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Great Canadian Heritage Discoveries

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More important Canadian antique memorabilia the Museum has preserved.

In Commemoration of Paardeberg Day - Feb. 27, 1900

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
General Cronje Surrenders to Lord Roberts - Feb. 27, 1900
Orig. lithograph 1900 - Image size - 13.5" x 20"
Found - Hartford, CT
Signed F Neumann, in orig. frame & glass
Paardeberg: An extremely rare print, in pristine condition, produced in Germany in 1900. It features the respectful Tommies on the left, saluting in gentlemanly style, the beaten Boers.

Below a respectful General Roberts tells General Cronje, "You have fought a gallant fight sir." Cronje and his wife - who fought by his side - would spend the rest of the war in a POW camp on the island of St. Helena, where the British had once kept Napoleon a prisoner till he died.

Boer War "Discovery of the Month" (Feb. 2005)
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Carlton Pitcher, Wiping the Slate Clean - Feb. 27, 1900
Orig. ceramic jug - Size - 7"h x 6.25"w
Found - Newton Abbot, UK
Signed Carlton War Rd No 267782
The pitcher features an unusual image of Lord Kitchener holding up a blackboard - crowned with a victory wreath - from which a stern Lord Roberts is erasing Majuba, using - of all things - a Union Jack! Probably the artist thought this a great idea, but the symbolism would have been lost on military men who would not consider using the flag, for which their comrades had died, as a cleaning rag...

The Majuba motif was used on other ceramic items as well.

History: On Feb. 27, 1900, after an attack in which the Canadians (Royal Canadian Regiment) were in the front line trenches at Paardeberg, South Africa, some 4,000 Boers surrendered, giving the British Army its first important victory of the war.

A few months later, on June 5th, the Canadians - part of Lord Roberts' fabled March to Pretoria - walked into the Boer capital, ending the biggest march of a conquering army since Napoleon had reached Moscow, in 1812. Everyone believed the war was now over, and souvenirs were produced to celebrate this great achievement.

Canadians believed that Paardeberg had done the trick. This pitcher was produced to remind people why Paardeberg was seen as a monumental victory for British Arms.

The Story of Majuba: Majuba Hill is a large, flat-topped mountain (kopje) in northwestern Natal some 10 miles south of Volksrust (above). Its crown is the size of a couple of football fields.

In Feb. 1881 a British force of some 500 men under General Sir George Colley, climbed Majuba, up along the long spur, (above left) and set up their camp on top. They looked down on the Boers, crawling like ants, far below. (War had broken out months before between Britain and the neighbouring Transvaal Republic, where the Boers had set up an independent territory on land they had wrested from nature and from Black Africans. The British claimed the land - and the Boers - belonged to them.)

Boer Commandant Nicolaas Smit, rather than being intimidated by the British, who seemed to be in a commanding position on top of Majuba, decided to take his men up the steep sides of the hill. Scores of Boers fired up the slopes to make the British keep their heads down; under this covering fire 350 Boers climbed rapidly up the sides (along the right side, above).

The British - who had no machine guns, and had not bothered to build trenches - were totally astonished to be attacked by Boers spilling over the lip of the hill. General Colley was almost immediately killed; his men, caught out in the open, panicked and fled back down the spur side of the hill. In an hour it was over. Some 93 British were killed, and 59 were captured; only one Boer had died.

It was known as the Battle of Majuba Hill; the date Feb. 27, 1881. The British Army considered it a day of disgrace for British Arms.

This devastating defeat so demoralized the government in Britain that Liberal Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone (left) sued for peace with the Boers.

So ended the First Boer War. The British were humbled, some would say defeated; there was no doubt that the Boers were triumphant. Their Transvaal Republic had won a new lease on life.

But behind the scenes, there was an alliance of British politicians and businessmen - shades of Bush/Cheney/Halliburton - who cast covetous eyes on the Boer Republic and the mineral resources it contained.

The defeat on Majuba Day, and concluding peace with the Boers, had especially rankled British Army officers. For decades, many thought only of a day of reckoning... of a day of revenge...

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone - c1890
Orig. oil, c. 1890, on canvas - Size - 19" x 24"
Found - St. Catharines, ON
This large canvas, which dominated - for decades - a Canadian parlour, testifies to the strong emotional link that British immigrants to Canada retained in their new homeland, though far from the land of their birth, and the men they respected.

Feb. 27, 1881: Majuba Day - A Day of Shame! The Transvaal Boers, of course, commemorated Majuba Day every year, to celebrate the independence of their Republic, and the stunning victory when they - a bunch of ordinary farmers - had beaten the professional Victorian British Army, the best in the world.

To many in the British Army - like Hector Macdonald - Majuba was a festering sore that refused to heal. He had been a young Lieutenant at Majuba when he and his men were overrun.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
General Hector Macdonald - 1900
Orig. ceramic creamer - Size - 4.25" x 4.5"w
Found - Seattle, WA
The transfer of Macdonald, above, featuring a "fierce look of pride" judged suitable for a "Fighting Mac," also adorns other plates, plaques, mugs, and jugs.

Macdonald had won the respect of the Boers for refusing to give up even though his general was dead and most of his men had been killed, or had fled. He fiercely held his ground, and, even though out of ammunition, continued to fight with bare fists.

The incredulous Boers refused to shoot him and finally overpowered him physically. They handed him back his sword. Forever after he would become known as "Fighting Mac."

Macdonald had been unusual in the British officer corps, having worked his way up through the ranks, instead of following the usual route to a commission from the Queen - through good breeding in well-to-do families. Mac's parents were poor Scottish crofters.

Over the next twenty years Mac rose to become a General. In Afghanistan his bravery and leadership had gained him a commission, and rave notices. At Omdurman in the Sudan, in 1898, his cool handling of his brigade during the battle had probably saved Lord Kitchener's force from disaster and possible annihilation at the hands of tens of thousands of Dervish tribesmen.

Now at Paardeberg, some 4,000 Boers were surrounded, but not subdued.

Leading them was General Piet Cronje, (left) who had himself fought at Majuba Hill, and been one of the members of the "storming party" that had climbed the hill. Had he seen "Fighting Mac" being subdued?

Mac too, was now a general, and at Paardeberg, but was sick. After 10 days of seeming futile fighting, against an entrenched and determined foe, a British victory seemed distant.

As Feb. 27th approached, both Boer and Brit, warily awaited the anniversary date. Mac, from his sickbed, strongly urged Lord Roberts and Kitchener, to force the battle to an end on that day, to avenge and "wipe out" once and for all, the disgrace of Majuba Day, nineteen years before...

Roberts agreed and ordered the Canadians to make a night march on the Boer lines and dig advance trenches. When dawn rose on Majuba Day, general shooting broke out but the Boers knew now, that it was all over, and surrendered to the charging Canadians.

Everywhere in the British Army there was wild jubilation - the disgrace of Majuba had been avenged, by the capture of over 4,000 Boer men, women, and children. The tables had turned; henceforth Majuba would commemorate a Boer disgrace, and a mighty British victory.

And the Canadians, who had led the final charge, would become known as the "Heros of Majuba."

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Bayonet of Walter Simmons RCR #8161 1899
Lee-Metford Pattern 1888 - Mark I, Type 2 - Size - oa 16.75", blade 12"
Found - Halifax, NS
Bayonet #349, VR '11, 96, Wilkinson, 49W - scabbard #349, WD H1G 96 - frog #907
Walter Simmons: This bayonet, scabbard, and frog, were worn by Walter Simmons from Halifax NS, at Paardeberg. He wore it during Lord Roberts' fabled March to Pretoria, and when the Canadians entered the Boer capitals of Bloemfontein and Pretoria.
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Lord Kitchener - c 1916
Orig. oil, c. 1916, on canvas - Size - 16" x 20"
Found - Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON
This old canvas, found in a Canadian attic, reminds us that Lord Kitchener played a decisive role in the lives of thousands of Canadians, a century ago.

His disastrous order for a wild charge on the Boer trenches, on Bloody Sunday, at Paardeberg, was not only Canada's worst day of casualties, but the worst for the entire British Army in the Boer War. In World War I his accusing finger would goad thousands of young Canadians to sign up and do their duty... only to find an early death...

No matter. In 1916 the city fathers of German stock in Berlin, Ontario, to show their loyalty to the British King and Empire, renamed their town Kitchener in his honour...

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c Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996 & 2000