General Joubert’s force of about 20 000 men, slowly but surely advanced on Ladysmith and placed heavy siege guns on the hills to the north and north-east of the town. The great guns, which carried a 96 lb. shell, was named Long Tom by the British soldiers. Some naval guns were sent up from Durban and arrived before the town was completely surrounded. On the 30th October 1899, Sir George White made a sortie with all his troops from the town to dislodge the Boer commando from their position on the hills, but without success. It was an artillery battle and served only to show how inefficient the British guns were compared to those of the Boers.
On 2 November the Boers completely surrounded Ladysmith and began the siege of a town whose name has passed into history. All Natal north of the Tugela was proclaimed Dutch territory. Shells from the Boer guns daily fell in Ladysmith but fortunately did not cause much loss of life. Most of the deaths resulted from fever.
The invasion of Natal, and the misfortunes, which followed, caused the greatest excitement in Great Britain. They were called upon to send an army with all the equipment for a campaign, 7 000 miles across the sea. The command was given to Sir Redvers Buller who established his camp at Chieveley, as far up the line as was considered safe. The guns in their fortress like entrenchment on the north bank of the Tugela, although not occupied by the Boers, dominated Colenso.
On 8 December the British made a sully on Gun Hill and destroyed the tip of a barrel of a Long Tom and captured a Maxim. The tip of the Long Tom was cut off and it was nicknamed “The Jew”. On the 10th Col. Metcalfe, with the Rifle Brigade, destroyed a 4. 7 howitzer on Surprise Hill.
Ammunition was scarce and expensive so it was essential that each shot made the necessary impact. Pretorius was particularly good at aiming the gun, and from there came the idiom “Skote Petoors”.
On 6 January the Boers, hoping to find an enfeebled garrison, made a resolute attempt to take Ladysmith by storm. There was desperate fighting on Caesar’s Camp and Wagon Hill, the latter being thrice captured and recaptured. The Boers were repulsed with heavy loss. There is a monument to the Earl of Ava who died there on 6 Jan 1900.
Foiled in his frontal attack on the Boer position at Colenso, General Buller made three more desperate efforts to clear a road to the beleaguered garrison and people of Ladysmith. He crossed the Tugela at two different points higher up.