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George Thomas Pyke - a Jameson Raider 1 month 2 weeks ago #82497

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George Thomas Pyke

Jameson Raider

Trooper, “G” Troop, B.B.P. (Bechuanaland Border Police)
Trooper, M.R.F. (Matabeleland Relief Force)

- British South Africa Company Medal (1896 reverse) to TROOPR. G.T. PYKE, M.R.F.

George Pyke must have had an interesting early childhood. Born in Hong Kong in 1875, he was the son of Thomas Pyke and his wife Florence. Pyke senior was a prominent businessman and banker with extensive financial interests in the British territory at the time of George’s birth.

By the time of the 1881 England census, the Pyke family had returned to England and taken up lodgings in the house of wealthy widow Selina Dauglish at 124 King’s Road in Brighton. Thomas Pyke, 56, was described as a Gentleman and was resident in the house with his much younger wife, Florence (30) and their three children – Harriet (11), Cyril Cameron (7) with 6 year old George bringing up the rear. It would have been unthinkable for any prosperous Victorian family to be without a servant and, true to form, Matilda Beckett was on hand to cater to the Pyke family needs.

Ten years later, at the time of the 1891 England census, the family had moved to the exclusive 23 Stanhope Gardens in Kensington, London. George was a strapping lad of 16 and was joined in the home by existing and returning siblings – Arthur (22), Harriet (21) and Cyril (17). The usual sprinkling of servants were on hand to minister to the family, with Francis Redshaw, Parlour Maid, Elisabeth Marden, Domestic Servant and Emily Millman, Kitchen Maid, making up the numbers. Mr Pyke was once more described as a Gentleman – the very epitome of upper middle class Victoria society.

23 Stanhope Gardens at it looks in 2022

Having finished his schooling a young George Pyke looked around him for something with which to occupy himself. Being the youngest son, there was probably no room for him in the family business. Other options which were open to him, as was the case with younger sons of many monied Victorian families, were a commission in the army, a living as a Curate or a career in the field of education. None of these seem to have held any appeal to Pyke and, at some point in the early 1890’s, he set sail for South Africa in search of a new life. Soon after his arrival, he headed north into the interior where he joined the ranks of the Bechuanaland Border Police.

In August 1895 the BBP had become part of the Cape Colony, headquartered at Mafeking and it was decided to disband the force by the end of that year. Just prior to this eventuality, in December 1895, 125 of all ranks, Pyke included, volunteered for the poorly planned and disastrous Jameson Raid. (Pyke was discharged on 15 December 1895 and enlisted as a Trooper (with G Troop) in the British South Africa Company Police on the same day.) - officered by Captain Audley Vaughan Gosling, Lieutenant A H J Hore and Lieutenant Edward Allen Wood.

This ill-fated expedition, led by Dr Leander Starr Jameson, was conceived by Cecil Rhodes, Premier of the Cape Colony and his co-conspirator and business associate, Alfred Beit. Its purpose was two-fold, to deliver the riches of the Transvaal by precipitating the overthrow of the legitimate Kruger government and ensuring the annexation of the republic to the British Empire. The means were the huge resources and discontent within the disenfranchised British community living and working within its borders and who produced much of its vast wealth.

The force that rode out from Pitsani (now in present-day Botswana) camp on the 29 December 1895 numbered close to 600 and consisted of almost 400 Rhodesian Police who were employed by the Charter Company, 120 men recruited at Mafeking and some Cape ‘Boys’. They had six Maxims, two 7 pound mountain and one 12 and half pound guns. The plan was a three day hard ride to Johannesburg where the majority, the disenchanted Uitlanders, the mainly British expatriate community, would rise up on this catalyst against the Transvaal authorities and tip the republic neatly into the welcoming and grateful arms of the Empire. To the participants they were embarked upon a great adventure and one which they were led to believe had ‘official’ sanction.

It was an enormous political and military gamble; the stakes were exceedingly high, and success would undoubtedly have changed the course of history in Southern Africa. It is left to speculation quite how much of the plan the Colonial Secretary in London, Joseph Chamberlain, knew in advance, but the overthrown of a sovereign government was the ultimate goal of this exploit.

On the 2 January 1896, the force stopped at daybreak at a farm called Doornkop in the Transvaal. They were much in need of rest and had ridden the 170 miles without sleep and under constant harassing fire. They were just two hours’ ride from Johannesburg and before them lay the alluring sight of their prize and yet it was not to be for here, they would receive the bitter news that the city had not risen to support them, they were surrounded, outnumbered and cut off. The Reform Committee had failed to deliver on their much promised support.

Jameson’s force had never enjoyed the element of surprise and had been monitored by Transvaal commandos from the moment they crossed the border and for two days continuously they had fought a running rear-guard action, sustaining losses in both dead and wounded.

At Doornkop the fighting intensified, and the number of casualties rose to 65 killed and wounded. Unaided Jameson’s position was untenable, and his small force was doomed against such determined and overwhelming opposition. Surrender became their only option, and this took place at 8 pm when following the burial of the 16 British dead, the remainder were led away to prison in Pretoria. Their great gamble had failed.

Being escorted into captivity

The vanquished men were interned in Pretoria preparatory to being deported to the United Kingdom, ostensibly for trial. Pyke was one of those captured who boarded the Harlech Castle on 24 January 1896. On arrival in England the men were tried and awarded sentences of various length. In a gesture of magnanimity, Paul Kruger pardoned most of the lower echelons who were now free, should they so desire, to return to South Africa and the Transvaal unhindered. Pyke, who had returned to his father’s residence in Stanhope Gardens, jumped at the chance and was soon back under the African sun, sailing from England aboard the Trojan on 4 April 1896 . The Rhodesia he returned to was in turmoil – the Matabele (to be followed by the Mashona a year later) had risen in an attempt to rid the territory of the white man. The skirmishes of 1893 had not resolved the problems facing the country; nor had the military effort been able to vanquish Lobengulu, the Chief. A compounding problem was that the vast majority of the Police Force who could have acted as a deterrent had been caught up in the Jameson Raid, leaving the territory almost devoid of any means of defence.

Enlisting with the Matabeleland Relief Force, raised to put an end to the rebellion, Pyke took part in the fighting. The M.R.F. under Colonel Plumer did sterling work throughout the campaign to subdue the Matabele and incurred a number of casualties, seeing much fighting, before hostilities came to an end. Pyke, who had provided his brother Cyril as his next of kin, was awarded the British South Africa Company Medal with the 1896 reverse for his efforts.

In 1897 he served as a Trooper in the Bulawayo Detachment, British South Africa Police but was subsequently convicted of an offence and imprisoned in Rhodesia. It is not known when he was released but, tragically, Pyke’s short life was about to come to an end. John Ernest Bodle, a man with whom Pyke served in the M.R.F., was quoted as saying the following in his memoirs:

‘The Fever was very bad during the year 1897 and ’98 when several men died. In fact, the whole of the Garrison got malaria and only one man stayed through it, but he died the following year.’

In fact, one of the men who succumbed to the fever was none other than George Thomas Pyke – he passed away at the age of 24 years 5 months on 27 July 1898 from heart failure following on from Malarial Fever. His body was identified by his brother Arthur, and he was an unmarried Storekeeper at the time of his death. The Morning Post of 6 August 1898 carried the following in the obituary column:

‘PYKE – At Bulawayo, South Africa, of fever, George Thomas Pyke, aged 23 years (sic), the youngest beloved son of Thomas and Florence Elna of 223 Stanhope Gardens, Queens Gate.’

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George Thomas Pyke - a Jameson Raider 1 month 2 weeks ago #82511

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Pyke returned to South Africa on the Trojan, leaving England on 4 April 1896
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