Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Shangani Patrol 1893

In an effort to capture the leader of the Matabele, King Lobengula, following the destruction of the royal kraal at Bulawayo, a force of 160 mounted BSAC police were dispatched under the command of Major Patrick Forbes.

Acting on they followed the trail of Lobengula and his Zulu-style impis to the south bank of the Shangani River, about 40km north-east of the village of Lupane (see map). Forbes decided to form a laager on open ground about two hundred yards back from the river while a small patrol went across the river to reconnoitre the further bank. He selected Major Allan Wilson, commander of the Victoria Column, to lead a patrol of twelve men. Wilson was an experienced ex-Army Sergeant who had fought in both the Zulu War and the First Boer War.

The purpose of Shangani Patrol was to carry out a reconnaissance preparatory to capturing King Lobengula; Allan Wilson had crossed the Shangani River in the late afternoon and followed the King’s wagon tracks for 9 – 10 kilometres and came upon his two wagons.

Once they were on the other side of the river, it soon became apparent to Wilson and his men that they had evidence of a large force of approximately 3,000 Matabele warriors, including Lobengula himself. This discovery was aided by the tracking and scouting abilities of the famous American scout Frederick Burnham and the Canadian scout Robert Bain.

In short order two men (Sgt. Maj.) Judge and (Cpl.) Ebbage, sent by Wilson, returned across the river and reported that they had located Lobengula in conditions which he, Wilson, judged to be ideal for his capture; he therefore intended to remain in situ near Lobengula and requested Forbes to send reinforcements for this purpose.

At daybreak Wilson and his thirty-two men approached Lobengula's enclosure. The wagon was still there, but when Wilson called on the king to surrender there was no answer.

Then came the development they had all been expecting and dreading. In the half-light they heard the clicking of rifle bolts and from behind a tree stepped a warrior wearing the induna's headring. He fired his rifle. It was the signal for a scattered volley which intensified as more warriors came running through the bush. Those in the combined columns armed with firearms were thus outnumbered almost nine to one. The Matabele riflemen fired with concentrated accuracy.

Most of the shots went over their heads, but two horses went down. A trooper, Dillon, ran to them, cut off the saddle pockets carrying ammunition and regained his horse as Wilson gave the order to retreat to an antheap behind which they had sheltered the previous night.

Wilson and his men manage to kill nearly six hundred of the enemy, some of whom are members of Lobengula’s Royal Guard. As the number of wounded increases, the troopers load and pass their rifles to Wilson, the last man to fall.

A great many Matabele were killed in the dramatic attack, but Wilson’s force was overpowered by the Matabeles’ numerical strength. The patrol fought courageously but in vain in the battle, which became known as “the Last Stand”. The entire patrol of 33 men, including Wilson, was murdered.

It is a matter of historical record though that the White men fought until their ammunition was exhausted, the survivors then being slaughtered to the last man, Wilson, apparently, was the last man to die, when, with both arms broken and unable to aim and discharge his rifle, he strode from behind the barricade of dead and dying horses (and men’s bodies) towards the enemy and was quickly stabbed to death with an assegai by a young Ndebele warrior.
The Shangani Patrol 1893

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