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The wreck of the Transport Ismore, 3rd December 1899 1 week 5 days ago #85776

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The Transport Ismore (No. 52) left Liverpool on November 6th, 1899, with Captain Frederick Crosby as Master. She carried “A” Squadron & one troop of “B” Squadron 10th Royal Hussars, the 63rd Field Battery, R.F.A., and No. 9 Bearer Company, Royal Army Medical Corps, in all 447 non-commissioned officers and men, 35 crew and 339 horses. The Ismore was a new ship, this being only her fifth voyage.

The passage did not start well. Setting sail during a worsening gale, the ship was forced to seek shelter on the coast of Anglesey, “in order to avoid a repetition of the Rapidan casualty”, where she remained until the 8th. This was quickly followed by an outbreak of horse-sickness, which necessitated a second halt at Milford Haven, where she remained until the evening of the 11th.

After these two setbacks, the voyage progressed without incident until the early hours of Sunday 3rd December. The ship’s course had been set at noon the previous day, and altered by one degree at 5 p.m. However, a lack of knowledge of the west coast of Africa meant that no allowance had been made for the strong easterly currents encountered in the vicinity. These were described in the seaman’s guide “African Pilot”, Part 2, but Captain Crosby and his officers were clearly unaware of the danger. As a result, the ship was sailing 13 miles inside its predicted course when the look-out sighted rocks off the port bow. After being called to the bridge, the Captain ordered immediate evasive action, but to no avail, the Ismore striking rocks seconds later.

The troops, with great coolness, manned the boats and the entire ship’s complement made it safely to a small sheltered bay, about three quarters of a mile to the east. The evacuation of all the men was completed by dusk, with just the Captain and some of the stewards & engineers remaining on board. The Captain eventually abandoned ship at 3.15 a.m. on Monday 4th December.

During the day, efforts were made to save as many chargers as possible by forcing them to jump overboard, which involved a 20 foot fall into the sea. However, only 28 survived. Many refused to jump, and some of those that did, swam out away from the coast where they drowned. It seems that the majority of the survivors were attached to boats by rope and led to the shore. One lieutenant returned to the vessel and after salvaging as much kit as possible elected to remain with the horses to keep them fed and watered and as comfortable as possible ahead of their inevitable demise. However, a message came back from the shore telling him to leave the ship immediately. This order almost certainly saved his life as he had intended to stay on the Ismore all night. She broke up in the early hours of the morning.

Not all the stories are of coolness and gallantry. Twenty of the ship’s crew “ratted” at 3 p.m., taking all the remaining boats with them. Luckily, the lieutenant mentioned above had recently received training in semaphore and was able to summon more boats from the shore. Most of the crew members had been taken on at very short notice and without being vetted. This was due to the fact that Irish members of the original crew had deserted the day before sailing, after they heard they were to leave port on a Friday, which they considered bad luck.

“The Ismore lying on the rocks”, Black and White Supplement, 6th January 1900. This photograph must have been taken on 3rd December, as she broke up during the early hours of the 4th.

.The wreck site in relation to Cape Town

York Herald, 6th December 1899

The officers on board the ill-fated Johnston liner “Ismore” include Major Alexander, Major Hughes-Onslow, Captain Meeking, the Hon. T. Lister, the Hon. T. Cadogan, Mr Shearman, and the Hon. G. Portman. Major Hughes-Onslow, who had the misfortune to lose the whole of his horses in “A” Squadron, is well known in the neighbourhood as a first-rate man to hounds, and one of our best soldier jockeys.

Leominster News, 8th December 1899



The Secretary of the Admiralty states that information has been received from the Commander-in-Chief at the Cape of Good Hope, dated December 3, reporting that the Transport Ismore struck on the rocks off Columbine Point, near St Helena Bay, distant about seventy-five miles north Table Bay, in calm thick weather. The troops had been landed, also a quantity of baggage, most of the guns, swords, carbines, and some ammunition. The men were reported to be comfortable, and plenty of food was available. The Admiralty was sending her Majesty’s ships Niobe and Doris, and also the Transport Columbian, with lighters, to assist.
The Admiralty announced later that a copy of a telegram has been received from the principal transport officer at Cape Town, dated 4th inst., reporting that the Transport Ismore (No. 52) broke up on Sunday night. Her stern is out of water, and the bows gone. All hands and twenty horses were saved, and will probably entrain at Malmesbury.
The Ismore is the second Transport that has come to grief on the voyage to the Cape, the Persia having been disabled in a storm at St Vincent, while conveying the “C” Squadron of Dragoons and some men of the Iniskillings, on November 8th. In the latter case all the troops and horses were successfully transferred to the Goth, but in the case of the Ismore a large number of horses were lost. She had on board the 63rd Field Battery Royal Artillery from Bristol, “A” Squadron 10th Hussars and a troop of “B” Squadron of the 10th Hussars from Aldershot, and No. 9 Company (Bearer) Royal Army Medical Corps from Colchester. These military details would necessarily have with them a considerable number of horses for the mounted troops aboard, numbering about 460. As only twenty horses are reported saved, it is to be feared that the loss of animals is serious, inasmuch as they would not be of the chartered class, but selected trained chargers and gun teams. The value placed upon such animals by the military authorities is very considerable, and the loss will be the more keenly felt by reason of the dearth of suitable and reliable mounts and gun teams at the front. It is hoped that the troops were able to save the six field pieces, if not the wagons and other equipment of the 63rd Battery, but nothing is said as to this being effected. The presence of warships at the scene of the wreck may have been valuable in this respect, assuming that the position of the wreck and the weather permitted a sufficiently near approach of working parties, who would have the advantage of the necessary appliances for the transfer of guns of their size. The time at the disposal of those on the spot between the hours of the vessel sinking and breaking up to save much other than themselves would seem to have been very limited, and therefore it cannot be hoped that any considerable portion of the vessel’s war stores were saved. It is known that with the troops were landed some guns, swords, carbines. &c., and ammunition, but the bulk of the Ismore’s cargo could not have been landed in the time available. It will be remembered that the Ismore endeavoured to leave England in a gale and after futile efforts took shelter in Moelfre Bay, on the Anglesey coast, until November 9th, when she put to sea four days late.

Daily Telegraph, 29th December 1899



By the courtesy of his mother we are enabled to give to the public the following interesting letter from a cavalry lieutenant:

Tuesday, 2nd. Ss. Columbian.

Of course you have heard the awful news that we got shipwrecked, but, thank God, no lives were lost, which was perfectly miraculous. I sent a telegram by a man to you directly I could, but yesterday (Tuesday) he returned saying he could not get it off, but I hope you had no anxiety about me, as it was officially wired that no lives were lost.

Just about seven hours off the Cape on Sunday morning, at twenty minutes to three, I was awakened by a nasty jarring, grating sound, of about forty seconds’ duration. I hastily slipped on my trousers and rushed on deck, and there we were, bang in the middle of the rocks, and just through the coming daylight land discernible about 600 yards off. Being the ship orderly officer I immediately ran for the trumpeter and sounded the fire alarm, so as to get order at once. The behaviour of the men was extraordinary; water poured into the fore part of the ship, and in a few minutes there was 17ft of water in the fore-hold. No one quite knew what had happened, but the general opinion was that she was going down. Still, as a lasting credit to all the soldiers, they all fell in to their respective posts, either at the bows or at the horses’ heads, as they had been previously drilled, as though nothing had happened.

I got from the captain that there was no immediate danger, and communicated this to the men. The captain then ordered the boats to be manned, and put ashore, but they took an awful time lowering them; over half an hour getting one boat down, which, when in the water, sprung a leak and rapidly filled, the men baling for their life, and only just getting out in time. Things at this point did not look too bright.

As I did not leave till the last boat, I wrote copiously in my diary, and as soon as the light cleared, took a lot of baggage up from the fore part of the ship, which was threatened to be submerged. At a quarter-past nine the troops were all off, and I was ordered to go on shore, the last of the regiment to do so. However, the captain told me that there was no immediate danger unless the sea got up, so directly I got ashore I got a boat and some men to row out again to get off baggage. I climbed up on the ship again, and got one man to follow me, and then got all our personal baggage off; every officer’s kit was saved. At this time there was some rather ticklish work. The water was gaining so rapidly that the boilers and stoke-holes were threatened, and if this had happened we should have been blown to blazes. We only averted it with four minutes to spare by guiding off the water which was coming up by means of tarpaulins until the boilers were cooled as quickly as possible.

But at the same time it was rather jumpy work. Directly this was done I went down to the saddle-room, which was in the fore part of the ship, and was becoming unsafe. The iron stanchions supporting the deck were snapped by the pressure of the water pressing up from under, and all the woodwork was smashed to atoms, and in about half an hour I got out my own saddles, and one or two of the officers’, and most of the troop, attached to them a rope, and got some of the ship’s men to haul them up from on top. It was rather a funny sensation groping on one’s hands and knees for the things, and the stanchions snapping, and feeling the upward pressure of the floor on which one was standing; however, I got my own saddles.

About one o’clock I started throwing my own horses overboard, as, poor devils, they would otherwise have gone down with the ship. Luckily we got a fair number of boats at work now, as at last help came from the village of Paternoster, about two miles off, and helped us considerably. The method of getting the horses ashore I adopted was getting a long rope and throwing one end to the boat, getting the horses near the open doorway, attaching the other end to the horse’s head collar, and putting a blanket over his head, and then getting him over as best one could. Poor beggars! they had a drop of over twenty feet into the water. In this manner I saved over twenty horses, and my own three horses arrived safe and sound, so I came off splendidly, getting all my kit complete and all my horses. Well, I went on board at the risk of my life, and meant getting them.

.The first horse ashore (from a photograph published in the Cape Argus), Bristol Magpie, 18th January 1900

About three o’clock in the afternoon the ship’s crew ratted and left the ship, about twenty of them. The captain could not stop them, and I had unfortunately left my revolver ashore, so there I was on the ship with the captain and the ship’s officers, two men, and three of the ship’s crew, and all the boats gone – rather a nasty position, as the ship was straining a nice bit. Here my signalling came in useful (I had been taking lessons on board), and I signalled to the shore to send out two boats immediately. Then I watered all the horses and fed them, with the help of the others. Poor devils of horses! I was sorry for them; they seemed to know there was something up; it was most pitiable to see. I sent back a message on shore saying I proposed staying on board all night and watering and feeding the horses at three a.m., and then throwing them overboard, as the fresh water was nearly all gone, and they might as well have been drowned, with the chance of being saved, as any horse can swim about seven or eight miles, but an order came from the shore saying I was to come off the ship at once. Very luckily for me I did, for at two o’clock in the morning the ship burst asunder, just before the captain and ship’s officers left it. Although unfortunate in being wrecked, Providence looked over us in that it was quite, or comparatively, calm, and we were enabled to get the boats ashore on a coast studded with rocks, also that there was a village within two miles and a telegraph office within seven. So we were enabled to communicate our position to the authorities. If we had struck anywhere else we should have gone down at once, and had we not landed near some village, died of starvation and thirst, as 400 men drink a lot of water and get outside a large quantity of food. Then, again, saving all our kit, arms, &c., was most fortunate. Had it been rough no boat could have lived in the sea, as they would have been smashed up against the rocks for a certainty. So we have a lot to thank God for.
Today we had an awful march of twelve miles, and got taken on board the Columbian, helped by two men of war, and shall soon arrive at Cape Town.

I hope in time to catch the mail.

Written in fantastic haste.

Wednesday Morning, Dec 6.

.Camping Out, Black & White Supplement, 6th January 1900

.The bay at Cape Columbine, where the troops bivouacked (© Google 2020)

Runcorn Guardian, 30th December 1899



Major Hughes-Onslow, 10th Hussars, writes home with reference to the wreck of the Ismore. The following extracts from his letter are sent by his wife: –

We ran ashore at 2.30 a.m., December 3rd on a fearful ironbound coast. By the great mercy of God every man got safe ashore, as although we were on a reef a mile from land, the Ismore was stuck so fast that we had time to get all the boats out. There was a heavy swell, and tremendous rollers on the shore, but the inhabitants of a small fishing village pointed out a narrow inlet into a little bay to us, into which we rowed. We could do nothing for the horses except throw them overboard, which we did to as many as we could, but only 25 all told got ashore, and some of them are terribly injured by the cruel rocks. Both my chargers were saved, and are all right. We have sent the horses on by easy stages to Cape Town.

During the day we made several journeys to the ship, and got off as much kit as we could, but during the night the wind freshened, and now the ship is an utter wreck and quite unapproachable, and it is dreadful to think of the loss of our beautiful horses.

We had a rough time for the three days we were bivouacked on the shore – not much to eat, and no shelter and it was bitterly cold at night, with a hot sun and sharp wind all day, but we ought all to be very thankful for the wonderful escape from what seemed almost certain death. It is a very rough and wild country, with stony hills and the biggest rocks I ever saw dotted about. Nothing could exceed the kindness of the people, who are Kaffirs and Dutch farmers. They did everything they possibly could for us, and it was extraordinarily good luck for us that we landed within three miles of a fishing village, and twelve miles from a telegraph office.

The behaviour of the troops was splendid. They were as steady as if we were parading in the barrack square; every man stood in his proper place; there was not the slightest confusion or hurry; and they did exactly as they were told. Had there been the slightest panic a dreadful loss of life must have occurred, as getting the boats off was a most difficult business, owing to the heavy swell, and when they were launched they leaked so that half-an-hour’s baling had to be done before we dared let them start. Everything had to be done by the soldiers, as the ship’s crew were all employed in trying to shut the watertight doors, and keep the sea out of the engine room. If it had got in there before the fires were put out a fearful explosion would have occurred. The men worked unceasingly till dark and all next day, and finally marched the twelve miles to St Helena Bay over a heavy sandy track, and the whole time they were as cheery as possible, and every man seemed determined to outdo the others in pluck and work. In fact they all behaved like heroes, and lived up to the highest traditions of the British Army.

The troops referred to consisted of the “A” Squadron and a troop of the “B” Squadron 10th Hussars, the 63rd Battery, and 52 men of the Royal Army Medical Corps.

.Map showing the wreck site (32° 49’ 19.2” S / 17° 50’ 42.0” E) in relation to the bay where the men landed and bivouacked. The men had to row about 3/4 mile.

Essex Standard, 6th January 1900



We have this week received the following interesting letter from Major A.B. Cottell, of the R.A.M.C., recently stationed at Colchester: –

Green Point Camp, 12-12-99.

Dear Sir, – As I feel sure that the Colchester folk who gave No. 9 Company, Bearer Company, R.A.M.C., so kindly a send off on the night of Nov 3rd would like to hear how it fared with us when shipwrecked, I will, in as few words as possible, attempt a short description.

First let me say that the Ismore was some 7,000 tons and built this year (1899), and had on board the 63rd Battery of R.F.A., a squadron and troop, 10th Hussars, and my Bearer Company.
At 2.45 a.m. on December 3rd we were awakened by a rapid succession of heavy shocks and a loud, tearing, grinding noise, followed almost immediately by the cry of “Man the boats”.

With astonishing promptness and very little confusion the lads tumbled out of their hammocks and at once began our special duty – that of carrying the sick to the boat told off to us. There were about thirteen of them, but five were helpless pneumonia cases, and needed great care and forethought.

The Ismore being fitted with electric light only, this, of course, ceased directly the engines stopped, and, leaving us in complete darkness, added greatly to our difficult task,
The lads promptly obeyed my orders and enabled me not only to safely lower over the ship’s side all the sick, but also to carry them a fatiguing three miles over a sandy track to a village, and feed and house them there without any casualty whatever.

There was very little wind, but a heavy swell, surging over partially submerged rocks which almost surrounded the vessel, and rendered the boat work both dangerous and difficult.

We struck off Columbia Point, eight miles off St Helena Helena Bay, which is ninety miles north of Cape Town. We were about half a mile from shore, but we had more than a mile to row northward before we could effect a landing.

I had the barrel of the boat allotted to me filled with water, and after all the sick were in, managed to collect some bags of biscuits and tinned meats, and had them lowered into my boat and was thus able to feed all the troops (some 460) for the first day.

Next day we got water, fresh meat and some bread from the village. We bivouacked on the shore where we landed, so that we might save the horses and so much equipment and baggage as possible.
We made shelters of bushes but passed very cold nights, the wind apparently always blowing from the quarter where we had not put the bushes, so soon as we tried to settle to sleep.

I certainly should not like to repeat my experience, but I am glad to have witnessed the steady, quiet behaviour of our troops under such circumstances. It was delightful to see the cheerful, ready-witted manner in which the men adapted themselves, for the three days and two nights, to their uncomfortable surroundings.

We were taken off in boats from St Helena Bay and Paternoster, and embarked on the Columbian, landing here on Dec 6.

We are now re-fitting as rapidly as possible to enable us to get to the front. I regret to say that nearly all the horses, the guns and my bearer company waggons, stores, and equipments were irretrievably lost.

Major, R.A.M.C.,
O.C. No. 9 Company, Bearer Company.

Uxbridge & West Drayton Gazette, 6th January 1900




The following is a letter from Captain Meeking, of the 10th Royal Hussars: – “About 2.30 a.m., on Sunday morning, I found myself more or less awake, and heard the Captain talking in loud tones on the bridge, just above my cabin. All of a sudden I heard him say “Hard-a-port any way”. The next moment there was a bump, not a very hard one, but a fearful grinding noise just under my cabin. I sprang out of my berth, and heard the Captain stop the engines and shout “Man the boats”. I pulled ______ out of bed, and stuffed on some trousers and a jacket over my night things, and got out, when I found everyone turning out, and the ship’s officers calling to their men to come and cast the boats loose. By this time our men and the Artillery men had begun to get on deck, each with a lifebelt on or in his hand, and they went and stood to their horses’ heads at once, without any confusion whatever. We then told each party off for their boats, as they had been arranged before, and they helped the ships’ officers with the boats. The ships’ officers were excellent, and never lost their heads a bit. It was quite dark, but the engineers fixed up an electric light, which helped us. It was a difficult job, for some of the boats leaked badly, not having had water in them, and if we had had to get in them at once there would have been many too many. As it was one was filled as arranged for, but half the men had to be taken out as the boat was up to the gunwales in the water, and I thought once at sea would swamp her, and we got two or three boats on either side into the water and were getting the others onto the davits just as it began to get a little light. We could see some rocks showing about 100 yards ahead and some astern, and high land about half-a-mile off, just outlined in the morning mist. It struck me as exactly like some of the bays at Scilly, Hells Bay especially. About 3.30 the Captain sent off the 3rd officer to see if we could land, and he came back and said “Yes we could, but it was very rocky”. The tide was falling and the rock we were on began to show close to the companion ladder on the port side, and we were afraid one of the boats would hit it in the swell as we were trying to get _______, who was very ill and had to be carried, into the boat. All the boats that were launched went off, and we started getting the rest of the boats into the water pretty nearly unaided, as the chief of the crew had to go in the boats already launched to steer and look after them. However, we managed that somehow, until the boats began to come back, and some natives’ boats, also manned by Cape Bay fishermen, half-white, half-black. By this time, as the tide was going down, there seemed no danger of the ship slipping off the rock, so we began to get provisions, arms, etc., into the boats, and all we could get hold of, but nothing heavy, as the water had put out the engine-room fire 20 minutes after we struck, but luckily they were just able to stop it getting into the boilers before they were cooled down a bit by spreading tarpaulins over them, or the whole thing would have blown up, and there was no more steam, and we could not work the steam winch. About 9 o’clock those that remained knocked off to get some breakfast, and whilst they were at that the ship gave an awful crack, and the Captain told us to get the rest of the men off, so we did, only about six or eight remaining. We handed down some more arms, bags and anything we could get hold of. We had tried throwing some of the horses overboard, but we gave it up at last, as some swam out to sea and some round the ship, but we got three or four ashore that way in the morning and some more in the afternoon, but many were lost, which could not be picked up by the boats. When it seemed the ship was not settling down any more a few more men got on board again, and threw more horses over, and anything that could be got up into the boats, but in the afternoon the swell had so increased it was very difficult to get alongside. The men were wonderful with the boats, and many of them much better than the ship’s sailors. At dusk all except the captain and some of the stewards and engineers left the ship, and a native boat stood by all night. It was lucky they did, as at 3 a.m. they had to leave as the ship broke in half. A few more horses came ashore, but badly injured. Altogether we have saved most of our clothes, some chargers, altogether about 28 horses, many of which will be of little good, I have lost my three chargers and all my saddlery; my poor brown mare was thrown overboard, but somehow got her jugular vein cut in two, but managed to swim to the shore, where she died from loss of blood. We managed to wire to a village 12 miles off to Cape Town for help, and two men-of-war, and the Columbian transport (39) were off the wreck at 9 a.m. on Monday morning, but could not come within 3 miles on account of the sea, but by walking 14 miles to another bay, they got us off. Naval people say nothing short of a miracle saved us all, and we realise that if there had been the sea which got up in the afternoon we could never have launched the boats as we did. I managed to send off a wire home to say I was safe, fearing some horrible account or rumour might have reached home. One only now that it is over begins to recognise it as it is more like a hideous nightmare …illegible… extraordinary that out of 450 men and 70 crew no one hardly was even hurt, for which we may indeed thank a most merciful Providence. I cannot give any reason for the occurrence beyond that it must have been a strong current on the coast, and we were not far from where the Birkenhead was lost. It was close to Columbine Point, just outside St Helena’s Bay, where the ship struck on a reef with deep water all round had she slipped off”.

Baggage coming ashore (from a photograph published in the Cape Argus), Bristol Magpie, 18th January 1900

Lincolnshire Chronicle, 19th January 1900


Among those who were wounded at Rensberg was Private C. Smith, of the 10th Hussars, whose parents live at Grantham. Private Smith was on board the Ismore, and in a letter to a friend he gives a graphic description of the wreck. He says: – “It was a very trying time for us I can tell you. If the men had not kept cool and quiet, we should all have gone to the bottom. It was just about three o’clock on the Sunday morning that we struck the rock. Of course, we were in our hammocks fast asleep. At first we thought we had arrived at Cape Town, and that it was the anchor going down, but were deceived, and in a very novel manner. By Jove! it was a shock when we heard the terrible cry – “All hands on deck with lifebelts on”. At the same time we heard the water rushing into the hold of the vessel. We all went on deck and fell into our places. The order was given to keep cool and silent and trust to our officers. At first there was some trouble to lower the lifeboats, and every minute the waves broke over the vessel, and the lightning lit the rocks up like daylight. If you had seen those 500 men standing there, with hardly any clothing on, white-faced, and silently waiting for either death or the boat – it looked to be six to one on death – the waves breaking over the cruel rocks, some of them larger than a house. I had only a pair of trousers, a jacket, slippers, and a cap. At last we got on shore, and daylight was just coming. We managed to save a little baggage, but food and over 300 horses and artillery guns went to the bottom. We have had a pint of water a man and a few ship biscuits a day, and the broiling sun of Africa pouring down unmercifully on our heads, and we have no covering, as the helmets went down with the rest and most of our arms. We are getting fresh outfits here …. I don’t want any more wrecks; one is enough for me.

Mid Sussex Times, 23rd January 1900


Private C. Smith, of the 10th Hussars (whose name appears in the list of wounded at Rensburg) sent a friend at Paddington a description of the wreck of the transport Ismore: “It was just about three o’clock on Sunday morning that we struck the rock. Of course we were in our hammocks. We wondered whatever was the matter. At first we thought we had arrived at Cape Town, and that it was the anchor going down. But we were deceived in a very novel manner when we heard the cry ‘All hands on deck with lifebelts on!’ At first there was some trouble to lower the boats, and every minute the waves broke all over the vessel, and the lightning lit up the rocks like daylight. If you had only seen those five hundred men standing there, white-faced, waiting for death! At last we got on shore and daylight was just breaking. We managed to save a little baggage, but the food and five hundred horses, together with the artillery guns, went to the bottom”.

.Carrying troops to the boats, Black and White Supplement, 6th January 1900

Royal Cornwall Gazette, 1st February 1900

A private in the 10th Hussars writes that after arriving at Cape Town they went to Ellensbosch, where there were about 5,000 horses, and chose 150 Argentine ponies to replace the horses lost in the wrecked Ismore. In breaking in these ponies two of their best officers were so much injured that they were still going about on crutches when he wrote.

Staffordshire Sentinel, 19th February 1900


Corporal A. Andrews, a Reservist of the 10th Hussars, who was on the troopship Ismore, which was wrecked on the rocks in St Helena Bay on December 3rd, writes: Though it wasn’t three o’clock (when the vessel struck), the first boat didn’t leave the ship until nearly six; because not more than two of the crew seemed to know anything about it, and some of them even stole into the boats and wouldn’t come out until they had been shown a revolver. We were on the beach where we landed for three days nearly starving, and with hardly anything to cover us.

Peterborough Advertiser, 6th June 1900

Jack Baston, 63rd Battery R.F.A., wrote:

I had often read accounts of shipwrecks, and now know what they are like, and I never wish to experience another. She made a horrible grating noise when we struck, and I ran up on deck at once to see what it was. I heard the captain shouting “Get the boats ready”. I began to think I shouldn’t see England again. It was pitch dark, as the engine-rooms were flooded, so the electric light went out. However, I went down again, and we were all ordered to put life belts on, and stand at each horse’s head. Soon after that we were all ordered on deck, and told to get the boats ready for lowering. We were sleeping in the fore part of the vessel just near where she struck the rocks, and to see the iron stanchions bend and break just like broken reeds makes you begin to wonder whether you will ever see home again. But I am glad to say we did get off all safe and sound, yet we lost nearly everything, and when we landed at four o’clock we had just what we stood up in. At night we bivouacked four of us under one blanket, and the thermometer down nearly to freezing point, and we were all pleased to see H.M.S. Doris lying off shore on the following morning, waiting to help us as soon as she could get near enough.

.Arrival of the men of the 10th Hussars at Malmesbury, Black and White Supplement, 6th January 1900

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The wreck of the Transport Ismore, 3rd December 1899 1 week 5 days ago #85777

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With thanks to Dean McCleland. His full article can be found here: AJ Montgomery: Part 2 – Survivor of the SS Ismore Ship Wreck in 1899

.3786 Trooper Arthur John Montgomery, 10th Hussars

...... In the meanwhile, and in anticipation of our deployment to South Africa, a large number of Reservists had been recalled for service together with many older N,C.O.’s. Due to this surplus of N.C.O.’s, I had to revert once again to a Trooper like many other younger corporals had also been compelled to do so, even though some had been promoted to corporal many months prior to when I had received my promotion.

Colonel R.B. Fischer paraded us dismounted in a hollow square in the large Riding School and gave us an inspirational talk, informing us how the Regiment had always been in the front line. He also explained what an excellent record the Regiment possessed and hoped that the Regiment would soon be on active service and do its duty as the Regiment had previously done. That was the gist of his talk. Left unsaid were any reasons why we were going to fight, or any political rhetoric. He cut a fine figure of a soldier as he stood on the balcony with his officers arrayed around him. We entrained that night in our new kit. What a job of hard work it all entailed leading out own horses up the ramps into the horse trucks in the pouring rain. Dressed in our unfamiliar khaki, putties instead of jack boots and helmets instead of busbies, all in the dark of night. Then it was on to Birkenhead where our ship was sailing from. I recall sitting in the coaches soaked up to the knees and packed like sardines. When we arrived at the docks, we had to wait a long time in the early morning for the horses to be moved up to our ship for the transfer from their trucks. After what seemed like an eternity, the horses were loaded onto the ships as well as our kit and heavy baggage stowed away. It was only now that we had a little time to look around us. The ship was named the S.S. Ismore of about 3,000 tons. I guessed that it had previously been used to ship cattle to North America. I found out that the troops comprised our A Squadron and one troop of B Squadron, a Field Howitzer Battery of Artillery and a Field Ambulance Company. In total this consisted of about 455 troops together with crew as well as 334 horses. The rest of the Regiment was conveyed in the S.S. Columbia. The departure was delayed by one day owing to a heavy storm in the St George’s Channel and Irish Sea. This resulted in about a quarter of the crew deserting the ship based upon the well-known superstition about ships sailing on a Friday. As far as possible, Dock Police replaced the absentee crew by rounding up any volunteers among the dock workers and sailors waiting for jobs in the vicinity. So ended a day of high drama.

.Photographs previously posted by Smethwick

At long last, the ship was able to commence on her long voyage to the Cape. There was still a heavy swell on the sea and the horses in particular suffered terribly. Not being used to their cramped quarters and the unusual motion of the ship, they had to be attended to constantly. Meanwhile, the Troops were allocated to their different messes for feeding and sleeping, issued with lifebelts and hammocks. Later they were paraded in order to be allocated to their Boat Stations. Only then could they begin to settle down to life on board ship.

We all had plenty of work to do such as stable duty which entailed cleaning out the horse stalls by hosing them down every morning and exercising the horses when weather permitted. Besides the duties related to our equestrian charges there were many other duties to perform such as dubbing and oiling our saddlery, painting all bright parts khaki colour, perform mess orderly duties and also assist the cooks in preparing the meals and cleaning up the kitchens. More importantly, we had to spend plenty of time with our horses. In an attempt to keep them fit, we had to constantly massage their legs and “wisp” their bodies. After being at sea for a few days, an epidemic called strangles, which is a kind of equine distemper broke out among the horses and caused many to die before the end of the voyage despite our tireless efforts.

At this point, the meat ration had begun to get rotten and we were ordered to throw it overboard. Compounding this was the fact that the bread rations were totally depleted. The cooks were now compelled to issue the standard standby: “Salt junk.” This is a poor kind of preserved beef stored in barrels and soaked in brine. This was supplemented with hard ship’s biscuits which were much inferior to and coarser than the biscuits that the army issued us later in the field. The cooks were supplied with pemmican, a compressed dried mixed vegetable which had to be well soaked in water before cooking. The ship’s canteen which had been well stocked with cigarettes, sweets, biscuits and all kinds of things which were usually stocked in the barracks’ dry canteen, was sold out after about a week at sea.

The sudden change in diet caused a great deal of grousing among the troops and soon precipitated an epidemic of stomach and digestive troubles. The sick bay started to fill up with the worst cases which caused extra work for the rest. It was not only the food that was problematic but also the water. Not only was it rationed but now it had a nasty insipid taste. When we arrived off Las Palmas, we were signalled to carry on and not stop for coal. This action was precipitated by the urgent requirement for reinforcements for General French’s Cavalry at the front.

Volunteers were then requested from amongst the troops to assist in the stokehold – a compartment in a steamship in which the boilers and furnace are housed – carrying coal to the furnaces in wheel barrows. This took a lot getting used to.

The veterinarians and medical officers were being kept busy. The former were attempting to save as many sick horses as possible and the latter were striving to get the sick men healthy and fit again. It was really pathetic to walk around the stalls where the sick horses were isolated. Some of them had to be held up in slings, being too weak to stand while others were coughing up their lungs. We had all been constantly riding and attending to them for months. Consequently we had grown quite fond of our fine large troop horses, each of which was like a friend to us.

After being at sea for 30 days, I happened to be doing my turn as the ship’s night guard. On being relieved at 2am, I returned to the fo‘c’sle forecastle where the ship’s guard was quartered. I had been dozing in my hammock for about half an hour when we were awakened by a loud crashing noise directly underneath us. One Trooper answering the general cry of “What’s happening?”, saying, “We are just bumping against the dock in Cape Town”. The ship began to swing over at an angle. The noise on deck of horses trying to keep their feet and cries of men shouting orders, reverberated through the ship. Then came the shrill blast of the Bosun’s whistle and urgent shouts of “All hands on deck”. At this call, the Sergeant of the Guard ordered all the guards on deck and instructed the trumpeter to sound the alarm.

When we arrived on deck, we noticed that the engines had stopped and that officers and NCOs were shouting orders for everyone to parade at their boat stations, which in the pitch darkness of the night, was not easy. Our officers then called the roll and enquired whether we all had our lifebelts adjusted. A few men from each troop were instructed to stand by our horses. By now, everybody had realised that our ship had struck a rock and was aground. We could hear the roar of the surf breaking around the rocks and we were enveloped in a fine mist.

Orders were now passed along the ship that we were to remain silent at our stations and not to move about. We were also informed that our commanding officer, the ship’s captain and the Chief Engineer were down below to ascertain the extent of the damage done. At a later stage, orders were issued that we could stand easy and that a few men from each troop would be allowed below to our messes to fill our haversacks with everything required for an emergency.

The men now started discussing the situation, wondering where we were wrecked, how far it was to Cape Town and also blaming the man on lock-out at the fore Crow’s Nest for not seeing the rocks in time. There were many questions that we asked each other. Would the ship stay wedged on the rocks or would it slide off and sink before we could disembark? Eventually my turn came to go below to put some kit into my haversack. Whilst getting it from my large duffle bag, all the lights went out. Thereupon, I grabbed my haversack and made my way between mess tables, stumbling over kit bags and other odds and ends flung about on the deck, strewn everywhere, dislodged by the force with which the ship had struck the rock.

After wandering cluelessly around in the darkness, at last I stumbled against the gangway to the deck above. I was extremely relieved to breathe the cool fresh air as I regained my troop at their Boat Station. The first signs of dawn were now showing over the eastern sky and we could see rocks and land over the side. The crew were now ordered to lower the lifeboats which was the first intimation that the ship had to be abandoned.

Our officers now gave instructions for some of us to open the iron doors in the side of the ship and to lead our horses out of their stalls so that they could be given a chance of swimming ashore. Many of them refused to leap into the water. To force them overboard, we attached two surcingles together with a man at each end and heaved them over.

Volunteers were then requested from among the troops to assist in rowing the lifeboats to the nearest beach. I was one of those who volunteered. The others were employed on jobs such as gathering saddlery, arms and equipment from the holds and lowering it into the boats. I happened to be in the first boat to reach the beach. We had to row very carefully dodging the rocks. By now the sun had risen high up in the sky. The shore proudly displayed high sand dunes and rocks and the littoral stretched away both north and south from us. Based upon this fact, we guessed that the shore was on the mainland and not an island off the South West African coast as many of us had conjectured.

After rowing the heavy boat on a course to find a suitable beach to land our troops and stores, we found a small sandy cove and landed safely despite nearly overturning the boat in the huge boisterous breakers. What a narrow squeak it had been for us. One boat following ours did overturn and was smashed to pieces on the rocks. Fortunately, the crew and troop managed to swim the several yards to the beach, bruised and wet, but all the equipment in the boat was irretrievably lost.

.Map drawn by 3786 Trooper Arthur John Montgomery, 10th Hussars

After all the stores and equipment had been offloaded from the first wave of lifeboats, the officer in charge then ordered the rest of the boats to return to the wreck. We made three journeys backwards and forwards, bringing troops and equipment each time. On the way, we came across many horses swimming amongst the rocks and surf attempting to get ashore. Some were assisted by the boats’ crews whilst others were aided by troops swimming to them from the beach. Some were managed to be led by Troops by grasping their trailing head ropes attached to their headstalls and allowing them to swim behind the boats. Some were foolishly swimming away in the wrong direction out to the open sea and were drowned by exhaustion. All of the rest of the boats were doing their utmost to get as many troops ashore during daylight.

At last we made our final trip, our lieutenant urging us on, helping to row, in place of one of the boat’s crew who had collapsed from exhaustion. We all had sore and blistered hands, our backs ached, and we were terribly thirsty having had no water to drink. The ships water had been lost, spilled out after the Ismore had listed over to one side after striking the rock.

The Commanding Officer had in the meantime got into contact with some of the neighbouring farmers and a message had been sent by telegraph to Cape Town informing the authorities there about our plight.

The next morning, on looking for the wrecked ship, all that could be seen was a few feet of the stern jutting out of the sea. All of the guns, wagons and equipment still aboard, had been lost, gone to the bottom, as well as most of the horses. There had only been sufficient time to release very few of the 500 horses trapped aboard the stricken vessel and the remainder were left to their ghastly fate.

I counted only 22 horses saved and they were being attended to by our veterinarian staff as their condition was grievous after thrashing about among the rocks. We had managed to salvage all of our carbines and swords as well as some of our saddlery and helmets which had been kept by each owner. What a sight that early morning brought to our eyes. Men still in groups, some still sleeping lying about on the beach, some wandering about in search of water and yet others were looking for anything washed ashore.

At last we were ordered to fall in on parade and the roll was called. Trundling along came some ox wagons lent to us by some neighbouring farmers. Into them, we placed our surplus kit and equipment. We were then informed by the Commanding Officer that the farm folks would allow to fill up our water bottles from a nearby well. After that we were to march overland to St. Helena Bay where a ship would transport us to Cape.

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The wreck of the Transport Ismore, 3rd December 1899 1 week 5 days ago #85778

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Lloyd’s List, 10th January 1900



The stranding and subsequent total loss of the steamer Ismore at Columbine Point, 70 miles north of Cape Town, on Dec 3, was the subject of a Board of Trade Inquiry held at Cape Town on Dec 15 and 16 last. The proceedings took place in the Magistrate’s Court, before Mr W.M. Fleischer, R.M., assisted by Captain J. Rose (Roslin Castle) and Captain E. Sylvester (German), as nautical assessors. Mr Buissinné (Messrs Van Zyl and Buissinné) appeared on behalf of Captain F. Crosby, of the Ismore.

Edward Mylrea Donovan was the first witness examined. He said he was the chief officer of the screw steamer Ismore, 5,014 tons; her draught was 22 feet 4 inches forward, and 24 feet 2 inches aft. They left Liverpool on Nov 6, well found and fully manned. The crew numbered 35 all told. The Ismore had on board the 10th Hussars and the 63rd Battery Royal Artillery, with some medical corps, in all 447 non-commissioned officers and men, and 339 horses, 32 of which died on the passage. All went well until Dec 3. On the previous day at noon the ship’s position was taken by the master, second and third officers independently, as 30 41 S., 15 32 E. They agreed to within a mile. For the previous few days the weather had been fine, with moderate breezes. On the 2nd at noon the course steered was S. 3 E. by compass; it was altered one degree more to the eastward about 5 p.m. on that day; witness took an azimuth at that time, and an altitude at sunset. Witness went off duty at 8 p.m., and had no reason to believe the course had been altered. After he turned in the next he knew was that the ship was ashore. He was roused by one of the quartermasters, and went on deck immediately. He ordered the carpenter to sound the well. He saw the land along the port side. The first order he received was to get the boats out. All the troops and crew were saved. Everything that it was possible for a human being to do was done by the captain after the vessel struck. The point of stranding was at Columbine Point, four miles from the village of Paternoster.

By Captain Sylvester: When he took the altitude he found an error on the S. 3 E. course of 33 deg. W. At noon on the 2nd, Robben Island showed S. 38 E., true, distance 238 miles. He believed the course was altered another point east at 10 p.m. They were steering by his reckoning too far to the south at noon, and he supposed that was the reason the course was altered again. The sights were practically taken at noon by one men, but witness took sights for a double altitude at 6 a.m., and the third officer did the same at 8. The chart was easily accessible to the officer on the bridge.

By Captain Rose: This was the ship’s fifth voyage; she had been two voyages to Montreal and two to Norfolk. The standard compass was on the bridge-house, which was built of iron, with a wooden deck. As a rule the ship had made good course on the way out, but for a few days before the accident she had been making slightly westerly courses. They were spoken by the Greek before they went into Las Palmas. There was a Thomson sounding apparatus on board, but it was not used on this occasion.

By Mr Buissinné: They were always making allowance for the 33 deg. Known error in the compass. Witness left the ship about 3 o’clock on the Monday morning, Dec 4. He left hurriedly, because she was breaking up forward, and they were afraid the after part would go down in deep water before they could get into the boats. Up to that time he had not expected the ship to go to pieces so rapidly, otherwise they would have had a great many more things out of her. The captain, second and third officers, and two stewards left the ship with witness. On the same day, the captain, second officer, and witness made an attempt to get on board, but they could not get near her on account of the heavy sea. After that other futile attempts were made by the captain to board the ship. Witness had never been round this coast in a steamship before.

Thomas George McKenzie said he was third officer on the Ismore. At noon on Dec 2 he, with the captain and other officers, made an observation, and found the position of the ship to be as stated by the previous witness. He went on watch at 8 p.m., and went off at midnight, when the second officer took the bridge. The course at midnight was S. 5 E. Up to that hour the ship had travelled since noon 148 ⅛ miles by patent log, from which about 2 per cent had to be deducted.

By Captain Syvester: He took the morning sights at 8 o’clock, and worked them out for noon. An Admiralty chart of the coast was on the table in the chart-room, and the ship’s position at noon was marked off by the captain. That chart was lost. Witness saw no sign of land when he went below at midnight.

By Captain Rose: The captain came out at half-past 10 p.m., and told witness that when the wind moderated he was to keep the course S. 5 E.; previous to that at had been S. 4 E. The captain gave orders to be called at 4 a.m., and that a good lookout should be kept for the land. There was no anxiety as to the ship’s position. The lead was not used in witness’s watch.

By Mr Buissinné: If they had been where they thought they were at that time it would have been impossible to get soundings. This was his first visit to the African coast in a steamship. The change in the course was ordered by the captain, because during the day there had been a strong breeze abeam, and they had been keeping the ship up a couple of degrees, to allow for the leeway. Witness took a small boat, and went ashore to look for a place to land the troops, who were all got ashore safely. There was great difficulty in getting what horses were saved over the side, and they had to leave a considerable number on the ship. If she had held together another day he believed they could have saved them.

Albert Poole, quartermaster on the Ismore, said he went on duty at midnight on the 2nd, but did not take the wheel until 2 a.m., from Quartermaster Phillips. The course then was S. 5 E., and he steered that course until shortly after 2.30 a.m., when the second officer asked witness whether he did not think there was land ahead. Witness said he thought so, and the second officer went to call the skipper. About 2.30 witness heard the look-out strike his bell. The captain, as soon as he came on the bridge ordered witness to put the helm hard a-port. Witness did so, but the ship struck immediately afterwards. Witness had been 12 years at sea.

By Captain Sylvester: The ship steered well as a general rule. Before the second officer spoke to witness he had not noticed the land. She touched nothing until after the helm was put over. It was a “kind o’hazy” night.

By Captain Rose: Witness could hardly see ahead, because of the binnacle light shining in his eyes.

Edward Fitzgerald, A.B. in the Ismore, said he went on watch at midnight on the 2nd, and took the look-out at 2 a.m. in the crow’s nest on the foremast. It was very thick and hazy along the surface of the water. Before the ship struck he saw two rocks on the port bow, reported them, and saw them go astern. He struck the bell when he sighted those rocks, which the ship cleared. He got no reply from the bridge; some officers made a rule of replying, and some did not. Then he saw more rocks to port, and struck his bell again, and got no reply. Immediately afterwards she struck. In his opinion the first rocks he saw were 250 yards away from the ship.

By Captain Sylvester: The bell-signals from the crow’s nest were the same for rocks as for lights seen. He did not call out to the bridge when he saw the rocks.

By Mr Buissinné: He saw no high land before he saw the rocks. That was the first intimation he had of land being near. The headland was not visible on account of the haze. Perhaps two minutes elapsed between his striking his bell the first and second time. Witness had never been in a similar position before. He believed seven or eight minutes elapsed between his sighting the first rocks and the ship striking.

Wallace Anderson, third engineer on the Ismore, said he went on duty at midnight on December 2. The ship struck at 2.38 a.m. He received the signal to “stop”, and stopped the engines. He knew that the ship had struck. About five minutes afterwards he saw water rising over the stokehole plates. He had previously put the ashpit dampers on and closed the main damper, to prevent an explosion, and closed the water-tight doors, and put on three pumps. They were going about 12.5 knots when she struck.

By Captain Sylvester: The 12.5 knots was the speed by the engines, and that was about the same as the speed of the ship. The engine-room clock was set by the bridge at noon.
He could not say what the percentage of “slip” had been during the 24 hours.

It was stated that the first and second engineers had gone to England.

Mr Buissinné said that unfortunately the captain’s certificate and all the ship’s papers, except the logbook, had been lost in the casualty.

Donald Phillips, quartermaster on the Ismore, said he handed the wheel to Poole at 2 a.m. on the 3rd. He was then steering S. 5 E. It was a “kind of hazy” night – a pretty heavy haze. He remained on deck after 2 o’clock, but observed no land until the vessel struck. He was cleaning the wheel-house. The ship steered well as a rule.

Thomas Kerr, A.B., said he was on duty on Dec 3 on the look-out from midnight to 2 a.m. It was a hazy night. He saw no land up to 2 o’clock, and after that, although he was working on deck, he saw no land.

Major Wellesley Paget, R.A., said he was a passenger by the Ismore to the Cape. As far as he was able to judge as a passenger, Captain Crosby attended to his duties most thoroughly and most attentively in every way throughout the voyage. After the ship struck he used every endeavour to get the troops, their kit, and as many of the horses as possible ashore. That was a business of some magnitude, and tested the energies of the ship’s company to the full, but it was the ship’s officers that did all the work; they were very badly served by the crew.

By the Magistrate: He was on deck within a couple of minutes after the vessel struck. It was very dark, and he could not see from the main deck whether there was any haze on the water. No military officer was on deck. Only eight horses of 129 were saved; the guns were lost, with wagons and ammunition. Witness and Major Alexander, who commanded the other units on board, left the ship together, were both struck with the admirable coolness and resource of Captain Crosby.

The Court then decided to call the second officer, who was on watch at the time of the casualty.

Mr Buissinné objected on the grounds that the witness had parted with his certificate to the Court, and that he was practically on trial.

The Magistrate: You don’t refuse his evidence?

Mr Buissinné: If you overrule my objection, you will take his evidence.

The Magistrate said this was not in the nature of criminal proceedings; the Court had only in view the getting at the facts, and the evidence would be taken.

Patrick George Lewis, second officer of the Ismore, said they left Liverpool on Nov 6.

The Magistrate: I am not compelling you to give evidence, but you can, if you choose, make a statement.

Witness: I am prepared to make a voluntary statement. Continuing, witness said he went on watch at midnight on Dec 2, relieving the third officer, who gave the course as S. 5 E., and left instructions to call the captain at 4 o’clock and keep a look-out for land. They went on all right until about half-past two, when he saw something black about 3 ½ to 4 points on the port bow. Not seeing any land ahead, but only this patch, he called the master, who came up, and said he could not make out whether it was land or not, but told witness to put the helm hard a-port for safety. Just as she was going round witness saw a rock on the port side, and the man at the look-out struck one bell; instantly, before she struck, the man sounded another bell. The engines were stopped at once, and the boats were got out. The ship was going, he thought, between 11 and 12 knots at the time. The captain was not on the bridge at any time. He did not use the lead at any time; there was no necessity. It was a dark night, but clear overhead, with stars visible. He saw something dark on the bow, but was doubtful whether it was land or not. He agreed with the other officers as to the ship’s position at noon on the 2nd; the latitude was the same, but there was a mile difference in the longitude between the captain and himself.

By Captain Sylvester: As day broke they could see a haze over the land, but it was not perceptible in the dark. Witness was absent from the bridge a very brief time, when he called the captain. He must call the master before he used the lead, as for that purpose he had to go aft, and could not leave the bridge. He did not look at the chart when he came on watch. He had no idea of how far soundings extended off the land at that point. The chart they had was a small scale chart of the South Atlantic Ocean. He took no steps to fix the position of the ship at midnight. The course they were steering was supposed to take them 23 miles clear of Columbine Point.

Captain Sylvester: It didn’t occur to you to put the helm hard a-port, and call the master afterwards?

Witness: I looked ahead with the glasses, and could make nothing out ahead; I saw no danger.

By Captain Rose: The captain never put any restraint on us altering the course without first consulting him in case of emergency. Witness took the same interest in his duties that he had taken since he had been in the employ.

By Captain Sylvester: There was no chart on the bridge. The chart was kept underneath the bridge, and it was just as easy to call the captain as to see the chart.

This concluded the evidence called by the Court, and Mr Buissinné called Captain William Anderson, who said he was master of the screw steamer Meath, which arrived in Table Bay from Cardiff, with coal, on Nov 26. He passed Paternoster on the morning of the 25th. From noon of the 24th he found a set-in towards the coast of 13 miles per 24 hours, with light S.S.W. wind and moderate sea. He had a true extract from his logbook, which said: “Nov 24, noon, lat. 31 01 S.; long. 15 52 E.; course steered (true) from there, S. 35 E.; magnetic, S. 8 E.; deviation 2 ½ deg. E.; course by compass, S. 11 E. At 9.30 a.m., 25th inst., hauled the ship south, Castle Point then bearing east 5 miles; 10.15 a.m., altered the course S. 11 W., Duminy Point then bearing east by south, 3 ½ miles. From position at noon 24th, and making Castle Point, I found the ship had set eastward 13 miles; also a strong current setting in coming down coast. My course from noon position on 24th was set down to make Dassen Island right ahead”. Witness made no soundings; they could not be had outside 8 ½ to 9 miles from Paternoster. He laid his course straight for Dassen Island, but came down inside the island even after hauling the ship out to westward. He attributed that to a very strong current setting in towards the coast. He had been on this coast in a steamship twice before, in 1890, and this set-in was a new experience to him; it was a good deal stronger than he anticipated.

By Captain Sylvester: By the line of soundings on the chart he thought they could get soundings nine miles from Paternoster with Sir W. Thomson’s patent sounding machine. Witness did not carry one.

Captain Jackson said he had had a master’s certificate 10 years. He knew the coast from Cape Town to St Helena Bay well, and had been in and out of all the small ports on the west side. He had always found a very strong set-in to the eastward, going up to one or one and a half knots. On the night of December 3 he would be about 30 or 40 miles off Paternoster, abreast of where the Ismore was wrecked, and found a strong set-in. Although he had laid a course to take him 35 miles off, he altered it 4 degrees further west, and even with that he was considerably inside his course. The captain of the British and Colonial Steam Navigation Company had printed instructions to give and outlying dangers a wide berth, as “the currents vary in a manner which cannot be foreseen”. After knowing that, and making allowance to carry him out, he still found himself eight to ten miles nearer the coast than he anticipated. The night of Dec 3 was a very dangerous one for strangers to the coast. He made the land at daylight; he should have made it before, but it was all covered with haze. For several days previously he had experienced a set of about one degree to the westward, but as he got nearer the shore he found suddenly this set to the eastward.

By Captain Sylvester: They had no westerly swell until south of Paternoster.

Captain George Hayward, in command of Clan Sinclair, said he knew the coast well. He arrived in Table Bay on the evening of Dec 8 from Liverpool and St Vincent. The day previous to his arrival he experienced a strong N.W. set, with a high southerly sea and head winds. He was then steering a course to pass 25 miles off Paternoster Point and Dassen Island 10 miles, but when he took sights at dawn he found the course he was steering would only clear Paternoster by 15 miles. He then set a course to Pass Dassen Island by 10 miles, but found himself six miles off. Then he shaped a course for Green Point, but had to haul out fully a point and a half to make his course, having Robben Island in sight. He had often experienced these strong currents on the coast, and made allowance for them. Had he been a stranger he should have allowed more.

Captain Wilson Curtis, master of the Blanefield, which arrived at Cape Town at 4 a.m. on Dec 6, passing Paternoster at 6 o’clock on the previous evening, said coming down the coast he experienced a very strong set-in. On the 5th, he set a course to pass Paternoster by 23 miles, but when he made the land, by cross-bearings and observations he found the ship had set in to the eastward six miles since noon. He had to haul out to S. 12 W. to pass Dassen Island, six miles off. It was then blowing a fresh gale from S.S.W., with a high sea. He did not know of any book or any chart which showed these strong easterly currents.

By Captain Sylvester: We were doing about seven knots per hour in the previous 24 hours, but I do not think the wind and sea would have set her in without the current so much as six miles in four hours.

Mr Buissinné put in a statement made by Frederick Crosby, master of the Ismore. He had held a master’s certificate since 1882. The Ismore was launched in April 1899; she was of 5,014 tons net burden, with triple-expansion engines of 507 nominal horse-power. They left Liverpool on Nov 6 with troops and horses, and a cargo of guns and stores for the Cape, but had to put into Moelfre Bay through stress of weather, and later into Milford Haven on account of sickness among the horses, finally sailing on the 11th of November. They reached Las Palmas on the 16th, and there received instructions from H.M.S. Ermes to shape a course straight to Table Bay. He experienced ordinary weather throughout the voyage. Nothing of note occurred until the early morning on Dec 3. Captain Crosby had left the bridge at 10.30 p.m. on the 2nd, and gave orders that a sharp look-out was to be kept for land, and that he was to be called if it got thick or hazy. He lay down fully dressed on the settee. About 2.30 a.m. he was awakened by the officer Lewis, who reported he thought he saw land or a fog bank two points on the port bow. He immediately responded to the call, went on the bridge, and though not certain of what he saw, instantly ordered the helm to be put hard a-port. She promptly obeyed, and had been brought round to S.S.W., passing two rocks visible to port, when she ran on a sunken rock and remained fast at 2.38 a.m. At 2.40 he stopped the engines, but did not reverse, fearing the ship might drop off the rock into deep water. He took soundings and found deep water at the stern. Then he gave orders for the boats to be lowered and hung off the ship. The sea was smooth, and no boats were lost in the launching. He waited for daylight. The ship was taking in water rapidly and in half an hour the fires were put out in the engine-room. At 4 a.m. he sent away the third officer in a small boat with four hands to look for a safe place for landing, and on his return at 5 a.m., reporting good landing, Captain Crosby got the troops and kit into the boats and sent them ashore. There was no panic or excitement, and the bulk of the troops were landed before 10 a.m. There were 18 boats engaged, 12 belonging to the ship, and 6 from the shore owned by Mr Stephan. All the troops and crew landed safely, and 32 horses (3 of which died later). The remainder of the horses he tried to get over the side, but that was a task of great difficulty, and they had to be abandoned. He thought it excellent work to land 530 souls and their kit in 14 hours of daylight. At the time the ship struck the weather was clear at sea, but somewhat hazy over the land. He had lost his chronometer, sextant, all his papers, and most of his clothing, but had lost no lives. The sea rose on the Sunday evening, and the ship had completely broken up. He was the last man to leave her, at 3.15 a.m. on Dec 4. Two days previous there was a set-off from the coast, owing to the S.E. by S. wind, but that changed to S.S.W. on Saturday morning, and blew strongly to 4 p.m., moderately to 9 p.m., and then fell calm. He had been 28 years at sea, and served under four owners, without meeting with any accident. He attributed the loss of the ship to the strong set-in from the west between Saturday noon and the time she struck.

Mr Buissinné, in addressing the Court on behalf of Captain Crosby, said he thought his evidence had shown conclusively that there was a very strong set-in about the time the Ismore was wrecked. There was no doubt the set-in was known, and he would make no point of it’s not being known, but it was an extremely uncertain set-in. It varied so greatly in strength that even old shipmasters, after making due allowance, had been carried far out of their course, and, in the cases of the steamers whose masters had been called, and who all made the land in daylight, it was possible that more than the Ismore might have been lost on these rocks had they all made land at night. The consensus of opinion was that this was a dangerous coast, with a strong easterly current of varying rate. Then all the evidence went to prove that this was a very hazy night; one witness called it a dangerous, deceitful night for a stranger on the coast. The second officer, it was said, might have first put the helm hard a-port, and then gone to call the master. That would, as things had turned out, have been a wise course to adopt, but it was easy for the Court, sitting calmly there, to suggest the course which would be justified by subsequent events. The look-out saw no land; the second officer, when he used the glasses, could see nothing ahead, and, as he was instructed, went to call the captain, thinking there was ample time to do so. When the captain came on deck he saw no land, but being doubtful, he ported his helm, as it was his duty to do. Among the passengers was Major Paget, of the Royal Artillery, who was not called as a nautical expert, but as one who had had ample opportunity of seeing the manner in which Captain Crosby fulfilled his duties on the voyage. He testified to the unvarying attention and thorough seamanship of the captain, and to his coolness and resource in a time of exceeding trial. Some mention ought to be made of the loss of the ship’s papers, which had all gone down with the vessel. Captain Crosby had on his ship a number of her Majesty’s troops, whom he knew were urgently wanted at the front. He devoted all his energies during the Sunday to landing those men, their kit, and as many horses as could be saved. He succeeded in landing all the soldiers and his crew; not a single casualty occurred, and when night came on the captain had to stop work. In the early morning he was called abruptly from sleep; the ship was breaking up rapidly, and he had to leave by the boat hurriedly. All his own effects as well as the papers were left behind, but on three occasions afterwards he attempted to board the wreck to recover these, and each time was compelled to abandon the effort. Everything he did was done well, and he (Mr Buissinné) submitted to the Court that Captain Crosby, who had no more idea he was so near the coast than had other shipmasters who were driven out of their course by the sudden in-set of current, had afterwards done his duty strictly, thoroughly, and conscientiously.

The Magistrate delivered judgement as follows:

The Ismore was a steam vessel of 5,014 tons burden net. Official No. 110,575, belonging to Sir Edward Bates and Co., of Liverpool, but worked by the Johnston Line of steamers. Her draught on leaving Liverpool was 22 feet 4 inches forward, and 24 feet 2 inches aft. She sailed from Liverpool on Nov 6 for the Cape, with about 231 officers and men of the 10th Hussars, the 63rd Battery Royal Artillery, and a number of officers and men of the Royal Army Medical Corps; she was well found and equipped, and fully manned. On the afternoon of Nov 6 the Ismore was compelled to put into Moelfre Bay on account of heavy weather, and remained there until Nov 8, at 9 p.m., when the weather abated, and she put to sea. The next day she put into Milford Haven, owing to sickness among the horses, of which there were 350 on board. She left Milford Haven on Saturday, the 11th, at 7 p.m., for Las Palmas, and arrived there on Thursday, the 16th, at 10 p.m., and remained at the anchorage until midnight, and then sailed direct for the Cape. All went well until 2.30 a.m. on the 3rd of December, when she struck on the Columbine rock and became a total wreck. At noon on the Saturday the position of the ship was found by observation to be latitude 30 21 S., longitude 15 30 E., with an error in the compass of 33 degrees W., making the real course S. 36 E. This course was steered until 5 p.m., when it was altered to S. 4 E., the error still remaining the same. The second officer relieved the bridge at midnight, taking over the course. At this time the vessel had made 144 miles since noon on Dec 2, and allowing this distance on the S. 37 E. course, it will be seen on reference to the Admiralty chart that the vessel was drawing near to the dangerous coast, and the lead should have been used. In our opinion, the use of the lead at any time after 1 a.m. would have shown the dangerous position of the vessel and averted the disaster. The vessel was 13 miles inside her course, the result apparently of a strong set to the N.E., but no allowance was made for that set, which is clearly shown on the chart and in the sailing directions, “African Pilot”, Part 2. Nor did the master nor the second officer examine the chart, or take any step whatever to use the lead. We are of the opinion that the vessel was navigated with proper and seamanlike care after midnight, and that the master should have made an allowance for the set of the current, the exceptionally hazy state of the weather, and used the lead. We find the loss of the Ismore was due to the wrongful act or default of the master, and we do adjudge that the certificate of the master, Frederick Crosby, be suspended for a period of six months. We are further of the opinion that the second mate was to blame in not ascertaining at midnight the position of the ship on the chart, or even looking at the chart, although his orders were to look out for land during his watch, and he did not act in a seamanlike manner at about 2.30 a.m., when he saw black appearance on his port bow, which he should have known was land, by not at once porting his helm and reporting to the master. We adjudge that the second mate, Patrick George Lewis, be censured. The certificate of the master having been lost, is not attached, and the certificate of the second mate is returned to him.

In the course of the morning Mr Buissinné asked the Court to allow Captain George Hayward, master of the Clan Line steamer Clan Sinclair, to make a slight correction in his evidence reported. It was stated that Captain Hayward laid a course that would take him 25 miles clear of Paternoster Point, and found himself within three miles of that spot. What he really did say was that he expected to be 25 miles off the point, and actually came within 15 miles of it, owing to the strong set inwards.

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The wreck of the Transport Ismore, 3rd December 1899 1 week 5 days ago #85782

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Thank you Neville for starting this thread. Not only is it very interesting, it's most interesting to me as I recently acquired the medals to a DCM recipient in the 63rd Battery RFA who was on board when the ship struck the rocks and sank. He was one of the three officers, and 130 men who survived, but lost their guns and all their horses.

HIs particulars from his medals are:
QSA: CC, TH, OFS, RoL, TR and LN officially named to: 30798 A. BR. R. C. Hooper, 63rd Bty.. R.F.A.
KSA: SA01, SA02 officially named to 30798 Bomb: R. C. Hooper. R.F.A.

Unfortunately, the EVII DCM is missing. He was MID - LG 10/09/1901 p. 5934, and his DCM was gazetted 27/09/1901 p. 6309.
(If anyone knows the location of Hooper's DCM, I would be very interested in reuniting the group.)

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The wreck of the Transport Ismore, 3rd December 1899 1 week 5 days ago #85786

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Western Daily Press, 26th September 1900

Across the encouraging picture of British progress a shadow is cast by the report from Cape Town that the transport Suffolk has been totally wrecked and that between eight and nine hundred horses on board have been drowned. This disaster is the second of the kind that has occurred since the outbreak of the war, for it will be remembered that the transport Ismore, on which the 63rd (Horfield) Battery of Artillery sailed from Liverpool en route for the theatre of operations, was lost not very far from the same place. On that occasion guns as well as horses were lost, with the result that the 63rd Battery was sent to the front equipped with weapons described as being about as useful as pop-guns for the work in hand.

Lloyd’s List, 5th September 1903



Evidence given by Mr Stephen J. Graff, C.B., Assistant-Director of Transports.

….. One vessel was lost entirely, the Ismore.
Under what circumstances? – Negligent navigation; she ran ashore at St Helena Bay, north of the Cape, and 315 horses were lost.
And a battery of artillery? – No men were lost.
But the guns of a battery were lost? – Yes. The sum of £28,000 was recovered from the owners, as they were liable under the Negligent Navigation Clause. The full assessment was £31,000, but at the advice of the Admiralty solicitor it was compounded for £28,000.
I suppose there was an inquiry into the case? – Yes, a regular Board of Trade inquiry, and the result was negligent navigation by the master of the ship. He was caught in a fog, and did not make the proper allowances.
Was the ship that was lost with the battery of artillery insured? – I imagine so, by the owners; the Government do not insure, of course.
I understand the Government lost nothing but £3,000? – That was all. The whole of the balance was recouped to them.

East Anglian Daily Times, 23rd December 1908

The Ismore was chartered by the British Government to convey artillery to South Africa during the dark days of the war in 1899. It so happened that the vessel was carrying the new pattern gun, which was so essential to the success of the British forces, when once the Boers had demonstrated that their guns out-ranged ours. The Ismore went down in St Helena Bay, carrying with her the precious guns and their equipment.
Her loss was one of the severest blows of the war, and it had a tragic sequel far removed from the veldt. The Ismore was owned by the late Sir Edward Bates. He was ill at the time, but when the news of her loss reached him, recognising, as he did, what it meant to the British troops, he took the matter so much to heart that he never recovered, and, in the opinion of his friends and medical advisers, death was hastened, if not caused, by grief at the loss of the ship and its grievous consequences.

These two aerial photographs show the treacherous nature of the coastline. If the weather had not been calm, the small boats would have stood little chance of making it to the shore safely (with thanks to Jean Tresfon).

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The wreck of the Transport Ismore, 3rd December 1899 1 week 3 days ago #85800

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A letter from QMS J.W. Needham,63rd Battery R.F.A., who was also Ship's QMS on the Ismore. About half the letter relates to the Ismore, and I've included the rest of the letter for anyone with an interest in the 63rd Battery.
....Quarter-Master Sergeant Needham, of the 63rd Battery Royal Field Artillery, writes to Mr. James Parkes, of Congleton, the following very interesting letter:—
63rd Battery R.F.A., Field Force, Natal,............
Colenso, 18th February, 1900.......
....Sir,— At last I have found time to write to you a few lines, although I only can write when I get a few minutes interval. At the present moment we are in action about the very place where the Boers upset our little lot some little time ago, i.e., the Battle of Colenso.
....Well, since I left Congleton I have had some peculiar passages, which I will now put on paper for you and all my Congleton friends (good old Congleton) to digest, if you do not mind me taking up your valuable time.
....On leaving Congleton on October 17th I proceeded to Bristol to join the 63rd Battery R.F.A. which was under orders for active service in South Africa. I arrived quite safe at Bristol, and at once proceeded to tackle my work as Battery Quarter-Master Sergeant. I am sorry to say things were not as satisfactory as they ought to have been, the previous Q.M.S. having "gone off his onion," and the work was very trying till we sailed. I was at it day and night, and then did not finish as I should have liked to do, but all the same we got
on the evening of the 4th of November, 1899. The 10th Hussars had a portion of their regiment on board, also the 6th Bearer Company R. A. Medical Corps, in all about 500 military and about 380 horses. We finished embarking about seven p.m., and I felt rather pleased when I had finished taking over of Messes and hammocks for the troops, which was not until about ten p.m. I had been at it all day, after riding in the train from Bristol to Liverpool, soaking wet through, and felt regular done up.
....We sailed next day, Sunday, but only proceeded for about one day when we had to put into a road close to Great Orme's Head for shelter, the weather having turned up rough. We stayed there till the evening of the 8th November, when we started again. During this time
and the Hussars had already lost about eight or nine horses, so it was decided by the Captain, advised by the officer commanding troops, to put into Milford Haven for advice, we having no Vet on board. Every horse seemed to have something wrong with it. We put into harbour, and a Vet came, and after a lengthy inspection, he decided that there was no infection on board, and that the horses were suffering from exposure contracted whilst travelling in open trucks the night before embarking, when it rained heavily all the night.
....Again we started on the evening of the 11th of November, and everything went on merrily. I was Ship's Q.M. Sergeant, but he was a poor Chief Steward, so I did not fare so well as I might have done. The only events were the deaths of several more horses of the Hussars, and the troops having sea-sickness. I myself, I am pleased to say, was never sick a moment. The sickness only lasted, of course, a day or so, until we reached Las Palmas. We reached this place at 10 p.m., the 19th, I think, and they merely sent from shore to see if we had water and fuel sufficient to last the voyage; if so, we must proceed at once for Cape Town. We had sufficient of the aforesaid, and we proceeded from Las Palmas about midnight, which was rather
who had expected to have a rare spread of fruit, etc.
....I might mention now that the arrangements on board the Ismore for dry canteen goods, fruit, eatables, minerals, etc., were decidedly very bad, as before we reached Las Palmas they were completely sold out of everything but cheese and boot laces; no minerals, fruit, butter, jam, or any tinned stuff of any description could be got. I fancy they had intended to fill up supplies at Las Palmas instead of putting them aboard at Liverpool as they should have done. So we could get nothing but ordinary ship's rations, which are not very grand I can assure you. Salt pork and hard biscuit one day, corned beef and fresh bread the next, plum pudding and pea soup once a week.
....Well, we continued our voyage (a splendid one; weather cold but could not have been better) and nothing alarming occurred till the morning of the 3rd of December, when, as you no doubt know
....I will give you a few details of the affair if you can spare time to go on with this lengthy epistle.
....On Saturday, the 2nd December, the troops were in high glee, thinking we should disembark the following day, as we were only about 150 miles off Cape Town at five p.m., and the boys rubbed merrily away at their accoutrements, etc., and got their kit packed as far as possible for disembarking. All turned in as usual at night, and everything seemed all correct, and we were expecting to reach Cape Town about 6 a.m. next morning. But we did not, as about three a.m.—I was only half asleep myself—I heard a
as if the bottom of the vessel was being torn out, and it was nearly, as it turned out afterwards. I sprang out of my hammock at once, wondering what could be wrong, when I thought to myself "Can it be the anchor dropped? If so, we are at Cape Town." But on second thoughts I knew it could not be that, as the noise was too great, and had only been a short time, so I quietly got into my hammock again, as I knew what a panic would mean. By this time a number of the men had been on top deck, and, coming down, were rushing about shouting "She is going down." I commenced laughing and joking, telling them it was only the anchor dropped, and that all was correct, or she would not be so steady. Steady she certainly was, and well might that be considering that she was jammed tight from forepart to amidships on a rock. By degrees they quietened down, and
and they were so steady that a great number rolled up their hammocks ready for putting away. This I saw afterwards. The order was then given, "All hands on deck." I went on deck, where all the troops fell in just as on any other parade. All was quiet and in good order.
....I got on the hurricane deck, and had a look round. Dawn was just beginning to break the darkness; seawards I could see nothing but one mass of foaming breakers; shorewards nothing but tremendous masses of rocks with intervals of seething foam. Looming up at what appeared to be a half-a-mile or so's distance. I could see a dark mass, which I judged to be land. We were almost end on, and it appeared as if we had passed through three or four miles of breakers, and the officer had headed direct for shore. How he got so near land as he did is a marvel, which I think will never be explained. When too late he perceived danger, and tried to turn her off, but could not.
....I went on the troop deck again, when the order was given, "Stand to the horses," and the men fell in on the usual posts as for "Fire." During this time the fires had been put out, and I looked down into the engine rooms, and in this short period the
so you may judge the hull was pretty well opened. The order was now given to put on helmets, water-bottles, haversacks, and life-belts, and to fall in on parade again. This was done smartly, but I saw several men of my battery without life-belts, and I went below and brought up all I could find. To tell you the honest truth I never felt the least afraid, and never once thought of any danger, as everything appeared to go so smoothly.
....They now proceeded to lower the boats and fill them with troops. As they became filled they pulled shorewards, the land being now plainly seen. By seven a.m. there was only the ship's officers, two of our officers, about half-a-dozen Hussar officers, myself, and about ten men of my Battery and thirty Hussars, and a few of the ship's crew left behind. The Captain now said the ship would be safe for another couple of hours, so we proceeded to make and have some breakfast. Then we commenced to get what kit, etc., we could on deck, ready to lower into the boats as they came back. With my few men I worked like a ...... getting kits up. Then we stopped that and watered and fed our horses. We then threw one overboard to see if he would swim ashore. I am pleased to say he did, as also did about twenty others which were thrown over during the morning. Several were
We then commenced at the kits again, and stuck at it till about ten a.m., when the ship gave a terrible lurch to starboard. She had been heeling over slightly all the morning. I was below deck at the time, and made sure she was going down, as while we were working there the water kept forcing the hatches up, and the iron standards between decks were bent like pins with the pressure of water underneath.
....The order was now given, "All hands on deck and clear of the ship," as the Captain now said he would not be responsible for her a moment longer. We lowered ourselves into the boats and went ashore. We found it was an island, called by the natives Dassen Island. The natives supplied us with bread, brought beasts for us to kill (on payment of course), and we bivouacked here for three days,
Then a couple of gunboats came to our assistance, and we were taken on board the transport Columbia, on which we proceeded to Cape Town, which was sixty or seventy miles away.
....I might tell you that on the Sunday the Ismore broke up the stern part heeled over to starboard, the stern up in the air, while the forepart was just on the point of going down head first. We saved a considerable quantity of kit, arms, ammunition, etc., but I am sorry to say we lost all our guns and carriages completely—a great loss to us, and in fact to the country, as it delayed us going to the front considerably.
....Disembarking at Cape Town we proceeded to Maitland Camp, about five miles from the docks. On the way I got Transport, called at the Ordnance people from whom I got camp equipment, and I also called at the Army Ordnance Corps and got supplies for the men. So we settled down here for a little time, while I tried my level best to equip the battery again. I went every day to Cape Town with waggons hoping to get clothing and necessaries for the men, also harness for the horses, and other equipment for the carriages, guns, etc.
....Well, believe me, sir, I thought
....In England I would have had hard times, but this capped all I had ever gone through. We had to purchase civilian articles in most cases, as the Ordnance Department were not prepared to fully equip a Battery throughout. But at last we got from England a Battery of guns and carriages complete (except stores which I managed to half equip them with in Cape Town) on the 22nd December. On the same day we struck camp and embarked in the S.S. Algeria for Durban. We had by this got a full Battery of horses and harness, and we sailed the same night. After a pleasant voyage, we disembarked on December 27th, so I had Christmas Day on board. I was again ship's Q.M.-Sergeant, and fared much better than on board the Ismore. I got up a concert for the night of the 26th, and it was a great success. We entrained at once and proceeded to a place called Mooi River, where we stayed four days trying to complete the Battery with what we required. We then moved by road to Estcourt. Here again four days' same old routine trying to complete the Battery. We were getting nearer the front, though. We again moved on by road to Frere, stayed a couple of days, and then moved on day by day till we got to Springfield, where we camped four days.
....On the 20th of January (my enlistment anniversary), 1900, we came into action south of the Tugela River, which we forced, and marched on to Spion Kop. At this place a great battle was fought. We were
commencing on the 21st, and continuing to the 27th, horses harnessed up all the time. It was a very warm time I can assure you. We lost one man, two horses, and ten horses were wounded. And, the worst of it, we had to retire as the Boer position seemed almost impregnable. We retired to Springfield again, and camped for seven days. We were visited by General Buller, and our Battery was particularly complimented on their smart movements, good shooting, and the discipline of the personnel of the Battery.
....We started again for Poitgers Drift, where we came into action on the 5th February, and remained in till the 8th. At this place the battle of Vaal Krantz was fought, and it was fearful. We entered a horseshoe-shaped valley nearly surrounded by hills which were occupied by the Boers. They seemed to have
How we got away with the small number of casualties we did I cannot understand. Shells seemed to drop and burst in every place. My Battery had one man severely wounded, three horses killed, and two horses severely wounded. I myself had two very narrow escapes. I was issuing rations at one of the supply waggons, when a shell struck the near fore wheel and buried itself in the ground, covering all of us with soil, etc. Not a man was hurt. The next time I had just moved the ammunition waggon to a fresh cover, and was standing (mounted) facing the enemy's position when I heard a shell coming towards us. Instinctively I could feel it was a near thing as it passed over my head and buried itself about five yards in the rear of me. It must have had a large angle of descent or it could not have missed me. I dismounted and examined my horse, it being very restless, and found that a small splinter of the shell had struck it right on top of the head between the ears, and had made rather a nasty wound. So you may guess
But it is nothing as it seems to be an every-day occurrence—just missed!
....We again retired to Springfield and stayed two days, and then moved on again to Chieveley where we camped for four days. Again we moved in from Colenso and came into action on the 14th inst., and at the present moment (6 a.m. the 21st inst.) are still in action. We appear to have been a little more successful here, as we have advanced about six miles, and appear just now to have a clear front, although we shall not move for two or three hours till this front has been thoroughly searched, making a slow but sure game of it. At present we have only two casualties in this action, a sergeant and a gunner wounded in the hands, both slight.
....Now just a few lines about this business: I must say we live very well indeed. We get corned beef, biscuits, cheese, bacon, tea, coffee, bread and fresh meat in lieu of biscuits and bully beef when ever the opportunity offers. This is, all camps; but at the present moment we are getting bread although at the front. But then again we are badly pushed for water. Just as an example
since the 13th inst. Again I have not had a stitch of clothing off since that date, not even the spurs off my boots. These are only a couple of the miseries we have to put up with. Bivouac in the open every night—it rains five nights out of the seven, and when there is no rain there is very heavy dew, which is as bad and the only protection we have against this is a waterproof sheet each man (6ft. by 3ft.) and one blanket between two men. Then the difficulty of obtaining water for the horses and men is very great—we have to go miles for it. For instance I sent the water cart at 5 a.m. for water. They will have to go about six miles over a very rough country. I expect them back at about 3 p.m. As for the horses, we send them a few teams at a time to a dirty pond about three miles back, close to a farm lately occupied by Boers. The remainder of the difficulties are too numerous to mention, so I will leave them till I have an opportunity of detailing them verbally. That is, all being well.
....I will conclude now (as I sit writing this there are guns going off every five seconds, so we have about nine batteries in action besides garrison and siege guns) with my kind regards to yourself and family, trusting you have had a jolly Christmas, and will have a happy and prosperous New Year, and remain,
Yours sincerely,............
J. W. NEEDHAM.......
....P.S. At the present moment, 4.30 p.m., 22-2-00, we are having a great artillery duel, and our Infantry are advancing on Groblers Hill, we having taken Colenso, and half our Army is over the Tugela River."
Congleton Chronicle, Saturday 31st March 1900
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