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Account of the Bechuanaland Rebellion by N B Hewitt 1 month 2 weeks ago #86268

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Source: South African Railways and Harbours Magazine, October 1933

The Bechuanaland Rebellion 1896-97

Recent occurrences in the Bechuanaland Protectorate recall to mind episode's of earlier days in the administration of the native territories lying between the Northern Cape border and Rhodesia. Divided into two areas, i.e., “Bechuanaland” administered by the Union Government, and “Bechuanaland Protectorate” under direct Imperial control, the whole territory extending from the Vaal to the Zambesi is inhabited by a native race springing originally from one main source, and generally known as “Bechuanas,” but divided into innumerable subtribes, each with its own petty chief, the majority owning allegiance to none save the authority of the Imperial or South African Governments.

The events which led up to the disturbance in December, 1896, are, however, concerned with the southernmost portion of the territory, the scene being laid at the native village of Phokwani, situate a few miles off the main line to the north, and approximately midway between Kimberley and Vryburg.

The initial cause of the trouble was occasioned by the enforcement of the rinderpest regulations, which included the destruction of all cattle within the affected areas on payment of fixed compensation.

A police patrol despatched to Phokwani to carry out these instructions met with armed resistance and was forced to retire on Schaapfontein, where it was beleagured pending the arrival of reinforcements. This incident was followed by the murder of a trader named Blum and his assistants at Phokwani stadt on 24th December, 1896, in broad daylight, the instigators of the murders being Galishwe, chief of the Phokwani Batlapins, and his headmen.


Chief Galishwe

A small force, comprising the Diamond Fields Artillery, with two 7-pounder muzzle loading guns, Diamond Fields Horse, Kimberley Rifles and Cape Police details, was hurriedly mobilized and despatched from Kimberley on 26th December under the command of Lt.-Col. Harris, with Majors “Bob” Finlayson and Peakman. The rebels were attacked at Phokwani and dispersed with loss, but unfortunately Galishwe and the ringleaders, with some 30 or 40 followers, escaped and fled westward, picking up recruits and laying toll upon the country in their flight, burning and looting freely, and perpetrating another murder (a trader named Robinson), with the connivance of Gert Mahura of the Batlaros tribe living in the Madebing Reserve.

The rebels were later attacked on the Mashowing River by a force of Cape Police and Vryburg Volunteers, under Inspector Fuller, and being dispersed, again made westward past Kuruman until they ultimately found temporary refuge in a section of the Langeberg Mountains, in extent some thirty miles long by eight miles wide, lying about fifty miles west-south-west of Kuruman.

Here, despite protestations of loyalty on the part of Chiefs Luka Jantje of the Langeberg Batlapins and Toto of the Batlaros tribe, who occupied the range, the rebels were protected and hidden, and these two chiefs ultimately joined forces with them.

In order to strengthen the Police Force and to assist in the capture of Galishwe, Gert Mahura and the murderers of Blum and Robinson, a squadron of the C.M.R., under Captain Woon, was ordered to Bechuanaland, and this force, on approaching Luka Jantje’s stadt at Gamasep, was met by heavy fire from the natives and compelled to withdraw with the loss of Lieut. Hopkins and one private killed.

Realising that the troops at his disposal were quite inadequate for the work to be performed, Captain Woon retired on Kuruman and reported the position, recommending the despatch of an expeditionary force to bring the rebels to their bearings.

Events were being eagerly watched by the whole of the Cape Colonial Forces, and after the issue of a mobilization order, and its later cancellation in the previous December, everyone was on the qui vive in expectation and anticipation of the call to arms, which the trend of events appeared to indicate, and more especially so as some 16 years had elapsed since the Cape Colonial troops last had the opportunity of active service.

It was with wild excitement, therefore, that the call for volunteers to form part of the expedition was received; a detachment being required from each of a stated number of volunteer regiments.

There was no such thing as compulsory training in those days. Men joined the Volunteer movement for the love of the game and were keen and enthusiastic, so that the parades called by the various units for selection of men reflected all regiments at 100 per cent, for active service.

The process of selection was rigidly enforced, and those chosen were justly entitled to claim, with “Bill Adams’ Army,” to be “picked men, most of us!”

The point of concentration was Kimberley, and thither the Capetown contingent proceeded by special trains from the coast on February 22nd, 1897, amid scenes of great public enthusiasm. What mattered if we were packed six in a third-class compartment? We were off on a great adventure, and nothing counted save that we got there soon.

At Kimberley we camped on the west end of the town for final equipment and collection of transport and stores; the tedium of waiting being relieved by daily field training and exercise. Meanwhile, the Cape Police details had been mobilized, and a volunteer corps drawn from the rifle clubs of Vryburg, Geluk, Papkuil, Mount Temple and Gordonia had joined Captain Woon at Kuruman.

The Bechuanaland Field Force—to give it its official title— was placed under the command of Lt.-Col. E. H. Dalgety, Officer Commanding the Cape Mounted Riflemen; with Capt. Johnson as Staff Officer; Capt. Lukin, Field Adjutant; and Lieut. Wormald, 7th Hussars, A.D.C.

The main column left Kimberley on 2nd March on its long trek to Kuruman (146 miles), arriving at that village on the 14th, and joining up with the troops from Vryburg and other centres already concentrated. The march from Kimberley to Kuruman and afterwards on to Langeberg was no small undertaking for untrained infantrymen, bearing in mind the sandy and heavy nature of the Bechuanaland tracks; and if the casualties from blistered heels and sore feet (to which I, too, fell a victim) were at the outset heavy, we all got hardened in time and the rest was comparatively easy going.

Infantry equipment was not of the best, there being little in the way of active service kit available in the Colony at the time. Makeshift uniforms were, however, secured, and we were fitted with jacket and trousers of a light cord material with short leather leggings, smasher hats with coloured pugaree according to regiment, and regulation military great coats. Later on and towards the close of the campaign, we were properly fitted with khaki tunics, Bedford cord breeches, and putties, so that we actually returned home looking very much smarter after six months’ campaigning than when we set out. For small arms, the C.M.R. and Cape Police had Lee-Enfields, but the Volunteer regiments carried Martini-Henri rifles, the long triangular bayonet, and leather equipment with two belt pouches each holding 25 rounds of ammunition, afterwards supplemented with bandoliers holding another fifty. This, with water-bottle, haversack, etc., made a heavy load to carry through sand tracks.

The native contingents had a mixed assortment of Snider carbines and Martini-Henri’s, the latter with the long sword bayonet then carried by infantry sergeants, and although these stalwarts retained their stabbing assegais, they never went into action without bayonets fixed as well, using both indiscriminately, and on one occasion, which I observed, pulling the trigger at the same time. The result was pretty ghastly!

The force under Col. Dalgety’s command comprised detachments of Cape Mounted Rifles with two Maxims, Prince Alfred’s Own Cape Field Artillery with a half-battery of 12-pounder breech-loading guns, Diamond Fields Artillery (two 7-pounder muzzle-loading guns), D.E.O.V.R. Mounted, Mount Temple Horse, Vryburg, Geluk and Gordonia Mounted Volunteers, Cape Police details and native contingent, and the following infantry: Duke of Edinburgh’s Rifles, Capetown Highlanders, 1st City (Grahamstown) Volunteers, Prince Alfred’s Guard (Port Elizabeth) with medical staff, transport, commissariat, dispatch riders, etc., a total of 1,016 all ranks, with 722 horses.


Map of operations

Deducting the garrisons of Taungs, Vryburg and Kuruman, the force marched out from the base on 28th March, 762 strong, increased to 879 by the Gordonia Volunteers, who joined at Khatu, and supplemented later by 101 all ranks from the Mount Temple Horse and Papkuil Mounted Rifle Club.

Followed the march through Khatu—a long and heavy trek with no water en route and very little at the end of it, thence, passing deserted villages and burnt and looted stores on the way, on to Bishopswood (Ryan’s Farm), some 15 miles from the mountain, and with good water and grazing, where the advanced base was established.

From this base we set out on the night of April 5th, approximately 750 strong, with four guns and two Maxims to attack the enemy position at Gamasep in the Langeberg, the force being divided into the Northern Column under Captain Woon (C.M.R.), the Southern Column under Captain Johnson (Duke’s Mounted), North Western Column under Commandant Wessels, and the Main Column, with artillery, under Lt.-Col. Dalgety. The Northern and Southern Columns were directed to move towards the position, dismount, ascend the mountain, and take up position on the heights so as to cover the main attack at daybreak, whilst Commandant Wessels was to demonstrate in a northwesterly direction and engage such parties of the enemy as he met with.

The Northern Column encountered a strong force of the enemy during the night at the base of the mountain, had to retire and take up a defensive position in a dry river-bed, and failed in its objective; whilst the Southern Column, although successfully scaling the heights, could not open up communication owing to the temporary loss of its signalling equipment, besides being very fully occupied in dealing with parties of rebels over a mountainous and extremely rough area. The main attack was, however, pressed forward; but after covering the Northern Column in its retirement, was checked by strong forces of the enemy entrenched in schantzes along the face of the berg, and after endeavouring, unsuccessfully, to dislodge them from their position, advantage was taken of a lull in the firing to break off the engagement after six hours’ fighting, and form laager. The attack could not be considered anything in the nature of a success, in fact, it definitely failed, but it was our baptism of fire and we were quite ready for more when it came along.

The Southern Column only established communication late in the afternoon, and did not reach the laager until noon on the following day, having to fight its way down under cover of artillery and details from the main camp. They had traversed many miles of mountainous country and had been without food and water for 36 hours.

Our casualties were Lieut. Harris (died of wounds) and one man killed, Surg. Lt.-Col. Hartley and Lieut, de Haviland and six men wounded. Enemy casualties were considerable. 

The principal difficulty in the Langeberg was lack of water—such as there was being high up in the kloofs, at the moment inaccessible to the troops, who, when ultimately able to secure the springs, found the water foul and polluted by hundreds of rotting carcases of cattle which had died from rinderpest.

There was nothing for it, therefore, but to retire to the base, leaving a garrison of infantry with two guns and a Maxim in occupation of Gamasep Kopje, a detached hill facing the Gamasep and Gamaluse valleys, and some 11 miles from the base of the mountain.

Here the writer’s detachment sojourned from 8th April until 4th May, occupying the time in sporadic raids, long-range artillery fire, repelling one night attack, digging wells and other amusements, until relieved to join the main column in the attack on Puduhusche.

It was at Gamasep Kopje that the Prince Alfred’s Artillery detachment captured a fine live specimen of an iguana which, secured by a long rope to the trail of their gun, soon became reasonably tame. We were short fat for cooking purposes at the time, and
there was little if any substitute available. A sudden activity on the part of the enemy called for prompt artillery action. No-one thought of the unfortunate iguana as he lay sleeping just below the muzzle of the 12- pounder, and he succumbed to the concussion of the discharge.

Horace Ramsden (whom I met later during the Siege of Mafeking, where he gained the VC) was battery cook that day and regaled the gun’s crew to a royal feast of fried steak and pancakes, which all enjoyed and voted excellent until informed that they had been partaking of portions of the tail fat of the late lamented. The result was appalling, and, to the onlookers, a positive scream. George Reid, late Chief Accountant, S.A.R. & H., who was a N.C.O. in those days, was one of the victims.

For the following month or so, operations from the base consisted of raiding parties and patrols destroying native villages and crops, excursions into various portions of the mountain, the occupation, after a skirmish, of Olifants Kloof, and a severe attack upon the camp there on the night of April 28th, which was repulsed after a sharp fight, and with a loss of three killed and three wounded.

About this time and a few miles from camp, the rebels captured three full wagon-loads of stores belonging to Abt Bros, of Vryburg and Geluk, who held the concession for the supply of foodstuffs and liquor (when procurable) to the troops. A flying patrol was unsuccessful in catching up with the rebels, and the whole of the supplies were lost.

From Olifants Kloof on the night of 8th May the main column, 450 strong—all dismounted with the exception of 50 scouts—proceeded in the direction of Toto’s stronghold at Puduhusche, whilst a mountain column of 275 men, under Capt. Johnson, was directed to move up Olifants Kloof, some six miles into the mountain, ascend the heights and take up position overlooking Puduhusche Kloof and covering the main operations up the valley, under the command of Lt.-Col. Spence.

These depositions were successfully carried out, and having established communication with the mountain column, which took up position at about 10 a.m., the attack was launched.

Puduhusche consists of a long, widemouthed kloof with three ridges extending right across the entrance, protected by jutting spurs on each side, and it was along these spurs on the south side that the enemy, allowing our scouts to pass unmolested, directed a sustained and accurate rifle fire upon the skirmishers, consisting of the C.M.R., Capetown Highlanders, and Prince Alfred’s Guard, as they came abreast in their advance upon the ridges in front; from which direction also, as well as from the right, heavy firing commenced. The attack was temporarily held up, the men taking such cover as was available, and holding on until the schantzes were rendered untenable by artillery and machine-gun fire, and the natives dislodged by a party despatched from Capt. Johnson’s column, who opened up a dropping fire from the heights above. The attack then developed and culminated at 3 p.m. by a bayonet charge on the ridges, and the position was taken.

It was during this engagement that I observed the antics of a huge sergeant of the native contingent, which came up in support after our temporary check. This worthy declined to take cover and persisted in firing in a standing position. Armed with a Snider carbine, which has a recoil like a kicking mule, and like all natives, firing with a “loose” shoulder, he was as frequently sitting down as standing up, until ultimately he subsided violently into a mimosa bush, and thereafter was more concerned with pulling out thorns from various portions of his anatomy than with the activities of the enemy.

The rebels lost about seventy killed and a large number wounded in the engagement, whilst our casualties were three killed, one died of wounds, and twelve wounded.

It was impossible to retain the position taken, as although water was available, it was not too plentiful, and was polluted by dead cattle, so that on the following day, after the destruction of huts and wagons, camp was broken and the column returned to the base at Ryan’s Farm.

It now became evident that the force available was of insufficient strength to take and hold any position in the mountain and at the same time continue operations elsewhere, especially as the local volunteers from Vryburg, Geluk, Upington, etc. (the majority of whom were small farmers), were becoming impatient of delay and anxious to return to their farms. Col. Dalgety found himself, therefore, forced to ask for reinforcements to enable him successfully to conclude the campaign. The local volunteers were disbanded and sent home and the force settled down to await the arrival of additional troops, stores and transport.

To the infantry, the period of inaction was particularly irksome, for whilst the mounted troops were continually occupied with patrols and small skirmishes, we had to be content with garrison duty, camp fatigues, field exercises and other annoyances.

Minor operations during this period included an attack by rebels on Gamasep Kopje, Inspector Berrange’s fight near Tsenin, and later on the lower Kuruman River, Captain Lanham’s engagements at Groenkloof and Lupanen, the burning of Loobong, and patrols in all directions.

After a wait from 10th May until 1st July, the first column of reinforcements arrived at Ryan’s Farm, and thereafter events moved rapidly.

By July 24th, the final mobilisation was complete and the force was once again ready to move. Reinforcements comprised details for volunteer detachments already in the field, together with two companies of Kaffrarian Rifles and one each of Queenstown Rifles, Western Rifles (Oudtshoorn Company) and Kimberley Rifles, also C.M.R. Artillery with two Maxims, Cape Police (Europeans and natives), Transkei and Vryburg native contingents, and Medical Corps, a total of 1,617 all told.

On July 28th, the day we marched out from Ryan’s, the total strength of the Bechuanaland Field Force, including the garrisons of Kuruman, Khatu, Ryan’s and Korannaberg, amounted to 2,326 all ranks, with 976 horses. Of this total, 1,724 all ranks, with 98 horses, four guns, and four Maxims, concentrated at Gamesep Kopje for the final assault upon the mountain.

The area of operations included the scene of our first engagement, but the front on this occasion extended northwards to Gamaluse and beyond, and southward to the Puduhusche ridge. The force was divided into three main columns, with smaller flanking columns to north-east and south-west. Of the first three, the Northern Column (Capt. Cumming, Kaffrarian Rifles), comprising 17 officers and 468 other ranks; the Southern Column (Lt.-Col. Spence, D.E.O.V.R.), 29 officers and 650 other ranks, and the Central Column (Lt.-Col. Dalgety) 18 officers and 333 other ranks, with artillery and Maxims, constituted the main attack. The principal objective was the assault of the mountain by the Northern and Southern Forces, the occupation of strategic points and the heights overlooking Gamaluse and Twaais Kloof, followed by a general attack from front and flanks, leaving all dominating points in occupation. The enveloping columns moved off at 2.30 a.m. on 30th July, assaulted the respective positions with little opposition, scaled the heights, and were all in position at dawn, when the main column moved out and the attack became general, finally concluding with a bayonet charge and the capture of Derepedi and Gamaluse Kloofs, Galishwes Kopje, and surrounding heights. Here it was, late in the afternoon, and whilst the troops comprising the main column were reforming, that Luka Jantje sprung a surprise attack with a few men upon the Kaffrarian Rifles, and was shot at close range by Surgeon-Captain Smythe of that regiment.

The fighting was over by about 5 p.m., the objective being gained at the surprisingly small cost of three killed and five wounded, whilst enemy casualties totalled about fifty killed, a number being bayoneted or shot on the Fighting Kopje, and many wounded. In addition to Luka Jantje, Marootsele, a subchief, was killed, whilst Galishwe, though wounded, against escaped, only to be captured later in the Korannaberg by a patrol under Captain Dennison.

The troops bivouacked for the night in the positions taken, and the following morning moved to the attack of Twaais Kloof, which, after a short encounter, was captured. The surrender of Chief Dokwe followed, and the village was destroyed by fire. Preparations for an attack on Puduhusche were in progress when Chief Toto on 1st August sent in a note offering to surrender, and on his appearance with his men on the morning of the following day the campaign came to an end.

total casualties amounted to:
Killed in action - 11
Died of wounds - 5
Died from sickness, etc. - 12
Wounded - 30
Total - 58

The next few days were devoted to receiving the surrender of the rebels, some 3,700 of whom—men, women and children—either gave themselves up or were captured.

Their lands were confiscated, the ringleaders punished, and the tribes distributed as indentured labourers amongst the Western Province farmers.

On 8th August, the Cape Police took over the district, and the troops commenced the return march via Kuruman and Vryburg.

The Capetown contingents arrived home on the afternoon of August 22nd, six months to a day since setting out, and were accorded a civic and popular reception greater even than that experienced by the recent Beauty Contest winners—but all this happened many years ago, so why make comparisons?

Looking back upon these events—tame as they were in comparison with those of later years—one is struck with the familiarity of many of the names mentioned. Capt. Lukin (the late Lt.-General Sir Tim Lukin, K.C.B., etc.), whose name to-day is a household word throughout the Empire; Lt.-Col. (now Col. Sir) David Harris; Surgeon-Lt.-Col. E. B. Hartley; Lt.-Col. Spence (killed in action at Fabers Puts during the Boer War); Major (afterwards Lt.-Col.) H. T. Tamplin, M.L.A.; Inspector (later Brigadier-General) Berrange; Major (Lt.-Col.) Inglesby; Inspectors Marsh and Fuller; Major Johnson, with many who later rendered distinguished military service in this and other lands.

Fine fellows they were, all of them, and gallant soldiers, who taught us the rudiments of fighting which stood many a man in good stead during the later South African War and the dark years of 1914-1918.
Dr David Biggins
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Account of the Bechuanaland Rebellion by N B Hewitt 1 month 2 weeks ago #86271

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A very good source is it not David? I have been (gradually) updating some of my recipients "stories" with new information garnered from this publication. It is surprising just how big an employer the good old S.A.R. & H were in days past.

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Account of the Bechuanaland Rebellion by N B Hewitt 1 month 2 weeks ago #86272

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It is a very good source. I came across it looking for Mafeking men but soon started to widen my searches
Dr David Biggins

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