As far as was known, no men were arrested that night.
The man who had escorted the spies
through Sunnyside and over the railway line, the dauntless
van der Westhuizen with the bandaged arm, had
left them not far from the wire enclosure, and had
then waited some time, listening for sounds of commotion.
As no shots had broken the stillness
of the night, he had every reason to believe that
they had escaped with their lives.
For some weeks there was a “lull
in spies.” But there was no lack of other
sensations, for September 1901 will ever be remembered
as one of the most trying months throughout the year
of the war.
It reminded one of that September
month before war was declared, when the air was filled
with the sweet, penetrating odour of orange-blossoms
and many hearts were torn with the agony of suspense
and a feeling of impending disaster.
Again the orange trees were in full
bloom, bringing back to one’s senses the remembrance
of past suffering, and the full realisation of present
horror and unrest.
The great weeping-willows were showing
their first mysterious tinge of pale yellowish green,
and Hansie, watching them, wondered what developments
would have taken place before those overhanging branches
would be crowned with the full beauty of midsummer.
September 1901 was a month of proclamations and peace
negotiations, all of which “ended in smoke.”
After General Botha’s visit
to Pretoria the Boers concentrated their forces around
the capital, strong commandos under General Botha,
de la Rey, Beyers, and Viljoen. It was said that
there were quite 6,000 troops in town awaiting developments,
and Hansie coming home one evening, surprised her
mother by saying that “Khaki was in the deuce
of a funk!”
Her mother remonstrated with her,
expressing her strong disapproval of such language,
but Hansie only laughed.
“I was told so in town, mother.
The enemy seems to expect our people to sweep through
the town, if only to release our prisoners. How
I wish they would come and carry off some of our splendid
men in the jail and Rest Camp!”
The fate of the Committee men had not yet been decided.
As they were kept in solitary confinement
and naturally not allowed to hold communication with
any of their friends, nothing was known at the time
of the troubles undergone by them, and it was some
years after the war before Hansie came into full possession
of the facts.
Ten men in all had been taken that
night, the five members of the Committee and five
other men in their service, and they were kept separate,
not being allowed to see one another during the sixteen
days of their imprisonment in the Pretoria jail.
Now, the remarkable part about this
story is, that though nothing had been arranged between
these men in the event of an arrest, no line of action
agreed upon by them by which they could safely guard
themselves and their friends, they one and all adopted
the same policy under the severe cross-questioning
to which they were subjected in their cells.
My readers must understand that trials
under martial law are not necessarily conducted with
the ordinary formalities of a court of justice; in
fact, in the case of these men it cannot be said that
there was a trial at all, for they were cross-questioned
in their cells apart, and without witnesses.
They never saw the light of day except
for a ten-minutes’ exercise in the prison-yard
every morning; and, on comparing notes afterwards,
they found that they had been subjected to the same
treatment undergone by the unfortunate men who had
turned King’s evidence and who had been the
cause of their undoing. To some of them the death
sentence was read at night, with a promise of pardon
if they betrayed the names of their fellow-conspirators
in town, and sometimes they were visited in their
cells by officers who informed them that one or other
of their fellow-prisoners had “given away the
“You may safely speak out now,
for we know everything. So-and-so has turned
King’s evidence.” But these brave
men saw through the ruse, and steadfastly refused
to sell their honour for their lives. With one
accord they answered, “So-and-so may have given
you information, but I know nothing.”
They were subjected to severe treatment,
half-starved, threatened, told that they were condemned
to death, and then severely left alone with the sword
hanging over their heads to no avail.
Not a word of information was wrung from them, no
murmur of complaint crossed their lips.
This lasted sixteen days, and during
that time they suffered intensely, the food being
unfit for consumption and their surroundings filthy
beyond words. As I have said before, there were
among their number men physically unfit for hardships
Mr. Willem Botha was one of them,
and as the days dragged on, the headaches with which
he was afflicted became more frequent and increased
He feared that he would lose his reason
and, in losing it, betray all to his jailers, and
he was consumed with anxiety for his wife.
After the first shock of his arrest,
he was suddenly overwhelmed with the recollection
that he had forgotten to destroy the slip of paper
on which the message concerning the Boer traitor in
the Free State had been conveyed to him through a
prisoner in the Rest Camp. He tried to remember
what he had done with it, but in vain. Each day
found him torn with anxiety, searching his memory
for the threads of recollection, broken in the stress
of the last stirring events before his arrest.
Suddenly one day it flashed across his mind that he
had pushed the slip of paper between the tattered
leaves of an old hymn-book.
Bitterly he reproached himself with
his unpardonable negligence. That slip of paper,
containing injunctions to the Committee to convey
information of such a serious character to the Boer
leaders, would be sufficient proof against him and
his fellows. No other evidence would be required
to bring them to their death, if it had fallen into
the hands of the enemy.
The unfortunate man, in his prison
cell, prayed for deliverance, not only for himself,
but for the trusty comrades who would be exposed to
such deadly peril by this, his one act of indiscretion.
The weary days dragged on.
Suffering, not to be described by
words, was the daily portion of this man.
His fellow-prisoners shared the same
fate, with one exception.
Mr. Hattingh in his prison cell, who
had been taken in his deacon’s frock-coat that
Sunday night, reaped the rewards of the sagacity he
had displayed on the occasion of the visit to his house
of the Judas-Boer.
There was a marked difference in the
treatment he received at the hands of his jailers.
He was not once condemned to death, and he was hardly
cross-questioned during the entire term of his imprisonment better
food, kinder treatment being accorded him than to any
of his fellows, as he found on comparing notes with
It was quite evident that he was the
only man about whose guilt the enemy was in a certain
amount of doubt.
His family, too, was privileged, his
wife being allowed a few days’ grace to sell
her household goods before she was conveyed to a camp
with her children, while the families of the other
men were instantly removed and their homes taken into
possession by the English.
If the enemy had only known it, Mr.
Hattingh, who was known for his uprightness and moral
integrity, had no intention of perjuring himself in
the witness-box, but had fully made up his mind to
confess his complicity and to face his death like
a man and a patriot.
There is no doubt that this brave
man would have been endowed with the required courage
to uphold his word when the hour came, but it is equally
certain that no word of accusation in evidence against
his fellow-conspirators would have been wrung from
When at the end of the sixteen days
no proof of their guilt had been found, their captors,
recognising and appreciating their staunch fidelity
and unswerving loyalty, removed them from their cells
in the dreary jail to the Rest Camp, where they were
able to enjoy the privileges of the ordinary prisoners
of war, and refreshing intercourse with their brothers
from the field.
But before they were admitted to the
Rest Camp they were brought one by one into the presence
of a British officer, who pompously read their sentence
How the other men passed through their
interview with him I do not know, but Mr. Hattingh’s
story, told in his own words, runs thus:
After a few questions had been put,
the British officer said to him:
“You have been found guilty
of high treason, but Lord Kitchener has been kind
enough to commute your sentence to banishment as prisoner
“But how could you find me guilty?”
Mr. Hattingh asked. “I have never been
“Be silent,” the officer
commanded sternly. “You have nothing to
Mr. Hattingh says he was only too
glad to “be silent,” and betook himself
to the Rest Camp with alacrity.
During the weeks of their imprisonment
in the jail those at Harmony were not living in a
bed of roses.
Of Willie Botha’s loyalty they
never had a doubt, but the other men were unknown
to them, and they knew that all were aware of the part
played by them in the Secret Service. And even
if they were not betrayed by one of the prisoners,
it was a mystery that they had not been betrayed with
Many of their friends, the families
of the men in jail, had been sent to Camps or across
the border, and no one was more surprised at finding
themselves still in Pretoria than Mrs. van Warmelo
and her daughter.
They felt the strain, the uncertainty
of their position keenly, and throughout those weeks
they were obliged to conceal from their good friends,
the Consuls and their families, the danger to which
they were exposed and the intense anxiety with which
they were filled, not only on their own account, but
for those brave men in the Pretoria jail.
Towards the end of September, when
the prisoners had been removed to the Rest Camp, a
baby-girl was born in Willie Botha’s house.
The mother had been left undisturbed
in her home, a consideration for which she and all
who were concerned for her were devoutly grateful,
and now she had passed through the portals of Gethsemane
and the wide gates of Eden, in the bitter-sweet experiences
The news of the birth of a daughter
was duly conveyed to Willie Botha in the Rest Camp,
with a request to the authorities to allow him to
visit his wife and see his child before leaving South
Africa’s shores for Bermuda.
Permission was granted for a two-hours’ visit.
An armed soldier escorted him to his
home and sat outside, under the verandah, drinking
coffee and enjoying the good things with which he
had been provided, while, inside, his prisoner, speechless
with emotion, knelt beside the mother’s bed,
showering kisses on the tiny feet of his infant daughter.
When the first greetings were over Mr. Botha said:
“Wife, what became of that old
hymn-book which was standing on the shelf in the dining-room?”
“I don’t know,”
she answered; “I suppose it was taken away by
Elliot with all the other books and papers.”
“Elliot!” he muttered between his teeth.
“Elliot, betrayer of friends, and Judas-Boer!”
This man had been intimately known
to them all, had, in fact, for many months lived with
his wife and family, as guest and friend, under the
hospitable roof of Mr. and Mrs. Hattingh, at whose
hands they received innumerable acts of love and kindness.
Elliot was the man by whom the members
of the Secret Committee were arrested that Sunday
Verily it can be said of him
“For it was not an enemy that
reproached me; then I could have borne it; neither
was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against
me; then I would have hid myself from him. But
it was thou, a man my equal, my guide, and my acquaintance.
We took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the
house of God in company.”
The occasion of Willie Botha’s
visit having been made to serve at the same time as
a christening, there were quiet, sacred rejoicings
when the minister, who had in the meantime arrived,
performed the ceremony.
As soon as the service was over Mr.
Botha walked rapidly to the dining-room and glanced
over the empty book-shelves. Nothing there!
He stood on tiptoe for a moment, surveying
the topmost shelf, and was about to turn away disappointed,
when his eye fell on the tattered psalm-book, lying
unnoticed in a corner of the shelf.
He could hardly believe his eyes!
He pounced on the book, turning over the pages in
the greatest agitation and suspense.
The fateful slip of paper fell into his hands!
Triumphantly he marched back to his
wife’s bedroom and held the magic paper before
her astonished eyes, telling her of the sleepless nights
and days of suspense he had endured through it.
With unspeakable thankfulness in their
hearts, they then and there reduced the fragment of
paper to ashes, thanking God for His wonderful deliverance.
But the hour of parting was now at
hand and over this, good reader, we must
draw the veil.
On their way back to the Rest Camp
the armed escort, becoming confidential, positively
assured his charge that peace would be proclaimed
before October 10th. The “Powers”
had intervened, he said, and the English were leaving
He was an Irishman.