LSE’s Library series for LSE Women: making history highlights women’s stories in some of the archives and special collections held at LSE. Gillian Murphy shares images of the Boer War from the archives of Millicent Garrett Fawcett and Lucy Deane. Posts about LSE’s Library explore the history of the Library and its collections.

LSE Library holds the diaries of Millicent Garrett Fawcett and Lucy Deane which provide detailed accounts of their investigations of the Boer camps. There are also photographs of what they saw. Some of this material was on display in the Library exhibition Women, Peace and Equality.


Boer camp, 1901 (ref 7MGF/E/1/125)

Boer camp, 1901 (ref 7MGF/E/1/125)

At the turn of the 20th century, Millicent Garrett Fawcett had been campaigning for women’s suffrage for over thirty years. Another event was to occupy Millicent’s attention. During the winter months in South Africa, British authorities began to burn Boer farms and homesteads in the Second Boer War. This was an attempt to weaken support for Boer resistance which left Boers starving and homeless. The British concentrated the Boers into 34 camps but the camps were managed badly and thousands of civilians, mainly women and children, died from lack of space, food, sanitation and medicine.

News of the terrible situation in South Africa reached Britain in the summer of 1900. Emily Hobhouse, so incensed by this news, decided to go independently to South Africa to investigate the conditions in the camps herself. She wrote a report about the conditions and made recommendations for improvement. She presented this to the government in June 1901.

Boer camp, 1901 (ref 7MGF/E/1/120)

Boer camp, 1901 (ref 7MGF/E/1/120)

The government believed Emily was exaggerating. They established a commission of six prominent women to investigate Emily’s report and to make their own recommendations. Millicent Garrett Fawcett led the commission and was accompanied by Lady Knox, Dr Jane Waterston, Dr Ella Scarlet, Katherine Brereton and Lucy Deane. The Ladies’ commission supported the war effort and accepted official statements of the government’s good intentions. The commission spent four months in South Africa travelling by train and visited nearly all the camps. Its report of February 1902 confirmed Emily’s observations and made much the same recommendations for improvement.

The Boers finally surrendered in May 1902.

Contributed by Gillian Murphy (LSE Library)

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Boer War camps image

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