During the Anglo-Boer War, the news of Queen Victoria’s death on January 22, 1901, was greeted with deep emotions in the Karoo. British gun salutes echoed across the veld and rumours of battles spread.
Journalist Edgar Wallace received the news at Matjiesfontein and wrote this poignant piece: “Queen Victoria had ever been a sacred subject among the rank and file of the army. They are very broad-minded the men who serve and love her; Papist or Buddhist or Jew are one with their Protestant selves. They are governed in their thoughts towards her by a love which cannot be commanded.”
At Matjiesfontein, so writes Wallace, “a tired postal clerk, pencil in hand, loops up moving tape and transcribes the dots and dashes into plain English. The night is passing; already the clear white glow of morning is turning the lamplight a sickly yellow. Messages have been coming through all night and I who have been listening to the tape-talk am almost as weary as the clerk. Suddenly the clerk drops the festoon of tape and listens to the instrument. He is reading by ear as the chattering sounder speaks. He raises a tremulous hand to his lips to hide a tell-tale quiver. ‘Her Majesty died last night.’ Outside the wind has dropped, the veld was silent and peaceful and the eastern sky was gold and crimson. So I left the clerk with his bowed head on his arm and went and told the men.”
Victoria, the longest reigning British monarch, gave her name to an era. Born on May 24, 1819, she was the only child of Edward, Duke of Kent, and Victoria Maria Louisa of Saxe-Coburg. She inherited the throne at the age of 18 after her father’s three elder brothers died without surviving legitimate issue. In 1840, she married her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (Prince Albert in the Karoo was named in his honour.)
For the next 20 years Victoria and Albert lived in close harmony and had a family of nine children (5 girls and 4 boys). Albert died in 1861, and Victoria never fully recovered from his death. She remained in mourning for the rest of her life. Victoria’s death, from a cerebral haemorrhage at 18h30 in the evening, brought an end to the rule of the House of Hanover. She was 81. She had reigned for 63 years 7 months and 2 days. She was buried in The Mausoleum, at Frogmore, in Windsor, on February 4, 1901.