Alfred Wallis Beck to Frederick Chesson, 20 January 1886
Archive location: Bodleian Libraries, MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 18 / C125 – 128
Author(s): Alfred Wallis Beck
Recipient(s): Frederick Chesson
Sent from: South African Republic
Date: 20 January 1886
January 20th 1886
To the President of the Aborigines Protection Society, London
I venture to forward you a few facts connected with the late events which took place at … also circumstances which have come to my notice since then, as I think they are of such a nature as to command attention. Shall have of necessity to make mention of myself in the account, but this I trust you will see is done to make the case clear and not by way of courting notoriety.
So far as the engagement itself is concerned, which took place on Dec 2/85, I can give no accurate account, as I was not present. After the fight the general had forwarded dispatch to the Landdrost of this place asking that a medical man should be sent out at once. Dispatch came in on morning of Dec 3rd and by the request of the Landdrost I started at once and arrived next morning only I found that Dr. (Esselen?) has been appointed the day before: however there were about fifty-wounded so that there was more than enough for two.
The Boer loss was nine men and eight wounded, two of whom have since died. The slaugher amongst the Koranas was very great, certainly not less than one hundred and twenty. Judging from personal inspection of some of the bodies, conclude that there was no desire to take prisoners.
The Kopje, upon which stood (Masoonoe’s?) house and the huts of his people, presented a most ghastly appearance, not less than twenty bodies (natives) lying exposed to the intense heat since the Wednesday at 8am, the sight is not likely to be forgotten by any who saw it, unless it may be by those who seemed to take a delight in pointing out their particular victims. One man pointing to a Korana whose skull had been smashed laying bare the brain, assured me with an air of trimph that it was his work: it may or may not have been. (Masooun?) lay dead within a few yards of his house.
Beyond the Kopke on the flats the (greater?) number fell and were evidently shot while in flight. This I have heard from all sides was the case and that no quarter was given. Innumerable instances of cruelty are recorded both by the Boers themselves and others. I never heard that bodies on the flats were buried. The corpses on the Kopje were buried I saw, if it may be called buried, perhaps a foot deep in ‘cow dung’ in … cattle kraal. For days those bodies lay exposed to the view of passers by to … the laager … one of them a child of twelve or eighteen months old. General Joubert told me that he estimated the Korana loss at one hundred and thirty, including four women and two children.
…Kekerk, Adrian le Rey, and others of like character were conspicuous amongst the Boers present.
On the Friday, the day I arrived, the wounded from the Kopje (Korana) were removed to an empty store, attended by their wives and children. Their rooms were made to accommodate not less than sixty people, the rooms equal to an area of say 36ft by 9 ft. Under the same roof and within an area of 30ft by 9 ft were confined the prisoners seventy four in number, at night time with their …. I need not say that with such a state of things, the stench and filth were something dreadful and no disinfectant to be obtained. Both Dr (Evelin?) and myself were unprepared for such … on so short a notice. The wounds were of a dreadful nature, some having been shot two or three times and in not a single case was a bullet found in the body, but in all cases an exit was found, (… so far as the wounded were concerned and also those I saw dead on the Kopje). No medical man had been requisitioned until after the affair had taken place. It was considered and an expressed opinion that medical aid for the Koranas was unnecessary: probably that accounted for my service being so dispensed with on Tuesday Dec 9th leaving Dr (Evelen?) in charge.
On the following Friday an order was given to secure the wounded from the hospital to a place called the (Salt Rous?), fifteen miles from Christiana. They were accordingly placed in one waggon and driven a distance of about fifty-five miles, this to one in health would be nothing, but to these unfortunate people badly wounded in a wagon without springs, driven along so rapidly that at last even the one in charge felt bound to remonstrate, must have been terrible. At … they were emptied with their buckets of mealies; this … the wounded and their friends, making in all over seventy…
They arrived at the (Salt Raus?) on Saturday Dec 12th. One unfortunate whose arm had been amputated died next morning. On the Monday they received a … milk cows and their calves, as well as three other calves, the latter they killed, the other were saved of course for the milk. On that day I heard of the state of affairs, viz that food was scare and that they were entirely without medical assistance, Dr (Esslen?) having gone to Bloenehof with a white patient. Went to the Landdrost who informed me that he had also heard the report and believed it to be true but had no authority to move on the matter. Such being the case I went out the following day to see for myself and found the report to be too true. There were the poor things …and the wounds undressed and in a dreadful state. Provided them with food and dressed their wounds so well as could be under the circumstances, some lying in the open and others huddled together in huts. The next day being “Dingaane’ day the office was closed so did not see the Landdrost but saw him on the following day and reported the case to him. He expressed regret but could do nothing in the matter attributing blame to the one who had brought them, commandant or other. I intimated that I was very full intention to make the matter public and that whether he had instructions or not it was plainly his duty to take the matter up. He thereupon arranged to go out with me the same afternoon. We went and he found nothing exaggerated but rather worse than had been reported. He gave orders for food enough four about four days.
Dec 21 Saw them again found another added to the list of the dead. … nearly finished. Dec 27 Dr (Esselen?) paid them a visit. December 28/85 I went out again and found they were without food and had been for several days. Nothing was done for them until Jan 4/86 when they received …. January 9th a man came to me saying the Field Cornet with other Boers had come to distribute them in the district and that they were to be ready next day. I could do nothing, but promised to go out again the following Monday which I did and found all had been taken but one old woman over 80 years old with a compound fracture of arm, a poor fellow with compound fracture of thigh who had been robbed of wife and two children, leaving him with one little one and without food ((heard?) later that the woman had been given to some people within a mile of him) and no one to attend to him, unless save of the people who live over the Salt Pan, also Korana would give him help. These two with another old woman too old to work were all that were left. The other woman an children taken as … have been distributed in the same way. Only today two women have come to me from Bloemhof telling me they had run away during the night from their master on account of cruelty. They said they had been beaten and insufficiently fed. I cannot certainly advise their going back. Since writing the above have been out again to the Salt Pan … that the man’s wife mentioned above was allowed to come home in the evenings. I saw also some who were in service who told me that they were continually beaten and hot not sufficient food.
As a reference I refer you to our Bishop who is in London. … The Lord Bishop of Pretoria, 49 Queen Victoria St. Trusting that you will not deem this a vain intrusion upon your valuable time.
I am sir
A. Wallis Beck
Sub-deacon diocese of Pretoria
Several refugees from the Boers have since passed. One poor fellow who had undergone operation of excision of tongue and with both jaws fractured in several places reported cruelty and something very like starvation, of which his emaciated condition gave clear evidence. (Massous?) wife was among those who lately passed through. She also complained of ill treatment and want of food. It is needless to say that all her cattle etc have been taken from her and that she has now to get her living as best she may. She went to the Landdrost of this town to complain of the treatment of the people to whom she had been given, he said he could do nothing, she must go to the Field Cornett, the man lives about 36 miles from here, she preferred rather to cross the border. From my experience of the Boers, I found these poor unfortunates who are doomed so far as … to seven years of slavery, will have a most terrible time and one can only hope that they will all be lucky in escaping, if caught they will be treated as something lower than (brutes?).