Brief History
The Orange Free State had been set up specifically for the Boers to avoid British administration in the Cape Colony. The Great Trek was when some three thousand Boers packed up their possessions in to their wagons and they had sought a new homeland for themselves. They had been disappointed by the British legal system granting rights to the Black Africans and outlawing of slavery. Initially they had settled in Natal only to find the long reach of the British was extended to their too. They then reloaded their wagons in 1843 and headed North.

Unfortunately, the land that they entered into had been far from vacant. Powerful Xhosa and Zulu tribes were less than happy to find so many Europeans trespassing on their lands. It did not help that these Boers had such little regard for the Black Africans and stole their cattle and even enslaved young African children. Clashes were frequent, the largest of them being the Battle of Blood River. Superior firepower and equipment gave the Boers a decisive advantage over the Africans, but it did not mean that the isolated Boer farmers were going to be safe. Many of the African tribes had treaty agreements with the British and appealed to the British for aid against their unwelcome invaders.

The Cape Governor, Harry Smith, sent a force to annex the land between the Orange and Vaal Rivers. Some Boers were even relieved to the see the British due to the increasingly violent nature of the warfare on the frontiers. This was hardly a solution, however, to the incessant problems of frontier warfare. By 1850 British troops were thoroughly engaged on their eastern and northern frontiers, mainly intervening between Boer militias and the offended African peoples. Smith was recalled to London under a cloud; nothing annoyed the British government as much as costly military campaigns in distant corners of the Empire. It was suggested in London that some of the costs could be shed by recognising the independence of the Boers. In 1852 at the Sand River Convention, the British disclaimed authority in most areas beyond the Vaal. In doing so Britain had gone back on its treaty obligations to its African allies. In 1854 the Bloemfontein Convention declared the re-emergence of the Orange Free State. If the British thought that the Boers would be thankful then they were to be mistaken.

The Orange Free State was constantly at war with its African neighbours. Again the British would be called in to keep the peace and help protect the Sotho and Tswana from the claims of the Boers. The cost of these wars would take their toll on the Boer Republics although the Orange Free State was able to keep its financial head above the water better than its Transvaal neighbours and so avoided annexation by the British in 1877 due to a shortage of money.

Diamonds and Gold would transform the political dynamics of South Africa. The diamond mines were quickly seized by the British in Griqualand West from under the noses of the Boers. However, the gold mines were a different matter. Although they were located mainly in Transvaal, their sheer size meant that they attracted the attention of the world. Transvaal would have its finances transformed. Much of the money made along the Vaal made its way back to the Orange Free State. The Transvaal was happier to share their good fortune with their Boer neighbours than they were with uitlander (outlanders) prospectors who turned up in their thousands.

This sudden change in Boer financial security was of deep concern to the Cape Colony. The fine political balance had been destabilised and the Boers were now in the ascendency. Various Cape and British politicians would try and restore the balance by reclaiming their control over the two colonies. Transvaal was their real target, but the Orange Free State was inconveniently placed and would provide some legal cover for the land grab.

The premier of Cape Colony, Cecil Rhodes, would go so far as to try and provoke the Boer Republics to try and find an excuse for annexing them. The so called Jamieson Raid of 1895 that was supposed to spark an uprising against the Boer republic in Johannesburg failed miserably and caused the resignation of the Cape Premier.

The interest of British Imperialists would not be undaunted by this setback and Chamberlain and Milner would try and find alternative ways of annexing the two republics. By 1899, the Boer Republics concluded that their best chance at avoiding being annexed by the British was to launch a pre-emptive strike into parts of the Cape Colony, Bechuanaland and Natal.

Their initial successes would bring the full force of the British Empire onto the Boer Republics. However the military defeat of the Republics would only mean that the war would move into a longer drawn out guerilla phase of warfare for the next two years. The human and physical costs would be enormous for all involved. A small localised problem became a huge international embarrassment for the British. The determination and skill of the Boers took all by surprise and forced the British Army to seriously question its tactics and approach to modern warfare. The British fully occupied the Orange Free State in 1902 and annexed it as The Orange River Colony from 1902 until the creation of the Union of South Africa in 1910.

For such a long and difficult war, the British awarded surprisingly liberal terms for their foe with the Treaty of Vereeniging. The British would gain formal control of the two Republics but would give considerable rights to the defeated Boers and committed themselves to rebuilding the Boer Republics. 1910, would see this formalised yet further with the Union of South Africa between the Cape Colony, Natal, Transvaal and the Orange Free State.

1885 South Africa Map
Boer War Map
North Orange Free State Map
South Orange Free State Map
Great Trek
National Archive Orange Free State Images
1845 - 1910
Links about Orange Free State
Proclamation of the "Orange River Sovereignty"
An account by Harry Smith about the formation of the Orange River Sovereignty.
With the Boer Forces
Full (abridged) text written in 1900 by Howard Hillegas
Breaker Morant

South Africa

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by Stephen Luscombe