British Concentration Camps|
of the South African War
Although Meintjes Kop was part of the Transvaal system, its purpose was slightly different from the majority of the camps, since it was established specifically to house the families of National Scouts – those Boers who were fighting for the British. Such families often had a hard time in the main camps, for they were despised by the women whose men were still on commando or were prisoners of war. The camp came into being only in December 1901 to replace Van der Hoven’s Drift camp nearby. After some indecision, for the camp was established first at Bronkhorstspruit and then at Eerste Fabrieken, it was finally located on the hill above Pretoria (on which the Union Buildings now stand) and opened on 11 January 1902.
Despite its late formation, and the fact that this was a loyalist camp, the first superintendent, Major A.M. Lloyd, had to contend with the usual range of problems. He was desperately short of male labour, black or white, to pitch the tents, dig trenches and perform all the necessary tasks of camp life. Storms knocked down the tents after they were pitched, there was no transport and people were sent in without prior notice. Sickness increased rapidly, from eight to forty-one within the month largely, the MO explained, because people were imported in a weakly condition from other camps. Fortunately few were really serious.1
By March the camp had reached nearly 2,000 and they were running out of tents. Other amenities were rapidly introduced, including a school where, Lloyd noted, the families were particularly anxious that their children should learn to speak English. They were, at least, contented for, the superintendent noted, ‘All the inmates like this camp and many have given up their homes in town to come out and live here’.2
By May the camp was full, with applications coming in all the time for more places, but the lack of tents limited the number who could be admitted. The superintendent announced proudly that General J.G. Celliers, who had joined the National Scouts, wanted some of his relatives accommodated in the camp which was, the General said, the cleanest he had seen.3
The position of such a camp was always bound to be controversial and some of the inmates found themselves the subject of abuse when newly-surrendered men visited the camp after the war had ended. The National Scouts themselves were disbanded on 17 May, with the men coming into the camp before returning home. This did not solve the labour difficulties, for these men refused to do camp work at the offered rate of 2s 6d a day. Not surprisingly, as loyalists, they participated enthusiastically in coronation festivities, however. Although one might anticipate that National Scout families would receive preference in repatriation, by no means everyone wanted to return home. As the season advanced, and the lack of transport also delayed repatriation, families feared being stranded on the farms if they were unable to plant in time. At the end of November there were still a substantial number of people in camp but Meintjes Kop appears to have been closed early in December, for there is no report for that month.4
Unpublished camp reports in the National Archives, Pretoria [NASA]: DBC 11, May, Jun, Jul 1902; DBC 12, Feb, Mar 1902; DBC 13, Sep, Nov 1902.
1 NASA, DBC 12, Feb 1902.
2 NASA, DBC 12, Mar 1902.
3 NASA, DBC 11, May 1902.
4 NASA, DBC 11, Jun, Jul; DBC 13, Sep, Nov 1902.
Acknowledgments: The project was funded by the Wellcome Trust, which is not responsible for the contents of the database. The help of the following research assistants is gratefully acknowledged: Ryna Boshoff, Murray Gorman, Janie Grobler, Marelize Grobler, Luke Humby, Clare O’Reilly Jacomina Roose, Elsa Strydom, Mary van Blerk. Thanks also go to Peter Dennis for the design of the original database and to Dr Iain Smith, co-grantholder.