For those of you that don’t know, here is a brief lead up to the Boer wars:
In 1795 the British took over the Cape Colony for the Dutch during the French Revolutionary Wars. The colony was restored to Dutch rule in 1804 by the Treaty of Amiens and retaken by the British in 1806. This colony was important to protect trade routes to Britain from the east, especially India. The Dutch settlers in the Cape were known as the Boers. The Boers ignored the new governors and moved away from administrative centers, remaining as independent as possible.
Hostilities started to develop in 1823 as the British changed English to the official language. These escalated further in 1833 when the British passed equality laws, making slavery illegal. This was deeply unpopular will the Boers whose economic stability relied on farming using slaves. Although promised compensation for the Brits they soon learnt that it could only be picked up from London.
In the following years thousands of Boers left British territory to continue farming using slaves. Two new states were formed the Republic of Transvaal and a couple years later the Orange Free State.
The British continued to expand their territory, fighting small wars and skirmishes with the Boers and other Africans.
In 1867 diamonds were discovered near the Vaal River, 550 miles northeast from Cape Town. Tens of thousand of people from around the world flocked to the area.
In 1875, Lord Carnarvon attempted to organize a federation between the Brits and Boers (similar to the Brits and French in Canada). The idea was rejected by the Boers.
In 1877 the British annexed Transvaal non violently, they accepted this because the Boers were near war with the Zulus and couldn’t risk fighting a war on two fronts. This raised Anglo-Boer tensions once again.
The Zulus, who had gathered a sizable army of around 40,000 and now had firearms, were seen as a threat to British and given an ultimatum to disband their army. They failed to do this and reluctantly in 1879 7,000 British with 7,000 Black African levies fought a short war effectively ending the Zulu kingdom.
Now the Boers enemies had all been defeated by the British the Boers resentment grew further for the British and they wanted their independence back.
In November 1880 a Boer man refused to pay a tax and his wagon was seized. When his wagon was to be sold a group of armed Boer took the wagon back and assaulted the sheriff. British troops sent after them but were fired upon.
In December 1880 Transvaal declared independence and began besieging British garrisons in the region and so the First Boer War began.
The Boers being farmers were excellent hunters and riders. They fought using camouflage and stealth to snipe at British red coats.
*Fun Fact: The Boers fought in guerrilla groups called kommandos. Winston Churchill was captured by the Boers and out of respect for their skill he later named British special forces ‘commandos’.