Relationship Between the Media and Patriotism in Britain during Boer War

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The second Boer War fought between the British Empire and the Boer states of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal (11 Oct 1899 – 31 May 1902) is said to be one of the “first modern media wars”. During this period, we see new technological advancements with an increase in film, cinemas and the introduction of the Kodak camera. We also see an increase in newspaper readership due to a rise in literacy rates thanks to the 1870 Forster Education Act[footnoteRef:2]. Historians have debated the relationship between the media and patriotism during the second Boer War. Being a modern media war, media played a huge part in everyday life in Britain. This essay will closely analyse the relationship between the media and patriotism in Britain during the second Boer War.

The source I have chosen to examine for the purpose of this study is a cartoon from the Illustrated Police News published on the 14th of September 1901. The Illustrated Police News was a weekly illustrated newspaper which featured highly dramatic and shocking illustrations of murders and hangings. Being illustrated it appealed to both the literate and illiterate and had the largest circulation of any illustrated newspaper across the country at the time. ‘By 1888, circulation had reached an impressive 300,000’.

The source I have chosen to study is an illustration of two Boer men pointing a gun at a British nurse who has thrown herself in front of two mothers and their babies in order to protect them. The caption reads “Shooting Brave Nurse Page”. What this does is that it presents this idea of a hero, a selfless British nurse ready to die in cold blood because she’d rather it be her than the vulnerable mothers and their babies. This reinforces this notion of British heroism and reminds us of British heroes like Florence Nightingale. By portraying the Boers as heartless savages, it is used to shape public opinion to be pro-war and gives us an insight as to why imperialism was justified by so many people. Illustrations like this show how it is necessary for the British to civilize the world as it portrays the “other” in this case, the Boers, as barbaric and ruthless. This can be supported by Kenneth Morgan who states that journalists “invariably presented the Boers as primitive and backwards, isolated rural people”, showing that the media in general was very anti-Boer and therefore pro-war thus making British media appear highly patriotic. Patriotism can be defined as having or expressing devotion to and vigorous support for one’s country[footnoteRef:5] and this source without a doubt shows this by giving us a reason why we should fight this war.

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Looking at the context of the illustration helps understand how brilliant it is in gaining support from the British public to be patriotic and support the war effort. Firstly, this was published after the death of Queen Victoria where “support for the Boer War by the Imperialist press clashed with protests of the liberal press”[footnoteRef:6]. This clash was about concentration camps and the mistreatment of Boer women and children by the British as highlighted by Emily Hobhouse who published a report about the awful nature of concentration camps in June 1901. As a result, this illustration is war propaganda reminding the public who the “bad guys” really are by showing the savagery and rurality of the Boers. The artist I believe was aware of the knowledge the public had about the controversy regarding concentration camps and therefore shows reason as to why we should continue to have a pro-war and militarism attitude.

Secondly, what this illustration does is glorify the efforts of British nurses. The war gave many British nurses an opportunity to travel to South Africa and support the war alongside their male counterparts in order to ‘do their bit’[footnoteRef:8] However there were a huge number of sex scandals and allegations of inappropriate behaviour from nurses as nurses regularly attended dances and theatre. Many of these nurses were accused of “frivolling”[footnoteRef:9]. Nurse Eleanor Laurence wrote about her fellow nurses’ behaviour in a letter. She stated that their behaviour was “a little out of place while the war is going on. Some of the sisters appear to think that they have come out here to have as much fun as they can get, and talk about very little except the men they have been dancing with.”[footnoteRef:10] She further goes on to say that she had seen a colleague at a local station “smoking a cigarette with a most undesirable companion!”10 Charlotte Dale highlights the problem with this by stating that these allegations of bad nurse behaviour “might have a negative impact on the drive for registration at home.’[footnoteRef:11] A negative impact indeed it had as this was quite a huge deal at the time as discussions regarding nurses and what they do in their free time took place in Parliament itself. The article they discussed in Parliament was written by John Stranger Winter called ‘Nurses, you must not dance!’ and Parliament debated whether nurses should be allowed to dance off-duty.[footnoteRef:12] This cartoon therefore reinforces the belief that nurses were working hard oversees at war11 which many of the cartoons audience and British public in general were maybe starting to doubt due to knowledge of controversies. Again, I believe the artist was aware of this controversy and addressed it to increase patriotism. It can therefore be argued that the media is attempting to save the relationship between the British public and their patriotism, especially in this case.

To conclude, this source reveals that Britain was highly patriotic. A very popular illustrated newspaper would not publish something it would believe would create great controversy. It without a doubt made things more dramatic, this is what the Illustrated Police News was known for, however, it was propaganda that reinforced beliefs already held like why this war was necessary. Media was cleverly used to create patriotic feeling amongst the British public during the war in order to get public support. It did this by portraying the Boers in a negative light whilst glorifying the British and their heroism.

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