South African 'Boer' War

Page 2 – Origins of the conflict

Tensions in southern Africa

Concerned by German interest in southern Africa, the British Empire annexed the Boer South African Republic (Transvaal) in 1877 to ensure the security of its own South African territories.

The Boers resented British rule and regained a semblance of independence after defeating British forces in the First Anglo-Boer War of 1880-81. But the discovery of gold in the Transvaal in 1886 drew more British settlers to the region. When the Boers refused to grant these uitlanders (foreigners) citizenship, tension began to grow between the two communities.

In 1895 Dr L. Starr Jameson, an administrator in the British South African Company, led a privately organised raid into the Transvaal in the hope of joining forces with a British settler uprising. The failure of this raid not only embarrassed the British but also strengthened the Boers′ determination to resist British intervention.

On 9 October 1899 the Transvaal government sent an ultimatum to Britain, demanding that British troops be removed from the Transvaal border and all overseas reinforcements recalled. When the British ignored these demands, Transvaal invaded the Natal region on 12 October. Allied with the Orange Free State, the Boers were now officially at war with the British Empire.

New Zealand offers support

On 28 September, in response to the growing tensions in southern Africa, Premier Richard Seddon asked the New Zealand House of Representatives to approve the formation of a contingent of 200 mounted riflemen to assist the Empire if needed.

Seddon hoped that such a display of colonial solidarity would deter the Boers. He believed that New Zealand was not only bound to Britain but relied on the strength of the British Empire for its own continual security. With only five members voting in opposition, the proposition was passed and the offer conveyed to London, where it was accepted.

The proposition was also widely accepted by the New Zealand public. With war apparently imminent, New Zealand began to hastily prepare the contingent to ensure  it met the 31 October embarkation deadline that the British authorities had set.

How to cite this page

'Origins of the conflict', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 24-Oct-2014