During the years when the main trekker effort had been concentrated in Natal, the overberg Boers had enjoyed modest prosperity in a less spectacular fashion. Following the fights at Mosega and Kapain, Hendrik Potgieter had come to look upon the high veld almost as his personal property and after his brief appearance in Natal on the Vlug Commando he had thankfully returned over the Berg, humbled by the Zulus and condemned by a large section of his fellow Afrikaners as a traitor. Since then Potgieter had remained aloof from all the dramatic events which had led to the inauguration of the republic of Natalia and to its ultimate overthrow by the British.
It is as well if at this point we take a look at the situation on the high veld to which Potgieter returned after his unhappy experience with the Vlug Commando in 1838.
The country between the Orange and Vet rivers had long been settled by heterogeneous communities of Bantu, Bushmen, Griquas and trekboers as well as by Voortrekkers who had dropped out early from the mainstream of the Great Trek. On the other hand the country north of the Vet to as far as the Zoutpansberg was dominated by Potgieter's adherents. They lived at places which had been selected for their water, soil, pasture and timber. On and around these nuclear sites Potgieter now schemed to build the autocratic state of his dreams. With the instinct of a born dictator he proposed to set up a country governed by himself alone; the coloured inhabitants who wished to remain in contact with the whites there were to be segregated, but must give their services to the Boer farmers for a reasonable wage; they were also to be prohibited from vagrancy and among other strictures were not allowed to possess guns. Potgieter in short had been caught up in a pattern of government which a later generation of Afrikaners would label as apartheid.
Potgieter went about his task with expediency and skill. His men had taken their last look at Natal from the top of the Berg on 14 May 1838, after which he headed due west to his headquarters on the Sand river. Now that the Matabele had been driven away Potgieter could make his plans with complete confidence. He intended to live on amicable terms with the African tribesmen remaining in his domain, renew his search for a route to a Portuguese port which would be beyond British control, and gradually extend his influence over the whole of the high veld. To this end during the remainder of 1838 he made treaties of friendship with local African potentates including Sekwati who ruled the powerful Bapedi tribe. Then in June he entered into an arrangement with the Bataung chief Makwana by which for the bargain price of 38 head of cattle he bought the enormous tract of land between the Vet and the Vaal over which the chief asserted a rather dubious sovereignty. However implausible this may seem, the transaction at least gave some semblance of legality to Potgieter's claim to have become lord and master of this first large section of the high veld.
For six months too Potgieter explored his domain, riding nearly to the Zoutpansberg in the hope of hearing news about Louis Tregardt who by now, however, had reached Louren~o Marques. And his people spread out, staking out their claims to attractive farmlands. Only at the end of 1838 did Potgieter break up his own camp at Sand river and move his wagons to a delectable site on the Mooi river beyond the Vaal whose attractions he had noticed during his expeditions against the Matabele the year before. At first this settlement was called Moorivierdorp but gradually it took on the name of Potchefstroom which on somewhat unlikely authority is said to be a reference to 'The stream of the chief Potgieter.' At about the same time the village of Rustenburg took shape on the slopes of the Magaliesberg.
Potgieter ruled his trekker state from his twin 'capitals' of Winburg and Potchefstroom. Hartbees houses went up in its tiny hamlets together with store houses, and huts for carpenters, blacksmiths and wagon-makers, giving an air of permanence to these dozen or so little nuclei of European civilisation which dotted the veld. The great tented wagons stood motionless now beside these buildings and the rough stockades in which the cattle and sheep were herded and the small kraals near by where the Bantu servants lived.
After the proclamation of the republic of Natalia, Potgieter following a meeting held on 16 October 1840 somewhat reluctantly agreed to a loose form of federation between his own state on the high veld and the new trekker republic below the Berg. In return he was handed the sop of being appointed 'Commander and Ruler of Potchefstroom' with an adjunkraad to assist him in dealing with local problems.
By the April of 1842 when British troops were already marching from the Umgazi towards Port Natal relations between Potchefstroom and Pietermaritzburg were becoming strained, however, after the Volksraad withheld its approval of Potgieter's leading yet another expedition against Mzilikazi. In the crisis which followed when open conflict flared up between the Natalian trekkers and British troops Potgieter made no attempt to assist his fellow countrymen. After the British Government annexed Natal Potgieter detached Potchefstroom-Winburg from the Federal Republic and declared its independence on 9 April 1844. At the same time too he proclaimed a constitution of a sort. It was known as the Thirty-three Articles and in it Potgieter was recognised as sole ruler of a state whose boundaries he had extended in one direction from the Drakensberg to the Kalahari and in the other from the Limpopo to the Vet. Now that Pretorius had retired into the shades as a British subject and then vanished (finally it seemed) in the deeper shades of retirement at his farm near Weenen, Potgieter with some justice could regard himself as the unrivalled trekker leader, and in a moment of braggadocio he announced that his jurisdiction extended southwards as far as the Orange itself. On paper at least his high veld trekker republic now reached from the frontiers of the old Colony in the south to the farthest points which the emigrants had reached in the north.
But Potgieter's pretensions to control Transorangia, the land between the Vet and the Orange, were unrealistic. It had already a considerable white population which had lived there before the Great Trek; these people had no quarrel with the Imperial Government and even dissociated themselves from trekker politics. Their loyalties still lay with the Cape.
The position in Transorangia was further complicated by the heterogeneous character of its other people. Every sort of community that could be found in southern Africa was living here. Besides the white settlers, rival Sotho chiefs—Moshweshwe, Moletsane, and Sekonyela all claimed land on both sides of the Caledon and each of these potentates was supported by his own resident missionary. Adam Kok's Griquas in a rough and ready way had hammered out the rough outlines of their own state immediately to the north of the Orange and they were bolstered in their claims by the formidable John Philip after whom they had named their chief town, Philippolis. In Transorangia too, groups of Bushmen still eked out an existence which was heavily based on cattle-reiving from their neighbours. And now during the 1830s Great Britain was gradually sucked into this anarchic situation because of a wholly admirable anxiety to keep the peace in the country beyond the Orange river frontier.
Only the most diligent student of South African history would be able to find his way through the whole imbroglio of Transorangian political affairs at this time. All we need to know here is that they resulted in constant clashes between the Afrikaners and the Griquas, and between these two people and the Bantu. In an attempt to restore some sort of order the British warned the Boers not to interfere in the African chiefs' affairs, and when the fiery Johann Mocke announced in return that he intended to declare a trekker republic in Transorangia, a colonial judge who happened to be in Colesberg at the time equally impetuously proclaimed British sovereignty beyond the Orange as far as the 25th parallel. Cape Town refused to ratify this annexation but in 1843 the Governor did intervene beyond the river by negotiation treaties with both Kok and Moshweshwe; they were to be paid annual salaries in return for an obligation to keep order within their respective territories. In a sense Kok and Moshweshwe had become Imperial allies and when renewed skirmishing broke out between Griquas and Boers, a small British force marched over the border to Kok's assistance and scattered an Afrikaner commando after a sharp action at Zwart Koppies during the May of 1845.
This support of coloured folk against white men overnight converted many of the Transorangian Boer loyalists into Republicans, and all of the whites disliked the compromise solution for the situation which the Cape Government now proposed. It pronounced that the land south of the Riet river belonged wholly to Adam Kok and was inalienable, while north of that line the Afrikaners could still lease land from the Griquas. To supervise these arrangements a British Resident, Major Warden, was established at a farm named Bloemfontein in the alienable part of the country.
On the far side of the Vaal meanwhile Potgieter's old restlessness had returned. He had been badly shaken in 1842 by the peppery judge's announcement of the extension of British rule up to 25° south, and now his power was being threatened by the Natalians who were trekking over the Berg in increasing numbers after the red-coats had taken over at Durban. Natalian emigrants were even swaggering about in his own town of Potchefstroom and making his gorge rise with braying accusations about his behaviour on the Vlug Commando. The old stability of the trekker communities across the Vaal was being shaken, and after his pride had been solaced by his reelection as Chief Commandant and Ruler of the high veld republic, Potgieter thankfully resumed his old mantle of trek leader and, abandoning Potchefstroom, led his immediate followers to a new settlement below the western slopes of the Drakensberg. It was safely beyond the shadowy line of 25° south of latitude and the village was only two weeks' ride from Lourenço Marques. It was named Andries Ohrigstad, combining the rarely used first name of the Chief Commandant and the surname of the merchant who had hoped through Smellekamp to open trade between the Voortrekkers and the Netherlands.
Potgieter obtained the land for his new settlement by a verbal agreement with Sekwati, the Bapedi chief. The township stood where the deep valley of a tributary of the Blyde river running through the eastern slopes of the Drakensberg mountains suddenly opens out into a green and picturesque basin surrounded on three sides by an almost sheer wall of mountains. The land was fertile and ample enough for the trekkers. Oom Hendrick as the leader naturally took the pick of the farms and with unusual prescience named it Strydfontein—the Fountain of Strife. From now on Ohrigstad was to be the nation's capital while Potchefstroom and Winburg were regarded as satellite colonies. Here again at Ohrigstad the classical trekker policy was established: enough Bantu were allowed to live on the Afrikaner farms to provide them with labour; the remainder were either segregated in native reserves or continued to live under semi-independent chiefs.
But even in distant Ohrigstad Potgieter's new-found peace was not to last for long. Natalian trekkers flocked up to the new capital and under the leadership of 'Kootjie' Burger inevitably contested the Chief Commandant's authoritarian rule. It was hardly surprising. The passing years had rendered Potgieter increasingly intractable. Perhaps after the tremendous strain of his endeavours the dictator was growing weary. Certainly now he is even less patient with dissension than before and he reacts more harshly to opposition. Although his own followers remained always faithful to him, and canvassed the nomination of their leader as ruler of Ohrigstad for life, a party condemning Potgieter's monarchical establishment and advocating rule by an elected Volksraad made its voice increasingly heard. Relations between the two factions were just about as bad as they could be, short of actual physical combat; often indeed it seemed that this might break out and plunge the northern trekker republic into civil war.
Potgieter's claims to authority were bolstered by Sekwati's verbal cession of the land in his favour, but now the Volksraad party countered in 1846 by purchasing a large parcel of land north of 26° latitude from a Swazi princeling (though very little of it in fact belonged to him) for 100 head of cattle. The new bargain may have been no more binding than Potgieter's, but it was at least written out on paper, and besides this document Burger's party had a second trump card up their sleeves in the possession of the only cannon in Ohrigstad. It was all very disturbing and Potgieter after accusing the Volksraad of all sorts of sins, in Stuart fashion made an unsuccessful attempt to arrest its leader. Andries Pretorius added to the uproar at the time by settling in the Transvaal following his final disillusionment with British rule in Natal, and his untiring finger searching for a suitable pie promptly made him offer not only to reconquer Transorangia for the Boers but to mediate in the quarrelling at Ohrigstad.
It is not difficult to imagine 'Ou [old] Blauberg's' discontent with the way things had turned out in Ohrigstad, and again in 1847 the familiar restlessness returns. Nothing it seems will ever stop Potgieter's slow persistent quest for the promised land; the more his plans miscarry the more determined he becomes to find the appointed place. To do so he will go on riding endlessly over the veld, deciding on another site, putting the plough to its rich alluvial soil, building a mud-walled fortress more for prestige than for protection, superintending the erection of his followers' houses, and laying a water course through the new settlement, hoping that at last he has found the security and independence he has craved so long. Thus in 1847 the trekgees in Potgieter is burning high again and we find him making another reconnaissance of the Zoutpansberg territory, happy to be removed from the bickering of his countrymen, and inaccessible to even the most persevering British imperialist. That same year he leads a large commando over the Olifants river again; while one section is detached to reconnoitre a route to Inhambane, he himself rides with 100 men far into the new empire which Mzilikazi has created across the Limpopo half expecting to find his new Canaan there. But it is the land lying below the Zoutpansberg which after all has exerted its old charm on him, and Potgieter impulsively decides to abandon Ohrigstad and settle his followers at a new site in its southern shadow; it was to be known first as Zoutpansbergdorp, and later (in deference to the name of the man who married the widow of 'Ou Blauberg's eldest son) as Schoemansdal.
It was not all that difficult to leave Ohrigstad: the factional strife had overtaxed the old warrior's mind, and the Steelpoort and Blyde valleys were so alive with malaria that their rich soil had been as fruitful of graves as crops. Then again the short route to Lourenço Marques on which so many hopes had been based was virtually closed by tsetse fly. So once more the wagons were refurbished, their great tilts were taken down from rafters in the huge barns of Ohrigstad where they had been stored out of reach of preying ants, the stock was mustered, and in January 1848 Potgieter led 600 of his people off towards the north. Ohrigstad looking now like a ghost town was left to its quarrels and the supporters of Kootjie Burger, and presently they too abandoned the place in favour of a healthier site thirty miles away which they called Lydenburg — the place of suffering — in memory of all the tribulations they had experienced.
Far away to the north, hardly affected by the tumult which threatened now to overwhelm their fellow countrymen in the Transvaal, Potgieter's clan set up their huts again beside a marshy stream on the southern slopes of the Zoutpansberg and drove their ploughs through the loamy earth. Elephants abounded in the area and for twenty years. Zoutpansbergdorp depended and boomed on the ivory trade. Here Hendrik Potgieter was to live until his death in 1852, and there in its deserted graveyard the first of the Voortrekkers slumbers today below the mountains he loved so well.
Meanwhile in the south, 1848, the year of revolution in Europe, opened on the high veld of Transorangia with the roar of an exploding meteor. A remarkably flamboyant actor had again stalked on to the stage, and for the next few months he was to dominate it — Harry George Wakelyn Smith.
Sir Harry Smith had been sent out as Governor to the Cape late in 1847 with additional powers as High Commissioner
'for the settling and adjustment of the affairs of the territories ... adjacent and continuous to the ... frontier',
and he proceeded to go about these duties with the peculiar intensity which characterised all his actions.
He was sixty at the time of his appointment and he could look back on a splendid military career. Before he was twenty Smith had seen action in South America and he afterwards distinguished himself in the Peninsular campaign. He was the hero during its course of a romantic incident which caught the imagination of his fellow-countrymen. In 1812 at the end of the bloody assault on Badajoz, when Wellington's troops were allowed to sack the town for two days and nights, a Spanish girl sought safety with a group of British officers. She was fourteen years old, and even through her tears (for her ears had been hurt when some drunken soldier ripped off her earrings) Captain Harry Smith had seen that she was very beautiful. He stepped forward to ask her to accept his protection. With his usual impetuosity Smith very soon afterwards offered her his hand in marriage and within four days of their first meeting Juana Maria de los Dolores de Leon had changed her name to plain Mrs Smith. She was to be at her husband's side during most of what remained of his tumultuous career. Soon after his marriage Smith as a Brigade Major survived the holocaust at Waterloo. Then after service in England he was sent to South Africa in time to serve in the Kafir War of 1835. During its course he made a dramatic ride from Cape Town to Grahamstown and there won more renown by infusing his own courage into the colonists who had been demoralised by their losses. This and Smith's subsequent exploits in the fighting against the Xhosa made him the youthful hero of South Africa, the admired friend of English settlers and Boers alike. Harry went on to win new laurels in India, and it was a splendid victory over the Sikhs at Aliwal which really made him: he was rewarded with a baronetcy and promotion to Major-General. Soon afterwards, in December 1847, he came to Cape Colony again, this time as Governor.
A contemporary portrait of Sir Harry suggests that now he was the very incarnation of the regular army officer who has learned his soldiering under the great Duke. The patrician features topped by elegant waves of pewter-coloured hair, the determined chin, the long military moustache, the large aquiline nose and the nail-hard eyes all speak of a soldier of the up-and-at-'em school, and of a man accustomed to command and privilege. But one has to look hard to find evidence of another side to Harry Smith's character: for although he was very brave and very determined it cannot be denied that Smith was also conceited and pompous and the proud possessor of South Africa's largest ego. More than most men he was governed by his emotions; he boasted and bragged and was not ashamed on occasion to shed a tear; Smith was also happy to ignore everything which did not fit in with his preconceived ideas about the affairs of the subcontinent over which he had come to preside.
Although Harry Smith's energy and drive amounted to near genius, his unfortunate penchant for the dramatic often made his actions tremble on the brink of the ridiculous. His flamboyance no less than his girth had swelled with increasing years and he was a very different man in 1848 from the one the Colony had known ten years earlier. The new Governor now was for ever playing a part — an heroic part — of which he often seemed to be the most astonished spectator. It was typical of Smith that soon after his arrival at the Cape he should travel in state to its eastern frontier, and there regale an assembly of Xhosa chiefs with all sorts of threats and promises, after which each one was led in turn to kiss the gubernatorial boot in the manner of a Roman triumph. On another famous occasion Smith placed his foot on the prostrate figure of a defeated chieftain and brandished the sword of victory over him. Inevitably Sir Harry at this stage of his career inspired either admiration or loathing in all who met him: there was no in-between stage, and it was unfortunate that the Boers of Transorangia who had welcomed him as an old friend should very soon have learned to hate his very name.
For Sir Harry Smith, that disciple of British expansion, within a few weeks of his arrival in South Africa formally annexed all the land between the Orange and Vaal rivers under the name of the Orange River Sovereignty, and thus brought many of the Voortrekkers back within the Imperial fold. Pharaoh had struck again. First Natal and now the central plains of the interior below the Vaal had been lost to them.
The annexation was the action of an impulsive man who was far too sure of himself; Smith had jumped to a wholly wrong conclusion; on the strength of a few messages of welcome from friends among the emigrant Boers beyond the Orange he had decided that they would welcome the imposition there of British rule.
The arrival at the Cape of Sir Harry Smith more or less coincided with the decision of Andries Pretorius to abandon his farm in Natal and seek a new home in the Transvaal. He settled in the Magaliesberg but almost immediately became caught up in the political agitation which followed Smith's proclamation of the Orange River Sovereignity. It fell now to Pretorius and not to the distant Potgieter to, rally opposition to the annexation of Transorangia. In all fairness we must note that at first he attempted to work with Potgieter and made a genuine attempt to heal the old breach but his rival turned out to be more concerned with obtaining British recognition of his own independence than in offending Smith by supporting his fellow-countrymen on the other side of the Vaal. In any case Potgieter was preparing at the time for his move to the Zoutpansberg and this absorbed his interest, but of course the strained relations between the two men gave the situation a slant of its own and may have been at least partly responsible for 'Ou Blauberg's' unhelpful (and to Afrikaners, unpatriotic) attitude. Potgieter once again was discharging his larger loyalty at the expense of the majority of his countrymen. We must remember too that he regarded Pretorius as the man who had surrendered Natal and accepted British rule for years, yet who now wanted to improve his own political image by posing as the champion of an independent Transorangia; for his part Pretorius must have found it difficult to forget the way Potgieter had abandoned the Natalians after the Vlug Commando and now seemed more concerned with guarding the interests of Potchefstroom than with rescuing Winburg from the imperialists. The feud flared up again in the May of 1848 when Potgieter made his position plain at a public meeting held at Potchefstroom and then ostentatiously withdrew to the north. One can be certain that Pretorius was only too pleased to fill the gap. While he was itinerantly preaching opposition to British rule in the Orange River Sovereignty, Sir Harry Smith made a progress through the country in an attempt to calm its malcontents now teetering on the brink of revolt. The tone of the manifesto he addressed there to 'My friends, my half-lost friends and wavering Christians' perhaps better than anything else expresses the theatrical restlessness and the pious sentimentality which existed inside the uptight outward sheath of Smith's personality. It reads:
Oh! how I hate and detest the name of war and commotion! The many battle scenes I have witnessed arise like phantoms to my imagination. But as I abhor war, so will I terribly wield its power if you drive me from your affection. If you compel me to wield the fatal sword, after all I have attempted for you, the crime be upon your own heads; and while my troops shall exult in victory I will weep as you have seen me do over the fallen, the defeated, the deluded; your lands will be wrested from you, your houses destroyed, your herds swept off, your own hearts blackened by wicked ingratitude, and your faithful, your generous friend, who has exerted himself for your exclusive benefit, turned into the Avenger of Evil! There are limits to the extent of the most virtuous feelings in this worldly and uncertain trial of life. Aid me, as I desire you, to preserve them to us, and as in generous and uncorrupted minds the superiority of religion carries us through the calamities of this transient life, let us together thus pray: Lord of all power and might, disposer of all things, good and evil, deign to look upon us frail and sinful creatures; teach us who are our true friends — preserve and strengthen us in all the trials of temptation; defend us from all the evil practices of wicked men; teach us to worship Thee with our hearts, our minds, our souls, devoted unto Thee through Jesus Christ; direct our hearts and actions towards our neighbour; teach us to live that our. course in life may lead us to life eternal; teach us to forgive our enemies and to love our friends; teach us after a peaceful life to look forward to that reunion in Heaven, the fountain of all our hopes on earth, the happy place of rest for our immortal souls. When we must put off the mortal garment, and lie down on the bed of death, let us be at peace with our own hearts!!! This grant us, O Lord, our God Almighty, through Jesus Christ. Amen — H. G. Smith.
Not since the days of Cromwell's victories has the Bible and the 'fatal sword' been brandished in this fashion, but it may be doubted whether in fact their 'generous friend's' rambling and impassioned manifesto did much to turn the discontented Boers away from revolt.
Instead a fresh wind of hope and determination began to blow among the Afrikaners as Pretorius continued his crusade. People's thoughts went back to Blood river and his very name seemed to guarantee success, and this in itself was remarkable since for the past six years Pretorius had quietly accepted British rule in Natal. Gradually his measured invective rose to a scream as he struck heroic attitudes before increasingly enthusiastic audiences from both sides of the Vaal, calling for Transorangian independence. Then he mustered the Harde Emigranten of the Transvaal and marched them into the Sovereignty on a recruiting campaign. At first he said his assembling of the commando was no more than a peaceful demonstration to Sir Harry Smith, that he was mistaken in believing that the majority of the burghers south of the Vaal wished for British rule. But this was the year of revolutions. Revolt had swept through Europe during the early months of 1848. Within the space of a few weeks the sound of shattering glass and gun-fire had echoed in its capitals as revolts broke out in Sicily, France, Austria, Italy, Germany and Poland. And now even the Afrikaners took the contagion as they listened to Pretorius insisting that the English oligarchy too must soon be threatened by rebellion, and would then have to recall the red-coats from all the imperial outposts to defend it. Now, he insisted, was the time to liberate Transorangia by force of arms and proclaim it an independent trekker republic. The Great Trek for the second time had brought its children into open hostility against the British.
Everywhere Pretorius spoke the burghers flocked to join him. He was received with especial enthusiasm in Winburg and marched out of the place with 500 armed followers. By mid-July he was in Bloemfontein at the head of 1,000 men and gently shepherded the bewildered Major Warden and his few British assistants across the Orange with a fine collection of scare stories. By August he was commanding an army of 1,200 men and was in effective control of the country between the orange and the Vaal. But now Sarel Cilliers once more had cause to lament, this time almost in falsetto, that 'again another woe befell us'.
For Pretorius was dealing with Sir Harry Smith and this was just the sort of situation which suited the Governor's undoubted talents. There was a sudden gleam of bayonets beyond the Orange as Sir Harry concentrated all his available troops at Colesberg to drive the invaders out of the Sovereignty. He was able to muster, four companies of the Cape Mounted Rifles, two companies each of the 45th Foot, the 91st Highlanders and the Rifle Brigade, together with three field-guns. Now Smith had a compact little force of 800 regular soldiers which was supported by 250 mounted Griquas as well as by a handful of loyal farmers. It seemed more than enough to brush Pretorius aside and reoccupy Bloemfontein.
This evidently was the opinion of many of the Boers on commando and they began to melt away when on 16 August 1848, after offering £1,000 reward for Pretorius's capture, Smith led the small British army across the Orange at Botha's drift. Smith was in Philippolis on 27 August and he was no time waster. The following day he camped at Tauwfontein and resumed the march next morning. Pretorius by now had decided to make a stand a few miles farther on with the 750 burghers who still remained with him. He chose his ground with care, placing his men along a ridge which straddled the main road to Bloemfontein, in front of a deserted farm named Boomplaats. Outlying pickets were strung out along spurs of high ground that flanked the road on either side. It was a fine defensive position, nearly a mile in length, and it would certainly have commended itself to Harry Smith's old mentor, Wellington, for the burghers could remain under cover 'on the other side of the hill' until the last moment; moreover a series of parallel ridges lay behind it on to which the Boers could fall back if necessary. Smith himself described the battlefield as
'a succession of ridges on either side of a stream covered with large stones and bush'.
From his headquarters at eleven o'clock that morning of 29 August 1848 Pretorius must have watched exultantly as the British column advanced slowly along the road below him, crossing the dead-flat plain, yellow with winter drought. He could see the separate splashes of green made by the C.M.R. and the Rifle Brigade, the scarlet of the 45th and the tartans of the Highlanders, while behind them, shrouded in dust, came the wagon train guarded by a large group of Griqua horsemen. Even Sir Harry could be distinguished, dressed a shade unsuitably in a blue hip-jacket and cord breeches, all topped by a wide-brimmed white hat. With any luck they would march straight into the trap Pretorius had prepared for them and his men would be able to shoot them to pieces while still in column as in the action at Congella.
The Boers, however, disclosed their position prematurely with a long roll of fire when the troops were barely within range. Even so Smith, the veteran of many battles in the Peninsula, was hard put to rally his command for he tells us that 'a more rapid, fierce, and well directed fire I had never seen maintained'. But he reacted quickly enough: he had sufficient time to deploy his troops and repel an initial attack which threatened to envelop his left flank. Then he charged the Boer centre and left, driving the burghers across a stream, through the farm buildings of Boomplaats and on to the adjoining ridge. The British guns were now unlimbered and opened up on this second position. Savage warfare had been an inadequate school for a cool reception of shell-fire and the Boers retired a little hastily to the next ridge. Here they broke and fled when the Griquas and the C.M.R. put in a cavalry charge. By 2 p.m. the battle of Boomplaats was won, and Smith was distributing staccato praise and blame. He had lost 25 men killed and 25 wounded; according to his dispatch the Boers left 49 dead on the field, but Pretorius later gave out his losses as being only 9 killed and 5 wounded.
Sir Harry was always a man to crowd a defeated enemy. His troops followed close behind as the disordered Boer rout went northwards; he swept into Bloemfontein and then into Winburg before the burghers could rally, shot an English deserter and a Boer prisoner named Dryer to show that he was in earnest, doubled the reward for the capture of Pretorius and drove the remnants of his commando across the Vaal.
The rebellion had been effectively crushed in one swift campaign, and British authority was re-established in the Orange River Sovereignty. This was the second low ebb in the fortunes of the Great Trek. Of all their conquests only the Transvaal now remained to the emigrant Boers, and this more than anything else had been due to Potgieter's conciliatory policy; but even the Transvaal was bitterly divided between hostile factions and it seemed only a matter of time before the British would take another step forward and occupy that country too. This would mark the final frustration of the Afrikaners' attempt to carve out new lives for themselves and the end of a whole people's dream of freedom. The Boers' oft-repeated joke that the greatest pests in southern Africa were drought, locusts and Englishmen seemed in one particular at least to be coming tragically true.