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TOPIC: Captain Edward Lucas - Natal Carbineers - DoD - 7 August 1900

Captain Edward Lucas - Natal Carbineers - DoD - 7 August 1900 7 months 4 weeks ago #66302

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Lucas was one of only 3 Natal Carbineers officers who perished during the Boer War - I am proud to be the custodian of his medal

Edward Lucas

Captain, Natal Carbineers (Officer Commanding Richmond Road Troop) – Anglo Boer War

- Queens South Africa Medal with clasps Defence of Ladysmith & Transvaal to Capt. E. Lucas, Natal Carbnrs.

Edward Lucas was another of those unfortunates who succumbed, not to a bullet fired in anger but to the ravages of disease, precipitated by the ghastly conditions prevalent in Ladysmith during the Siege.

Born on 7 April 1864 in Darlington, County Durham, he was the son of Arthur Lucas, a well-to-do and respected Solicitor, and his wife Mary Ann, born Thompson. The first glimpse we have of him comes courtesy of the 1871 England census where, at the age of 6, he was at home with his parents at 6 Green Park, St. Cuthbert’s in Darlington. The family was a large one and Edward was never in want of playmates – for siblings he had Arthur (8), Mary (6), William (4) and Ellen (1). Of servants there were as many as there were children with Elizabeth Walker, the Governess, joined by Elizabeth Reid, Elizabeth Gibson, Elizabeth Wilson and Margaret Wilson. (Mrs. Lucas must have been partial to the name Elizabeth when she interviewed for domestic help!)

Ten years later, at the time of the 1881 England census, the picture was somewhat altered – a 17-year-old Edward was, along with his older brother Arthur, away at Boarding School attending Clifton House, a part of Clifton College in Bristol. This august centre of learning was described as “a very handsome edifice, for the education of young gentlemen”. The College Register shows that all the male Lucas children received their education here under the watchful eye of the Reverend Walker, Headmaster.

Having entered the College in January 1879, Lucas went to Class III A under Housemaster Henry Dakins. Leaving the school in April 1882, he pursued his legal studies and became a Solicitor, like his father, in Darlington. Having plied his trade there for an unknown length of time, Lucas, imbued with the Victorian spirit of adventure, determined on a course that would take him to the sunny climes of far-away South Africa. Quite when he emigrated is unknown but, by the time of his first marriage on 30 July 1890, he was already a practicing Solicitor in Durban in the Colony of Natal.

This aforementioned wedding, at St. Saviour’s Cathedral in Pietermaritzburg, was contracted between Lucas and Caroline Theresa Gibson of that City and was celebrated by the Dean, Reverend James Greene, and in the presence of the bride’s father Robert Gibson and a Colonial noteworthy, Percy Kimber.

But tragedy was to strike the couple early in their married life – the weekly journal “South Africa” carried the dreadful news that, on 4 June 1891, “at Berea, Durban, Caroline Theresa, the dearly loved wife of Edward Lucas, solicitor, aged 24 years” had passed away.

Devastated by this blow it was scarcely a surprise when on 31 August 1891, writing from Durban to the Surveyor General in Pietermaritzburg; Lucas applied for a position outside of the ambit of his knowledge and far from where he was confronted by the constant reminders of his wife. His letter read thus:


I have the honour to apply for one of the posts of “District Forrester’s” advertised in the Government Gazette. Should you look favourably on my application and require any certificates of character or ability I shall be happy to provide the same for your inspection. I may say that I am acquainted with the Polela District.

I have the honour to be your obedient servant

Edward Lucas”

What became of this application is unknown but, a few years, Lucas had uprooted himself from the hustle and bustle and sad memories of Durban and had moved to the sleepy little farming village of Richmond, some 18 miles outside Pietermaritzburg. It was from here, on 4 October 1894, that he penned a letter to the Registrar of the Native High Court in Pietermaritzburg. It read as follows:


We the undersigned Solicitors, practicing in Richmond, beg to make application that His Lordship, the presiding Judge, will be pleased to have the venue of the appeals and applications for extension of time in which to appeal either from the Administrator of Native Law or from the Chiefs of the Division now pending before this Court, changed from Richmond to Pietermaritzburg.”

The letter was co-signed by Lucas and his partner, Jackson Beatson. The reply was that “the application would be placed before Mr Justice Shepstone when he resumes the Bench.”

Firmly established as a Solicitor in Richmond, Lucas took the marital plunge for a second time – on this occasion marrying Laetitia Maud Harte in the same church, St. Saviour’s Cathedral in Pietermaritzburg, where he had walked down the aisle with his late wife – the nuptials taking place on 11 July 1896. Lettie Harte was of a very good family – the Harte’s having a long and illustrious association with both Pietermaritzburg and the Colony of Natal

A year prior to this happy event, on 22 March 1895, Lucas had enlisted with the local regiment, the Natal Carbineers, for peace-time service. On account of his standing in the community he was commissioned as a Lieutenant and placed as Officer Commanding the Richmond Road Troop of this famous regiment. On 11 October 1897, writing from Richmond to the Honourable Attorney General, Pietermaritzburg, he stated that:


I have the honour to approach you on the following subject and to request that you will be good enough to give me your opinion thereon.
I am a Lieutenant in the Natal Carbineers and in Command of the Richmond Road Troop of that Regiment, and in that capacity I claim to be a Justice of the Peace for the Colony of Natal under the Volunteer Act of 1895.

Section 17 of that Act lays down that “An Officer in Command of a Corps shall be ex officio a Justice of the Peace for the Colony, whilst holding such Command.”

Section 5 of the Act defines the meaning of the term “Corps” to be inter-alia “a troop of mounted rifles.”

I do not wish to exercise the privileges of a Justice of the Peace unless I am considered to be legally authorized thereto, and I have been informed that it was not the intention of the Volunteer Act to confer such powers on Troop Officers of the Volunteers. At the same time the Act seems to me to be sufficiently clear on the subject and to confer those powers on me.

I have the honour etc.

Edward Lucas

Lieutenant, Natal Carbineers”

Having had no reply from the Office of the Attorney General, Lucas, undaunted, waited a further eighteen months before directing a letter to the gentleman, Mr (later Sir) Henry Bale, Q.C. himself. This letter (abridged) was dated 20 April 1899 and read thus:

“Dear Mr Bale

I hope you will pardon the liberty I am taking in writing to you officially but I am anxious to have your opinion on a point that has arisen in connection with my ability or otherwise to attest documents as a J.P for the Colony. I am as perhaps you know an officer of the Carbineers and am in command of the Richmond Road Troop of that Regiment.

For the past two years I have occasionally attested documents in that capacity when other J.P.’s have not been available, but of course I have no wish to do so if you consider I am not entitled, although my capacity has never yet been challenged except by Mr Foxon, Regional Magistrate at Ixopo who is also a personal friend of mine and is therefore only actuated in doing so by a sense of duty.

I should be very much obliged if you will give me your private opinion on the subject. I may mention that Mr E.M. Greene, our Commanding Officer to whom I originally applied when I first exercised the office of a J.P. gave it as his opinion that the law gave me those powers.
I hope you will not think I am taking too great a liberty in thus addressing you on the subject.”

There would appear to have been no response to this letter either and it can only be assumed that Lucas continued on his merry way as an unofficial Justice of the Peace.

But far weightier considerations were bearing down on Lucas and the Colony of Natal – war clouds which had been gathering between the two Dutch-speaking Republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State on the one hand and Great Britain on the other, finally burst on 11 October 1899 plunging the sub-continent of Africa into conflict.

In anticipation of the event the Carbineers mobilized on 29 September 1899, assembling at the Market Square in Pietermaritzburg. No 4 Squadron (Lucas’s Squadron) comprised the Richmond, Boston and Richmond Road Troops. The regiment proceeded to Ladysmith from where, on 2 October, they were initially tasked with patrolling the possible Boer invasion routes in the vicinity of Van Reenen’s Pass – the Natal border with the Orange Free State.

On 17 October patrols reported that Boer wagons had been spotted descending the Drakensberg and on 24 October the Ladysmith-based Squadrons joined an expeditionary force sent out to Tinta Nyoni on the Newcastle road to escort the retiring Dundee column. A Boer party was engaged giving the Carbineers almost their first taste of action. Returning to Ladysmith they become part of the garrison who were placed under siege by the encircling Boer forces.

The story of the siege and the part played by the Carbineers is best told in the words of those present and we are fortunate to be able to call upon several “first hand” accounts of what life was like in a town under siege. The primary action in which Lucas took part and which signaled the end of any meaningful attempt by the Boers to break through into Ladysmith, was the action at Wagon Hill on 6 January 1900 – some seven weeks after the commencement of the siege and just when hope that Buller would soon liberate the town was beginning to fade, and the reality of sickness and deprivation was beginning to set in.

One of the contemporary accounts of the action read thus:

‘It has been a commonplace of the war that the Boers could cling to a position of their own choosing from behind stones, but would never venture to attack a position or fight in the open. Like all the comforting commonplaces about the Boers, this is now overthrown. The untrained, ill-equipped farmers have to-day assaulted positions of extraordinary strength, have renewed the attack again and again, have rushed up to breastworks, and died at the rifle's mouth, and have only been repulsed after fifteen hours of hard and gallant fighting on the part of the defence.

Waggon Hill is a long, high spur of Cæsar's Camp, running out south-west between Long Valley and Bester's Farm. At the extremity are the great gun-pits prepared for "Lady Anne" and a Naval 12-pounder some weeks ago. "Lady Anne" was for the second time being brought up into position there last night, and ought to have been fixed the night before, but was stopped half-way by the wet.

The Boer attack was probably not merely an attempt on the gun, but on the position, and the gun is being taken back to her usual position to-night. Besides the gun-pits, the hill has no defences except a few low walls, only two or three stones high, piled up at intervals round the edge, as shelters from long-range fire. The place was held only by three dismounted squadrons of Imperial Light Horse, but the 1st K.R.R. (60th) were in support in a large sangar about three-quarters of a mile along the same ridge, separated from Waggon Hill proper by the low "nek" where the two howitzers used to stand.

From the 60th the ridge turns at an angle eastward, and becomes the long tableland of Cæsar's Camp, held by the Manchesters and 42nd Battery (Major Goulburn). The top is broad and flat, covered with grass and loose stones. The whole position completely overlooks the town to the north, and if it fell into the enemy's hands it would have to be retaken or the town would have had to be quitted. The edge measures 4,000 yards, and the Manchesters had only 560 men to hold it.

At a quarter to three a.m., while it was still dark, a small party of Boer sharpshooters climbed up the further (south-east) face of Waggon Hill, just left of the "nek." They were picked men who had volunteered for the exploit. Nearly all came from Harrismith.

The Dutch crept up quite unobserved. At last a sentry challenged, and was answered with "Friend." He was shot dead, and was found with rifle raised and still loaded. The alarm was given, but no one realised what had happened. But the Dutch had reached the summit, and were enfilading the "nek" and the whole extremity of the hill from our left. As light began to dawn it was impossible to show oneself for a moment on the open top. The furthest range was not over 300 yards, and the top of a helmet, the corner of an arm, was sufficient aim for those deadly marksmen. Unable to stand against the fire, the Light Horse withdrew behind the crest of the hill, whilst small parties continued a desperate defence from the two big gun-pits.

Nearly all the officers present have been killed or wounded, and it is difficult to get a clear account of what happened from any eye-witness. Four companies from each battalion of the K.R. Rifles came up within the hour, but no one keeps count of time in such a struggle. The Boers were now climbing up all along the face of the hill, and firing from the edge. All day about half the summit was in their possession. Three times they actually occupied the gun-pits and had to be driven out again. Leaning their rifles over the parapets they fired into the space inside. The Boers advanced to absolutely certain death, and they met it without hesitation—the Boers who would never have the courage to attack a position!

Before six o'clock the defence was further reinforced by a party of Gordons from Maiden Castle. They did excellent work throughout the day, though they, too, were once or twice driven from the top. So the fight began. The official estimate of the Boers who gained the top is 600. Eye-witnesses put the number at anything between 100 and 1,000. The struggle continued from 3 a.m. till nearly seven at night. It must be remembered that our men had nothing to eat from five the afternoon before, and got nothing till nine at night. Twenty-eight hours they were without food, and for about sixteen they were fighting for life and death. At 4 p.m. a tremendous thunderstorm with rain and hail came on, but the fire never slackened.

It was now evident that the position must be retaken at all costs, or the enemy would hold it all night. The General sent for three companies of the Devons. Up they came, tramping through the storm. It was about six o'clock when they reached the summit. Keeping well to the left of the "nek," between the extremity held by the Light Horse and the 60th's sangar, they took open order under cover of the ridge. Then came the command to sweep the position with the bayonet. They fixed, and advanced at the quick till they reached the open. Then, under a steady hail of bullets, they came on at the double—180 men, with the steel ready. The Boers kept up an incessant fire till the line was within fifteen yards. Then they turned and ran, leaping down the steep face of the hill, and disappearing in the dead ground. Their retreat was gallantly covered by their comrades, who swept the ridge with an oblique fire from both sides.

The Devons, edging a little to the right in their charge, got some cover from a low wall near the "nek" just quitted by the Boers. Even there the danger was terrible. It was there that four officers fell, three stone dead. But the day was won. The position was cleared. That charge finished the business. The credit for the whole defence against one of the bravest attacks ever made rests with the Light Horse, the Gordons, and the Devons. Yet it is impossible to forget the unflinching self-devotion of the King's Royal Rifle officers. They suffered terribly, and the worst is they suffered almost in vain.’

But what of the view from a Carbineer? The diary of Trooper Arthur Crosby, Natal Carbineers – 6 January 1900 – provides more specific detail:

‘Today will be a memorable one for Ladysmith as also those besieged, the Boers having, what I long expected, made a general attack to take the town. Musketry firing was heard soon after midnight, some of the spent bullets lighting on neighbouring house tops, and gradually increasing up to 3 o’clock, when the enemy was storming the hills near our picquet and succeeded, under cover of darkness, to gain the summit. About 4 o’clock a perfect fusillade, being a duel between the Manchesters, B.M.R., N.M.R., N.M. Police (under the command of Captain Lucas, Natal Carbineers) and the enemy, the latter shewing grit equal to our bravest men. For some time, they had the best of the fight, but when the artillery got in their shells from the Thorns, they played havoc amongst them. Simultaneously a general attack was made all along the Hill, extending some 2 miles. Devon, Gordon, Manchesters, K.R. Rifles, Imperial Light Horse and Royal Engineers lost heavily, the outposts being killed or taken prisoners to a man.

We were in the saddle soon after 3 o’clock and the horses remained under saddle the whole day and night. At 5.30 p.m. moved off to relieve picquet in a perfect torrent of rain, during which the enemy made another determined attack, but was repulsed.

On Waggon Hill, where the Engineers were fixing up a Naval Gun, the Boers stormed the Hill, 3 times, being repulsed each time, though at a heavy cost of life. Had a good view of the battle from this side of the river, being within 2000 yds. of the enemy. Shortly after going down two artillery chaps were laid low from a shell from “Long Tom”. One poor fellow lost his right leg and arms. There were two casualties from stray bullets - Colonel Dick Cunningham of the Gordons was seriously wounded in the region of the liver, while taking his men across the Road Bridge on his way to support picquets and the remainder of the regiment on Waggon Hill. The other passed through a tarpaulin covering the shelter of the B.M.R and within a few yards of where I was standing, hitting a native through the fleshy part of the arm. Both of these bullets must have travelled 3000 yards. The firing was incessant for 15 hours, the enemy not being able to retreat until darkness set in.

We took up the same position as the picquet we relieved, but did no firing. The N.M.R. had a rough time of it for fully 14 hours, firing most of the time from sangers. They did excellent work. The night was a cruel one, the vlei being a perfect sea after the rain. Sleep was quite out of the question, but dossed down in the mud. On horse guard 7 to 10 o’clock.

A senior Carbineer officer, Major George Tatham, also kept a diary which highlighted the course of events on that day:

‘Own picket sent in to report that they must have support, had been obliged to retire being hard pressed and likely to be out-flanked on right by Boers. Royston went out at once with N.M.R. under Col. Evans telling me to join Major Abdie with his battery of artillery and with the support of Rethman, his men were to go over bridge and round into thorn trees near old Range to remain in readiness for action. By this time fighting was getting decidedly warm and the enemy were pressing in under protection of their big guns which were peppering warmly in all directions. Bulwan gun, Long Tom, was pounding away along the side of Caesar's Camp.

Abdie said I must return and inform Royston that he could not bring his battery over the river as this would be contrary to his definite orders. I told him he would have far better shelter over the river than on the town side, but he would not hear of this, though I took him along the River bank and pointed it out. Finally, I decided to take his message to Royston and started off after him, Abdie saying he would get all ready for immediate action. In galloping over the flat at the back of Leonard's house I met Wales coming to hurry up the artillery. I told him my story and showed him the corner to which I proposed to take the battery. He decided to proceed and try his persuasive powers whilst I went on to Royston to report. After some little hunting I found Royston with his men well under cover pegging away at Boers who were pressing Manchesters and Gordons back along top of hill.

He instructed me to at once go and hurry up artillery, deciding to take personal responsibility for guns being brought over the river. I was to inform Abdie of this and further I was to tell Rethman to send a squadron of his own men up to assist Gordons and Manchesters, who were being driven back. I raced off back and met Abdie just coming round the bend of the River towards the old rifle range, also Rethman. The order for squadron to support Gordons was immediately carried out and the artillery got into a very good position from which I pointed out Boers, and shelling was commenced very promptly and successfully, indeed Boers were driven back and a good many killed, but our shelling was discontinued in consequence of our Gordons moving forward into the rocks where the Boers had taken shelter. This was unfortunate, for the few Boers remained in the natural fortress all day and formed a sort of rendezvous for others to join them later in the afternoon, but they never got any farther forward. It was this squadron of Rethman's men who met Boers who said, "For God's sake, don't shoot. We are the Town Guard”. The captain in charge of these men hesitated for an instant before ordering his men to commence firing, and lost four men through it, for some Boers lying in the grass fired a volley at once. He at once took cover and fired in return, then the shelling commenced from Abdie's battery and drove the enemy back a few yards, but they kept on or about that spot all day, sometimes trying to advance in a very desperate way till afternoon, when a very heavy storm came on, hail, lightning and thunder, with rain falling in torrents for quite an hour. The firing continued all through this from both sides. Some horses were shot near us and one poor Sergeant Gunner was struck by a Long Tom shell with the result that his left leg and arm had to be amputated. No more firing could be done by this battery from this spot, and the Major would not move forward, so after the storm we returned over the bridge to Camp as soon as the flooded dongas would permit.

Met the Carbineers who were going out to relieve the men who had been out all day and the night of the 5th, namely Capt. Lucas with Carbineers, and Clark with Natal Police, also the N.M.R. who had been out since 6 a.m. One of these men was wounded on the way out showing that the Boers had not all retreated, though after the storm a retreat commenced and was assisted by a well-directed fire from artillery on the top of Caesar's Camp which had been up there some days. We heard during the day several accounts of the action at Wagon Hill, which must have been more desperate than that at our end of the hill, and more favourable to the Boers in consequence of their being able to keep back all our artillery with their well- placed big guns along the Roode Poort Range and at End Hill and Table Hill. Our gunners very bravely tried to get forward and round the Wagon Hill point but were bound to retire. Col. Royston did good work in keeping enemy from coming round on the flat. Our men at Caesar's Camp top say that Abdie's artillery fire was splendid and effectually kept the Boers from gaining further footing on that hill. Report says 60 of ours killed and 160 wounded. If this is all we may consider ourselves lucky.’
The final word on the action comes from Stalker’s official history of the Carbineers – his entry under 6 January 1900 read as follows:

‘Repulse of Boer attack on Caesar’s Camp, Waggon Hill and Waggon Point.

The volunteer section picquet on the night of the 5th January was composed partly of Natal Carbineers and partly of Natal Mounted Police under Captain Lucas, N.C. It has been stated that the enemy got through this picquet; but the statement is quite untrue. Those of the regiment who were with this picquet were the only Carbineers in the actual fighting on the 6th, one man, Trooper Haine, being wounded. On the night of the 6th the regiment furnished the picquet and support, who were under a heavy fire whilst going out in the evening. Trooper Heckler being wounded.’

The drudgery of the siege continued and the reports that came from the “relieving force” were anything but positive. Setback after setback was encountered and, after the dramatic losses at Spionkop on 21 January, hopes of seeing Buller and his men faded still further. Sickness and disease decimated the garrison and the hospital at Intombi was overwhelmed with patients, most suffering from enteric fever, brought about through poor diet and a lack of any nutritious food.

Finally the great day arrived and, on 28 February 1900, Ladysmith was relieved! After a period of recuperation and rest the men, including the Carbineers, were ready to continue the fight to rid Natal of the Boers. Buller retook Dundee and then Newcastle as he swept all before him on his way to the Transvaal border.

Stirling in his “Colonials in South Africa” reported that:

‘After chasing the enemy along the Biggarsberg till they took possession of Lang's Nek, the regiment encamped, with the UMR, at Mount Prospect, and held the position from Inkwelo on the left, to the Buffalo on the right. The flanking movement up Botha's Pass caused the enemy to evacuate Lang's Nek, which was then, with Charlestown and Volksrust, occupied by our forces, whilst at Mount Prospect the volunteer camp was daily shelled by "Long Tom" on the Pogwane. Along the Biggarsberg, No. 4 Squadron (Captain Lucas), attached to General Littleton's Brigade, entered the Transvaal as far as Utrecht.’

Stalker in his official history confirmed, in his entry for 21 May 1900, that:

‘Owing to the persuasions of Brigadier General Dartnell the Regiment with the Umvoti Mounted Rifles, was sent to occupy Mount Prospect and Inkwelo Hill. The wisdom of seizing and fortifying Inkwelo was apparent when it was found that both Laing’s Nek and Botha’s Pass could be commanded by guns on this position. The work entailed on General Dartnell’s small force, weakened by No. 4 Squadron under Captain Lucas having been left at Buys farm, was exceedingly hard. No. 4 Squadron shortly afterwards joined General Lyttelton’s column and took part in that General’s move into the Transvaal as far as Utrecht.’

But through all this Lucas’ health began to suffer. A healthy man at the commencement of the campaign, his health had become indifferent as the months of enforced confinement wore on. At last he was released temporarily to go down to Dr McKenzie’s Hospital on the Berea in Durban for treatment of the Enteric Fever that raged through his body. A Minute Paper from the Adjutant, Natal Carbineers and dated 7 August 1900, informed the authorities that he (Lucas) “Died on the 7th inst. of Enteric Fever. He leaves a widow and two children – both boys – aged respectively 3 years and twenty months. The marriage and birth certificates have been applied for. The elder child was born in England.”

At the age of 38 Edward Lucas had breathed his last. His Queens South Africa medal was issued posthumously off the roll dated 10 August 1901 – almost a year to the day that he died. But what of his wife and children?

According to the 1901 England census, Maud and her two boys, Arthur Geoffrey (3) and Walter (1) had gone to stay with Edward’s father, himself widowed, at the family home Green Park and surrounded by the usual coterie of servants.

Ten years later, at the time of the 1911 census Maud Lucas, now aged 40, was still residing with Edward’s aged father but at 23 Dean Park Road, Bournemouth. She was to know tragedy once more when she learnt that Arthur Geoffrey, at the age of 20 and serving as a Lieutenant with the Queen Mary’s Own Baluch Light Infantry, was Killed in Action in Baghdad, Iraq on 25 November 1917.

Gone but not forgotten.

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Captain Edward Lucas - Natal Carbineers - DoD - 7 August 1900 7 months 4 weeks ago #66303

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Thanks again for a great piece of research and read.....

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Captain Edward Lucas - Natal Carbineers - DoD - 7 August 1900 7 months 4 weeks ago #66304

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Fantastic. Thank you.
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