Roley Schikkerling (1879-1944) and the Anglo-Boer Wars

When our relatives arrived in Potchefstroom, the Boer trekkers were feeling confident. Punitive wars against the African tribes were ongoing but the Afrikaners thought that here in their new Republic they had won for themselves the freedom they craved. Their anthem (Transvaalse Volkslied) proclaimed:

Komt burgers! laat de vlaggen wapp’ren
Ons lijden is voorbij
Roemt in de zege onzer dapp’ren
Dat vrije volk zijn wij!

Their celebration was premature. In 1868 diamonds were discovered near Kimberley. The British government had shrugged off the departure of the Boer trekkers but losing a rich diamond field was too much; they annexed the Transvaal in 1877. The Boers were bitterly resentful. According to Bulpin in The Golden Republic, the first outbreak of violence in 1880 was in Potchefstroom: “not only Potchefstroom but the whole commercial life in the Transvaal came to a standstill and collapsed.” [1]

The extended Daly family was immediately confronted by choices. They were mostly traders, with split loyalties, fluent in English and Dutch. According to Roland Schikkerling in Commando Courageous, the 213 English troops who first arrived in Potchefstroom were greeted with a round of parties at the house of Chevalier OWA Forssman. The English soldiers retreated into a makeshift fort, the Boers laid siege and the battle for Potchefstroom was on.

Forssman and his family took what was expected to be temporary shelter in the fort but it became a three month siege under dire conditions. The women were said to have only the clothes they were wearing. Here family solidarity came to the fore. Family legend has it that Catharina Daly, the niece of Amalie Forssman, packed a bag of clothes for her aunt and cousins. Walking behind a little servant boy carrying a stick with a white flag, she crossed the battlefield and delivered the clothes to the fort. The imprisoned family, and the troops, fared badly. Oscar and Amalie’s pregnant daughter died as did their young son and another daughter was shot in the neck. After three months the troops surrendered and left Potchefstroom under a flag of truce, the Forssman family went with them. They settled in Zeerust and Forssman died there in 1889.

The war was won but the economy had collapsed. Ramsay Daly was besieged with debt eventually going bankrupt. In an 1893 court case[2] CGC Rocher (Catharina’s brother) was accused of illegally obtaining the contents of the Daly shop over other creditors. The judges ruled on a majority vote that Ramsay Daly did not contemplate insolvency at the time when his stock was sold to Rocher and the transfer was legal. But the court case dug up mud which stuck. In this branch of the Daly family, the Rocher family was never mentioned again, surviving only in the name of Ramsay and Catherina’s son, Jean Pierre Francois Rocher Daly, earlier named after her father.

Ramsay Daly and family moved to Johannesburg which was then developing as a centre for the emerging gold mining industry. Other members of the family followed. Their son, Dr Ramsay Daly returned there after studying medicine in England. The Schikkerling family of his sister Barbara Magdalena Benjamina Daly had been there since 1881. Alexander (Alec) Daly made his way here to practise as an attorney, notary and conveyancer. He was a sworn translator in Afrikaans, Dutch and French.

The gold on the Witwatersrand ran far and deep, lead to a gold rush and further political conflict over the control of these rich deposits. The Second Anglo-Boer War started in 1899. Aged 19, Roley Schikkerling immediately enrolled in the Boer forces. He and his friends, together with servants and baggage, caught trains to the early battlefields in Natal.

Boer picket in Spion Kop, near Ladysmith. Photo by Van Hoepen, via Getty Images. Found on Guardian.

After early Boer successes, Lords Roberts and Kitchener brought in vast additional troops: the British army went on the offensive, captured Johannesburg and started to march on Pretoria.

Map from Geoff Micks (Original source not known.)

Roley fled North to join the guerrilla campaign. On the first night after leaving Pretoria he shared a blanket with Sidney Rocher and Alec Daly. The next morning he noted that their “helpless companion”, Alec, had saddled the wrong horse – clearly he was not made for guerrilla warfare. We do not know how Alec survived but Roley was in his element.

The guerrillas were, Roley argued, inspired by the instinct of human freedom. Over the next two years he joined bands of Boer fighters swelled in number by Irish and Scots fighters, Germans and Hollanders. He appreciated these volunteers and always called the invaders “the English” as they alone were the enemy.

Precious to Roley were his horses, his Dutch bible and his memory of Shakespearean plays and the Greek classics. It was cutthroat combat with people slaughtered on both sides. His trousers were eventually so patched with hide that there was hardly any cloth left and his shoes were bound up in loose pieces of leather. Their only relief was when they captured encampments of the English army, or blew up a train, and looted stocks of ammunition, food and clothing. At first women on isolated farms fed them but the English destroyed these farms, burnt down the houses and sent Boer women and children to concentration camps where thousands died. Black African camps were even worse. (These facts still unbeknownst to Roley).

When the war ended Roley returned to Johannesburg, knocked on the door of their house in Johannesburg and his sister opened the door. In the years following the war Roley became a penfriend of Mary Morrison Webster. In 1920 she and her family came to South Africa from England so that they could marry. The marriage did not last. Later she lamented:

I was a stranger in your midst, hardly, even though I tried,
understanding your tongue.
Not of your tribe assuredly, Oh not of your kind indeed![3]

With poems like these she became a famous South African writer and poet. She edited and published Commando Courageous, Roley’s Boer War diary, in 1964 after his death.[4] The book still receives attention as an insightful account of the guerrilla war.

[1] Bulpin, TV. 1953. The Golden Republic: the story of the South African Republic from its foundation until 1883.Timmins. pp 189-90.

[2] Name: Rocher, C Case Name: The Trustees In The Insolvent Estate of Daly v C. Rocher Case Citation: 1893 TS 89 Case Source: SA Law Reports 1828 to 1946 Collection Name: SA Law Reports Index

[3] Quoted in Lockett, C.1993, STRANGER IN YOUR MIDST: A Study of South African Women’s Poetry in English. PhD thesis.

[4] RW Schikkerling, 1964, Commando Courageous (a Boer’s diary), Johannesburg, Hugh Keartland.