Who was Paul Kruger? - a snapshot of his life

Stephanus Johannes Paulus Kruger was born on 10 October 1825 at Bulhoek, his grandfather's farm in the Steynsburg district . He grew up on the farm Vaalbank. His school was the veld and he had only three months' formal education, his master being one Tielman Roos. His father, Casper Kruger, joined the trek party of Hendrik Potgieter when the Great Trek started in 1836.

Settling in the Transvaal

The trekkers crossed the Vaal River in 1838 and at first stayed in the area that is known today as Potchefstroom. Kruger's father later decided to settle in the district now known as Rustenburg. At the age of 16, Paul Kruger was entitled to choose a farm for himself at the foot of the Magaliesberg where he settled in 1841.

The following year he married Maria du Plessis and the young couple accompanied Casper Kruger to live in the Eastern Transvaal for a while. After the family had returned to Rustenburg, Kruger's wife and infant son died, probably from malaria. He then married Gezina du Plessis, who was his constant and devoted companion until her death in 1901. Seven daughters and nine sons were born of the marriage, some dying in infancy.

Image below: A hallmarked silver medallion commemorating the removal of the Kruger statue to Church Square, Pretoria on 11 October 1954. This was 50 years after the death of Paul Kruger (see below).

Kruger, the leader

Kruger started as a fieldcornet in the commandos and eventually became Commandant-General of the South African Republic (Transvaal). He was appointed member of a commission of the Volksraad (Republican Parliament) that was to draw up a constitution. People began to take notice of the young man and he played a prominent part in ending the quarrel between the Transvaal leader, Stephanus Schoeman, and M W Pretorius. The latter afterwards became the first President of the South African Republic and was the founder of Pretoria. He named it after his father, Andries Pretorius.

Vice-President 1874

In 1873 Kruger resigned as Commandant-General, and for a time he held no office and retired to his farm, Boekenhoutfontein. In 1874, however, he was elected to the Executive Council and shortly after that became Vice-President of the Transvaal.

Resistance movement 1877

After the annexation of the Transvaal by Britain in 1877, Kruger became the leader of the resistance movement. During the same year, he visited England for the first time as leader of a deputation. In 1878 he was part of a second deputation. A highlight of his visit to Europe was when he ascended in a balloon and saw Paris from the air.

Image right: Oom Paul Kruger and his wife Gezina - this original family photo in the Balson Holdings Family Trust has been stored to ensure that the fingerprints on it, believed to be those of Paul Kruger, have not been damaged - click photo to see the fingerprints. This claim comes down the line of a family who were close to the Boer President.

First War of Independence against the British

The first War of Independence started in 1880 and the British forces were defeated in the decisive battle at Majuba in 1881. Once again, Paul Kruger played an important role in the negotiations with the British, which led to the restoration of the Transvaal's independence under British sovereignty.

First Presidency 1882

At the age of 57, Kruger was elected President of the Transvaal. One of his first aims was the revision of the Pretoria Convention of 1881. Therefore, he again left for England in 1883, empowered to negotiate with Lord Derby. Kruger and his companions also visited the Continent and this visit became a triumph in countries such as Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Spain. In Germany, he attended an imperial banquet at which he was presented to the Emperor, Wilhelm I, and spoke at length with the renowned Bismarck.

Image below: A scarce Boer commemorative folding or pocket knife (white metal) with corkscrew in the Balson Holdings Family Trust collection. This particular knife depicts the images of President Paul Kruger of the ZAR as well as General Christiaan de Wet, the war hero of the boers.

"Eendracht Maakt Macht" and crest

Paul Kruger and de Wet

Discovery of Gold the Republic's undoing

In the Transvaal, things changed rapidly after the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand. This momentous discovery was to have far-reaching political repercussions and to give rise to the uitlander (foreigner) problem, which was eventually lead to the fall of the Republic.

The Jameson raid

At the end of 1895, the so called Jameson raid took place - the attack being launched from Mafeking - one of the first towns to be put under siege when the boer war broke out in 1899. The force was largely made up of the little known Bechuanaland Border Police which numbered about 500 men. Once more Kruger's calm and determination was put to the test. Jameson was forced to surrender, taken to Pretoria and handed over to his British countrymen for punishment. Cecil Rhodes' British South African Company was clearly behind the attack although Rhodes escaped conviction. The raid did draw attention to the manner in which the "Outlanders" (mainly British citizens running the gold mines on the Witwatersrand) were treated. The Outlanders had no voting rights, were haevily taxed and were treated with scorn by the Volksraad.

Fourth Presidency

In 1898, Kruger was elected President for the fourth and last time.

Original Land Title Deeds signed by Paul Kruger in 1898

Just a few months before the start of the 1899-1902 boer war Paul Kruger was dishing out land titles to burghers in Pretoria.

The documents below are original land titles signed by Paul Kruger and bearing the seal of the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek. The property was situated in what is now the CBD of Pretoria. As you will see in the summary of Paul Kruger's life, at this link, the Boer leader only had three months of formal education - thus his baby-like signature.

They form part of the Balson Holdings Family Trust collection

(300k download)

Kruger's signature

Anglo-Boer War

The Anglo-Boer war On 11 October 1899, the Anglo-Boer War broke out. On 7 May 1900, Kruger attended the last session of the Volksraad and on 29 May, he left Pretoria as Lord Roberts advanced on the boer's capital. For weeks he either stayed in a house at Waterval-Onder or in his railway carriage at Machadodorp near Pilgrim's Rest in the Eastern Transvaal.

Image right: The boers were marksmen and loved ambushing the British from rocky positions.

A British Empire jacket used by the army during the boer war can be seen at this link. This garment is in the Balson Holdings Family Trust collection.

Days before the boers were defeated in Pretoria they issued bank notes to pay debts, after some deliberation these bank notes were honoured by the new British colonial government after the defeat of the boers in 1902.

Exile to Europe

Extract "With the Guards' Brigade" (Rev E P Lowry) - 1902:

pg 224.. The valiant old President so long ago as September 11th had fled with his splendidly well-flled money bags across the Portuguese frontier (near Waterval Boven), abandoning his burghers wh were still in the fiel;d to whatever might chance to be their fate.  

Eventually, it was decided that he should go to Europe on behalf of the Republic, while the war continued (see image below). He left from Lourenco Marques in October 1900. Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands sent the battleship De Gelderland to fetch him and his entourage. His wife was much too sick to accompany him and Gezina Kruger died on 20 July 1901.

They landed in Marseilles, where an overwhelming ovation awaited the President. He travelled through Europe to Holland where he stayed for the duration of the war, his last home being Oranjelust in Utrecht. Here he received the news that the treaty (the Peace of Vereeniging) had been signed. The Boer generals - Botha, De Wet and De la Rey - also paid him a visit when they were in Europe in 1902 after the war.

Proclamation measuring approx 17 by 20 inches

The original proclamation posted by Field Marshall Roberts on the 14th September 1900 held by the Balson Holdings Family Trust
This unique document was posted in Johannesburg following the departure of President Paul Kruger for Lourenco Marques and states
that Kruger had "deserted" the boers and that they should surrender to the British... they did not!

Shortly after this in March 1901 the Bitish started routing the boers - see despatches and papers below.
(Certificate of Authenticity held)

Two weeks after Kruger left South Africa Lord Roberts thought he had the boers beat and started talking about the early return of the troops.

Clicking on the image on the right will take you to a scarce original copy of a letter from Roberts to the people back home in which he talks of his troops great character and pleads with those at home not to provide his men wih liquor as  this action would "lead them into excesses which must tend to degrade those whom the nation delights to honour". Of course Roberts' optomistic view was shattered as the boers continued to fight for over two years.

The boers fought on in the Transvaal despite Paul Kruger's apparent "desertion" and issued bank notes at Pietersburg in 1901 and Te Veld bank notes in 1902 - together with the rare Veld Pond.

Kruger's death 1904

The President moved to Clarens in Switzerland where he stayed for the last six months of his life. He died on 14 July 1904 and his remains were temporarily interred at the Hague and were brought to Cape Town from Rotterdam in the Dutch ship De Batavier VI. His body was then taken to Pretoria by train and he was buried on 16 December 1904 in the Church Street cemetery.

Despatches and negotiations between the boers and "General Kitchener of Khartoum":
(Documents held by the Balson Holdings Family Trust)

Papers relating to terms of surrender between Commandant Louis Botha (boers) and Lord Kitchener (British)

Ten page report presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of His Majesty - March 1901

The transcript of eleven key telegrams between Lord Kitchener and the High Commissioner, Sir Alfred Milner.

A telegram from Kitchener goes into great detail about his meeting with Botha on the 28th February 1901 in summary the following was discussed: 

  1. A request for representative not military Government in the Transvaal
  2. That the boers be allowed to retain firearms
  3. The Dutch language to be maintained
  4. The "Kaffir" question - Orange Free State laws relating to "kaffirs" to be introduced.
  5. Dutch Church property to remain untouched
  6. Public trusts and orphan funds to be left untouched. British Government to take over legal debts (such as the ZAR bank notes). Botha refers to bank notes issued amounting to less than on million pounds.
  7. That no war tax be imposed on farmers
  8. The return of prisoners of war to not be delayed
  9. Pecuniary assistance to help farmers start again
  10. Amnesty to all at the end of the war.

When the above were agreed to, Botha responded on 16th March 1901 that "I do not feel disposed to recommend that the terms of the said letter shall have the earnest consideration of my Government. I may add also that my Government and my chief officers here entirely agree to my views".

And so the boer war continued....  

South African Despatches - 8th March 2001

Sixteen page report presented to Parliament by Command of His Majesty

The document right sets out the state of the war with the boers - with Kitchener gleefully reporting on the routing of the boer forces in all areas except for the northern part of Transvaal - around Pietersburg and to the east around Pilgrims Rest - where the veld pond was defiantly struck in 1902.

See also the bank notes printed in Pietersburg (1901) and Te Veld notes in Pilgrims Rest (1902).

The main action between General French (British) and Commandant General Botha (boers) is summarised in the despatch by the capture thus:
296 Boers killed and wounded
177 Prisoners of war
555 surrendered prisoners
784 rifles
199,300 rounds rifle ammunition
6,289 horses
26,927 cattle
175,514 sheep and
1,747 wagons and carts

Days later Commandant Botha rejected Kitchener's surrender terms and the boers moved north to Pietersburg.

An interesting on-line and graphic diary of the Boer War by a boer Commando - Deneys Reitz
(Deneys Reitz was the son of F W Reitz - the Transvaal's State Secretary. Deneys met several key boers including Mr and Mrs Paul Kruger, the Commandant-General Piet Joubert etc...)

The role of money and key players in the Jewish community in the Boer war