K. Wade, The Piper of Pax:
The Life Story of Sir Robert Baden-Powell,
CHAPTER IX. MATABELELAND
where his pickets hide
Unmask the shapes they take."
service againtroubles in MatabelelandSir
Frederic Carrington arrivesscouting in the
Matopposthe Wolf that never sleepsthe
case of Uwinihome with Rhodes.
few weeks with the 13th in Ireland, B.P. received the
OFFICE, 28th April, 1896
to Cape Town having been provided for you in s.s.
Tantalon Castle I am directed to request that you
will proceed to Southampton and embark in the
above vessel on the 2nd May by 12.30 p.m.,
reporting yourself before embarking to the
military staff officer superintending the
must not ship more than 55 cubic feet.
am further to request that you will acknowledge
the receipt of this letter by first post and
inform me of any change in your address up to the
date of embarcation.
will be in command of the troops on board. I have
the honour to be, etc.
B.P. remarks in his book on the Matabele Campaign,
"What better invitation can one want? I accepted it
with the greatest pleasure."
Matabele were Zulus under Umzilikatzi who had settled in
Matabeleland (now a part of Rhodesia) early in the
nineteenth century, after being driven out of Zululand by
their own King. They found Matabeleland a country just
suited to them and settled there, systematically raiding
the surrounding countries for such cattle and corn as
they periodically required. In 1890 a body of white
pioneers came into Mashonaland, under Mr. Rhodes, took
possession there and established their capital at
Salisbury. The Matabele King rose to protest, and his
consent to the occupation of the white people had to be
bought with ammunition and rifles (which came in very
useful in their rebellion).
Matabele tried to resume their old game of raiding
Mashonaland they found police established to drive them
out, and Rhodes formed an expedition against them,
advanced into Matabeleland, seized Buluwayo and drove out
the King who died in exile. Such Matabele as were at home
at the time were conquered; but unfortunately the greater
part of them were away raiding in another part of the
country, and when they returned they were astonished to
find their country in the hand of white people and their
astonishment turned to disgust when they found that the
white invaders meant to remain in the country, and in
1895 they felt that the time had come to turn them out.
was going badly for the Matabele at that time. First came
a drought to destroy the crops; then a swarm of locusts
of a kind they had never before seen; and last, but not
least, came rinderpest to kill all their cattle. All
these misfortunes were, of course, attributed to the
coming of the white man, and when an opportunity occurred
to raise a rebellion and get rid of him the Matabele were
quick to seize it.
the priests of their god "Mlimo" the leaders of
the rebellion issued orders to the people that on a
certain nightat new moonall the men were to
arm themselves, and the regiments to assemble in the
neighbourhood of Buluwayo, go into the town and kill
every white person they could find. When the work of
slaughter was complete they were then to attack the
outlying farms and townships and destroy them.
might have gone well with these pleasing plans but for
one thing. In their keenness to get the white people
cleared out, some of the warriors attacked the farms and
homesteads on their way to Buluwayo instead of waiting
till their return. Although they succeeded in murdering a
good many of the inhabitants, some managed to get away,
and among them was Mr. Selous, the famous naturalist and
big game hunter, who, with his wife, rode into Buluwayo
and gave warning to the inhabitants. These, to the number
of about 1000, immediately " went into laager
"; in other words, they fortified their market hall
and formed a rampart round it of a double line of bullock
waggons, stocked the place with food and ammunition and
organised a defence force among the able-bodied men of
nights later the Matabele arrived, to find the place in
darkness and all the houses shut up. They suspected that
a trap had been laid for them, so instead of attacking
they retired outside the town and camped around it on
three sides to the number of about 10,000, leaving one
side open for the whites to clear out byonce for
allif they wished to escape with their lives.
the news of the murdered farmers had got abroad, and on
all sides other townships went into laager, while relief
forces marched up to Matabeleland. From Salisbury came a
relief column to Buluwayo; and Colonel Plumer (now
Field-Marshal Lord Plumer), who was at the Cape with the
York and Lancaster Regiment, raised a corps of mounted
rifles and moved north by way of Mafeking. At the same
time Colonel Robertson had organised a corps of
"Cape Boys"natives of Cape Colony.
these reinforcements were coming upand it was about
two months before they could reach Buluwayothe
inhabitants of the town had meantime organised a field
force and were doing their best to beat the enemy off,
but with only partial success, owing to the difficulties
of the situation. Captain McFarlane, formerly of the 9th
Lancers, dealt one heavy blow which shifted the enemy
back a few miles from the town.
this time Sir Frederick Carrington was sent for to take
command of the troops on the spot, and with him, as Chief
Staff Officer, went Baden-Powell.
first letter home from Buluwayo is dated June 6th, 1896:
am getting on splendidly here. Grand climate, most
interesting time. I am Chief Staff Officer to Sir F.
Carrington and am overcrowded with work, all office
work at present, alas. I have all the business of
sending off columns to reconnoitre instead of being
sent off with them Such is the penalty of my rank.
However, I hope the General will himself take the
field very shortly and that we shall have at least
one good fight."
B.P. did not have to wait long for the fulfilment of his
desire for a scrap will be seen by his next letter:
7th." I broke my last letter off
suddenly because a report just then came in of enemy
being near by. Well of course I got sneaking about to
look at him. I was fiddling around all that night
more or less, and by daylight was away out in the
camp of an outlying column. This lot I got under
weigh and sent a message in to Buluwayo for all the
available troops there to come out and join me
and they cameand we had a grand little
fight. 1500 enemy took up a strongish position in
thorny bush but I went at them with the mounted
troops, 200, and instead of stopping to fire when
they fired we charged straight into them. It was
splendidthey bolted and we followed up for
three miles fighting all the time.
Colonials are grand at it, enjoying it all like a lot
of boys playing polo."
afterwards found out," wrote Baden-Powell in a
later account of this fight, " that this impi or
regiment was formed of detachments representing all
the other impis of the rebels. They had been told by
the Mlimo (their god) that the white people in
Buluwayo were nearly dead of rinderpest and that they
were to come and sit on this rise outside Buluwayo
and lure the survivors out to them, and that, as soon
as the whites attempted to cross the stream, the
Mlimo would cause the stream to open and swallow them
up. The impi was then to take possession of the town
and to keep it in good order for Lobengula (their
late King) who was about to come to life again. This
yarn was most thoroughly believed by the rebels, and
when the stream failed to swallow us up they became
quite dazed with astonishment. But that was the sort
of belief in which they fought on all occasions. They
were fanatics, they believed everything Mlimo told
them and this really accounted for much of their
courage. On various occasions they attacked us with
the greatest bravery in spite of the Maxims and other
fire we brought to bear on them; often they attacked
right up to the muzzles of the guns, simply because
their old Mlimo had told them that our bullets would
turn into drops of water on striking them."
will show you the sort of people with whom the British
army had to contend.
horses are getting fearfully done up from want of
food," he wrote. " However, an installment
of forage arrived to-day, and we hope that more
things will begin to come up now. You see we are 600
miles from the Railway. Rinderpest has killed all the
oxen which used to pull the waggons and they are
trying to put donkeys to the work; we passed 900
waggons deserted on the road on our way up here;
consequently prices are rather highpint of
champagne £1 10. Eggs 37/6 per dozen; messing per
month £20 for three very bad meals a day without
wine or extras."
difficulties in regard to food supplies for the troops
were very great, owing to the difficulties of transport;
and the dual task of getting supplies in and getting the
enemy out was a fairly strenuous one.
office hours were rather tedious to B.P., who was longing
for something more active; but it was, after all, in
Matabeleland that he found his first great opportunity of
putting into practice his knowledge of Scouting. And very
valuable this knowledge proved to the conduct of the
of work, chiefly in the office," he wrote,
"but I have had a few outings and have just
returned from a three days' reconnaissance which I
have most thoroughly enjoyed. I went with one
companion, the very celebrated American Scout,
Burnham. We went and reconnoitred the enemy's main
position in the Matoppo Hillswhere we shall
have to attack them when we get our forces together.
At present we have them divided in four columns
moving through the country driving off the various
regiments of enemy that have been trying to get
together: but they are fearfully handicapped, having
no food for the animals and very little for the men,
rinderpest having killed off all the oxen which
served to bring up all supplies for this country and
eventually became beef. The country is covered with
their carcasses, and the air isugh!
are 40/- a dozen, beer 2/- a glass, no milk, even
tinned, jam 3/-. We live on bread, jam and coffee
chiefly. We have got a nice little house for the
General and Staff under the curious system they
have here of commandeering. The Government can seize
on anything they like, horse, saddle, cart, house,
belonging to anybody, use it and pay him a fair price
for it. This house looked as if it would suit us and
was accordingly commandeered, the owner having two
rooms left for himself.
is a grand climate here, neither too hot nor too
cold, always fine and such starlight nights! Lots of
excitement, enemy near us and seen or fought every
wish we were more out campaigning," he wrote on
2nd July, " but as we have to pull the strings
in so many directions (this command stretches over
670 miles in a straight line) we have to sit here at
the head of the telegraph line. Fortunately the enemy
are not far off even here, and I can ride out any
night and have a look at them."
the fugitives from the impis broken up by the British
forces in the north made their way down to the Matoppo
Hills, about twenty-five miles south of Buluwayo, and it
became Baden-Powell's duty to go down and reconnoitre
these mountains. This had to be done by night, and it
took him about a month of night Scouting to find out
where the enemy were posted. The Matoppo Hills were a
very broken bit of country; mountains about 800 feet
high, consisting of piled-up masses of rock and great big
boulders, some of them smooth and dome-shaped, as large
as a house, others blocks. These hills were honeycombed
with caves and overgrown with bush, and among them the
enemy had taken up their position.
26th July. B.P. wrote from the Matoppo Hills:
I've been out II hours on a patrol into the enemy's
stronghold. It is not the distance that tires one but
the constant tension of being on the alert. It is
grand fun, very exciting, and so far I have been most
lucky and successful. But it is an awful country to
fight in and we have not one quarter enough
men-but if we had more we could not feed them.
I am most thoroughly enjoying myself now that we are
in camp and out of the office life of Buluwayo. We
have no tents, simply sleep in the open with glorious
log fires at our feet, and saddle at our heads to
keep off the draught. Of course we never undress
(except occasionally to wash) and we turn out every
morning before daylight ready for an attack.
kits would amuse and astonish you. We are very much
like Buffalo Bill's cowboys, no uniform. Even I who
ought to show a better example go about in a most
ragamuffin but very comfortable kind of dress."
his night Scouting expeditions B.P. usually went
alone, accompanied only by one reliable native to
hold his horse and keep a look out. He has himself
written fully in the Scout and elsewhere of his many
adventures and narrow shaves, and of the value of
Scoutingthat is to say, of observation,
deduction, keen eyesight, sense of smell and the
Sherlock Holmes methods of putting two and two
Matabele got to know him only too well and named him
"Impeesa"meaning "The Wolf that
his knowledge and practice of the art of skirt-dancing
came in most usefully, for without it, he says, he would
have been unable to dodge his pursuers successfully and
would have certainly been taken prisoner and tortured to
the reconnoitring of the Matoppos was completed and
attacks were being prepared, news came that the rebellion
had spread into Mashonaland, that Mashonas were busy
murdering farmers and that the towns were hastily going
into laager. This was due to a party of Matabele who,
after being defeated in a fight, had made their way into
Mashonaland and proclaimed the "news" that all
white men had been destroyed, that no Matabele had been
killed since the god Mlimo had turned all hostile bullets
into water. They therefore advised the Mashonas to rise
also in rebellion and to drive the white men out of the
country into the sea.
outbreak of the Mashonas put another 20,000 men into the
field against the white forces, whose total number in
Mashonaland was under 2,000.
Frederick Carrington therefore called for Imperial troops
from the Cape, and columns were immediately sent up under
Colonel Alderson, Captain Ridley and Colonel Paget
attacks against the enemy in the Matoppos were
proceeding, and after about three weeks' fighting, with
losses on both sides, the Matabele came out of their
hiding-places and surrendered. There still remained
forces of the enemy in the north-east and east parts of
Matabeleland, and the Imperial troops, having arrived on
the scene, were sent up to clear these districts. B.P.
was put in charge of the column of Mounted Infantry and
Engineers brought up by Captain Ridley, strengthened by
Colonials, Boers and Cape Boysa very mixed lot, but
they pulled wonderfully well together.
next adventure was of a somewhat trying nature, as it
involved condemning a man to death. He was with his new
column, and this is his own account of how it happened:
first place we came to was Uwini's stronghold, about
IOO miles from Buluwayo. Two impis were immediately
to the north of us and another one between us and
Buluwayo, so that we were practically working on our
own resources. Uwini's stronghold consisted of eight
koppies (a koppie being a small mountain of boulders
and caves). The column took one of these koppies but
had lost one man killed and four wounded in doing so,
and they captured one man, and this was the Chief
Uwini. Two of our men had very pluckily hunted him
about in his own cavesit was like crawling
about in a drainthey kept shooting at him and
he at them in the dark, until at last he was wounded
and captured. Uwini was one of the chief leaders of
the rebellion and was supposed by his people to be
one of the Chiefs appointed by the Mlimo and
therefore immortal. When we got him out I asked him
to order his people to surrender, but he declined. He
said that he had ordered them to kill every white man
and to hold out in their strongholds, and he was not
going to go back on his order. He was a plucky old
fellow, but we had no option. He was tried by Court
Martial, proved to have taken a hand in murdering
white people, and was shot in front of the stronghold
where all his people could see it. The following day
we had a thousand of them in camp: they all gave in.
Had we not done this we should probably have lost a
number of men, in addition to killing a large number
of rebels; but the shooting of this one man had the
same effect, and we were able at once to move on from
this spot to tackle the other rebels to the north of
shooting of Chief Uwini, the High Commissioner ordered
the General Officer Commanding the Forces (Sir Frederick
Carrington) to place Colonel Baden-Powell under arrest,
for trial by court martial. This General Carrington
refused to do, but ordered a Court of Enquiry, which
assembled on the 30th September, 1896. The Court, having
taken all the evidence relative to the case, forwarded
their proceedings to Sir Frederick Carrington. This
evidence, together with the report of the Native
Commissioner concerned, was ample to show that B.P. had
been justified in his action.
Frederick Carrington reported as follows:
am of opinion that the military exigencies of the
circumstances in which Lieut.-Colonel Baden-Powell
found himself at the time of Uwini's capture were
such as to call for strong measures, and subsequent
events have, to my mind, clearly proved that the
prompt punishment at his own stronghold, of Uwini, as
a powerful and notorious instigator of crime and
rebellion, exercised a very wholesome influence on
the surrounding district and undoubtedly expedited
its final pacification."
expert on South African affairs, General Sir Henry Smyth,
wrote privately as follows to B.P.:
am real glad that you confirmed the sentence on
Uwini, whether you gain or lose by it, because it was
your duty so to do."
quoted the case of Uwini and its results at some length
because it is an example of a man carrying out what he
felt to be his duty even when that duty went so far as
condemning a fellow-creature to death.
cannot have been a pleasant task for any man, and it is a
responsibility that few of us would like to take.
writing of the case to his mother, B.P. said:
on looking back at it I should do exactly the same
thing again (though it sounds brutal, doesn't it?),
but it was the means of saving a large number of
white lives as well as of black. We must have gone on
fighting in those caves for days, killing and losing
many men before we could have induced the survivors
to give in."
Uwini had been shot and his people had surrendered, B.P.
moved on with his column into the forest and, by dividing
the column into three strong parties, hunted the enemy
about until they were tired of fighting and came out to
surrender. This was not all done in a day, however, and
it was done under extreme difficulties, owing to food
shortage and, what was worse, water shortage.
here from a despatch from B.P. to Sir Frederick
Carrington, dated 16th September:
on well with our patrol. Food our only difficulty.
Shot a koodoo for meat yesterday and expect to live
on game next few days. Economising flour and
adventure in which B.P. took part, and the one which
practically finished off the Matabele rising, was the
capture of Wedza's strongholda large mountain with
half a dozen high peaks on it, each of which was
fortified and occupied by the enemy. B.P. found himself
not strong enough to attack it, and, as he did not like
to leave it, played a game of bluff, surrounded it with
small posts for two days and a night, kept up a
continuous fire from all sides at once and lit up a chain
of fires all round it by night so as to give the enemy
the impression that he had a big force. This game had the
desired effect, and after two days the enemy deserted
their stronghold and, after being pursued for sixty
miles, Wedza and the other chiefs surrendered themselves.
Meantime, Colonel Paget's column had cleared all the
country round Gwelo.
a short extract from a letter written home by B.P. on the
subject of his attack on Wedza:
dark we lit a regular chain of watch fires all round
the stronghold to make the enemy have some idea of
the immensity of our numbers. The enemy attacked our
fires once or twice. Jackson, the Native
Commissioner, had a narrow escape. He came with me
when I was riding round the outposts, when some of
the enemy lying hid in the rocks by the path gave us
a volley at short range. Jackson was grazed on the
shoulder, his horse was shot through the head, and my
hat was knocked off. We returned the fire and were
immediately joined by the 7th Hussars under Prince
Alexander of Teck, who quickly cleared the rebels
the night the rebels escaped out of the stronghold
into the mountains, which with our tiny numbers we
could not prevent.
effect of the engagement was the taking of a
stronghold to which Wedza had invited all rebels to
come, as it was impregnable. It had in the old days
even defied successfully Lobengula. However, it is
cleared now, and the rebels round about are beginning
to come in to surrender to the Native
am as well as possible, though I must say the two
days and night work against Wedza sewed me up for a
November he wrote:
last I have rejoined Sir Frederick after two months'
delightful wanderings on patrol with an independent
command of my own. We covered some 700 miles of
country and had a round of adventure day by
meantime the Imperial troops had arrived in Mashonaland
with ammunition and food supplies, and had succeeded
after some fighting in subduing the rebel chiefs of that
country. By November 25th these had all surrendered and
the whole rebellion was at an end.
remained now to be done was to garrison the country with
a newly raised force of armed police, 1200 strong. These
were distributed about the country in twenty-seven
different forces, placed in the best grain-growing
districts, so that they might command the food supplies
of the people and administer the country generally.
do believe we are on our way home at last,"
wrote B.P. on 12th December. "We hope to catch
the Dunvegan Castle sailing from Cape Town on the 6th
January, but we have got to get to Cape Town first,
and there are many slips between cups and lips in
leave here (Umtali) to-morrow and hope to reach the
Beira Railway in three days' time. Then a day will
get us to Beira if they give us a special, which they
will, as Rhodes and the Ladies Grey are going too.
Then we go in the Pongola, a dirty little coast
steamer taking three days to Durban, then on to Port
Elizabeth, there take the train to Cape Town, where
we may be kept a week talking things over with the
voyage to the Cape and home, in company with Cecil
Rhodes, are described by B.P. as full of interest, in
view of the wonderful receptions which the maker of
Rhodesia received wherever he showed himself.
good work in the Matabele campaign, Baden-Powell gained a
further step in promotionto Brevet Colonel. In his
official despatch, Sir F. Carrington said of him:
Chief of the Staff his services were invaluable, and
I cannot speak too highly of the assistance he has
rendered me. He commanded the advanced force during
the whole of its attack on Babyan's stronghold, 20th
July. Performed excellent service in the rescue work
of locating the various impis in the Matoppos by day
and by night. Commanded successful patrols in
clearing the Shangani, Wedzas and Bellingwe
Districts. Acted as Staff Officer to Colonel Plumer
throughout the operations in the Matoppos."
From: Eileen K. Wade, The Piper of
Pax: The Life Story of Sir Robert Baden-Powell,
1924. Chapter X: Old Places with New Faces.
VII. Swaziland, Malta and Home. A
shooting trip to Knysnafirst encounter with
an elephanta mission to Swazilandan
interview with Oom Paullife in
Maltaadventures in many
countriesmaneuvers in Ireland.
VIII. Ashanti. The Ashanti
Expeditionexperiences of a native
levythe wages of a king the nigh] march to
Bekwaihoisting the British flag how
to avoid feverKantankye receives promotion.
IX. Matabeleland. Special service
againtroubles in MatabelelandSir
Frederic Carrington arrivesscouting in the
Matopposthe Wolf that never sleepsthe
case of Uwinihome with Rhodes.
X. Old Places and New Faces. India
revisitedOfficer Commanding 5th Dragoon
Guardswork and sport in plentya
shooting trip with Sir Baker Russellon
special service to South Africaready for
XI. The South African War, 1899-1902. The
declaration of warbeseiged in
Mafekingseven months beseigedthe
story of the stampsfood
shortagearrival of the relief column.
XII. The South African Constabulary. The
hero of MafekingLord Roberts'
despatcha new jobthe South African
Constabularyhome at lastan interview
with King Edwardappointed Inspector-General
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