Kimberley concentration camp

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Kimberley Camp

People in this camp


People who died in this camp


Kimberley camp was located in the Cape Colony on the Cape-ORC border but formed part of the ORC system. As one of the besieged towns, Kimberley had suffered severely from the war and there was little sympathy in the town for the camp inmates, especially the families of the Cape rebels who were housed there. Kimberley was a flat, hot town, always short of water and notoriously unhealthy. The camp itself, located on de Beers property in Newton, on the outskirts of the town, was inches deep in loose, sandy soil.1

Some kind of camp probably came into being in the early stages of the war for relief had to be found for destitute Boers from Griqualand West as early as December 1899.2 The formal camp, however, was set up by the town commandant on 4 January 1901 and run by Major Wright and the men of the Kimberley Regiment. Emily Hobhouse was contemptuous of Wright, a colonial volunteer rather than a regular soldier, whom she described as a ‘coarse, lazy, indifferent old man’ who did no work and left his son to run the camp. The result was a dirty, smelly camp where whooping cough and measles were rife and there was almost no medical attention.3 ‘Undesirable’ Cape rebel families, who were ‘not refugees in the true acceptance of the term’, were mixed with people from the Free State, the Transvaal and Bechuanaland.

Under military management disorder prevailed in Kimberley. In the beginning the Free State families were rationed differently from the Cape rebels and appear to have been subject to different regulations. A weak superintendent usually meant arbitrary treatment of the people with the result that the Kimberley women were amongst the most bitter that Emily Hobhouse encountered. As early as February 1901 the women petitioned the British government: ‘On account of carelessness, bad management, and ill-treatment, it is now the second time that we are drenched through and through by rain, which caused our children, already sick with measles, whooping cough, and fever, to become dangerously ill’, they wrote and urged that they be allowed to return to their homes.4

By February 1901, when the civilian camp administration was formed in the ORC, it was clear that all was not well in Kimberley. Finally Sydney Schutte, who subsequently became the first civilian superintendent, was sent by the ORC chief superintendent, Captain Trollope, to find out what was going on. Schutte’s brief, at this stage, was to concern himself only with the ORC people. Emily Hobhouse thought this absurd. She wrote to her brother, ‘Isn’t it ridiculous to split the camp in that way? They urge economy, won’t give soap or mattresses, then go and pay two Superintendents and two doctors and so forth and £500 for a barbed-wire fence, which anybody determined to escape could easily cut through’

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