South African Battle: 31 August 1900
The Battle of Quaggafontein is also referred to as Kwaggafontein and Slypsteenkop.
Quaggafontein was a farm in the old Western Transvaal (now North West Province) about 10 km east of Derby.
The British Column, under the command of Lieutenant-General Methuen, after much activity in the Zeerust/Swartruggens District had been promised rest in Zeerust, but on 25 August 1900 they were ordered to progress to Krugersdorp in order to help General Hart with Boer activity in the area. Boer General de la Rey, had in the meantime, after the withdrawal of General Baden-Powell, re-occupied Rustenburg. De la Rey had posted his men along the Magaliesberg from where he could threaten any movement of British troops. The book ‘The Kaffrarian Rifles 1876-1986’ by Francis L. Coleman records (page 77) – “An advanced body, however, was placed in a very strong position by the road, where the 3rd Cavalry Brigade on the left flank of the column blundered into them in a heavy mist.”
The book ‘De la Rey – Lion of the West’ by Johannes Meintjies records (page 203) – “From Rustenburg de la Rey moved to the farm Commissiedrift where he heard that Colonel Dalgety was marching along the Jameson road from Zeerust to Krugersdorp.”
De la Rey planned an ambush, about 15 km south of Olifantsnek, and placed some of his scouts on Slypsteenkoppie in order to monitor British movements. Colonel Dalgety who was approaching from the farm Quaggafontein observed the scouts and launched an immediate attack. Coleman goes on (page 77) – “As the battle developed, de la Rey arrived with 600 more men and more artillery, the latter, fortunately for the British, not being usable in the confusion. To enable the Cavalry Brigade to withdraw, Dalgety sent the Kaffrarian Rifles on an enveloping attack around the left flank of the Boer position. They bore the brunt of the enemy fire as the cavalry pulled back. Once this was accomplished, the Border Horse under Major Robertson were ordered to attack on the right flank, whilst the Kaffrarians advanced on the other. In doing so, they encountered heavy fire from the Boers, who had taken up position in a group of rocky kopies. In their traditional fashion they held fire until the opposition was very close before loosing a withering hail of bullets upon them. Three squadrons of the regiment reached a point only some 350 metres away before being pinned down. They remained in this exposed position until sunset. In a similar, parlous state was a detachment of the 9th Lancers which had come up in support. These men also were unable either to advance or retreat until darkness shielded them. Meantime, as the Boer reinforcements extended their line, so all regimental reserves were brought into use.”
As darkness fell the British retreated to the main column.
Coleman goes on (page 77) – “As the squadrons on the flanks fell back in accordance with their orders, so the Boers increased their pressure in the centre. By dusk they had advanced in skirmishing order to only about 50 metres away and were calling upon the partly surrounded Regiment to surrender – but Colonel Cumming’s response – a loud order to his own men to fix bayonets – put an end to any misplaced enthusiasm for a final charge. The Regiment was therefore able to work its way slowly back through the long grass to where the men had originally left their horses in a secure place. To their dismay the horses were no longer there. It was only later, after the wounded had been collected, that the C.M.R. rode up with the explanation that, as the Kaffrarian Rifles were believed to have been captured, their horses had been taken back to the main camp. Subsequently, Colonel Dalgety had found out that the Regiment was still in action and had sent out the C.M.R to investigate.”
The column resumed its journey to Krugersdorp the following day, reaching their destination on 3 September. Along the way they encountered Boer activity and were involved a number of skirmishes. British casualties during the battle were 11 killed and 21 wounded.
And what of the Boers?
Meintjies records the following (page 203) – “Quite a hard fight ensued in which the burghers lost five killed – one of his staff, D. van Rensburg, and J. Malan, a son-in-law of President Kruger – and eight wounded, including Commandant Steenkamp, who was wounded for the third time. ‘It was hard to do without such gallant officers’, de la Rey comments.”
It can be assumed that the Boers also retreated over night to ‘lick their wounds and count their losses’, as the following morning there was no further action from de la Rey’s men.
The British column encountered Boer General Lemmer on their journey to Krugersdorp.