E. Liebenberg

Emeritus Professor, Department of Geography and Environmental Studies University of South Africa, PRETORIA, 0003


The Boer War (also known as the South African War) was fought between the two Boer Republics (the South African Republic or Transvaal, and the Orange Free State) and the British Empire from October 1899 until May 1902. Politically the hostilities were exceptional as two small, impoverished Republics took on the formidable war machine of the largest empire in the world. Historically the Boer War proved to be a watershed in British military history as it brought an end to wars traditionally dominated by the infantry and introduced an era of guerilla warfare. Cartographically the War was equally important as it confirmed that no cartographic effort during a war can compensate for the lack of a well-planned topographical survey in peace time.


When the War broke out, the total absence of a trigonometrical framework in the two Boer Republics translated into a similar absence of reliable topographical maps. The Boers, being intimately acquainted with the terrain, had little or no use for maps and the Boer forces entered into the war without any significant official maps or cartographic material. The British forces, on the other hand, were in disparate need for accurate maps as they had to wage campaigns in a relatively unknown and virtually unmapped area five times the size of the United Kingdom and almost twice the size of France.


The quickest way this demand could be met was for British Intelligence to start compiling maps from diverse sources such as title diagrams filed in the Offices of the Surveyors-General, reports and reconnaissance sketches, plans supplied by local surveyors, information provided by topographical exercises such as boundary, mining and railway surveys, and the oral accounts of transport drivers and commercial travelers. The Field Intelligence Department immediately resorted to this method of mapmaking while waiting for proper survey and mapping units to be sent to South Africa. The result was a type of map currently referred to as a compilation map which differed intrinsically from maps based on data derived from the fieldwork of survey office staff.


Although compilation maps were considered utilitarian documents which were used for their content rather than their quality, they played an important role during the Anglo-Boer War. This paper deals with the most important series of compilation maps that were issued before and during the Anglo-Boer War, their characteristics and development, and the applications they were put to.