"Lord Kitchener's Methods." Independent, 7 Feb. 1901, pp. 326-28.

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"Lord Kitchener's Methods." Independent, 7 Feb. 1901, pp. 326-28.


Lord Kitchener’s Methods.

AN English naturalist, who kept close company with the birds and reptiles for many years, used to say: “There’s no limit to the queerness of beasts! The longer you live with them the less you know about them!”

As we grow old, if we think at all, we have the same feeling about men and women. The countless millions of them that people the earth, renewed every thirty years, with all of their varieties, have not exhausted the “queerness” of the human stuff out of which they are made. You spend your life with a friend or a family or a race and think you know them to the marrow. And, presto! they turn on you faces alien and incomprehensible. As even Behemoth did to Job[1].

Your cousin Tom, for instance, with no blood in his body but that of a long line of dull, godly Presbyterian ministers—how did he get that unerring lighting flash of financial insight which has made him the head of a great trust and a hundred times a millionaire?

And Jose, the affectionate Italian boy, who used to sell us bananas, laughing at our jokes—where did he hide so long the black drops that drove him to murder a child in its sleep? 

Nations, however, develop abnormal traits more rapidly than individuals. 

What was there in the character of the French people to prepare the world for the Dreyfus case[2]?

What American, ten years ago, could have conceived of his country as at war with the Filipinos, as or as again a slave owner[3]?

Who that knows and loves the German as he is at home, kindly, music loving, the good husband, the fond father, the loyal friend, was prepared for the devilish gusto with which the other day he butchered the helpless Chinese women and children? Not one or two in a sudden frenzy of rage, but masses of them settling down to the work, as to his yearly pig killing, with keen relish. 

It is our English cousin, however, who has startled us most of late, with his extraordinary development of new traits. Here is a fact or two taken from the English papers of last month. To the ordinary observer they are inexplicable. 

Mr. R. H. Hudson stated in the Saturday Review that it long has been the custom for English sportsmen when voyaging on the Pacific to fish with rod and line for the albatrosses that follow the ship. When one of these great birds—supposed to be the most innocent and gentle of flying creatures—was thus taken, it is dragged up on deck, its head cut off as a souvenir, its wing bones scraped for pipe stems and the white beautiful body pitched into the water to rot. 

So universal was the disgust at this wanton cruelty that prohibitory laws for the protection of the bird have been passed in England and in all of her colonies. But it appears from Mr. Hudson’s statement that some albatrosses were caught last October, by the officers of the steamship “Star,” of New Zealand, and were placed alive in the ice box in order that the captain might satisfy his curiosity as to how long the bird could sustain life under the freezing process.

“One bird,” he reports, “at the end of ten days, on being taken out with the lower half of its body frozen hard, emitted groaning sounds, and raised its head and gaped, staring around with wide open, living eyes. It was kept out in the warm air for two hours and then put back in the ice box.”

The captain ended this account with declaring that he “would proceed with these scientific investigations on his return voyage with other birds.”

But it is not likely that he will do so. The scientific captain has suddenly found himself the best abused man in England. His account was published by the leading newspapers and raised a storm of indignant horror through the kingdom.

Now this loud impulsive outburst of sympathy for a single tortured bird among our English kinsfolk must impress any rational observer as something wholesome and fine. The people whose instincts are so true must, we feel, rank very high in the scale of humanity. Christianity has softened and refined in them the original tiger blood which is in every man. It surely has evaporated quite out of them. They shiver with horror at the story of a freezing bird; ergo, they must be just and humane toward other human beings; beyond all, other men. 

But in the very week which followed this incident the reports reached England of the methods resorted to by the English leaders in South Africa to put an end to the war[4]

Let me premise just here that partisan feeling had nothing to do with this account. It was a bald official statement of facts. 

England has spent over £100,000,000 in the war. The loss in men disabled, wounded and dead is estimated at 70,000. This is the price already paid in the effort to subdue thirty thousand Boers. They are still unconquered. During the last month Cape Town has been so closely threatened that for the first time since hostilities began the guns have been taken from the ships of war in the harbor to add to the defenses of the town.

These facts prove that for some reason, which we need not enter into now, British troops cannot cope with the burghers in actual fighting on the veldt.

There is, however, another kind of warfare to which they can resort, and which promises success: to starve out the Boer soldiers and force them to subjection by burning their farm houses and growing crops; by driving their women and children and aged folk out homeless to “live like baboons among the kopjes.” This kind of warfare proved effectual in Ireland under Raleigh and Lord Gray[5]; in Burma during the war with the dacoits[6], and it is being tried in China now, where the Russians and Germans are dealing with the heathen[7]

The English people, however, were not aware that it had been resorted to in South Africa until last month, when a full account of the new policy was given to them. The eleven reasons were published by which the English commanders officially justified the burning of farms, crops and houses: 

“1. Because it would cow the enemy.—(Colonel Pilcher’s devastation of thirty square miles of the Free State, January, 1899.)

“2. Because a railway was attacked.—(Lord Robert’s order, No. 602, to burn thirty-eight farms.)

“3. Because a whole district had to be devastated.—(See proceedings of General Campbell in Vicksburg. September 14th, General Rundle in Free State, General Paget in the Transvaal, Lord Methuen in Zeerust.)

“4. Because rifles were found on the premises.—(See among others the doings of Generals French, Rundle and Pole-Carew in Free State in April last.)

“5. Because Boer scouts were sheltered.—(Roberts’s order, August 14th.)

“6. Because no man was on the premises. ‘Absent on commando.’—(See letter of Boer officers at Green Point, November 1st.)

“7. Because the owner had broken his oath of neutrality.

“8. Because shots had been fired from the farm while the white flag was flying over the house.

“9. Because a fight had taken place in the neighborhood.

“10. Because the occupants were alleged to be in communication with the enemy.—(Miss Cronje’s letter, October 15th.)

“11. Because they refused twice to go scouting against snipers.—(Robert’s order, October 24th.)”

The Westminster Gazette also made public the secret instructions issued by Lord Kitchener[8] to the army:

“1. To seize all forage, horses, cattle, and other live stock belonging to any Boer who had broken his oath of neutrality, or whose son had gone on commando.

“2. To denude the country of forage and supplies so as to leave no means of subsistence for any commando.

“3. To seize all stock without payment or receipt of all disloyal farmers, or of those whose fathers or sons are in the field.

“4. To seize all stock on farm any member of whose household, after laying down arms, again goes on commando.

“5. To seize or destroy all crops on farms belonging to men on commando.

“6. To seize and remove all farming gear, leaving none whatever for farming and other purposes.”

The announcement in England that these orders were now being carried out was received almost in silence. A feeble inquiry was raised as to the number of homes burned, which was answered by a letter in the Times from a “South African Volunteer” who avowedly “justified the burnings” because the houses destroyed belonged as a rule to the poorer class of farmers. He himself, he declared cheerfully, had helped to burn down fifty or more farm houses, but none of them belonged to rich Boers. 

Private letters crept into print describing the wholesale destruction of food, the blazing homesteads, the women and children flying from the soldiery. One English lady, the wife of a Uitlander[9], had enough womanly truth in her to write home of the outraged women, wives of respectable burghers, whom she had taken into her house to die after Tommy Atkins[10] had wreaked his will upon them.

What was the effect of these reports upon the English people?

They had no effect. They have fallen upon the public, greedy for every word, like drops of a summer shower upon the deeps of a black, motionless sea. The very papers that had been moved to passionate eloquence by the sufferings of a bird calmly hinted that this method of warfare had proved successful in the Sudan. Lord Kitchener left no prisoners there to breed mischief. England must have no trouble hereafter in the Boer republic. The Boer that would cause least trouble doubtless was the dead Boer. Hence, crush the bird in the egg.

It is true that Labouchere[11], Frederic Harrison[12], and one or two other sane men showed the horror which any normal sane human being feels at the sight of a debauched soldiery starving children and outraged women.

But the English nation, the honorable kind men, the mothers, the Christian teachers, have kept silence.

A few calm folk may remember that Great Britain hopes to make the citizens of these conquered republics loyal subjects to the King and may have a passing doubt whether the policy of fire and starvation is the one best calculated to accomplish that end. A nation is slow to forget warfare made on its women and children. The Fenian in Munster to-day hates his Protestant neighbor because his grandfather helped to hang and burn the Kernes, his ancestors, by the thousands in the days of Elizabeth[13]. The Hindoo loathes the Englishman because of the doings of Lord Clyde[14], and even in our own country it is not political opinions which now hold the North and South apart, but the burned homes and the wanton destruction of household sacred things long ago. If any optimist Northerner thinks we are again one loving band of brothers let him go to the South to live awhile and trace the effect of Sherman’s march to the sea[15]. It was doubtless a brilliant strategic movement, but it will hold the two sections apart for many generations.

However, we need not discuss the future effects of Lord Kitchener’s warfare on homes and women and children. It is the silence of the English people as they watch the fight that concerns us now. 

These are the people who beyond all others declare themselves lovers of fair play. The defenders of the weak. The followers of Jesus. Yet when Lord Kitchener is let loose on Boer mothers and children they are silent.




1. Job 40:15-24.

2. In 1894, Alfred Dreyfus, a French Jew, was accused of espionage. Dreyfus was continuously put on trial, despite evidence demonstrating his innocence, until he was exonerated in 1906.

3. The Philippine-American War spanned from 1899 to 1902.

4. The Second Boer War—or the South African War—spanned from 1899 to 1902.

5. Sir Walter Raleigh (1522-1618) and Thomas Grey, 15th Baron Grey of Wilton (unknown birthdate, died 1614) participated in subduing a number of Irish uprisings by massacring participants.

6. Dacoit, “banditry” in Urdu and Hindi.

7. The Boxer Rebellion in China, a peasant uprising supported by the Chinese state.

8. Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener (1850-1916), became Commander-in-Chief in South Africa during the Second Boer War.

9. Afrikaans for foreigner, referred to the British immigrants who were denied citizenship by the Boers leading up to the Second Boer War.

10. Slang for soldiers of the British Army.

11. Henry Du Pré Labouchère (1831-1912) was a journalist and parliamentarian. He drafted the Labouchère Amendment in 1885, which outlawed sexual activity between men and was primarily responsible for the indictment of Oscar Wilde.

12. Frederic Harrison (1831-1823) was a British historian.

13. Nine Years' War in Ireland (1594-1603).

14. Sir Colin Campbell (1792-1863) was commander-in-chief following the Indian Mutiny, which resulted in British control of India in 1857.

15. From November 15, 1864 to December 21, 1864 during the American Civil War, General William Tecumseh Sherman (1820-1891) marched from Atlanta to Savannah, Georgia, in order to capture the port, and destroyed a great deal along his path.


Abigail Fagan
University of Connecticut



Abigail Fagan University of Connecticut, “"Lord Kitchener's Methods." Independent, 7 Feb. 1901, pp. 326-28.,” Rebecca Harding Davis: Complete Works, accessed February 7, 2023, http://rebeccahardingdaviscompleteworks.com/items/show/43.

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