First Anglo-Boer War: A Book Review - Hill of Doves by Stuart Cloete
Book Review of Hill of Doves by Stuart Cloete
The First Anglo-Boer War - An Insight From the Boer Side
The arrival of the Boer Trekkers from the Cape to the interior of Southern Africa and specifically in the Transvaal was the result originally of a people leaving Europe to start new lives in the Cape Colony. Some were Dutch Calvinists and others French Huguenots. In 1806 the British took over the Cape Colony from the Dutch and now these same people left in their wagons to get away from the rule of the English. They were simple farmers who believed in the Bible and settled in farms, first in the area known as the Orange Free State and then further north and east in the Transvaal and Natal. They obtained independence from Britain in the Sand River Convention (In 1852) and the Bloemfontein Convention (In 1854). The area north of the Vaal River became the Transvaal Republic.
The discovery of diamonds in Kimberley in 1870 and the opening up of the Witwatersrand Goldfields lead to the influx of many people from Europe and elsewhere who were known to the Boers as "Uitlanders". Britain became interested in this area and on the pretext of protecting their citizens, though probably they were more interested in the newly discovered riches of the area. In 1877 the Transvaal submitted reluctantly to British authority. Many Boers however resented this intrusion and led by Paul Kruger and his General, Piet Joubert, a great assembly of Boers met at Paardekraal on 10 December 1880 and decided to declare independence. This led to a series of confrontations known as the First Anglo-Boer War with a decisive battles at Laing's Nek, Ingogo and Majuba.
The book, Hill of Doves, written by Stuart Cloete, is a work of fiction describing the decision of the Boers to rise up against the English and fight this First Anglo-Boer War. He uses the story of a young Boer woman called Lena to tell the story. She sees her lover, Dirk, and his brothers and father leaving to go off to war. She and her Grandmother and Great Grandfather and Dirk's blind young brother, together with their servants, are left to look after the farms in the absence of the men who had gone to fight. The first confrontation with the British troops takes place on their farm near the fictitious platteland town of Brennersdorp. Here Lena helps to supply first-aid to the many wounded British who are an easy target for the Boer Commandoes who do not "fight fair" according to the rules of war as the British soldiers practiced them.
The story shows the different people in the war with their different attitudes, varying from hatred to confusion and mutual respect, as men kill each other in a war that they did not really want. The writer does an excellent job of describing the feelings of his characters and the cover of the book describes the novel as "all the dust and thunder of the first Anglo-Boer War". It is however much more than that. It tells of Lena, a young woman experiencing her first taste of love and her frustration as Dirk leaves for a war that he does not really want to get involved in. It tells of the blind young boy who becomes an unlikely hero. It tells of pride and honour and dishonour, of bravery and cowardice, of the waste of human life that is often the result of political foolishness. It sketches a vivid picture of Boer life in the early history of South Africa. But more than that, the author deals with many of the questions of life as he brings to the pages of his story a series of fascinating characters who wrestle with important questions that all of us face in our own lives and own times.
For anyone interested in understanding the events of the First Anglo-Boer War it is an excellent read. It will bring a tear to your eye as it comes to a vivid conclusion. It will also help you to answer some of the important questions that you may have about life, love and even death.
References: Hill of Doves by Stuart Cloete. Struik Publishers.1983
The Boer War by Field Marshall Lord Carver. Pan Books. 2000
Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa. Compiled and Edited by Eric Rosenthal. Frederick Warne &Co Ltd. 5th Edition 1973.