Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

A fabulous personal holster of Boer Scout extraordinaire Danie Theron that we discovered at an auction...

Sleuthing out the Proof: How we know what we have?

The Seller: Not a militaria dealer, but a low-key ebayer selling mostly ceramics, and modern house clearance items. Curious. No?

The Lot: Among the dozens of other items that he offered for sale not one was a militaria item, or remotely similar to this. Interesting!

Where it Turns Up: The holster showed up in an "out of the way" category, far from the best place for a "huckster" wanting to wring the most value out of an item. Especially a bogus item. How come?

The Way It's Promoted: It was not marketed as Danie Theron's holster, only as an "Antique Gun Holster. Boer War." There was no history, hype, or speculation of any kind to whet the appetite, or invite unwarranted leaps of logic. A plus!

The Condition: It's really poor, with breaks and cracks all over. Not really anything to attract the discriminating collector. Whoever used it certainly indulged in activities that badly wore it out. Good!


Pistol holster of Boer Commandant Danie Theron - 1899
Leather holster - Size - 17 x 33 cm
Found - Yorkshire, UK
Stamped,
J HAMILTON, SADDLER, GRAHAM'S TOWN.
Design after British Webley pattern.

Commandant Danie Theron's Holster - 1900

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Left and above
dressed and equipped as Danie Theron would have been, is Boer Commandant Hennie van Rensburg.

The Tag: A small, dirty, old tag, right was shown, but would hardly have meant something to the vast majority of surfers. If General Cronje didn't ring a bell with them, then certainly his "despatch rider" would arouse no interest at all. Hmmmmh!

But who would go to the trouble of even writing something like that - especially something bogus - on an item so worn and decrepit and of no use to anyone. For commercial value, why not write Buffalo Bill, or Custer, or something salable on the item? Why bother with a minor figure, attached to a forgotten general, in an unknown war. Very, very interesting!!

Stop Beating Poor Heart: Could it be, maybe, because, truth be told, it was exactly that person who had that holster - an unknown figure attached to a minor general.

It should all come together to make the alert collector's eyebrows furrow.

What if, perhaps it was not an unknown figure at all - originally - or a minor one, but perhaps, in its time, an important one, just a foreign name that was lost in time. Hey, something made someone glue those obscure names on to this ratty holster! Why not go on a history hunt?

For more on Commandant Hennie van Rensburg see:

http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Rhodes/1266/historical-TVK.htm


General Cronje's Despatch Rider:


General Cronje left was, of course, the Boer War General who held out for a week (Feb. 18 - 27, 1900) in his laager at the Battle of Paardeberg below, totally surrounded by a huge British Army, which was pulverizing his camp of 5,000 Boer men, women, and children, with high explosive lyddite shells. They were cut off from all hope of rescue.

Those who know the story from the Boer side certainly "know" the story of "General Cronje's Despatch Rider," even if most English-language people do not. Clearly the label had been verbally attached to this item decades before someone decided to add a written tag lest the "verbal tradition" be lost to the mists of time.

General Christiaan De Wet, probably the most successful Boer General right, rode in to Paardeberg with a relieving force, hoping to break out the entrapped Boers from their laager. But De Wet needed a scout who could sneak through the British lines in the dark, convince General Cronje to make a break-out, and return, once more through the British lines to communicate the General's decision to de Wet. (Below, the job site at Paardeberg, where thousands of British soldiers are surrounding a Boer encampment of wagons near the Modder River in the background.)

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Bacon Print, Dashing Advance of the Canadians at Paardeberg - 1900
Orig. chromolithograph - Size - 51 x 71 cm
Found - Montreal, PQ


Danie Theron:
The man picked for the job was Danie Theron, who was a lawyer from Krugersdorp. Even before the outbreak of the war he had formed a bicycle corps of Scouts believing that the effectiveness of horse mounted men was being undermined because modern bicycle technology was not being utilized properly.

He made a submission to Transvaal President Paul Kruger and General Joubert requesting the formation of a bicycle corps by pointing out that a horse needs rest and food, whereas a bicycle needs only a pump and oil.

To support his belief in the superiority of the bicycle he had planned a race between a bicycle and a horse from Pretoria to the Crocodile River a distance of 75 km.

The man he picked to ride the bicycle against the horse was cycling champion JP Koos Jooste.

Go to Commandant JP Jooste

Jooste on his bicycle won race and Danie was given Transvaal Government support for his bicycle corps.

During the early months of the war his bicycle scouts were active in Natal, around the Tugela and Ladysmith.

Danie Theron right, and left with his bicycle scouting gear.

 

 


Corroborative Provenance:
The holster's only marks are the stamp "JM HAMILTON, SADDLER, GRAHAM'S TOWN." It offers corroboration about time and place. The holster does not have a military stamp (not British issued or owned?) so it must be a private manufacture for a private user (perhaps a Boer?).

It offers interesting evidence that this holster was made by a private saddler in the part of the Southern Cape, just below Natal where Danie Theron started his scouting military career.

Danie Theron had also lived in the Western Cape. His former house where he lived from 1874-1884, is now a tourist lodge. It is therefore quite conceivable that he made a private purchase of the holster in Graham's Town, possibly even before the war.

Supporting Proof, Literally: The mystery holster is obviously closely patterned after a British issue Webley Mk4 below for most of its shape. There are important differences: The Webley, like most British military holsters, is fitted on the back only for wearing with a belt; the Theron holster below is too, but it has remnants of other accessory straps.

Two leather straps that have broken off, leaving diagonal remains beside the belt loop, are an innovation to allow someone to carry the holster with a strap around the shoulders, which is exactly how Danie Theron would have carried his pistol as shown in the Rensburg picture above.


The straps were also sewn in an attitude and a position that matches that shown in the photograph.

The bulges on the holster fit nicely with those on the holster right, and above.

The other strap remnant, left, which came around from the rear to loop over the front to latch on to the brass button to keep the flap over the pistol, can be seen above, just below van Rensburg's finger, where he has unsnapped it to flip open the holster. But it too is long gone, right.


On every side there is great wear in evidence, such as would be normal if it belonged to a scout who would spend a great deal of time crawling around on hills, and behind rocks to spy on British troop movements or encampments.

A Working Soldier: Clearly, unlike the vast majority of military holsters, which were carried only by officers and mostly for show, this holster shows all the signs that it was carried by a real working soldier who didn't mind getting down in the dirt with the common man to make sure the job was done right. Such a man was Boer Commandant Danie Theron.

 

WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE
On April 7, 1900 a newspaper article noted that Lord Roberts called Boer Commandant Danie Theron "the chief thorn in our side" and offered a reward of 1,000 pounds for his apprehension "dead or alive."

Danie Theron & General Cronje: Theron, first using a bicycle, and then crawling a good deal of the way in the dark (is the scraping over rocks and rough ground the reason the leather holster is so worn and abraded) managed the unthinkable and got through to Cronje, and tried to get him to agree to a break out. Then Theron repeated his feat, and returned to de Wet, using his enormous skills as a scout to crawl (the holster is really taking a beating) and thread his way through a cordon of thousands of British soldiers. Theron even conversed with British sentries on the way. He informed de Wet that Cronje refused to budge; the General said most of his horses were dead and he did not want to risk the lives of women and children to such a chance adventure.

General Cronje surrendered and spent the rest of the war in a POW camp in St. Helena. He had no more use for a despatch rider.

But Danie Theron continued on fighting for the Boer cause. He subsequently formed another scouting group which distinguished itself mightily in destroying railways etc. as the British Army advanced deeper into Boer country. On Sept. 4, 1900, while on a scouting expedition he was trapped on a hill near Fochville. The British brought in a 4.7" naval gun, and using lyddite high explosives, ended the life of Danie Theron. He was later found and buried beside his fiancee.

Perhaps here is where his holster turned up, souvenired by a British Tommy from a brave and gallant foe. Perhaps he brought it back to England and passed it down the generations as once having belonged to - you know - "General Cronje's despatch rider."

Afrikaner War Hero's Bones Stolen

REMAINS OF DANIE THERON REMOVED 

Eikenhof, Johannnesburg, 20 February 2003.  “Die Erfenisstigting” (Heritage Foundation) has learned with shock and revulsion that the remains of the master scout from the Anglo-Boer War, Danie Theron, have been unlawfully removed from his grave in Eikenhof, Johannesburg.

A contract worker for the new preservation body, Dr. Johann Bruwer visited the site several weeks earlier to assess the state of the grave as well as that of the cemetery where Theron’s fiancé and her sister are also buried. According to Bruwer the graves were, under the circumstances, in reasonably good condition (the cemetery is situated near the M27 road in a fairly unsafe area).

By chance, Dr. Bruwer visited the cemetery again on Monday, 17 February and found an empty grave. The gravestone had been removed, the disturbed soil with pick axes and spades still lying next to it. The next day most of the soil had been replaced in the hole and the tools removed.

“Die Erfenisstigting” (Heritage Foundation), that was founded in October 2002 as a non-profit Section 21 company, endeavours to affect the preservation of our cultural historical heritage. The foundation has already had discussions with the government concerning the appalling state of several places such as concentration camp cemeteries, Boer graves, monuments and historical buildings of special importance to Afrikaans speaking citizens. The possibility of moving the Danie Theron memorial in the interest of security and greater accessibility was recently discussed and interest groups such as the Rapportryers and the Verkenners had already been consulted in this regard. The desecration of the Theron grave is therefore not considered to be a case of pure vandalism and the transgression is being viewed in a very critical light.       

Danie Theron died at Gatsrand during a skirmish with British troops on 5 September 1900. He was buried there with three British troops. Afterwards, members of the Theron Reconnaissance Corps searched for his burial site and after opening the fourth grave, they found their respected leader. He was buried with full military honours in the family cemetery at Elandsfontein on 15 September 1900. However, it was always Theron’s desire to be buried with his fiancé and his remains were reburied next to his beloved Hannie Neethling on the family farm Eikenhof on 10 March 1903. A memorial was unveiled in 1907.

An investigation regarding the incident is being launched and anyone with information pertaining to the event is requested to contact the Chief Executive Officer of the “Erfenisstigting”, Gert Opperman, or the secretary, Ms Cecilia Kruger urgently at (012) 326 6770.

Desecration of Boer War Memorials in South Africa


The problem is immense as the current Government of South Africa is not interested in protecting or preserving anything to do with Afrikaner History in South Africa. It says it is time to promote Black History which has been neglected... So Afrikaner archives are being closed, Boer collections dispersed, and their monuments left to rack and ruin...

As a result, vandalism is rampant from pillagers who know they will not be pursued as they dig up graves and battlefields looking for items to sell to collectors of various kinds...

On our extensive trip to the battlefields of the Boer War, in 2000, we came across many monuments where the bronze rifles had been cut off, or had been desecrated in other ways.

The worst case we saw, was at the massive Bergendal Monument and Grave site, which is in a remote area. We discovered that massive granite slabs that covered the graves of the Boers had been pried up, and shoved aside to get at the bodies underneath - perhaps hoping to get bones for pagan rituals, or discover buttons or medals for resale...

We notified the authorities who were unaware, and came to do repairs...

On hearing of his death, General de Wet commented,

"Men as lovable or as valiant there might be, but where shall I find a man who combined so many virtues and good qualities in one person? Not only had he the heart of a lion but he also possessed consummate tact and the greatest energy... Danie Theron answered the highest demands that could be made on a warrior."

South Africa remembered its hero by naming their School of Military Intelligence after him.

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