BCCDBritish Concentration Camps
of the South African War

Jacobs Siding

It is extraordinarily difficult to describe some of the Natal camps since many of the records were destroyed at some point by the Natal Archives Repository. In addition, Jacobs Siding camp was established after the visit of the Ladies Committee, so they did not report on it. All we have, therefore, are a handful of references.

Jacobs Siding camp was essentially an overflow of Merebank camp, built to house the Transvaal families sent down to the coast early in 1902. The camp was located on the Bluff railway line, about ½ mile from Merebank. Plans for the camp were drawn up in November 1901 and, at this stage, Jacobs was intended to accommodate about 5,000 ‘souls’ (a later report suggested that only 3,000 people would be housed there. Some families appear to have arrived there by December 1901 when it was reported that a number of people had already been housed in semi-permanent huts. By 1 March 1902 there were 1,094 inmates and this had risen to 2,587 by the end of that month (compared with 8,305 in Merebank), and in April there were 3,080, when the camp reached its peak.1

Jacobs appears to have been a healthy camp. One woman died there in February 1902 and only four people were in the hospital. By March 1902 the deaths had risen to 11, with 63 in hospital (compared with 43 deaths in Merebank and 142 registered sick). The following month deaths had decreased to only three. In February 1902, also, a school was started.2

One indication that Jacobs Siding was a relatively important camp in the Natal system is the amount spent on it. Jacobs Siding seems to have been the third most expensive camp after Merebank and Wentworth. In March 1902, for instance, the costs were £2206 8s 9d, compared with £3203 15s 9d for Merebank and £757 6s 10d for Pietermaritzburg (one of the oldest camps).3

At the end of May peace was declared, an announcement which was often received in disappointed silence amongst the Boer women. General Schalk Burger went round the Natal camps to explain to the people why the Boer leaders had taken this decision. Jacobs Siding received him with a ‘nicely decorated’ station platform, two ensigns [flags] over the gates and the sign ‘Welcome’ in large letters.4

As the Boers were repatriated to their homes, Jacobs Siding became a holding camp for the residue of people from Wentworth but from there the people were moved to Merebank before they went home. The camp remained open until the end of the year only because three of the inmates were too ill to move.5


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 1353, 21/11/1901; GH 1231/320/01, 27/11/1901; GH 1330/359/01, 30/12/1901; GH 553/G456/03, 10/4/1902; GH 553.G456/03, 6/5/1902.

2 NAUK, CO 879/77/697, 13272, 14/3/1902; CO 879/77/697, 13272, 14/3/1902; PAR, GH 553/G456/03, 10/4/1902; GH 553.G456/03, 6/5/1902.

3 PAR, GH 553/G456/03, 10/4/1902.

4 PAR, GH 1231/172/02, 14/6/1902.

5 NAUK, CO 879/77/697, 45245, 8/10/1902; PAR, GH 1231/305/02, 7/11/1902; GH 1232/5/03, 7/1/1903.

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.