Saturday, June 30, 2012

On the look out for Boers

Arthur Hamilton Baynes, a Church of England priest who served as Bishop of Natal in South Africa during the second Anglo-Boer War, died 70 years ago today. He is barely remembered, though he did leave behind two books, one of which was a diary documenting his war days in Natal.

There is very little readily-available biographical information about Baynes. He was born in Lewisham, Kent, in 1854, and was ordained in 1882. He served as vicar of St James Church, Nottingham, between 1884 and 1888, and than was appointed domestic chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury (Edward Benson) for four years, before becoming of vicar of Christ Church, Greenwich, for two years.

Most significantly, from 1893 to 1901, i.e. partly during the second Anglo-Boer War, Baynes was Bishop of Natal, a diocese which covered the western part of the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal, west and south of the Tugela and Buffalo rivers. During his time there, he helped reconcile opposing Anglican groups, and left behind a diocese of eighteen parishes, six Zulu missions, two Indian missions, three schools and one mission hospital.

On his return to England in 1910, Baynes went back to Nottingham and was vicar of St Mary’s Church until 1913. He was canon of Southwell Minster, and then of Birmingham Cathedral where subsequently he was made provost (1931-1937). He died on 30 June 1942. There is very little additional information online about Baynes, though two of his books have survived: South Africa, published in 1908 by A. R. Mowbray & Co. which Baynes himself called ‘a slight sketch of South African Church expansion’; and his South African diary.

This latter was published in 1900 by George Bell and Sons as My diocese during the war, extracts from the diary of the Right Rev. Arthur Hamilton Baynes, D.D. Bishop of Natal. This is freely available at Internet Archive and at Project Canterbury (documenting Anglican history online). The book was prepared for publication by Baynes’ sister, Helen, who notes at the beginning: ‘The Diary does not pretend to any literary merit; it is simply a hastily written record, for home reading, of days of intense interest and of stirring events.’

In his own preface to the diary, Baynes says this: ‘This diary is written in odd moments, in the early morning or late at night after a tiring day; and I take no special pains as to its form, but write down a bare record of facts. Comments, reflections, emotions of a higher or deeper kind, if committed to writing at all, are reserved for the more personal medium of letters. Rough in form, however, as my diary is, and bare and unedifying in matter, the Publishers have thought that it may contain enough of general interest during these last interesting months to be worth printing, and in response to their request my sister has undertaken the selection of extracts.

The roughest sketch which gives the local colouring sometimes conveys a truer impression than the most accurate photograph, and possibly this diary, written on the spot, may have this small merit. My own experience has been that there are some things one only gets a proper view of on the spot. For instance, before I came to South Africa I had a settled impression that Cape Town was at the extreme southern point of the Continent, and that Table Mountain looked out over it straight towards the South Pole. It was only when I got there that I found Table Mountain facing almost due north, staring at me as I approached from England. It is just possible that my diary may serve to correct a few such a priori and erroneous impressions.

But there is one respect in which even we who lived on the spot were quite at fault. Some of us, indeed, were at fault on two points. We never believed, till just before the event, that there would be war, and we never dreamed that if there were it would be anything very big.’

And here are three extracts from the diary during the first few months of the war.

15 October 1899
‘As no one had asked me to preach to-day, I thought I might have a day off, especially as I know there are plenty of clergy about from the Transvaal and Newcastle. However, when I went to the early service at the Garrison Church, Twemlow asked me if I would preach to the men at 11, as he was asked to preach to the Imperial Light Horse at a special parade at St Saviour’s at 9.30. I felt rather guilty in doing nothing, so I said “Yes,” though it was rather short notice. The Rifles were there - the 2nd Battalion, which has just come out. I preached to them from the words in the second lesson, “With singleness of heart, fearing the Lord.” Things are very quiet to-day. I suppose the Boers would not choose Sunday for operations unless they were obliged. After luncheon I went in for a little chat with the Governor.

We live in a state of feverish excitement, waiting for each scrap of news and surrounded by startling rumours which turn out as a rule to be pure inventions. We rush for the morning paper and hail everyone we meet for news. There are rumours to-day of various kinds, but all untrue as it turns out. We cannot tell, and probably shall not know for some days, what is happening on the western border, about Mafeking and Kimberley. There are rumours of fighting, and we know that they are more or less isolated.’

14 January 1900
‘Holy Communion at 5.45, in our little mess-tent. Only a few officers. Then after a cup of tea, church parade at 7. As we are two chaplains, we agreed to take two battalions each, so that all could hear. I had the 60th Rifles and the Scottish Rifles, and the Navals, and a few odds and ends; and Hill had the Rifle Brigade and the Durham Light Infantry. General Buller and some of his staff and General Lyttelton came to my service, and it was a charming spot with a little crescent of rocky hill, so that the men were in tiers above me, and during the sermon they could sit on the rocks. I preached from the second lesson, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead,” and showed them that a chaplain was not simply to console the dying and to bury the dead. After service I took my books and went up the hill. The two big naval guns have been brought up here from Chieveley (the Boers don’t know it yet, but they soon will). It is odd that the most useful guns were only improvised on the spur of the moment. Captain Scott, of the “Terrible,” designed and made the huge carriages to move these ship-guns on, and now they can take them with spans of oxen quite long journeys and up steep hills. They are enormous things, with great long muzzles.

I asked the naval sentry to let me look through their big telescope. I could see the Boers at 8,000 yards, quite plainly - could see which had blue shirt sleeves and which had white - as they worked in the trenches. But only a few were working to-day; a fair number were sitting on the top of Spion Kop, looking at us. But the two guns are just enough below the ridge to be out of sight. Then I went over the ridge and down into the bush, on the other side, where there was more shade. I got a very comfortable seat under a tree. If the Boers had taken a shot at our naval guns I should have been too near to be pleasant; but this was not likely, especially on a Sunday. While I sat and read a partridge came out of the long grass to within three yards of my foot. Back to write and read, and then lunch and some English papers. But nothing for me. I have not had a letter or a paper since I left Maritzburg, last Friday week. It is awful to think what I may be neglecting. At 6 we had a voluntary service as last week. Hill read, and I preached from the first lesson, “I dwell with him that is of a humble and contrite heart” (“Lest we forget”).’

15 January 1900
‘English letters for next Saturday’s mail had to be despatched this morning! You would think we were in the remote parts of the Transvaal, instead of being little more than twenty-five miles from the railway at Frere. But I suppose with the roads blocked by transport, and the stoppages at the different camps en route, they have to take time by the forelock.

Colonel Byng of the South African Light Infantry went out with two guns of the artillery, with a view to catching Boers on the road between Colenso and this; we heard later on that though he did not succeed in intercepting wagons, etc., he arrived in the nick of time to extricate a patrol of Thorneycroft’s Mounted Infantry from a perilous position. . .

Meanwhile General Lyttelton and his staff made an expedition to the two hills called Zwartzkop, and I went with them. We started about 11, with two guides. We had to ride round the top of the ridge before descending into the intervening valley, then crossed the plain and began the ascent of the opposite hill. It is lovely country. The hills are covered with thick brush, of semi-tropical character, to be found on our own river valleys as distinguished from the higher hillsides.

About halfway up we left our horses with the orderlies, and climbed the rest, which was steep, on foot. Then we took elaborate surveys of the position as it appeared from there. First to the east, towards the part of the river where Byng was on the look out for the Boers. Of course we could not see him, as he would keep under cover, and might be a good way off. At that part the hills come nearer to the river, and are steep, so that the road is forced nearer to the bank. There is a drift there, with a road leading to it; it is just possible that we might make an attempt there. Then we looked out to the north, and searched the hills for Boer intrenchments with glasses. There is less need of them there, however, for on the right the hills are steep and rocky. Then we looked towards the hills to the north-west, where the road from Potgieter’s Drift crosses the hills, to see if the guns on the hills commanded the back of some small kopjes just across the river; seeing them in profile here, we could judge better than from our camp. A spice of excitement was added here, as we saw just below us, at the foot of the hill, on our side of the river, a lot of cattle herded together, with some ponies, and our guides said that these must be Boers; and if they were, they might have a try to cut off our return to camp. However, we saw nothing of them when we descended the hill. We called at the Kaffir kraal at the foot and bought some chickens, and then returned by another road. Colonel Byng was to have come to dinner, but had not returned from his expedition.’

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