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Boer War prisoners: life at Deadwood camp

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Bizarrely, a Google search for St Helena stories throws up one from an American newspaper, The New Oxford Item, published in 1902. Although historians are probably familiar with this kind of material, it makes interesting, accessible reading on the island’s days as one of the world’s first concentration camps (the Nazi’s made the term notorious, but some like to point out that such prisons were invented by the British during the Boer War). Some of today’s islanders are descended from men who lived at Deadwood camp.

Here are a few extracts:

“There are at present nearly 5,000 Boer War prisoners. As the island only covers an area of 47 square miles, it was not felt advisable to increase the number of prisoners there.

“The men in each camp are astir by 7.30 am, and within less than an hour the smoke of the campfires is ascending. The Boers take it in turns to do the cooking, but when one prisoner shows a particular aptitude in the culinary department he is kept there, and relieved from the round of camp duties.

“The strictest rules are enforced to preserve the sanitary conditions of the camps and bathing parades are of frequent occurrence.

“At Deadwood Camp, some 4,500 Boers are incarcerated. The treatment accorded to them is of a generous character, but all the prisoners complain of their enforced idleness. General Cronje’s… wife is tortured with the belief that the English want to burn her husband and herself.”

Read the full story here.

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