LONDON TO LADYSMITH VIA PRETORIA
(Woods A4) (Cohen A4)
Ever in search of adventure, in 1899 Churchill attached himself to the 21st Lancers and followed the flag to South Africa. There, a rebellion against British authority had broken out among the Boer settlers of the Transvaal and Orange Free State, and a Boer Republic had been proclaimed.
Churchill secured an assignment as press correspondent to the Morning Post, but he had scarcely arrived before he was involved in a skirmish that landed him “in durance vile” as a prisoner of war in Pretoria, unable to talk his way out of prison as a reporter, and going nearly mad over the lack of action. True to his nature, he made a daring escape, traveling overland toward Lorenço Marques in Portuguese East Africa (now Maputo, Mozambique), hiding by day and moving by night. The true-life adventure story of his successful escapade dominates this book, one of the most gripping in the canon, making this one of his most popular books.
The escape story in Ladysmith should be read in tandem with Churchill’s later remarks on the subject in My Early Life. The latter work, published nearly thirty years later, allowed the author to reveal more about the methods and people involved in his escape. Until 1982, when a South African facsimile edition appeared, Ladysmith was hard to obtain at low prices. More recently, it was combined with Ian Hamilton’s March as a new title, The Boer War.
Modern writers who say Churchill was a racist should read his conversation with his Boer captors in London to Ladysmith. This was in 1899, when every Englishman alive supposedly believed in the utter supremacy of the white race, English branch.
“Is it right,” the guard asked Churchill, “that a dirty Kaffir [native] should walk on the pavement [sidewalk]—without a pass? That’s what they do in your British Colonies. Brother! Equal! Ugh! Free! Not a bit. We know how to treat Kaffirs….They were put here by the God Almighty to work for us. We’ll stand no damned nonsense from them. We’ll keep them in their proper places’”
After recording his guard’s opinions Churchill states his own: “What is the true and original root of Dutch aversion to British rule? It is the abiding fear and hatred of the movement that seeks to place the native on a level with the white man. British government is associated in the Boer farmer’s mind with violent social revolution…the Kaffir is to be declared the brother of the European, to be constituted his legal equal, to be armed with political rights…nor is a tigress robbed of her cubs more furious than is the Boer at this prospect.” After the statements of his captor, Churchill concludes, “[he and I had] no more agreement…Probing at random I had touched a very sensitive nerve.”
It is undeniably true that Churchill’s opinion of the native peoples of Africa was far from that of a social revolutionary; Churchill was paternalistic, and held (if not in these pages then in My African Journey) that immediate equality between the races was impractical and unworkable. However, his views in Ladysmith are still in striking contrast to those of most of his contemporary Englishmen. Of course, we cannot say what might have evolved in a South Africa under purely British rule due to the establishment of the Union of South Africa in 1910. The Union combined four British colonies, the Cape (British-dominated), Natal (British-dominated), Transvaal (Boer-dominated), and Orange River (Boer-dominated) into a self-governing dominion of the British Empire where only whites could vote and Boers outnumbered Britons. Thus, Great Britain established the Boer patrimony that the Boers had failed to achieve by force; and from that Union grew the policy of Apartheid. It is interesting to find the Churchill of 1899 representing the same essential approach to native emancipation as the South African reformers of the early 1990s—and agreeable to know that Nelson Mandela was an admirer of Winston Churchill.
-Richard M. Langworth
From the Reviews
“The work is not intended to be a history of the war (as was The River War) and thus does not cover the causes or opening of the conflict, or events at which Churchill was not present. It begins in October 1899, just after the Boer government of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State declared war on Britain and sent hardy and mobile riflemen pouring into the British South African colony of Natal. The main British force was trapped and besieged at Ladysmith, and Sir Redvers Buller, with a relieving force and the intrepid Winston, set out from England to restore Imperial fortunes.
“The narrative is replete with personal incidents: Here Winston indignantly describes a raucous parson who freezes the soldiers into apathy on the eve of battle; there he relates the wounding of his brother Jack, expressing very human relief that Jack will be honorably out of harm’s way for a month. Churchill tells with pride of the triumphal entry into Ladysmith, its gaunt but happy defenders, the speeches and the cheering; in conclusion he discusses the terrible situation and enormous difficulties that resulted in the siege of the town, concluding that the relief was worth the terribly high price.
“One of the fascinations of the Ladysmith is that the letters it comprises were not written with benefit of hindsight. Reading them with that advantage today allows a fuller appreciation of the sagacity of the author. As an exciting autobiographical slice from the life of a great man, and as a clear, fast-paced military chronicle and adventure story of the last of Britain’s “little wars,” London to Ladysmith is still well worth reading.”
-Stanley Smith in Finest Hour 40, Summer 1983
A splendid book from both an aesthetic and a literary standpoint, Ladysmith is one of the most sought-after titles in the canon, and readily available if not always cheap. Its bibliographical history is straightforward, though the existence of only one subsequent impression suggests that Churchill’s period as Boer War hero was brief indeed; many people thought of him in less heroic terms after he began his parliamentary career. Boer War fever abated quickly in Britain and the author went on to other spheres.
Woods is inaccurate in his description of the flags on the spine, describing them as “Union Jack and Union [of South Africa?] flag.” Actually they are the Union Flag (it is only a “jack” when flown at the bow of a ship) and the Transvaal flag (the Union of South Africa flag incorporated the Transvaal flag in its design.)
A very good first edition, with no serious flaws, no gutterbreaks and reasonably clean boards, commands a high price, especially the rare fine copy in sparkling condition. The New Impression is also in good supply and costs, of course, less. The incidence of truly fine copies of either impression is small: the fawn cloth soils easily, and the thickness of the book and pages induces hinge and gutter breaks. The color folding map is often encountered torn or misfolded. Collectors should cheerfully pay premiums for clean copies with maps that are not misfolded.
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Cohen A4.1 / ICS A4a
Publisher: Longmans, Green and Co., London 1900
Fawn pictorial cloth. The top board bears a black line-drawing of an armoured train, the title and the author’s signature. The spine bears the title, author’s name and publisher’s name along with two flags, a Union Flag flying straight out over a drooping Transvaal flag. The words “Via Pretoria” are blocked red on spine and top board; the spine is otherwise stamped gilt, the top board otherwise blocked black. 8vo, 516 pages numbered (2), (I)-(xiv) and (1)-498, (2). The two unnumbered pages advertise The River War and the Malakand. Boxed adverts for these titles plus Savrola are on the half title verso. In addition, there is a 32-page rear catalogue, printed on thinner paper, of other Longmans titles. Endpapers faced black. Full color folding map facing title page, other maps and plans. Published at 6 shillings ($1.50). Woods A4.
Quantities and Impressions
Woods states that 10,000 copies were published on 15 May 1900, and a second impression of 500 “a few days after,” but publisher’s catalogues identify the second impression as having been produced in July 1900, nine months after. The second impression is identified by the words NEW IMPRESSION on title page); it also advertises the third impression River War on page 1 of the rear catalogue.
We strongly doubt Woods’ figure of only 500 copies published. The immense contemporary popularity of Churchill’s escape story, coupled with the many New Impressions encountered, suggest that the second printing was more like 5,000 copies, and probably occurred some time later, as suggested by the publisher’s catalogues. This theory is supported by adverts for Ladysmith in Ian Hamilton’s March, published in October 1900, which are headed by the words, FIFTEENTH THOUSAND. If we accept that, the New Impression had 5,000 copies.
Dust Jackets and Variants
A jacket bearing the same art as the cover and spine, printed black, has been reported but not verified. The second impression has been found in a distinctly different, coarser brown cloth than the usual fawn cloth common to both impressions.
First American Edition, Home Issue
Cohen A4.2 / ICS A4ba
Publisher: Longmans Green and Co., New York 1900
Red buckram, top board title/author’s name blocked gilt and framed by gilt rules in the style of the first edition Savrola; spine lettered gilt with title, author’s name and publisher name, top page edges gilt. 8vo, 510 pages numbered (i)-(xiv) and 1-496. Unboxed adverts for the Malakand, River War and Savrola on half title verso. Plain endpapers, two-color (black and red) folding map facing title page, other maps and plans. Published 16 June 1900 at $1.50. Mentioned by Woods, page 30.
Quantities and Impressions
A single impression of 3000 copies was produced.
Dust jackets and Variants
No jackets have been reported. We have seen a copy with a debossement on the title page, reading circularly, “PRESENTED BY THE PUBLISHERS.” We have seen this device on several contemporary titles, including Lord Randolph Churchill, published by Macmillan; therefore it is not unique to Longmans, and there are some doubts about its provenance.
With the same text but not the aesthetic quality of the English Edition, the American Edition lacks the evocative cover illustration and elaborate folding color map, though it forms a handsome matched pair with the American Hamilton’s March and provides the minor luxury of gilt top page edges. It is often found in fine condition, although on some copies the gilt spine lettering is dull; but it is almost always in better condition than English Edition, thanks to the drier American climate and a superior cloth binding. It is also printed on better quality paper which is less inclined toward spotting. This is a very nice contrasting mate to the English Edition.
Inscribed copies are occasionally available. The most spectacular encountered was a handsome pair including the American Hamilton, both inscribed by Churchill to the captain of the ship which brought him back to England from his American lecture tour in 1901.
Despite its relatively small numbers, the American Ladysmith remains in good supply. Prices do not match those of the English First, though a much larger proportion of extant copies are in fine condition.
Cohen A4.3 / ICS A4bb
Publisher: Copp, Clark, Toronto 1900
Published both clothbound and in wrappers. The hardback is bound similarly to the First Edition, but the cloth is more ochre than tan in color. The spine contains an abbreviated title (LONDON TO LADYSMITH), a fleur de lis design instead of flags, and the Copp Clark imprint. The wrapper copy (said to bear the name of the Montreal News Co.) has not been seen by this writer. 8vo, 510 pages numbered (i)-(xiv) and 1-496. No adverts on half title verso. Plain endpapers. Two-color (black and red) folding map facing title page, other maps and plans. Not in Woods.
Despite its outward resemblance to the English Edition, this volume was made up from sheets, or printed using plates, of the American Edition. Nothing is known about quantities or dust jackets. Although the scarcest by far of the three first editions, it is considered peripheral by many collectors and prices have not been higher than comparable American Editions. We believe it is undervalued, and should be acquired before things change.
South African Edition
Cohen A4.4 / ICS A4c
Publisher: T. W. Griggs & Co. (PTY) Ltd., Durban 1982
Rough mustard pictorial cloth with title, author’s name signature and armoured train illustration on top board and title, author’s name and publisher name on spine, all blocked black; “VIA PRETORIA” blocked red on top board and spine. 8vo, 512 pages numbered (i)-xiv and 1-498, plain endpapers. Black printed folding maps facing front and rear pastedowns, other maps and plans. New foreword, unsigned, on verso of title page. Published at 18.95 rands. Not in Woods.
Quantities and Impressions
The publisher advised that 1,000 copies were published in one impression.
Dust Jackets and Variants
The jacket is printed black, red and yellow-buff on heavy white paper and duplicates the style of the top board and spine. The foreword is reprinted on the front flap; the rear flap and back face are blank. No binding variants exist.
Since this offprint of the First Edition was the first Ladysmith in over eighty years, it was welcomed by both Churchill and Africana collectors, although it was a crude facsimile: the maps are poorly reproduced and the typesetting rather fuzzy. The best feature is the cover, which replicates the famous armoured train, though the original’s gilt spine stamping and two-flag spine logo are absent and the cover illustration is heavily inked. “Some passages reflect the prejudices of the time, and we trust that modern readers will not find references made to race groups offensive, but will rather read them in their historical context,” states the publisher’s foreword. They might have added that Churchill defended the black Africans in his conversations with the Boers, who made the offensive references cited.
This edition has been out of print for many years now, and prices have begun to rise.
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