The First Boer War (Dutch: Eerste Boerenoorlog, literally 'First Farmer's War') (Afrikaans: Eerste Vryheidsoorlog, literally 'First Freedom War') also known as the First Anglo-Boer War or the Transvaal War, was fought from 16 December 1880 until 23 March 1881
1877 annexationThe southern part of the African continent was dominated in the 19th century by a set of epic struggles to create within it a single unified state. British expansion into southern Africa was fueled by three prime factors: first, the desire to control the trade routes to India that passed around the Cape; second, the discovery in 1868 of huge mineral deposits of diamonds around Kimberley on the joint borders of the South African Republic (called the Transvaal by the British), Orange Free State and the Cape Colony, and thereafter in 1886 in the Transvaal of a major wealth and power; and thirdly the race against other European colonial powers, as part of a general colonial expansion in Africa. Other potential colonisers included Portugal, who already controlled West (modern day Angola) and East Africa (modern day Mozambique), Germany (modern day Namibia), and further north, Belgium (modern day Democratic Republic of the Congo) and France (West and Equatorial Africa, and Madagascar).
The British attempts in 1880 to annex the Transvaal were their biggest incursions into southern Africa, but there were others. In 1868, the British annexed Basutoland in the Drakensberg Mountains (modern Lesotho, surrounded by the Orange Free State and Natal) following an appeal from Moshesh, the leader of a mixed group of African refugees from the Zulu wars, who sought British protection against both the Boers and the Zulus. In the 1880s, Bechuanaland (modern Botswana, located north of the Orange River) became an object of dispute between the Germans to the west, the Boers to the east, and the British in the Cape Colony to the south. Although Bechuanaland had almost no economic value, the "Missionaries Road" passed through it toward territory farther north. After the Germans annexed Damaraland and Namaqualand (modern Namibia) in 1884, the British annexed Bechuanaland in 1885.
After the Battle of Blaauwberg Britain had acquired the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa from the Dutch in 1815 during the Napoleonic Wars. Certain groups of Dutch-speaking settler farmers ("Boers") resented British rule, even though British control brought some economic benefits. There were successive waves of migrations of Boer farmers (known as Trekboers which literally means "moving farmers"), first east along the coast away from the Cape toward Natal, and thereafter north toward the interior, eventually establishing the republics that came to be known as the Orange Free State and the Transvaal (literally "across/beyond the Vaal River).
The British did not try to stop Trekboers from moving away from the Cape. The Trekboers served as pioneers, opening up the interior for those who followed, and the British gradually extended their control away from the Cape along the coast toward the east, eventually annexing Natal in 1845.
The Trekboers were farmers gradually extending their range and territory with no agenda. The formal abolition of slavery in the British Empire in 1834 led to more organised groups of Boer settlers attempting to escape British rule, some travelling as far as modern-day Mozambique.
Indeed, the British subsequently ratified the two new Republics in a pair of treaties: the Sand River Convention of 1852 which recognised the independence of the Transvaal Republic, and the Bloemfontein Convention of 1854 which recognised the independence of the Orange Free State. However, British colonial expansion was, from the 1830s, marked by skirmishes and wars against both Boers and native African tribes for most of the remainder of the century.
The discovery of diamonds in 1867 near the Vaal River, some 550 miles (890 km) northeast of Cape Town, ended the isolation of the Boers in the interior and changed South African history. The discovery triggered a "diamond rush" that attracted people from all over the world, turning Kimberley into a town of 50,000 within five years and drawing the attention of British imperial interests. In the 1870s, the British annexed West Griqualand, site of the Kimberley diamond discoveries.
In 1875 Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli's Colonial Secretary, Lord Carnarvon, in an attempt to extend British influence, approached the Orange Free State and the Transvaal Republic and tried to organise a federation of the British and Boer territories to be modelled after the 1867 federation of French and English provinces of Canada, however the Boer leaders turned him down. The successive British annexations, and in particular the annexation of West Griqualand, caused a climate of simmering unease for the Boer republics.