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TOPIC: The Sephtons of Zeerust

The Sephtons of Zeerust 5 months 2 weeks ago #65210

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At the recent Spink sale I was drawn to lot 619, Pte E Sephton Zeerust Town Guard because the catalogue write-up noted the remark on the medal roll “Killed by Boers”. Only 24 Town Guard are recorded as fatal battle casualties. However, as noted by the cataloguer, there are two Pte E Sephton’s on the roll, one senior the other junior, in other words father and son. Sephton senior was noted as also serving with the Bechuanaland Rifles. Sephton junior was the one killed.

Two questions, what were the circumstances that led to the death of Sephton junior and is it possible to attribute the medal being sold to Sephton junior, or could it be to Sephton senior?

The first question would take some time, the second question would be quick to try and answer. A big clue was on the Zeerust TG roll for Sephton senior, his medal was “issue auth ag2/m/10555”, and this same comment, that appears quite faint on the roll, was written against other men who also served with the Bechuanaland Rifles. So, it would appear that Sephton senior’s medal would be named to the Bechuanaland Rifles. My database tells me that ag2/m/10555 was the code allocated to a medal roll of the Bechuanaland Rifles. A quick check of that roll does not reveal “E Sephton”, but MG and JEH Sephton, neither cross referenced to the Zeerust TG. MG Sephton is on the Zeerust TG roll, but JEH is not. Who is JEH Sephton?

Googling for genealogical details led me to the 1820 Settlers site ( www.1820settlers.com ), a marvellous “family tree” dedicated to the British settlers that travelled to south Africa in 1820 and their descendants. Here, I learnt that JEH Sephton, John Edward Henry, was father to Edward Henry, born 1880 died 1901 in Zeerust. This was E Sephton senior and junior.

Therefore the medal to “E Sephton Zeerust Town Guard” was in fact to the son, junior and E Sephton senior would have his medal named as “Pte 454 JEH Sephton Bechuanaland Rifles”. Unfortunately there is no Bechuanaland Rifles attestation paper for JEH. (ref Kevin Asplin).

On the basis of that, I put lot 619 on my “hit list” and continued browsing. Just three pages later lot 641 leaps off the page; QSA two clasps Pte 454 JEH Sephton Bechuanaland Rifles. Bingo!

On the day of the sale there was a little competition for the TG medal, but none for JEH, it was also noted as “officially re-impressed naming”. As a specimen for the Bechuanaland Rifles an unremarkable medal. Both medals were secured and arrived quickly.

Back to Sephton junior’s death. That marvellous newspaper archive on FindmyPast revealed the details from the Sheffield Daily Telegraph (07-11-1901), I cross checked the The Times Digital Archive (06-11-1901) and found the same report but with extra lines that had been cut from the Sheffield Daily Telegraph.

Under the headline “Boer Outrage Near Zeerust” a letter sent to Mr Frank Whiteley, CMG, who had been the mayor of Mafeking during the siege of that town, related the tragic death of Edward Sephton. Whiteley was living in Yorkshire having left south Africa in 1900 after the siege had been lifted. The writer of the letter was not revealed.

The letter relates how Edward Sephton, the son of a farmer of English descent, who was a refugee in the Zeerust district, was driving three cattle near Zeerust accompanied by two Africans, they were all unarmed. The party was ambushed by some Boers who opened fire, Sephton was killed and the Africans “were allowed to escape”. When news reached Zeerust an unarmed group set out to find Edward. They found his hastily dug grave and upon removing the body saw that not only had he been shot but his head had been crushed by "large stones". One of the Africans was later accused of being a spy for the Boers.

Quoted directly, the letter continued:

"This cruel outrage, let it be remembered, was committed, not on the person of a stranger, but upon a young man whom the Boers had known from childhood, but because he was English, unarmed, and at their mercy they wreak their vengeance upon him. They have been doing their best during the last eighteen months or more to drive us out of South Africa, and having failed they are not manly enough to accept the inevitable but continue to roam about the country committing acts of brigandage and murder, such as the one detailed above."

On May 26, a memorial service was held in St John's church, Zeerust, "the church was well filled".

No more details have yet surfaced about the murder of Edward Sephton. Transvaal archives hold a report of a public meeting held in Zeerust, the day after Edward’s memorial service, to discuss “the continuance of the war”. It is hoped more details of Edward’s attack come to light.

The Sephton family have proved “worthy of further research”. From Hezekiah Sephton landing in 1820 with his family, at least two lines of descendants emerged. When war broke out JEH Sephton and his family were long standing residents of the Transvaal. JEH claimed “protected burgher” status and after the war filed a claim for compensation for the loss of property and goods. Another son, MG Sephton, also served in the Zeerust TG and Bechuanaland Rifles, he was killed in the war. The other arm of the family lived in the Orange Free State and took up arms, one was captured, and his family was sent to a concentration camp where two young children died. The death of Edward Sephton, has been suggested to me, was a “revenge killing”.

I don’t think Wilbur Smith could have written a better story.

Researcher & Collector
The Register of the Anglo-Boer Wars 1899-1902
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The Sephtons of Zeerust 5 months 2 weeks ago #65221

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That's an amazing story.

There are less than 100 Bechuanaland Rifles attestation papers so very few survived.
Dr David Biggins

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