South African 'Boer' War

Page 2 – Origins of the conflict

Tensions in southern Africa

Concerned by German interest in southern Africa, the British Empire annexed the Boer South African Republic (Transvaal) in 1877 to ensure the security of its own South African territories.

The Boers resented British rule and regained a semblance of independence after defeating British forces in the First Anglo-Boer War of 1880-81. But the discovery of gold in Transvaal in 1886 drew more British settlers to the region. When the Boers refused to grant these uitlanders (foreigners) citizenship, tension began to grow between the two communities.

In 1895 Dr L. Starr Jameson, an administrator in the British South Africa Company, which was eager to exploit Transvaal‘s mineral wealth, led a privately organised raid into the republic in the hope of joining forces with a British settler uprising. The raid was a failure, which both embarrassed the British and strengthened the Boers′ determination to resist.

On 9 October 1899 the Transvaal government sent an ultimatum to Britain, demanding the withdrawal of British troops from its border and the recall of all overseas reinforcements. When the British ignored these demands, Transvaal invaded Natal on 12 October. The Boers of Transvaal and the adjoining Orange Free State were now officially at war with the British Empire.

New Zealand offers support

On 28 September, in response to the growing tensions in southern Africa, Premier Richard Seddon asked the New Zealand House of Representatives to approve the formation of a contingent of 200 mounted riflemen to assist the Empire if needed.

Seddon hoped that such displays of colonial solidarity would deter the Boers. He believed that New Zealand was not only bound to Britain but relied on the strength of the British Empire for its own continued security. With only five members voting in opposition, the proposition was passed and the offer conveyed to London, where it was accepted.

The proposal was also widely accepted by the New Zealand public. With war apparently imminent, New Zealand began to hastily prepare the contingent to ensure it met the 31 October embarkation deadline set by the British authorities.

How to cite this page

'Origins of the conflict', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 18-May-2016