The Science of Rebellion

(notes edited by John Radcliffe)



This article (listed in ORG as ‘Uncollected No 237’ and annotated at p. 2564) was written for the Imperial South African Association, and published by them in London in February 1901, over Kipling’s name. It appeared in the New York Tribune on 4th August, 1901. It is collected in the Sussex Edition Vol. 30, and the Burwash Edition. Kipling also wrote an allied article, (‘Uncollected No 230’) entitled “The Sin of Witchcraft”, or “The Exposure of the Cape Population”, which was not included in the Sussex Edition.

The article

Written during the last phase of the Second South African War, this is a diatribe against the disloyalty of Boer sympathisers in Cape Colony as the fighting continues, and the tendency of Liberal politicians in London, who are against the war, to make use of the political differences in the Cape for their own—in Kipling’s view unworthy—political ends.

It describes the Bond, the Afrikaner political party of Cape Colony, covertly supporting the Boer commandos still fighting in the north, mustering help for them among the Boer farmers, treating dishonestly with government ministers in the Colony, conspiring with Liberal politicians in England, and preparing themselves to come out on top whatever the outcome of the war might be. Many of the British in the Cape had well-established friendly relations with their Afrikaner neighbours, despite the war. Kipling, with his absolutist view of the need for total support for the war effort, backed up if necessary by martial law, found this offensive.

The article ends with a savage metaphor which likens the condition of Cape politics to houses stricken by the plague, spread by rats.


Interestingly, Kipling clearly also believed the Boer commandos were equally dissatisfied with the prevarications of Afrikaners in Cape Colony. In “The Captive” published in 1902 (see Traffics and Discoveries p. 31) he has Van Zyl, a captured Boer commando leader, rejecting friendly overtures from Afrikaner ministers on a station platform in Capetown:

Van Zyl talked to ’em in Dutch, and one man, a big red-bearded minister, at Beaufort West, I remember, he jest wilted on the platform.

“Keep your prayers for yourself,” says Van Zyl, throwing back a bunch of grapes. You’ll need ’em, and you’ll need the fruit too, when the war comes down here. You done it,” he says. You and your picayune Church that’s deader than
Cronje’s dead horses! What sort of a God have you been unloading on us, you black aasvogels ? The British came, and we beat ’em,” he says, ” and
you sat still and prayed. The British beat us, and you sat still,” he says. ” You told us to hang on, and we hung on, and our farms was burned, and
you sat still——you and your God. “

Kipling had always found hypocrisy on the part of ministers of religion particularly objectionable.

When “The Science of Rebellion” was written Britain and the Boer republics, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, had been at war for some sixteen months. Ostensibly the cause was the desire of the British to protect the interests of British subjects in the Transvaal, the ‘Uitlanders’, who had been denied the franchise by the Transvaal Government. In fact the issue was more crude, the determination of the British to assert their hegemony in Southern Africa over the Boer Republics.

The Boers wanted to be left alone to run their republics in their own way. Their leader, Paul Kruger, had negotiated in good faith and offered concessions to the Uitlanders. But Alfred Milner, the British High Commissioner, who was determined on a war of domination, and who despised the Boers and their leaders, made compromise impossible, and persuaded the Government in London that war was necessary and desirable. Despite doubts within the Cabinet, and the hostility of the Liberal opposition, war had broken out in October 1899.

It is not easy, at over a hundred years’ distance, to appreciate the strength of the British sense of their right to rule, and to extend their Empire. Cecil Rhodes, the millionaire businessman who was one of the most powerful figures in Southern Africa, and had been Prime Minister of Cape Colony for five years in the early 1890s, had expressed the view (quoted by David Gilmour at p.136) when a young man of twenty-four, that Britain’s duty was to:

‘…seize every opportunity of acquiring more territory ‘ because ‘we are the finest race in the world, and … the more of the world we inhabit, the better it is for the human race’.

Kipling, who greatly admired Rhodes, would probably have endorsed this statement, though not – perhaps — in such crude terms. It was not a view that commended itself to the Afrikaners, who were a tough pioneer people, ready to fight for their independence.

However, by the time the article was written, early in 1901, the tide of the war had turned against the Boers. The British armies, commanded by Roberts, had eliminated resistance in Natal, and occupied the key centres in the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. But de Wet’s Boer commandos were still active, and with the active or passive support of the Afrikaners in the countryside, were waging an effective guerilla war against the British, and raiding down from the Transvaal into Cape Colony. For the British it was an expensive, draining campaign, costing lives and money, with little early prospect of complete victory. This was the background against which Kipling wrote his furious article.
Andrew Lycett (p. 337) writes of Kipling, back in England in May 1901:

Narrowly, he had identified Britain’s Liberal party as the villain of the piece (and the peace). He had already given an indication of his thinking in `The Science of Rebellion’, a pamphlet written for the Imperial South African Association in February, shortly after Queen Victoria’s death. There he attacked those elements in the Liberal party who, contrary to the wishes of the generals, were prepared for the stalemated guerrilla war to continue, because this would lead to an increase in domestic income tax, turning the British public more decisively against the war, and so giving succour and political voice to the Bond (the Cape Boers), who would impede the sort of Anglo-Saxon-dominated peace that Rudyard, Rhodes and their friends had in mind.

Peace finally came in May 1902. The Boer armies surrendered, handed in their arms, and accepted—bitterly—the status of British colonies. Milner, effectively now the governor of South Africa, set about rebuilding the country. But in 1906 the Liberals came to power in Britain, and in less than a year gave the Transvaal democratically elected self government under the formal authority of the British Crown. The following year the Orange River Colony also receivd a constitution and self-government. Within five years of the Peace Treaty the Boers of the two Republics had succeeded in practice in securing their independence.

Kipling was ambivalent about the outcome of the war. In “The Lesson”, also written in February 1901, he expatiated on the role of the war in forcing the British to understand the military realities of the modern world. But in “Piet”, also probably written in 1901, he expressed an unexpected generosity to the Boers, a sentiment entirely absent from “The Science of Rebellion”.

Notes on the Text

Queen Victoria The Queen died in January 1901, having reigned since June 1837. Her death, at the outset of tthe new century, was an epoch-making event which echoed around the world, the end of an era.

Ladysmith A strategically important town in Natal, relieved by the British in February 1900 after a siege ny the Boer armies. The relief of Ladysmith, after many British reverses, was greeted with much rejoicing in England.

the Orange River Colony This had been ‘The Orange Free State’, and was renamed thus by the British.

Pretoria and Bloemfontein The capitals of the two northern Boer republics. Pretoria was the capital of the
Transvaal and Bloemfontein of the Orange Free State.

the Bond The Afrikaner political party in Cape Colony at the time of the Second South African War.

Majuba The Battle of Majuba Hill on 27 February 1881 during the first South African War was a resounding victory for the Boers over the British, long remembered by both sides.

Piquetberg Road A town about 60 miles north of Cape Town.

Dutch Reformed Church The Calvinist church of the Afrikaner people, the embodiment of their strongly religious tradition.
Three hundred years before, that same church had stiffened the resistance of the Dutch to the imperial ambitions of the Spanish in the Netherlands.

as it was after the Mutiny The sepoy rebellion of 1857 in India, in which many British women and children were slaughtered, was crushed by the British after much bloodshed. In the aftermath a number of deliberately humiliating requirements for Indians were enforced.

Colonials Soldiers from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other parts of what later became the British Commonwealth. Kipling saw them, with approval, as having a more clear-sighted and ruthless view of the imperatives of the war than the British themselves. (See “A Sahibs War” in Traffics and Discoveries)

De Wet One of the most famous of the Boer generals.

sjambok a fearsome whip made of dried hide. See “The Comprehension of Private Copper” (Traffics and Discoveries p. 165 line 2).

Chosen People The Jews of the Old Testament, who in their tradition had been chosen by God. (see I Kings 3,8). Here Kipling may be referring to the wars of the Jews against the Roman Empire in ancient times.

Jagersfontein About 60 miles south-west of Bloemfontein.

Johannesburg The main industrial centre of the Transvaal, the source of much wealth, and the base of many uitlanders in search of that wealth.

Namaqua copper mines Namaqualand is in the Western Cape. The development of mining and industry in South Africa was largely in British hands; the Boers were a farming people.

Smijtt … Van Djones … Robinschoen People with Dutch names masquerading as friends of the British. We are not aware of whether Kipling had any particular individuals in mind; if so these would probably have been familiar to readers in Cape Colony, though not in England or North America where the pamphlet was published.

One needs to be aware, reading this passage, of Kipling’s underlying contempt for the shifts and compromises of democratic politicians making alliances and seeking votes, particularly those of a liberal persuasion. (See “The Flag of their Country” (Stalky & Co.) and “Little Foxes” (Actions and Reactions).

now in Ceylon Ceylon, then a British colony, now the independent state of Sri Lanka, was one of the places to which Boer prisoners were sent. Others included India, Bermuda, and the island of St Helena, deep in the Atlantic.

coffee on the stoep The stoep is the verandah around a Dutch colonial house. A pleasant place to sit.

Brown An invented name for a hard-pressed minister in the Government of Cape Colony, finding it difficult to keep his balance amidst the cross-currents of the war.

Wynberg South-east of Cape Town, almost a suburb.

Downing Street The Btitish Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer live at numbers 10 and 11 in this street, which is off Whitehall in central London.

Wallace This may refer to Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), notable British naturalist, explorer, geographer, anthropologist and biologist, who independently proposed a theory of natural selection which prompted Charles Darwin to publish his own theory. Kipling is writing here of the process of developing the land, and its wealth, and the need for the survival of the fittest.

Aliwal North A railway centre in the Cape Province.

Prieska North-west of de Aar.

Calvinia 200 miles north-north-east of Cape Town. Named after John Calvin (1509-1564) one of the miost influential figures in the Protestant Refomation of the sixteeth century which broke the authority of the Catholic Church over all Christians in Europe. The Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa was Calvinist.

S’welp ‘im The full phrase is “s’welp me gord” (i.e. ‘so help me God’) from the oath usually taken in English Courts of Law.

his red-water and his lung sickness Dr Gillian Sheehan writes: Redwater Fever is a debilitating tick-borne disease of cattle, now rare. There is a vaccine nowadays, though probably not in Kipling’s day.
Lung sickness was imported into Cape Colony by a bull from Holland in 1854. It is highly infectious for cattle, with a high death rate. It has been eradicated in S Africa since 1924. [G.S.]

Karroo A semi-arid veldt region of southwest South Africa.

Plains The Great Plains of North America.

their kopjes are mesas mesas are flat-topped little hills, common in the south-west of America, unlike kopjes, the rocky, often jagged outcrops of the African plains.

Pennsylvania Dutch The Dutch and German people who settled in Pennsyslvania in the eastern United States in the eighteenth century. The North American is arguing, after eleven months in the country, that there is no essential difference between his continent and South Africa.

Mahsud Waziri A man of a fighting tribe on the North-West Frontier of British India, hardly to be expected to socialise with establishment figures in Peshawar.

Peshawar The great city in the North West Frontier Province of British India, near the Khyber Pass. Memberhip of the Club would have been confined to the Anglo-Indian elite, largely administrators and soldiers.

jehad holy war against non-Muslim infidels.


[J. R.]

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