In 1886 gold was discovered in the largest quantities ever seen before, in an area called the Rand, near what is now Johannesburg in the Boer republic of Transvaal. This became the “Promised Land” attracting Uitlanders (foreigners) from all over. These Uitlanders were a “mixed bag” from Britain, Europe and the New World countries, bringing with them, not only financial assistance to expand the gold mines, but expertise to extract the gold.
Juast as the backwash of the first Anglo Boer War was begining to recede so further conflict was about to erupt.
The poorer Uitlanders, the miners themselves, were in general unaware of this “behind the scenes stirring”, being content with their lot and enjoying a much better standard of living than they had previously done in their home country. They were not urging for citizenship status. However Jameson took up their “cause” and, not content with the political approaches being made on Kruger, he and some five hundred sympathisers, decided to make a move of their own. This was to become known as the Jameson Raid. In 1894 Kruger maintained that that all Uitlanders were to reside for seven years to obtain citizenship but by 1898 he had moved the goalposts to 8 years and finally Kruger was adamant that a period of fifteen years was the minimum that an Uitlander should wait. Milner on the other hand was demanding citizenship for all after five years. Kruger was aware that if he gave in to Milner’s demands, power would shift very quickly away from the Boers because the Uitlander population was growing at an alarming rate. Milner stood firm, demanding that all of the Uitlanders grievances must be settled before discussions could continue. Meanwhile the British advanced on the Transvaal border and because of this Kruger was forced to give the British an ultimatum on the 10th October 1899. This ultimatum stated that “unless all British troops on the Transvaal and Freestate borders were withdrawn and reinforcements on the way to South Africa were sent back, war would be inevitable.” The rest, as they say, is history.
After the abortive Jameson Raid the situation between the Boer Republic of Transvaal and the British government deteriorated rapidly. The Bloemfontein conference, in May 1899, was held in an effort to resolve matters. By September, with the British playing for time, President Kruger had built up his store of weapons and increased his Commando strengths. By Tuesday 10th October 1899 Kruger had had enough and an ultimatum was sent to Chamberlain that had been drafted by his Attorney General, Jan Smuts. This ultimatum required that the British withdraw their troops from the border with Transvaal and sent back all troops on their way to South Africa or War would be inevitable. The ultimatum expired at 3 pm Greenwich Mean Time on Wednesday 11th October 1899 and War became a reality.
During this period when the Boers were drafting their ultimatum the British were also drawing up their own. In essence it demanded a complete surrender by the Boers. The Transvaal were to repeal all legislation passed since 1881 that affected the Uitlanders and grant home rule to the inhabitants of the Witwatersrand. The Transvaal was to surrender its rights to import weapons through Mozambique and, probably to ensure the British ultimatum was rejected by the Boers, there was a demand for the Transvaal to disarm.
For some incomprehensible reason the British ultimatum was not sent however if it had been one school of thought suggests that the Boer War could have become the First World War. This school based its comments on the fact that almost every European country including the United States of America were sympathetic to the Boer cause and were assisting them to some degree.
See complimentary article by Elria Wessels of the Bloemfontein museum.