British Empire
Living in the British empire - Africa
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Photograph showing casualties in an early battle of the Boer War, 1900
(Catalogue ref: COPY 1/453 pt1)
  • This photograph was taken in 1900. It shows British soldiers killed by Boer troops at the Battle of Spion Kop in January 1900. Spion Kop was a hill in the South African region of Natal.
  • Britain took control of the Cape Colony in South Africa in 1806. However, there were already European settlers there. They were descended from the original Dutch settlers, and were known as Afrikaaners or Boers.
  • During the 1800s the Boers moved inland into South Africa because they did not like British rule. They objected to British taxes. They also objected because under British rule native Africans were given basic civil rights.
  • As they moved inland the Boers clashed with the Zulus and other African nations. The British became involved in these wars. By the late 1800s the British controlled the provinces of Cape and Natal. Further north, the Boers controlled separate republics called the Orange Free State and the Transvaal.
  • Tensions increased between the British and the Boers in the 1860s when diamonds were discovered. The tensions got worse in the 1890s when gold was discovered in the Transvaal. Large numbers of foreign miners (called Uitlanders by the Boers) arrived in the Transvaal to look for gold. So did large numbers of Africans, looking for jobs in the mines.
  • The Boers treated the Uitlanders badly. They were heavily taxed and had no rights (eg they could not vote). The British government constantly pressured the Boers to improve conditions for the Uitlanders, and this eventually led to war in 1899.
  • Some historians believe that the British deliberately provoked the war to give them a reason to take over all of South Africa and the gold mines.
  • This battle was a major disaster for the British forces. The early stages of the war saw victories for the Boers. However, as the full resources of the British empire were poured into South Africa the Boers were gradually worn down.
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