Ahead of her time


She was a duke’s daughter and called Blenheim Palace home. But Lady Sarah Wilson was happiest writing about the Siege of Mafeking from the heart of the action during the Second Boer War. Gerry van Tonder takes up the story

Arriving in her mule-cart at a deserted farmhouse – the field headquarters of Boer General Koos Snyman – Sarah Wilson was immediately surrounded by 200-300 heavily armed Boers, gaping at the sudden appearance of a woman in their all-male domain.

Escorted by the general’s English speaking secretary into a dark room, Wilson was immediately “struck by the anything-but-affable expression of their countenances”.

Demonstrating her admirable powers of observation, she described the Boers before her. “The men were mostly of middle age, all with the inevitable grizzly beard, and their rifles, gripped familiarly, were resting on the saddle-bow; nearly all had two bandoliers apiece, which gave them the appearance of being armed to the teeth—a more determined-looking band cannot be imagined.”

Wilson’s request to be allowed unhindered passage into the besieged town of Mafeking, visible in the distance, was promptly rejected. In her book South African Memories, Wilson recalled the moment when “it occurred to me this old gentleman meant to keep me as a prisoner of war, and my heart sank into my shoes”.

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