Macalisters in the Second Anglo-Boer War

On this day in 1899, the second Anglo-Boer War began. This war was the culmination of nearly a century of conflict between the British settlers and colonial authorities in South Africa and the Boers, descendants of Dutch traders established there for centuries. Many Macalisters fought for the empire.

Tensions in South Africa had worsened considerably since the end of the first Anglo-Boer War (1880-1). The Boers felt increasingly insecure in their two nominally self-governing republics. They objected to the sudden influx of ‘uitlanders’ (non-Boer settlers) that followed the discovery of gold in Transvaal (one of the Boer republics), and recent movements of British troops appeared sinister to many of them[1], especially in light of an attempted 1895 coup by Cecil Rhodes. On its part, in an era of competing empires the British government was nervous about attempts by Germans in the southwest of Africa to link up with the Boer republics[2] — particularly with potential profits from the Transvaal mines up for grabs.

An ultimatum was presented to the British government on the 9th of October listing the demands of the Boers; the British government, to whom the demands seemed very much like a declaration of independence, replied that “the conditions demanded by the Government of the South African Republic are such that Her Majesty’s Government deem it impossible to discuss”.[3] To the Boers, this refusal amounted to a declaration of war.  

Ultimately, the result of the war that began on this day was a united South Africa under British rule. But things got pretty nasty before then. The Boers resorted to guerrilla warfare, for which imperial forces were ill prepared, and quickly inflicted several defeats which stunned the British public. In return, British authorities undertook a scorched-earth policy that destroyed Boer farms and sent thousands of displaced civilians (mostly women and children) to concentration camps, where epidemics wiped many of them out. These tactics cut Boer forces off from needed supplies, and the widespread suffering that resulted eventually brought the Boers to negotiation.

However, the immediate result of Britain’s rejection of Boer demands was a Boer offensive on Natal, one of the areas under British control.[4] Before long, imperial forces from Britain and several colonies were headed for South Africa. Even with limited access to South African records, I have found nearly 100 Macalisters (of various spellings) among them. This number included Charles Godfrey Somerville McAlester, the future clan chief, who was captain of the 3rd Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers.[5]  Two McAllisters, both named William (but with different service numbers), arrived from Australia with the Army Medical Corps, and there were several of the name from New Zealand and Canada. Others of this clan fought with imperial units from Britain, Ireland, and British South Africa itself.

Macalisters were among the early casualties as well. Lance Corporal A McAllister of the Scots Guard was wounded in November, and Private D McAllister of the Highland Light Infantry was wounded 11 December; Private J McAllister and Private P McAllister of the Royal Irish Rifles were the first of quite a few of this name to be taken prisoner when they were captured on 10 December.  (Their fate is unclear, although most of the Macalisters captured during this war appear to have been released.) Over the course of the three-year war, nearly twenty Macalisters were wounded, five of them fatally: Trooper Angus Ian Macalister (Imperial Yeomanry), Private A McAllister (Liverpool Regiment), Private J McAllister (Royal Irish Rifles), Private W McAllister and Private J McCallister (both of the Cameronians, or Scottish Rifles). Additionally at least one, Corporal Arthur McAllister of the Imperial Yeomanry, died in an accident, at Standerton in September 1901. Less gloriously, Trooper H McAllister of Thorneycroft’s Mounted Infantry was discharged for misconduct on the 8th of December 1899.[6]

The second Anglo-Boer War ended on 31 May 1902 with the Treaty of Vereeniging.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013


[1]Hugh Williams & Frederick Charles Hicks, eds., Selected Official Documents of the South African Republic and Great Britain: A documentary perspective of the causes of the war in South Africa, 1900 (available on line at Project Gutenberg and the Anglo Boer War website), preface.  
[2] The Boer Wars; see Lawrence James, Rise and Fall of the British Empire (New York, 1994), pp. 263-5.
[4]The Transvaal‘, the Guardian, 13 October 1899
[5] War Service of Officers, 1905. In addition, W Macalister Hall, 4th regiment of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, and E J McAllister, Army Service Corps, were captains of their units.
[6]Most of this information is taken from the Anglo Boer War website, which is an excellent source of information about this conflict, and UK, Casualties of the Boer War, 1899-1902 at Ancestry.com.

This Week in Macalister History . . .

Major events in the history of the Macalisters take a bit of a break in October, so I thought it might be fun to take a look at what’s happening in the Macalister world at the start of October of this year. Macalisters in the arts and entertainment have certainly been busy. David McAllister, artistic director of the Australian Ballet, is hard at work preparing for the 10 October opening of Romeo and Juliet. The company celebrates its 50th anniversary on 2 November of this year, which has led to quite a bit of media attention. Back in the UK, Irish actress Amy McAllister (whose television work includes roles in Call the Midwife and Emmerdale) is currently appearing as Nellie, the female lead in The Man on Her Mind at Charing Cross Theatre in London’s West End. Performances are given six nights a week, with an additional matinee performance Saturdays. The play runs through 27 October. To the north, award-winning Scottish comedian Keir McAllister (whom the Edinburgh Evening News called “…a gifted comedian destined for much bigger things”) has been touring the west coast with his Walking in My Shoes tour. This week he appeared in Tyree, Fort William and the Isle of Mull.

Macalisters were also busy studying insects, of all things. Dr Erica McAlister, curator of entomology at the Natural History Museum in London, undertook the last Specimen Collecting Field Trip of the season. This is part of a research project she and others in her department have been doing for the Ministry of Defence at a ‘top secret military testing station called Porton Down’. Details of the excursion can be found in her blog. Meanwhile, in the US, mosquito control expert Janet McAllister of the Center for Disease Control has been kept quite busy working to contain this year’s deadly outbreak of the West Nile Virus.

Charitable undertakings by members of this clan were also celebrated this week. On Sunday, the Wellesley (Mass.) Mothers Forum celebrated its 21st birthday; this non-profit community organisation, now 600-members strong, was established in 1991 by Lisa Macalaster and Maureen Bousa. Also on Sunday, but across the ocean, Leona McAlister, her daughter Maria McAlister, and her sister Pauline Murty, all of the Isle of Bute, were featured in the Buteman for their participation in September’s Great Scottish Run (a half-marathon), by which they raised £2,676 for the Beatson Oncology Centre.[1] Taking a slightly different approach to helping others was Don McAlister in Cape Town (S. Africa), whose latest editorial beseeched his readers to pay building contractors fairly.

Other Macalisters have been occupied with violence prevention this week. On Monday Detective Sergeant Randy McAlister of the Cottage Grove (Minn.) Police Department was interviewed by the local television news after a recent workplace shooting in that state. McAlister is a pioneer in the emerging field of threat assessment, which attempts to predict and prevent such events. He and his colleague spoke about the ‘red flags’ that often precede these tragedies and how to recognise them in time. The next day, Fort Morgan (Colo.) mayor Terry McAlister signed a proclamation making October National Domestic Violence Awareness month in his town. Various activities and programmes have been planned “to work toward improving victim safety and holding perpetrators of domestic abuse accountable”. The town council will be working in conjunction with S.H.A.R.E., Inc., a nonprofit group that serves battered women and their children in northeast Colorado.

And finally, Macalisters were also busy in politics this week. Wayne McAllister, Controller of Naugatuck Borough in Connecticut, reported on Wednesday that the borough had finished its fiscal year with a surplus of about US$1 million. Perhaps he should be running the country. The following day the Scotsman named Colin McAllister as one of those chosen by Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond to serve as political advisers to the Scottish government. This follows the loss of two senior advisers who left to serve in the Scottish National Party and the Yes Scotland independence campaign. And on Friday, Sinn Féin councillor Noreen McAllister was also in the news, doing what she was elected to do: speaking for the people. Councillor McAllister is trying to get the Moyle District Council (N. Ireland) to make structural changes that will eliminate the flooding problem experienced by some of her constituents.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012


[1] This is probably cheating, as neither his accomplishment nor his media recognition took place in the past week, but 10-year-old James McAllister of Darlington (England) also ran for charity in September. He completed the 4km Junior Great North Run in 22 minutes, running to raise money for leukaemia and lymphoma research. Well done, James!