Letter from Alexis Orlof Davidoff

Scope and Content

Letter written from the Marlborough Club, Pall Mall by Alexis Orlof[f] Davidoff to George Sceales who was about to leave for the war in South Africa, extending him good wishes.

Administrative / Biographical History

Alexis Orloff Davidoff was a native of St. Petersburg residing in rooms at St. James's, London after visiting Paris, Oban and Edinburgh, c1899.

Colonel George Adinston M'Laren Sceales (1878-1956) was educated at Charterhouse and Sandhurst, joining the Princess Louise's 91st Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 1898 and serving with them in both the South African War, 1899-1902 and at the start of World War One. He commanded the 4th and 4/5th Black Watch, 1916-1917, 14th Battalion Tank Corps, 1917-1918 and 1st Tank Brigade, 1918-1919. He raised and commanded the 5th Battalion Tank Corps, 1919-1921 and retired in 1921. He was re-employed as Assistant Records Officer, 1940-1945. The holder of several awards and service medals, he was Captain of the Royal St. George's Golf Club, 1938-1939, President of the Army Golfing Society, 1947-1950 and Captain of the Senior Golfers' Society, 1950.

The South African War, 1899-1902 had its origins in the rivalry betweenDutch Afrikaner (Boer) and British settlers in southern Africa which led by themiddle of the 19th century to the emergence of four separate colonial territories- Cape Colony and Natal, under British rule, and Orange Free State and theSouth African Republic (later Transvaal), under Afrikaner control. DespiteBritish refusal to officially recognise the Boer states, and the Boers'unwillingness to join a wider, Cape-governed Federation of South Africa, thefour states managed an uneasy co-existence, though it was this basic differenceof outlook and politics which was the eventual cause of the war.

From the outset, the co-existence of the two sides was often threatened. ABritish annexation of the Transvaal in 1877 led to their decisive defeat at thehands of Boer forces at the Battle of Majuba Hill in 1881. There were minorconflicts in the 1880s and 1890s over neighbouring Bechuanaland, andinfluence over the Ndebele to the north. Gold was discovered in both the Boerrepublics, increasing their a ttraction to the British; and it was the perceivedmistreatment of British residents in the Transvaal (many of them goldminers)which led to the ill-fated Jameson Raid on the Transvaal in 1897. It was anincreasing nationalism on both sides, though, which helped spark a declarationof war on 11th October 1899.

It was the Boers who launched the initial offensives - against Mafeking,Kimberley, Natal and Eastern Cape, using Bloemfontein as a focal point, but,after lengthy sieges of Ladysmith, Mafeking, etc., they eventually surrenderedtheir advantage. The British relieved the besieged towns, then tookBloemfontein on 13th March 1900, and Pretoria in June. At this point, theBritish themselves allowed the Boers to regroup and change tactics, mountingan effective guerilla war. This the British countered by the use of a scorchedearth policy, the initiation of a concentration camp system, etc.. Eventually, theBoers were forced to concede defeat and on 31st May 1902 a peace treatywas signed at Vereeniging, removing the independence of the Boer territories.

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Collection level description created by Paul Davidson, Bodleian Library of Commonwealth and African Studies at Rhodes House.

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Related Material

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