Crime during the siege
Captain Wilson with the Natal Carbineers was Court Martialled for cowardice and desertion at Dundee and was dismissed from the corps, however John McKenzie in his diary 22nd October 1899 states that Wilson was find 10 pounds for leaving his post without orders and reduced to junior Captain.
The accuracy of the Boer shells and timing of their attacks suggested that there were spies within the siege area. Rumours were rife but very few were substantiated. On 19th October 1899 a Boer, posing as a member of the Imperial Light Horse, was shot for spying. In December of the same year a man was given three years hard labour for communicating with the Boers.
On the 2nd November 1899 a Boer ambulance carrying British wounded from Nicholson’s Nek arrived in town with a letter from General Joubert requesting an exchange of prisoners. Every courtesy was shown to the Boers, even to allowing them to shop in the town. Some tendered with Transvaal gold and on being told that it was not current coin replied, “it soon will be”. Whilst these men were shopping, the ambulance driver was moving freely around the town and it was soon discovered that he was a Boer artillery officer, a Long Tom gunner called Mattey. This probably accounts for the accuracy of the shells that fell on the British armaments and headquarters the following day.
H.C.Foss (brother to AE) a big man in Ladysmith with strong Dutch tendencies and a South African swimming champion, was tried by General Court Martial for “using language calculated to discourage Her Majesty’s Troops”, spreading despondency among the troops, in particular the Devonshires. He apparently exaggerated the British losses at Colenso and suggested that worse was to come. He was found guilty and sentenced to twelve months in prison. His house was subsequently used as a convalescent home and an officers mess. “Amazingly” the house was never shot at. “Foss was arrested again in February for contravening Section 5 (Sub.Sec.5) of the Army Act. He was tried by Court Martial on 6th February, found guilty and I understand was sentenced to 12 months hard labour.
“Gus Jacobs, his father-in-law Mathew Brown with Brown Junior were charged at the magistrates Office with horse stealing. Jacobs got 2 years, Mathew Brown fined 30 pounds and Brown Junior. Six months. They stole several Military horses.
At night on 3rd December 1899 several men were sent to conceal themselves in the bushes by the Klip River. At about 8 pm General White ordered some mounted troops to stand to arms, saddle up and gallop up the main street to the northern end of town. With them there were some artillery and infantry and everyone was expecting to attack Umbulwane. At 10.30 pm everyone was stood down with the usual grumbling and it was only the following day that the real reason for the exercise was exposed. The men hiding by the river had captured several spies attempting to cross over to the Boers with what they thought was information of an attack.
In his diary Chas de Ketschendorf gives several accounts of spies, desertion and dereliction of duty.
- 29th November 1899 a Trooper in the ILH was caught signalling to the Boers and shot on the spot whilst another, in the same regiment, was arrested and charged with sending a message in a bottle to the Boers down river. A third, this time in the Border Mounted Rifles was shot, while signalling the Boers and yet another in the ILH was hanged for poisoning forage.
- 30th November 1899 three privates in the Kings Royal Rifles were shot for disobedience of orders and one was shot for being asleep on guard.
- 1st December 1899 a private in the ILH was hanged for poisoning forage.
- 10th December 1899 a trooper in the NMR was shot while signalling to the Boers.
- 16th December A party of the enemy tried to get two of the guns but were repulsed by the Devons killing 43 of the enemy.
Private Lambert in his diary “saw two men this morning just before Church parade, tied by straps round their wrists to the wheels of an ammunition cart. They stood back to the wheels with their hands outstretched in line with their shoulders and they had to stand there in sight of the whole regiment and could not move. I have never seen the like since I have been in the army. These men were tried for sleeping at their post while on outpost duty and were sentenced to 84 days. Their names were 5776 Andrews and 4611 Gibbons of ‘A’ company.
Private Kilby Leicestershire regiment for stealing a watch.