University of Botswana History Department

Boer War Pages, no. 2:
The Battle of Derdepoort

History Home Page  |  Site Index
Boer war Pages index | Page 1: The Boer war in Botswana  ||  Page 2: The Battle of Derdepoort  ||  Page 3: Reports in The Times

Boer War Page 2: The Battle of Derdepoort

The Battle of Derdepoort, Saturday 25th November 1899: Extracts from the Notebook Diary of Jules Ellenberger, Gaberones Magistrate's Clerk/Interpreter

Map of battle of Derdeport

[Map of Derdepoort/ Sikwane: two Boer laagers (marked C & B) on ridge (marked I) on east side of Marico/ Madikwe river drifts/ fords (marked G & H). Hills A (in front of beacon) and D on west side of river in corner of Botswana. Point F on west bank of river between hills A & D.]

Thursday 23rd-Saturday 25th:

Col.Holdsworth with 100 mounted men reached Mochudi R[oad]St[atio]n [i.e.Molotwana] and had an interview with Linchwe and Segale in the afternoon in the Station Master's office. Capt.Llewellyn [of armoured train] and [Assistant Commissioner] Mr. Surmon & self present. I interpreted. It was arranged that Maxim shd be placed on Hill A, that Linchwe's men should wait at place F, that cavalry (Volunteers and Police) shd cross at drift H, with a few of Linchwe's men to act as guides to cavalry,who were to occupy ridge I,and that a few of Linchwe's men wd be required to bring cattle, i.e. from lager once taken, it being understood that from A the maxim would fire into lager (B)...

[early hours of Saturday before dawm] on reaching point K a man from Siqane informed Segale that from A lager could only be seen partly, whereupon Segale, on the advice of that man (Klass?) took the column from K to E, abandoning original plan of placing maxim at A.

Arrived at L. Col.Holdsworth ordered halt, Segale having gone ahead to place his men, and Col.enquired where Segale was. I told him he had gone ahead to place his men and that he had promised to find a safe place for horses and to lead us, that we shd follow him. Col.replied that he was responsible for 100 men's lives, & that he was not going to follow him blindfold (as Capt. Drury also).

After a time Segale came saying he had come back about a mile and that if we did not hurry on it it wd be too late, that the sun would be out before maxim was in position; we followed him, his men [hid?} at M, Liet.Surmon being instructed to come on with horses. Arrived at E, maxim was put in position, the laager being visible on a neck (at C), Marico River being between it and ourselves.

Maxim fired first shot, then Col.gave range, and immediately the maxim had fired a few shots the Bakhatla guns were heard in direction N and along range I. It was only some time after the maxim had opened fire that Boers' Mausers replied, bullets passing over our heads at E; after firing for about 5 minutes, bugle was hread and we retreated, - the horses had then advanced close to E and we mounted, returning to O, thence to ridge A, Segale & Khari & self (as Interpreter) doing our best to bring back column which was cantering towards P (further into the Transvaal).

From E Col.Holdsworth sent Capt.Eason to K (where we had left the Scotch Cart and placed the maxim on its wheels) to tell driver to come on with Scotch Cart, and asked to be taken straight back to K, but Segale stated that there was no water for horses or men in that direction and that we shd go to the village (between A & A), where he had ordered the Scotch Cart to be taken, and that we should help the Bakhatla, who kept up fire on ridge I. We went to A (some of us going to the first huts near A where women gave us water at once, I heard one woman tell another to bring more water).

From A we descended to drift G where horses were watered, fire being kept up by Bakhatla on ridge I [i.e. ridge on Transvaal/ S.A. Republic side of river above the two laagers], and mausers returning fire. Segale had been requested by Col.Holdsworth, through me, to place his men on the ridge [pencil line underneath ink script], and instructed not to fire before they heard bugle and his whistle which would be the signals to open fire.

These signals were never heard by me, and firing only began after maxim had made itself heard. When requesting Segale to place his men on ridge I, we had not reached point K, and the plan was still to place maxim at A, Col.Holdsworth stating as his reason for requesting Segale to put his men on ridge I, that he wished to keep his cavalry close at hand and to send it in pursuit of the Boers immediately he would see the direction being taken by Boers after leaving their laager. Segale had been told by Col.Holdsworth in meeting in Station Master's office on 24th that he and his people shoould obey orders at once [pencil underlining].

As we retreated from E, I saw dor the first time the flames of burning buildings at N. Coming from O towards A.

Segale asked Col.Holdsworth through me what he wished done with regard to Mr.Sidner Engers (a suspected traitor). Col.replied that he would leave the matter alone for the present (or words to that effect) and shortly after it was reported that Mr.Engers had been found dead in his room, shot, his store being at D.[Ellenberger adds that if Engers had been arrested before the attack, the Boers would have been forewarned.]...

On our way back from drift G to K, at point R (about) I told Col. Holdsworth, on behalf of Segale, that he (Segale) did not think it fair to leave it in that manner, while the Bakgatla were still fighting on ridge I, that Bakhatla reported the laager almost taken and Boers hiding under waggons, & that they only wanted a little assistance from us to take the laager.

Col.Holdsworth's reply was that he had told them not to go into the Transvaal (I, personally, only remember the Col's request to Segale to send his men to ridge I, in S.A.R.) and that he had instructions to go back to Mahalapye, that he had to carry out his instructions, and so we left Sequane village while the poor Bakhatla were still fighting for the Queen.


Ellenberger adds that they subsequently heard that BaKgatla under Ramono were trapped under Boer fire on the Transvaal side of the river, possibly with two white bicycle-mounted soldiers who were missing. So Holdsworth returned with his forces to Sikwane, only to find that firing had ceased and the BaKgatla had captured the Boer laagers and set their ammunition dump alight. So Holdsworth turned again for Mochudi Road, i.e. Molotwana, station.

Ellenberger reported 14 BaKgatla killed, 16 wounded. Reports said there had been 113 Boers in the Derdepoort laagers. 25 Boer corpses lay outside the laagers, and one inside, while other Boers were alive and groaning inside. Boer survivors had moved to a new laager across the hill.On hearing news of the battle, the Boers occupying Fort Gaberones (where they had erected new fortifications around Gosling's house) and Gaberones railway station (Riley's Hotel) retreated to strongholds further south on the Ngotwane River at Crocodile Pools.

Linchwe's people kept captured Boer cattle, as previously agreed with Holdsworth. But Linchwe and (Assistant Commissioner) Surmon, and Ellenberger by implication, were obviously much displeased by Holdsworth's refusal to acknowledge the BaKgatla contribution to the British war effort.

3 February 1900: Ellenberger notes intelligence that BaTswana migrant workers from the Protectorate - BaKgatla, BaKwena, BaTlokwa, and BaMalete - coming home from Kimberley are being arrested by the Boers and sent to Pretoria.

For subsequent controversy over the battle of Derdepoort see Boer War Page 1 and Boer War Page 3.


  1. Col.Jules Ellenberger was later Assistant Commissioner at Gaberones, and then Resident Commissioner at Mafeking. He was still alive in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia, when that country declared itself an independent republic. Refusing a Rhodesian passport, he applied for a British one, but was turned down on the grounds that his father was French, not British, and that he had been born in a foreign territory - Lesotho before it became British. This despite the fact that he had devoted his life to the British colonial service. It seems that he was also denied a passport by France. So he died a proud citizen and passport-holder of the Kingdom of Lesotho.
  2. See Praise-Poems of Tswana Chiefs (Cape Town: Oxford University Press, 1988 reprint), edited by Isaac Schapera, pp.92-102, for SeKgatla accounts of KA NTWA YA MABURU, i.e. the Boer War. These relate how BaKgatla regiments followed up the (first) battle of Derdepoort, by attacking Boers at Lemonyana Hill laager and in Maratadiba valley just north of Gaborone's village of Tlokweng, kicking up dust before Kgale Hill and frightening the Balete people of nearby Gabane village. Most of the poetry, however, covers events after the first battle of Derdepoort, notably the successful ambush of a Rustenburger waggon train at Kaye (Kaye's Pits or Kayesput) in February 1900.


Back to top

Copyright © 2000 Neil Parsons
Last updated 19 September 2000

Valid CSS