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Shangani River - 4 December 1893 4 days 8 hours ago #79901

  • djb
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Shangani River was the site of an engagement on 4 December 1893 in which Major Allan Wilson and 31 men of the British South Africa Company were killed by the Matabele warriors.

Two Americans, Frederick Russell Burnham and Pete Ingram, and one Australian, William Leeming Gooding, survived the attack.


Picture courtesy of DNW

BSACM reverse Matabeleland 1893 (0) (Troopr. F. L. Vogel, Salisbury Horse)

Provenance: A A Upfill-Brown Collection, Buckland, Dix and Wood, 4 December 1991 (Lot 63); Dix Noonan Webb, June 2009 (Lot 888).

Frank Leon Vogel was born in Auckland in October 1870, the second son of the Hon. Sir Julius Vogel, K.C.M.G., the famous early Jewish Prime Minister of New Zealand.

After being educated at Charterhouse young Frank joined the London Office of the British South Africa Company in 1890. In April of the following year, however, he departed for South Africa and enlisted in the Mashonaland Mounted Police as a Trooper at Fort Tuli - he appears in a group photograph taken at Rhodes Drift on the Limpopo River in August 1891, The Men Who Made Rhodesia stating that he appears as a ‘young fellow in his early twenties, long-faced and rather sad looking, with a thin moustache. He wears a smasher hat, dark tunic and breeches, top-boots and bandolier, and holds a Martini-Henry rifle.’

Following the disbandment of his unit, Vogel joined the Survey Department at Salisbury, and subsequently became Acting Assistant-Secretary to Dr. L. S. Jameson. But with the advent of the Matabele Rebellion in 1893, he enrolled in ‘B’ Troop of the Salisbury Horse under Captain Borrow, and during the campaign served the Maxim gun attached to his Troop, under Lieutenant Llewellyn. He left Salisbury with the column, but returned alone two or three weeks afterwards on business. Rejoining his Troop two or three days after they left Fort Charter, he marched with the column, and was in all the engagements on the way to Bulawayo, serving the Maxim gun, besides volunteering for special scouting expeditions.

He was one of the small party sent out in search of Captain G. Williams, and also one of the expedition on which Captain Campbell was killed, in addition to which he served the Maxim at the engagement on the Shangani River on the 25 October, and also at Imbembesi on 1 November, where he had a narrow escape, one bullet passing through his hat. Reaching Bulawayo safe and sound in early November, on the 10th he wrote his last letter to his relatives, being then evidently in high spirits, and regarding the campaign as over. He departed Bulawayo on the 14th and remained with Major Forbes throughout the patrol which ended at Shiloh; thence again, as a volunteer, he accompanied the force under Major Forbes to the Shangani River, where under Captain Borrow, he joined Major Wilson’s ill-fated patrol.

Shangani River

Frederick Burnham, the American scout, later Chief of Scouts under Lord Roberts, was the last man to leave the beleaguered patrol before their final stand at Shangani River. In his book Scouting on Two Continents, he describes his last meeting with Major Wilson and his officers, and the fate that befell his patrol:

‘It had now stopped raining. Captains Judd, Kirton, Fitzgerald, Greenfield and Brown gathered with us round Wilson. The first three were experienced colonials, and Wilson asked each what he thought to be the best move. Kirton, with a bitter smile, said: "There is no best move." Fitzgerald said: "We are in a hell of a fix. There is only one thing to do, cut our way out.” Judd said: "This is the end.”

Picking up the threads of the grim story, we are told by Majors Forbes and Sir John Willoughby that, after crossing the river and following the king's spoor, Major Wilson and his men reached a series of scherms, or temporary encampments protected by felled bush or trees. These scherms were filled with Matabele, who, however, offered no resistance, probably because they did not know the strength of the whites, or believed them to be but the advance guard of a larger body. So the Patrol rode on till they reached the royal scherm, within which the king's wagons were dimly visible in the gathering gloom. Here a halt was called, and Lobengula summoned to surrender. The reply was an ominous rattle of arms within the reed fence, while parties of Matabele, rifle in hand, came hurrying up from the rear. With so small a force nothing could be done, and the Patrol withdrew into the bush, Captain Napier and Troopers Robertson and Mayne being sent for reinforcements. These in due time appeared in the form of Captain Borrow with eighteen mounted men. A miserable night was passed under arms in the drenching rain, and when day at length dawned, Major Wilson decided to make one more dash for the king, with the tragic result, which will not soon be forgotten in South Africa. From the start the Patrol was outnumbered, and almost as soon as the attack began, Ingram, Burnham, and Gooding had to be sent to cross the river, if that were possible, to ask for further support. That support, however, never arrived, and Burnham's first breathless remark to Major Forbes, after reaching the main body, was “I think I may say we are the sole survivors of that party.” The Shangani had risen in flood, added to which Major Forbes was himself attacked in force on the way down to the river. Either of these circumstances was enough to prevent the arrival of succour in time to save the doomed men to whom the last chance of escape was lost. To the end, however, there was no thought of surrender, no request for quarter. They resolved to show the Matabele that the white man could play a losing as well as a winning game. Taking cover behind the dead bodies of their horses, with an iron calmness they fought on for two long hours, pouring a destructive fire into their encircling foes, and coolly singling out the Indunas for their aim. One by one, however, they sank under the heavy fire from the bush, but many of the wounded continued, so the natives say, to re-load and pass their rifles to their uninjured comrades. Again and again the Matabele would issue from their cover to attempt a conclusive charge, but again and again were repulsed with a well-directed fire; upon which Wilson and his men would wake the echoes with an undismayed, defiant cheer. But at last the end came. Of the thirty-four valiant men whose hearts beat high with hope and courage as they rode behind their leader in the early dawn that morning, only one remained erect; the rest lay prone, dead or dying, upon that field of honour.

The name of the one man who stood at bay against an army of Matabele will never be known; his remains could not be identified. But the natives tell that, picking up several rifles and bandoliers, this hero amongst heroes made his way to an ant-heap some twenty yards from where the rest lay stretched upon the earth. From that point of vantage he checked, single-handed, several rushes of the Matabele with a cool and deadly fire. At length, shot through the hips, he sank on his knees, but continued to load and fire until he succumbed to his wounds. Then, and not till then, the Matabele came out from the bush, but on reaching the hallowed circle where the Patrol lay side by side, were fired upon by several of the unconquerable wounded who were still alive. So great had been the terror and demoralisation inspired by the desperate bravery of the Patrol, that when the revolvers rang out the natives turned and fled precipitately into the bush; and it was not till several hours later - ‘when the sun was right overhead' - as the Matabele tell the tale - that they again ventured to leave their cover. But by this time death had mercifully come to the wounded, and as the native warriors gazed upon the forms of their fallen foes there was silence.’

Rather fortuitously, Vogel made out his last Will & Testament in Salisbury, Rhodesia on 1 September 1893, leaving everything of value to his father. Following his death a stone tablet with citation was erected in his honour at his former school Charterhouse, Godalming, where it remains to this day.
Dr David Biggins
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