP OF THE
DISASTER, WEST ALLEN CAMP, TRANSVAAL, 24TH JUNE 1901:
 PRIMARY CAUSES OF THE DISASTER:
It seems clear that the success of the night attack on Major Morris's
camp on the 12th inst., was due primarily to the following causes, namely: a)
The two picquets [B] and [C], close to which the enemy's attacks passed, did not
do their duty; in as much as they either failed through want of due vigilance to
discover the proximity of the enemy in time and warn the camp, or else, having
discovered the enemy, they failed through cowardice to give warning. b) The
arrangement intended to provide defence for the camp itself on the first alarm
and until the main body of the force could get into position; though duly
ordered was not made, and had it been made it would have been insufficient. It
was meant to consist of one inlying picquet of an officer and 20 men, which was
to have been posted in front of the guns, but at the time of the attack, some
two hours after sunset, it had not been so posted. And at least two more inlying
picquets of this strength were necessary for the security of the camp; all being
posted, with sentries in front of them, at sunset.
 MINOR CAUSES OF THE DISASTER:
The following defects in the arrangements also contributed to the success
of the attack, though in a less degree than the causes above detailed, namely:
a) Picquets [B] and [C] (1 N.C.O. and 6 men) were too weak, which probably
affected their behaviour. b) The picquets were changed after dark, and the
change appears to have been very casually carried out. c) Fires, apparently
large, were burning inside the perimeter of the camp after dark up to the time
of the attack, at which time also many men were sitting round them. d) The guns
were left after dark on or near the perimeter, where they were much exposed,
while as they were not case-firing guns they were useless there at night. e) The
men not on picquet did not have their rifles and ammunition beside them
individually in their bivouacs.
 REMARKS ON THE SITE OF THE CAMP AND DEFENSIVE ARRANGEMENTS
So far as can be judged from the sketch, Major Morris selected the
position for his camp judiciously. But he did not place his picquets well, and
they were too few in number, though as it happened these defects did not
immediately affect the result, since the two attacks happened to pass close to
two of the picquets, who should have heard them and given warning.
 THE ONUS OF RESPONSIBILITY:
Of course Major Morris was responsible for these errors and for the
others previously noted. But I would observe that they were errors of judgement,
due to want of knowledge and experience and not the result of carelessness or
neglect. They were the sort of errors that one sees made daily by our officers,
whose practical field training, as we all know, is very deficient; especially as
regards outpost duty, and more especially as regards the outpost and defensive
arrangements of small camps.
 PICQUETS [B] & [C]:
Personally I am of opinion that picquets [B] and [C] close to which the
enemy's two attacks passed, heard them, but failed to fire on them as they
should have done, through fear that their so doing would bring the enemy down on
them. As they were only 7 rifles each, there is excuse for them. They were tired
too highly considering that they were raw and partially trained soldiers.
 THE V.M.R. GENERALLY:
Similarly, in considering the chicken-hearted behaviour of the officers
and men generally of the Victorian Mounted rifles on this occasion, we must
remember that they were all a lot of recruits together, and that their behaviour
was only what was to be expected in the circumstances. Of course had these
circumstances been different - if the outposts and defences had been properly
arranged - the attack, well carried out as it was, could not possibly have
succeeded, and this consideration makes the whole affair additionally unpleasant
to think of.
LETTER FROM GENERAL KITCHENER, COMMANDING-IN-CHIEF,
SOUTH AFRICA, TO UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR, LONDON. FROM ARMY
HEADQUARTERS, SOUTH AFRICA, PRETORIA, 5TH JULY 1901.
Sir, I have the honour to forward the original proceeding of a Court of
Inquiry on the circumstances connected with the successful Boer attack on the
camp of a detachment of Major General Beatson's force at Wilmansrust (Transvaal)
on the night of the 12th June 1901.
Major Morris, Royal Field Artillery, who commanded the detachment has
I enclose a copy of notes of the Defence of Camps and Bivouacs which has
been issued to the troops.