“Majuba Hill”


The singer sighs for "my militia man That sleeps on Majuba Hill" She met her man on Clifton Street on Sunday night and "I let him have his will" He sailed away. She heard a Banshee cry and dog moan one November night and at dawn had news he was dead.


Hammond-Belfast: The song "recalls the garrison town of Belfast in Victorian times when streets like Clifton Street were thronged with soldiers and female admirers on a Sunday night." - BS

The opening conflict of the (first) Boer War came on December 20, 1880, at Bronkhorstspruit, when "264 officers of the 94th Regiment (Connaught Rangers), marching from Lydenburg to Pretoria, were halted on the march by a Boer commando and ordered to turn back. The lieutenant-colonel in command was given two minutes to reply to the demand. He refused to surrender and was killed by the Boers' opening shots." Most of the other British soldiers were killed as well. (See Byron Farwell, _Queen Victoria's Little Wars_, pp. 244-245).

The British commander on the scene, Sir George Pomeroy Colley, wanted both revenge and glory. He found neither. He suffered a nasty and unneccessary defeat at Laing's Nek (Farwell, p. 246),then for some reason decided that the Commander in Chief needed to escort a mail wagon; he took with him only six companies. He suffered heavily in a running battle, and then found himself confronted by an entrenched Boer position. At least he had the sense not to attack that; instead, he headed for high ground; his force by this time, according to Farwell, consisted of 490 soldiers and 64 sailors.

Colley's forces reached the position at night, but -- despite the entreaties of his subordinates -- did not order his men to entrench.

On February 26, 1881, at Majuba Hill (properly Amajuba Hill, the Hill of Doves), The British forces were routed and Colley himself killed (see Fred R. van Hartsveldt, _The Boer War_, Sutton, 2000, p. 4). Van Hartesveld, p. 5, adds that the British took no heavy weapons up the hill, and perhap were exhausted, and the slope of the hill was such that it was hard to defend with small arms.

The Boers lost one (Farwell, p. 250) or two men killed (see Thomas Pakenham, _The Boer War_, Random House, 1979, p. xxix), and perhaps five wounded. British loses were 93 killed, 133 wounded, 58 taken prisoner.

A more conservative government might have kept up the fight; losses were still relatively slight. But the liberal goverment of Gladstone was not imperialist; it gave the Boers something analogous to Home Rule: Internal self-direction as long as they accepted nominal British authority and did not insist on an independent foreign policy (van Hartesveldt, p. 5).

Majuba Day would become something of a holiday to the Boers -- at least until Boers under Cronje surrendered on that day in the second Boer War (see Eversly Belfield, _The Boer War_, Leo Cooper, 1993, p. 88).

"If one were forced to say, as in a school examination paper, at what exact moment in history the mighty British Empire began to crumble, it would perhaps not be far wrong to point to that Sunday afternoon in February 1881 when British soldiers, fleeing from Boer farm boys, ran down the steep slopes of Majuba Hill" (Farwell, p. 252). - RBW

Historical references

  • Feb 26, 1881 - Boers defeat the British at Majuba Hill ("By the second Boer War the battle cry was 'Remember Majuba!'""). (source: "The Battle of Majuba Hill -The First Boer War 1881" at Books on Hector MacDonald site)


  1. Hammond-Belfast, pp. 38-39, "Majuba Hill" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. BI, Hamm038


Author: Hugh Quinn (1884-1956) (source: Hammond-Belfast)
Earliest date: 1952 (_Rann Magazine_ Summer 1952, according Roud)
Found in: Ireland