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J S Searle - a flawed hero 3 weeks 12 hours ago #74036

  • mike rowan
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James Samuel Searle

Volunteer Long Service medal : Captain Cape Town Highlanders ( gaz.20 Oct 1895)
PAOCFA Best Shot 1880 : Gunner
South African Wimbledon Challenge Shield 1880 : Gunner

Commercial life :
Jim Searle came from a well known Cape family and had risen in the ranks of the Post Office Savings Bank to become its Controller. At the time few had access to the Commercial banks and so the Post Office Savings bank was an important cog in the financial machine at the Cape.

Mountaineer : The first mention of Jim Searle in the table Mountain Ranger’s visitors book was on 21 January 1892. This was shortly after the formation of the Mountain Club. Jim Searle and his party ( variously A S Rogers, Alfred Bolus, T W Chignall and others) opened many rock climbs. A list of his party’s “firsts” might read as follows:
Left Face 11 March 1894
Union Route March 1894
Hiddingh Wormhole 5 May 1894
Saddle Face 30 September 1894
Fountain Ravine 7 October 1894
Saddle Corner October 1894
Fir Tree Ravine Pre 1896
He seems to have been a difficult man to get on with and despite his obvious abilities he only held office in the cape mountaineering establishment for a short while. One has to assume that this was more of a pastime to him and part time soldiering was his main passion.
Military man :
Cape Field Artillery : Appointed Lieutenant in the CFA on 13th July 1885. In 1890 he was involved in a squabble over the disbursement of mess funds. Searle was the honorary secretary and in charge of the books. He refused to hand them over to the new self-appointed Chairman . Shortly thereafter he transferred to the Cape Town Highlanders. It didn’t end there . In 1891 Captain William McLachlan sued Searle for the recovery of monies in terms of an acknowledgement of debt for a Martini Henri Rifle. He counter claimed but the judgement went against him with costs.

Cape Town Highlanders
At the meeting in May 1892, among other decisions made , was one appointing Searle to be Company Commander of no. 5 Company.
Bechuanaland Campaign
In 1896 the Rinderpest broke out in Bechuanaland. To halt the scourge a program of cattle destruction was strictly imposed. While some of the local natives were compensated for their losses , others were not. One of the disgruntled chiefs was Galishwe and he and a few other malcontents in the Mafeking / Taungs area fermented a rebellion. Kimberley Volunteers rushed to help the Cape Police defeat Galishwe. The CTH and other Cape Town based units were on the point of departing to help at the end of 1896 when news came through that the rebels had been defeated .
However in February 1897 a patrol of 80 men of the CMR was defeated by Chief Toto when they tried to capture Galishwe.
Various Cape Town based part time units were activated on 18 February 1897, which included the CTH. Captain J S Searle (with Lts. F H Solomon and J H Smithers as his subalterns ) was appointed to lead the CTH component of force against Galishwe. This was the CTH first active service They made their way north by train and by March 3 they were marching to Kuruman to make contact with the enemy. They only got there on March 14.By the 30th hopes of a brief and glorious campaign were fading. The column moved on Kathu, which they occupied unopposed. Here they needed to secure their water supplies and only moved on Langeberg on April 5. Early the following morning the Column advanced on the rebel stronghold at Gamasep. During the course of the attack, a message was received that enemy reinforcements were seen coming from Gamaluse Kloof. Captain Searle was sent with detachments of CTH and PAG to deny the enemy a ridge 600 yards to the right of the main position. This they did successfully but suffered a few casualties. Searle proved to be an aggressive leader and had to be restrained from taking enemy positions with bayonet charges. In another clash at Puduhusche Kloof, Pte. Castleman of the PAG was wounded and was carried to safety by Captain Searle and Lt. Malley of the Dukes. A letter written to the Cape Times said that this effort was deserving of the Victoria Cross.
When they were about 100 yards from the enemy, the CTH and PAG led by Searle and their officers , fixed bayonets and charged. The enemy broke and fled.
There was to be plenty of action before the rebel leaders were finally killed or captured. A farewell parade was held on 13 August and all the participants went home. The CTH had 144 officers and men active with the Bechuanaland Field Force. According to the CTH regimental history, “Captain Searle had proved a first class officer, but before the year was out , he was lost to the regiment. At the General Meeting of the Corps in January 1898 , Maj. Duff remarked , I need not refer to the unfortunate circumstances under which he has to sever his connection with the Corps, but we will always remember him as a good comrade and a brave and efficient soldier”
So just what were these unfortunate circumstances?
Here I should like to draw on the Biography of Travers Jackson ( Viv Solomons) which puts it very eloquently, “…But in the Colony’s capital a strange and ugly rumour began to do the rounds. Someone, so the rumour ran, had brought back in his knapsack – not the marshal’s cane of Napoleon’s celebrated dictum, but something much more sinister – the head of the rebel leader “
The Cape government set up a board of enquiry to get to the bottom of the matter. The need for this proved unnecessary as the man in question, Capt. J S Searle came forward to make a clean breast of his conduct .
The rebel leader was Luka Jantje , who had died bravely in the fight against the colonial forces. He was buried where he fell. Soon afterwards Searle offered 5 pounds to anyone who would bring him Jantje’s head. 5 pounds was a lot of money and in short order he had the head. The head was boiled to preserve it and then brought back to Cape Town. Searle said that he had intended to present it to the South African Museum for scientific examination. Not that Cape society believed him and after enough pressure was exerted via the media ( Cape Times ) , the regiment had little alternative but to cashier him. This after many years in volunteer regiments. All outstanding pay was also forfeit, but what might have hurt more was that he wasn’t considered for the award of the Cape of Good Hope General Service Medal, which was awarded after he was ejected from the Regiment. He, who was the commander in the field of the CTH detachment and who had been a brave and efficient officer.
But to put things in perspective, the military was a part time occupation and his “day job” as Controller of the Savings Bank was still in place. Once again I lean on the excellent commentary from the Biography of Travers Jackson , “..but here , in fact lay the seeds of his final downfall. Less than a year after the Bechuanaland affair “In a weak moment “- so the trustees of his insolvent estate would put it – he yielded to temptation and took advantage of his position and diverted depositor’s money to his own account. He was tried on 13 counts involving forgery, uttering and theft and convicted on two. The jury recommended leniency in view of his previous good record of public service, but the presiding judge was unmoved and handed down the harsh sentence of 3 years hard labour. Searle, now hopelessly insolvent would have the humiliation of seeing his worldly goods attached by angry creditors, and his family left destitute.
After serving his sentence he left Cape Town for the Rand , where he lived with his son. But he was a broken man. The last sight we have of him , many years later , is as the commissionaire of the Michaelis Gallery in Greenmarket Square, old and bowed”

And because I can construct no better reflection on the sad end of this flawed warrior , I quote again verbatim from the Biography of Travers Jackson, “…did he think , as he paused for a moment when crossing the compound of Roeland Street Gaol and gazed up at the mountain towering above him , of those great pioneering days on the left and right faces, the Saddle Corner and prominent ridge which bore his own name ? Did he again, now in bittersweet memory only , stride carefree down the marshy path from Maclear’s Beacon , through the steep Backwater Gorge and on to the ever-welcome Ranger’s Cottage with its cluster of old friends, and then rattle down Kasteels Poort home ? Did he feel once more the sense of triumph as his hand clutched a sharp hold and he hauled himself up the last pitch of a new route to his companions’ crashing “Bravo”---
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J S Searle - a flawed hero 3 weeks 12 hours ago #74037

  • Rory
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You have done Searle proud Mike - a very unusual combination of medals. Did he have the Volunteer Service Medal named up? As I recall they were issued unnamed, although gazetted as you say.

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J S Searle - a flawed hero 3 weeks 10 hours ago #74038

  • mike rowan
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Thanks, Rory
The Volunteer L S named up ro Captain J S Searle. Cape Town Highlanders
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