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The Anglo-Boer War
at East London

As soon as the Anglo-Boer War threatened in September 1899, events began to overtake East London. First was the creation of a Town Guard -- ostensibly to protect the port from a possible Boer invasion.

This was followed almost immediately by the arrival of trainloads of Uitlander refugees. At first women and children were sent to the coast for a protracted holiday while the war -- which it was believed would be of very short duration -- was waged in the Transvaal.

As the war dragged on, however, more and more people fled the Boer republics. In May President Kruger decided to expel all Uitlanders because their loyalty was in question.

Most of these were penniless and were dependent on the good will of the local residents. The Lord Mayor of London's Mansion House Fund augmented relief. The majority of refugees lived in squalid conditions in a tent town near the Eastern Beach.

The port also became the transit centre for Boer prisoners, incarcerated while en route to concentration camps overseas. This prison was situated close to the rocky shore on the West Bank.

Finally, between May and August 1902, the town became the home for some 2,000 Boer women and children -- and a "refugee camp" was established for them on the outskirts of the town at a site overlooking the Buffalo River.

On the other hand, many East London merchants made a fortune by exploiting both sides of the conflict. The opulent new suburb of Belgravia was the result of this wealth. Indeed, the Anne Bryant Art Gallery is a good example of such opulence.

Keith Tankard
14 October 2009

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