Military History of Australia During The Second Boer War - Background

Background

Great Britain first gained control of the southern tip of Africa during the Napoleonic Wars. The Dutch East India Company built the first Cape settlement in 1652, bringing southern Africa into the Dutch Empire. In 1795 revolutionary France invaded and occupied the Dutch Republic, and established a puppet allied-state there, known as the Batavian Republic. All the former colonies of the Dutch Republic came under the control of the Batavian Republic, who were allied to France, Britain’s enemy in the French Revolutionary Wars.

Realising the Cape’s strategic importance for control of the seas and access to India and the Far East, Britain attacked the Batavian Republic's outpost at the Cape of Good Hope in the Battle of Muizenberg. The British victory in the battle brought about the establishment of the Cape Colony. Although it was briefly returned to the Batavian Republic in 1803 under the Treaty of Amiens, a resumption of hostilities saw Britain again take control of the Cape Colony in 1806 following the Battle of Blaauwberg. This battle established permanent British rule over the Cape.

Unhappy with British rule, the Southern African Dutch, known as Boers, migrated further north, establishing the South African Republic (Transvaal Republic), Natal, and the Orange Free State. British imperial and commercial interests increasingly impinged on the Boer republics, who resented British influence in their affairs. The majority of the territory of Natal was annexed by the British in 1843, and although the British government formally recognised the two remaining Boer republics in the 1850s, they then annexed the Transvaal in 1877. Tired of British aggression towards them, the Boers finally hit back, leading to the outbreak of the First Boer War. Lasting from 16 December 1880 until 23 March 1881, the First Boer War was a humiliating reversal for the British, who suffered a disastrous loss at the Battle of Majuba Hill on 27 February 1881, and were compelled to sign the Pretoria Convention, which granted the South African Republic self-government under a nominal British suzerainty.

Just six years later in 1886, gold was discovered in the Republic, and a large influx of British prospectors (referred to as uitlanders by the Boers) increasingly led to confrontation with the Boers. What began as an internal problem for the South African Republic soon became an international problem, as Britain sought to protect, and even extend the rights of its citizens within the South African Republic. Britain had been unhappy with the outcome of the First Boer War, and wished to restore influence over the Transvaal.

Under the pretext of negotiating uitlander rights, Britain sought to gain control over the gold and diamond mining industries, and demanded a franchising policy, which they knew would be unacceptable to the Boers. When the negotiations failed to come to an acceptable outcome, British foreign secretary Joseph Chamberlain issued an ultimatum to the South African Republic. Realising that war was inevitable, President Paul Kruger gave Britain a 48-hour deadline to withdraw its troops from their borders. When Britain failed to comply, the South African Republic, along with their allies, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State declared war on Britain and set about launching pre-emptive strikes into British held territory.

Read more about this topic:  Military History Of Australia During The Second Boer War

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