Lizzie van Zyl

Elizabeth Cecilia van Zyl Afrikaans pronunciation: [ɪəˈlizabet səˈsilia fan zəil] (22 April 1894 – 9 May 1901)[1][2] was a South African child inmate of the Bloemfontein concentration camp who died from typhoid fever during the Second Anglo-Boer War.[1][2][3]

Lizzie van Zyl
Lizzie van Zyl
Elizabeth Cecilia van Zyl

22 April 1894
Died9 May 1901 (aged 7)
Bloemfontein, Orange Free State Republic
Cause of deathTyphoid fever
Burial placeUnknown but most likely in an unmarked grave in President Brand cemetery in Bloemfontein
NationalitySouth African
  • Hermanus Egbert Pieter Van Zyl (father)
  • Elizabeth Cecilia Van Zyl (mother)


Lizzie and her mother (Elizabeth Cecilia van Zyl)[4] were inmates of the Bloemfontein concentration camp. They were labelled as 'undesirables', and placed on the lowest food rations because her father, Hermanus Egbert Pieter van Zyl, had refused to surrender.[4]

Anti-war activist Emily Hobhouse used her death as an example of the hardships the Boer civilians faced in the concentration camps set up to intern them during the war. She describes Lizzie as "a frail, weak little child in desperate need of good care". Initially, the publishers of Hobhouse's reports refused to publish the photograph.[3]

Lizzie died in 1901 at seven years of age.


The photo of the emaciated van Zyl reportedly was sent from British author Arthur Conan Doyle, who served as a volunteer doctor during the Boer War, to Joseph Chamberlain. Both Doyle and Chamberlain were ostensibly proponents of the Boer Wars, at least publicly; Doyle wrote a short work The War in South Africa: Its Cause and Conduct, that set forth his reasoning for supporting the war. The photo was allegedly used as propaganda, not as directly anti-war propaganda, but to support the false notion that Boer children were neglected by their parents.[citation needed]

The image was released with the detail that it was taken when van Zyl and her mother entered the camp. Chamberlain was quoted in The Times on 5 March 1902, saying that Lizzie's mother was prosecuted for mistreatment.[citation needed]

Emily Hobhouse investigated the case and was unable to find any evidence of a case or the prosecution of Lizzie's mother for neglect. She located the photographer, a man named de Klerk, who was also a camp inmate at the time,[3] and de Klerk stated that the photograph was taken two months after Lizzie had arrived at the camp, not when they had just arrived.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b "British Concentration Camps of the South African War 1900–1902: Bloemfontein". University of Cape Town. Retrieved 1 April 2012.
  2. ^ a b van Heyningen, Elizabeth (8 June 2010). "A tool for modernisation? The Boer concentration camps of the South African War, 1900–1902" (PDF). South African Journal of Science. 106 (5–6). Retrieved 13 September 2016.
  3. ^ a b c Godby, Michael (2010). "Confronting Horror: Emily Hobhouse and the Concentration Camp Photographs of the South African War" (PDF). Department of Historical Studies. University of Cape Town. Retrieved 25 August 2016.
  4. ^ a b Title: SRC 71 Bloemfontein CR, Type: Camp register, Location: Free State Archives Repository, Reference No.: SRC 71, Notes: p.20