F.V. Engelenburg during the Anglo-Boer War: an overview

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Abstract

F.V. Engelenburg (1863–1938) is regarded as one of the leading Afrikaans-Dutch intellectuals of the 19th and 20th centuries. Current South African historical records contain little information about the role Engelenburg played during the Anglo-Boer War (1899–1902). The number of references to him, such as in the Leyds biography by L.E. van Niekerk and the work by O.J.O. Ferreira on the Boer internees in Portugal, do not provide sufficient information to form an idea of the contribution that Engelenburg made to the Transvaal government and the Boers during the war. The South African biographical dictionary, Volume I contains an article on Engelenburg, but merely makes reference to his role at the very beginning of the war. Engelenburg was one of a few prominent people who were born and grew up in another country, but who helped the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republic during the war in their personal capacity. Other names that may be singled out in this regard include Herman Coster, who moved from the Netherlands to the Transvaal in the 1890s and who lost his life at the front early in the war. Like Coster, many Dutch immigrants were members of the Dutch Corps, and on October 21, 1899 a large group of the corps was killed at the Battle of Elandslaagte. Another person who sacrificed his life for the Boer cause, the French Colonel Georges de Villebois-Mareuil, was killed near Boshoff in the Free State on 5 April 1900.

Frans Vredenrijk Engelenburg was born in Arnhem into a prominent Dutch family in 1863. After completing his schooling he went on to qualify as a lawyer at the University of Leiden. Following his doctoral studies he tried to start an advocate’s practice in The Hague, but after a year he abandoned the legal profession and became a journalist at a newspaper in that city. He had been at the paper for only a year when he came to South Africa in 1889. While still a student in Leiden he had noted that there was a need in the Transvaal for foreigners with specific skills. Barely a month after his arrival in Pretoria, Engelenburg was appointed editor-in-chief of De Volksstem. He soon became known as a political commentator, in particular criticising the British government's interference in the affairs of the Transvaal. Like many of his countrymen he was, on his arrival in the Transvaal in 1889, initially negative about the Afrikaners. In correspondence with his friends and acquaintances he did not hide his critical attitude towards the "petty" rural Transvaal people. However, in the months before the outbreak of the war, and especially during the war, he underwent a spiritual transformation and identified strongly with the right of the Republican Government to take a stand against the imperial threats.

This article makes use of available archival sources and a number of secondary sources to outline the role played by Engelenburg during the war. Although he never participated in battles on the different fronts, he attended to other important issues which made a difference in the lives of the “burghers” in the field. When he was forced to flee to Europe in July 1900 he assisted the Boer internees in Portugal as well as W.J. Leyds in Brussels. Although he was not, owing to his reclusive nature, at the forefront of the war, he supported the Boers’ and the Republic's cause in a special way.

In the last decade of the 19th century Britain tried increasingly to get a grip on the ZAR, and after gold was discovered on the Witwatersrand, Britain interfered constantly in the ZAR’s domestic affairs. It is well known that during the Anglo-Boer War a special relationship between the Netherlands and the ZAR existed. The actions of the British Empire in South Africa during the war were strongly condemned and the Dutch openly gave their support to the republics of the Orange Free State and Transvaal. Dutch citizens who lived in the Transvaal even took up arms against Britain.

Engelenburg and Leyds were good friends. Shortly after his arrival in Brussels in 1898, Leyds, as an envoy of the ZAR, made numerous unsuccessful attempts to convince the Republican government that Engelenburg should be sent to Europe to assist him in Brussels. Engelenburg's extended stay in South Africa, however, gave him first-hand experience of the events before and during the war. Until the last, Engelenburg hoped that a solution would be found, but when it seemed that war was inevitable, he prepared to go to the front. Nevertheless, we know little about the role of Engelenburg during the war. Like Leyds, he was an advisor to Paul Kruger, but more important is the fact that, as the highly regarded editor of De Volksstem and also as a foreign correspondent for European media in the years that preceded the war, he meticulously set out the republican case in the dispute instituted by the British Empire. Personally Engelenburg was opposed to armed conflict, but by 1899, when war seemed to be inevitable, he went over completely to the Boer side.

The Anglo-Boer War broke out on 11 October 1899. Engelenburg had already prepared for war and to go to the battlefront. In the midst of the war activities, as a Dutchman and as editor-in-chief of De Volksstem he played an important role in support of the ZAR. He published a field edition of De Volksstem under increasingly difficult circumstances in order to keep the people in the cities abreast of events on the battlefield. Compared with the British reports of the day, which were very one-sided, there was little information on the Boers who made it abroad. Engelenburg's versatility and his transnational identity came in handy during the war and he played a key role in sending reports about the war to other countries to promote the cause of the Boers.

When the British took Pretoria on 5 June 1900, Engelenburg was told by the British military authorities to go to the Cape Colony. However, he obtained permission from the British administration in Pretoria to go to Europe. On 4 June the publication of De Volksstem stopped and the paper appeared again only after the war. Like many Dutch in South Africa, Engelenburg had interesting experiences during the war before he left the country. In Europe, however, he maintained a low profile since he had defied the British administration's instructions to go to London. For most of the rest of the war he lived and worked in Portugal and was a great support for the Boer internees who were detained in various towns around Lisbon. He made their life more bearable and made sure that they had enough food and clothing and that their children received an education. At the same time he assisted Leyds in various ways. Engelenburg returned to the ZAR only after the war.

This article is presented in a biographical format and describes Engelenburg’s life during the war. The issues that will be given special attention include the local and global environment on the eve of the war. Various preparations that were made for the war are described, among others how Engelenburg positioned De Volksstem to keep the burghers at the front and the residents in the towns informed about what was going on. The inevitability of war meant that the community prepared itself well. During the war the Dutch Corps aligned itself with the Boer side. The article further shows how Engelenburg assisted the Boers in Portugal. Before returning to South Africa, Engelenburg also finalised matters that had been pending since before the war.

During the war, Engelenburg was present during the Battle of Elandslaagte and the Battle of Colenso. He experienced the losses on the Boer side intensely, because he personally knew many of the Boers who were killed on the battlefields. His compassion, but also his admiration for the Afrikaners who had to fight against a superior force of British soldiers, grew daily. He was the eyes and ears of the Transvaal people and always showed great empathy with their situation. The knowledge and insight about the Boers’ cause that Engelenburg gained during the war in South Africa, as well as in Europe, prepared him for the role he would play after the war in South Africa. As an objective outsider with knowledge of the inner circles of the Afrikaner leaders in the Republics he strongly supported Afrikaner independence and would after the war give the new political and cultural leadership valuable advice and insights. As a journalist, Engelenburg had a critical but deep insight into the political emergence during the post-war period.

Engelenburg’s sojourn in Europe during the war, and his repeated visits to Europe and Britain after the war, made him an increasingly cosmopolitan and independent thinker as he gained valuable insights during the first three decades of the 20th century. The knowledge he gained during the war relating to the Afrikaner and his situation in South Africa prepared him for the role he would play in the 20th-century Transvaal.

Keywords: Anglo-Boer War; Boer internees; British imperialism; Delagoa Bay; De Volksstem; Dutch Corps; embassy; field issue; F.V. Engelenburg; Hague Conference; Peace of Vereeniging; Portugal; republics; South African Republic; “Uitlanders”; war correspondents; W.J. Leyds

Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans: F.V. Engelenburg tydens die Anglo-Boereoorlog: ’n oorsig

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