The Military History Journal recently carried an article on British intelligence operations in Delagoa Bay during the 2nd Anglo-Boer War. It was based on a letter from Lt A N Campbell RA to Lt-Col A E Sandbach RE, dated 14 August 1900, describing intelligence work carried out from the British Consulate-General in Lourenco Marques (Maputo) and referring initially to the work of 'S & Co', which was correctly identified by the author as a force led by Lt Baron F C L von Steinaecker. This force was the embryonic Steinaecker's Horse, an irregular unit which has commonly attracted only incorrect and flippant attention. Whilst the story is still incomplete in all its detail, enough is now known to illustrate the importance of British plans to disrupt supplies through Delagoa Bay, across the borders of Mozambique with the South African Republic (more widely known as the Transvaal) and Swaziland, and to demonstrate the important role which this irregular unit played in them, The article describes the development of these plans and why and how Steinaecker's Horse came into being as a result of them.
For the landlocked Transvaal, Delagoa Bay in the Portuguese colony of Mozambique was its only link with the sea outside British control, the port of Lourenco Marques having been formally connected with Pretoria by rail on 8 July 1895 - the Eastern Line. Since the outbreak of the 2nd Anglo-Boer War, the British had attempted to control the flow of supplies through the port with varying degrees of success, but faced a constant haemorrhage through the long, unguarded frontier with the Transvaal and Swaziland along the Lubombo Range.
To assess the situation more closely , military intelligence at the Cape asked the High Commissioner, Lord Milner, for assistance and on 16 December 1899, he sent Samuel Evans to Lourenco Marques on a confidential mission. Evans was a director of the National Bank of South Africa, a member of the powerful finance house of H Eckstein of Johannesburg, and a prominent member of the reform movement in Johannesburg before the war. He had joined Lord Milner's staff in Cape Town on the outbreak of the war and later transferred to Field Marshal Lord Robert's staff, Evans had also had coast guard experience with the Egyptian Customs Service.
Returning to Cape Town on 20 January 1900, Evans produced a report within two days which was transmitted by Milner to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, J Chamberlain, as well as to A C Ross, consul at Lourenco Marques. Dealing with the security of Delagoa Bay, the report considered the possible destruction of the railway line to Pretoria and particularly the railway bridge at Komatipoort, the fact that Swaziland was being used to hold large herds of cattle taken by the Boers from Natal, and the possibility of creating a 'Forbes' Swaziland Corps'.
The Forbes to whom the report referred was David Forbes, Junior, long involved in the political and economic affairs of Swaziland and, during the years immediately preceding the war, manager of the family- owned coal mines in the Swaziland lowveld. The family also had farming interests on the Lubombo Range, particularly in the area of Nomahasha, where the frontier was disputed by the Portuguese. Forbes was then 37 years old, fluent in Dutch and siSwati, well acquainted with the country on either side of the Lubombo and used to riding and living roughly. Technically a Transvaal burgher, he had escaped from the Boer administration in Swaziland to Nomahasha in October 1899 and set up camp with his brother James at Pisini (Pessene) in Portuguese territory. In the following month, he called on the consul-general in Lourenco Marques to report on the situation in Swaziland.
Forbes' Swaziland Corps was to be a force of 300-500 British subjects from Swaziland and Zululand, established on the lines of the South African Light Horse (SALH). It was to set up camp on the Lubombo in Swaziland at a spot accessible from Zululand and from Kosi Bay without having to go through Portuguese territory. Forbes' friendly relations with the Swazi would be an advantage in establishing a network of spies. The objectives of the force would he to operate against the Delagoa Bay railway line, harass the Boers in Swaziland, and prevent cattle looted in Natal from being driven into Mozambique. It was estimated that some 1 000 burghers would he drawn from the Natal and Cape fronts to defend the railway and Swaziland. No mention was made in either Evans' report or any other document at this time of the neutrality of Swaziland, a country independent of both the Boers and the British, from which the former had withdrawn their administration on the outbreak of the war. The proposals for the Forbes' Swaziland Corps formed an annex to Evan's main report and does not appear to have been forwarded to London, Milner's letter to Chamberlain making no mention of it.
Evans had visited Forbes at Pisini and arranged for him to go to Cape Town to put his plans to the British military authorities. Leaving Lourenco Marques on HMS Magician, Forbes arrived in January 1900 and Evans organised meetings with, firstly, Lord Kitchener, and then Lord Roberts, so that he could present his scheme for blowing up the Komatipoort bridge. According to Forbes, both approved his plan, appointed him captain attached to the SALH, and seconded Capt H A A Livingstone RE as his military adviser and second- in-command. Forbes and Livingstone then went to Natal, arriving about 8 February at Springfield on the Little Thukela River. There they hoped to meet Gen R H Buller, commanding the Natal Army, and present him with a letter from Roberts approving the plan and seeking assistance to raise a force of 200 men. It was a most inopportune moment; having just faced a serious reverse at Spionkop, and being in the middle of the action at Vaalkrantz, Buller was in no mood for 'amateur fighting men' and declined to give authority to raise the necessary force. Forbes and Livingstone retired to Pietermaritzburg, where they awaited a reply to Forbes' letter to Roberts, seeking further orders; it never came and Livingstone returned to his post and Forbes went back to Lourenco Marques.
Forbes returned to find that Capt F H E Crowe RN had replaced Ross on 2 March 1900 and the post upgraded to consul-general. British military intelligence in Cape Town had been keen to establish an intelligence network based in Lourenco Marques and had posted Maj H P Young, formerly of the Indian Service Corps, to the Consulate-General as staff captain and intelligence officer. His intelligence operations, however, had been of limited value and they had failed to block goods going into the Transvaal except those of an obvious military nature. Crowe had been serving with military intelligence and was appointed with the express purpose of containing the smuggling of goods into the Transvaal from Mozambique. At this time, it also became necessary for the British government to ensure that neighbouring Swaziland remained quiet and peaceful and to deny the Boers opportunities for smuggling through Delagoa Bay or for making contact with the Transvaal consul there. Reports that Swazi authorities had resorted to 'killing off' political opponents once the Boer administration had withdrawn brought Sir Ellis Ashmead Bartlett, MP, on his first visit to Swaziland to urge them to stop. Bartlett, American-born, but a 'strenuous and grandiloquent advocate of British imperialism' , had been a prominent advocate in the 1890s for Swazi efforts against Boer administration. Telling Crowe that he would inform the Swazi of the true position of the war and keep them quiet with good advice, Bartlett, accompanied by H R Abercrombie (a Johannesburg journalist), left Lourenco Marques by rail for Pisini on Sunday, 25 March 1900. There, they met up with Forbes, who had been asked to act as escort and guide them secretly into Swaziland. They rode across the Lubombo to visit the queen regent at Zombodze on 30 March and, by Tuesday, 3 April, had returned to the Consulate-General with the message that 500 men were required in Swaziland to prevent the Boers from occupying impregnable positions in the Mdzimba Range, to counter Boer influence, and to block the Delagoa Bay railway. Bartlett, having closely examined Forbes on these issues, particularly the problem of blowing up the railway bridge at Komatipoort, went on to Bloemfontein to discuss them with Roberts, who was also pondering on the problem of the railway.
Whilst Bartlett and Forbes had been riding secretly through the Swaziland bush, the question of disrupting the Delagoa Bay line had been considered in London and a message from Chamberlain to Milner on 6 April ordered him to consider it 'most seriously' with Roberts and 'fully report your views'. For some months, the Foreign Office had been closely interested in the problem of goods being smuggled through Mozambique to the Transvaal and, on 20 January 1900, passed on to Ross the aged Sir Sidney Shippard's views on the three most likely routes, one of which was across Swaziland from Sodwana Bay. It had also sent R D Casement, until July 1898 consul at Delagoa Bay, back to Mozambique, inter alia to use his extensive local knowledge to assess the security situation and the nature and extent of the smuggling operations. Ross had been informed of Casement's mission on 3 January. On 2 February, Casement telegraphed his conclusions to the Governor of Natal. 'It is my conviction that the best course for Her Majesty's Government to ensure stoppage of this route to contraband of war for the SAR, is for the Military Authorities in Natal to send an expedition through British Territory and Swaziland, to seize and hold, or else destroy, the Netherlands Railway. I am prepared to give personal assistance, and to bring several useful helpers from Lourenco Marques.
Chamberlain's telegram had been prompted by Casement's conclusion and it also revealed that, 'despite adverse opinions of Buller and others, he maintains his view based on local knowledge of the country and its resources that the thing can be done.'
As it happened, Casement was in Cape Town at that moment, en route back to his consular post at Luanda in Angola and Milner decided to detain him for consultations because of his local knowledge of Delagoa Bay and its hinterland. Copies of Chamberlain's telegram and Milner's reply on 26 April were minuted to the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, who was also Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. The Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, W St J F Brodrick, minuted that 'this ought to have been done long ago.' Chamberlain's telegram produced a series of consultations between Milner and Roberts, who was probably influenced by Bartlett's oral report on his visit to Lourenco Marques and Swaziland. As a result, the newly-arrived Strathcona's Horse from Canada was detained in Cape Town and a request made on 22 April for Milner to send for Forbes to come from Nomahasha to Cape Town where the planning for an expedition was taking place.
The plan was to use the 600 men of Strathcona's Horse and a small detachment of Royal Engineers under Captain Livingstone. Two squadrons would be landed at Durban and proceed north through Zululand and Swaziland to support a third squadron which would be landed at Kosi Bay and, guided by Forbes, make its way north to blow up the bridge at Komatipoort. The planning was done under the direction of Lt-Gen Sir F W E Forestier- Walker, officer commanding Cape Colony, and Rear Admiral Sir R H Harris, commander-in-chief Cape of Good Hope, with Casement and Forbes in attendance. Although the operation was to be carried out in the area under the control of the Natal Army, neither Buller nor anyone on his staff appear to have been involved, perhaps because of Casement's comment on Buller's lack of interest in such a scheme.
Meanwhile, Crowe went to Pietermaritzburg to confer with the Governor of Natal and with Lt-Col AE Sandbach RE, Buller's AAG (Intelligence) and, since 2 March, responsible for all intelligence work in Natal. They met on Easter Sunday morning, 14 April, for discussions on 'questions of interest', which, one presumes, covered intelligence operations at Lourenco Marques. Crowe had asked Buller for an intelligence officer on his staff and it was probably at this meeting that a decision was taken to post Lt A N Campbell RA, the intelligence officer stationed at Pietermaritzburg, to Lourenco Marques on special duty. Crowe sailed from Durban for Delagoa Bay on 19 April and he was followed on 28 April by Campbell. In a routine return, dated 22 April, of the disposition of intelligence officers in Natal, the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) in Bloemfontein came to learn of Campbell's posting and immediately asked for his recall on the grounds that all arrangements for Delagoa Bay had been made in Cape Town and that Campbell's posting would 'only upset matters.' Sandbach was able to reply that Roberts' military secretary had already given approval on 20 April and the posting had been acted upon immediately; to this the DMI could only respond that Campbell should 'confine himself to the duties solely of assistance to the consul [sic] .'
Maj David Henderson, who had served in the Natal Army and had been appointed as DAAG under Sandbach, had earlier been invalided to Britain and called in at the War Office for discussions with Maj-Gen John Ardagh, Director of Military Intelligence. When he had been at Springfield in February, Forbes had met Sandbach and presumably Henderson was well aware of his ideas. But whether or not Henderson's discussions with Ardagh were responsible, it was at Ardagh's specific request that a private and secret telegram was sent on 16 May to Crowe from the Foreign Office. Approved and, in part, drafted by the Prime Minister, Crowe was asked: 'Have you received any offers or suggestions for cutting the railway by blowing up bridges or any other means near Komatipoort on either side of the border or have you reason to suppose that any plan of this kind is entertained at our headquarters. Do you consider that any undertaking of this kind is in any degree practicable.' Crowe responded immediately that 'the bridge has had my constant active attention since arrival in South Africa'. He reported that the first attempt had been made in December 1899 and that, whilst passing through Cape Town in February, he had learned of the military authorities launching an expedition through Lourenco Marques; this had proved a fiasco, so that on his arrival in Delagoa Bay he had had to ship the men concerned out of the country to obliterate all traces of the attempt. Then, on passing through Durban, Buller had sent Sandbach to advise Crowe of his own expedition of six men through Swaziland; of this, nothing had been heard. Crowe finally noted that he had frequent reports of the situation along the railway and was cognizant of the difficulties of such an action. This response was shown to Lord Lansdowne, Secretary of State for War, and to Ardagh.
A week later, on 23 May, Crowe asked the Foreign Office for the urgent approval of £10 000 'for the effectual destruction Komati Poort bridge - payment to be made only after positive and ocular prof. '. At midnight, Sir T H Sanderson (permanent Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs passed Crowe's request to the Prime Minister, who was at his private residence in the country, Hatfield House, and minuted 'This is what the Americans call a rather tall order. But we cannot expect to do things cheap'. One comment, quoting US experience in Cuba, was that, as the spans were short, the interruption to rail traffic would not last more than a fortnight. The Prime Minister thought that the delay would be longer and telegraphed his consent to the Foreign Office in Carlton Terrace. Ardagh and Lt-Col Sir William Everitt at the Intelligence Directorate thought the price heavy, but felt that payment should be sanctioned. Thus, Sanderson, with a note on the file that Crowe would have to be withdrawn if the Republic ever proved that he had been involved in such a scheme from neutral territory, and a warning to him that he should 'be careful to avoid any traces of manner in which it is expended', duly authorised the expenditure. Henderson soon learned of this scheme and warned Everitt that he had met Crowe in Cape Town where he had found him to be most indiscreet with sensitive information. Everitt passed this opinion to Sanderson who minuted the Prime Minister and attached a draft telegram, suggesting that Crowe should advise the Foreign Office when the money was required. It also suggested that news of his project had already leaked since open telegrams from his office had reported the increase in Boer garrisons along the railway. With a wry comment that 'sailors never can hold their tongues', Salisbury agreed and the telegram was sent on 27 May. Crowe responded on 29 May that, whilst it was true that the Boer garrisons had been reinforced, any leakage probably concerned other movements and certainly not his scheme 'which is one of sheer bribery of enemy and mainly depends on sum being large enough' .
In the meantime, the scheme planned in Cape Town was set in motion and, following his involvement in its planning, Forbes arrived back in Delagoa Bay aboard a British warship on 26 May. He had orders to ride secretly down to Kosi Bay to guide northwards through Swaziland the troops coming ashore there on 5 June. In his book, Forbes infers that he did not tell the consul general of the planned landing and made his own arrangements, but the Consulate-General's Intelligence Diary suggests otherwise. However, as the plans were being prepared in Cape Town at the beginning of May, Roberts had asked Milner to instruct Forbes specifically 'to keep his own counsel and not communicate with anyone in Natal. In the event of Buller questioning him, he should reply that he is employed on a secret service by my orders . . . '. With Campbell in the Consulate-General, it was unlikely that Buller would remain unaware of the plans for long, and others certainly sensed the imminence of an attack. The Boer garrison at Komatipoort had been reinforced by 50 burghers on 25 May and Lourenco Marques was full of rumours. In support of Forbes, Crowe recorded in the diary on 30 May that two scouting parties had been sent to garner information on Boer movements, two of Forbes' Swazi were posted at the Consulate-General to make contact as soon as the 'David Forbes expedition' came within reach, and several waggon-loads of provisions had been despatched to pre-arranged destinations with supplies for the expedition.
Perhaps it was not, therefore, surprising that the District Governor of Lourenco Marques told Crowe on 28 May 'as a great secret' that an expedition was coming northwards through Swaziland. This information Crowe passed to the British military and civil authorities with the comment that there had been a leakage of Forbes' instructions either in Cape Town or down the coast from Delagoa Bay.
By the end of May, three totally uncoordinated attempts were being made to destroy the Komatipoort bridge - Crowe was planning his own bribery scheme, the David Forbes expedition was already at sea and, on 29 May, news was received in Delagoa Bay from 'Buller's small expedition' that, although in a bad way, its members were pushing on. Crowe advised London on the following day that Buller's expedition was nearing its objective and that he was 'despatching volunteers to assist them'. This telegram was shown to Ardagh, who then became worried that Crowe might do something to prejudice either or both of the expeditions and, probably also concerned that Roberts had not been informed of the Foreign Office's initiative, sent a telegram to him with the Prime Minister's approval on 30 May. Told that, at Crowe's request, up to £10 000 had been authorised for the destruction of the bridge at Komatipoort, Roberts was asked whether he thought the authority should stand. A day later, Crowe was told not to take any further steps with his scheme until a reply had been received from Roberts. He responded by telling the Foreign Office that he was endeavouring to postpone the destruction of the bridge by means of messengers, but foresaw much difficulty in controlling what had already been put in motion. London and Lourenco Marques then waited for Roberts, who had just captured Johannesburg and was pausing at Orange Grove before resuming his advance to Pretoria and was probably awaiting news of the David Forbes expedition from Milner before replying.
Meanwhile, the rumours grew, Crowe reporting to the Foreign Office on 1 June that the Governor of Mozambique had told him of the landing of British mounted troops at Kosi Bay and their entry into Swaziland. On the following day, Crowe received two cables from Milner, one explaining the plan of the expedition, and the other stating that, as surprise had been lost, it was now impracticable. Harris, who was in charge of the landing, signalled to him on the next day that the expedition had been abandoned. And so, possibly with this news to hand, Roberts telegraphed the War Office on the evening of 3 June that Crowe's authority to act should, for the present, be maintained. Crowe was disappointed that the expedition had been abandoned, feeling that it could have reached Nomahasha unopposed and been reinforced, but he was not surprised. The movements of Forbes, a 'well known, loyal and active Swaziland man', his journey to and from Cape Town in a warship and his departure for Swaziland had aroused suspicions. Crowe, however, was told on 4 June of Roberts' authority to proceed with his own plans to destroy the bridge at Komatipoort.
Equipped by Crowe with the latest information and maps about the defences of Komatipoort, Forbes and A K Brooks, an Australian employee of his father, had crossed the Lubombo Range and ridden southwards along its western edge through the Swaziland lowveld, arriving at Kosi Bay on 4 June, the day before the squadron of Strathcona's Horse was due to be landed. There they found, lying offshore, the gunboat, Widgeon, which eventually passed the message that the sea was too rough for the troops to land and that Forbes should make for Eshowe. The squadron had, in fact, arrived on 2 June, but had received a signal that its movements and destination were known to the Boers and so it withdrew. Thus ended the David Forbes expedition. As Forbes and Brooks rode south, they received a report of a dead horse in the Nkalashane valley, south-west of Nomahasha, and the next day found the remains of a temporary camp with an old copy of the Natal Mercury and a tin of Oxford sausages. It was clearly not a party of Boers, but as he travelled south along the base of the Lubombo Range, Forbes heard nothing to reveal the identity of the party.
For reasons which remain unclear, Buller had flatly refused to cooperate with the plan supported by Roberts to send a force, headed by Forbes, to destroy the Komatipoort bridge. Yet, within a short time after that decision was taken and without reference to any other command, he had agreed to provide intelligence support to the Consulate-General in Lourenco Marques and initiated his own secret expedition to Komatipoort. Primarily to provide support for the expedition, Buller and Sandbach had sent Campbell to Delagoa Bay. The genesis of the idea is unclear, but it follows Casement's proposal. Unlike the David Forbes expedition, this was to be a raid by a small party which would return to Natal after blowing up the bridge. To lead the party, a forty six year old German, Baron Francis Christian Ludwig von Steinaecker, was selected.
Von Steinaecker was a man whose past is difficult to determine, not least because of the host of apocryphal stories which developed around him. Born on 28 September 1854 in Berlin, he was the son of Colonel Baron von Steinaecker and his wife, Baroness von Thumen of Liegnitz. From 1871 to 1879, von Steinaecker served in the Prussian Army and thereafter accompanied Prince Alexander of Battenburg to Bulgaria. He worked in German South West Africa (Namibia) from 1886 to 1888, when he went to South Africa. Earlier, in June 1885, Emil Nagel had been granted land and mineral concessions in Mpondoland (Transkei) by Mqikela, ruler of the Mpondo people. To develop the concessions and establish a presence in that country, still an independent entity on the eastern boundary of the Cape Colony, the German government financed an expedition. Von Steinaecker led this supposed trading venture, but his party arrived to find that Mqikela had been replaced by Sigcawu who had repudiated the 1885 concessions. Efforts to establish a German presence failed, appeals to Germany for assistance went unheeded, and the party left for Durban. Germans had earlier settled in Natal and it was in Port Shepstone that von Steinaecker settled in 1891. Known as Franz von Steinaecker, he consistently gave his occupation as 'gentleman' . As chairman of the Port Shepstone Political Association, he corresponded with the government on a variety of issues affecting the development of the town. He lived at 52 Aitken Street and had other property in the town. On 5 June 1897, von Steinaecker swore the Oath of Allegiance to the British Crown and, on 29 June, his letters of naturalization as a British subject were approved by the Executive Council of Natal. Von Steinaecker went into partnership with C F Kneisel as a contractor, but the business failed and his bankruptcy was confirmed on 13 September 1899. War broke out in the following month and, in November, he enlisted in the Colonial Scouts, a unit raised by the Natal Government; he became squadron quartermaster- sergeant, but transferred to the intelligence department in the following month.
In March 1900, as some squadrons of the Colonial Scouts were disbanded, six scouts were selected for special service by Lt von Steinaecker. They were Sgt- Maj A R Colborne with Scouts B Duncan, J A Lawson, A E Gray, C S Carmichael and one Meissner. On 22 March the seven men arrived in Eshowe and, on 3 April, they left with the addition of eight Zulu of the Zululand Police (the Nongqai), eleven horses and six pack donkeys. They rode north past Hlabisa and the Ubombo magistracy and arrived at a store run by L C von Wissel at Mtini's Drift on the Phongolo River in what is now the Ndumu Game Reserve. Von Wissel was away at Delagoa Bay and they made themselves at home. On his return, and learning the objective of the expedition, von Wissel told von Steinaecker that the Komatipoort bridge was heavily guarded.
Lawson was sent ahead to find J A Major, a former Natal policeman who lived at Phalata on the Lubombo Range, and elicit more information about the disposition of the Boer forces. Three days later, a letter arrived from Lawson, stating that Major had had a serious clash with the Swazi and expected more trouble. Leaving the donkeys and explosives and one sick man (possibly Meissner) behind, the party left on the afternoon of 6 May for Phalata. Taking the direct route across Portuguese territory, they rode throughout the brilliant moonlit night to arrive at Phalata at sunrise. Attacked by another chief, the people of a chief south of Phalata had taken refuge with Major, who refused to surrender them. Challenged by a shot from the imphi, Lawson had shot its indvuna and the rest had fled. Apparently two men were killed and six wounded before the Colonial Scouts arrived. Major had been working for the intelligence section of the Consulate-General in Lourenco Marques, having been assigned to watch for arms smugglers through Catembe across the river from Lourenco Marques.
Shortly after he had returned to Lourenco Marques, Crowe asked Sandbach on 26 April for information about Steinaecker, requested authority to obtain supplies for him and sought an assurance that they worked well together 'to insure success'. Sandbach replied positively, telling Crowe that Campbell would 'arrange matters in regard to Steinacker [sic].' On 16 May Campbell reported to Sandbach that nothing had been heard of von Steinaecker and feared that his chances had been spoiled by the exceedingly badly planned and foolishly carried out arrangements of the Capetown [sic] man.' Campbell also commented that people in Lourenco Marques had been prone to talk too much 'so that they give themselves away before they even start operations!' Later that month Crowe commented in his reports that the Boers generally believed that the next attempt to destroy the Komatipoort bridge would be made through Swaziland. He added that 'after the miserable fiasco of the attempt made about a month ago, the guards [at Komatipoort], who had previously been very slack, became much more vigilant, reinforcements were sent down, and other additional precautions taken.'
Because of this activity, it was believed that von Steinaecker and his party had been forced to lie low, but news reached the Consulate-General on 29 May, that they were pushing on, although in a bad way; the party was badly affected by fever and had lost horses from the tsetse fly. Messengers with money and provisions were sent from the Consulate-General immediately. Having left his party within a two hours' ride from Komatipoort, von Steinaecker himself arrived at the Consulate-General on 5 June. There, he discussed the latest information on Komatipoort with Crowe and Campbell and they decided that an attack on the bridge was impossible with such a small force. On the following day, however, J Y Robinson's scouts reported that the bridges at Malelane and Hectorspruit were unguarded and it was decided to make one of them the objective. Crowe fitted the party out with clothes, money and horses and asked Sandbach to credit his account with £500. Milner and Roberts were informed by telegram that same day.
Von Steinaecker made his main camp on the Lubombo Range and established good relations with Mbudula Mahlalela, an important Swazi chief living on Mpundvwini Mountain just north of the area known by the name of Mahlalela's late father, Nomahasha. On the way north, von Steinaecker had acquired the services of J B Holgate who knew the area well and, guided by Holgate, the scouts left Nomahasha on 16 June on horseback, taking along one pack horse with 100 lbs of dynamite as well as fuses and detonators. They rode north-westwards across the lowveld and the Nkhomati River, travelling through the night to off-saddle not far from the railway. On Saturday, 16 June 1900, at 20:00, the party reached the bridge at Malelane. It took an hour to set the dynamite and fuses and destroy the bridge and an adjacent pumping station. After cutting the telegraph wires, the party rode back to Nomahasha without stopping.
On 18 June, the Consulate-General learned that the Malelane bridge, a twenty metre single span iron girder bridge, with stone abutments about twelve metres high, had been destroyed early on Sunday, 17 June; a pumping station and two miles of telegraph wire had also been destroyed. Campbell advised Sandbach on the following day that he had heard that the bridge at Malelane had been destroyed, 'probably the work of the party from here', and reported that all traffic from Delagoa Bay westwards had been halted. Two days later he confirmed that the bridge, an engine and one truck had been destroyed, in addition to two miles of telegraph line, early on the previous Sunday morning, possibly by a passing train causing the dynamite to explode. According to one of the party, a train from Kaapmuiden failed to see the destroyed bridge and the engine and five trucks and carriages were derailed, with 58 killed and injured. This was an exaggeration, but H L Hall, who was farming at Nelspruit, confirmed that, as a result of the explosion, the Swiss driver of the train and his stoker were killed, and the guard was severely injured. From then on, trains were not allowed to run on the line at night and had to halt at Nelspruit. At that time, Campbell believed that another of the Consulate-General's small raiding parties was responsible as he thought that von Steinaecker's party was still on the Lubombo preparing for its mission. A temporary bridge was in operation at Malelane on 29 June, twelve days after it was destroyed. The NZASM, which owned and operated the railway, had commandeered long, heavy timbers from the Selati Railway Company, which operated the line northwards from Komatipoort; ironically, a suggestion had been made as war broke out that these timbers should be moved into Mozambique because of their usefulness; had it been acted upon, the delay in restoring traffic would have been much longer.
Planning for a major attack on the Komatipoort bridge continued at the Consulate-General, but faced increasing difficulty as the Boer garrison continued to be strengthened. Crowe signalled to Sandbach on 29 June that he thought the Selati line, which ran northwards from Komatipoort, was going to be used by the Boers and, unless instructed to the contrary, proposed to take action to destroy it; Sandbach relayed the message that Buller 'entirely approves proposed destruction. '. The consul- general had also authorised von Steinaecker to recruit up to twenty men and had supplied them from Lourenco Marques, so they were 'well armed and horsed'. Having spent the first advance of £500, he asked for £1 000 to support von Steinaecker's force and other covert operations, including attacks on the railway at selected points and possibly the Komatipoort bridge. The money was sanctioned by Roberts and authorised by Buller to be paid through the Private Secretary at Government House, Pietermaritzburg, into Crowe's account at Lourenco Marques.
Traffic along the Delagoa Bay line may not have been seriously inconvenienced by von Steinaecker's activities, but they were of considerable concern to the Boers and the head of the Johannesburg Police, Commandant G M J van Dam, was ordered to patrol this section of the line to prevent further disruptions . The Boers believed that they were faced with a force some 300 strong and had information that it was operating from Mahlalela's homestead at Nomahasha. Von Steinaecker's men captured the chief scout of the police, a man named Jacob, and created their own establishment of spies. The departure from Komatipoort early in July of van Dam with a commando of 40 burghers was thus well known to them. Feeling secure in what they believed to be their own territory, van Dam, Sgt-Maj Lombard (temporarily in command of the police at Komatipoort) and Sgt Schribley left the commando and approached Mahlalela's homestead where they were ambushed on 20 July. On being called upon to surrender, van Dam raised his arms, Lombard fired and was shot dead in return, and Schribley tried to get away, but his horse was shot from under him and he was captured. Saved from the battle-axe of a Swazi by Gray, van Dam was taken to von Steinaecker' s camp where he was impressed by the German's gentlemanly behaviour. Van Dam gave his parole to go to Lourenco Marques, but refused to be responsible for Schribley, whom he could not trust, so Colborne escorted them and they left the Bay on the steamer, Konig, for Durban and captivity on 26 July.
Perhaps due to von Steinaecker' s success at Malelane or Foreign Office trepidation at being implicated in an action mounted from a neutral and friendly country, or simply because the Komatipoort bridge was still standing, the Prime Minister authorised Sanderson to telegraph Crowe on 18 July that 'Lord Salisbury considers that our offer must now be taken as withdrawn and the whole matter at an end.' The Prime Minister's withdrawal did not stop Crowe who, in his telegram to Roberts, announcing von Steinaecker's latest success at Nomahasha, noted that his force was now 27 strong; £2 200 had been spent on it and the total would soon reach £3 000. A similar telegram to Sandbach, probably drafted by an exuberant Campbell, stated that the enemy believed von Steinaecker' s force to be 150-200 strong and thought raising the strength to 50 men well worth a further £20 000 'as they would be capable and really useful workmen'. More diplomatically, Crowe told Roberts that he would be able to equip a force of fifty men secretly if he had a free hand and the sanction of the Foreign Office. On 27 July, Buller cabled Roberts that he approved the proposed increase and, on the same day, Roberts cabled Milner that 'I fully approve of further expenditure on Steinaecker's expedition and if the extra men, horses and arms are necessary would willingly authorize the increase. He has done useful work and may do much more in the future.'
Two days later, Buller sent £5 000 to Pietermaritzburg for onward transmission to Lourenco Marques.
Von Steinaecker augmented his force by recruiting locally and some men were sent to him by the consul- general. A small, white community had developed in the vicinity of Nomahasha long before the war and, after its outbreak, had been supplemented by British refugees from Swaziland and the eastern Transvaal. Among the first recruits to be attested at Nomahasha were A Hook, an illiterate farmer related to Holgate; J T G Maber, the son of a Swaziland trader; T B Rathbone, then nearly sixty years of age and a well known trader and storekeeper in Swaziland; J Penaluna, a Cornish miner from Barbeton; J W Reilly, who was to become manager of the tin mines in Swaziland after the war; J Marston, erstwhile barman at the Bremersdorp Hotel; Joseph Pentland, late hotel keeper at Ressano Garcia, the Portuguese border post opposite Komatipoort; and J Munro, a Nomahasha resident since 1894 who was appointed quartermaster-sergeant. Of the original group, Lawson and Carmichael were locally promoted to corporal. The force suffered its first casualty on 11 August 1900, when Trooper R Griffin died of disease in Swaziland.
From extensive patrolling to disrupt Boer communications, there is some evidence that the destruction of the Komatipoort bridge was once again the main objective of von Steinaecker's force, which stood high in Butler's estimation. A request to augment and equip the force to a strength of 100 was sent to Sandbach by Crowe on 8 August, the equipment to be embarked on the gunboat, Widgeon, as secretly and rapidly as possible. Steinaecker was to leave Lourenco Marques for Pietermaritzburg the next day and was asking for 100 men and 30 spare horses to be taken from Eshowe to the scene of operations; they would be supplied on their way north with provisions from Lourenco Marques; he suggested that volunteers should be obtained from colonial corps, but not told their destination. About this time, Campbell told Sandbach privately that it was 'delicate work' supplying Steinaecker's men and that he and Crowe would 'be glad when they start away on a final, and we trust glorious, excursion.' On 13 August, von Steinaecker was at Newcastle in northern Natal, seeking the assistance of Brig-Gen J Wolfe Murray, RA (in charge of lines of communication in Natal), but Murray was unable to assist without authorization. Back in Durban on 17 August, Steinaecker cabled Sandbach (then with the Natal Army at Twyfelaar, north of Carolina in the Transvaal) with his problems and begged permission from Butler to name his force Steinaecker's Horse and to assume the rank of major for the time being. Butler immediately telegraphed his agreement to von Steinaecker's proposals and authorised Murray to assist. During its advance northwards, however, the Natal Army had been out of contact with staff in the rear and, after von Steinaecker's visit, Murray had cabled Roberts for authority. Roberts, planning the final drive towards Komatipoort, thought that the 'larger scheme' (probably the attack on Komatipoort) should be dropped, but asked for von Steinaecker to be sent back with all assistance. On 21 August, Major von Steinaecker left Durban on the Widgeon with his reinforcements and supplies to be landed at Kosi Bay. There he was met by Forbes with three waggons.
Meanwhile, British forces were advancing from various directions to clear the Delagoa Bay railway line through the highveld. On 26 August, Roberts arrived in Belfast to direct the operations of the 11th Division led by Lt- Gen R Pole-Carew, the cavalry division under Lt-Gen J D P French and the Natal Army under Buller. Whilst Buller was fighting his way north to Lydenburg, Pole- Carew held the line at Waterval Onder and French went south to Carolina to turn the Boer positions and, by 7 September, the British line was in position to advance. Barbeton was taken on 13 September and, on the same day, Kaapsche Hoop (now Kaapse Hoop) was held. Two days earlier, President S J P Kruger had left Nelspruit for Komatipoort, Delagoa Bay and exile and the Boer forces retreated behind him. On crossing the Komatipoort bridge, the President was asked whether it should now be blown up. He responded, 'No, there has been enough destruction already.' Leaving some 3 000 men at Komatipoort, the main body of the Boer commandos left Hectorspruit on a dash northwards which left the country open for the central column under Pole-Carew to advance rapidly eastwards and enter Komatipoort unopposed on 24 September. Most of the Boers there had crossed into Mozambique, but some 300, with about 40 well-laden waggons, under 'General Coetzee' had gone north.
By 17 September, von Steinaecker was back in his camp on the Lubombo Range, his strength then 50 men, newly armed and equipped from Natal, with horses and provisions supplied by the Consulate-General. To cope with the increase, Lawson, one of the original scouts, was promoted to lieutenant. Crowe had updated von Steinaecker on the military situation and left him to decide what course of action he thought best. Whatever plans Roberts had in mind for Steinaecker had, however, been overtaken by the rapid advance of the British forces and, on 18 September, he cabled Milner that von Steinaecker should not I think now take action.' But, as Pole-Carew entered Komatipoort, von Steinaecker was on hand to assist.
It was decided to send a force after Coetzee's waggons and von Steinaecker was ordered to take a party of 40 horsemen along the Selati railway line to the Sabi River, whilst a detachment of mounted infantry was to pursue the Boer convoy along the road across the lowveld. The mounted infantry comprised fifty men from the Yorkshire (Green Howards) and Shropshire companies of the 4th Mounted Infantry, with contingents from the Australian and Tasmanian Rifles, two guns from 'J' Battery RHA and a pom-pom. The column was commanded by Maj HB Walker. Von Steinaecker's unit was accompanied by Capt ADG Gardyne of the 1st Bn the Gordon Highlanders serving under Maj-Gen H L Smith-Dorrien; Gardyne, an experienced Indian shikari went for the hunting and the experience. Steinaecker's force was accompanied by Swazi and Shangane, the former used mainly as trackers and scouts and the latter as ammunition carriers. They came upon part of the Boer convoy beyond the Sabi River, but the Boers were too strong for a sustained attack and von Steinaecker had to wait for the mounted infantry. In the skirmish, Trooper H Hobbs was wounded. Unfortunately, the horses of the regular British unit were already in a bad condition and had been unable to stand the lowveld conditions; Walker was forced to turn back to Komatipoort with the loss of at least 50 horses from sheer starvation. Steinaecker was thus also forced to turn back and, on the way, lions attacked his camps, killing first a horse, then an African, before injuring a trooper, Samuel Smart, who was rushed back to Komatipoort, but died of his injuries on 4 October.
None of the regular British commanders stayed long in Komatipoort; Pole-Carew left by train on 30 September, Ian Hamilton on 1 October and Kitchener on 4 October, leaving Smith-Dorrien in charge. On 13 October, Smith- Dorrien left, leaving behind Steinaecker and his men. From then on, Maj-Gen T E Stephenson was in charge of the area from Kaapsche Hoop and Barbeton down to Komatipoort and including Swaziland. Sandbach advised Crowe on 17 October that, as Roberts had decided to raise a force of 200 men known as Steinaecker's Corps', their pay lists were in future to be dealt with by the Director Military Intelligence, who would also authorise monies for secret service operations. On 20 October, Crowe reported to Sandbach that he was winding up his intelligence accounts and that von Steinaecker had left for Durban on the Matabili.
Under Army Order 214 of 7 November, Steinaecker's Horse was raised as a unit of the British Army; it ceased to be a guerrilla unit funded by the intelligence arm of Buller's force; its headquarters were at Komatipoort and its depot in Pietermaritzburg. This was also the date of von Steinaecker's personal attestation as a member of Steinaecker's.
(The printed version of this article contains 85 references which have not been scanned onto the WWW).
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