South African 'Boer' War

Page 1 – Introduction

A tight corner, a New Zealander, painting, circa 1900
A tight corner, a New Zealander, painting, circa 1900

New Zealand and the South African War

The South African War (or Second Anglo-Boer War) was the first overseas conflict to involve New Zealand troops. Fought between the British Empire and the Boer South African Republic (Transvaal) and its Orange Free State ally, it was the culmination of long-standing tensions in southern Africa.

Eager to display New Zealand's commitment to the British Empire, Premier Richard Seddon offered to send troops two weeks before conflict broke out. Hundreds of men applied to serve, and by the time war began in October 1899, the First Contingent was already preparing to depart for South Africa. Within a few months they would be fighting the Boers.

By the time peace was concluded 2½ years later, 10 contingents of volunteers totalling more than 6500 men (plus 8000 horses) had sailed for South Africa, along with doctors, nurses, veterinary surgeons and a small number of schoolteachers. Seventy-one New Zealanders were killed in action or died of wounds, with another 159 dying in accidents or from disease.

The South African War set the pattern for New Zealand’s later involvement in two world wars. Specially raised units, consisting mainly of volunteers, were despatched overseas to serve alongside forces from elsewhere in the British Empire. The success enjoyed by these troops fostered the idea that New Zealanders were naturally good soldiers who needed little training to perform well.

How to cite this page

'South African War 1899-1902', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 18-May-2016