General De La Rey

Display Hall: General De La Rey

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The table and chairs on exhibition in the De la Rey Hall were used during the Bloemfontein Conference (31 May 1899 to 5 June 1899), hosted in the newly completed Bloemfontein Railway Bureau building. The table is surrounded by five large panoramic paintings by the German military portrait painter, Sylvester Reisacher. They depict some of the major battles that took place during the war.

Moments in history

The Bloemfontein Conference (31 May 1899 to 5 June 1899)

The discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand attracted an influx of foreigners, termed “Uitlanders” to the South African Republic (ZAR/Transvaal). President Paul Kruger’s government had misgivings about these newcomers’ loyalty to the Transvaal – especially those from Britain. The South African Republic could ill afford the furthering of British imperialist interests. In 1890, as a counter measure, Kruger increased the residence period for citizenship from seven to 14 years. In 1897, on the eve of the war, Sir Alfred Milner was appointed British High Commissioner to South Africa. His imperialist mandate made him highly intolerant of the South African Republic and, with Joseph Chamberlain, British Secretary of State for Colonies, has seized upon foreigners’ voting rights as an excuse to draw the republic into the British Empire. Using the so-called “Uitlander Question”, Milner increased pressure on the South African Republic until, a few months before hostilities commenced, President MT Steyn of the Republic of the Orange Free State, managed to convey a meeting between Kruger and Milner in Bloemfontein. The conference, held from 31 May to 5 June1899 in the newly completed Railway Bureau building, sought a peaceful resolution to the tensions around the Uitlander Franchise Question. Kruger declared his willingness to restore the seven-year residence period for citizenship. Milner dismissed the concession out of hand, countering with a five-year period, which Kruger rejected. Milner accused Kruger of running the South African Republic as if it were a farm, treating those who came to live in it as tenants, to which Kruger responded by saying, “These strangers come to me to get rich, and now they want to fight about farm ownership rights too”. The conference ended in a stalemate – an outcome which, it later emerged, through correspondence, Milner and Chamberlain had set out to provoke. On 5 June Milner declared: “The Conference is absolutely at an end, and there is no obligation on either side arising out of it”. The Bloemfontein Conference made retreat for ever impossible. Then Transvaal attorney Jan Smuts echoed this by declaring: “It is perfectly clear that Milner is planning to make war”. The conference proved to be unsuccessful and war finally became a reality on 11 October 1899.

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Title: Table and fourteen chairs

Description: A very long and heavy rectangular table with six turned table legs. Four silver plaques at the main end of the table with the following inscriptions: 1) Bloemfontein conference 1st to 5 June 1899 2) Pres Kruger, ZAR 3) Mr Fisher, Member Orange Free State 4) Sir Alfred Milner. Fourteen large chairs with decoratively carved backs and upholstered brown leather seats and armrests.

Medium: Wood

Accession number: 05172/00001, 05172/00009 – 05172/00022

Date received: 1982

Donor: South African Transport Services