Topic: BatzB - Belmont
South Africa, 23 November 1899
Belmont, a railway station in Cape Colony close to the western border of the Orange Free State, was the scene of an action fought on 23 November 1899 (in the opening stages of the Second South African or Boer War) between British troops under Lieut.-General Lord Methuen and a Boer force attempting to frustrate efforts to relieve the besieged diamond-producing town of Kimberley, 90 kilometres to the north. When Methuen marched out from the Orange River on 21 November, he had about 8,500 men and sixteen guns. Mounted patrols informed him that some 2,000 Boers were entrenched 30 kilometres ahead, atop a range of kopjes (small hills) dominating Belmont station from the east.
In response to this information, the next day Methuen marched his infantry to a farm situated about three kilometres to the south of the station and west of' the railway line. From here, he began reconnoitring the enemy position in preparation for an attack to sweep aside this blocking force. Among the mounted troops engaged in this effort was a small group of 29 members of the New South Wales Lancer Regiment under Lieut. S.F. Osborne, part of an advance element of 72 men on this unit which had arrived at Cape Town on 2 November. The remainder of the New South Wales contingent had been sent to sense with forces in the Colesberg area under Major-General john Drench, but Osborne's troop had been attached to tile 9th Lancers - which comprised the main element of, Methuen's limited force of cavalry - and while carrying out patrols became tile first Australian troop to come under fire during the Boer War.
Based on the information available to him Methuen decided to attack on 23 November and began moving his troops across the Great Karoo plain towards the enemy positions at 2 a.m., in preparation for an assault at first light. The ground held by the Boers was inherently strong for defence, comprising a succession of rocky ridges rising from 30 to 75 metres above the level of the surrounding plain. About 2,000 Boers were waiting in well-placed stone breastworks on each crest, supported by five guns. At about 4 a.m. the advancing British troops came under heavy fire and the fighting soon extended across an area of thirteen square kilometres.
The engagement ended with the Boers breaking off at about 7.30 a.m. and making an orderly retreat across the open veldt. About 70 were left behind as prisoners, 24 of whom were wounded; other Boer casualties were unknown, but reckoned at about 100 killed. Methuen was unable to disrupt the enemy withdrawal, both because the 900 cavalry and mounted infantry which he had was insufficient to mount a pursuit and also because the horses of his mounted units were too exhausted from their work prior to the battle. For this victory, his force had suffered 295 casualties (75 of whom were killed) the worst loss occurring among the Grenadier Guards, which lost 22 killed and 114 wounded; among the dead was Private Henry Schultze, a native of St Arnaud, Victoria, who had enlisted in this regular British regiment.
THE BATTLE OF BELMONT, 23rd November 1899—BAYONET ATTACK BY THE SCOTS AND GRENADIER GUARDS.
Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, pp. 57-58.
Additional References cited by Chris Coulthard-Clark:
W. Baring Pemberton (1964) Battles of the Boer War, London.
B.T. Batsford; and, R. L. Wallace (1976) The Australians at the Boer War. Canberra: Australian War Memorial & Australian Government Publishing Service.
The Fighting 28
Citation: Belmont, South Africa, November 23, 1899