» Transvaal War of Independence 1880-1881


To the Boers watching from the heights it must have been an astonishing sight. Five companies of redcoats advancing parallel to one another, each in columns of fours, their white helmets and scarlet coats brilliant against the green of the plateau, and in their midst, as had always been the custom of British infantry going into action, the Colours unfurled – two large heavy standards nearly six feet square. (The Anglo-Boer Wars – Michael Barthorp)

Perhaps a little bit exaggerated, by this time their tunics were well worn, somewhat tatty and faded and their helmets had been stained brown. Nevertheless, it was an intimidating sight.

When the peaceful attempts by the Transvaal Republic failed to negotiate a return of their independence from Britain, the free burghers of the Transvaal felt they had no option but to resort to arms and war was declared on the 14th December 1880.

The first major action took place at Bronkhorstspruit and soon after all the British garrisons in the Transvaal were invested. The Governor of Natal and Commander of the British forces in south east Africa (Maj Gen Sir George Pomeroy Colley) hurriedly gathered together a combined force of soldiers, mounted police and sailors along with six guns and set out from Durban to Newcastle where they regrouped before moving on to Mount Prospect to attack the Boers who had taken up a defensive position at Lang’s (Laing’s) Nek.

The British then suffered a series of disastrous actions at Lang’s (Laing’s) Nek, where they were repulsed, at Schuinshoogte, where they were forced to leave the battlefield under cover of darkness and in the pouring rain, and then the final defeat on Majuba (Hill of Doves) where Colley lost his life.

The initial peace treaty was negotiated in the front room of O’Neil’s Cottage and the subsequent Pretoria Convention was signed in October 1881. Never wholly acceptable to the Boers it sowed the seeds of discontent that led to the Anglo-Boer War in 1899.

Places of Interest

The Battle of Schuinshoogte
Battle of Schuinshoogte, Ingogo, KwaZulu Natal

502 | 8th February 1881 Having repulsed the British forces at Laing’s Nek the Transvaal Burghers then started to harass … Read More

Fort Mistake
Fort Mistake, Glencoe Area, KwaZulu Natal

503 | Mkupe Pass on the N11. British signalling post built during the war. On east side of N11 overlooking … Read More

The Battle of Majuba
The Battle of Majuba, Newcastle Area, KwaZulu Natal

504 | Sunday 27th February 1881 On the night of Saturday 26th February the British Gen. Sir George Pomeroy Colley … Read More

O’Neil’s Cottage
O'Neill's Cottage, Newcastle Area, KwaZulu Natal

505 | During the Transvaal War of Independence 1880-81 the cottage, home of Eugene O’Neill, which lay in “no mans … Read More

Mount Prospect Cemetery
Mount Prospect Cemetery, Newcastle Area, KwaZulu Natal

507 | This is the site of the British camp and Military Cemetery during the Transvaal War of Independence 1880-81 … Read More

Fort Amiel Museum
Fort Amiel, 4 Fort Street, Amiel Park, Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal

506 | Fort Amiel was opened as the Cultural History Museum of Newcastle in 1990 at the restored British military … Read More