BCCDBritish Concentration Camps
of the South African War


Colenso camp existed for little more than six weeks, from 22 February to 11 April 1902, as an emergency measure to house the people of Pietersburg camp, who were evacuated to Natal after their camp was raided by General Beyers on 23 January 1902, and a number of the men had absconded (see Pietersburg camp). The removal was difficult, for most of the able-bodied men had joined either the Boers or the British volunteer forces. Fortunately the efficient superintendent, J.E. Tucker, went ahead to smooth the way. Nevertheless, the journey was uncomfortable and humiliating and has, consequently, been recorded amongst the atrocities suffered by the Boers during the war.

There had been little time to prepare the new camp and the arrivals were dumped on the open veld, close to the location where Colonel Long of the Royal Field Artillery had lost his guns during the Battle of Colenso. Life quickly resumed the monotonous pattern of the camps and the people had left disease behind them, for there were few deaths in Colenso. Logistically, however, Colenso was an awkward camp to maintain, and it was not long before the Natal authorities decided that the families should be moved once more, this time to Pinetown, not far from Durban.

The transfer was probably no easier for the staff for, in Natal, they were confronted by a more frugal system. Their salaries were considerably in excess of that paid in the Natal camps, Governor McCallum informed the Secretary of State, Joseph Chamberlain. If the amounts were not reduced, he would replace the staff. Presumably the personnel accepted the wage cuts, for they remained with the Pietersburg people.1


J. Wasserman, The Pinetown Concentration Camp during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) (Congella, Waterman Publishers, 1999).

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

1 NAUK, CO 879/77/697, 10691, 21/2/1902.

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.