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22 May 1859, Edinburgh M.D., Kt, D.L., LL.D., Sportsman, Writer, Poet, Politician, Justicer, Spiritualist Crowborough, 7 July 1930

Conan Doyle's Work of Love

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Conan Doyle's Work of Love is an article written by Julian Ralph published in the McClure's Magazine in march 1902.


Conan Doyle's Work of Love

[The following article is a concise summary of Conan Doyle's recently published tract in defense of Great Britain and the Boor War; by far the most thorough, elaborate, and important statement of the British case yet printed ; and a great labor of love, inasmuch as the writer is to take not one penny of profit from its publication. — THE EDITOR.]


For various reasons Great Britain, in the Transvaal War, has been obliged to fight two forces — the Boers and a generally critical, largely hostile, public opinion. This extraordinary state of affairs is due, first, to England's unpopularity, which springs largely from her size, power, and wealth; second, to the fact that she is fighting two small republics which are (nominally) weak in fighting strength; wand, third, to the development of the telegraph, the mail service, and the press. Under present conditions we could not fight our Civil War over again, as it was fought, without arousing scandal that would make the world ring. Sherman's march to the sea or the horrors of Libby and Andersonville prisons would have provided all the idle, sentimental, and mischievous tongues in Christendom with bitter gossip and blame. Were the Franco-Prussian War to be duplicated to-day, with a press correspondent in every village, and thousands of the soldiers writing to their home newspapers, only think how busy the pulpits, the newspapers, and the halls of the politicians of the world would be kept in recording and denouncing the big and little incidents of the campaign !

Warfare is an earnest, bloody, cruel business at best, and there is some ground beneath those who insist that under present conditions a long-continued war in the thick of one of the wholly civilized continents could not be maintained. It could not be, it is argued, because the force of kindly sentiment and general public opinion would compel interference by the powers looking on.

Of the two forces Great Britain is opposing, one is met by her army, the other by her statesmen and private defenders. A chief among these latter persons is Dr. Conan Doyle. All of us who went into the war in South Africa have done our best to clear away the fog of lies, errors, and misinterpretations which has hung between the field of war and of the world. Yet we have almost been obliged to wear armor and carry a gun in order to do our duty, and to some of us the abuse and slanders of the ignorant have grown tiresome. It is not so with the creator of " Sherlock Holmes." He springs back into the arena with books, with after-dinner speeches, with letters to the newspapers, as heartily and as cheerily this month as when I met him on his return from the " front " eighteen months ago.

Dr. Doyle has investigated the accusations against the British as fast as they have been made. He has, to a very great extent, relied upon Boer testimony to correct Boer and pro-Boer falsehood, and where Boer proofs were not obtainable, he has given us the written and signed word of clergymen and army officers. He has worked very hard, and has produced a large book. Moreover, though he lives by his pen, he has offered the results of this great task freely to the world, taking not one penny, though he has spent a great deal of money upon it, and asking that the public be obliged to pay to the publishers only what the book has cost them. He surely, therefore, asks but little when he bids for our respectful attention to his findings in the great cause célèbre of Briton versus Boer.

Dr. Doyle begins his review of the cause and conduct of the war with a running history of the Dutch in South Africa, and brings out very clearly two salient points. The first is that the seat of the Boers and the Boers themselves were subject to England by two rights, the right of conquest and the right of purchase. Secondly, Dr. Doyle shows how turbulent and troublesome the Boers have ever proved; independent of control, detached from Europe, revolting even against the mild sway of the Dutch East India Company, and fighting among themselves when there was no one else to quarrel with.

"The title-deeds to the estate are, as I have said, good ones," says Dr. Doyle, "but there is one singular and ominous flaw in their provisions. The ocean has marked three boundaries to it, but the fourth is undefined. There is no word of the 'hinterland,' "Did England own the region northward, or were the Dutch free to pass onwards and found fresh nations to bar the path of the Anglo-Celtic colonists ? In that question lay the germ of all the trouble to come.

Bringing this sweep of the historian's eye farther down the stream of time, Dr. Doyle comes to the discovery of gold in the Transvaal — gold of the value of $3,500,000,000, he says. It drew from all races beneath the sun miners, engineers, managers, technical experts, and the tradesmen and middlemen who live upon them. They became about as numerous as the entire Boer community, and consisted mainly of men of exceptional intelligence and energy.

"The situation was an extraordinary one. I have already attempted to bring the problem home to an American by suggesting that the Dutch of New York had trekked West, and founded an anti-American and highly unprogressive State. To carry out the analogy, we will now suppose that that State was California; that the gold of that State attracted a large inrush of American citizens; that these citizens were heavily taxed and badly used, and that they deafened Washington with their outcry about their injuries. That would be a fair parallel to the relations between the Transvaal, the Uitlanders, and the British Government.

"That these Uitlanders had very real and pressing grievances no one could possibly deny. There was not a wrong which had driven the Boer from Cape Colony which he did not now practise himself upon others—and a wrong may be excusable in 1835 which is monstrous in 1895. The primitive virtue which had characterized the farmers broke down in the face of temptation. The country Boers were little affected, but the Pretoria government became a most corrupt oligarchy, venal and incompetent to the last degree. The unfortunate Uitlander who paid nine-tenths of the taxation was fleeced at every turn, and met with laughter and taunts when he endeavored to win the franchise by which he might peaceably set right the wrongs from which he suffered. His situation was intolerable.

"But it is a poor cause," says Dr. Doyle, "which cannot bear to fairly state and honestly consider the case of its opponents. The Boers had made great efforts to establish a country of their own. After all, they were fated to see an influx of strangers into their country, who threatened to outnumber the original inhabitants. If the franchise were granted to these, there could be no doubt that it was only a question of time before the new-comers would dominate the Raad and elect their own president. Were the Boers to lose by the ballot-box the victory which they had won by their rifles ? These new-comers came for gold. They got their gold. If they stayed, let them be thankful that they were tolerated at all."

However, a policy of Thibet cannot be carried out in a great country lying across the main line of industrial progress. The Boers are outnumbered in their own land by far more highly educated and progressive immigrants, yet they hold them down in a way not practised anywhere else on earth. What is their right ? The right of conquest. Then they would themselves acknowledge that the same right may be justly invoked to reverse the intolerable situation. "Come on and fight! Come on!" cried a number of the Volksraad when the franchise petition of the Uitlanders was presented. "Protest ! Protest ! What is the good of protesting ?" said Kruger. "You have not got the guns ; I have." If the Boers had ignored the immigrants they might fairly have said they did not desire their presence. But even while they protested they grew rich at the Uitlander's expense. They could not have it both ways, says Dr. Doyle.

Kruger's animosity against the Uitlanders was bitter. He visited the Rand only three times in nine years. He addressed the people once as "Burghers, friends, thieves, murderers, new-comers, and others." He thought that if he granted the franchise to the Uitlanders his nation would be destroyed, and yet a wide franchise would have made his republic firm-based and permanent, for Dr. Doyle says that few Uitlanders desired to come into the British system. Desperation alone led to the Jameson Raid. Dr. Doyle takes pains to array together the facts and arguments which seem to prove that neither Joseph Chamberlain nor the Salisbury government connived at, or knew of, this absurd expedition. From that moment the Transvaal government might grow worse and worse, says one author, but the raid could be cited to justify it. "For years the raid stood in the way not only of all progress, but of all remonstrance."

Dr. Doyle pauses to remind us that Great Britain had every reason to avoid war, and no reason to desire the conquest of the Transvaal. "Whatever flag waved over the gold mines would not make the difference of one shilling to the revenue of Britain. The Transvaal as a British province would have its own legislature, its own revenue, its own expenditure, and its own tariff against the mother country."

Dr. Doyle shows by Boer testimony that if the British did not plot conquest, the Boers certainly looked for war. They were "always wriggling to prevent a clear and precise decision," says Villiers. "The only thing we are afraid of is that Chamberlain will cheat us out of our war," said Blignant. "We have beaten England before, but it is nothing to the licking we shall give her now." "The war will be over in a fortnight," said other prominent Boers.

Dr. Doyle reviews the recent efforts of the Boers in the field to terminate the war, Paul Kruger's hostility to the project, and all else that has arisen to disprove the current belief that Britain has demanded an unconditional surrender. England's only definite declaration has been that the Boers cannot have back their independence. To this Dr. Doyle adds : "Not if the war has to continue until the last Boer is deported out of Africa." Despite Kruger's position, peace committees of burghers were sent to argue with the fighting burghers. Two were shot in cold blood, several were beaten, all were ill-used. "That," says Dr. Doyle, "is why three Boer generals — Marais, Colliers, and Cronje — are fighting on the British side. As argument with their brethren proved useless, they took arms against them. The fact goes far to dispel the stories of British barbarity.

He next takes up the farm-burning. I was present when the first Boer houses were burned. They were the headquarters of Free Staters who were continually fighting and sniping at the British on British soil. The Boers complained to Lord Roberts, and he replied in effect : " You are driving from their homes in the Queen's colonies loyal subjects who will not support your cause ; you are helping yourselves freely to the cattle and other property of the British in Natal ; and you have wrecked the contents of many houses. I point out, on the other hand, that farms within the actual area of the British camp at Modder River have never been entered ; their houses, gardens, and crops are absolutely untouched." He then issued a proclamation forbidding the destruction or damage of public and private property in the enemies' lands. Dr. Doyle goes on to show how strictly this order was obeyed. He could not shelter his sick in empty houses without getting leave of the owners. He could not use the corrugated iron fence around the Bloemfontein cricket ground to make huts for the sick. Everywhere "Tommy Atkins" lived on foul water and bully beef in a land of plenty.

In all, 630 buildings have been destroyed. This sum includes 170 houses in certain districts which the Boers habitually used as places of rendezvous, and the village of Bothaville, which was a Boer depot. These large devastations were committed after the close of the war stage, the flight of the governments, the annexation of the two countries, and the establishment of hopeless and futile guerrilla fighting. The burning of houses ceased in 1900. A quarter of a million dollars will pay for all such damage not strictly within the license of the Hague Convention. The destruction of crops and herds continues. It is analogous to the frequent capture of British supply trains on which the British depend for food. " Guerrilla warfare cannot enjoy all its own advantages and feel none of its own defects," says Dr. Doyle.

In dealing with the concentration camps, three courses were open to the British, says Dr. Doyle : to send the women and children into the Boer lines ; to leave them on the open veldt ; or to gather them in camps. The Boers ceased to have any " lines," the Kaffirs would have misused the women had they been left on the veldt ; the British refugees had been living in just such camps for more than a year. The condition of these homeless British from Johannesburg and elsewhere was more deplorable than that of the Boer families has been.

The defects in sanitation are on all sides declared due to the habits of the inmates ; there was overcrowding at first, and it has been remedied, but to overcrowd a tent hygienically is impossible. There has been awful infant mortality, as there was among the British in Mafeking, Ladysmith, and Kimberley, but it did not come from any filth-disease. It resulted from a severe form of measles. Apart from that, the record of the camps would not attract unfavorable comment. The Boer mothers, says Dr. Doyle, with a natural instinct, preferred to cling to the children, and to make it difficult for the medical men to remove them. in the first stages of the disease. The result was a rapid spread of the epidemic, which was the more fatal, as many of the sufferers were in low health, owing to the privations unavoidably endured in the journey from their own homes to the camps. Not only was the spread of the disease assisted by the mother, but in her mistaken zeal she frequently used remedies which were as fatal as the disease. Children died of arsenical poisoning, having been covered from head to foot with green paint ; and others of opium poisoning, having quack drugs which contained laudanum administered to them. "In Potchefstroom as at Irene," says Dr. Kendal Franks, "the death-rate is attributable not so much to the severity of the epidemic, as to the ignorance, perverseness, and dirty habits of the parents themselves." It is some mitigation to know that the death-rate among children is normally quite remarkably high in South Africa, and that the rate in the camps was frequently not higher than that of the towns near which the camp was situated.

Be this as it may, we cannot deny that the cause of the outbreak of measles was the collection of the women and children by us into the camps. But why were they collected into camps ? Because they could not be left on the veldt. And why could they not be left on the veldt ? Because we had destroyed the means of subsistence. And why had we destroyed the means of subsistence ? To limit the operations of the bands of guerrillas. At the end of every tragedy we are forced back to the origin of all of them, and made to understand that the nation which obstinately perseveres in a useless guerrilla war prepares much trouble for its enemy, but absolute ruin for itself.

We have looked after our enemies far better than our friends. The Boers are compelled to be in camps, and the loyalist refugees are not. But the fact remains that the loyalists are in camps, through no fault of their own, and that their condition is a worse one than that of our enemies. At East London there are two refugee camps — Boer and British. The former has 350, the latter 420 inhabitants. The former are by far the better fed, clad, and housed, with a hospital, a school, and a wash-house, all of which are wanting in the British camp. At Port Elizabeth there is a Boer camp. A Dutch deputation came with £50 to expend in improving their condition, but returned without spending the money, as nothing was needed. The Boer refugees and the British are catered for by the same man at Port Elizabeth. He is allowed 15d. per head for the Boers per day, and 8d. for the British. These are the "Methods of Barbarism."

In his next two chapters he defends the British soldier upon the evidence of Boers, Americans, Frenchmen, Swiss, Belgians, an Austrian, and a Catholic nun. The behavior of the soldiery with the Boer women is the first subject inquired into. As I have said. a sifting of all the accusations leaves a single charge of sexual assault by a soldier, of another one by a person called "Mister" E———n, and a charge that a soldier used coarse language to a Boer woman. That is what a cloud of slanders comes to when investigated.

As to the story that the British used expansive bullets, I can swear that none were used by any of the 90,000 men I was with at various times, though the Boers shot them and explosive bullets into us in every fight. By the votes of Great Britain and the United States at The Hague such bullets are permissible. How a few did get into British bandoliers by accident, and were quickly dis-covered, you will read in Dr. Doyle's book, With regard to the complaint that the British bayonetted their foes and treated their prisoners harshly, no Boer prisoners have said that this was the fact. As to the executions of captives by the British, Dr. Doyle says there were thirty-one during last year. Four were train-wreckers, aggravated cases ; one was a spy, two were murderers of natives, one a deserter who stole twenty horses from the Cape Police, and twenty-three were British subjects taken fighting against their country.

Dr. Doyle thinks that the British are open to a serious charge of inhumanity in not having taken proper precautions against train-wrecking, until as many men had been killed and injured in derailed trains as would equal the casualties of a considerable battle. The Germans carried French hostages on their trains in France, and since tie British adopted the practice of carrying Boer hostages on the South African trains, not one case of derailing has occurred.

In a chapter entitled "The Other Side of the Question," Dr. Doyle has collected conclusive testimony with regard to the murdering of natives and the killing of surrendered British soldiers by the Boers. To my surprise, in his first book on the war, Dr. Doyle went out of his way to speak of this foe as brave, honorable, and gallant. In his latest "pamphlet" he recants this tribute. He now amazes me with the number and barbarity of their crimes. It is a chapter which every man who has taken sides with the Boers must read in justice to his desire to be just, and to deserve the respect of others and of himself. Well may Dr. Doyle inquire, "Are these the deeds of soldiers or of brigands ? if they act as brigands, why must we forever treat them as soldiers ?"






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