1900-1919 | Collective punishments | Deportation | Detention without trial | South Africa



Caricature of St. John Brodrick in Vanity Fair – July 1901 (public domain via Wikimedia) and Kitchener c. 1901 (public domain via Wikimedia).

[ 20 July 1901 ]

On 20 July 1901, the British Secretary of State for War, St. John Brodrick, wrote to General Horatio Kitchener, the Chief of Staff of British forces in South Africa, commenting on the general’s suggestion for the permanent banishment of the families of Boer rebels. The minister did not have any objection on moral grounds, but concluded that it was impractical to deport such a vast number of women and children to the remote and barren Atlantic island of St. Helena. He reluctantly informed the general that his suggestion ‘of sending Boer women to St. Helena, etc, and telling their husbands that they would never return, seems difficult to work out,’ adding that regarding the men left behind, ‘we can not permanently keep 60,000 men in ring fences, and they are not a marketable commodity in other lands.’1

Kitchener had also proposed forcibly deporting the entire Boer population, including the men, to some other remote location such as Fiji, Madagascar or the Dutch East Indies, recommending that their farmland should be handed over to British settlers. In his view, the Boers were anyway no better than ‘uncivilized Africander [sic] savages with a thin white veneer.’ He added that ‘we have now got more than half the Boer population either as prisoners of war, or in our refugee camps… I think we should start a scheme for settling them elsewhere, and S.A. (South Africa) will then be safe, and there will be room for the British to colonize.’ Brodrick, however, again objected on grounds of practicality and public relations, reminding Kitchener that the burning of farms had only stiffened Boer resistance, and that if Kitchener’s new proposals also failed, ‘Europe would be needlessly scandalized.’ 2

Though Kithener’s mass deportation plan was considered quixotic, the government had already been planning for some prisoners and civilians to be relocated overseas. A Reuters telegram from Calcutta in March reported that ‘the Government is making plans and estimates for the possible location of batches of one thousand Boers at Dehra, Pachmarhi, Koodaikanal, Trichinopoly and Bellary respectively.’3 Similarly, the Times of Ceylon explained in May that ‘the Imperial Government has approached the Local Government regarding a site for the reception of Boer prisoners’ and, even as early as November 1900, the Western Morning News had noted that ‘the work of deporting undesirables… is proceeding with some vigour,’ adding that ‘five hundred prisoners are at present on board a ship in the outer anchorage (at Durban) awaiting transport to Ceylon.’4


  1. Cited in South African History Online: Towards a People’s History accessed at url https://www.sahistory.org.za/topic/women-children-white-concentration-camps-during-anglo-boer-war-1900-1902. See also Philip Magnus, Kitchener: Portrait of an Imperialist, John Murray, London, 1958, pp. 185-186.
  2. Philip Magnus, Kitchener: Portrait of an Imperialist, John Murray, London, 1958, pp. 185-186, Thomas Pakenham, The Boer War, Abacus, London, 2006, p. 500 and Dennis Judd and Keith Surridge, The Boer War: A History, I.B. Tauris, London, 2013, p. 206.
  3. ‘Posssible Deportation of Boers to India,’ The Manchester Evening News, 12 March 1901, p. 2.
  4. The Times of Ceylon cited in ‘The Boer Prisoners: Possible Deportation to Colombo,’ The Evening Star, 5 May 1900, p. 1 and ‘Deporting Suspects,’ The Western Morning News, 12 November 1900, p. 8.

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