I am asked to write an introduction to this work telling something of the very early days of the Natal Mounted Police, and I have much pleasure in doing so, for it is the history of a corps which I raised and commanded for nearly thirty years, and which is now losing its identity as the Natal Police by becoming absorbed in the South African Constabulary under the South African Union Government.
I have practically been connected with the corps from " start to finish," for since my retirement in 1903 I have kept up a correspondence with many of the officers, and have taken a great interest in the changes which have since taken place in the corps I commanded so long and loved so well.
I sold out of Her Majesty's Service in 1869, and went out to Natal with the intention of settling there, not with any idea of taking up a semi-military life again, but as a farmer. However, after I had purchased a farm, stock, etc., and lived upon it for a couple of years or more, my wife, who had just re- turned from a trip to England, at the end of 1873, refused to return to the farm, saying the life was too lonely and that I must try something else.
I didn't quite know what else to try ! But the Government of Natal, after their experience of the Langalibalele Rebellion, were about to raise a mounted police force, so I put in an application offering to raise the force for them, not anticipating that I should be given the appointment, but telling my wife of my application and adding that if it failed she would have to go back to the farm.
To my surprise, about a week after I had sent in the application, the Governor of the colony, Sir Benjamin Pine, rode out one afternoon to the house where I was living and told me he had selected me, from the list of applicants, to raise the mounted police. I replied that I was very much obliged to him for his confidence in me and that I would do my best to deserve it, but that I might tell him at the same time that I knew nothing about police work.
"You probably know as much as any of the other applicants," he said, " and should at all events know something about discipline, having been in Her Majesty's Service."
I then asked his permission to proceed to the Cape Colony to learn something of police work, for they had had a mounted police force there for some few years called the Frontier Armed and Mounted Police. The Governor kindly gave his consent to my going, so I went to the headquarters of the F.A.M.P. at King William's Town and stayed there a week or two, learning all I could of the organization of the force from its then commander, Colonel Bowker. I then returned to Natal and presented my report to the Governor, and started almost immediately to raise the force which was called the Natal Mounted Police at first, but was afterwards called the Natal Police, in 1894, when the whole of the police forces of the colony were organized into one body.
I wanted to send home for men, but this the Government would not sanction, so I had to start recruiting from amongst the flotsam and jetsam of the colony, and a very rough lot they proved to be, being principally old soldiers and sailors, transport riders, and social failures from home, etc. They were, however, a very fine, hardy lot of men, ready to go anywhere and do anything, and very willing and cheerful if a little troublesome in town ; but in the country, away from temptation, they were excellent men, who grumbled occasionally, of course, but were more inclined to laugh at and make light of discom- fort and hardship.
Three officers were appointed to assist me, viz., Mr. G. Mansel (now Colonel Mansel, C.M.G., who later raised and commanded the Zululand Native Police), Mr. F. Campbell (a relative of the Speaker of the Legislative Council), and Mr. F. Phillips (son of Judge Phillips of the Supreme Court of the colony). Later on I got the Government to consent to all promotions in the corps being made through the ranks, in order to avoid any undue political influence being brought to bear in the appointment of officers ; I also wanted to induce a good class of men to enlist in the force by the prospect of promotion, and I achieved my object, for after a few years about a third of the men were gentlemen. Some of them were University men, and there were boys from nearly every public school in England.
The constitution of the force was, at first, 50 Europeans and 150 natives, but when I proposed to arm the natives, as well as the Europeans, there was an outcry at once, and the numbers were practically transposed. Some few years afterwards the strength of the force continually fluctuated, being increased when times were good and cut down when the treasury was getting low, so I described the police, in one of my reports, as the financial barometer of the colony, and was taken to task by the Governor for using such a simile.
I was assisted in the training of the men by a first-rate sergeant-major Stean who had been a colour-sergeant in the Cape Mounted Rifles, and was the very best man I could possibly have got to lick a rough lot into shape, for he was strict and at the same time good-tempered. Although he used to shout at the men in a deep bass voice, and turn them out before daylight in the morning to clean barracks and groom their horses, preparatory to riding-school, in which he delighted, he was much liked by them, and they used to speak of him familiarly behind his back as " Puffy." Some years later, when he became ad- jutant, he was spoilt, for he never had his heart in his work as he had when sergeant-major, and missed not being able to shout at the men and take them out to riding-school, where his language was free and his vocabulary often very quaint.
One morning I was looking on from a little distance at the squad undergoing instruction, and out of the ken of the sergeant-major, who had not noticed me, when I saw him suddenly draw his sword and make a dash for a man who promptly tried to gallop off. He soon overtook him, however, and flourishing his sword over the man's head said : " By God, I'll cut your head off ! " The poor terrified recruit was clinging to the pommel of his saddle like a monkey, with his forage-cap at the back of his head and his chin-strap under his nose, saying, "Please, sir ! Oh, sir ! " and after a particularly vicious flourish of the sword, " Don't, sir! "
I was very much amused, and some of the men in the squad laughed loudly. That took the sergeant-major back angrily, but, perceiving me, he came up and saluted, saying : " That fellow " pointing to the still shaking recruit " wouldn't keep his horse in the ranks, sir, so I was just giving him a little lesson."
I could repeat many similar stories of him, but have said enough to show what the sergeant-major was like and what his methods of instruction were.
At first we were encamped beyond Fort Napier, the military barracks at the upper end of the town, which was a very inconvenient spot, and I repeatedly asked to be allowed to move into some permanent building where we should have more shelter and better convenience, but was always put off by one excuse or another, so, finding a vacant house at the very top of the town, next to Government House, which had been an hotel, I believe, and where there was some stabling, I took it upon my own responsibility, and we continued to occupy it for the following sixteen or seventeen years, though it was rather a tumble- down old place, and very insanitary. I was both paymaster and quartermaster myself for some time, and had great difficulty in getting an advance from Government for the purchase of horses, saddlery, uniforms, etc., for the men had to pay for everything out of their consolidated pay of 53. 6d. a day; but by dint of hammering away and flooding the treasury with vouchers for payment of these things, to be recovered afterwards from the men, I was at last given an advance for which I was made responsible, and upon which I continued to work for nearly thirty years.
The clothing was at first the same as that worn by the Frontier Armed and Mounted Police, viz., brown corduroy jacket and breeches, black leather boots coming nearly to the knee and buckled down the side, and a leather peaked cap with a white cover. It was a stinking uniform, however, which caused the men to be nicknamed " The Snuffs," but anything in the shape of uniform was hard to get in the colony at that time. Afterwards, as more suitable uniform was obtained, the men began to put on a little " side " when walking out, and the then Governor said to me one day : " Your men swagger too much. We don't want swashbucklers." To that I replied : "If you knew the difficulty I have had to make them forget the name of ' Snuffs ' and instil a little swagger into them, you wouldn't wish to see it reduced."
A little later on another Governor said, with reference to his orderly at Government House : " I wish you wouldn't send a prince in disguise as my orderly, for he looks so spick and span that I am almost ashamed of my own get-up whenever I pass him."
The following year, 1875, the Government said they could not afford a Commandant of volunteers as well as a Commandant of police, and that I would have to do the double work and they would allow me an extra 100 a year for it. I remonstrated, but it was no use. They gave Major Giles, the then Commandant of volunteers, who had been adjutant of his regiment; the I4th Light Dragoons (now Hussars), and served in Sir Hugh Rose's force with me during the Mutiny, a magistracy ; and I was appointed.
I have exceeded the limits of a preface, I think, so will conclude with the hope that the old force of Natal Police will be as successful and distinguished in their new role of South African Constabulary.
J. G. DARTNELL
FOLKESTONE, 1st March 1913.