Paul Sanford Methuen (b. 1845 d.1932) was the 3rd Baron Methuen and a solider all his life. Before arriving in South Africa in 1899, he had served in the Ango-Ashante campaigns in present day Ghana as well as Egypt, and Bechuanaland (Botswana). At the outbreak of war in South Africa, he was given command of the British 1st Division. In December 1899 he commanded the British forces at the Battle of Magersfontein where the British suffered a humiliating defeat with heavy losses, one of three that week which became known in England as Black Week (the others were at Stormberg and Colenson). Methuen was effectively sidelined for the remainder of the war and his command replaced by Lord Roberts.
Methuen's destruction of Schweizer-Reneke took place towards the end of the war, when the British were pursuing a devastating scorched earth policy towards the Boers to deprive Boer guerilla forces of local support in the form of food, water and shelter. During the course of the war, some 30 000 Boer farmhouses were destroyed and tens of thousands of head of cattle slaughtered. Inevitably, those most heavily affected were boer women and children and the elderly who were left destitute and starving. The British solution was to intern them in concentration camps, the first time the term was used.
Extremely poor shelter in tents, poor diets and chronic shortage of medical supplies meant that the camps were overrun with diseases, among them whooping cough, measles, typhoid fever, diphtheria, diarrhoea and dysentery, especially amongst the children. Eventually 26 370 Boer women and children (81% were children) died in the concentration camps.
The British scorched earth policy also displaced thousand of African farmworkers and the British established 66 concentration camps for them, accommodating 11 500 people at the height of their existence. Mortality rates in Black camps were as high as in Boer camps. Half of the recorded Black deaths occurred in the three months between November and January 1901 (2831 deaths were recorded in December 1901). Officially 14 154 deaths were recorded but as the records of the camps are unsatisfactory the number could be as high as 20000.
Click to read our feature on the Ango-Boer War 2
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