Petty Officer Henry James Hounsell of the Natal Naval Volunteers 1 year 1 month ago #71064
Henry James Hounsell
Petty Officer 2nd Class, Natal Naval Corps – Bambatha Rebellion
- Natal Medal (Bambatha) with 1906 clasp to P.O.2 H.J. HOUNSELL, NATAL NAVAL CORPS
James Hounsell, for it was thus he was known in his early years, was born in Castletown, Portland in the County of Dorset in August 1868, the son of Edmund Samuel Hounsell, a Trinity House Pilot and his wife Tamson, born Male. He was baptised in the parish church of Langton Herring on 6 September 1868.
At the time of the 1871 England census the family were living in Castleton, aside from his parents there were a number of siblings in the house in the form of Georgina (6), Samuel (4) and baby William who was not quite a year old. Aged 2 himself, James would have had plenty of playmates.
Ten years later, at the time of the 1881 England census things looked starkly different. The patriarch of the house, Edmund Hounsell, had passed away at the young age of 40 and left his wife and children very much to their own devices. Fortunately for James, he had been sent away to the Greenwich Hospital School to receive an education. That he was able to enroll at this school and receive a free education was thanks to his father’s nautical connection. The Greenwich Hospital School was earmarked for the orphan children of those men who had died in the service of the Royal Navy and associated entities.
A boy applying for admission had to produce original certificates of his birth and his parents’ marriage, together with a certificate of his character and moral conduct from the Clergyman of his parish, or from the master of the school at which he had been educated. The boy and his guardians had to sign an undertaking that at the age of 18 he would enter service in the Royal Navy or, if found unfit, to enter the Merchant Service and be enrolled in the Royal Navy Reserve. Boys, on admission, had to be between 11 and 14 years of age, physically fit for sea service, able to read and write, and have a knowledge of the four simple rules of arithmetic.
The 1881 census showed that, at age 12 and having met the qualifying conditions, James was a pupil at the school. On the domestic front, Mrs Hounsell was showing just what she was made of by supporting herself and her brood by trading as a fish merchant.
1884 proved to be a momentous year for Hounsell – having been immersed in maritime matters at school for a number of years, he took himself off, at the age of 15, to join the crew of the ship “Annie”. The Dorset Crew List records show him as having signed up on 19 January 1884, initially as a Boy, and then as a Cook with effect from 10 July 1884. Of him in the 1891 England census there is no sign.
Resurfacing, Hounsell married Catherine Annie Motte in West Ham, Essex on 4 September 1897 - his residence at the time was given as 5 Union Road whilst his bride-to-be lived in the house next door, no. 3 Union Road. It wasn’t long before a daughter graced the couple with her presence – Catherine Ellen being born in 1898.
He appears to have continued on with his nautical pursuits, whilst playing no part in the Anglo Boer War which raged from October 1899 until the end of May 1902. Where he was on census day in 1901 is a matter for conjecture as he was not at home at 57 Amity Road when the enumerators called round. His 24 year old wife was in residence along with first-born Catherine Ellen and Mrs Hounsell’s 3 year old niece, Alice. In fact, in that year, the second of their children had been born – Henry Edmund seeing the light of day for the first time as Stratford St. Paul. The family were still living at 57 Amity Road and Hounsell was described as a Mariner by occupation when Henry junior was baptised on 22 June 1902.
At some point after this Hounsell decided to take his family and himself to South Africa in search of a new future. He joined the staff of Chiazzari and Sons in Durban, where he was employed as a Stevedore. The Chiazzari family had deep roots in the Naval and Marine sectors of the Colony of Natal and Nicholas Chiazzari, the Managing Partner and Hounsell’s boss, had been awarded the Distinguished Service Order whilst the Officer Commanding of the Natal Naval Volunteers during the Relief of Ladysmith operations in the Boer War.
Settling down to his new life in Durban, Hounsell would have been forgiven if he thought his tranquillity was going to continue uninterrupted. As did most men of the time, he joined up for peace-time service with one or other of the many Militia units that abounded. In his case, he selected the Natal Naval Corps.
The Natal Naval Volunteers had been established in 1885 as a coastal artillery unit tasked with defending the port of Durban but was too small and poorly equipped to serve its intended purpose, but it nevertheless remained in existence until 1904 when the unit was renamed the Natal Naval Corps (NNC), retaining the same functions as its predecessor - a land-based coastal artillery battery defending the port of Durban. After the Anglo-Boer War, it had grown in size from about 125 men to over 200 and, like the NNV, it had only one opportunity for active service, this time during the Natal Rebellion of 1906.
Although the military might of the Zulu nation had been destroyed during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, the Zulus, a war-like people, remained a cause for concern to the Europeans who had settled in the Colony of Natal. The Zulus resented being taxed without the representative benefits that normally attend taxation so it was grist to the mill when the Colonial Government desperate to source additional revenue after an expensive Boer War, happened upon a scheme to tax every adult male above a certain age the sum of £1. The imposition of a Poll Tax (as it was labelled) on all Zulu men over the age of 18, and the collection of this tax, was the spark that ignited the Rebellion of 1906.
In one of the first “moves” of the rebellion a Natal Police patrol near Richmond, south of Pietermaritzburg, was attacked by resentful Zulus and two policemen were killed. This resulted in the Declaration of Martial Law on 9 February 1906. Natal's volunteer regiments were mobilized as the month wore on, with the NNC being called to arms on 24 February. Commander Hoare, of the N.N.V. with 100 men, two .45 maxims and one .303 trench Hotchkiss automatic, joined Colonel Leuchars’ column.
The column was divided and converged from two bases, Greytown and Stanger, some 45 miles to the south east, where the insubordinate chief Ngobizembe was to be found. The column arrived at Mapumulo on 2 March and an ultimatum was sent to Ngobizembe, this was ignored and, on 5 March 1906 the chief’s kraal was destroyed by artillery fire at 2000 yards. The whole of this expedition lasted barely two months, after which the men returned to Durban and were demobilised.
This was, however, but the first outbreak of a spirit of unrest and revolt which was rapidly spreading in volume and intensity – fuelled by the likes of a young and recently deposed chief, Bambatha, from the Zondi clan in the Kranskop/Greytown area. This worthy went about spreading dissent and fomenting open rebellion against the white mans’ rule. It became necessary to call out the Militia once more and, on 7 May 1906, the Zululand Field Force was mustered with 4 316 men and 12 guns.
The Natal Naval Corps were again mobilised and, along with the army detachments, were formed into a unit under Colonel Mansell of the Natal Police. They entrained at Durban and disembarked at Somkele, and from there marched through Eshowe to Fort Yolland, which they reached on 29 April. The headquarters of the enemy concentrated in this area and they were known to be in one of the valleys to the north-east of the Nkandla forest. Their actual strength was not known, but reliable information was obtained that the Sigananda, Ndube and Mpulela tribes had joined forces with Bambatha.
A reconnaissance was made towards Komo Hill, some five miles from Fort Yolland, which revealed that the rebels were in close proximity. It was decided to move out in force towards Komo and each man was issued with 150 rounds of ammunition and rations for 2 days. At 6 a.m. on 5 May the force moved out, marching through Komo and being sniped at occasionally from the thick bush on either side. The high ground at Bobe was reached at 2 p.m. where a halt was called, after which the column descended by a footpath into the valley, in single file.
The first appearance of the enemy in force was when about 300 rebels, who had been concealed in the long grass, suddenly rose and charged the Natal Mounted Rifles scouts. They fired a few shots, and then fell back on the head of the column, which opened fire and beat off the attack, but not until some of the leading Zulu warriors had got to within a few yards of the British column.
The N.N.V. meanwhile had come into action on their right, and opened an effective fire with their maxim. After this attack had been repulsed, the column moved forward, when suddenly another “impi” estimated at 400, made a separate attack on the rear-guard, composed of the Durban Light Infantry, who were supported by the N.N.V. It was thought probable that both attacks had been intended to be delivered at the same time, but owing to the length of the column, they fortunately didn’t synchronise, enabling the men to meet each one separately.
Owing to the unfavourable nature of the terrain and the proximity of stray bodies of the enemy, it was decided to return to Fort Yolland. The column had already covered 20 miles and fought two little actions in the heat of the sun, with little water to drink, so the endurance of the men was tried to the utmost. The return march was, however, successfully accomplished, in spite of the continued sniping by the enemy after the moon had risen. The casualties were light – only three men and seven horses wounded, whilst the enemy were estimated to have lost over 60 killed and many more wounded.
Mansell’s column remained at Fort Yolland till the 16th May, when they took part in the operations in the Nkandla Forest, which culminated in the converging movement on Cetewayo’s grave, and subsequent successful action at Mome Gorge on the 10th June when the rebel force of over 1000 men was utterly defeated, and their chief Bambatha slain. This was not yet the end and the N.N.V. remained as part of the column, co-operating in the operations at Izinsimba, in which the rebels lost 547 men killed on the 8th July. Three days later at a small engagement at Ngudwini, the N.N.V. sustained their only casualty, Leading Seaman H. Murchie was wounded.
The N.N.V. were thereupon sent back to Durban on 16 June to demobilise. Hounsell, who served with the senior rank of Petty Officer, 2nd Class (no doubt in deference to his years of sailing experience) was awarded a medal with the effigy of King Edward VII. This medal was awarded to all troops and some civilians who took part in the Rebellion. Those that served for between 20 and 50 days received the medal without clasp, while those with more than 50 days service received the medal with a '1906' clasp. Men of the NNC received a total of 203 medals, 136 with clasp and 67 without. Hounsell’s was “with clasp”.
The fighting and unrest over, he returned to civilian life and, ere long, his wife was pregnant again with their fourth child (a third, Nora May Hounsell, had been born on 30 October 1904). Willoughby George Hounsell was born in Durban on 7 September 1908. Tragically, his father wasn’t alive to be present at the happy event – he had passed away from Suppurative Cholangitis at the Addington Hospital in Durban on 26 May 1908, at the young age of 39 (almost mirroring his father’s demise at a similar age). The family were living at 80 Bay Terrace at the time of his death.
Interestingly, his Last Will and Testament had been drawn up on 25 February 1906, at the Natal Naval Camp in Stanger and had been witnessed by two comrades in arms – J Carnaby, a Writer with the N.N.C. and A.P. Downes, a Sergeant with the Natal Mounted Rifles.
His surviving family moved north to Rhodesia in later years with his widow remarrying.
The following user(s) said Thank You: djb, QSAMIKE
Petty Officer Henry James Hounsell of the Natal Naval Volunteers 1 year 1 month ago #71068
Thank You Rory a very informative piece of research, Thanks again...… Mike
Military Historical Society
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