All month long we will be featuring speaker’s abstracts for the upcoming Equine History Conference: Why Equine History Matters. Register now!
“This Flotsam and Jetsam of Human Passions and Strife”: American Horses and Mules for the Anglo-Boer War in South Africa, 1899-1902—An Equine Middle Passage of the Transatlantic Horse Trade
Philip A. Homan, Idaho State University
Taking seriously historiography’s “animal turn,” South African historian Sandra Swart has used horses in the Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902—the last fully horse-powered war—as a case study for writing equines into history. Their death in the war was an equicide, which Major-General Sir Frederick Smith, British Army Veterinary Department officer in South Africa, called “a holocaust.” The Royal Commission on the War concluded that “the chief cause of the loss of horses [and mules] in the War was that they were … brought from distant countries … [and] submitted to a long and deteriorating sea voyage ….” From October 1899 to June 1902, 109,878 horses and 81,524 mules—more than from England, Ireland, and the British colonies combined—were shipped from New Orleans in 65 different steamships making 166 voyages. It was one of the largest global transports of equines in history. Conditions on the steamers were terrible, paralleling those on the slave ships in the transatlantic slave trade. The sickness, shipwrecks, and burials at sea endured by the horses and mules, which Smith called “this flotsam and jetsam of human passions and strife,” are worth remembering. South African historian Johan Wassermann has studied the relationships between New Orleans and Durban resulting from these shipments. No scholar, however, has studied them in themselves. Therefore, this presentation will use this overlooked “equine Middle Passage of the transatlantic horse trade” as a lens through which to view an episode in world history and thereby help answer the question “Why Equine History Matters.”
 Sandra Swart, “Horses in the South African War, c. 1899-1902,” Society and Animals: Journal of Human-Animal Studies (Animals and Society Institute) 18, no. 4 (2010): 348-66.
 Frederick Smith, A Veterinary History of the War in South Africa, 1899-1902 (London: H. & W. Brown, 1919), 226.
 Report of His Majesty’s Commissioners Appointed to Inquire into the Military Preparations and Other Matters Connected with the War in South Africa, 1903, Cd. 1789, at 98.
 Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence Taken before the Royal Commission on the War in South Africa, 1903, Cd. 1792, at 258; H.R. Doc. No. 649, at 6 (1902).
 Frederick Smith, A Veterinary History of the War in South Africa, 41-2.
 Johan Wassermann, “A Tale of Two Port Cities: The Relationship between Durban and New Orleans during the Anglo-Boer War,” Historia (Historical Association of South Africa) 49, no. 1 (May 2004): 27-47.
Philip Anthony Homan is an associate professor at Idaho State University, Pocatello, Idaho, USA. He is also a PhD student in ISU’s Department of English and Philosophy. He is using animal studies and the history of the transatlantic slave trade to study the maritime shipment of American horses and mules from New Orleans to South Africa for the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902, in what he calls the equine Middle Passage of the transatlantic horse trade.