Adventures and Letters of Richard Harding Davis

Author: Richard Harding Davis

Chapter XII the Boer War

On May 4, 1899, at Marion, Massachusetts, Richard was married to Cecil Clark, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John M. Clark of Chicago. After the marriage Richard and his wife spent a few weeks in Marion and the remainder of the summer in London and Aix-les-Bains.

MARION, May 28th, 1899. DEAR MOTHER:

You sent me such a good letter about the visit of the three selected chorus girls. But what was best, was about your wishing to see me. Of course, you know that I feel that too. I would have it so that we all lived here, so that Dad could fish, and Nora and Cecil could discuss life, and you and I could just take walks and chat. But because that cannot be, we are no further away than we ever were and when the pain to see you comes, I don’t let it hurt and I don’t kill it either for it is the sweetest pain I can feel. If sons will go off and marry, or be war-correspondents, or managers, it does not mean that Home is any the less Home. You can’t wipe out history by changing the name of a boulevard, as somebody said of the French, and if I were able to be in two places at once, I know in which two places I would be here with Cecil at Marion, and at Home in the Library with you and Dad and The Evening Telegraph, and Nora and Van Bibber. You will never know how much I love you all and you must never give up trying to comprehend it. God bless you and keep you, and my love to you every minute and always.


Late in January, 1900, Richard and his wife started on their first great adventure together to the Boer War. Arriving at Cape Town, Richard left his wife there and, acting as correspondent with the British forces for the New York Herald and London Mail, saw the relief of Ladysmith. After this he returned to Cape Town, with the intention of joining Lord Roberts in his advance on Pretoria. But on arriving at Cape Town he learned that Lord Roberts did not intend to move for three weeks, and so decided to say farewell to the British army and to return to London in a leisurely and sightseeing fashion along the east coast. It was after they were well started on this return voyage that Richard conceived the idea of leaving the ship at Durban, going to Pretoria, and, as he expressed it, "watch the Boers fighting the same men I had just seen fighting them."

R. M. S. Scot February 4th, 1900. DEAR MOTHER:

A great change has come since I wrote you from Madeira. We are now on Summer seas and have regulated the days so that they pass very pleasantly—not that we do not want to be on land— I never so much wanted it— Somers is with us and is such a comfort. He is even younger than he used to be and so quick and courteous and good tempered. He is like a boy off on a holiday— I think he is very much in love with his wife, but in spite of himself he is glad to get a holiday, and like all of us he will be so much more glad when he is homeward bound. They threatened to shut us out of our only chance of putting foot on land at Madeira— In the first place, we were so delayed by the storm that we arrived at eight o’clock at night, so that we missed seeing it in its beauty of flowers and palms. And then it was so rough that they said it was most unsafe for us to attempt to go ashore. It was a great disappointment but I urged that every one loved his own life, and if the natives were willing to risk theirs to sell us photographs and wicker baskets it was probably safer than it looked— So we agreed to die together, and with Somers got our rain coats, and the three of us leaped into a row boat pulled by two Portugese pirates and started off toward a row of lamps on a quay that seemed much lower than the waves. The remainder on the ship watched us disappear with ominus warnings— We really had a most adventurous passage—towards shore the waves tossed us about like a lobster pot and we just missed being run down by a coal barge and escaped an upset over the bow anchor chain of a ship. It was so close that both Somers and I had our coats off and I told Cecil to grab the chain— But we weathered it and landed at a high gangway cut in the solid rock the first three steps of which were swamped by the waves. A rope and chain hung from the top of the wharf and a man swung his weight on this and yanked us out to the steps as the boat was on the wave. The rain beat and the wind roared and beautiful palms lashed the air with their fronds— It was grand to get on shore once again— At the end of the wharf we were hustled into a sled on steel runners, like a hearse with curtains around it and drawn by bullocks— The streets were all of mosaic, thousands of little stones being packed together like corn on a cob. Over this the heavy sledge was drawn by the bullocks while a small boy ran ahead through the narrow streets to clear the way— He had a feather duster made of horse’s tail as a badge of authority and he yelled some strange cry at the empty streets and closed houses. Another little boy in a striped jersey ran beside and assured us he was a guide. It was like a page out of a fairy story. The strange cart sliding and slipping over the stones which were as smooth as ice, and the colored house fronts and the palms and strange plants. The darkness made it all the more unreal— There was a governor’s palace buttressed and guarded by sentinels in a strange uniform and queer little cafe’s under vines—and terraces of cannon, and at last a funny, pathetic little casino. It was such a queer imitation of Aix and Monte Carlo— There were chasseurs and footmen in magnificent livery and stucco white walls ornamented with silk SHAWLS. Also a very good band and a new roulette table— Coming in out of the night and the rain it was like a theatre after the "dark scene" has just passed— There were some most dignified croupiers and three English women and a few sad English men and some very wicked looking natives in diamonds and white waistcoats. We had only fifteen minutes to spare so we began playing briskly with two shilling pieces Cecil with indifferent fortune and Somers losing— But I won every time and the croupiers gave me strange notes of the Bonco de Portugal which I put back on the board only to get more of a larger number— I felt greatly embarrassed as I was not a real member of the club and I hated to blow in out of a hurricane and take their money and sail away again— So I appealed to one of the sad eyed Englishmen and he assured me it was all right, that they welcomed the people from the passing steamers who generally left a few pounds each with the bank. But the more I spread the money the more I won until finally the whole room gathered around. Then I sent out and ordered champagne for everybody and spare gold to all the waiters and still cashed in seventy-five dollars in English money. It was pretty good for fifteen minutes and we went out leaving the people open-eyed, and hitting the champagne bottles— It was all a part of the fun especially as with all our gold we could get nothing for supper but "huevos frite" which was all the Spanish I could remember and which meant fried eggs— But we were very wet and hungry and we got the eggs and some fruit and real Madeira wine and then rowed out again rejoicing. The pirates demanded their pay half way to the boat while we were on the high seas but they had struck the very wrong men, and I never saw a mutiny quelled so abruptly— Somers and I told them we’d throw them overboard and row ourselves and they understood remarkably well— The next day we were the admired and envied of those who had not had the nerve "to dare to attempt." It was one of the best experiences altogether we ever had and I shall certainly put Madeira on my silver cup.


After their arrival at Cape Town, where Richard arranged for his wife to stay during his absence at the British front, he started for Ladysmith, sailing on the same vessel on which he had left England.

February 18th, 1900 board Scot. DEAR MOTHER:

I got off yesterday and am hoping to get to Buller before Ladysmith is relieved. I could not get to go with Roberts because Ralph has been here four months and has borne the heat and burden of the day, so although I only came in order to be with Roberts and Kitchener I could not ask to have Ralph recalled— They wanted me with Roberts and I wanted it but none of us could make up our minds to turn down Ralph. So I am going up on this side track on the chance of seeing Ladysmith relieved and of joining Roberts with Buller later. I shall be satisfied if I see Ladysmith fall. Fortunately I am to do a great deal of cabling for The Mail every day and that counts much more with the reading public than letters—

Cape Town is a dusty, wind ridden western town with a mountain back of it which one man said was a badly painted back drop— The only attractive thing about the town is this mountain and a hotel situated at its base in perfectly beautiful gardens. Here Cecil is settled. I got her a sitting room and a big bedroom and The Mail agent or Pryor pays her $150 a week and will take good care of her. It really is a beautiful and comfortable hotel and grounds and she has made many friends, and also I forced a pitch battle with a woman who was rude to her when we visited the hospital— So, as the hospital people were very keen to have me see and praise their hospital they have taken up arms against the unfortunate little bounder and championed Cecil and me. Cecil had really nothing to do with it as you can imagine— She only laughed but I gave the lady lots to remember.

On the other hand every one is as kind and interested in Cecil as can be. Mrs. Waldron whose son is Secretary to Milner and his secretary were more than polite to each of us. Milner spent the whole evening we were there talking to Cecil and not to the lady we had had the row with, which was a pleasing triumph. He sent me unsolicited a most flattering personal letter to the Governor of Natal, saying that I had come to him with my strong letters but that he had so enjoyed meeting me that he wished to pass me on on his own account. Cecil asked me what it was I had talked so much to him about and I asked her if it were possible she couldn’t guess that of course I would be telling him how to run the colony. My advice was to bombard Cape Town and make martial law, for the Cape Towners are the most rotten, cowardly lot of rebels I ever imagined as being possible. He seemed so glad to find any one who appreciated that it was a queen’s colony in name only and said, "Mr. Davis, it is as bad as this—I can take a stroll with you from these gardens (we were at the back of the Government House) and at the end of our stroll we will be in hostile territory."

We spent the last day after I had got my orders to join Buller (who seemed very pleased to have me) calling on the officials for passes together and they were in a great state falling into their coats and dressing guard for her and were all so friendly and hearty. The Censor seems to think I am a sort of Matthew Arnold and should be wrapped in cotton, so does Pryor The Mail agent who apologizes for asking me to cable, which is just what I want to do. They are very generous and are spending money like fresh air. I am to cable letters to Cape Town, only to save three days. So, now all that is needed is for something to happen. Everything else is arranged. All I want is to see three or four good fights and a big story like the relief of Ladysmith and I am ready and anxious to get home. I shall observe them from behind an ant hill—I don’t say this to please you but because I mean it. This is not my war and all I want is to earn the very generous sums I have been offered and get home. We are just off Port Elizabeth. I will go on shore and post this there. With all love. DICK.

Deal’s Central Hotel, East London. February 20th, 1900. DEAR MOTHER:

We are stopping at every port now, as though the Scot were a ferry boat. We came over the side to get here in baskets with a neat door in the side and were bumped to the deck of the tender in all untenderness. This is more like Africa than any place I have seen. The cactus and palms abound and the Kaffirs wear brass anklets and bracelets. A man at lunch at this hotel asked me if I was R. H. D. and said he was an American who had got a commission in Brabants horse— He gave me the grandest sort of a segar and apparently on his representation the hotel brought me two books to sign, marked "Autographs of Celebrities of the Boer War." It seemed in my case at least to be premature and hopeful.

Good luck and God bless you. This will be the last letter you will get for ten days or two weeks, as I am now going directly away from steamers. This one reaches you by a spy gentleman who is to give it to Rene Bull of The Graphic and who will post it in Cape Town— He and all the other correspondents are abandoning Buller for Roberts. Let ’em all go. The fewer the better, I say. My luck will keep I hope. DICK.

Imperial Hotel, Maritzburg, Natal. Feb. 23rd, 1900. DEAR MOTHER:—

I reached Durban yesterday. They paraded the band in my honour and played Yankee Doodle indefinitely— I had corrupted them by giving them drinks to play the "Belle of New York" nightly. The English officers thought Yankee Doodle was our national anthem and stood with their hats off in a hurricane balancing on the deck of the tender on one foot— The city of Durban is the best I have seen. It was as picturesque as the Midway at the Fair— There were Persians, Malay, Hindoo, Babu’s Kaffirs, Zulu’s and soldiers and sailors. I went on board the Maine to see the American doctors—one of them said he had met me on Walnut Street, when he had nearly run me down with his ambulance from the Penna Hospital. Lady Randolph took me over the ship and was very much puzzled when all the hospital stewards called me by name and made complimentary remarks. It impressed her so much apparently that she and the American nurses I hadn’t met on board came to see me off at the station, which was very friendly. I have had a horrible day here and got up against the British officer in uniform and on duty bent— The chief trouble was that none of them knew what authority he had to do anything—and I had to sit down and tell them. I wonder with intelligence like theirs that their Intelligence Department did not tell them the Boers fought with war clubs and spears. I bought a ripping pony and my plan is to cut away from all my magnificent equipment and try to overtake Buller before he reaches Ladysmith and send back for the heavy things later. It is just a question of minutes really and it seems hard to have come 1500 miles and then to miss it by an hour— I arrive at Chievely tomorrow at five—that is only ten miles from where Buller is to night, so were it not for their d----d regulations I could ride across country and join them by midday but I bet they won’t let me and I also bet I’ll get there in time. Of course you’ll, know before you see this. Marelsburg is the capital and its chief industry is rickshaw’s pulled by wild Kaffi’s, with beads and snake skins around them and holes in their ears into which they stick segars and horn spoons for dipping snuff. The women wear less than the men and have their hair done up in red fungus.

Well, love to you all, to Nora and Dad and Chas, and God bless you.



I am here at last and counting the days when I shall get away. War does not soothe my savage breast. I find I want Cecil, and Jaggers, and Macklin to write, and plays to rehearse. Without Cecil bored to death at Cape Town, I would not mind it at all. I know how to be comfortable and on my second day I beat all these men who have been here three months in getting my news on the wire. For I am a news man now, and have to collect horrid facts and hosts of casualties and to find out whether it was the Dubblins or the Durbans that did it and what it was they did. I was in terrible fear that I would be too late to see the relief of Ladysmith but I was well in time and saw a fight the first few hours I arrived. It is terribly big and overwhelming like eighty of Barnum circuses all going at once in eighty rings and very hard to understand the geography. The Tugela is like a snake and crosses itself every three feet so that you never know whether you have crossed it yourself or not. Every one is most kind and I am as comfortable as can be. Indeed I like my tent so much that I am going to take it to Marion. It has windows in it and the most amusing trap doors and pockets in the walls and clothes lines and hooks and ventilators— It is colored a lovely green— I have also two chairs that fold up and a table that does nothing else and a bed and two lanterns, 3 ponies, one a Boer pony I bought for $12. from a Tommy who had stolen it. I had to pay $125 each for the other two and one had a sore back and the other gets lost in my saddle. But war as these people do it bores one to destruction. They are terribly dull souls. They cannot give an order intelligently. The real test of a soldier is the way he gives an order. I heard a Colonel with eight ribbons for eight campaigns scold a private for five minutes because he could not see a signal flag, and no one else could. It is not becoming that a Colonel should scold for five minutes. Friday they charged a hill with one of their "frontal" attacks and lost three Colonels and 500 men. In the morning—it was a night attack—when the roll was called only five officers answered. The proper number is 24. A Captain now commands the regiment. It is sheer straight waste of life through dogged stupidity. I haven’t seen a Boer yet except some poor devils of prisoners but you can see every English who is on a hill. They walk along the skyline like ships on the horizon. It must be said for them that it is the most awful country to attack in the world. It is impossible to give any idea of its difficulties. However I can tell you that when I get back to the center of civilization. Do you know I haven’t heard from you since I left New York on the St. Louis. All your letters to London went astray. What lots you will have to tell me but don’t let Charley worry. I won’t talk about the war this time. I never want to hear of it again.


LADYSMITH. March 1st, 1899. DEAR CHAS:

This is just a line to say I got in here with the first after a gallop of twelve miles. Keep this for me and the envelope. With my love and best wishes—



The column came into town today, 2200 men, guns, cavalry, ambulances, lancers, navy guns and oxen. It was a most cruel assault upon one’s feelings. The garrison lined the streets as a saluting guard of honor but only one regiment could stand it and the others all sat down on the curb only rising to cheer the head of each new regiment. They are yellow with fever, their teeth protruding and the skin drawn tight over their skeletons. The incoming army had had fourteen days hard fighting at the end of three months campaigning but were robust and tanned ragged and caked with mud. As they came in they cheered and the garrison tried to cheer back but it was like a whisper.

Winston Churchill and I stood in front of Gen. White and cried for an hour. For the time you forgot Boers and the cause, or the lack of cause of it all, and saw only the side of it that was before you, the starving garrison relieved by men who had lost almost one out of every three in trying to help them. I was rather too previous in getting in and like every-one else who came from outside gave away everything I had so that now I’m as badly off as the rest of them. Yesterday my rations for the day were four biscuits and an ounce of coffee and of tea, with corn which they call mealies which I could not eat but which saved my horse’s life. He is a Boer pony I bought from a Tommy for two pounds ten and he’s worth both of the other two for which I paid $125 a piece. Tomorrow the wagon carrying my supplies will be in and I can get millions of things. It almost apalls me to think how many. Especially clean clothes. I’ve slept in these for four days. I got off some stories which I hope will read well. I can’t complain now that I saw the raising of this siege. But I hope we don’t stay still. I want to see a lot quickly and get out. This is very safe warfare. You sit on a hill and the army does the rest. My sciatica is not troubling me at all. Love to you all and God bless you.



Today I got the first letter I have had from you since we left home. It was such happiness to see your dear sweet handwriting again. It was just like seeing you for a glimpse, or hearing you speak. I am so hungry for news of Nora and Chas and you all. I know you’ve written, but the letters have missed somehow. I sent yours right back to Cecil who is very lonely at present. Somerset has gone to the front and Jim—home—Blessed word! A little middy rode up to me today and began by saying "I’m going home. I’m ORDERED there. Home— To England!" He seemed to think I would not understand. He prattled on like a child saying what luck he had had, that he had been besieged in Ladysmith and seen lots of fighting and would get a medal and all the while he was "just a middy." "But isn’t it awful to think of our chaps that were left on the ship" he said quite miserably. It is a beastly dull war. The whole thing is so "class" and full of "form" and tradition and worrying over "putties" and etiquette and rank. It is the most wonderful organization I ever imagined but it is like a beautiful locomotive without an engineer.

The Boers outplay them in intelligence every day. The whole army is officered by one class and that the dull one. It is like the House of Peers. You would not believe the mistakes they make, the awful way in which they sacrifice the lives of officers and men. And they let the Boers escape. I watched the Boers for four hours the other day escaping after the battle of Pieters and I asked, not because I wanted them captured but just as a military proposition "Why don’t you send out your cavalry and light artillery and take those wagons?" The staff officer giggled and said "They might kill us." I don’t know what he meant; neither did he. However, I’m sick of it but there’s nothing else to talk of. I hate all the people about me and this dirty town and I wish I was back. And I’m going too. I’ll have started by the time you get this.

I mean to cut out of this soon but don’t imagine I’m in any danger. I’m taking d---d good care to keep out of danger. No one is more determined on that than I am. Dear Mother, this is such a dull letter but you must forgive me. I was never so homesick and bored in my life. It will be better when I go out tomorrow in my green tent and leave this beastly hole. I like the tent life, and the horses and being clean. I’ve really starved here for four days and haven’t had a clean thing on me. God bless you all and dear Nora God bless her and Chas and the Lone Fisherman.


Outside Ladysmith. 5th March, 1900. DEAREST MOTHER:

I was a brute to write as I did last night. But I was so blue in that miserable town!!! It was so foul and dirty. The town smelt as bad as Johnstown. My room in the so called hotel stunk, the dirt was all over the floor and the servants had to be paid to do everything even to bring you a towel—and then I had no place to write or be alone, and nothing to eat— The poor souls at my table who had been in the siege, when they got a little bit of sugar or a can of condensed milk would carry it off from the table as though it were a diamond diadem— I did the same thing myself for I couldn’t eat what they gave me and so I corrupted the canteen dealer and bought tin things— I’ve really never wanted tobacco so much and food as I have here—to give away I mean, for it was something wonderful to see what it meant to them. Three troopers came into the dining room yesterday and asked if they could buy some tea and were turned out so rudely that it seemed to hurt them much more than the fact that they were hungry: I followed them out and begged them to come back to my verandah and have tea with me but they at first would not because they knew I had witnessed what had happened in the hotel. They belonged to a very good regiment and they had been starved for four months. But in spite of their independence I got them to my porch. I had just purchased at awful prices a few delicacies like sugar and tobacco, marmalade and a bottle of whiskey. So I gave them to them and I never enjoyed anything so much— The poor yellow faced skeletons ate in absolute silence still fighting with their pride until I told them I was an American and was a canteen contractor’s friend— Then I gave them segars and it was too pitiful— In our column, if you give a man something extra he says a lot and swears it’s the best drink or the best segar or that you’re the best chap he ever met— Just as I say it to them when they give me things. But these starved bodies tried to be very polite and conversational on every subject except food—when I offered them the segars which could only be got then at a dollar twenty-five a piece (they had not cost me that as I had bought them in Cape Town for two cents apiece!) What has Dad to say to that for economy? They accepted them quite as though it was in Havana—and then leaned back and went off into opium dreams— Imagine the first segar after three months. I am out here now on a bluff, with two trees in front and great hills with names historical of the siege of Ladysmith—names which I refuse to learn or remember—I am perfectly comfortable and were it not for Cecil perfectly content— If she were only here it would be perfectly magnificent— I have a retinue that would do credit to the Warringtons in the Virginians— Three Kaffir boys who refuse to yield to my sense of the picturesque and go naked like their less effete brothers, two oxen and three ponies, a little puppy I found starved in Ladysmith and fed on compressed beef tablets. I call her Ladysmith and she sleeps beside my cot and in my lap when I am reading—I have also a beautiful tent with tape window panes, ventilators, pockets inside, doors that loop up and red knobs; also, it is green so that the ants won’t eat it. Also two tables, two chairs, a bath tub, two lanterns, and a cape cart—and a folding bed— In Cuba I had two saddle bags and was just as clean and just as happy. One boy does nothing but polish my boots and gaiters and harness, so that I look as well as the officers who are not much good at anything but that. I must tell you what I think is the saddest story of the siege— They could not feed the horses, so they kept part of them for scouting, part to eat and drove 3,000 of them towards the Boers. Being, well trained cavalry horses, they did not know how to eat grass, so at bugle call the whole 3,000 came trotting back again and sentries were placed at every street to stampede them back into the veldt— One horse from one battery met out in the prairie another horse that had been its gun mate in an artillery regiment five years before in India and the two poor things came galloping back side by side and passed the sentries and into the lines and drew up beside their battery. Another horse found its rider acting as sentry and when the man tried to drive it away it thought he was playing with it and kept coming back and finally the man brought it in to the colonel and cried and asked if it might have half of his rations of corn. Good night and God bless you all with all my love. DICK.

March 15th, 1900. DEAR MOTHER:

I am on my way back to Cape Town. This seemed better than staying with Buller who will not move for two or three weeks. I shall either go straight up to Roberts, or we will return to London. I have seen the relief of Ladysmith and got a very good idea of it all, and I do not know but what I shall quit now. I started in too late to do much with it and as it is I have seen a great deal. It is neither an interesting country nor an interesting war. But I don’t have to stay here to oblige anybody. If I do go up to Roberts it will only be to stay for three weeks at the most and only then if there is fighting. I won’t go if he is resting as Buller is. So this will explain why we start home so soon. I am very glad I came. I would have been very sorry always if I had not, but my heart is not in it as, of course, it was in our war. Sometimes they fight all day using seven or eight regiments and kill a terrible lot of fine soldiers and capture forty Boer farmers and two women. It is not the kind of war I care to report. "Nor mean to!" I cannot make a book out of what little I’ve seen but I will come out about even. It has been very rough on Cecil. Today I went to the Maine and asked Lady Randolph to give me a lift down to Cape Town as the ship gets there two days ahead of the Castle Steamer. So, they were apparently very glad to have me and I am going on Saturday. I like it on the ship where I have been spending the day as it is fun taking care of the wounded and listening to their stories. I am to write an article for her next Anglo Saxon magazine on the Passing of the War Correspondent. The idea is that he must either disappear altogether like the Vivandiere or be allowed to do his work. As it is now the Government forces him upon the Generals against their will and so they get back by taking it out of him. Either they should persuade the Government that their objections to him are weighty and suppress him altogether, or recognize him as a part of the outfit. I don’t much care which as I certainly would never again go with an English army. I am sorry the letters home have been so dull but I have had rather hard luck straight through, and the distances are so very great and the time spent in covering them seems very wasteful. I shall be glad I saw it because it is the biggest thing as to scale that I ever saw of the sort, and I could not have afforded to have missed being in it. It is the first big modern war and all the conditions and weapons are new. I don’t think the English have learned anything by it, because the fault lies entirely with their officers who are all or nearly all of one class.


March 25th, 1900. Cape Town.

This is just to explain our plans and as they take a bit of explaining this is meant for the Houses of Clark and of Davis. So, pass it on— After Ladysmith was relieved Buller decided he would not move for a month, so I came back to join Roberts. I could not do that on first arriving because there was a Mail man with him. I meant to do it later as a Herald man, and to let The Mail go. But on arriving here, having spent a week in coming and having sold all my outfit at a loss, I found that Roberts did not intend to move for three weeks either. So I decided I had seen enough to justify my returning. There were other reasons, the chief one being that the English irritated me and I had so little sympathy with them that I could not write with any pleasure of their work. My sporting blood refused to boil at the spectacle of such a monster Empire getting the worst of it from an untrained band of farmers— I found I admired the farmers. So we decided to chuck it and go to London. I would not have missed it for anything. I would never have been satisfied, if we had not come. I have seen much of the country and the people, and of the army and its wonderful organization and discipline. I enjoyed two battles—and the relief of Ladysmith is one of the things to have seen, almost the best, if not the best. Every officer and correspondent agrees that I got the pick of the fighting and the "best story." By the way, I beat all the London papers in getting out the news by one day. At least, so Pryor, The Mail manager tells me. The paper was very much pleased. We have now decided to come home by the East Coast. It was Cecil’s idea and wish and I was only too glad to do it. She says we certainly will never come to this country again. God help us if we do—and that it would be criminal to spend seventeen blank days on the West coast when we could fill in the entire trip North on the East Coast at many ports. It is a rather complicated trip as one has to change frequently but it will be a great thing to have seen. Cecil has really seen nothing at Cape Town and on this trip she will be paid for all the boredom that has gone before. I have been over part of it and am sure. Durban alone is one of the most curious cities I ever saw. It is like the Midway at the Fair. I want her to have some fun out of this. She has been so unselfish and fine all through and I hope I can make the rest of the adventure to her liking— It is sure to be for after Delagoa Bay it is all real Africa not the shoddy "colonial" shopkeepers’ paradise that we have here. And we are going to stop off at Zanzibar for some time where we have letters to everybody and where Cecil is to draw the Sultan and I am to play him the "Typical Tune of Zanzibar." You will see by our route that we spend two days or a day at many places and so shall get a good idea of the country. The Konig is a 5,000 ton ship and we have two cabins— From Port Said we will run up to Cairo to get a dinner and then over to Constantinople to see Lloyd Griscom and the city which Cecil has never visited. Then to Paris by way of the Orient Express. Then London and back with Charley to Aix. I feel sure that one more course there will cure my leg for always. As it is it has not touched me once even during the campaign when I was wet and had to climb hills, and at Ladysmith, where I had no food for a week. Of course, if we get tired on the way up we may go straight on from Port Said to Marseilles and so to London. It seems funny to look upon Port Said as being at home, but from this distance it seems as near New York as Boston— You will get this when we reach Zanzibar or later and we will cable when we can.


It was said at the time that Richard left the British forces because the censors would not permit him to send out the truth about Buller’s advance, and that the English officials resented his going to report the war from the Boer side. The first statement my brother flatly denied, and the fact that it was through the direct intervention of Sir Alfred Milner, assisted by the efforts of our consul Adelbert S. Hay at Pretoria, that Richard was enabled to reach the Boer capital seems to prove the latter charge equally false. Although throughout the war my brother’s sympathies were with the Boers, and in spite of the fact that the papers he represented wanted him to report the war from the Boer side, he persisted in going at first with the British forces. His reasons were that he wished to see a great army, with all modern equipment in action, and that practically all of his English friends were with the British army. "My only reason for leaving it", he wrote, "was the fact that I found myself facing a month of idleness. Had General Buller continued his advance immediately after his relief of Ladysmith I would have gone with his column and would probably have never seen a Boer, except a Boer prisoner."

Royal Hotel,

Durban, Natal. April 5th, 1900. DEAR MOTHER:

We arrived here to-day and got off in a special tug together. We did the basket trick all right, although the next time it came down a swell raised the tug and fractured every one in the basket except Sangree and Rogers, the two New York correspondents who were hanging on by the upper edges. Cecil loved the place which is the Midway Plaisance of cities and we had a good lunch and managed to get into the hotel where there are over twenty cots in the reading room, and hall. The Commandant objected to our going to Praetoria and seemed inclined to refuse us passes to leave Durban for Delagoa Bay. He also was rather fresh to Cecil, so I called him down very hard, and told him if he couldn’t make up his mind whether we would go or not, I’d wire to some others who would help him to make up his mind quickly. He said I was at liberty to do that, so I went out and burned wires over all of South Africa. As he reads all the telegrams he naturally read mine and the next morning he was as humble and white as a head waiter. But by ten o’clock my wires began to bear fruit and he began to catch it. Milner wired him to send us on at once and apologized to us by another wire so all is well and we go vouched for by the High Commissioner.


PRETORIA, May 18th, 1900.


I have not had time to write such a long letter as this one must be, as I have been working on my Ledger and Scribner stories.

Cecil and I started to the "front," which was then May 4th, at Brandfort with Captain Von Loosberg, a German baron who married in New Orleans and became an American citizen and who is now in command of Loosberg’s Artillery in the Free State. The night we left, the English took Brandfort, so we decided to go only as far as Winburg. The next morning the train despatcher informed us Winburg was taken, so we decided to go to Smalldeel, but that went during the afternoon, so we stopped at Kronstad. From there, after a day’s rest, we went to Ventersberg station, and rode across to Ventersberg town, about two hours away, and put up in Jones’s Hotel. The next day we went down to the Boer laagers on the Sand river and met President Steyn on the way. He got out of his Cape Cart and gave Cecil a rose and Loosberg his field glasses, which Cecil took from Loosberg in exchange for her own Zeiss glass, and he gave me a drink and an interview. He also gave us a letter to St. Reid, who had established an ambulance base on Cronje’s farm, telling him to give Cecil something to sleep upon. The, Boers were very polite to Cecil and as she rode through the different camps every man took off his hat. We went back to Ventersberg that night and about two o’clock Cecil came to my room and woke me up with the intelligence that the British were only two hours away. She had heard the commandant informing the landlady, a grand low comedy character from Brooklyn, who had the room next to Cecil’s. I interviewed the landlady who was sitting up in bed in curl papers, and with a Webley revolver. She was quite hysterical so I aroused Loosberg who was too sleepy to understand. The commandant could be heard in the distance offering his kingdom for a horse and a Cape cart. Cecil and I decided our horses were done up and that we were too ignorant of the trail to know where to run. So we decided to go to sleep. In the morning we confessed that each had been afraid the other would want to escape, and each wanted only to be allowed to go to sleep again. Loosberg’s Cape Cart and five mules having arrived we packed our things on it and started again for the Sand River where we spent the night on Cronje’s farm. Mrs. Cronje had taken away all the bedding but Dr. Reid gave Cecil his field mattress and I made one out of rugs and piano covers. In the morning I found that the iron straps of the mattress had marked me for life like a grilled beefsteak. There were only Reid and his assistant surgeon in the farmhouse and they were greatly excited at having a woman to look after.

We bade farewell to Loosberg who had found his artillery push, and started off in his Cape Cart which he wished us to use and take back for him for safety to Del Hay at Pretoria. Our objective point was the railroad bridge over the sand. The Boers were on one bank, the British about seven miles back on the other, the trail ran along the British side of the river which was sad of it. However, we drove on, I riding and Cecil and Christian, the Kaffir, in the Cart. We saw no one for several hours except some Kaffir Kraals and we almost ran into two herds of deer. I counted twenty-six in one herd, they were about a quarter of a mile away. We came to a cross road and I decided to put back as we had lost track of the river and were bearing straight into the English lines. Just as we found the river again and had got across a drift cannon opened on our right. We then knew we were in between the Boers and the English but we had no other knowledge of our geographical position. Such being the case we decided to outspan and lunch. Out-spanning is setting the mules and horses at liberty, in-spanning trying to catch them again. It takes five minutes to out-span, and three hours to in-span. We had Armour’s corned beef and Libby’s canned bacon. Cecil cooked the bacon on a stick and we ate it with biscuits captured by our Boer friends at Cronje’s farm from the English Tommies. About three o’clock we started off again, and were captured by three Boers. I was riding behind the cart and threw up my hands "that quick," but Cecil could not hear me yelling at her to stop on account of the noise of the cart. I knew if I rode after her they would shoot at me, and that if she didn’t stop, as they were shouting at her to do, they would shoot her. Under these trying circumstances I sat still. It caused quite a coolness on Cecil’s part. However the Boers could see I was trying to get her to halt so they only rode around and headed her off. We were so glad to see them that they could not be suspicious. Still, as we had come directly from the English lines they had doubts. We told them we had lost ourselves and the more they threatened to take us to the commandant the more satisfied we were. I insisted on taking photos of them reading Cecil’s passport. It annoyed them that we refused to be serious, we assured them we had never met anyone we were so glad to see. They finally believed us, and our passports which describe Cecil as my "frau," and artist of Harper’s Weekly, an idea of Loosberg’s. We all smoked and then shook hands and they went back to their positions. We next met Christian De Vet one of the two big generals who is a grand character. Nothing could match the wonderful picturesqueness of his camp spread out over the side of a hill with the bearded fine featured old Van Dyck and Hugonot heads under great sombreros. De Vet made us a long speech saying it was only to be expected that the Great Republic would send men to help the little Republics, but he had not hoped that the women would show their sympathy by coming too. All this with the most simple earnest courtesy. He said "No English woman would dare do what you are doing." He showed us a farin house on a kopje about five miles off where he said we could get shelter and where we would be near the fighting on the morrow. We rode in the moonlight for some time but when we reached the house it was filthy and the people were in such terror that we decided to camp out in the veldt. We found a grove of trees near by and a stream of water running beside it so we made a fire there. We had only one biscuit left but several cans of bacon and tea. It was great fun and we sat up as late as we could around the fire on account of the cold. We could see the Boer fires in the moonlight on the hills and across the Sand, the English flashlights signalling all night. We put a rubber blanket on the grass and wrapped up in steamer rugs but both of us died several times of cold and even sitting on the fire failed to warm me. We were awakened out of a cold storage sort of sleep by pom-poms going off right over our They sounded just as disturbing I found from the rear as when you are in front of them. They are the most effective of all the small guns for causing your nerves to riot. We climbed up the hill and saw the English coming in their usual solid formation stretching out for three miles. We went back and got the cart and drove to a nearer kopje, but just as we reached it the Boers abandoned it. Roberts’s column was now much nearer. We then drove on still further in the direction of the bridge. I kept telling Cecil that the firing was all from the Boers as I did not want Christian to bolt and run away with the cart and mules. But Cecil remembered the pictures in Harper’s Weekly showing the shrapnel smoke making rings in the air and as she saw these floating over our head, she knew the English were firing on us, but said nothing for fear of scaring Christian. I had promised to get her under fire which was her one wish so I said that she was now well under fire for the first and the last time. To which she replied "Pshaw!" I never saw any one show such self possession. We halted the cart behind a deserted farm house, and saddled her pony. The shells were now falling all over the shop, and I was scared to distraction. But she took about five minutes to see that her saddle was properly tightened and then we rode up to the hill. Again the Boers were leaving and only a few remained. They warned her to keep back but we dismounted and walked up to the hill. It was a very hot place but Cecil was quite unmoved. We showed her the shells striking back of her and around her but she refused to be impressed with the danger. She went among the Boers begging them to make a stand very quietly and like one man to another and they took it just in that way and said "But we are very tired. We have been driven back for three days. We are only a thousand, they are twenty thousand." Some of them only sat still too proud to run, too sick to fight! When the British got within five hundred yards of the artillery I told her she must run. At the same moment Botha’s men a mile on our right broke away in a mad gallop, as though the lancers were after them. I finally got her on her pony and we raced for Ventersberg with Christian a good first. He had lost all desire to out-span.

At Ventersberg we found every one harnessing up in the street and abandoning everything. We again felt this untimely desire for food, and had lunch at Jones’s hotel on scraps and Cecil went off to see if she could loot the cook, as everyone but her had left the hotel and as we needed one in Pretoria. A despatch-rider came running to me as I was smoking in the garden and shouted that the "Roinekes" were coming in force over the hill. I ran out in the street and saw their shells falling all over the edge of the village. They were only a quarter of an hour behind us. I yelled for Cecil who was helping the looted cook pack up her own things and anyone else’s she could find in a sheet. I gathered up a dog and a kitten Cecil wanted and left a note for the next English officer who occupied my room with the inscription "I’d leave my happy home for you." We then put the cook, the kitten, the dog and Cecil in the cart and I got on the horse and we let out for Kronstad at a gallop. We raced the thirty miles in five hours without one halt. That was not our cruelty to animals but Christian’s who whenever I ordered him to halt and let us rest, yelled that the Englesses were after us and galloped on. The retreat was a terribly pathetic spectacle; for hours we passed through group after group of the broken and dispirited Boers. At Kronstad President Steyn whom I went to see on arriving ordered a special car for me, and sent us off at once. We reached here the next morning, Christian arriving a day later having killed one mule and one pony in his eagerness to escape. We are going back again as soon as Roberts reaches the Vaal. There there must be a stand. Love and best wishes to you all----


June 8th, 1900. On board the Kausler. DEAR MOTHER:

We engaged our passage on this ship some weeks ago not thinking we would have the English near Pretoria until August. But as it happened they came so near that we did not know whether or not to wait over and see them enter the capital. I decided not, first, because after that one event, there would be nothing for us to see or do. We could not leave until the 2nd of July and a month under British martial law was very distasteful to me. Besides I did not care much to see them enter, or to be forced to witness their rejoicing. As soon as we got under way and about half the distance to the coast, it is a two days’ trip. We heard so many rumors of Roberts’s communication having been cut off and that the war was not over, that we thought perhaps we ought to go back— As we have no news since except that the British are in Pretoria we still do not know what to think. Personally I am glad I came away as I can do just as much for the Boers at home now as there where the British censor would have shut me off from cabling and mails are so slow. With the local knowledge I have, I hope to keep at it until it is over. But when I consider the magnitude of the misrepresentation about the burghers I feel appalled at the idea of going up against it. One is really afraid to tell all the truth about the Boer because no one would believe you— It is almost better to go mildly and then you may have some chance. But personally I know no class of men I admire as much or who to-day preserve the best and oldest ideas of charity, fairness and good-will to men.


June 29th, 1900. DEAR MOTHER:

We are now just off Crete, and our next sight of the blue land will be Europe. It means so many things; being alone with Cecil again, instead of on a raft touching elbows with so many strangers, and it means a shop where you can buy collars, and where they put starch in your linen. Also many beautiful ladies one does not know and men in evening dress one does not know and green tables covered with gold and little green and red bits of ivory where one passes among the tables and wonders what they would think if they knew we two had found our greatest friends in the Boer farmers, in Dutch Station Masters who gave us a corner under the telegraph table in which to sleep, with Nelson who kept the Transvaal Steam Laundry, Col. Lynch of the steerage who comes to the dividing line to beg French books from Cecil, and that we had cooked our food on sticks, drunk out of the same cups with Kaffir servants and slept on the ground when there was frost on it. It will be so strange to find that there are millions of people who do not know Komali poort, who have thought of anything else except burghers and roor-i-neks— It seems almost disloyal to the Boers to be glad to see newspapers only an hour old instead of six weeks old, and to welcome all the tyranny of collar buttons, scarf pins, watch chains, walking sticks and gloves even. I love them both and I can hardly believe it is true that we are to go to a real hotel with a lift and a chasseur, where you cannot smoke in the dining-room. As for Aix, that I cannot believe will ever happen— It was just a part of one’s honeymoon and I refuse to cheat myself into thinking that within a week I will be riding through the lanes of the little villages, drinking red wine at Burget, watching Chas spread cheese over great hunks of bread and listening to three bands at one time. And then the joy to follow of Home and America and all that is American. Even the Custom House holds nothing but joy for me—and then "mine own people!" It has been six weeks since we have heard from you or longer, nearly two months and how I miss you and want you. It will be a happy day when Dad meets me at the wharf and I can see his blue and white tie again and his dear face under the white hat—where you and Nora will be I cannot tell, but I will seek you out. We will be happy together—so happy— It has been the longest separation we have known and such a lot of things have happened. It will be such peace to see you and hold you once again.



Cecil and I arrived last night tired and about worn out—we had had a month on board ship and two days in the cars and when we got out at Aix and found our rooms ready and Francois waiting, we shouted and cheered. It was never so beautiful as it looked in the moonlight and we walked all over it, through the silent streets chortling with glee. They could not give us our same rooms but we got the suite just above them, which is just as good. They were so extremely friendly and glad to see us and had flowers in all the rooms. We have not heard a word about Chas yet, as our mail has not arrived from Paris, but I will cable in a minute and hear. We cannot wait any longer for news of him. I got up at seven this morning so excited that I could not sleep and have been to the baths, where I was received like the President of the Republic. In fact everybody seems to have only the kindest recollections of us and to be glad to have us back.

Such a rest as it is and so clean and bright and good—Only I have absolutely nothing to wear except a two pound flannel suit I bought at Lorenzo Marquez until I get some built by a French tailor. I must wear a bath robe or a bicycle suit until evening. We have not been to the haunts of evil yet but we are dining there to night and all will be well. Cecil sends her love to you all— Goodbye and God bless you.

Richard and his wife returned to America in the early fall of 1900 and, after a visit to Mr. and Mrs. Clark at Marion, settled for the winter in New York. They took a house in East Fifty-eighth Street where they did much entertaining and lived a very social existence, but I do not imagine that either of them regarded the winter as a success. Richard was unable to do his usual amount of work, and both he and his wife were too fond of the country to enjoy an entire winter in town. In the spring they went back to Marion.


We arrived here last night in a glowing sunset which was followed by a grand moon. The house was warm and clean and bright, with red curtains and open fires and everything was just as we had left it, so that it seemed as though we had just come out of a tortuous bad dream of asphalt and L. roads and bad air. I was never so glad to get away from New York.

Outside it is brisk and fine and smells of earth and melting snow and there is a grand breeze from the bay. We took a long walk to-day, with the three dogs, and it was pitiful to see how glad they were to be free of the cellar and a back yard and at large among grass and rocks and roots of trees. I wanted to bottle up some of the air and send it to all of my friends in New York. It is so much better to smell than hot-house violets. Seaton came on with us to handle the dogs and to unpack and so to-day we are nearly settled already with silver, pictures, clothes and easels and writing things all in place. The gramophone is whirling madly and all is well— Lots and lots of love.


The following was written by Richard to his mother on her birthday:


In those wonderful years of yours you never thought of the blessing you were to us, only of what good you could find in us. All that time, you were helping us and others, and making us better, happier, even nobler people. From the day you struck the first blow for labor, in The Iron Mills on to the editorials in The Tribune, The Youth’s Companion and The Independent, with all the good the novels, the stories brought to people, you were always year after year making the ways straighter, lifting up people, making them happier and better. No woman ever did better for her time than you and no shrieking suffragette will ever understand the influence you wielded, greater than hundreds of thousands of women’s votes.

We love you dear, dear mother, and we KNOW you and may your coming years be many and as full of happiness for yourself as they are for us.



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Chicago: Richard Harding Davis, "Chapter XII the Boer War," Adventures and Letters of Richard Harding Davis, ed. Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926 in Adventures and Letters of Richard Harding Davis (New York: George E. Wood, 1850), Original Sources, accessed October 3, 2022,

MLA: Davis, Richard Harding. "Chapter XII the Boer War." Adventures and Letters of Richard Harding Davis, edited by Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926, in Adventures and Letters of Richard Harding Davis, Vol. 22, New York, George E. Wood, 1850, Original Sources. 3 Oct. 2022.

Harvard: Davis, RH, 'Chapter XII the Boer War' in Adventures and Letters of Richard Harding Davis, ed. . cited in 1850, Adventures and Letters of Richard Harding Davis, George E. Wood, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 3 October 2022, from