Boer is the Dutch and Afrikaans word for “farmer”. In South Africa it was used to denote the descendants of the Dutch-speaking settlers of the eastern Cape frontier in South Africa during the 18th century.
For a long time the Dutch East India Company controlled this area, but it was eventually taken over by the United Kingdom and incorporated into the British Empire.
The term was also applied to those who left the Cape Colony during the 19th century to settle in the Orange Free State, Transvaal (which are together known as the Boer Republics), and to a lesser extent Natal.
They left the Cape primarily to escape British rule and get away from the constant border wars between the British imperial government and the indigenous peoples on the eastern frontier.
These men and women were hardy and were used to an often hard life on the veldt. They proved a formidable enemy.
This groups of victorious Boers are pictured in front of Spion Kop which was contested at great cost to both sides.
The British dislodged the Boer picquet holding the high ground but, as dawn broke, they discovered that they held only the smaller and lower part of the hilltop, while the Boers occupied higher ground on three sides of the British position.
The British, having no previous knowledge of the lay of the land, became mired in a battle of attrition, finally deciding to withdraw due to a lack of supplies and ammunition and the high and rising casualty numbers.
Spion Kop was just one of a number of early setbacks suffered by the British, in part due to a lack of intelligence about their foes and of having a poor, or non-existent, understanding of the ground over which they were fighting.