BCCDBritish Concentration Camps
of the South African War


Krugersdorp camp was formed relatively late, only on 15 April 1901. Emily Hobhouse, however, suggested that a nucleus existed as early as August 1900, when families were brought into Krugersdorp after their farms had been burnt. The camp was located about ¾ mile from Krugersdorp, under some koppies. It grew quite rapidly. By the end of May there were 1,531 residents and this had risen to over 4,000 by July. Many of these early arrivals were destitute and ill, short of clothes and without bedding. Their condition was so bad, in fact, that three died of starvation shortly after their arrival. These families may have come from a group which had been put into a laager by the Krugersdorp commando and subsequently attacked and broken up by local Africans. Despite the poor state of the early arrivals, Dr Franks thought that the Krugersdorp people seemed affluent, with the children looking well nourished and healthy. The Ladies Committee concurred, noting that more than £5,000 had been spent in Poynton’s store in three months, apart from purchases in the town. This, they noted, was much resented by the English-speaking store keepers whose families were still refugees at the coast. A black camp was also established in Krugersdorp, although there is little information about it. Black servants were allowed in the white camp and rationed, although at a lower rate than the whites. In February 1902 a separate hospital tent was erected for their use.1

The superintendent, P. Tomlinson, remained with the camp throughout its life. Prior to this he had been with the Imperial Light Horse and had participated at Spion Kop and a number of other battles during the war. He seems to have been an efficient man but, like several such capable superintendents, his reports were terse and to the point, giving limited insight into the life of the camp. Together with the MO, Dr Aymard, who took ‘great pride’ in his work, and the hospital matron, Mrs Harnett, the three formed an harmonious team which generally made for a contented camp, as an English nurse testified. She told a British nursing journal that there was ‘a perfect feeling of goodfellowship’ throughout the camp and that the inmates had ‘unbounded confidence’ in the doctors and nurses.2

Admittedly this was a self-interested perspective but one indication of this relative satisfaction was the attitude to the young Boer women working in the hospital and camp. Dr Aymard noted on one occasion that ‘the manner in which they carry out their duties is in the highest degree satisfactory, and a credit to their intelligence and trainer [the matron, Mrs Harnett]’. Before the young women were taken into the hospital, they acted as ‘messengers’, visiting the tents, reporting on sickness and lack of cleanliness and delivering medical comforts and food. They were well received by the camp people, the superintendent believed, and much preferred to outsiders. The Ladies Committee, too, was impressed by the Boer women. They reported that ‘These girls looked very smart in their neat blue uniforms, and, what is better, they were trying to be nurses, and were proud of their wards’. Indeed, so successful was the training of these young women, that at least one was able get independent employment in the town, ‘earning good wages’.3

When Dr Kendal Franks visited Krugersdorp camp in July 1901, mortality was still low. Of the eight patients in hospital, half had pneumonia and bronchitis, two had enteric, one was suffering from Bright’s disease and the last had an enlarged spleen, probably the result of malaria. ‘They are the ordinary ailments of everyday life in any large community, and are not due to the insufficiency of food, or to exposure or hardship’, he commented. Measles, however, had just started and Dr Franks believed that the ignorance and prejudice of the people was likely to exacerbate the effects of the epidemic. In fact, doctors could do little once such an epidemic had taken hold, apart from quarantining, which was almost impossible in the chaotic conditions of war. Dr Aymard was clearly distressed by his inability to contain the deaths and, as so often, blamed the mothers, this time for nursing their children for too long, up to two years, ‘whereas it is well known that mother’s milk is nearly valueless after nine months’. By October the epidemic seemed to be abating but there was a resurgence when new arrivals came in, as happened in a number of camps. Some typhoid also contributed to the second mortality peak but adults were not seriously affected and their deaths remained low.4

Although the number children’s deaths was distressing the chart showing the average death rates indicates that Krugersdorp mortality was not markedly higher than that of other Transvaal camps, a testament to Tomlinson’s efficiency and the dedication of the medical staff.

In Krugersdorp camp the British criticised a number of Boer medical practices. For Franks a sore point was the use of ‘Dutch’ medicines. Poynton’s store in the camp sold them and there was no point in banning them since the people went freely into the town where they could buy them anyway. Franks was critical of these drugs, not only because he had the widespread medical prejudice against patent medicines, but because they were often used without any discrimination. He cited an example of a child who was given, in a single dose, Hoffman’s drops (containing ether), Essenz dulcis (with opium), Red powder (tartar emetic), Jamaica ginger and Dutch drops (composition unknown).5

One reason for the relatively good health in Krugersdorp camp may have been the quality of the rations. Somewhat controversially, at first Tomlinson issued ‘first class’ rations, similar to the general Transvaal rations, to the families of men who were willing to work in the camp, while those who were not received ‘second class’ rations, with 2 oz less coffee and 4 oz less sugar a week. Dr Franks suggested that the first class ration be issued to everyone, with an extra allowance of sugar and coffee as an incentive, but the doctor and superintendent assured Franks that the people got plenty to eat ‘and certainly the appearance of all the adults and children in the camp would confirm this’. Nutrition improved when a soup kitchen was established and gardens started in the camp. By November 1901 about fifteen acres of ground was under cultivation and this increased in later months. Indeed, by the end of the war Krugersdorp camp was farming on a considerable scale. 19,000 cabbage plants had been pricked out and several acres of barley had been planted to feed the livestock. Tomlinson also used his discretion to increase the ration of meat when the quality was poor and the head, plucks and other parts were issued free. Since the people would not use oxtail, this was turned into soup for the hospital.6

A well-managed camp involved considerable construction. Tomlinson had ensured that the tents were kept dry in the rain by digging trenches. The water supply was good, with a reservoir and a well sunk to supply water for the camp. A dam was also constructed, leading into tanks for the washing of clothes.7

Although Tomlinson did not dwell on the subject, entertainment was provided from fairly early on. For a while there was a Musical Club in a marquee containing a piano (belonging to Tomlinson), harmonium and other musical instruments, although this did not survive, and the men had a recreation tent. At least one inmate displayed entrepreneurial instincts for he started a ginger-beer booth, selling bottles at 6d each and making ‘a very fair profit’, the Ladies Committee considered.8

An innovation early in 1902 was the regular bathing of the children. They were lined up at 2 each afternoon and marched off to the bath houses. With time on their hands, as health improved, the medical staff turned to the general education of the camp inmates. Mothers were instructed on the proper care and feeding of infants and habits of personal and household cleanliness was inculcated.9

By the end of the war Tomlinson could feel satisfied that his camp was running particularly well. Mortality had almost disappeared, although typhoid appeared sporadically. The men were actively employed as carpenters, gardeners and the like while the girls were receiving sewing and cooking lessons and the boys trained as carpenters. Underlying this contentment, however, was the longing of the people to return home. In May the camp was restless, Tomlinson noted, owing to the visits of Generals Kemp and de la Rey to the town. Tomlinson was concerned that their understanding of the political situation was unrealistic.

They are very desirous of peace, but a great portion, especially women, are firmly persuaded that the Boer leaders have at last given the British terms. This idea I find is deeply rooted and though of no significance, inasmuch as they are bound to be disillusioned before long, tends to show to what a depth of ignorance of current events some have descended’.10

At the end of the war the process of repatriation began. By the end of June 1902 over 1,000 men had come in from commando and nearly 400 people had returned to their farms, while many others had been transferred to camps nearer to their farms. The arrival of the fighting men was not without tension for, Tomlinson reported, the general feeling was ‘antagonistic’ to the men already in camp. The men whose families were in Natal were unwilling to join them there, and they were increasingly discontented at the long wait before they could get home. With only 18 wagons available, repatriation was slow. Tomlinson struggled to keep such people occupied for they were unused to the discipline of the camp. Loyalists, National Scouts and their families, were quietly placed on their farms without arousing the suspicion of the others that they were being given preferential treatment, or so Tomlinson hoped, although it’s hard to believe that no-one noticed in these little, rumour-ridden communities. Tents had to be repaired to cope with the influx and to give to those going back to their devastated farms. Families were allowed to keep their bedding and cooking utensils and Tomlinson took care to see that the children were adequately clad. He, personally, saw each family as it left to ensure that the people were well provided for. The camp finally closed in November 1902.11


E.H. Hobhouse, The Brunt of the War and Where It Fell (London, Methuen, 1902).

S.B. Spies, Methods of Barbarism? Roberts and Kitchener and Civilians in the Boer Republics January 1900-May 1902 (Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1977).

Published camp reports: Cd 819, pp.78-79, 126-129, 249-251, 362-364; Cd 853, pp. 74-75; Cd 902, 82-83.

Unpublished camp reports in the National Archives, Pretoria [NASA]: DBC 11-14.

Kendal Franks report, Cd 819, pp.192-195.

Ladies Committee report, Cd 893, pp.124-128.

1 Hobhouse, Brunt of the War, pp.15-16; Spies, Methods of Barbarism?, p.144, 230; Cd 819, p.78, 128, p.192, 193, 195; Cd 893, p.124; Cd 893, p.125; NASA, DBC 12, Feb 1902.

2 Cd 893, pp.124, 126; The Hospital Nursing Record, 14/6/1902, p.151.

3 Cd 819, p.249, 250, 364; Cd 893, p.125; NASA, DBC 12, Mar 1902.

4 Cd 819, pp.192-193, 364; Cd 853, p.74; Cd 902, p.82.

5 Cd 819, pp. 193, 195.

6 Cd 819, p.194, 195; Cd 853, p.75; Cd 902, p.83;; Cd 893, p.124; NASA, DBC 12, Feb, May 1902.

7 Cd 819, p.127-128.

8 Cd 819, p.195; Cd 893, p.127.

9 NASA, DBC 12, Feb 1902, Mar 1902.

10 NASA, DBC 11, May 1902.

11 NASA, DBC 11, Jun, Jul, Aug 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.