Text and Photographs by Chris Marais
The Battle of Boomplaats took place on August 29, 1848, and lasted not much more than four hours.
The site of this skirmish between Brit and Boer lies below a sphinx-shaped hill on a farm just off the road between Trompsburg and Jagersfontein in the southern Free State.
The rumblings that led to the battle began seven months earlier when the British Governor of the Cape, Sir Harry Smith, decided to annex the area between the Orange and the Vaal Rivers – basically the present-day Free State province.
Boer Commandant-General Andries Pretorius, a Voortrekker leader who had settled in the Magaliesburg, was elected to head the uprising against the British occupation.
In June that year he evicted the British Resident, Major Warden, from Bloemfontein and took a force of about 1 000 Burghers down towards the Orange River to face up to Sir Harry and his 1 500-strong contingent that consisted of regulars and Griquas.
However, by the time Pretorius set a trap for the British on a deserted farm called Boomplaats, his numbers had dwindled to no more than 500 fighter-burghers.
The Boers fired too early from their positions, were spotted and put to rout by the various mounted regiments. After losing about 50 men, Pretorius took the rest of his force and headed north again.
The encounter doesn’t go down in the history books as one of the great Boer-Brit battles.
However, it gave the British an over-inflated idea of themselves as being superior in warfare to their Boer counterparts.
Fifty years later, they would experience far stiffer opposition from the farmer-soldiers they faced in the gritty First and Second Anglo-Boer Wars.
What the result of Boomplaats had on the Boers to the north was to unify them against the colonising tsunami that was Victorian-era Britain.
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