Tuesday 18 March 2014

The Tragic Tale of Monty Bowden By Jonty Winch

The Tragic Tale of Monty Bowden
By Jonty Winch

A drawing of Monty Bowden which appeared in ‘Cricket:
A Weekly Record of the Game’ (7 May, 1885)

 Montague Parker Bowden was a member of the first English cricket side to visit South Africa.  The team arrived at the Cape in December 1888 and received a welcome of unprecedented magnitude.  Prominent figures sought political mileage from events associated with the tour.  A public dinner was staged at which His Excellency the Governor of the Cape Colony and High Commissioner for South Africa, Sir Hercules Robinson, was present.  The chair was occupied by Sir Thomas Upington, who had served as Prime Minister of the Cape for two years before resigning and was said to be a peerless parliamentarian whom few dared to challenge.  Other guests included Sir JH de Villiers (the Chief Justice), Sir David Tennant (Speaker of the House of Assembly), Sir Thomas Scanlen (Prime Minister 1881-84) and the Hon JH Hofmeyr (Parliamentary leader of the Afrikaner Bond).      

Monty Bowden with the legendary W.G. Grace on the occasion they played for the Gentlemen in 1888.

  At the dinner, the bemused tourists listened to speakers taking turns to drum the importance of the northward expansion of the British Empire.  Upington stated, ‘I sincerely hope before Sir Hercules Robinson’s period of office in this Colony has terminated, that what is at the present moment known as the “sphere of influence” will be known as the British Protectorate up to the Zambezi.  And I shall be inclined to go further ... I see no reason why we should not cross the Zambezi …’  His statement was greeted with loud and prolonged cheers.

 Twenty-three-year-old Monty Bowden was not oblivious to the relationship between sport and expanding British imperialism.  He had attended Dulwich College, a public school that made a significant contribution to the Empire through support for the military and the Indian civil service.  Yet Bowden had no desire to follow a similar career path.  He had not enjoyed the hardness, even brutality, of much of school life.  He had steered clear of the rigors of the football field and the Rifle Volunteer Corps, the latter attracting a large following which included his elder brother Frank.  Young Monty occupied himself in other areas, demonstrating ability in drama for which Dulwich had, by that time, gained a reputation.  His love for cricket might have been regarded as an extension of his interest in acting as he was a stylish batsman and a lively showman behind the stumps.  The game awakened his aesthetic sensibility and became an essential and influential part of his life.

 Bowden was England’s outstanding schoolboy batsman of 1883. At the end of the season, Cricket: A Weekly Record of the Game included an article on the high scorers for the year.  It recorded the achievements of three players – England stars, Dr EM Grace of Gloucestershire and WW Read of Surrey, and the promising Bowden.  The youngster had not only scored 845 runs at an average of 52.81 for Dulwich College but had played for Surrey.  He was to experience several successful seasons for the county before suffering a lapse in form.  A taste of the good life possibly affected him whilst the initial aura and excitement of playing for Surrey might have worn off.  To his father’s consternation, he frittered away the money he earned as a stockbroker’s clerk and was perpetually in debt.

 A tour to Australia in 1887-88 revived Bowden’s cricket fortunes.  Fitter, stronger and more focused, he blossomed in the 1888 season.  His batting exuded a quiet and easy confidence, ironically in a wet season when conditions were not conducive to stroke-making.  He finished third in the Surrey averages for all matches, scoring 797 runs at 31.22, and was placed eleventh in the English first-class averages for the season.

 A few weeks later, he left England for South Africa in the knowledge that he had made a notable contribution to the success achieved by Surrey, England’s undisputed champion county.  His talent as a wicket-keeper had also been recognised in his selection for the Gentlemen against both the Players and the Australians, whilst his explosive batting commanded interest at cricket grounds around the country.

The cover of ‘England’s Youngest Captain’ which features Monty Bowden in the course of the 1888/89 tour to South Africa – the first trip by an English sporting team to that part of the world

 In South Africa his wicket-keeping ‘fairly electrified the locals’.  He also captained the tourists in the Second Test at Newlands when tour leader, Aubrey Smith, was unable to get to Cape Town in time for the match.  Bowden, at 23 years 144 days old, remains England’s youngest-ever Test captain.  He led his side to an emphatic victory by an innings and 202 runs – still a record margin in Tests between the two countries – with Johnny Briggs claiming fifteen wickets in a day.

At the conclusion of the tour, Bowden decided to join his captain in a stock-broking business. They had spent an exciting week on the Rand and were stimulated by romantic notions of amassing great wealth.  Bowden brushed aside his commitment to Surrey cricket in the belief that everyone would understand.  He was convinced that it would take only a year or two to amass his fortune.

The partnership of Smith and Bowden did not last a year.  Like so many other businesses, it was forced to close as a result of the dramatic crash which took place.  The boom of the previous two years had been killed by dishonest methods, rumours that gold was giving out and the panic-selling of shares.  ‘There were serious flotations and all kinds of abuses,’ said one report, ‘and the investing public became sick of Rand mining.’

 Smith publicly attributed the closure of their business to bad luck but people in the know might have disagreed with his interpretation.  The Comtesse de Bremont, an American friend of Oscar Wilde’s mother, questioned whether the two cricketers were committed to their work.  Through her novel, The Gentleman Digger: A Study of Johannesburg Life, she ridiculed their efforts: ‘When the team first came to the Rand we set him [Smith] and another cricketer up in brokering. They prospered for a few months but were not smart enough to go ahead on their own legs.’

 Amidst the gloom, cricket was again Bowden’s saving grace.  He continued to demonstrate good form in the 1889-90 season, averaging 53.92 from 701 runs.  Admittedly his runs were made in the less exalted sphere of Transvaal club cricket but the fast wickets and dry conditions allowed him to develop his footwork and timing to a new level.

He was well prepared for the first Currie Cup challenge when Kimberley hosted the Transvaal in April 1890.  The game became a personal triumph as he scored 63 (out of 117) and an unbeaten 126 (out of 224 for 4) to inspire an historic victory. ‘Galopin’, writing in The Star, was ecstatic: ‘It is to Bowden more than anyone else in the team that Johannesburg owes the victory; and I think most people will now admit the truth of the assertion – which I have held for a long time – that Mr. Monty Bowden is far and away the best bat in South Africa ... It is to be hoped that a reception befitting the occasion awaits this talented young cricketer, as well as the other members of the team.’

 Bowden did not go back to Johannesburg.  He admitted to being ‘dead broke’ but his problems were deeper.  He knew his firm’s bankruptcy would affect his chance of being readmitted to the fold should he return to England.  He also realised that much depended on whether the London Stock Exchange committee accepted Aubrey Smith.  If Bowden had known, he would have been horrified to discover that Smith told the committee their business failed because of an ‘untrustworthy’ partner who had ‘absconded’.  It was an absurd claim as Bowden had bid goodbye to Smith in Kimberley and had, in fact, collected the Currie Cup when his captain made a hurried departure.  As it turned out the committee were not fooled by Smith’s argument and his request for admission was refused. Justice prevailed but damage had been done.

 The process by which Smith’s fate was decided took several months and in the interim Bowden had to find employment.  His options were limited: the idea of a severely reduced status as a professional cricketer was not considered and, in the aftermath of his business failure, he dared not approach his father, a successful shipbroker but mid-Victorian stereotype of stern, unapproachable character.  In any event, his father would probably have supported the one clear option open to his son and that was for young Monty to join the Chartered Company’s expedition to Mashonaland.

Rhodes’s Pioneer Column enters Mashonaland

The proposed march into the northern hinterland gained prominent newspaper coverage.  Reference was made to reports by the German explorer, Carl Mauch, who had visited old gold workings and the Zimbabwe Ruins nearly twenty years earlier.  Great interest developed in the fabulous treasures and lost cities that were thought to exist in the area.  Rider Haggard had become a giant in the world of Victorian literature and his King Solomon’s Mines was a spectacular best-seller.  It was an age when men could believe such exotic tales simply because there was not yet the knowledge to challenge them.  Adventurers of the time hoped to stumble across chambers of subterranean wealth such as Haggard had imagined.

 Cecil John Rhodes’s planned expedition to Mashonaland in 1890 attracted 2000 applications for a force of nearly 200 men.  They were recruited from various trades and professions and, once they had opened up the new territory, they would be free to set up their own businesses and form the structure of a complete community.  As a celebrated cricketer, Bowden’s selection for the expedition was guaranteed.  It would give him another chance to earn the fortune that had eluded him in the Transvaal goldfields, although sacrifices would have to be made.  For a start, his career as a cricketer was put on hold indefinitely.

 Bowden’s concerns were numerous, with his greatest fear being the anticipated military-style discipline.  It would bring an abrupt end to the comforts he had always cherished as an English gentleman.  He would miss his role as a cricket celebrity, a status amply re-enforced during his stay in Kimberley.  Ironically, when news circulated that he was joining the expedition, lustre was added to the fame he had acquired.  For a few weeks, he could not resist playing up to the role, disguising the torment of someone who was in reality the antithesis of the intrepid Pioneer.

There was tremendous excitement in Kimberley during the weeks leading up to the departure of the expedition.  Frederick Courtney Selous, the appointed guide to the Pioneer Corps, was in the town until 13 April and citizens jostled with one another to catch a glimpse of one of the most romantic figures of the period.  The governor, Sir Henry Loch, made an official visit prior to the departure of the expeditionary force.  A banquet was held in his honour at the Town Hall on 17 April.  Bowden was mentioned high on the published list of dignitaries, his name appearing alongside Cecil John Rhodes, members of the Cape parliament, Sir Thomas Upington, Sir John Willoughby (second-in-command of the Pioneer Police), Admiral Wells, the Reverend John Moffat and Sir Sidney Shippard (Administrator of Bechuanaland) – men deeply involved in the expedition to Mashonaland.  Bowden listened intently to several rousing accounts of the need to take the Pioneer route.

 On Saturday 3 May – with three days to go – Charles Finlason was able to announce in the Daily Independent that Bowden had finally made up his mind to join the Pioneer Corps.  ‘The force will have a very powerful cricket team,’ he observed. ‘It would be sad if the Currie Cup found its way to Vryburg or Elibe or some town on the Zambezi.’  Finlason was obviously unaware that Bowden had already ‘sold’ the Currie Cup.  During their time in Kimberley, Bowden and some of the Transvalers stayed at the Central Hotel.  With the players enjoying the good life, their debts mounted and eventually the management became concerned about payment.  Bowden, as the group’s spokesman, was asked for some form of surety.  He obliged by handing over the one item of value that he possessed – the Currie Cup – to the manageress, Mrs. Creagh.

 Bowden continued to play cricket in the course of the march northwards.  Between Zeerust and Mafeking his section of the Pioneer Corps met members from Cape Town.  Adrian Darter recalled: ‘The Johannesburg contingent challenged us to cricket and gave us a tremendous drubbing, due chiefly to the savage relish they took in my bowling, and the unmerciful manner in which they punished it.  Wimble and Bowden were the chief offenders – to me – both played a splendid innings. We contested this match in the neighbourhood of Otta’s Hoek, and in the vicinity are the Malmani goldfields …’

 Further matches were played in Mafeking, a bustling staging post which served as a temporary base for the Pioneers.  Later a match was arranged near Fort Victoria (now Masvingo) on the afternoon of 16 August.  It was the first cricket match to be played in the country that was to become Rhodesia and, ultimately, Zimbabwe.  Bowden captained ‘A’ Troop and the Scottish rugby international, Edward Pocock, led the combined ‘B’ and ‘C’ Troops.  Skipper Hoste later wrote, ‘I forget who won. It was probably ‘A’ Troop as they had several outstanding cricketers, notably Monty Bowden.’

 Cricket aside, the expedition was not a pleasant experience for Bowden.  He had loathed the intensive training in preparation for the march.  The expedition leader, Frank Johnson was a hard taskmaster but as there was a strong likelihood of their being attacked by the Matabele in the course of the 400-mile journey, he wanted to ensure that they were a well-disciplined body.  One Pioneer wrote that the men ‘were being unnecessarily worried about and overworked, what with parades, drills, fatigues, etc.’

 Charles Finlason referred to Bowden in the Daily Independent: ‘I heard of his progress from time to time.  The life was abhorrent to him and he fretted until he fell a victim to an attack of fever.  He became so depressed as to be almost broken-hearted; his one aim was to get out of the force and back to civilisation.’

Bowden’s plight upset his friends and they rallied to his assistance.  ‘Great efforts were made,’ continued Finlason, ‘to obtain his release [but] from the first attack of fever he seems never to have recovered.’

 The Star reported his death on 24 October 1890.  Finlason thought it was likely that ‘many months of sickness and debility had seen the young trooper return to Motloutsie where he died a lingering death.’  The emotional report infuriated Dr Rutherfoord Harris – Rhodes’s ‘close confident, henchman and hatchet man’ – but Finlason was not unduly worried.  He presented a patronising explanation in the Daily Independent:  ‘I am assured that Mr. Johnson is singularly kind-hearted, and would be the last to refuse to grant Bowden his release had he asked for it.  The probability is that Bowden, being in a depressed state incidental to perpetual fever relapses, was very anxious to get home, but was prevented from moving, not by the commands of the Chartered Company or Mr. Johnson, but because he had not sufficient money to make the journey.’

 The comment did not reflect well on the Company and its concern for the welfare of its men.  But those who knew Bowden would have been aware of the reasons that led to the impecunious cricketer joining the corps.  They would have realised that he was trapped and would have stayed that way until someone came up with a means of extricating him from a wider and increasingly complex personal predicament.

 Another factor to be considered was that Johnson made it very difficult for his men to obtain a release and, as a deterrent, had issued a regimental order to that effect.  He had also instituted a censorship of letters.  When efforts were made to gain Bowden’s release, Johnson and Harris might well have used some means at their disposal to block it.  They would not have wanted somebody as well-known as Bowden leaving the expedition, being interviewed and possibly criticising the manner in which it operated.

 Throughout a tense debate which took place in the press, rumours circulated that Bowden was still alive.  Then, on 11 December, the Daily Independent printed an official announcement.  A triumphant Harris had supplied a telegram for publication: ‘Fort Salisbury – Mr. Bowden alive and well; he was in here yesterday from Hartley Hills; is very indignant false report’.

 The Star carried out an investigation and later revealed that a man had died of fever. He was a post-rider in the Chartered Company’s Police and his name was Briggs.  It transpired that when details of the man’s death were relayed to Pretoria, the recipient of the information was careless in its subsequent distribution.  He had misplaced and could not record the name of the dead man except for the fact that it was the same as that of an English cricketer … it began with a B… someone else along the line recalled that Bowden had signed up with the Pioneers … it must be him …

 Bowden’s venture to Hartley Hills was a failure because when it came to prospecting, he and most of his associates were rank amateurs.  After a few months of struggling in fearful weather, with indifferent food and the ever-present fever, many of the men began to lose heart.  Bowden joined Edward ‘Ted’ Slater as a partner in a trading business in Fort Salisbury.  Prospects seemed good as the Pioneer Column had been unable to transport much in the way of building equipment, materials and tools.  Nor had they been able to bring up furniture, cooking utensils, bedding, lamps and the various requirements to start a new life.  Unfortunately for Bowden and his partner, a horrific rainy season lasting five months prevented trading taking place.  The rivers flooded and the roads were impassable.  By Christmas 1890, the fledgling capital was effectively cut off from the outside world and the settlers suffered great inconvenience and hardship.

Bowden settles in Manicaland

Towards the end of March 1891, the Chartered Company promoted the excellent prospects in Manicaland. Reports were optimistic that gold existed there in great quantities.  A geologist, Dr Hector Smith, had stated in a published pamphlet in January 1891, ‘I have not the slightest doubt that Manicaland of today, and the Ophir of Sheba and Solomon’s time are one and the same.’

 For Bowden a move to Umtali on the eastern border made sense from a business angle.  The cost of importing goods into Mashonaland by road from South Africa was prohibitive and his best option was to operate the Beira route.  Goods could be brought up for him from South Africa by sea and unloaded at Beira.  From there they would be taken by a small launch to M’pandas on the Pungwe River.  It was then up to Bowden to devise a way to haul them 180 miles to Umtali.

 When he arrived in Umtali, the town was no more than a collection of scattered huts on a steep little kopje near the present turn-off to St Augustine’s Mission on the road to Penhalonga.  Bowden’s trading business was conducted on foot and necessitated leading his porters through heat and swamp on the treacherous lion-infested journey to the trading post at M’pandas.  African bearers cost little more than a yard or two of limbo, but they were scarce, especially when their own fields needed attention.  They were likely to run away at awkward moments.

 Whilst Bowden struggled to establish himself, cricket officials in South Africa lamented his departure.  Harry Cadwallader, the Cape Times reporter and secretary of the South African Cricket Association, was in the process of organising an overseas tour and believed Bowden’s presence in the South African team would be the draw card needed to attract financial backing and to encourage counties to provide fixtures.

 A trip to Mashonaland to chat to Bowden was not out of the question.  The territory was a major talking point and it suited the Cape Times to have a man on the spot.  It was agreed that Cadwallader should update views on gold prospects; the growing impatience with the Chartered Company; the findings of an investigation by the controversial Randolph Churchill; the aftermath of the British-Portuguese conflict … and lure Bowden back to South Africa.

 Cadwallader’s venture was held up at M’pandas because of lack of transport and he spent nearly two months in a tent erected haphazardly on the bank of a muddy stream.  Local inhabitants were rarely pleasant and competed viciously for business at cut-throat prices.  The Pungwe, with its monstrous crocodiles, ran along one side and a stagnant creek bordered another.  Dense fog from the water often enveloped the area.  It was not a place that anyone wished to stay for long.  Like the other Portuguese villages, it was dirty and unkempt and rats were a virtually uncontrollable feature.

The one bright moment for Cadwallader occurred when Bowden arrived on 12 July.  He swept dramatically into M’pandas, heading a convoy of seventy naked carriers.  Cadwallader was told that Bowden had ‘come to fetch provisions for the Europeans and forces in Manica … they have very little left.’  The carriers had been collected with much difficulty from Manica kraals.  It was therefore to Bowden’s immense frustration that he lost a number on arrival because they were in demand at M’pandas and could obtain a higher rate of pay from other parties.

 Cadwallader was thrilled to meet Bowden and discover that he intended travelling to Durban before the next rainy season.  The prospect of Bowden being available for South African cricket was very reassuring.  But, tragically, the next few months would yield numerous problems.  Bowden’s second venture to M’pandas was marred by the dreaded fever and he was fortunate to be rescued by Cecil John Rhodes near the Mozambican village of Mandigo.  Rhodes was on his first trip to the country that would bear his name and he was understandably anxious to assist Bowden.

 ‘Before Mr Bowden parted with us,’ wrote DC de Waal, a member of the Cape Parliament, ‘Mr Rhodes gave him a bottle of whisky.  At this action of the Premier I felt rather displeased, for we had very little of that liquor left, and I told him so afterwards.’

 The next day, Rhodes and Bowden met again and De Waal received another surprise.  On this occasion, Rhodes gave Bowden the horse that de Waal was using. ‘Not to appear disagreeable,’ said de Waal, ‘I did not utter a word, though it was with a feeling of deep regret that I witnessed my dear brown pony leave us, and the animal showed its disinclination to do so by repeatedly neighing as it was being led away.  Mr. Rhodes now asked me whether I minded his giving my horse away.

      ‘ “That,” I answered, “you should have asked me before you did it.”
      ‘ “But you would have had no objection”.’ 

In December 1891, Charles Finlason arrived in the country.  He was shocked by Bowden’s condition and wrote, ‘The hardships that he had incurred had told severely on him and he was much weakened by the fever.  He was in the best of spirits although he complained that he could not get entirely rid of the fever.’        Finlason also discovered that Bowden had delayed his departure for Durban.  ‘He learnt whisky was fetching three and four pounds per bottle.  The chance appeared too good to be lost and he determined to make one more journey and take his chance of getting back before the rains set in.’

 Finlason detested Umtali, not least because he was paranoid about fleas.  ‘When I got to Umtali,’ he told readers of The Star, ‘the camp was being shifted to the new site – some seven miles nearer Salisbury’.  He explained:

The move was imperative, because the Company had omitted to secure the first site of the township to themselves, and enterprising prospectors came along and pegged out the whole camp, fort and all.  So a new site had to be found.  It was as well because the whole place would have been uninhabitable in another three months, owing to the fleas.  They used to drive me out into the night sobbing.  It was dreadful

According to Finlason, the new township was a vast improvement, situated in a healthy spot and out of the range of Portuguese gunfire should a war erupt.  He admired the green and wooded hills surrounding the town on all sides, while streams of the clearest water flowed past it in the east and south.  At that time of the year, noted Finlason, ‘the grass is as green as it can be seen in summer in “dear ould Ireland” and we have dells and lovely nooks here which would take a lot to beat’.  Umtali, of course would move once more before the end of the century.

 By the end of 1891 developments indicated that Bowden intended settling in Umtali.  A new site for the town had been selected and surveyed, and he displayed a commitment to its future by requesting a stand in Second Street.  He also showed an interest in prospecting in the Penhalonga valley but did not avail himself, as a Pioneer, of the right to a farm.  He could not afford the costs involved in surveying the land. Instead, he obtained grants of land, ‘squatting’ on a piece of ground near the town.  He built a mud hut and christened his modest construction, ‘The Hilton’, because it was there that he hoped to establish a hotel.  The plan was to take advantage of the town becoming an important staging-post between Mashonaland and Mozambique.

 Conditions for Bowden’s return from Fort Salisbury in February 1892 were hazardous because there was a strong driving rain at night and drizzle during the day.  He was at one point thrown from the post-cart in which he was travelling, a subsequent ‘Roll of Pioneers’ recording that he died as a result of being ‘crushed by a wagon near Umtali’.

The first cricket match in Umtali

The day after Bowden’s arrival at Umtali – Saturday, 13 February – he was on the cricket field.  The towns-people would not entertain any thought of his missing the game.  It was, after all, the first match to be played in Manicaland and it was quite something to have the famous Surrey cricketer playing.  The contest between the Chartered Company and the Rest of Manicaland was staged in the main street.  There was no matting – simply bare earth.  A few weeks earlier on Boxing Day 1891, an athletic sports meeting had been held at the same venue.  The proud comment was made in the Cape Argus that ‘Umtali streets are not Threadneedle streets; we are not hard up for space in Manicaland’.

 Captain Lyndhurst Winslow, the former Sussex player, led the Rest of Manicaland side which included several members of the Pioneer Corps, namely Bowden, Arthur Puzey, Alexander ‘Sandy’ Tulloch, George Logan and William Clinton.  The Chartered Company batted first but their innings was a disaster.  After being 25 for 4, they collapsed to be all out with no addition to the score.  Robert Talbot-Bowe, batting at number five, was left 0 not out, and there were four ‘ducks’.  The side batted two short because players had slipped away for a few minutes, not expecting the innings to disintegrate the way it did.  Captain Winslow and the Reverend Sewell captured three wickets each; Bowden, keeping wicket, recorded a stumping.

 Captain Winslow, who opened the innings for the Rest of Manicaland, was the only player to stay at the wicket for any length of time.  He scored 33 out of a total of 63.  Bowden was clearly not well – ‘it was observed that he was in bad form’ – and batted at number six.  He was bowled for one, swinging wildly at a delivery from Talbot-Bowe.

 In their second innings, the Chartered Company fared better, reaching 51.   Bowden sent down a few deliveries.  It was an ordeal for him but he plucked up his last vestige of energy to take four wickets (all clean bowled).  Winslow claimed three and Sewell two.  This left the Rest of Manicaland fourteen runs to win the match.  Logan and Puzey knocked off the runs without being parted to give their side an easy victory by ten wickets.

 The effort involved in playing the match probably affected Bowden’s condition although it was thought that he would feel better after some rest.  Sadly, this was not the case.  On the Monday, his condition deteriorated alarmingly.  He had an epileptic seizure and was conveyed to the hospital. The news spread quickly in the small town and there was great concern.

 ‘His temperature rose to 107,’ wrote Nurse Rose Blennerhassett, ‘and he passed away very peacefully on the fourth day after his admittance. On account of the heat it was necessary to keep the doors and windows of the room, where he lay, wide open, and a man with a loaded revolver sat there all night to protect the corpse from wild beasts.’  She continued:

 Next day he was buried, the whole community attending his funeral. With great difficulty, owing to the scarcity of wood, a coffin had been made out of whisky cases. It was covered with dark blue limbo. A card, bearing his name and age, was nailed to the lid. Beneath it we placed a large cross of flowers. The remains were carried across the compound to a bullock-cart, and the melancholy procession started. We lingered to watch it wind across the plain, until it disappeared from view, and then with sad steps returned to the wards.

The ‘For Queen and Empire’ cemetery at Old Umtali

The grave markers which have been ripped up and thrown over the wall at the ‘For Queen and Empire’ cemetery 

Bowden died on Thursday, 19 February 1892. The District Surgeon, Dr JW Lichfield – a fellow Pioneer – signed his death notice, recording the cause of death as epilepsy.  Subsequent sources have linked his death to the fall from the post-cart, exhaustion, alcohol and sunstroke.  It took time for the news to become known.  A local farmer, Lionel Cripps, did not, for example, hear of the cricketer’s death until Friday, 27 February, noting in his diary, ‘Poor Bowden died in Umtali’.  The news was brought to Cripps by the recently-employed ‘Paddy’ O’Toole VC who had been in the town collecting supplies.

 In Cape Town, Cadwallader did not want to believe the news.  Perhaps too much rested on Bowden’s return to South African cricket.  As a result he created unnecessary anxiety by cabling a message overseas that ‘from statements by gentlemen who recently arrived in Cape Town … there is happily reason to view the reported death of Mr Bowden with a great amount of reserve.’

 Bowden left a sum total of £1 15s 6d, which was held by the Master’s office.  His real assets were worth more as they included the farm he was entitled to as a former member of the Pioneer Column.  His father pursued the right to secure the farm and used his influence to obtain the services of Dr Jameson, the country’s administrator. It mattered little because Jameson was quickly tied up in his infamous Raid of 1895.  The rebellion against the government of Paul Kruger also caused John Bowden to switch attention to another son, Frank, one of the soldiers who participated in the ill-fated invasion.  Frank was taken prisoner at Doornkop and repatriated to England where he was called to the trial in London.

 It was a stressful time but the fervour of Frank’s devotion to Rhodesia was not undermined by such ill-fortune.  On his return, he joined the British South Africa Police and resumed the task of following up details related to his brother’s estate.  His father had requested that a farm be selected in the most favourable locality with the intention being to sell it at a good price. Lawyers representing him obtained land in Matabeleland and carried out his request.  As a result, on 13 December 1901, JH Kennedy signed the ‘Account of the Administration and Distribution of the Intestate Estate of the late Montagu (sic) P Bowden’.  Bowden left his father £36 9s 4d and his mother £36 9s 3d. 

The plaque on the Mozambique border which commemorates the first visit by Cecil John Rhodes to the country that would bear his name


ORAFs records its thanks and appreciation to Jonty Winch for sharing this story with ORAFs.
Thanks also Neill Storey who "bent Jonty's  arm" to write the story for us. Hopefully we can persuade Jonty do a few stories for us.

Comments are always welcome, please mail them to Eddy Norris at orafs11@gmail.com

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At 19 March 2014 at 06:39 , Blogger Unknown said...

Well written and most interesting . Good to know that there is a record kept , though unfortunately the appreciation is dying as the next generation is so detached from the once good land and life . As a
Safrican overseas I see it repeating itself at home . Pity we are such a divided lot with no more pride of place .

At 20 March 2014 at 07:19 , Blogger Rhodesia Remembered said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

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