According to an autograph inscription on the verso of this sketch, Villiers illustrated a colloquial luncheon offered to Piet Cronje, the Boers commander, and his wife: “Cronje the Boer Commander (and wife) entertained to a champagne luncheon by the General in Command at Modder River at the Hotel Royal before leaving by train for Cape Town”. The episode being placed in the aftermath of Cronje’s surrender, the “guests” are heavily guarded by British artillerymen.
The inscription nevertheless raises more questions than it answers. Did the artist use his imagination, ultimately giving a distorted account of the British treatment to their Boer prisoners? Without going over all the arguments, it seems so.
It is unlikely that the Boer commander would have been offered such courtesy following a very costly victory to the British camp. The Battle of Modder River (28 November 1899) was won at great losses and Cronje did not surrender until 27 February 1900, when Lord Roberts’ formation forced him to do so at Paardeberg Drift. Also, Hotel Royal, was situated in Springfontein, a considerable distance from Modder River.
However, two elements can be authenticated: Cronje did bring his wife, Hester, at the front, and they did leave from Cape Town into their exile to St Helen Island, after the Boer defeat at Paardeberg.
DATE: ca. 1899-1900
DONATED BY: 3rd BATTALION, THE ROYAL CANADIAN REGIMENT
OBJECT ID: RCRM1983.006.0001b