The Early Days
This page is dedicated to the very beginning of the Department. It starts with the Pioneer Column and the rebellions wherein several members of the Department took part.
The first sojourns into what was to become Rhodesia started in the 1840s with Robert Moffat who was a Scottish missionary who was spreading Christianity amongst the people of the region. His daughter married David Livingstone in 1844. In 1854 Moffat visited Matabelelend for the first time and continued to visit on occasion. His purpose was to meet with Mzilikazi and establish a mission station with the intent to spread Christianity and to create a logistical supply system for David Livingstone who was exploring the African interior. The Moffat Treaty was signed on the 11th February 1888 by the king of the Ndebele people, Lobengula and Robert Moffat on behalf of Queen Victoria. The purpose of the treaty was an agreement that Lobengula would not make any agreements with any other countries without the approval of the British government.
Charles Rudd was an Englishman who settled in the Cape and eventually became a partner with Cecil Rhodes in de Beers, the diamond mining company. He went into Matabeleland to make contact with Lobengula and signed the Rudd Concession on 30th October 1888. The concession agreed to the supply of 1000 Martini-Henry breech-loading rifles and 100, 000 rounds of ammunition to Lobengula in return for the rights to all minerals in the territory controlled by Lobengula. The Concession also agreed to the monthly payment of £100-00 to Lobengula for the rest of his life. If this payment was not made for three months consecutively then the concession became defunct. To all intents and purposes this also included Mashonaland, as Lobengula (an Ndebele) also controlled Mashonaland at the time.
THE PIONEER COLUMN
When the British South Africa Company (BSAC) was formed in South Africa in 1890 it was granted the right to form an armed body of men to protect the Pioneer Column that was to assemble in the North Cape and then advance northwards into Matabeleland and on into Mashonaland. The Pioneer Column was commanded overall by Irishman Lieutenant Colonel Edward Pennefather. Pennefather was an officer in the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons and was serving with his regiment in South Africa from the late 1870s. While with the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons he was detached to command the Pioneer Column and the BSAC Police. The plan was to establish four forts at Tuli, Victoria, Charter and Salisbury to secure the safety of the members of the Pioneer Column who, when they reached their destinations, would take up the tasks of prospecting, farming and establishing a new country based on the Rudd Concession.
The Pioneer Corps was commanded by Major Frank Johnson and consisted of 212 men. The men of the Column were allocated military ranks and were formed into three troops. A Troop was commanded by Captain Maurice Heany, B Troop was commanded by Captain Henry Hoste and C Troop, which was the artillery troop was commanded by Captain John Roach. Captain Frederick Selous was appointed as the Intelligence Officer. Included in the Columns company were 16 civilians. Major Allan Wilson, Dr Leander Starr Jameson (Rhodes representative), and A. R. Colquhoun who was the first administrator (District / Provincial Commissioner) were also part of the Pioneer Corps. The troopers of the Company were paid seven shillings and sixpence per day. On arrival at Fort Salisbury they were to receive 3000 acres of farming land as payment. The Column reached Salisbury and once the fort was constructed the Column was disbanded on 30th September 1890.
The BSAC Police element consisted of five troops of men and 200 Ngwato porters from Bechuanaland. The BSAC Police had two 7 pounder guns, two Gatling guns, two Gardner guns and a Maxim gun as well as a steam engine driven searchlight mounted on a wagon. They were paid five shillings a day and once Fort Salisbury had been established most left the force and were rewarded with a grant of 4500 acres of land.
An original BSA Company Police slouch hat badge. Each badge was individually hand made and worn on the left upturned side of a slouch hat.
MAJOR UNITS INVOLVED IN THE REBELLIONS
When the Matabele began their rebellion several military units were raised to protect the fledgling state and its citizens. The following list is of the major units that were raised.
British South Africa Company Police. Served with the Pioneer Column in 1890.
Mashonaland Horse. Included an Artillery Troop. 1891-1893.
Salisbury Horse. Raised in 1893 and disbanded in mid-December of the same year.
Victoria Rangers. Raised in 1893 and disbanded mid-December of the same year.
Raafs Rangers. Raised in Johannesburg and specifically sent to assist in the Matabele Rebellion. Raised in 1893 and disbanded in mid-December.
Rhodesia Horse Volunteers. Deployed in the towns of Salisbury, Umtali and Victoria. Another 600 men were deployed in Matabeleland. The unit was raised in April 1895 and disbanded on the 25th 1896
Matabeleland Native Police. This force was under command of the Native Commissioners. Many defected to the rebels during the rebellion. They were raised in May 1895.
Matabeleland Mounted Police. A regular force raised in 1893. Members wore a metal badge consisting of the letters MMP on red felt.
Bulawayo Field Force. Raised on the 25th March 1896 and disbanded on the 4th July 1896. It consisted of the following sub units:
Giffords Horse. This unit was one of the very few to wear a badge. It consisted of brass letters GH and was worn on a slouch hat.
Mashonaland Field Force. Raised in 1896 and had the following units under command:
Mounted Infantry 1 x rifle company and 1 x instructor company.
Medical Staff Corps
Army Service Corps
Honey's Scouts 1 x detachment
York and Lancs Regt 1 x company which was replaced by a company of the West Riding Regt in July 1896.
In August 1896 the total number of units in Mashonaland were as follows
Medical Staff Corps
Capt. Hon. C. White's Column of Bulawayo Field Horse
Army Service Corps
Matabeleland Relief Force
West Riding Regiment
Bulawayo was a small settlement and not yet been fully established by 1893. Lobengula fled northwards from his traditional kraal at Bulawayo. The Rudd Concession was seen to be threatened by this action and Dr Jameson dispatched Major Forbes with a column of the BSAC Police to capture the Ndebele king and bring him back. The force that continued on the search for Lobengula consisted of 160 men, ten days supply of food and water and two maxim guns. Major Forbes advanced on the London Missionary Society's station at Inyati, which had been established before the days of Thomas Baines, the African explorer and artist. It had been attacked and destroyed. Late on the 3rd of December 1893 the force encamped on the south bank of the Shangani River. Information was received that Lobengula was a day ahead of the force.
SHANGANI PATROL 4th DECEMBER 1893
Forbes instructed Major Allan Wilson to take a patrol of 8 officers and 12 men and scout ahead across the Shangani River in an effort to try and locate the position of Lobengula and his warriors. His orders were to return before darkness fell. Allan Wilson located Lobengulas position, asked Forbes to advance to his position and therefore did not return to the camp on the south bank of the Shangani River. Forbes thought is unwise to advance in the dark but did send Henry Borrow, the Adjutant of the Pioneer Column with some men as reinforcements. Forbes and the rest of his men advanced at first light and made contact with a Matabele force. Five men were wounded in the ambush and sixteen horses and two mules killed. Just after this incident further firing took place across the river. Burnham and Ingram, American born scouts and Trooper Gooding returned to Forbes position and reported that Wilson and his entire patrol were surrounded by the Matabele warriors and were heavily outnumbered. The weather upstream turned worse and rainwater from the catchment area flooded the river, making it almost impossible for Forbes to cross. In the ensuing fight all of the 34 BSAC Police troopers had formed a tight defensive circle around and on top of an anthill and all were killed. Dismounted, with dead horses and wounded men, they refused to surrender and fought to the last man. Matabele warriors later told of the extreme bravery of the group.
Major Forbes and his force withdrew, fighting several running battles with the Matabele warriors. On the 10th December the going was so bad that they had to abandon the carriages of the two Maxim guns and carry the guns separately. The force got back to Bulawayo on the 18th December. A Court of Enquiry was held after the incident on the 20th December. It was discovered that two troopers had stolen a large quantity of gold that had been sent by Lobengula as a peace offering and because this had not reached the authorities the consequences resulted in Lobengula fleeing with his warriors. The two men were sentenced to 14 years hard labour by the Bulawayo magistrate. However the magistrate was not empowered to give such a heavy sentence and the two were released a few years later.
In February 1894 James Dawson and James Reilly reached the site of the last stand of the Shangani Patrol and found the remains of the 34 men. They collected their remains and buried them in one grave beneath a mopane tree. A wooden cross on a tree inscribed with the words “To Brave Men” marked the grave. Later their remains were re-interred at the Great Zimbabwe Ruins and then again moved to the Motopos (where Rhodes was also buried later).
MATABELE REBELLION 1896
The Matabele Rebellion started on the 20th March when an African policeman and two African bearers were killed at Essexvale south east of Bulawayo. Another three days passed and more murders took place at Dawson's Store in Bulawayo and several Europeans were killed. On the same day another seven Europeans were murdered in the village of Filabuzi. The rebellion spread throughout Matabeleland and within a short while over 140 Europeans had been murdered. For such a small European population this was a major blow to the fledgling nation.
Farmers, prospectors and traders in the province were brought in to the towns of Gwelo, Mangwe, Belingwe and Bulawayo where they constructed laagers to defend themselves. The Matabele rebels left the main road southwards out of Bulawayo open, as they had hoped that the Europeans would flee southwards.
Elements of the Matabele Mounted Police conducted patrols to rescue those who had been cut off by the rebels. They also buried some of the people who had been murdered in the outlying areas. A volunteer unit known as the Rhodesia Horse Volunteers were raised in Salisbury and deployed southwards to assist. At the same time Colonel Plumer raised the Matabeleland Relief Force in Natal and the Cape and moved with this force northwards into Matabeleland. Imperial troops were sent from England and were formed into Mounted Infantry units to join this column.
The force was under command of Sir Frederick Carrington, who had Robert Baden Powell on his staff. Once the forces arrived in Bulawayo they consolidated their position and attacked the main rebel stronghold outside Bulawayo in May. The rebels were defeated in this battle and the remnants of the rebel force split into two groups. The one group was led by Mkwati and retreated to Ntabazikamambo. The Field Force attacked them there and once again inflicted heavy casualties on the rebels. Mkwati managed to escape and he fled to Mashonaland where he continued the rebellion. (See the next paragraphs on the Mashona Rebellion).
The second group of rebels was approximately 10 000 warriors strong and moved into the Matopos Hills. Many of this group had firearms. The country was ideal for the group ad the numerous caves and steep sided valleys provided cover and safe bases to operate from. They continued to launch attacks from their hideouts for some time. Eventually Cecil John Rhodes made contact with the rebel leaders and held a series of meetings with them in August and September and was able to reach an agreement to stop the fighting. Matabeleland began to see some peace as a result of this agreement.
THE MASHONA REBELLION
In 1896 Rhodesia was a fledgling colony of the United Kingdom and with the influx of people looking towards settling in the new country the local Mashona were concerned about them. On the 15th June spirit mediums (nyangas) by the names of Kagubi and Nehanda swept up the local tribes-people to attack the white settlers. Within a time period of a few days' 119 people had been murdered in the rural areas of Mashonaland. The European population then moved from their farms and the mines to form laagers in Salisbury town, Headlands and Umtali.
Native Commissioners of 1896 - Photo from NADA
H.D. Rawson owned a general store in Salisbury at the time and a prospector by the name of Stunt went to the store to buy equipment for a prospecting trip to Hartley where gold had been discovered. Rawson also lent two of his labourers to assist Stunt with the carrying of the equipment. On the 16th June the two labourers returned to Rawson's store. One had been wounded. They explained that Stunt had been killed in an attack on them near Mashongombi's kraal. Rawson took the two men to the acting Chief Native Commissioner Mr Mark Lingard to report the matter. This was the first murder that was reported and was the start of the Mashona Rebellion. Later that same day several other murders were reported and by evening another report was made of the massacre of the Norton family (at what is now known as Norton village).
THE MAZOE PATROL - JUNE 1896
Nehanda and Kagubi started the Mashona Rebellion by attacking Alice Mine on the 18th June 1896. Blakiston and Routledge, two employees of the postal service escaped and made their way to the Trans Continental Telegraph Officer where they raised the alarm, sending a message to Salisbury. A patrol was sent from Salisbury under command of Lieutenant Dan Judson, with ambulance wagon to bring back the women and children. It was a four-man patrol consisting of Troopers. Honey, Guyon, King (Godfrey) and Hendricks. Other troopers were picked up at Lomagundi on the way to Mazoe. The going was tough of the horses of the patrol and this slowed down progress. H.D. Rawson accompanied this patrol and it reached Alice Mine safely. The mine manager, Mr. Salthouse, had gathered all of the European families into a central place of safety on the mine. Judson's patrol arrived safely and a plan was drawn up to get all the civilians back to the safety of Salisbury.
On the way to Salisbury, five miles from the mine, the party was ambushed by group of rebels using several firearms. Three members of the patrol were killed in the contact. The intense fire put the entire group in grave danger and Lt Judson ordered a hasty return to Alice Mine. The group climbed the nearby kopje and built sangars to protect themselves. Lt Judson called for volunteers to try and get through to Salisbury to request reinforcements. Blakiston and Routledge both volunteered and set off. The rebels attacked both of them. Blakiston was killed and Routledge disappeared on his horse, never to be seen again. During the next few nights the rebels tried to attack the group on the kopje but they, using sticks of dynamite as hand grenades, repelled them. Judson then asked Hendricks, the coloured driver of the ambulance to try and get back to Salisbury to get help.
On the way into Salisbury Hendricks met a larger patrol under the command of Captain Randolph Nesbitt. The patrol reached Mazoe and fought a constant running battle with the rebels along the Mazoe Road after rescuing the civilians at Alice Mine. The patrols were vastly outnumbered and the survivors eventually reached Salisbury on the 20th June.
The Rhodesian Government raised a military Force to deal with the uprising. It was designated the Mashonaland Field Force and was commanded by Lt Col Alderson who, in turn was responsible to Sir Frederick Carrington, the supreme commander of all troops in Rhodesia. The Field Force included Rhodesia Horse Volunteers, Salisbury Field Force, the Greys Scouts and various Mounted Infantry. Much of this force had just completed operations a few months earlier against the Matabele who rose up to attack Europeans in the south of the country. Elements of the force under command of Lt Col Alderson were withdrawn to Durban where they were shipped to Beira in Portuguese East Africa and then moved by road to Umtali.
This force that landed in Umtali were then responsible for opening up the road between Umtali and Salisbury, which they did. As this operation was taking place Mkwati (the rebel who fled the Matabele Rebellion) had arrived in Mashonaland. Mkwati reached the Hartley area in October and took up residence at Chief Mashaiangombe's kraal. Mkwati then linked up with the Shona rebel leader, Kagubi and between the two of them they hoped to try and resurrect the old Rozwi Empire. (The Rozwi Empire is a very old grouping of Shona people who originate in the central part of Rhodesia and claim decent to the period when the Great Zimbabwe Ruins was still a functioning trade centre in the 1500s and earlier). They made contact with a descendant of the old Rozwe Mambo (paramount chief) but the Rhodesian authorities were able to arrest the man and thus take him out of the equation. This tended to settle matters in the short term and the murders decreased.
In March the rebels had consolidated their position, somewhat and further fighting broke out. The BSAP and the 7th Hussars deployed on an operation to deal with the violence and attacked rebel leader Chief Kunswi. Chief Mashaiangombe was attacked in his kraal in July and he was killed by government forces. In August Chief Kunzwi surrendered to the authorities and soon afterwards many of his followers did the same. Some fighting continued and in September Mkwati was killed in the Korekore area north east of Salisbury.
Kagubi surrendered in October and by the end of December Nehanda had been captured by government forces. Both Kagubi and Nehanda were tried for murder and were found guilty. They were executed on the 27th April 1897 in Salisbury and thus the Mashonaland Rebellion came to a successful conclusion. The Mashonaland Rebellion did not enjoy support from any of the chiefs and the people of the eastern districts of the country except for one chief, Chief Makoni.
Native Commissioner Kenny with an unknown man, Kagubi and Nehanda in the foreground after Nehanda had been captured by him.
THE JAMESON RAID
Rhodesia steadily grew in those early years. More people came to the country in search of wealth and adventure. The gold and diamond rush brought many “uitlanders” or foreigners into the Boer Republics who agitated for the right to vote. In fact there were more foreigners that Transvaalers in the Republic and the government under Paul Kruger were worried that if they were given the vote then the Transvaalers would be in the minority in their own country. Doctor Leander Starr Jameson and other uitlanders planned a rebellion to take over. Jameson was acting with the knowledge of Cecil Rhodes and the British Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain. Jameson invaded the Transvaal from Rhodesia with a force of approximately 500 armed men. Most of these were members of the Matabeleland Mounted Police. Their intention was to capture Johannesburg. Their first encounter with Transvaal forces was at Krugersdorp on the 1st January 1895. Early the next day the force then reached Doornkop outside Johannesburg. The expected support from local uitlanders did not materialise and after a short sharp fight Jameson lost 17 killed, 55 wounded and 35 men missing. The leaders of the rebellion were tried and sentenced to death. Their sentences were commuted. Jameson eventually spent 15 months in jail and was released.
Torrin cap of the Matabeleland Mounted Police
THE ANGLO BOER WAR
In 1899 the Anglo Boer war broke out to the south. The colonies of Natal and the Cape were invaded by forces from the Transvaal and Free State. Rhodesia was placed in a precarious position. Forces were once again raised to defend the British colony. Mafeking, Kimberley and Ladysmith were besieged by Boer forces. Lieutenant Colonel Plumer raised a column to relieve Mafeking, which was being defended by Colonel Baden Powell. Mafeking was used as an assembly area for the Pioneer Column when it went north into Rhodesia in 1890. Baden Powell knew Rhodesia well as he had worked in the colony before war broke out. A BSAP fort was still situated at Mafeking and they were part of the defending force during the siege.