THE common opinion was that the war would be sharp and short—until we knew that the Orange Free Staters made common cause with their neighbours (without any quarrel with us,) and saw that nearly every Dutchman in both Republics was taking the field against us, backed up by the best and largest guns (which we did not know they possessed) and to some extent assisted by continental officers and foreign soldiers tempted by good pay.
When war was imminent, a wild stampede of immigrants took place, many leaving their homes and property to the commandeering, looting Boers. Cape Colony became congested.
The evacuation of Johannesburg was attended with many sad scenes. A Bradford man, writing to his parents, from Port Elizabeth, gave a vivid picture of the flight:
" When I wrote you a short note on September 29th, 1899, from Johannesburg, I did not expect to have to clear out so soon afterwards, but there was very little time given us to consider. The Boers were commandeering all the Outlanders' property as a war tax; they claimed all the horses on the mines, and behaved most insultingly to any Englishman they could come across. The way the Boers were treating us was simply outrageous. They are worse than Kaffirs, so I cleared out as quickly as I could. There were 1500 people left Johannesburg by the same train, and nearly as many left on the platform. I had an awful journey down. We saw all the women and children in the closed carriages, whilst we men had to go in open coal trucks. About two hours after we started there was thunder, lightning, and heavy rain, which continued until we reached Kronstadt next day. Of course, we were all drenched to the skin. There we had some "scoff," for which we had to pay 3s. 6d. each. At ordinary times the charge is not more than 2s. per meal. The Orange Free State officials provided us with cattle trucks, which, being covered, were a little better than open coal trucks, and shielded us from the rain. We travelled right through the Free State in this kind of conveyance, and after crossing the border into the colony at Newport we were put into civilised carriages for the rest of our journey. Altogether the journey took us three days and three nights. It was difficult to get quarters, for the place is crowded. Anyhow, we managed to get a room —I and another fellow—for which we had to pay a pound for one week.
"There are about 5000 refugees from the Transvaal down here, and I hear that at Cape Town and Durban people are sleeping in churches, warehouses, and, in fact, anywhere they can get a covering for their heads. People who came down here two or three months ago are at their wits' end, their money being finished, and they having to rely on charity for a bite to eat. Whole families are starving.- The British Government ought to help these subjects, as they are forced to leave their livelihood, and all because the English Government will not hurry up and settle things one way or the other. Johannesburg is very nearly empty. Nearly all the mines have been closed down. All the storekeepers have barricaded their places up and discharged their workpeople, and the principals have cleared out, leaving their goods and property to look after themselves. Thousands of people who a few months ago were doing a nice business are now ruined, and their labours for years past are all wasted. The Boers will not allow them to remove their stock, produce, or anything else."
When the crisis came, at the end of September, 6000 Europeans left Johannesburg alone in two days. Those who left early did so in comfort, those later in cattle trucks and with much privation. The expulsion of aliens was the order of the States, and protection was withdrawn from the mines, which of course came to a stand still.
With the opening of October South Africa became astir with warlike preparations, Burghers and British troops hurrying to the- front, and with martial law came plunder. Bullion worth a million being conveyed from the Rand to Cape town was seized and sent to Pretoria —with a " receipt" for the same. It was minted into coin.