LADY SARAH WILSON'S SOUTH AFRICAN MEMORIES.*
"ADVENTURES to the adventurous" is no doubt true, but adventurous though every member of the Churchill family
be, Lady Sarah Wilson had an exceptional run of adventurous luck when she went to South Africa in 1895 and came in for the exciting times of the Jameson Raid, and when she went there again early in 1899 and came in for the South African War. Altogether she has paid four visits to South Africa, but the first two were incomparably the most interesting, for during them history was being made at express speed. These Memories are the expanded diaries of one who, belonging to the " ruling classes," had the good fortune to be able to talk to every one worth talking to in South Africa, and who was intelligent enough to appreciate the significance of all the events she witnessed and all the conversations in which she took part, and plucky enough never to let pass an opportunity of being at the heart of things, no matter what the personal risk. Out of such qualities and conditions come interesting books, and this book is certainly interesting. It is simply "chat"; it is written in a go-as-you-please manner with many signs of carelessness, as when Lady Sarah Wilson tells us in one sentence that some Boers were armed to the teeth, and in the next, in an inopportune metaphor, that all their teeth had been drawn, or as when she misspells such a well- known name as Goold-Adams. But there is also humour, as when she records that the late Mr. Ronald Moncrieff, who was " not blessed with a superabundance of this world's goods," hailed the prospect of a long siege in Mafeking as a means of economising. A book of this kind is at once appreciated and criticised best by liberal quotation. We imagine that Lady Sarah Wilson subscribes sincerely to the
aliquid novi view of South Africa, for the strangest things in her life must surely have happened there. Here is a glimpse
of Cecil Rhodes just after the Jameson Raid:—
" He said frankly that, for the first time in his life, during six nights of the late crisis he had not been able to sleep, and that he had been worried to death. 'Now,' he added, I have thought the whole matter out, I have decided what is beet to be done, so I am all right again, and I do not consider at forty-three that my career is ended.'—' I am quite sure it is not, Mr. Rhodes,' was my reply ; and, what is more, I hays a small bet with Mr. Lawson that in a year's time you will be in office again, or, if not abso- lutely in office, as great a factor in South African politics as you have been up to now.' He thought a minute, and then said : ' It will take ten years ; better cancel your bet.' I was careful not to ask him any questions which might be embarrassing for him to answer, but he volunteered that the objects of his visit to England were, first, to do the best he could for his friends at Johannesburg, including his brother Frank, who were now political prisoners, practically at the mercy of the Boers, unless the Imperial Govern- ment bestirred itself on their behalf ; and, secondly, to save his Charter, if by any means it could be saved. This doubt seemed to haunt him. My argument is,' I remember he said, they may take away the Charter or leave it, but there is one fact that no man can alter—viz., that a vast and valuable territory has been opened up by that Company in about half the time, and at about a quarter the cost, which the Imperial Government would have required for a like task ; so that whether, in consequence of one bad blunder, and partly in order to snub me, Cecil Rhodes, the Company is to cease, or whether it is allowed to go on with its work, its achievements and their results must and will speak for themselves.' With reference to the political prisoners, I recollect he repeated more than once: You see, I stand in so much stronger a position than they do, in that I am not encumbered with wife and children; so I am resolved to strain every nerve on their behalf.'" Lady Sarah Wilson asked Dr. Jameson "a very embarrassing question," as she calls it,—viz., whether at the time of the Raid he had received a message from the Reform Committee in Johannesburg warning him that the time was not ripe for him to start. He gave no direct answer, but remarked : " I received so many messages from day to day, now telling me to come, then to delay starting, that I. thought it best to make up their minds for them, before the Boers had time to get together." Lady Sarah Wilson visited the field of Krugersdorp where the Raid came to its ignominious end and examined the hopeless position which the raiders had attempted to defend. She writes :- " One thing was certain : destruction or surrender must have stared them in the face. The kopjes on the farther side of the • South African Memories : Social, Warlike, and Sporting. From Diaries Written at the Tune. By Lady Sarah Wilson._ London: Edward Arnold.
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stream were bristling with Boers, and away on the veldt beyond was drawn up the Staats artillery. And then one realised a most awful blunder of the Reform Committee, from their point of view. The Boer forces, arriving hereabouts in hot haste, from a rapid mobilization, had been almost entirely without ammunition. We were told on good authority that each burgher had but six rounds, and that the field-guns were without any shells at all. During the night the necessary supply was brought by rail from Pretoria, actually right through Johannesburg. Either by accident or mature reflection on the part of the conspirators in that city, this train was allowed to pass to its destination un- molested. It proved to be one of those small happenings that completely alter the course of events."
In 1899, during the events which led up to the war, Mr. Rhodes expressed the following opinions of Lord Milner :—
" In the business I am constantly having to transact with him, connected with the Chartered Company,' he remarked, I find him, his mind once made up, unmovable—so much so that we tacitly agree to drop at once any subject that we do not agree on, for nothing could be gained by discussing it. I allow he makes his decisions slowly, but once made they are irrevocable.' Mr. Rhodes used also to say he admired beyond words Sir Alfred's behaviour and the line he adopted in that most difficult crisis before the war. He assumes,' said his appreciator, an attitude of perfect frankness with all parties ; he denies himself to no one who may give him any information or throw fresh light on the situation; to all he expresses his views, and repeats his unalter- able opinions of what is required.' " We must quote another passage in which Mr. Rhodes revealed himself:— "Mr. Rhodes was always in favour of doing things on a large scale, made easy, certainly, by his millionaire's purse. Sometimes a gardener or bailiff would ask for two or three dozen rose or fruit trees. There is no use,' he would exclaim impatiently, ' in two dozen of anything. My good man, you should count in hundreds and thousands, not dozens. That is the only way to produce any effect or to make any profit.' Another of his theories was that people who dwelt in or near towns never had sufficient fresh air. During one of our morning rides I remember his stopping a telegraph-boy, and asking him where he lived. When the lad had told him, he said : I suppose there are no windows in your cottage ; you had better go to Rhodesia, where you will find space, and where you won't get cramped ideas.' "
At the outbreak of war in 1899 Lady Sarah Wilson was at Mafeking, and Colonel Baden-Powell requested her to leave the town. She did so, and suffered intensely, as might be expected of a Churchill, from tedium, as she was able to take no part in the great affairs going on all round her. She was lodged not far from Mafeking; but her life there might have been no worse than tiresome if a carrier-pigeon which she sent off with a message for Captain Gordon Wilson (her husband) in Mafeking had not injudiciously flown into the Boer laager and there been killed. The Boers were now in possession of all the knowledge they required about her, and she was visited by scouts who made her life actively disagreeable. Thereupon she decided on a bold move. She went to General Snyman, who was besieging Mafeking, and asked if she could be exchanged fora Dutchwoman who was in Mafeking, and who was said to be anxious to escape. Snyman refused, but offered to exchange her for a notorious Dutch horse-thief who was imprisoned in llafeking. This proposal was made known to Colonel Baden-Powell, who rejected it. The letters on this subject from both Colonel Baden-Powell and Captain Gordon Wilson are very pleasing examples of the sang-froid which brings Englishmen through so many troubles. For some time Lady Sarah Wilson was held as a prisoner in the Boer camp, and it is pretty clear that if she was unfairly treated she never allowed her captors to forget it. She was not born a Churchill for nothing. All her tenacity was brought into play ; she intended to get into Mafeking somehow, and she succeeded. At last a moat welcome message came out of Mafeking to say that after all Colonel Baden-Powell would exchange the horse-thief for her, and she was escorted within the besieged lines. But before we leave General Snyman's laager we must quote a very curious episode :=-
" On the afternoon of the fifth day that I had spent at the Jagger, a fine-looking burgher rode up to the hospital, and I heard him ; conversing in very good English. Presently, after staring at me for some time, he came up and said he had known Randolph Churchill, who, he heard, was my brother, and that he should so like to have a little talk. He then informed me his name was Spencer Drake, to which I said Your name and your con- versation would make me think you are an Englishman, Mr. Drake.' So I am,' was his reply. I was born in Norfolk. My father and grandfather before me were in Her Majesty's Navy, and we are descended from the old commander of Queen Elizabeth's time.' To this I observed that I was sorry to see him in the Boer camp amongst the Queen's enemies. He looked rather sheepish, but replied : 'Our family settled in Natal many years ago, and
I have ever since been a Transvaal burgher. I owe everything I possess to the South African Republic, and of course I fight for its cause ; besides which, we colonials were very badly treated and thrown over by the English Government in 1881, and since then I have ceased to think of England as my country.'"
A most spirited picture of the siege follows. The callous- ness which familiarity with danger brings is well illustrated in the following incident. Stevenson has written of the indifference of people who live in the tremendous. neighbour- hood of a volcano, yet the menace of Vesuvius or Etna is not quite so instant as the scream of a shell r-
" One day a lady was wheeling her two babies in a mail-cart up and down the wide road, while the Boers were busily shelling a distant part of the defences. The children clapped their hands when they heard the peculiar siren and whistle of the quick-firing Krupp shells, followed by dull thuds, as they buried themselves in the ground. On my suggesting to her that it was not a very favourable time to air the children, she agreed, and said that her husband had just told her to go home, which she proceeded leisurely to do."
We quite agree with Lady Sarah Wilson that she did right to return to Mafeking. She had there a most comfortable and elegant bomb-proof shelter (see the photograph), and, besides, she has enriched our knowledge of the siege with an impression, which is all her own, of the self-possession, good temper, and sportsmanlike cheeriness with which the place was defended.