- British officials considered launching a publicity
to cover up the true conditions of concentration camps in which thousands
of women and children died during the Boer War, new documents have
- An archive of letters and photographs owned by Major
Sir Hamilton Goold-Adams, a colonial official in South Africa, has come
to light. The documents, to be auctioned this week, contain hitherto
confidential letters from Lord Milner, the man charged with sorting out
the disastrous South African camps after news of their conditions had been
exposed in Britain.
- The letters reveal that the black arts of media
were not just a feature of the modern political age. In one letter, Milner
appears to suggest that ways of playing down the horror of the
- 'It is impossible not to see that, however blameless
we may be in the matter, we shall not be able to make anybody think so,
and I cannot avoid an uncomfortable feeling that there must be some way
to make the thing a little less awfully bad if one could only think of
it,' he wrote.
- In another letter Milner talks about trying to gather
as many sympathetic statistics and figures as possible and passing them
promptly back to the government to use in a media campaign.
- 'That's classic Milner - he was well aware of the need
to manage public opinion. This is a very interesting archive,' said Dr
Iain Smith, a South African history expert at the University of
- The British Army created the concentration camps as part
of a campaign against Boer guerrillas fighting against the takeover of
their independent republic. Civilians were herded into the camps from their
farms, but the insanitary conditions cost many their lives as hunger and
disease ran rampant. Between June 1901 and May 1902, of the 115,000 people
in the camps, almost 28,000 died, about 22,000 of them children. The death
toll represented about 10 per cent of the Boer population. About 20,000
black people also died in other camps.
- 'It is an episode that British people very clearly want
to forget and brush under the carpet. It was grim and reprehensible,' said
Roger Westwood-Brookes, a documents expert at Dominic Winter Book Auctions,
the firm that is selling the archive.
- Some of the correspondence reveals the horrific death
rate the camps caused. One letter, written at the end of 1901, lamented
the fact that the death rate among young children in the camps was still
not dropping. 'The theory that, all the weakly children being dead, the
rate would fall off is not so far borne out by the facts,' Milner wrote.
'The strong ones must be dying now and they will all be dead by the spring
- The tragedy was exposed by British campaigner Emily
and caused a political scandal. She was labelled a 'turncoat' for her
- Milner had been sent to South Africa to try to improve
the situation, but the letters reveal some of the immense logistical
he faced. Many of the camps were short of supplies because South Africa's
railway lines and rolling stock were all taken up with supplying the
- One letter from November 1901 showed that officials
powerless to stop the rising death rates.
- 'I thought that we had begun to turn the corner and that
after having reached unparalleled heights of mortality in October we should
now show a heavy decline. Unfortunately, the figures have risen again
- The archive has already generated interest from several
institutions, including Oxford's Bodleian Library. 'In its entirety this
collection is of historical importance. It makes a valuable contribution,'
said Ian Shapiro, an expert at Argyle Atkins, which specialises in buying
historical documents and is considering bidding.