Were there black prisoners in the Boer camps of St Helena?

boers in jamestown 640 courtesy of John GrimshawLittle is heard of the black Africans who lived and died in the prison camps of the Anglo Boer War. One man is engaged on a search for what traces remain – and he’s heading for St Helena.

Twin Mosia is to tour the 65 known black concentrations camps set up by the British in mainland Africa, paying homage to those who died and gathering what information still remains. Virtually no records were kept.

He has now put out an appeal for evidence of black prisoners of war (PoWs) in the two camps that were established on St Helena in 1899 when the British began dispersing captured men around the Empire.

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 23.00.16Click the pic to see images of life in the Boer War camps
(courtesy of the King’s Own Royal Regiment Museum)

He is certain black men would have been among those landed on the wharf at Jamestown during the three years that Boers – now called Afrikaners – were on the island.

“During the Anglo Boer War an unknown number of black men and children were shipped to St Helena as PoWs,” says Twin in a Facebook post.

“No records of them are found and some have even denied the fact that blacks captured with Boers were sent to various PoWs camps overseas.

“Does anyone of you know their number, names etc? How many perished while in captivity in St Helena? Where are their graves?”

He also asks how many made their way back to South Africa after the peace negotiations.

Historian Paul Alexander, whose family was prominent on St Helena in the 18th and 19th centuries, lends support to Twin’s beliefs.

“From photos I’ve seen there is no doubt that there were black African prisoners together with the Boers on St Helena,” he says on Facebook.

“One of my ancestors was chief censor at the camp as he could speak Dutch (although he was St Helena born he had lived at the Cape for a while, and his son had been killed fighting against the Boers).”

Paul has written a history of his family and plans to visit the island in 2016. One of his ancestors, a Captain Alexander, was a member of the island Council under the East India Company in 1719. John Alexander (1671-1731) was a planter who lived at Bamboo Grove.

Others were closely connected with Napoleon’s captivity.

A young Fraser Alexander was involved in building up South Africa’s gold mining industry after his parents emigrated from St Helena in the 1870s to take part in the Kimberley Diamond Rush. A century later, the mining company Fraser Alexander still survives – under black owners.

Merle Martin, of the South African St Helenian Heritage Association, had also heard of black Africans among the thousands transported to camps at Deadwood Plain and Broad Bottom.

The story came to light after an article about Saints in South Africa was published on the Archival Platform website (archivalplatform.org).

“Someone commented but we couldn’t get hold of him to get more info,” Merle says in the Facebook discussion.

Can you help Twin in his quest? If so, contact him via this website here or through the St Helena Online page on Facebook. WITH THANKS to Merle Martin for alerting St Helena Online. 

READ MORE:
Boer War prisoners: life at Deadwood Camp
Who ‘disarmed’ the Boer War bomb in the tower?
Saints in Cape Town – The Archival Platform
Twin Mosia’s cycle tour to commemorate camp victims – Proudly Afrikaner website
South African St Helenian Heritage Association – Facebook page

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