There can be few more interesting and evocative periods of British imperial history than the struggles for south-eastern Africa. The empire had found itself colliding with the interests of many native powers across the globe during the decades of it’s expansion. Many had fought to maintain their independence and some, like the Sikhs of the Punjab, were sufficiently well versed in the practice of warfare as to be a serious threat. This could not be said of the tribes which rose from the Zulu nation, yet the Zulu War of 1879 gave British forces a chilling and brutal lesson in what a ‘primitive’ African tribal army was capable of achieving on the field of battle. The Matabele, as an off-shoot of the martial Zulus, also inevitably came into conflict with the British during the closing decade of the 19th century. The First Matabele War did not decisively subjugate the tribe and in 1896 it rose again laying siege to Bulawayo with over 10,000 Ndebele warriors. This unique Leonaur edition brings together two accounts written by remarkable men who were central to these events. The first was written by the legendary Frederick Selous. Those who know anything of the man know that he was the ‘great white hunter’, ‘Nimrod’ and the character upon whom the fictional Alan Quatermain was based, and so his account of this period is nothing less than compelling. The second book, by a commander of colonial forces engaged in the conflict, brilliantly combines a history of the events with his first-hand narrative. Highly recommended.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
Time flies rapidly in a fight, but up to the present I don’t suppose we had been over ten minutes engaged and the worst of the battle was yet to come.
Whilst the attack on the rear had been going on the men on the front faces had not been idle—in fact, the rebels had so arranged that their heaviest attack should be delivered from the front. The party attacking from the rear were to make a great noise to draw our attention in that particular direction, whilst the main attack would rush in on us from the front. This they did attempt, but the fact of their first having to deal with the native contingent somewhat spoiled their plans, although the latter did not make anything like a good stand. Still they acted as a buffer, and by the time the enemy had dealt with them Hopper had his Maxim trained and the men on the front faces thoroughly in hand, and opened a steady and destructive fire as soon as the friendlies cleared the front. This they did by rushing out in the open ground on our left and lying down, afterwards gaining the laager and packing themselves away under the wagons in huddled masses. I never hope again to see such an abject lot of human beings.
The fight now developed into a rifle duel. The rebels had taken cover in the rocks and kept up a lively fire for an hour and a half or two hours, doing a considerable amount of damage to men and animals. Our men returned the enemy’s fire whenever they could locate the position of a few to any certainty on the rocks. Those in the immediate vicinity of the laager were eventually cleared, and Lieutenant McDonald, assisted by Sergeant Wilson, Troopers Nauhaus and M. Robertson, a volunteer attached, were ordered to occupy them with the native contingent.
They had a great deal of trouble in getting the friendlies to move from the cover of the wagons where the thickness of their numbers had made them a good target for the rebels, causing them a heavy loss. At last I gave them the option of getting into the rocks as ordered, or of being shot by the Cape boys. This had the desired effect. They decided to choose the least of two evils, and went for the rocks in fairly good style.
After they were once in they did really good work, perhaps through sheer desperation, but to my mind they were chiefly inspired by the gallant behaviour of their white leaders. Their occupation of the rebels’ central position caused the latter to shift about and expose themselves to the rifle fire from the laager, and it now became evident that the rebels had lost their vantage. The seven-pounder was employed in shelling wherever a party of rebels were seen to congregate. Sergeant Perry handled his gun splendidly, and made some excellent shooting.
By about 8 a.m. the rebels had virtually given up firing, and I gave the order to inspan with the intention of moving forward to the entrance to the Cheleli valley, when Lieutenant McDonald reported the rapid approach of a fresh impi from the left front. I sent him back with instructions to keep the position held by the native contingent on the rocks, and had the Maxim and seven-pounder trained on the edge of the bush, through which the fresh impi was advancing.
They soon made their appearance, coming on in very good style. They crouched down on the edge of the bush with their shields in front of them and commenced singing a war song as they waited for their reserves to close up. They certainly looked well, and we could enjoy the sight all the better from knowing the game was now in our hands. Their leader, a fat old Cumulo, came up at last, and the war song stopped as he commenced to interrogate the rebels on the hill. Many of my men knew what he said. The rebels on the hill shouted to him that they had been very badly beaten and did not want to fight any more, and advised the chief to be careful. A slight commotion could now be noticed in the ranks of the new impi. I gave the order to open fire. The seven-pounder sent a shrapnel right into their centre, and Hopper stirred them up with a shower of lead from the Maxim. The new impi burst and scattered in every direction; the greater part of them going straight back.
The remainder rushed to take cover in the rocks, but finding them occupied on top did not go very far. They clustered on top of a large flat stone under a Marula-tree, making a beautiful target for another shrapnel, which was landed in by Sergeant Perry in a splendid manner. This was evidently all they wanted. They were now helpless, and rushed for the flats, exposing themselves to the rifle fire of our white skirmishers. The party that had fled backwards had now massed under a tree about eight hundred yards away. The top of the tree could just be seen from the laager, and our directions were got from the leader of the native contingent.
They had a good view from the hillside. The first shell burst rather high and did not do much, if any, damage. The next one burst about twenty yards from the tree and sent the rebels flying again. They never halted until they got on to the bush-covered slopes of the hill about a thousand yards away. Here the shells found them, and they soon disappeared over the ridge of the hill.
Thus ended the Battle of Inugu, the stiffest fight I have ever been in, and I believe the only laager fight which occurred during the rebellion. Our force was just sufficiently weak to encourage the rebels to attack it and sufficiently strong to beat them off thoroughly. Throughout the engagement all ranks behaved in a most excellent manner and relieved me of a great deal of anxiety, for I must confess that during the first hour and a half I was at a loss to know what the upshot was to be.