Trader, Missionary, Red Soldier

Image result for rorkes drift

First comes the trader, then the missionary, then the red soldier.
Cetshwayo: King of the Zulu, 1879

The “battle” of Rorke’s Drift ended on this day in 1879, the day after the defeat of a British Column at Isandlwana.  The latter was the worst defeat inflicted on a mondern army by a native tribe and was a terrible source of shame to the British Empire.  It is perhaps to redress this shame that 11 Victoria Crosses were handed out for the brave defenders of Rorke’s Drift where 150 British & Colonial troops of the Royal Engineers stood firm against about 3,500 Zulus returning home from Isandlwana.

The Trader of the title was an Irishman.  James Rorke, who bought 1,000 acres on the Buffalo River in 1849.  A natural river ford sat on his land and the Boer call this a “Drift” hence Rorke’s Drift.

To the Zulu it was kwaJimu or “Jims place”.

For 26 years the Irishman operated a trading post at the ford.  He passed away in 1875 and there are mixed accounts about his death.  I have read that he drowned operating a ferry, that he shot himself and that he died of an illness.  For his wife it was an isolated and lonely existence.  After Jim passed away she sold the trading post to the Norwegian Missionary Society in 1878.

The Zulus liked the Irishman with his trade goods.  They did not like Otto Witt the missionary who wanted to sell them a heavenly eternity.  A year later they liked it even less when Lord Chelmsford used the drift as a forward supply point for his invasion of Zulu Natal.  The Red Soldier had arrived.

 

Night Thought; by Harry (Breaker) Morant

The world around is sleeping,
the stars are bright o’erhead,
the shades of myalls weeping
upon the sward are spread;
Among the gloomy pinetops
the fitful breezes blow,
and their murmurs seem the music
of a song of long ago;
Soft, passionate, and wailing
is the tender old refrain –
with a yearning unavailing –
“Will he no come back again?”

The camp-fire sparks are flying
up from the pine-log’s glow,
the wandering wind is sighing
that ballad sweet and low;
The drooping branches gleaming
in the firelight, sway and stir;
And the bushman’s brain is dreaming
of the song she sang, and her.
And the murmurs of the forest
ring home to heart and brain,
as in the pine is chorused
“Wi11 he no come back again?”

Riding Homeward

Image result for english horse riders crossing a stream

Rewatching Breaker Morant this evening and liked the moment when he recites this poem.  Meanwhile my two sons are spider wrangling.  Seemingly there is a big spider upstairs and they are afraid to go to bed until it is dealt with.  They are not six year olds any more so I refuse to do it for them.  Listening to the pantomime as they try to catch a spider in a glass and release it outside is, if such a thing is possible, more fun than Breaker Morant.

 

At the River-Crossing; by Harry (Breaker) Morant

Oh! the quiet river-crossing
where we twain were wont to ride,
where the wanton winds were to sing
willow branches o’er the tide.

There the golden noon would find us
dallying through the summer day,
all the weary world behind us –
all it’s tumult far away.

Oh! thoe rides across the crossing
where the shallow stream runs wide,
when the sunset’s beams were glossing
strips of sand on either side.

We would cross the sparkling river
on the brown horse and the bay;
watch the willows sway and shiver
and their trembling shadows play.

When the opal tints waxed duller
and a gray crept o’er the skies
yet there stayed the blue sky’s color
in your dreamy dark-blue eyes.

How the sun-god’s bright caresses,
when we rode at sunet there,
plaited among your braided tresses,
gleaming on your silky hair.

When the last sunlight’s glory
faded off the sandy bars,
there we learnt the old, old story,
riding homeward ‘neat the stars.

’tis a memory to be hoarded –
oh, the foolish tale and fond!
Till another stream be forded –
and we reach the Great Beyond.

Happy Birthday Thomas Hardy

Yesterday I posted about the hanging of Breaker Morant, one of the first men in history to be convicted of a “War Crime”.  That was in South Africa during the Second Boer War.

Today, on Thomas Hardy’s birthday I am staying in South Africa with this poem.  Written shortly after the commencement of the Second Boer War, to which Hardy was opposed, it is an anti-war poem.  Hardy thought the Boers should be left to their own devices and were entitled to defend their independence from a grasping British Empire.

Hardy selects a Drummer for his subject.  It is worth noting that the drummers were only young boys, innocent mascots of the regiment.  A boy from Wessex, Hardy’s own home, a local lad.

Hardy is well known for using colloquial words to give local colour to his writings.  In this case he adopts many Boer words to describe the fate of a village lad in a foreign land, tossed into an open unmarked grave beneath unfamiliar stars.  Young Hodge died a pointless death.

This poem presages the full flowering of the war poets in the Great War.

 

Drummer Hodge; by Thomas Hardy

They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest
uncoffined — just as found:
his landmark is a kopje-crest
that breaks the veldt around:
And foreign constellations west
each night above his mound.

Young Hodge the drummer never knew —
fresh from his Wessex home —
the meaning of the broad karoo,
the bush, the dusty loam,
and why uprose to nightly view
strange stars amid the gloam.

Yet portion of that unknown plain
will Hodge for ever be;
his homely northern breast and brain
grow to some southern tree,
and strange-eyed constellations reign
his stars eternally.

Rule 303

Today a poem from Breaker Morant, the Australian Bush poet who was hanged by the British Army in South Africa during the Boer War.  Today is the birthday of Edward Woodward who played the part of Breaker in the eponymous film.

I also include a clip from the film.  It is the scene from the trial where Woodward, playing Morant, explains the legal clause under which he executed Boers; Rule 303.  This refers to the Lee Enfield 303 British Army standard issue rifle.

The 303 caliber was the British Standard rifle cartridge introduced into service as a black power round in 1888 in time for the first Boer War of 1899.  Originally ammunition for the short lived Lee-Metford Rifle and retained for the Lee Enfield.  It was converted for smokeless powder and remained in service through the Second Boer War, the First and Second World Wars and up to the Korean War in the 1950’s when it was replaced by the standard NATO round.

Westward Ho! ; by Harry Harbord Morant

There’s a damper in the ashes, tea and sugar in the bags,
There’s whips of feed and shelter on the sandridge for the nags,
There’s gidya wood about us and water close at hand,
And just one bottle left yet of the good Glenlivet brand.

There are chops upon the embers, which same are close-up done,
From as fine a four-tooth wether as there is on Crossbred’s run;
‘Twas a proverb on the Darling, the truth of which I hold:
“That mutton’s aye the sweetest which was never bought nor sold.”

Out of fifty thousand wethers surely Crossbred shouldn’t miss
A sheep or so to travellers-faith, ’tis dainty mutton, this –
Let’s drink a nip to Crossbred; ah, you drain it with a grin,
Then shove along the billy, mate, and, squatted, let’s wade in.

The night’s a trifle chilly, and the stars are very bright,
A heavy dew is falling, but the fly is rigged aright;
You may rest your bones till morning, then if you chance to wake,
Give me a call about the time that daylight starts to break.

We may not camp to-morrow, for we’ve many a mile to go,
Ere we turn our horses’ heads round to make tracks for down below.
There’s many a water-course to cross, and many a black-soil plain,
And many a mile of mulga ridge ere we get back again.

That time five moons shall wax and wane we’ll finish up the work,
Have the bullocks o’er the border and truck ’em down from Bourke,
And when they’re sold at Homebush, and the agents settle up,
Sing hey! a spell in Sydney town and Melbourne for the “Cup”.