5 British Concentration Camps of the South African War 1900-1902
BCCDBritish Concentration Camps
of the South African War
1900-1902

Wentworth

Wentworth camp was the third of the three Durban camps to be constructed. It was located just north of Jacobs Siding, on the Bluff railway siding. Although it was built on a healthier site, with sandy soil rather than marshland, it shared many of the discomforts of Merebank, with a humid summer climate and it was infested with fleas and mosquitoes. By the time that Wentworth was built, the importance of adequate housing and sanitation had been well established. Despite Natal’s careful economies, the cost of construction of the coastal camp was fairly considerable. By May 1902, when Wentworth’s population reached 2,962, building had reached the sizeable sum of £16,631. Wood and iron buildings replaced the bell tents and, although they had their disadvantages, with thin walls which provided little privacy and soil floors, they were infinitely preferable.1

The Natal camps were determinedly British in their staff. Frederick George Philip Peters was appointed superintendent at Wentworth, with William Nichols as headmaster of the school and other teachers recruited from England; Drs Martin and Monckton were in the hospital. Despite the fact that schooling was compulsory, and a considerable effort was put into education, a relatively small percentage of the children in Wentworth actually attended school. The regular numbers reached only about 180 out of some 1,200 children. This is fudged in the records which reported proudly that 82% of registered pupils attended regularly. But the British took care not to interfere with religious practice provided that the clergy were not preaching ‘sedition’. Wentworth never had a resident clergyman so camp elders provided most of the services, helped out by occasional visiting predikants, while camp women ran the Sunday School.2

There is little information about the inmates of Wentworth camp although, like all the coastal camps, they included the families of men still on commando and some of the more recalcitrant women. Miss Otto, for instance, had been instrumental in getting fifty children from the government schools (presumably she had been teaching them in Dutch).3

Health in Wentworth camp was good. The measles epidemic had run its course long before the camp was opened and most people suffered from the usual illnesses to which they were prone before the antibiotic age. The camp hospital opened its doors on 17 April 1902; in total 76 patients were admitted before it closed on 24 September 1902. Of these, four patients died of heart disease, two of pneumonia, one of bronchitis and enteric, a total of 5.3% of those admitted. In total, 17 people died in Wentworth, mainly of respiratory or intestinal diseases.

With the arrival of peace, Wentworth was quickly wound down, as inmates were sent up country or transferred to other camps. Returning prisoners-of-war caused some problems. No doubt feeling that they were now free, they refused to perform camp duties. They were told firmly by the chief superintendent that, if they did not like the camps, they could go and live in the town (at their own expense) but they did not go. Where they could, the authorities found jobs for the staff when the camps closed. Mr Baikie, quartermaster and assistant inspector in Wentworth camp, ‘a quiet steady man’, was one whose claims were recognised and it was hoped to find him work in one of the new colonies. Wentworth was closed on 22 September when the last inhabitants were transferred to Jacobs Siding. The majority of buildings were removed and sent to the Repatriation Department, twelve huts going to the Transvaal Education Department.4

Sources

J. Wasserman and B. Kearney (eds), A Warrior’s Gateway. Durban and the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902 (Pretoria, Protea, 2002), ch. 17 on the Durban camps, written by A Wohlberg.

GH files in the Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository [PAR].

CO files in the National Archives, United Kingdom, Kew {NAUK].

1 PAR, GH 553/G456/03 GSBC 456/1903, 6/5/1902.

2 PAR, GH 1453/736/02 GSBC 2146/02, 25/6/1902.

3 PAR, GH 1331/112/02, 8/4/1902.

4 NAUK, CO 879/77/697, 40471, 3/9/1902; 45246, 8/10/1902; 48469, 7/11/1902; PAR, GH 1331/341/02, 3/9/1902.



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.