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A rare unit? QSA to Natal Transport 6 years 1 week ago #23606

  • Rory
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I recently acquired a beautifully toned QSA to Condr. J.T. Todd, Natal Transport (inscribed thus on the rim) with clasps confirmed to Tarnsvaal and Laing's Nek.

John Thomas Todd hailed from the Verulam area of Natal and was, variously, a Farmer as well as the Superintendent of Police attached to the Verulam Town Board (one man and his dog springs to mind here)

I have never seen a medal (which is in every way authentic) named to this unit. Has anyone else? I have one to the Natal Volunteer Transport Service but this is a new one to me.

Any info would also be highly appreciated.

Regards

Rory

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A rare unit? QSA to Natal Transport 6 years 1 week ago #23656

  • Frank Kelley
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They are certainly rare, named like that, you do see the odd example named Natal Transport Service or Natal Volunteer Transport, I can't remember the last time I saw one, from memory their roll is in WO100/261, but, to be quite honest, I think the same can be said of many Natal Volunteers, it was a colony without a large pot of money.
Here, even medals to the larger units are quite scarce, although, they certainly do, on occasion, turn up, like everything else.

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A rare unit? QSA to Natal Transport 6 years 1 week ago #23662

  • SWB
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Hello Rory

I have one to Robert J Speirs with no clasps.

How are the clasps attached to yours - on the roll all the clasps are crossed out.

Speirs is an early/first settler family: a Robert Speirs settled at Brooklands, the Dargle ex Conquering Hero September 1850. In 1862 a James Speirs is mentioned in relation to the death of Thomas Hodgson (Hodgson's Peak, Drakensberg). The Speir family owned a farm which is now Mount Park Guest House .

Exactly who "my" Robert J Speirs is I don't know. There are many mentions in NAAIRS:

1906 – a RJ Speir at Montrose, Howick Rail
1911 – Death notice Robert Speirs


Regards
Meurig
PS Not forgotten King.
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A rare unit? QSA to Natal Transport 6 years 1 week ago #23665

  • Rory
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Hi Meurig

Small world B) Read below I have the medal to either the brother or son of your man.

Regards

Rory

I have also posted photos of the clasps and would value your opinion.


If memory serves I have already posted the QSA to the above chaps son who was caught up in the Siege of Ladysmith with the Natal Carbineers. Here is the story of his father who, at the age of 60 and with only one hand, stood ready to defend his family, his farm and the district around him.

Charles Pennell Speirs

Trooper, Nottingham Road District Rifle Association

- Queens South Africa Medal – no clasp

Charles Speirs was born in County Aitrim, Ireland the son of Robert Speirs and his wife Agnes on 27 February 1840. He and his siblings, Jane Tweed, Robert and Alexander were brought up there until, no doubt as a result of the financial depression in the United Kingdom and the potato famine in Ireland at the time, Robert decided to emigrate to Australia. This destination subsequently changed to Natal.

The family emigrated under the Byrne scheme sailing in the second of the Byrne ships bringing settlers of Scottish descent to Natal. This was the 320 ton brig “Conquering Hero” which cast off from the Clyde on 29 March 1850. Being rather a sluggish vessel she took 90 days before casting anchor off the Bluff, Port Natal on 28 June 1850.

After having a good look at it Robert Speirs rejected the allotment of land assigned to him at Byrne near Richmond and, instead, undertook a four day trip by ox wagon to where a suitable farm was found in the Lidgetton area of Lions River. Robert had brought saw milling equipment with him on the voyage over and it was thus necessary to source a well wooded and watered piece of land.

Originally it was intended that a large turbine was to be used to operate the saw mill that finally came into existence but as Charles Pennell wrote, “through a fault in the leading on of the water the turbine proved powerless”. The family struggled on in true settler fashion with what they had.

Early on Charles was sent to Durban to live with his future brother-in-law, Alexander McArthur who was later to become Mayor of Durban, and to attend school there at what was still a modest sized settlement. According to family records Charles had a good handwriting and was an articulate man in later life with adequate business knowledge - obviously the by-products of his rudimentary education. In 1856 at the age of 16 Charles returned to the family farm, now called Brookland, where he was to remain the rest of his life.

From the early days the farmers in the area were plagued by raids from Bushmen who would come over the Drakensberg Mountains from what is now known as Lesotho and steal the stock leaving a trail of destruction and hardship in their wake.

Early in March 1862 cattle and horses belonging to Charles had been stolen, one horse of which had cost the princely sum of £40, a lot of money in those days. A mounted Kafir was started to inform Lugaju’s (a local friendly chief) people at the Imphendle location so that they might try to intercept the thieves. Then the nearest neighbours were called together and a posse which included Charles was formed which went out to hunt the perpetrators down. After a long and exhausting ride, headway was being made which led to the Bushmen resorting to their normal tactic of slaughtering all the animals that were slowing them done in their bid to flee.

Charles Pennell was a man of very strong character and integrity and was, by all accounts, kindly and compassionate although, by the same token, being a strict disciplinarian.

The following extract from his Obituary lends credence to the impression created above: “Mr. Speirs’ house was known everywhere for its wide hospitality and kindly welcome to one and all. Many men are looked up to and respected for their abilities and business qualifications, but Mr. Speirs was beloved for his kindly disposition, his tenderness of heart and his memory will linger on in the Dargle and Imphendle districts, and elsewhere, where he was well known as a true friend and honourable gentleman, whose sterling qualities were beyond question.”

Following his father’s insolvency in 1868 Charles seems to have become the patriarch of the family guiding its destiny until the last two years of his life when he suffered a stroke and was cared for by his wife and son.

The long period of 59 years he lived on Brookland and his other farm Mount Park was broken only once, when he and the Fannin brothers went in search of diamonds along the Vaal River. This was probably in the Barkley West/ Schmidsdrift stretch of the river near Kimberley. The small party were away for three years and it is said that Charles did “fairly well”, his diamond adventures enabling him to build his homestead where it still stands today.

His bravery was manifested in his actions when, together with George Fannin, they went to search for his father,Robert Speirs who was missing in the Drakensberg on the back of one of the interminable Bushmen raids. Charles, 22, backtracked to the summit of the mountain to the site of Hodgson’s grave, into the very stronghold of the Bushmen and returned safely. Whereas this might not sound like much of an achievement it must be remembered that a vast tract of land between the farm Brookland and the summit of the Drakensberg had to be negotiated which was inhabited by renegade Kafirs, Hottentots and Bushmen and all this mounted on horseback.

As a boy in his early teens he was permitted to join the Durban Volunteer Guard and at a later stage he enrolled in the Karkloof Troop of the Natal Carbineers. In a newspaper article written in 1915 it was stated that “For a long time he was a member of the Natal Carbineers, and took part in the expedition to Kranskop in 1860, when Cetewayo threatened an invasion of Natal, and again in 1865, when an inroad of the Basuto’s took place.” The article also mentioned his diamond expedition stating “in 1870 he formed one of the Natal pioneers of the Kimberley diggings, devoting a good portion of the nearly three years he was there to the river diggings initially at Pniel, but eventually at Colesberg Kop, the now great Kimberley Mine”

On 17 December 1873 Charles Pennell Speirs married Helen Grace Somerville King, daughter of John and Janet King of the farm Lynedock. (Helen’s sister was to marry Charles John Smythe, the Prime Minister of Natal, in 1876.)

The first of ten children came into the world in 1877 with one following every 21 months on average over a period of 18 years. Charles and his wife were to know tragedy, their son Oscar Bruce was cruelly killed in a saw mill accident on the farm in 1895 and Fergus Stuart died of pneumonia at the age of 21 in 1906.

In 1886 Charles lost his right hand which handicapped him considerably for the rest of his life. In 1887 he was appointed a JP – Justice of the Peace ( a position which carried some serious prestige in society at that period – for the County of Pietermaritzburg and was allotted two Native Constables who lived on his farm and carried out their duties from there. He was also a member of the Road and Licencing Boards for the Lions River Division.

In October 1899 the Anglo Boer War broke out and much consternation was caused in local circles as a result of the rapid movement of Boer Commando’s heading south intent on getting into Pietermaritzburg. Town Guards and District Rifle Associations sprang up everywhere. The Nottingham Road Rifle Association had been formed in January 1890 with members coming from far afield including Charles Speirs. Rifles used were Martini Henry’s and the recoil from one of these could leave one’s shoulder sore and blue for a week.

When the Boers got as far as Mooi River the second line of defence, the Nottingham Road Rifle Association, was called out. They, Charles Speirs among them, were stationed at Nottingham Road to patrol as much as possible, and to check the enemy advance until additional Imperial troops arrived. Two deserters from the Boer side came in and gave them themselves up at Strathearn, James King’s homestead. They were German blacksmiths from Germiston and had been commandeered. Charles’ son James Gordon was in the Siege of Ladysmith serving with the Natal Carbineers.

For his efforts Charles Speirs was awarded the Queens South Africa Medal.

The war over in May 1902, life returned to normal and the Speirs’ continued to raise their family in an idyllic environment despite an ever present lack of funds. In 1906 the two Native Constables attached to Charles Pennell as Justice of the Peace, warned Helen Grace that all the Native kraals on the farm were full of assegais and the inhabitants had been told to kill all white fowls and anything else that was white. This intelligence was reported to the Police who claimed it was nonsense. Only a few months later the Bambatha Rebellion broke out and Mount Park went into laager. The Zulus were on the summit of nearby Inhluzana chanting war cries, all the sons took turns patrolling through the night. The indentured Indian servants were terrified and the women were told to retreat up into the loft above the dining room in the event of the Blacks closing in on the house. Luckily there was no incident and the Bambatho Rebellion continued elsewhere.

Charles Pennell suffered a stroke and was more or less bedridden for the last two years before he died on 13 May 1915. His wife, Helen Grace, lived a mere 35 days after his death, dying on 27 June 1915.

He left behind a sizeable estate to the tune of £7 357. He and his wife are both buried in the family cemetery at Mount Park. A remarkable man, son of the soil and original immigrant to these parts.







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A rare unit? QSA to Natal Transport 6 years 1 week ago #23667

  • SWB
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Fascinating Rory, thanks.

Having recently driven through Natal it is easy to forget the gentile looking landscape was once a "wild west frontier" of danger and hardship.

The rivets look just fine in those photos; again this increases my belief that the medal rolls we read were not used to make up the medals. There were multiple copies of the medal rolls.

I've recorded three others to this unit: WC Ralfe, FJ Stafford and EW Fordham.

There are just 87 names and some served in other units so no clear idea of how many named to this unit.

Regards
Meurig
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A rare unit? QSA to Natal Transport 6 years 1 week ago #23676

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Rory

Only found a small write up in the Spink Anglo Boer War Anniversary sale.

The Natal Volunteer Transport Service was formed in Pietermaritzburg in 1899 and had an original strength of two Officers, one Warrant Officer, and seven Non-Commissioned Officers, all mounted. Native drivers, two per wagon, were employed. It was organised as a Mounted Brigade Train with mule draft for the first line and oxen for the second line. During the Natal campaign the unit took over the supply services of the Natal Royal Rifles. 30 medals were issued of which 4 bore the clasp 'Relief of Ladysmith'

The Natal Volunteer T.S. should not be confused with medals named to 'Natal Transport', a very similar unit. This unit was formed to ameliorate the deficencies in Buller's transport system. It would appear that it was made up of civilian contractors. 62 medals were issued named to the Natal Transport.

Regards

Jon
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