Siege of Mafeking
The Siege of Mafeking was the most famous British
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was the formal name of the United Kingdom during the period when what is now the Republic of Ireland formed a part of it....

 action in the Second Boer War
Second Boer War
The Second Boer War was fought from 11 October 1899 until 31 May 1902 between the British Empire and the Afrikaans-speaking Dutch settlers of two independent Boer republics, the South African Republic and the Orange Free State...

. It took place at the town of Mafeking (now Mafikeng
Mahikeng – formerly legally, but still commonly known as Mafikeng – is the capital city of the North-West Province of South Africa. It is best known internationally for the Siege of Mafeking, the most famous engagement of the Second Boer War.Located on South Africa's border with Botswana, it is ...

) in South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

 over a period of 217 days, from October 1899 to May 1900, and turned Robert Baden-Powell, who went on to found the Scouting
Scouting, also known as the Scout Movement, is a worldwide youth movement with the stated aim of supporting young people in their physical, mental and spiritual development, that they may play constructive roles in society....

 Movement, into a national hero. The Relief of Mafeking (the lifting of the siege) was a decisive victory for the British and a crushing defeat for the Boer
Boer is the Dutch and Afrikaans word for farmer, which came to denote the descendants of the Dutch-speaking settlers of the eastern Cape frontier in Southern Africa during the 18th century, as well as those who left the Cape Colony during the 19th century to settle in the Orange Free State,...



Shortly before the outbreak of the Second Boer War
Second Boer War
The Second Boer War was fought from 11 October 1899 until 31 May 1902 between the British Empire and the Afrikaans-speaking Dutch settlers of two independent Boer republics, the South African Republic and the Orange Free State...

 in 1899, Lord Wolseley
Garnet Wolseley, 1st Viscount Wolseley
Field Marshal Garnet Joseph Wolseley, 1st Viscount Wolseley, KP, GCB, OM, GCMG, VD, PC was an Anglo-Irish officer in the British Army. He served in Burma, the Crimean War, the Indian Mutiny, China, Canada, and widely throughout Africa—including his Ashanti campaign and the Nile Expedition...

, Commander-in-Chief of the British Army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

, who had failed to persuade the British government to send troops to the region, instead sent Colonel (later Lord) Baden-Powell, accompanied by a handful of officers, to the Cape Colony
Cape Colony
The Cape Colony, part of modern South Africa, was established by the Dutch East India Company in 1652, with the founding of Cape Town. It was subsequently occupied by the British in 1795 when the Netherlands were occupied by revolutionary France, so that the French revolutionaries could not take...

 to raise two Regiments of Mounted Rifles from Rhodesia
Zimbabwe is a landlocked country located in the southern part of the African continent, between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers. It is bordered by South Africa to the south, Botswana to the southwest, Zambia and a tip of Namibia to the northwest and Mozambique to the east. Zimbabwe has three...

. Their aims were to resist the expected Boer invasion of the Natal Colony (now KwaZulu-Natal Province), draw the Boers away from the coasts to facilitate the landing of British troops, and, through a demonstrable British presence, deter the local people from siding with the Boers.

Like the British government, the local politicians feared that increased military activity might provoke a Boer attack, so Baden-Powell decided to obtain many of his own stores, organise his own transport and recruit in secret. With barely trained forces and aware of the Boers' greatly superior numbers, commando
In English, the term commando means a specific kind of individual soldier or military unit. In contemporary usage, commando usually means elite light infantry and/or special operations forces units, specializing in amphibious landings, parachuting, rappelling and similar techniques, to conduct and...

 tactics and the failure of the earlier Jameson Raid
Jameson Raid
The Jameson Raid was a botched raid on Paul Kruger's Transvaal Republic carried out by a British colonial statesman Leander Starr Jameson and his Rhodesian and Bechuanaland policemen over the New Year weekend of 1895–96...

, Baden-Powell decided that the best way to tie down Boer troops would be through defence rather than attack. Consequently he chose to hold the town of Mafeking due to its location - both near the border and on the railway between Bulawayo
Bulawayo is the second largest city in Zimbabwe after the capital Harare, with an estimated population in 2010 of 2,000,000. It is located in Matabeleland, 439 km southwest of Harare, and is now treated as a separate provincial area from Matabeleland...

 and Kimberley - and because of its status as a local administrative centre. As well, the town had good stocks of food and other necessities.

The Mafeking forces comprised the Protectorate Regiment of around 500 men, around 300 from the Bechuanaland Rifles and the Cape Police, and a further 300 men from the town. A cadet corps
Mafeking Cadet Corps
The Mafeking Cadet Corps was a group of boy cadets during the Siege of Mafeking in South Africa. They are sometimes seen as forerunners of the Scouts, because they were one of Robert Baden-Powell's inspirations in creating of the Scout movement in 1907....

 of boys aged 12 to 15, later to be one of the inspirations for the Scouting
Scouting, also known as the Scout Movement, is a worldwide youth movement with the stated aim of supporting young people in their physical, mental and spiritual development, that they may play constructive roles in society....

 Movement, was also formed to act as messengers and orderlies. The recruitment of these cadets released men to fight, bringing the total engaged in the military effort to around 2000. Even though it was supposed to be a "white man's war" Baden-Powell also armed 300 African natives with rifles. They were nicknamed the "Black Watch" and used to guard the perimeter.


Work to build defences around the 6 miles (10 km) perimeter of Mafeking started on 19 September 1899; the town would eventually be equipped with an extensive network of trenches
Trench warfare
Trench warfare is a form of occupied fighting lines, consisting largely of trenches, in which troops are largely immune to the enemy's small arms fire and are substantially sheltered from artillery...

 and gun emplacements. President Kruger
Paul Kruger
Stephanus Johannes Paulus Kruger , better known as Paul Kruger and affectionately known as Uncle Paul was State President of the South African Republic...

 of the independent Boer South African Republic
South African Republic
The South African Republic , often informally known as the Transvaal Republic, was an independent Boer-ruled country in Southern Africa during the second half of the 19th century. Not to be confused with the present-day Republic of South Africa, it occupied the area later known as the South African...

 declared war on 12 October 1899. Under the orders of General Cronje
Piet Cronje
Pieter Arnoldus Cronjé, commonly known as Piet Cronjé was a general of the South African Republic's military forces during the Anglo-Boer wars of 1880-1881 and 1899-1902....

 the Mafeking railway and telegraph lines were cut the same day, and the town began to be besieged from 13 October. Mafeking was first shelled
Shell (projectile)
A shell is a payload-carrying projectile, which, as opposed to shot, contains an explosive or other filling, though modern usage sometimes includes large solid projectiles properly termed shot . Solid shot may contain a pyrotechnic compound if a tracer or spotting charge is used...

 on 16 October after Baden-Powell ignored Cronje's 9 o'clock deadline to surrender.

Although outnumbered by over 8,000 Boer troops, the garrison withstood the siege for 217 days, defying the predictions of the politicians on both sides. Much of this was attributable to some of the cunning military deceptions instituted by Baden-Powell. Fake landmines
Land mine
A land mine is usually a weight-triggered explosive device which is intended to damage a target—either human or inanimate—by means of a blast and/or fragment impact....

 were laid around the town in view of the Boers and their spies within the town, and his soldiers were ordered to simulate avoiding barbed wire (non-existent) when moving between trenches; guns and a searchlight (improvised from an acetylene
Acetylene is the chemical compound with the formula C2H2. It is a hydrocarbon and the simplest alkyne. This colorless gas is widely used as a fuel and a chemical building block. It is unstable in pure form and thus is usually handled as a solution.As an alkyne, acetylene is unsaturated because...

 lamp and biscuit tin
Biscuit tin
Biscuit tins are utilitarian or decorative containers used to package and sell biscuits and some confectionery. They are commonly found in households in the United Kingdom and commonwealth countries.- Origin and history :...

) were moved around the town to increase their apparent number. (See Jon Latimer, Deception in War, London: John Murray, 2001, pp. 32–5.) A howitzer
A howitzer is a type of artillery piece characterized by a relatively short barrel and the use of comparatively small propellant charges to propel projectiles at relatively high trajectories, with a steep angle of descent...

 was built in Mafeking's railway workshops, and even an old cannon (dated 1770, it coincidentally had "B.P. & Co." engraved on the barrel) was pressed into service. Noticing the Boers had failed to remove any of the rails, Baden-Powell had an armoured train
Armoured train
An armoured train is a train protected with armour. They are usually equipped with railroad cars armed with artillery and machine guns. They were mostly used during the late 19th and early 20th century, when they offered an innovative way to quickly move large amounts of firepower...

 from the Mafeking railyard loaded with sharpshooters and sent up the rail line in a daring attack right into the heart of the Boer camp, followed by a safe return to Mafeking.
The morale of the civilian population was also given attention, and Sunday ceasefires were negotiated so that sports, competitions and theatrical performances could be held. Notable were the cricket matches held on a Sunday. Initially, the religious sensibilities of General J. P. Snyman (in command after Cronje departed) were offended, and he threatened to fire upon the players if they continued. Eventually Snyman relented and even invited the British to a game. Baden-Powell replied that first he had to finish the present match, in which the score was '200 days, not out'!

As in the case of the nearby Siege of Kimberley
Siege of Kimberley
The Siege of Kimberley took place during the Second Boer War at Kimberley, Cape Colony , when Boer forces from the Orange Free State and the Transvaal besieged the diamond mining town. The Boers moved quickly to try to capture the British enclave when war broke out between the British and the two...

, the Boers decided that the town was too heavily defended to take. On 19 November, 4,000 Boers were redeployed elsewhere, although the siege remained and shelling of Mafeking continued. Aware of the approaching British relief columns, the Boers launched a final major attack early in the morning of 12 May that succeeded in breaching the perimeter defences and setting fire to some of the town, but were finally beaten back.

Boer attack

On 12 May, at about 4 am, Field Cornet
Field Cornet
A Field Cornet was a South African term for either a local government official or a military officer.Initially, the term was used for a civilian official in a local government district of the Cape Colony, acting as and invested with the authority of a military officer and empowered to act as a...

 S. Eloff led a force of 240 Boers in a daring assault on Mafeking. Covered by a feint attack on the east side of the town, the attackers slipped between the Hidden Hollow and Limestone forts on the western face of the defences. Guided by a British deserter, they followed a path beside the Molopo River
Molopo River
The Molopo River is located in southern Africa. The river generally flows to the southwest from its source, and has a length of approximately 960 kilometres. River flow is intermittent. When in flood, the flow discharges into the Orange River, which it meets downstream of Augrabies Falls National...

 to where it enters the Stadt, the village where the native Africans lived. Eloff's party burst into the Stadt unopposed and set fire to the huts in order to signal the attack's progress to Snyman. By about 5:30 am, the Boers seized the police barracks on the outskirts of Mafeking, killing one and capturing the garrison's second-in-command, Colonel C. O. Hore and 29 others. Eloff picked up the telephone connected with British headquarters and boasted to Baden-Powell of his success.

The fire had, however, already alerted Mafeking's garrison, which responded rapidly to the crisis. The African police (of the Baralong tribe) had wisely stayed out of the way when Eloff's party roared through the Stadt. As soon as the Boers moved on, the 109 armed Baralongs cut off Eloff's escape route. Snyman, "the most stolid and supine of all the Boer generals in the war," failed to support Eloff. Meanwhile, Baden-Powell's elaborate telephone network provided him with timely and accurate information. From his headquarters, the British commander directed Major Alick Godley and B Squadron (Protectorate Regiment) to smother the attack and dispatched D Squadron, some armed railway employees and others to help. Eloff's men were soon isolated into three groups.

With two squadrons, Godley first surrounded a group of Boers holed up in a stone kraal
Kraal is an Afrikaans and Dutch word for an enclosure for cattle or other livestock, located within an African settlement or village surrounded by a palisade, mud wall, or other fencing, roughly circular in form.In the Dutch language a kraal is a term derived from the Portuguese word , cognate...

 in the Stadt. These men surrendered after a sharp fusillade. Godley drove the second group off a kopje and they mostly managed to escape. All day long, Eloff and the third group held out in the police barracks, finally capitulating in the night. The British lost 12 dead and 8 wounded, mostly Africans. Boer losses were 60 dead and wounded, plus a further 108 captured.


The siege was finally lifted on 17 May 1900, when British forces commanded by Colonel B T Mahon
Bryan Mahon
General Sir Bryan Thomas Mahon KCB, KCVO, PC, DSO was a British Army general and Irish Free State Senator.-Military career:Mahon was born at Belleville, County Galway...

 of the army of Lord Roberts
Frederick Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts
Field Marshal Frederick Sleigh Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts, Bt, VC, KG, KP, GCB, OM, GCSI, GCIE, KStJ, PC was a distinguished Indian born British soldier who regarded himself as Anglo-Irish and one of the most successful British commanders of the 19th century.-Early life:Born at Cawnpore, India, on...

 relieved the town after fighting their way in. Among the relief forces was one of Baden-Powell's brothers, Major Baden Fletcher Smyth Baden-Powell
Baden Baden-Powell
For the town, see Baden-BadenBaden Fletcher Smyth Baden-Powell, FS, FRAS, FRMetS was the youngest son of Baden Powell, and the brother of Robert Baden-Powell, Warington Baden-Powell, George Baden-Powell, and Agnes Baden-Powell...


Until reinforcements landed in February 1900, the war was going poorly for the British. The resistance to the siege was one of the positive highlights, and it and the eventual relief of the town excited the liveliest sympathy in Britain. There were immense celebrations in the country at the news of its relief (creating the verb to maffick, meaning to celebrate both extravagantly and publicly). "Maffick" was a back-formation
In etymology, back-formation is the process of creating a new lexeme, usually by removing actual or supposed affixes. The resulting neologism is called a back-formation, a term coined by James Murray in 1889...

 from Mafeking, a place-name that was treated humorously as a gerund
In linguistics* As applied to English, it refers to the usage of a verb as a noun ....

 or participle
In linguistics, a participle is a word that shares some characteristics of both verbs and adjectives. It can be used in compound verb tenses or voices , or as a modifier...

. Promoted to the youngest major-general in the army, and awarded the CB
Order of the Bath
The Most Honourable Order of the Bath is a British order of chivalry founded by George I on 18 May 1725. The name derives from the elaborate mediæval ceremony for creating a knight, which involved bathing as one of its elements. The knights so created were known as Knights of the Bath...

, Baden-Powell was also treated as a hero when he finally returned to Britain in 1903.

Three Victoria Cross
Victoria Cross
The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration awarded for valour "in the face of the enemy" to members of the armed forces of various Commonwealth countries, and previous British Empire territories....

es were awarded as a result of acts of heroism during the siege, to Sergeant Horace Martineau and Trooper Horace Ramsden for acts during an attack on the Boer Game Tree Fort, and to Captain Charles FitzClarence
Charles FitzClarence
Brigadier General Charles FitzClarence VC was an Irish recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces....

 for Game Tree and two previous actions.

In September 1904 Lord Roberts
Frederick Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts
Field Marshal Frederick Sleigh Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts, Bt, VC, KG, KP, GCB, OM, GCSI, GCIE, KStJ, PC was a distinguished Indian born British soldier who regarded himself as Anglo-Irish and one of the most successful British commanders of the 19th century.-Early life:Born at Cawnpore, India, on...

 unveiled an obelisk
An obelisk is a tall, four-sided, narrow tapering monument which ends in a pyramid-like shape at the top, and is said to resemble a petrified ray of the sun-disk. A pair of obelisks usually stood in front of a pylon...

 at Mafeking bearing the names of those who fell in defence of the town. In all, 212 people were killed during the siege, with over 600 wounded. Boer losses were significantly higher. The siege established Baden-Powell as a celebrity in Britain, and thus when he started the Scout Movement
Scouting, also known as the Scout Movement, is a worldwide youth movement with the stated aim of supporting young people in their physical, mental and spiritual development, that they may play constructive roles in society....

 a few years later, his fame contributed to its rapid initial growth.

See also

  • British military history
    British military history
    The Military history of Britain, including the military history of the United Kingdom and the military history of the island of Great Britain, is discussed in the following articles:...

  • British Empire
    British Empire
    The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the...

  • History of South Africa
    History of South Africa
    South African history has been dominated by the interaction and conflict of several diverse ethnic groups. The aboriginal Khoisan people have lived in the region for millennia. Most of the population, however, trace their history to immigration since...

  • Military history of South Africa
    Military history of South Africa
    The history of South Africa chronicles a vast time period and complex events from the dawn of history until the present time. It covers civil wars and wars of aggression and of self-defense both within South Africa and against it...

  • Sol T. Plaatje "Mafeking Diary: A Black Man's View of a White Man's War"
  • Lady Sarah Wilson
    Lady Sarah Wilson
    Lady Sarah Isabella Augusta Wilson , was the youngest daughter of John Spencer-Churchill, 7th Duke of Marlborough and Lady Frances Anne Emily Vane, aunt of Winston Spencer Churchill. In 1899 she became the first woman war correspondent when she was recruited by Alfred Harmsworth to cover the Siege...

     became the first female war correspondent, reporting from Mafeking
  • Pakenham, Thomas. The Boer War. New York: Avon Books, 1979. ISBN 0-380-72001-9

External links

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