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The internment of Boer prisoners-of-war in Ceylon

June 8th, 2020

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At home in a foreign land:

The internment of Boer prisoners-of-war

in Ceylon 1900-1902

Bhadrajee Hewage, Class of 2020


This project explores the reasoning behind Britain’s decision to intern over 2000 captured Boer (Afrikaner) combatants on the island of Ceylon from 1900-1902 during the South African War. Current literature regarding the South African War covers the origins of the war and its influence on the British imperial system, the harsh realities of life in South African concentration camps, and the memories of Boer prisoners-of-war within South Asia.


However, several unanswered questions remain surrounding the experience of Afrikaner internees in Ceylon itself and whether the Boer detainees lived up to Britain’s expectations in sending them to the island. Given the sheer number of Afrikaners within British detention facilities in South Africa who refused to accept British sovereignty, Britain initially resolved to send these non-compliant detainees far away from ongoing hostilities to prevent the possibility of captives rejoining the Boer struggle. With the prisoners originally sent abroad for detention, Britain would later move from simply imprisoning the combatants in Ceylon to formally rehabilitating and reeducating them in order to win them over to the imperial project.


The project argues that while internment in Ceylon did pacify the Afrikaners, Britain nonetheless failed to quench Boer nationalism and to win over the prisoners to the glory of the British imperial venture.

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