The imperialism of internment: Boer prisoners of war in India and civic reconstruction in Southern Africa, 1899–1905

Wm. Matthew Kennedy

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During the course of the Anglo-Boer War of 1899–1902, over 9, 000 captured Boers were sent abroad to India as prisoners of war. Using hitherto unexamined sources, this article explores how, during their internment and repatriation, British officials and administrators across the empire collaborated in a concerted attempt to transform the imperial enemy into colonial collaborator. This involved a necessarily intercolonial effort to conduct a successful programme of ‘re-education’ capable of cultivating ‘white’ British virtues in preparing Boer POWs for their future rights and duties in reconstructing Southern Africa upon their repatriation. In so doing, the government of India and other colonial officials across the empire thus recapitulated their ideal of Britain’s imperial project in the Boer POW camps. Highlighting the intercoloniality of this process, India’s viceroy, Lord George Curzon, played as prominent a role as did the War Office, or South Africa’s soon-to-be pro-consul, Lord Alfred Milner. The microcosmic imperialism of Boer internment thus reveals a great deal about the nature and structure of power within the British Empire, and emphasises the value of an intercolonial or transcolonial perspective in examining the complex, global consequences of the Anglo-Boer War.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)423-447
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Imperial and Commonwealth History
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 3 May 2016


  • Anglo-Boer War
  • Imperial citizenship
  • India
  • Military internment camps
  • Political surveillance

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