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Realizing Greater Britain

The South African Constabulary and the Imperial Imposition of the Modern State, 1900−1914


Scott C. Spencer

In anticipation of victory over the two Boer republics in the South African War (1899–1902), British imperial policymakers formed the South African Constabulary (SAC, 1900–1908) to lead reconstruction efforts. Uniquely, policymakers injected two goals of imperial management into the force and its 10,000 men, recruited from the British Isles and settler colonies: integrate the conquered territories into the British Empire and foster an imperial-national adherence to a Greater Britain. Following the war, offi cers and constables attracted the Boers to the empire by suppressing Africans more thoroughly, consistently and systematically than their prior regimes ever had. While some SAC men remained in South Africa following their service, most carried their enhanced white, imperial-national allegiances to the Isles, empire and beyond.

Combining traditional archival with innovative digital research, this book narrates global integration and imperial governance through individuals, from Boy Scout founder Robert Baden-Powell and imperialist Alfred Milner to Canadian Mountie Sam Steele, Irish doctor Edward Garraway and, foremost, thousands of SAC men. The author argues that opportunistic British agents carried the apparatus of the coercive, legible and bureaucratic modern state across the British Isles, the empire and the world, leaving challenging legacies for successor governments and former subjects to confront.

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Chapter 4 Fighting Frustrations, 1901–1902


Chapter 4

Fighting Frustrations, 1901–1902

[I] have been very busy lately up & down the line – this is a very unhealthy time of year, & these unseasoned men get a tremendous lot of sickness – The doctor here is also sick & I have been sent to take over his job pro tem. The hospitals S.A.C. are full to overflowing, & there is now no where to send sick men Here there are 80 bad cases with one orderly to do all the work cooking included – This I consider is a perfect scandal & our P.M.O. [Col. Walter C. Beevor] & other authorities should be Stellenbosched. They have had lots of warning & plenty of time to prepare & knew quite well that there would be a lot of sickness at this time of year. It seems to me that these people are worse than useless, they never learn anything by experience, have absolutely no idea of organization, in fact the only thing they do understand is dress & how to have a good time –

I can’t understand how we can ever expect the war to come to an end, when these ‘Fancy articles’ are put to run the Show – No wonder the Burghers can walk all round us.1

I fear it indicates a decaying Empire, brought on by Red Coats, Gold Lace & the Dontchuknow manner.2

— South African Constabulary Surgeon-Captain Arthur Martin-Leake to his mother, 22 January and 4...

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