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An Ambush, Boer War, 1900 (c)

Oil on wood panel by William Barns Wollen (1857-1936), 1900 (c).

As a 'special' artist with 'The Sphere', Wollen went to South Africa to cover the Boer War (1899-1902) at the end of 1899 in preparation for the magazine's first issue, which was published in January 1900. He was one of a group of pressmen catering to an insatiable public demand for news about the conflict who travelled out aboard the 'Dunottar Castle', with General Buller and his Staff.

Wollen reported on the events at the Modder River, Magersfontein, Paardeberg and Lord Roberts's entry into Bloemfontien on 13 March 1900. During a prolonged stay in the town, Wollen and Melton Prior, the 'special' artist for 'The Illustrated London News', entertained the troops at a charity concert in aid of widows and orphans by rapidly sketching cartoons, which were then auctioned. When Roberts' army continued its march, Wollen accompanied it through Kroonstad, to Johannesburg and Pretoria.

In August 1900 Wollen returned to London, where he continued to paint scenes of South Africa from memory. This canvas is thought to be one such study. It depicts a burgher being shot by two British infantrymen concealed behind rocks - an example of Boer tactics being used against them.

The Boers preferred ambush to other methods of combat as it minimised casualties. They disliked hand-to-hand fighting, and their traditional method of attack was to lie in wait among the rocks on a kopje (hill), behind which their horses would be held ready. Noted marksmen, they also liked to fight on ground which had previously been studied and marked out for distance.

NAM Accession Number

NAM. 1967-05-88-1


National Army Museum, Out of Copyright


National Army Museum, Global Role gallery

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