How to look for records of... The South African War, 1899-1902 (or Second Boer War) – an overview

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

How many are online?

  • Some

This guide provides a brief overview of Anglo-Boer War records held at The National Archives. The guidance refers mainly to the Second Boer War, 1899-1902, better known as the South African War, but much of the guidance could also be applied to records of the First Boer War, 1880-1881. The advice here could also help you with research into other colonial conflicts of the late 19th century.

These are the records of central government, including all branches of the military. You’ll get a sense of the sort of records we hold and links to guides with more details and advice on how to find the records in our collection, including whether records are available online.

How the records are arranged

The original records are arranged at The National Archives by the government departments that created them. Each department’s collection of records is identified by a department code. Three of the most significant for Boer War research are:

Numerous other government departments may have transferred related records to The National Archives. You will find details for many of them in the guides which we provide links to below.

How to search for records

Before you begin a search you should see if there is a guide to the specific type of records you are looking for – this guide is designed to help you to do that. Each guide listed below contains the links and advice you will need to search a specific set of records.

Each guide will indicate whether records have been made available online (charges usually apply). The online copies are accessed either directly from our website or from the websites of our licensed partners, including Ancestry and Findmypast.

Some records have no online version and to see these you will need to consult them at our building in Kew or pay for copies to be made and sent to you. The search for records held at Kew begins by using keywords and dates to search our online catalogue. The catalogue contains short descriptions of the records and a document reference for each – you will need the document reference to see the record itself or to request copies. Successful keyword searching may mean trying a number of different search terms. You should note that the terms ‘South African War’, ‘Boer War’ or ‘Anglo-Boer War’ are all used in the catalogue, and the different search terms will return different sets of results.

For more guidance on searching or browsing our catalogue, visit our Discovery help pages.

Records of individuals

British Army personnel

Read our guides to British army soldiers and  officers up to 1913 for information on finding records of regular army officers and men who fought in South Africa.

For guidance on finding records of the Imperial Yeomanry and African forces see our guides to Second Boer War personnel records and to Soldiers in African forces under British control.

Royal Navy and Merchant Navy

Although no naval engagements were fought at sea, detachments of Royal Marines and Royal Navy ratings and officers fought on land alongside soldiers.

Medal rolls for the Queen’s and King’s South Africa medals can be downloaded from Discovery at searched by name on Ancestry (£).

The rolls also include the Sea Transport Medal at ADM 171/52 for merchant seamen on ships transporting troops. The merchant navy did not keep records of individual seamen at this time, see our guide to crew lists and agreements for more information.

A number of guides can help you to find more information on officers and men serving in the Royal Navy

Royal Marines

For guidance on finding records of men serving in the Royal Marines read our guide to Royal Marines other ranks.

For officers’ records refer to Royal Marines officers.

Prisoners of war

Our guide to Prisoners of war in British hands has a section on the Boer War.

Lists of prisoners transported overseas can be found in the Admiralty, Transport Department series MT 23, along with other correspondence relating to prisoners and their transport.

Operational records

For advice on finding records of the conduct of the war, consult our guide to British army operations up to 1913, which includes a section on the private papers of prominent army officers involved in commanding British forces during the war, Another collection of Lord Roberts’ papers can be found in WO 105.

The main War Office series relating to the war is . Records can also be found by keyword search in WO 32, War Office, registered files.

Our guides to Maps and plans, Overseas maps and plans and to Sea charts give advice on finding charts and maps in Colonial Office, War Office and Admiralty records.

Our guides to Royal Navy operations and correspondence 1660-1914 and to Royal Navy ships’ voyages in log books give some advice which may be useful in finding Admiralty records. Many papers have been collected into cases in the series ADM 116. Correspondence of the Africa Station is in ADM 123.

Government policy and strategy, international relations and the aftermath of the war

Our guide to Foreign Office general correspondence 1891-1905 gives guidance on searching for international reactions to the war. Records can be found by keyword searches, the names Transvaal, South African Republic, Orange Free State and Orange River Colony all appear in our catalogue. Guidance on finding treaties can be found here.

For guidance on finding records of British colonial administrations affected by the war use our guide to records of colonies and dependencies from 1782 and for advice on records held in other archives see our guide to empire and commonwealth records held by other archives.

Correspondence of the High Commission for South Africa is in series CO 417 and includes correspondence received from the British South Africa Company.

Government Gazettes of the British South Africa company are in CO 455, Ordinances passed by them are in series CO 3.

Browse Discovery for records of the Cabinet Office for the period around and during the Second Boer War for documents concerning decisions and discussions before, during, and after the war in record series CAB 37.

Records in other archives and organisations

Records held elsewhere

The City of London Yeomanry, also known as the City Imperial Volunteers, was raised at the same time as the Imperial Yeomanry. No attestation papers have survived, but you can find some records at the Guildhall Library.

The Women’s Library at London School of Economics has a collection of the papers of Millicent Garrett Fawcett relating to the Boer and First World Wars including photographs of concentration camps.

Other resources

Books

Read ‘Army Records‘ by William Spencer (The National Archives, 2008).

Websites

Search The Times Archive and the Guardian and Observer Digital Archive to view articles (£) about the Boer War.

Consult Boer War source notes on Your Archives for more information on records held at The National Archives.