By: Jan van den Bos, Curator of Weapons: DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History

Almost 24 238 burghers (between the ages of 16 and 60) from the South African Republic (ZAR) and the Orange Free State were liable for military service with the outbreak of hostilities on 11 October 1899 between the two republics and Britain. More than nine thousand nine hundred burghers did not own a rifle or were simply in possession of the older Snider and Westley Richard rifles with ammunition.

After the Jameson Raid of 1895/96 and threats of an approaching war, Government reserved £1 000 000 for weapon purchases. General PJ Joubert, the Commandant General of the ZAR forces, ordered 37 000 Mauser rifles (Pakenham,1981:43) from the Fried Krupp Grusonwerk weapon manufacturer in Germany. The consignment included the 1896 Mauser rifle. The serial number on the Botha Mauser starts with the letter “A” indicating the first batch of the long Mauser rifles, which were despatched to South Africa.

Louis Botha’s Mauser

Louis Botha’s 1896 Mod Mauser, manufactured by Ludwig Loewe and Company, an agent of the Krupp manufacturer in Germany, is one of several carved rifles in the weapon collection of DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History (DNMCH) in Visagie Street, Pretoria.


Figure 1: A young Louis Botha on commando during the Anglo-Boer War

(Source: Document collection, DNMCH: HKF 6957).


The Mauser was donated to the National Cultural History and Open-Air Museum (now DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History) in 1979 by Sir De Villiers Graaff, the leader of the former United Party. The ceremony took place during the official opening of the Botha exhibition at the (old) Museum premises in Boom Street, Pretoria. 

The words ‘Lewis Botha’ and ‘Vrijheid’ are engraved on the left side of the rifle butt (Figure 2). Louis Botha (1862-1919) was the ninth child of 13 children. Botha was born near Greytown in Natal (KwaZulu-Natal). He played an important role in establishing the town Vryheid in northern Natal. He married his wife, Annie Botha, (née Emmett) in Vryheid in 1886 and settled on the farm Waterval, east of the town.


Figure 2: Mauser 1896 that belonged to Louis Botha.

Engraved on the left side of the butt:” Lewis Botha”,” Vrijheid”

(Source: Weapon collection, DNMCH: OHG1318).


The carving on the right side of the wrist states “Natal Ingetrokken, 1899” (Natal invaded 1899). (Figure 3). When war broke out in October 1899, Louis Botha accompanied the Vryheid commando under the command of General Lukas Meyer. In absence of a sick General Meyer, Botha acted for a while and without a rank as commander.


Figure 3: The right side of the wrist: “Natal Ingetrokken 1899”.


“Dundee – 20 Oct” (Figure 4). 20 October 1899 marked the attack on Talana Hill near Dundee at the start of the war. Talana Hill, also known as the Battle of Glencoe, was one of the first major skirmishes of the war. General Lucas Meyer commanded the attack from the peak of Talana Hill. Among his men was Botha. They opened fire on Major General W Penn Symons’s camp beneath the hill. The attack in the early hours of the morning came as a surprise because the British never imagined the Boers would climb the hill in wet conditions and in the dark. The British fixed their bayonets and advanced up the hill. Although Major General Symons was wounded in the attack, the British succeeded to chase the Boers off the hill. 


Figure 4: The right side of the rear end of the stock:” Dundee 20 Oct”.


“Modderspruit – 30 Oct” (Figure 5). At Modderspruit (30 October 1899) near Ladysmith in Natal, Botha again commanded the attack, which was simultaneously fought on three fronts, namely Modderspruit, Swartkop and Pepworthskop. Botha directed heavy Mauser and Pom-Pom artillery fire and chased Major General John French and his regiment back to Ladysmith. For this heroic act Botha was appointed as General. The young Botha who became exceedingly popular, because of the clearness of his views, kept up the spirit of the Boers with this victory of 1 200 British casualties against the 200 on Boer side.


Figure 5: Right side of the fore end of the stock: “Modderspruit – 30 Oct”.


“Blaauwkrantz – 15 Nov” (1899) (Figure 6). Given the opportunity to demonstrate his military skills as commander, Botha planned an attack towards the port of Durban. On his way to the coast, Botha and his force attacked and derailed an armoured train near Chieveley in the vicinity of the Blaauwkrantz River. Winston Churchill, the British war correspondent of the Morning Post newspaper, surprisingly happened to be one of the prisoners captured. The event at Blaauwkrantz marked one of the fascinating stories of the war, because the presence of Churchill and the train attack were merely a coincidence.


Figure 6: The left side of the rear end of the stock: “Blaauwkrantz – 15 Nov”


“Mooirivier – 22 Nov” (Figure 7). (Mooi River – 22 November 1899). The British were alarmed by the appearance of the Boers in their planned advance to Durban. The commando past the major garrison’s camp at Estcourt and took up position at Mooi River, south of Estcourt. Botha tried to lure the British to combat, but the latter were too evasive. During the brief skirmish, in pouring rain, Botha’s horse was shot from under him, The British retreat to Estcourt while General PJ Joubert ordered Botha back to Colenso.


Figure 7: The left side of the middle of the stock: “Mooirivier – 22 Nov”.


“Estcourt – 23 Nov”. (Figure 8). Since Botha’s victory at Modderspruit, Commandant General PJ Joubert, the leader in command of the Boer forces, allowed Botha to lead a flying column towards Estcourt. The town became the centre of conflict. Joubert fell of his horse with serious injuries and the War Council decided to send Joubert home. They ordered the immediate withdrawal of the commandos to the north of the Tugela and left Botha in command.


Figure 8: Left side of the fore end of the stock: “Estcourt – 23 Nov”.


“Colenso – 15 Dec” (Figure 9) (Battle of Colenso – 15 December 1899). This battle was the third major defeat of the British which became known as the Black Week. Botha entrenched his commando in the town and on the surrounding hills and camouflaged his artillery and placed them in strategic positions. He and his commando opened fire on the unsuspecting British infantry. General Hart and his Irish brigade were enfiladed and lost 400 men in 20 minutes. Botha’s remarkable tactics humiliated the British army. They lost 1 139 soldiers against the 38 on Boer side.


Figure 9: Left side of the middle of the stock: “Colenso – 15 Des”.



The carvings on the Louis Botha Mauser shows similarities with other rifles, such as a Krag-Jörgenson rifle (owner unknown). The work was done by the same person. The carvings of leave borders are the same. The wording includes “Dundee, Oct 20, Natal Ingetrokken Oct, Modderspruit, Oct 30 and Estcourt Nov 99”, but excluded Blaauwkrantz, Mooirivier, Colenso. (George, 2008:179). Although the carvings end with the battle of Colenso, General Louis Botha participated in the battle of Spionkop (23-24 January 1900), Vaalkranz (5-7 February 1900), Pietershoogte (14 – 28 February 1900) and Biggarsberge (28 February 1900), and later in the Orange Free State (Free State) and Eastern Transvaal (Mpumalanga). 

The photograph of the Mauser held by Louis Botha in Figure 1 is without carvings. It is not clear if it is the same Mod Mauser which is discussed in this article.



Bateman, P. Generals of the Anglo-BoerWar, Purnell, Cape Town, 1977.

Breytenbach, J.H. Die geskiedenis van die Tweede Vryheidsoorlog in Suid-Afrika, 1899-1902, Deel I, II, Staatsdrukker, Pretoria, 1978.

George, D.C. Carvings from the veldt, part two. A pictorial history of rifle stock art from the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902. Thai Watana Panich Press Co Ltd, 2008.

Malan, J. Die Boereoffisiere van die Tweede Vryheidsoorlog, 1899-1902. JP van der Walt, Pretoria, 1990.

Pakenham, T. Die Boereoorlog, Jonathan Ball, Johannesburg, 1999.

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