The diaries fall into two main categories, those that have been published and those that have not. This important difference is indicated in the Table of Resources to be found on this Site, which lists all known diaries giving their full bibliographic details. From the point of view of those interested in reading first-hand accounts of the Siege, the table also indicates, by reference to the publishing date, those titles that were published straight after the Siege and those that have only been discovered in more recent times.
There is hardly any aspect of life in the besieged town that is not documented. What follows is a brief analysis of the various forms of diary and an outline of some of the most significant.
The most important reference must be the two volumes of Mafeking Staff Diaries kept by Colonel Baden-Powell. Microfiche copies of these historic documents can be viewed by arrangement at the National Army Museum in Chelsea, London. They are copies of the hand-written originals and are of poor quality. Like all diaries, events are classified only by chronological order, so a reference to a name or an undated event requires the whole diary to be read. I have been fortunate enough to be able to do this, but at a cost of three whole days in front of a not very wonderful machine.
Some of the people besieged, such the newspaper war correspondents attracted to the town just prior to the Siege, like Angus Hamilton of The Times, J Emerson Neilly of the Pall Mall Gazette and Major F D Baillie of The Daily Graphic, realised right from the start that a diary kept during the Siege would become an historic document and was likely, because of their of literary connections, to be published.
Others diaries, such as those of Sol Plaatje and Frederick Saunders, lay dormant for many years until chance circumstances brought about their discovery and publication. Plaatje, who was a young Barolong Court Interpreter in Mafeking at the time, later becoming the first Secretary of the African National Congress, in fact typed diaries for several other people in Mafeking, whilst Saunders was a local lad and an ex Mafeking Cadet who was recruited into the Bechuanaland Rifles. The diary of Sol Plaatje in particular was a tremendous find, as it documents the only recorded perspective of the indigenous black population.
Some diaries which were known to have been kept have disappeared. That of Sir Alexander Godley for example, was lost shortly after it was written and has never been found, though there is an account of Godley's time in Mafeking through his biography, Life of an Irish Soldier, where he relates that he kept a diary. There are also other accounts to be found in Biographies such as that of Winston Churchill's Aunt, Lady Sarah Wilson. Baden Powell's Chief of Staff, Lord Edward Cecil, did not keep a diary as far as is known, which is not surprising as he is said to have detested the time he had to spend in Mafeking, but family members and others have documented his experiences in various autobiographies.
More than one 'diary' has been created from a series of letters discovered after the Siege, most notable being that of Ada Cock, whose book, Petticoat in Mafeking, is a very human account of the trials and tribulations of the wife of a private soldier. Sarah Gwynne married her Sergeant Major husband as a widow with three children. He brought them all to Mafeking prior to the Siege and her two boys became Mafeking Cadets. Her story is told in her published diary 'Lord of Hosts on our Side' and is full of accounts of the effect the Siege was having on families and, in particular, small children.
The work of Ina Cowen, sister of B W Cowen, a Captain in the Bechuanaland Rifles, contrasts greatly with those of Ada Cock and Sarah Gwynne as Ina, a volunteer nurse, was a well-to-do young lady at the heart of the Mafeking 'social scene' and knew and interacted with all the key players. Her diary, whilst not strictly taken from letters, was epistolatory in form, being addressed solely to her sister. Another female, but totally different perspective, again in the form of letters, comes from a Mother Theresa who was then a Nun in Mafeking's Convent.
Varying aspects of town life can be seen through the eyes of Town Guard Henry Martin and Auctioneer Edward Ross. Prominent citizens such as Robert Urry, the Manager of the Standard Bank in Mafeking, and Magistrate and Civil Commissioner Charles Bell left diaries, as did the doctor brothers William and Tom Hayes. Town Guard fort commanders are represented by Samuel Cawood and George Tighe, though the latter account was written after the Siege. Of these the accounts of Ross, the Hayes brothers, Cawood and Tighe have been published, though they are all now out of print. In fact, there is not a single contemporary account of the Siege of Mafeking still in print, though diligent searching on Web Sites such as Abebooks.com could result in some success.
The voice of the ordinary member of the military can be found in the diary of the previously-mentioned Frederick Saunders of the Bechuanaland Rifles, and Mafeking's other troop, the Protectorate Regiment, is represented by William Fuller and Rupert Hosking. To this list of specialist diaries can be added that of George Waine, whose insight was gained as the driver of one of Mafeking's armoured trains.
Unfortunately, there is dearth of diary material published in English from the Boers who were besieging the town. There is only one account in English from a doctor, Abraham Staflau, and another two in Afrikaans which, unfortunately, I cannot read. They are, however, recorded in the Table of Resources.
The Primacy of Diary Evidence
The importance of the diaries as primary research material cannot be overstated and, in addition, they are fascinating! As well as providing the historian's dream of a triangulation of evidence, they each have their own unique perspective, dependant on the role and the status of the diarist. The writers often knew each other well and they are at their most interesting when they confide to their diaries their 'confidential' opinions about each other! Most of the major histories (see Books about the Siege
) have been written by authors who appear to have read very few of the diaries and then not the whole of any one, or they seem to skew impressions by 'cherry picking' limited quotations, which denigrates Baden-Powell's achievement by getting 'the voice' of one of the besieged to offer criticism. Such criticisms do exist, usually written after some personal or major catastrophe in the town. I have yet, however, to encounter a diarist who is not fulsome in his praise and regard for the 'Colonel Commanding'.