Marching to Pretoria
DESCRIPTION: Shanty version sung to the Pretoria tune, though with changed verses, which Hugill says he had to camouflage to print. Cho: "We are marchin' to Pretoria, oh gloria, Victoria. We are marchin' to Pretoria, Victoria rules the waves!"
EARLIEST DATE: 1954 (recording, Joseph Marais and Miranda)
KEYWORDS: shanty army travel Africa food
FOUND IN: South Africa Britain
REFERENCES (3 citations):
Hugill, p.425, "Pretoria" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber-FSWB, p. 329, "Marching to Pretoria" (1 text)
NOTES [610 words]: I was surprised not to find this in the index already, considering how common I thought was. From what I could find it dates or at least refers to the Boer or Zulu war. - SL
It is not in the Index because it's not really found in tradition. As best I can tell, it was fixed up by Joseph Marais and Miranda, based on a South African original, and the adaption has been sung very widely at camps -- typically on hiking expeditions. But only starting in the 1960s.
This is the first time I've met the sea version, which may be an alternate adaption.
It would be very interesting to find the earliest version of this, to know the setting (including which Boer War it dates from). I've seen a number of web sites which give context, but none of them give any actual citations of anyone singing the song! Joseph Marais himself, in World Folk Songs, p. 60, says, "In 1939 I introduced this song to American audiences over NBC's Blue Network. Pretoria, of course, was the important objective of the British during the Boer War of 1901, the last of the so-called "gentlemen's wars." As both sides sang it, there was no recognizable set way of performance. I wrote English words and a definitive musical adaption...." All of which may be true, but Marais offers no evidence for any of it.
What's more, the mention of Victoria in the sailors' version would seem to imply a date before Queen Victoria died in 1901, i.e. before the second Boer War.
The opening conflict of the (first) Boer War came on December 20, 1880, at Bronkhorstspruit, when "264 officers of the 94th Regiment (Connaught Rangers), marching from Lydenburg to Pretoria, were halted on the march by a Boer commando and ordered to turn back. The lieutenant-coloonel in command was given two minutes to reply to the demand. He refused to surrender and was killed by the Boers' opening shots" (Farwell, pp. 244-245). Most of the other British soldiers were killed as well.
Britain was defeated again early the next year, on February 26, 1881, At Majuba Hill, British General George Pomeroy Colley took his force onto high ground, but failed to create a defensive position; his forces were routed and Colley himself killed (van Hartsveldt, p. 4).
Rather than keep up the fight, the British negotiated, A year later, the Pretoria Convention would end the war. "It gave the South African Republic independence subject to a vague assertion of British suzerainty whatever that might mean" (van Hartsveldt, p. 5).
In the second (1899-1902) Boer War, Pretoria would again be key -- and the site of a lot of marching. On October 30, 1899, after their victory at Lombard's Kop, the Boers marched a number of British prisoners through Pretoria (Belfield, pp. 20-22).
On March 13, 1900, Frederick Singh Roberts captured Bloemfontein, then prepared to march on the Boer capital of Pretoria. He set out on May 3 and arrived June 5 (Belfield, pp. 95-100). That made it possible for British forces to capture Koomati Poort and cut the Boers off from all contact with the outside world (Chandler/Beckett, pp. 200-201). This did not end the war -- there would be two more years of guerrilla fighting, in which world opinion turned against England and the international situation became ever more complicated. But it was nearly the end of the direct military phase (and it earned Roberts an earldom and the command of the British army), and at the time it was thought it would end the conflict; the soldiers must have thought they were making the last big push.
Thus, a march to Pretoria could have been bad news for Britain or for the Boers, depending on the war and the situation. Or it could be about something else. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.2
- Belfield: Eversley Belfield, The Boer War, 1975 (I use the 1993 Leo Cooper/Barnes & Noble reprint)
- Chandler/Beckett: David Chandler, general editor; Ian Beckett, associate editor, The Oxford History of the British Army, 1994 (I use the 1996 Oxford paperback edition)
- Farwell: Byron Farwell, Queen Victoria's Little Wars (1972; I used the 1985 Norton edition)
- van Hartsveldt: Fred R. van Hartsveldt, The Boer War, Sutton, 2000
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