Two photograph albums recording the Boer War and its immediate aftermath


1. ANONYMOUS Album of photographs from South Africa dated 1900-01 taken by a British soldier during the Second Boer War (11 October 1899-31 May 1902).  South Africa n.p. 1900-1901

Forty-seven black and white photographs (53x78mm) mounted back-to-back in thick card mounts (104x130mm) bound in a maroon morocco small oblong album (110x135mm). One photograph is missing. Sympathetically rebacked and in very good condition. The grey mounts are all inscribed in pencil with descriptions of the photographs and the occasional comment. Apart from a stain on the front pastedown and the first mount (not affecting the photograph) it is in excellent condition internally. A few of the photographs are showing some slight fading but are still visible. The front pastedown has the inscription “To my wife as a small Xmas present from the Sunny South December 1901”.

Whether the wife of our anonymous soldier appreciated this Christmas present we will never know but it is certainly a very good, personal record of life in South Africa during the Boer War, the descriptions of each photograph adding depth and resonance. The photographs cover a surprisingly wide range. There are tourist pictures of Johannesburg. A number show the local parson accompanied with somewhat condescending comments: one photograph showing him with his wife who is wearing a tartan blouse has the comment “She likes a bit of Scotch” and another image shows some members of the congregation with the inscription “some types of beauty taken after the service…we go in for the latest modes a la Paris, don’t you know”. Our photographer is alive to what will seem exotic and different to his wife at home. A picture of women at work in the field has the note: “Another group of Kaffir Women hoeing up the ground. They are almost naked, these are Zulu’s  - very strong, they sing while they are at work”. Beneath all this is a dark side though and these photographs always remind us that a war is the reason our man is in South Africa. One picture shows “Boer Prisoners captured near Rhenoster. 2 noted scoundrels, very surly and insolent”. Another shows a man standing by a tent with a row of guns: this is “the armourers shop where all the work of South Africa is carried out, Lt White on the left”. A photograph of a cannon has the inscription: “This is the very latest gun made from old wheels, biscuit tins, and an old water pipe”.  Another photograph shows a young black man tied to the wheel of a similar gun about to “have 25 strokes with the Seham Bok” (i.e. a heavy leather whip) and then, even more darkly, there is a picture of the poor man being whipped. A photograph showing a destroyed cannon and a derailed train is entitled “Some of de Wet’s work”: the de Wets were a fearsome family of Boer rebels. There are photographs of de Wet’s farm, destroyed by the British and inscribed, as our photographer tells us with the names of soldiers, including his own. Another picture shows a group of soldiers cutting up wood with the notes that “sometimes the party gets sniped by Boers”. A moving picture shows the graves of officers and soldiers of the Derbyshire Regiment at Rhenoster and perhaps our photographer was a Sherwood Forester. He manages to snap a photograph of Lord Kitchener at the Vredefort road station and towards the end there is a charming photograph of two young local women and a child with the inscription: “Please take my photo said one of these charmers so of course I had to obey orders”. 

2. WHITE, F.H. Album of photographs relating to the work of the South African Constabulary taken in the summer of 1902 immediately following the end of the Boer War.  South Africa  1902

Thirty-seven black and white photographs (c95x115mm) inserted back-to-back in card mounts (145x170mm) bound in a small oblong album (155x185mm). The spine to the album is missing and there is some marginal staining to some of the mounts but the photographs are in very good condition although seven have faded but the images are still visible. Details of some of the photographs are handwritten in black ink in the margins of the mounts and the first mount has been inscribed in pencil "No. 9 Troop SAC F.H.White. E. Transvaal". An excellent, rare record of life in the Eastern Transvaal in the aftermath of the Boer War.
The South African Constabulary was formed in 1900 as a paramilitary force under the control of the British Army. Recruited from British settlers in South Africa and from other colonies, its aim was to oversee and police those parts of the Transvaal and Orange Free State that had been seized by the British during the Second Boer War (11 October 1899-31 May 1902). The first Inspector-General of the SAC was Robert Baden-Powell, who had commanded the British garrison at the Siege of Mafeking and is best known now as the founder of the Scout Movement. When the war ended, Transvaal and Orange Free State became British colonies and the role of the SAC diminished resulting in its being disbanded in 1908.
Of the dated photographs in this album, the earliest is June 6th 1902 and the latest is September. The atmosphere in most of the pictures is one of calm and a sense of relief although one image shows a pair of gravestones marking the death in action of two members of the SAC. A number of photographs show scenes of the town of Ermelo and groups "On trek to Ermelo". Ermelo was a Transvaal town razed to the ground by the British in 1901. In 1903 it was rebuilt and it seems that these photographs show member of the SAC in or on their way to Ermelo to begin its reconstruction. One photograph is of Lance Corporal Westhall who, we are told, died at Ermelo on 10th February 1902, perhaps in the town's rebuilding. Other photographs show SAC members at rest in their smart uniforms (which Baden-Powell used as the basis for his Scout kits). One rather amusing image shows a tall man in a hat with what appears to be a pony-tail at the back of his neck. He is described as Piet Viljoen, "the man who is not going to have his hair cut until the Dutch get independence back". Whether he was related to General Ben Viljoen or Commandant Piet Viljoen we cannot say. Another photograph shows a blameless looking man described simply as "Trooper Mason. The awful man of Amsterdam". And there is a photograph of "Some of No 9 Troop Black Staff". Taken together, this fascinating album shows how one small part of the British military rebuilt a life in a corner of South Africa after the intensity of the Boer War.

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