THE conclusion of the Boer War brought little rest to the members of the Natal Police. The reserve force consisted of 200 men of these troopers, and they were attached to the Border Police force.
The men under Sub-Inspector Hamilton moved down from Emtonjaneni to Dundee, where they joined in the march, with the Natal Border Police, to Vryheid, remaining there until the following October. The reserve then left for Pietermaritzburg, and after re-fitting, went out on a long patrol, through the Umkomaas Valley to High Flats, afterwards going to Ixopo, Mabedhlana, Indawane, Bushman's Nek, Underberg, and Bulwer a round the force had made many times before.
Ten members of the corps were selected to represent the Natal Police at the coronation of King Edward vn. These men were Sergeant Ingle (who was drowned eight years later in Lake Sibayi, Zululand) and Troopers Black, Bradshaw, H. S. N. Brown (subsequently killed at Impanza during the last Zulu rebellion), H. Campbell, Edwards, Harrison (also killed at Impanza), Morgan, and F. W. Stephens. This body, under Inspector Mardall, was attached to the Natal contingent under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Greene, of the Natal Carbineers, and on arrival in England was encamped with other contingents at Alexandra Park.
In the early part of 1903 there was trouble with the natives down in the neighbourhood of Umzinto, near the Umpambinyoni River. Faction fights assumed serious proportions, and as it was feared that the inter-tribal combats might get beyond control, the police were hastily sent down from Piet ermaritzburg .
A force of about 30 men, under Sub-Inspector Dimmick, made a quick trek in pouring rain to the scene of the righting, where a number of the natives had been killed. Very soon afterwards the field force, under Sub-Inspector Hamilton, also arrived from Ixopo ; and the operations were directed for about a couple of months by Colonel Mansel.
Strong patrols moved through the troubled area to quiet the natives, who were in a very quarrelsome mood for a long time. The troopers endured considerable hardships, food not always being obtainable, and heavy rains during the first few weeks did not add to their happiness.
At Indudutu there was great excitement amongst the natives, who had assembled in considerable numbers and were prepared for battle. On the 27th January 1903, a large party of Saoti's warriors crossed the Umpambinyoni, intent on slaying Ntembi's faction, but the latter fled, whereupon the invaders burnt their kraals. The natives scattered over a wide area of exceedingly rough country, and the task of the troopers was a difficult one.
About eight huts were burnt before the natives calmed down somewhat, the arrest of a number of the assailants having this effect. The headquarters' detachment was sent back on the I2th February, but Sub-Inspector Hamilton's men were not able to leave the district for months, and afterwards they were engaged far away in the northern districts, the natives there being in a very unsettled state. The detachment got back to Pietermaritzburg for Christmas, the field force having been out for four years and four months without a break.
In the April of 1903 the reserve force and all available men in the districts were engaged for some time in the difficult task of taking a census, after which the reserves were sent to Durban to meet the first batch of Chinese labourers that had been taken over to work in the Transvaal mines. The Chinese were guarded night and day by the Natal Police.
The corps lost its oldest and best friend in the early part of 1903, when Major-General Sir J. G. Dartnell retired on pension. He returned to England, and though he is thousands of miles away from the force which he commanded for nearly thirty years, his interest in it is as keen now as it ever was.
The men who served under General Dartnell revere his memory. He had the courage of a lion and the heart of a woman. He engaged the confidence of his men and made their troubles his. His condemnation and commendation were just, and made those who received them better men than they had ever thought to become. He was as faithful to those under him as they were to him, and they loved him as he loved them. General Dartnell erred only in his charity and mercy. To-day the old troopers speak of him as a man and a man they would follow into Hades because of the faith they had in " Hellfire Jack " to get them out again.
As regimental as a button-stick, General Dartnell was terribly severe when the occasion warranted severity. Once a couple of troopers named Cantley and Johnson had been out fishing, and their boat's moorings came adrift. There were some almost water-logged skiffs near, and the men jumped into one of these, one rowing after the vanishing boat and the other bailing out for dear life. But, bail as he would, the old craft sank within a few yards of shore. Johnson would have been drowned had not his colleague helped him, and they scrambled up the shore.
Bedraggled and cheerless, they were walking along, when to their horror they met the General. For a moment he eyed the pair severely.
" Have you two fallen into the water ? " The question was rasped out in a tone of severe disapproval. When angry he had a curious habit of holding the fingers of one hand in the air, and this was known by every one to be a sure sign of coming punishment. His fingers were held well aloft on this occasion.
" No, sir," said Cantley, wondering what was coming.
" Has this man upset you in a boat ? " he asked, addressing Johnson. The fingers were waving furiously.
" We went out in a boat that sank," said Johnson, " and he pulled me out, sir."
" Go to my room," replied the General, in his severest tones. " I am living in a hut up there on the right. You will find a bottle containing whisky. Drink half of it and see that Cantley has the other half."
And the General walked off without waving his fingers again.
General Dartnell was succeeded as Chief Commissioner by Colonel Mansel, C.M.G., who had been one of the earliest members of the force, having joined in 1874 as sub-inspector. He retired in 1882 in order to take charge of a force of native police in Zululand later known as the Zululand Police. When Zululand was absorbed in 1897 the European officers who had had control of these natives became members of the Natal Police, with seniority according to the date of appointment. This made Colonel Mansel second-in-command, until Major Dartnell retired.
These changes were quickly followed by the appointment of a Parliamentary Commission to inquire into the working of the force and to suggest any necessary alterations. The Commission travelled all over the colony, and took evidence from civilians, Government officials, and members of the Natal Police. Many of the Commission's recommendations were adopted by the Government, the corps benefiting considerably in consequence. One suggestion was that a certain proportion of first-class sergeants should be allowed to marry, and many non-commissioned officers have since taken advantage of this opportunity.