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Lieut. Frank Williams of the Diamond Fields Horse 1 year 8 months ago #75335

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I read somewhere that only 4 medals were awarded to the D.F.H. with the 1877-8-9 clasps - were this to be true then Williams' medal must be quite a rarity. What has been immensely frustrating is not being able to find out which unit he served with in the Zulu War.

Frank Williams

Lieutenant, Diamond Fields Horse – Pokwane, Griqua and Zulu War campaigns

- South African General Service Medal with 1877-8-9 clasp to LIEUT. F. WILLIAMS. DIAMOND FDS. HORSE

Frank Williams was born in Belfast, County Antrim in Ireland in about 1836, the son of Frank Williams and his wife Adeline. He would have been a boy of between the ages of nine and sixteen when the Great Hunger – the Irish Potato Famine – swept the country plunging large parts of the population into desperate hunger and leading to an exodus of 20% of the Irish population – either through emigration or death by starvation. Times couldn’t have been easy and many young Irish men sought their fortunes as far away from the Emerald Isle as they could.

In Frank’s case he headed for the sunny climes of South Africa, and in particular, the Cape Colony. The year 1865 found him living in Hopetown, about 70 miles outside of Kimberley. The Hope Town diamond, at one time one of the largest ever found, was to be discovered there in about two years after our first encounter with Frank. This encounter was in the form of a Special Licence granted to him by His Excellency the Governor, enabling him to wed Mary Ann Elizabeth Tennery, a Nova Scotia-born lass. The document was given under the Governor’s seal on 5 April 1865. He was 29 years old and his bride 26.

On 4 May 1876 he was adopted into the Cosmopolitan Lodge of the Free Masons. His occupation was provided as Store Keeper and his residence, Kimberley. He had made the move to the City of Diamonds – an association with that place that was going to last until his death. But business was not always profit and plain-sailing; on 26 June 1877 a Notice & Declaration of Insolvency appeared in the newspapers of the day. It intimated that the Estate of Frank Williams had been placed in sequestration, it having been found that all his goods and chattels didn’t amount to the sum of £75 needed to avert bankruptcy.

Possibly fortunately for Williams, as he looked around to try and find the wherewithal to bolster his fortunes, the Griqua and Pokwane Wars broke out. Rebellion on the North-East border had led to a punitive expedition against the Thlaping Headman, Bothlasitse Gasebone of Pokwane. Under Lanyon’s personal command, 54 men from the Diamond Fields Horse and 36 volunteers, specially recruited for the expedition (named the Diggers Corps), comprised the largest portion of the force assembled for the purpose. It was a bloodless expedition, but the objective, to frighten Gasebone into submission, was achieved.

Williams was, most likely, one of the officers in this photo

Williams, who it is assumed was already playing a role in the local militia as an officer with the Diamond Fields Horse, was in action against the Pokwane as well as the much larger threat – the Griquas. An account by Col Sir David Harris, KCMG, VD, MLA (1928), entitled THE RELIEF OF GRIQUATOWN - A forgotten campaign by the men of the Diamond Fields, tells the story of this campaign. This article, dealing with the little-known relief of Griquatown, was originally written for the Diamond Fields Advertiser Annual of 1928, fifty years after the event.

‘The Gaika-Galeka War had just been brought to a successful conclusion and the Diamond Fields Horse were preparing to march back to Griqualand West, which was then a Crown Colony, when news reached Kimberley that the Griquas were in revolt and that they intended to capture Griquatown. At this time, Mr Jacob Dirk Barry was the Recorder and Acting Administrator in the absence of Colonel Lanyon, who had gone to Koeghuis with a small force of the Frontier Armed Mounted Police (FAMP) to enquire into a native disturbance. I did not march back with the Diamond Fields Horse, but returned by post cart, which meant a saving of three weeks. I had only been home a few days when I received, late at night, an urgent message from the Acting Administrator to call on him. I went immediately to Kimberley, where he told me of the serious state of affairs that existed, and his fear for the safety of the 150 white residents of Griquatown, as a large body of Griquas under their leader, Moses Moos, had looted several stores within a few miles of the town, had murdered some whites and had threatened to capture Griquatown if it were not surrendered on 22 May 1878.

Mr HB Roper, who was then Civil Commissioner of the District, had warned the rebels that he would defend the town, and that so long as the British Flag was flying from the mast he would not surrender. Mr Roper had displayed great courage, for there were only 28 able-bodied men with rifles with about 500 rounds of ammunition between them, as the rebels had broken into the adjacent magazines and seized all the ammunition and explosives. The number of men mentioned formed themselves into a small commando and appointed Mr Orpen as their commandant. This small force could only patrol the outskirts of the town, but it was far too weak to hold it against the large force of Griquas if the latter made a determined attack. The white inhabitants were in dire straits, their lives being in great jeopardy. The gaol was hastily improvised into a laager, everything available, including bales of wool, was utilised to fortify the building in which the whites and 400 supposed loyal Griquas, including Waterboer, were huddled together at night, it being considered unsafe for them to remain in their homes after sunset.

The residents were in an awful predicament, and their eyes anxiously turned towards Kimberley for relief, as the small garrison with scarcely twenty rounds of ammunition per man could only offer a weak resistance to 800 of the enemy with Winchester repeating rifles and breech-loaders, amply supplied with ammunition.

The Acting Administrator asked me if it were possible to quickly organise a force to proceed to Griquatown to relieve the place and save the lives of the beleaguered inhabitants. I replied that I thought it could be done. The next morning a notice appeared calling for volunteers. The response was excellent, as I fully expected it would be from the men of the Diamond Fields, whose military spirit has never waned from that day to the present time. I selected 120 from the numerous applicants, choosing those who had some military experience, and who could ride and manage a horse. The men were organised into three troops, mounted drilled and equipped within 48 hours of the news of the rising reaching the authorities, and the force left Kimberley with mule wagons, carrying supplies and ammunition on Saturday night, 18 May 1878.

Rain fell on the first march, making things very uncomfortable and we reached Schmidt’s Drift early on Sunday morning, where there was a delay of several hours in transporting men, horses and wagon across the Vaal River on the one pont. Mr Bailey, a government land surveyor who had a knowledge of [Zulu and] had organised a force of 150 Zulus, had left Kimberley on Friday afternoon. We passed this force on the way, and Mr Bailey’s force reached Griquatown just after the fight at Driefontein, having marched 110 miles in four days - a very creditable performance.

On Monday night, the mounted relief force bivouacked about 35 miles from Griquatown, men and horses being very tired. At about midnight, I was aroused by the sergeant of the guard who informed me that there was a messenger carrying a dispatch. It was a bastard boy riding a bare-backed horse, the saddled animal having been shot by the rebels outside Griquatown. The boy made a slit in his coat and handed me a piece of paper on which was written the following message:

‘To any officer commanding a relief force. Situation perilous. Lose no time. - H.B. Roper, C.C.’

We intended resuming our advance at 06.00, but the reveille was sounded at 02.30. The force formed up, and when the foregoing message was read and the men were asked when they would be prepared to march there was an unanimous response: ‘At once, Sir’. Just what was expected from such gallant fellows when the lives of women and children were at stake.

We reached Griquatown on Tuesday just as the sun was setting behind the hills. On interviewing the Civil Commissioner, we were informed that the Griquas had demanded the surrender of the town that afternoon and, after receiving a refusal, had left an hour before our arrival, after stating that they were returning the following morning to capture the town. We made a hurried plan of defence, posted pickets and sentries, and all ranks had a well-deserved rest. One may easily imagine the feelings of the people when we arrived. Despair was depicted on their faces, but this soon gave way to confidence.

At about 03.00 on Wednesday morning, the distant sound of a bugle was heard. Some thought it was a ruse by the rebels, but to the experienced campaigners it sounded like the call of a trained bugler. Our bugler responded by sounding the advance, and within an hour Colonel Lanyon, who had received tidings of the serious situation, and unaware that the Kimberley force had arrived, came from Koegas by forced marches with forty men of the old Frontier Armed Mounted Police, a pluck thing for even so brave a colonel to do.

The rebels were as good as their word and advanced in strength and confidence to capture the town, not knowing that a force of 160 strong had arrived since the rebels had left the previous day. We waited until they got within a few hundred yards when we opened a heavy and accurate fire which took them quite by surprise. The Griqua leaders tried to rally their men, but without success, and when Colonel Lanyon saw the enemy was wavering, he sallied forth with a troop of mounted men with the intention of cutting off the main body retiring through a kloof that was their line of retreat to their headquarters at Witwater.

However, they had too good a start, but the Griquas on foot and some of the jaded horses were rallied by some of their chiefs and took up a strong position at Driefontein. They got into four stone sheep kraals which they loopholed. Our force then surrounded the enemy within 200 yards of their defences, taking what cover was available and piling up stones and earth for protection from the fire of the rebels. The farm was in a slight hollow, so that we occupied the best position. At about 15.00, Colonel Lanyon said to me ‘If I had three or four companies of regulars I would charge the enemy at once, but, as the men from Kimberley are mostly married with families, I must prevent casualties as much as possible, so will wait until sundown before charging, when the enemy will be almost tired out.’

Orders were then given to each troop under its officers to charge the sheep kraals on a given signal. Three Gs would be sounded on the bugle, and on the last sound, the kraals were to be rushed, each troop being given a particular kraal to attack. As the sun was setting, Colonel Lanyon ordered Bugler Hill of the FAMP to sound the three Gs and at the sound of the second one, the colonel dashed off, determined to lead the charge. As the last note was sounded, Bugler Hill was wounded in the abdomen and fell from his horse. The wound, fortunately, was not fatal; he recovered and was pensioned later.

It took less than a minute for the troops to rush the four sheep kraals. They were subjected to a heavy fire during the charge, but the young men jumped over the walls, the older men scrambled over, and the fight ended in a few minutes. All the rebels were killed or captured and we counted 43 dead. Our casualties numbered nine and the enemy about 100. The enemy, nonplussed, retired to the Langberg mountains and it took a large force under Colonel Warren several months to drive them out and finally stamp out the revolt.’

According to the medal roll off which William’s medal was issued, he saw service not only against the Pokwane and the Griquas, but against the Zulu as well. The Diamond Fields Horse, as a unit, did not see any action in Zululand, it is therefore supposed that he was attached to another unit for this period of time.

The petty squabbles and minor wars over with for the moment, William returned to civilian life – the register for the Richard Giddy Lodge of the Free Masons in Kimberley shows that he joined their ranks on 1 September 1881, by which time he was recorded as being a Hotelkeeper, perhaps he was to find fortune with this new venture? The Kimberley Burghers List of 1884 has him as a 40 year old Hotelkeeper, resident at New Main - Street, Kimberley. A year later, the 1884 Turner’s Directory lists him as the proprietor of the Gresham Bar and Dining Rooms in New Main -Street, although nothing on this establishment can be found.

1884 was also the year that Williams was involved in an expedition for the last time. In December of that year Major-General Charles Warren was sent as Her Majesty’s Special Commissioner to command a military expedition to Bechuanaland, to assert British sovereignty in the face of encroachments from Germany and the Transvaal, and to suppress the Boer states of Stellaland and Goshen, which were backed by the Transvaal. Warren's force of 4,000 British and local troops headed north from Cape Town, accompanied by the first three observation balloons ever used by the British Army in the field. On 22 January, Warren met the Boer leader Paul Kruger at the Modder River where Kruger sought to bring the expedition to a halt on the basis that he would take responsibility for maintaining order in the Tswana country. Warren did not abandon his march, however, and on reaching the area he dissolved up the republics of Stellaland and Goshen without bloodshed and in July proclaimed a British protectorate.

On his return to Kimberley, Williams now devoted his time to business. He passed away at his residence “Frere Villa” on 20 February 1892, at the age of 56 years and 10 months and was survived by his wife and only child, a daughter, Ada Budd. He was recorded as being a Boarding House proprietor at the time of his death.

A touching obituary appeared in the Diamond Fields Advertiser on 22 February 1892. It read as follows:

The Late Mr Frank Williams

One of the best known men on the Diamond Fields has passed away by the death of Mr Frank Williams at the age of fifty-six. Mr Williams was one of the earliest residents on the Fields, and for many years was identified with public movements of various sorts. He was a gallant Volunteer Officer and not only took part in the Griqua War bit also in the famous Bechuanaland Expedition under Sir Charles Warren, which led to a satisfactory settlement of the land question in that part of South Africa.
Mr Williams was for some time Paymaster of the Victoria Rifles, and took an intense interest in all matters in connection with the Volunteer movement. For years he has suffered from a complication of diseases, the most painful of which was very pronounced asthmatic complaint. Lately since his return to his well-known residence, Frere Villa, Woodley Street, he suffered from a complete break-down of the system, but notwithstanding great prostration and weakness he managed his consciousness to the last. His death has been talked of throughout Kimberley with expressions of deep regret and sympathy for the sorrowing widow and daughter.

The funeral which took place on Sunday, afternoon from his residence was very largely attended, amongst others present being Major Harris, Captains Finlayson, and Webster, Lieutenants Edwards, and other officers. On the coffin were several wreaths sent by various friends. Father Ogle conducted the service and spoke of the sterling qualities of deceased. A firing party, under command of Captain Webster, completed the obsequies at the grave.

Mrs Williams desires to return her most sincere thanks to Major Harris and officers of the Victoria Rifles. Captain Finlayson and other officers of the Kimberley Scots, also to the many friends for their great kindness and sympathy during her recent bereavement.

Today, Williams is interred in the Pioneer Cemetery, together with Ann and Frank Tinnery and Jackie Budd, his grandson. His wife passed away at the Sanatorium on the Berea in Durban on 27 October 1904.

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Lieut. Frank Williams of the Diamond Fields Horse 1 year 8 months ago #75336

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Here is a lead for you to explore.

He served as a Lieutenant in the Natal Transport Service during the Anglo-Zulu War 1879 BUT not does not appear on the roll. He was apparently in the Cape recruiting wagon and mule drivers for the Commissariat.

Part time researcher of the Cape Police and C.P.G Regiment.
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Lieut. Frank Williams of the Diamond Fields Horse 1 year 8 months ago #75338

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Thank you Adrian. You may just have solved one of life's little mysteries!! May I ask your source for this info?



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