The Boer War Lesson for Kids: Summary & Facts

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

From 1899 to 1902, a group of South African farmers called Boers fought Great Britain for independence in a conflict known as the Boer War. Learn about the origins and legacy of their fighting in this lesson.

Live Free or Die

There are plenty of stories throughout history of a small group of fighters taking on a much bigger country in the hopes of becoming independent -- maybe you've seen movies about them! Many of these stories, such as of the American Revolution, are examples of willingness and perseverance. However, there are many other times when the smaller group of fighters simply cannot defeat their large enemy. One of the most famous fights between a big country and a small group was the Boer War, fought between South African farmers and Great Britain from 1899 to 1902

Starting Off

Europeans from the Netherlands began building a colony in South Africa nearly 400 years ago, but at the start of the 1800s, Great Britain took over control of the region. Many farmers of Dutch descent, referred to as the Boers, decided they would rather live in a new place than one ruled by Great Britain. So, they left in 1833 to found the new countries of Transvaal and the Orange Free State next door.

Flag of the Orange Free State founded by the Boers
Flag of Orange Free State

At first, the British colony of South Africa and the Boer colonies had no issues. However, miners found both diamonds and gold in these Boer colonies, which meant that Great Britain wanted to take control of the whole area for its wealth. In 1875, Great Britain announced it would annex, meaning take control of, all the territory of South Africa, including the Boer regions. This would lead to conflict and eventually open fighting between the Boers and Britain.

War Starts

Great Britain refused to give Transvaal and the Free Orange State independence, so the two colonies created an alliance to fight the British and become free. They had previously tried to solve the problem peacefully, but the Boer War began in 1899. While the British army had superior weapons, the Boers were very good shots due to growing up hunting, and they knew the land they fought on much better than the British.

Painting of the British army arriving in Ladysmith
Painting of the British army in Boer war

The fighting started when the Boers began a number of attacks on cities in the British-controlled regions. This forced the British army, then scattered around, to come and relieve the city. The Boers could now attack other areas. In December 1899, the Boers used this to their advantage, winning three major battles at cities called Stormberg, Magersfontein and Colenso. The British called this 'Black Week.'

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