Burying the Union Jack: British Loyalists In Transvaal During The First Anglo-Boer War, 1880-1881


  • John Laband Wilfrid Laurier University


History, John Laband, HIC, 2004


English-speaking South Africans are marked by multiple identities, but until recently they were united by strong feelings of Britishness and loyalty to the Crown, symbolized by the fervent flying of the Union Jack. This study analyzes the nature of the "English" community which settled in the Transvaal after Britain annexed the Boer Republic in 1877, and investigates its response when the British government restored Transvaal independence after the Boer uprising (the First Anglo-Boer War) of 1880-1. Since the security and prosperity of the Transvaal English depended upon maintenance of British rule, the alternative to fashioning a new colonial identity was to assert Britishness through an exaggerated loyalty to Crown and flag. "Loyal" inhabitants either fled the Transvaal during the Boer rebellion or took refuge in beleaguered towns. During the subsequent negotiations, the loyalists concluded that the Gladstone administration was sacrificing their interests, and organized to protest their allegiance and to claim compensation for losses. When the Pretoria Convention was nevertheless signed in August 1881, loyalists publicly buried the Union Jack - the very symbol of their British identity - to express their sense of outraged betrayal.

Author Biography

John Laband, Wilfrid Laurier University

John Laband jlaband@wlu.ca is Professor of History at Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada, and a Research Associate of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. He is the author of many articles and books including Kingdom in Crisis: The Zulu Response to the British Invasion of 1879 (1992), Lord Chelmsford's Zululand Campaign 1878-1879 (1994), Rope of Sand: The Rise and Fall of the Zulu Kingdom in the Nineteenth Century (1995), The Illustrated Guide to the Anglo-Zulu War (2000), and The Atlas of the Later Zulu Wars, 1883-1888 (2001). His next book, The Transvaal Rebellion: The First Boer War 1880-1881, is to be published shortly.