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TOPIC: They found it a "Rude Port" - John P Clover's Boer War odyssey

They found it a "Rude Port" - John P Clover's Boer War odyssey 2 years 7 months ago #55441

  • Rory
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John Poulter Clover

Bettington’s Horse – Rand Rebellion
Trooper, Nesbitt’s Horse
Constable, Johannesburg District Military Police – Anglo Boer War

- Queens South Africa Medal with clasps Cape Colony, Paardeberg, Driefontein and Johannesburg to Tpr. J.P. Clover, Nesbitt’s Horse
- Kings South Africa Medal with clasps South Africa 1901 & 1902 to Const. J.P. Clover, Jo’burg D.M.P.

John Clover was one of only 7 recipients of the Kings South Africa Medal to the Johannesburg District Military Police but before he served with them he was very active in other parts of the country with Nesbitt’s Horse.

Born in Bombay, India on 15 June 1863 he was the son of William Walker Clover, a Merchant by occupation and his wife Elizabeth. His baptism took place on 20 July 1863 in the Christ Church Bryculla in the Archdiocese of Bombay. The family didn’t remain in India for many years after his birth; his father deciding to take the family back to England.

The 1871 England census revealed that a 7 year old John was at home at 108 East Albert Road, Albert Park in Toxteth Park, Lancashire. His father was now pursuing the occupation of Cotton Broker. John was the eldest followed by siblings William (4), Mary (3) and Laura (1). As befitted a family in elevated financial circumstances there was an abundance of servants in the forms of Mary Ann Thomas, Ellen Jones and Harriet Powel.

At some point after this Mr Clover appears to have taken his brood over the sea to nestle in Ireland. It is not immediately clear if John was part of the trek although there is no reason why he would not have been included. Whatever the case may be he wasn’t to see English shores again in his lifetime.

The earliest available Irish census (post 1851) was that of 1901 and, in this census, we see Mr Clover senior, now an Agent for Wine and Spirits, resident at 5 Proby Square, Blackrock in Dublin. He was not alone – with him was his wife and children William Henry (34), Elizabeth (36), Laura (30) and, tellingly, a 7 year old granddaughter named Kate Cecilia Hamilton Clover born in Queensburgh, Durban, South Africa in about 1894. This we know from John Clover’s death notice to have been his daughter. Thus we know that he had made the decision to move to South Africa before 1894.

At some stage after his arrival he made the move to the Witwatersrand – the recent discovery of gold had created huge international attention and had attracted chancers and prospectors, in almost equal measure, to Johannesburg in search of their respective fortunes. The “Rand” was the place to be and, as we shall see later, this influx of people was one of the major causes of war at the end of the 19th Century.

But first there was the matter of Dr Jameson to deal with. This gentleman, a close friend and ally of Cecil John Rhodes, decided to raise a number of loyalists in an effort to ride on Pretoria and bring down the Boer Government of Paul Kruger. One of the outfits raised was Bettington’s Horse, not to be confused with the outfit of the same name that saw service in the Kaffir Wars of 1877 – 1879. It was to this body of horsemen that Clover betook himself. In order to get a clearer view of what role they played in the whole affair I turn to excerpts from a book entitled “The Life of Jameson” wherein the following appeared,

“Colonel Rhodes (Frank Rhodes) decided to send out Bettington and his mounted men (about 100) ‘with instructions to ascertain the whereabouts of Dr Jameson’s force, and if possible, join them.’

Bettington, on the other hand, told the present writer that he was ordered to ride out and discover the meaning of some star-shells that had been sent up, no doubt by the Raiders; that he rode along the Krugersdorp road as far as Maraisburg, where he found Trumpeter Valle, who said that he had been sent by Jameson with despatches for the Reform Committee, that he had started at 2 o’ clock in the morning, and that his horse had foundered, and asked Bettington for a horse and guide to take them through.

As Bettington and his men were cantering forward in the direction from which Valle had come, they heard a noise of hoofs galloping behind, and looking back saw a mounted messenger pressing after them. It was Sandilands who had been sent by the Committee to countermand Colonel Rhodes’ orders.

The Committee were expecting an attack from the north-west, so it was put, and Colonel Bettington was to take his regiment in that direction. Bettington obeyed grinding his teeth with vexation and disgust.

Thursday 2nd January 1896 had been a day of bitterness in Johannesburg. It began with high hopes that Jameson would get in but only a few knew that the Reform Committee had decided that it would be rash to fight and every attempt to send out help to Jameson was countermanded in one way or another. The streets were full of clamour. In the height of the trouble Bettington and some of his men came up the street. Colonel Bettington had been one of the most thorough going of the agitators and had long been convinced that fighting was the only way to get any change of government out of Kruger…”

As can be seen from the above Clover, as part of Bettington’s Horse didn’t participate in the Jameson Raid but, under the leadership of his volatile Colonel, there was every chance that he could have been in on the action were the Committee not to have back-tracked.

Undeterred Clover seems to have remained in Johannesburg after the dust had settled busying himself as an Engineer on one of the mines in the area.

But trouble was brewing – the long simmering tensions between Boer and Brit, exacerbated by the Jameson Raid, spilled over into open war on 11 October 1899. Clover, in his claim for compensation after the war, stated that he left the Transvaal on 29 October 1899 taking passage in a steamer from Lourenco Marques for himself and four children. He was by this time a widower travelling on a free ticket from Johannesburg to Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape – his final destination.

But what had he left behind? In the words of one T. Froes in a pamphlet he penned in late 1899 entitled “Expelled from the Rand” he wrote that,

“Since the eventful days of the Jameson Raid Johannesburg has been in a state of almost continual unrest, sensation has followed sensation with startling rapidity. Under the best of circumstances Johannesburg is not the most desirable place in the world to live in; under normal conditions it is a place to make money in; it is “free and easy” but today with the possibilities of money making out of the question and with tens of thousands of its most enterprising and energetic citizens expelled the Transvaal, it has quickly become a howling wilderness.”

On the situation Clover would have faced in Delagoa Bay (Lourenco Marques) Froes had the following to say,

“On arrival in Delagoa Bay I could not help thinking that, at that period, in this particular part of the world, the British subject was reckoned neither fish, flesh, fowl, nor good herring. Expelled from the Transvaal, an alien in Portuguese territory, his lot was certainly far from being a happy one. The privations and hardships endured by the refugees from Johannesburg during their enforced exile at Delagoa Bay will, if the tale is ever fully told, add a new and startling chapter to the sufferings which have to be endured by non-combatants whenever nations decide upon the final arbitrament of war.”

Fortunately Clover was merely passing through – shortly after arrival in Grahamstown he, on 28 December 1899, enlisted with Nesbitt’s Horse for service in the war. Confirming that he was an Engineer and Farmer who had served in Bettington’s Horse he was 36 years of age and took the oath to “serve until the end of hostilities, within the area for which this Corps (Nesbitt’s Horse) has been formed (namely the District of Albany)

This corps, about 300 strong, was raised by Colonel Nesbitt, "a veteran South African campaigner". As in the case of many other Colonial bodies, the strength varied greatly in the course of the campaign, being at one time about 5 squadrons.

Part of the corps accompanied Lord Roberts in the great fighting march from Modder River to Bloemfontein, being in the 2nd Brigade of Mounted Infantry, at first under Ridley, afterwards under Le Gallais, and they were generally attached to the VIIth Division under General Tucker. On arriving at Bloemfontein the strength of the corps was officially stated at 8 officers, 119 men, and 136 horses - very few corps were so well supplied with horses. Nesbitt's Horse were with Le Gallais and Tucker in the stiffly contested battle at Karee Siding on 29th March, Le Gallais' men taking a very important share in the work. The Boers were driven from their position, and the road towards Brandfort was opened.

When Lord Roberts moved north from Bloemfontein, Nesbitt's Horse were with the City Imperial Volunteers Mounted Infantry and Lumsden's Horse in the mounted infantry corps which did the scouting work on the front and flanks of the central divisions of the army, being more particularly attached to Tucker's VIIth Division. During the whole advance from Bloemfontein to Pretoria they had work which was hard, continuous, and most responsible, and several times had sharp fighting, as at the Vet River on 3rd May, when they suffered some casualties. After Johannesburg was reached the mounted infantry of the VIIth Division were split up: neither that Division nor Nesbitt's Horse were present at the battle of Diamond Hill.

Clover served with Nesbitt’s Horse until 28 November 1900 on which date he took his discharge having fought at Paardeberg, Driefontein and the battle for Johannesburg. His Queens medal for his efforts was issued from the roll dated 18 March 1902 at Somerset East. But it was his service after this that was quite interesting. After a hiatus of some five months he joined the ranks of the little-known Johannesburg District Mounted Police on 1 April 1901. It must be remembered that at this time Johannesburg was firmly under the control of the British authorities but this did not mean that marauding bands of Boers didn’t make the odd incursion into the surrounds of the city making mischief.

To gain insight into what duties they were required to execute a look at a memorandum from the Office of the Commissioner of Police, Johannesburg to the Adjutant General at the War Office in London is necessary. There had been a dispute over the award of a Kings Medal to members of the Police who, it was felt in some quarters, had not been in the firing line and were thus ineligible for the medal. The Commissioner, writing on 4 November 1904 disputed this providing incidents where the J.D.M.P. had been in action,


… on the subject of the Kings South Africa Medals in which you state that under a recent decision, regarding the issue of the medal in question, service with the Transvaal Town Police does not, in itself, qualify.

I beg to inform you that many of the Police is chiefly composed of men drawn from the Regular and Irregular Corps which served in South Africa during the war. Many of these men while still in the army were drafted into the Police. They performed military duties and were soldiers under the terms of the Army orders 232 and 233 of 1903. They were armed with rifles and were on outpost duty day and night holding the entrances to the Town of Johannesburg and the Mounted Men of the Force were on permanent outpost duty holding both the ground to the North of the town and along the Witwatersrand as far as Krugersdorp on the West and Brakpan on the East a line of about 40 miles.

This Force was frequently attacked and the patrols were in daily touch with the enemy. Their services were recognised by the G.O.C. the forces and several officers and men were mentioned in despatches. I note below a few of the occasions in which the Police were actively engaged from which it will be seen that several men were killed and wounded in Military operations. In the maintenance of Martial Law in the time of War the whole Force were daily in the same risk of life and limb as other bodies employed in the field and their employment on outpost duty in and around Johannesburg released a large body of the Regular Forces for mobile work.

On 8th April 1901 the Police captured a party of the enemy near Elsburg. On 15th April the Police recaptured a flock of 2 500 sheep and drove off the enemy, wounding one.

On Aril 26th 1901 a herd of cattle was recaptured from the enemy and heavy firing took place. On April 28th 1901 firing took place between a Police patrol and the enemy near Florida. On the 7th June 1901 an attack was made by 400 Boers on the Magazine of the Castle Colliery at Springs and repulsed without loss.

On the night of July 5th 1901 simultaneous attacks were made on the Police posts at Roodepoort and Florida which are about two miles apart; at Roodepoort some 200 Boers attacked the Police Post off 33 men. The Police succeeded in driving the Boers out of the village with some loss. At Florida the attack was made by 25 Boers. A sentry discovered them and commenced firing at 40 yards distance and held them in check until they were reinforced when the Boers retreated leaving one dead and one wounded Boer and 3 dead horses behind.

On the 4th February 1902 a skirmish took place near Brakpan and the Boers were driven off and on 25th April 1902 the Boers raided a farm about four miles south of Johannesburg and the Police were sent out after them.”

The above account and other correspondence is contained in the Archival File no. 2064/09 entitled “Eligibility of the late Johannesburg District Mounted Police for the war medals”

To further highlight the role they played an extract from the “Biggleswade Chronicle” of 30 August 1901 is provided,

“Mrs Purser, a few days since received a letter from her son Harold, late of Compton’s Horse but now of the Johannesburg District Mounted Police. The letter is dated August 2nd and was sent from Roodepoort, a small place not far from Johannesburg. The extract which is as follows, shows that even near Johannesburg, danger on the part of the Boers is not as yet entirely removed. – “A little time back Roodepoort was attacked by the Boers, about 400 in number. They attempted to rush the place at night time, but they found it a “Rude port”. Luckily for us, they got mixed up in our barbed wire. We heard them coming, laid in our trenches, opened our magazine on them and thus soon upset their game. They had 4 men killed and 18 wounded.

I secured a hat from one of the dead Boers, as a curio. He had been shot right through the head, the bullet going clean through the brim of the hat, and coming out the other side. It is a little blood stained, still I would not use “Sunlight” on it for a good deal. I forgot to say there were only 26 of us here, all told.”

In another memorandum dated 22 October 1909 the Secretary of the Law Department wrote unequivocally as follows,

“The Johannesburg District Military Police did not form part of the Transvaal Town Police, Johannesburg during the late campaign.

The Johannesburg District Military Police performed service in the field other than ordinary Police duties.

Service in the Johannesburg District Military Police was such as would count towards the necessary period of 18 months qualifying service for the award of the Kings South Africa Medal.”

The matter thus settled Clover and his few colleagues were awarded the Kings Medal named to the Johannesburg District Military Police off the roll dated 30 October 1909 in Pretoria – their long wait for recognition was over.

Reference was made earlier to Clover claim for compensation and it would serve our purpose to return to that documentation which provides valuable insight into the man and his movements. Completed at Johannesburg on 18 September 1902 Clover provided his address as Room 18, 186 Market Street, Johannesburg. He stated that he was a Widower and that, prior to leaving the Transvaal in October 1899, was employed as an Engineer with the Crown Reef Gold Mining Company Ltd. He was now employed by Messrs. Prentice & Mackie, Standard Bank Buildings, Johannesburg. At the time of his departure he was living in one of the Company’s houses on their property.

He stated that since the outbreak of the war he was resident at Port Alfred before departing on active service as a Trooper with Nesbitt’s Horse whereafter he served with the J.D.M.P. Importantly he stated that he was attached to the Railway Pioneer Regiment whilst thus employed. His property (and here a lengthy and detailed inventory was provided) was left in the house situated on Crown Reef’s property “at the junction of the northern and eastern boundaries.” He returned to Johannesburg with Lord Roberts column on 31 May 1900 and, in total, he was claiming an amount of £128.17.0 in respect of furniture and belongings which had been looted in his absence. Mention was also made that he had been employed by the Crown Reef Company for the past seven years.

As was almost always the case with compensation claims there was a delay – Clover fired off a letter to the Refugee Aid Department on 24 March 1903 as follows,

“Sir, I beg to inform you that I have made a change in my address to c/o Mrs Loftus, Maxwell Street, Ophirton. I shall be glad to know when I can get a settlement as I have been out of work for 5 weeks and my family and self are now existing on borrowed money.

I am sir….”

The claim was eventually settled with Clover receiving £104 of the £128 claimed.

Clover was thrice married – he lost his first wife, Cecilia, in 1899 and his second wife, Annie, in 1911. He wed his third wife, Agnes Campbell Anderson, a 33 year old spinster born in Edinburgh, Scotland, at St, George's Presbyterian Church in Johannesburg on 9 September 1911. He was 48 at the time and resident at 388 Andries Street, Pretoria.

He passed away on 24 June 1937 at the age of 74 and was resident at 36 Good Hope Street, Kensington, Johannesburg at the time of his death. He had a financial interest in a farm in the Waterberg area of Nylstroom which was owned and run by his son William Blake Clover.

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They found it a "Rude Port" - John P Clover's Boer War odyssey 3 weeks 9 hours ago #68358

  • Denisclover
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Rory. Fantastic story. JP Clover was my great grandfather. I was interested to read all the facts you found out about him. I was also amazed to see you had his medals. I'd love to find out more...

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They found it a "Rude Port" - John P Clover's Boer War odyssey 3 weeks 6 hours ago #68365

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Hi Denis

I'll PM you my e-mail address - we can communicate that way.



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