Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Major Wilson's Last Stand on Shangani River -1896.

This account of the battle is from the Matabele.

A literal translation of the statement made by Mhlahlo* to the late E. C. P. Whitney.)

I was in the Nsukamini Regiment. The Isigodhlo of the King was then near the Gwampa River. One day, the Induna Magwegwe came from the Isigodhlo of the King, and spoke to our Induna, Manondwane, and said, "Send 24 men of the Nsukamini Regiment to find out if the white men are coming from the direction of Bulawayo" Manondwane then ordered me to go. We were 24, and I, who was in charge, was the 25th.

The next day, near the banks of the Gwampa, we met two white men and a native of, I think, the Msutu nation, all on horseback. We stopped and spoke to them, and asked if they were from Bulawayo; they said "Yes." They also said they were looking for the King. We asked them to come with us to the Isigodhlo, but they refused. They then said, "We are thirsty, go and get us some water." I sent one of my men, who brought them a calabash of water. One of my men, Manondo, then said, "Give me some tobacco," and they did, one of the white men filling his pipe and handing it to Manondo, who had three puffs and handed it back to the white man, who also had a puff. They then said to us, "Come with us to our friends, who are just behind us," but we refused, as we were few, and thought they were many. They then turned and went back. We let them go, as we were afraid if we killed them, the other white men would hear the firing and come and kill all of us. We followed them about three miles, and saw them join many other white men on horses. We then returned to the Isigodhlo, and told our Induna.

The next day early, we went to meet the white men, but this time we were many. These were the regiments that left the King that day. The Induna Mtjani, with the Ihlati and Mbizo Regiments, and the Indunas Gambo and Manondwane, with the Isiziba and Nsukamini Regiments. We followed the wagon road to Bulawayo, the Mbizo and Ihlati Regiments on the west side, and the Nsukamini and Isiziba Regiments on the east. We marched nearly all day, and camped on the banks of the Kana River. Some of the men went to get water from the river. While we were resting. I heard some whistling, and went to the river. One of the men who had gone to get water said, "Go up a tree and tell its what you see." Climbing a tree. I looked across the river, and saw a large number of horses grazing and a camp of white men. We went back to the soldiers, and told the Induna, that' the white men were just over the river. The Induna's Gambo and Manondwane then sent word to the Induna Mtjani, telling him to take his regiments to the east, away from the road, while we, with Gambo and Manondwane, went west, thus leaving the road clear for the white men to go to the King. Gambo, Mtjani and Manondwane thought that it was better that the King should be captured, and the war ended, and that is why they left the way open for the white men. At sunset that same day all the regiments returned to the road, and saw that the white men had passed on their way to the Isigodhlo. All the soldiers then became angry, saying to the Chiefs, "You have kept us back from fighting the white men, because you want our King to be captured." The Chiefs told them it was so, and that it would be well if the war were ended, and peace come to the Matabele, and such peace could not come unless the King were captured.

All the soldiers then became more angry, and would not listen to the Chiefs any longer, but said, we are going to follow and kill the white men, and if you try to stop us we shall kill you all." Gambo and Mtjani then let us go, and they went away—where, I do not know- but all the regiments under Manondwane followed along the road after the white men.

Late that night, in the pouring rain, we crossed the Shangani River, and rested in the bush. We had not been resting long when a native came to where we were and told Manondwane that he had been caught by the white men the previous day,, and made to show them where the Isigodhlo was. He had done so, and they had found Lobengula's wagons, but the King had gone. On hearing this, we started again to march along the road.' We then followed along the Shangani River, and near daybreak we heard the sound of a gunshot, and knew we were near the white men. We then spread out in a horn formation, and went along further. Just as it was getting light, we saw two white men on horseback riding along the river, about half a mile away, coming towards us. One of these men we recognised as "Johwane" (Col. Colenbrander). He was on a white horse. They both crossed the Shangani, and we let them go, as we knew the main lot were near us. We then saw a number of white men riding along. There were about thirty. (Thirty-nine was the actual number,) We surrounded them and started to fight. They got off their horses and fired at us over them. All the horses were killed, and then the white men, those of them that were left, lay down behind the dead horses and fired at us. After many of the white men were killed, the few that were left, all of whom were wounded, lay on their backs, and held their rifles between their feet and fired. After a little, the firing stopped, ' and we knew the cartridges were finished. We then rushed up and assegaied the remainder, who covered their eyes with their hands.

We lost many more than the number of white men killed, for they were men indeed, and fought us for many hours. We started the fight at break of day, and it was all over by the time the sun was there (indicating about 10 o'clock).

"Johwane" had crossed the Shangani and joined a lot of white men who had a Maxim gun, and who were camped near the river. We tried to find and fight the white men who had the Maxim, but could not find them. We never fought again after this fight, and soon after we had peace. A few days later we met the Msutu native we had seen on the Gwampa River with the two white men, and he told us he had been with the white men on the Shangani, and had fought us with them. He said he had escaped us by going down a large ant bear hole, so that when We came up we did not see him. We did not kill this native, so there was one survivor of the fight on the Shangani, and he was the one.

End of Article

Extracted and recompiled by Eddy Norris from the NADA (Native Affairs Department Annual) of 1935.

Material supplied by Canon Bill Girard. Thanks Bill.

Also please remember that comments are always very welcome. Send them to

Recommended Reading
The Shangani Fight: http://rhodesianheritage.blogspot.com/2012/03/shangani-fight.html



At 25 March 2012 at 10:48 , Blogger Rhodesia Remembered said...

Bill Sykes (RhAF) Writes:-

I passed the Allan Wilson article on to Tim Tanser who had a relative who was killed on the patrol.

He is a lawyer in Harare and his father was Mayor of Salisbury.

Here are his comments which you might like to use to amend your story ...

Tim Tanser Writes:-
Thank Bill,

Very interesting. I have read it before in NADA and just for interest make the following comments:

1. The incident occurred in 1893 not 96.

2. Colenbrander is not generally associated in any way with the final patrol.

3. Very interesting about the so called “lone survivor”. >From the depths of an ant bear hole, (if indeed he was there which I doubt,) he would not have been able to add much to the knowledge of the final hours!

At 25 March 2012 at 10:50 , Blogger Rhodesia Remembered said...

Canon Bill Girard Writes:-

The article in 1935 NADA is clearly headed 1896 which is odd; after all people then were within 'living memory' of events. I must say I hadn't notice the error as I was more concerned with transmission of information than close scrutiny of content !

Major Wilson and his men were surrounded by the Matabele. Unless the Matabele were loosely spread out it is difficult to envisage just how the Msutu man after being involved in the fighting could have managed to escape un-noticed into an ant bear hole 'on site.' So with Tim Tanser I have some reservation about the veracity of the Msutu man's statement. But there is no reason to disbelieve Mhahlo where, twice, he says he met the Msutu man 'before and after.' Mhahlo clearly believed the Msutu man was the sole survivor. This is a tale printed in 1935 (when it was told I know not). I had never come across any suggestion before of there having been a 'sole survivor.' So I suppose we are left with the difference between 'proof beyond reasonable doubt' and 'balance of probabilities' and assessment of 'hearsay evidence.'

If as Tim says Colenbrander was not present during those days at the Shangani River, I wonder then who was the 'man on the white horse ?'

Pass my regards to Tim Tanser. I left Harare 50 years ago when I moved from being Issie Maisels clerk to joining Coghlan and Welsh in Bulawayo to complete service under articles and was admitted attorney in April 1965, leaving Rhodesia in August of that year. He may have read it, but if not, Tim Tanser might look up the address given by Issie Maisels when he was sworn in as a newly appointed Judge of the S. Rhodesian High Court in March/April 1961, I being his just-as-newly-appointed Judge's clerk. I cannot quote exactly but he described the duty of the judiciary in prescient terms - restraint of an over-weening executive, punishment of the wicked, and doing justice between men. I think the text may have been printed in the SALJ and there may have been allusion to it in the address given when Issie retired from the S. African legal profession at age 87 !


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