South African 'Boer' War

Page 6 – Key battles: 1899-1900

After its arrival in South Africa the First New Zealand Contingent was attached to Major-General Sir John French’s Cavalry Division in northern Cape Colony. It saw its first significant action at Jasfontein farm on 18 December 1899. This skirmish resulted in the first death of a New Zealand soldier in an overseas conflict. After being taken prisoner, Private George Bradford died 10 days later of wounds sustained at Jasfontein.

A detachment of the First Contingent soon proved its worth at Slingersfontein farm, which it had helped a British force capture in early January 1900. When the Boer General Koos De la Rey arrived on 15 January to retake the farm, the 60 New Zealanders, under Captain W.R.N. Madocks, and a company of the Yorkshire Regiment defended a hill overlooking it. With the British forces suffering heavy casualties, Madocks sent some of his troops to the Boer flank, then led a bayonet charge against their front. The enemy was forced to retreat, leaving behind 21 dead at a cost of only two New Zealand lives. The New Zealanders were praised for their actions, Madocks was promoted to major and the hill was named New Zealand Hill.

The Queen's scarf

Canterbury-born Henry Coutts won royal recognition for rescuing a wounded soldier after a British column was ambushed at Sannah's Post on 31 March 1900. For his bravery Private Coutts was presented with one of the four scarves that the elderly Queen Victoria had knitted as rewards for gallant soldiers. Read more.

Continuing their service with Major-General French’s Division, the First Contingent helped the reorganised British forces, under commander-in-chief Field Marshal Lord Roberts, relieve the besieged diamond-mining town of Kimberley. Despite losing many horses on the way, the British entered Kimberley on 15 February 1900. The British advance continued and Bloemfontein, the capital of the Orange Free State, was occupied on 13 March. At the end of the month the Orange Free State was annexed by the British.

Transvaal was annexed by the British on 25 October 1900 after the capital, Pretoria, was captured. The final prominent battle in the first stage of the South African War took place on 29 November at Rhenoster Kop in northern Transvaal. There the Second and Third New Zealand Contingents, supprting British forces under the command of Major-General A.H. Paget, pitted themselves against a thousand Boers led by General Ben Viljoen. Fighting from a well-defended position in a semi-circle of hills, the Boers killed 85 men, including 10 New Zealanders, before escaping.