Trader, Missionary, Red Soldier

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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

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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 William Henry Ogilvie

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A Scotsman who spent 10 years ranching in Australia, Ogilvie was a friend of Harry (Breaker) Morant and another great horseman.  A bush poet; he is best remembered for his outback poems like the one below.   I have a special room in my heart for bush poets like Breaker Morant, Ogilvie, Banjo Patterson, Robert Service and Rudyard Kipling.  I love their songs of the wild road, open spaces, skies that go on forever and hearts set on adventure.

My Hat! ;by William Henry Ogilvie

The hats of a man may be many
in the course of a varied career,
and some have been worth not a penny
and some have been devilish dear;
But there’s one hat I always remember
when sitting alone by the fire,
in the depth of a Northern November,
because it fulfilled my desire.

It was old, it was ragged and rotten
and many years out of mode,
like a thing that a tramp had forgotten
and left at the side of a road.
The boughs of the mulga had torn it,
it’s ribbon was naught but lace,
an old swaggie would not have worn it
without a sad smile on his face.

When I took off the hat to the ladies
it was rather with sorrow than swank,
and often I wished it in Hades
when the gesture drew only a blank;
But for swatting a fly on the tucker
or lifting a quart from the fire
or belting the ribs of a bucker
it was all that a man could desire.

When it ought to have gone to the cleaners
(and stayed there, as somebody said!)
it was handy for flogging the weaners
from the drafting-yard into the shed.
And oft it has served as a dish for
a kelpie in need of a drink;
It was all that a fellow could wish for
in many more ways than you’d think.

It was spotted and stained by the weather,
there was more than one hole in the crown,
and it made little difference whether
the rim was turned up or turned down.
It kept out the rain (in a fashion)
and kept off the sun (more or less),
but it merely comanded compassion
considered as part of one’s dress.

Though it wasn’t a hat you would bolt with
or be anxious to borrow or hire,
it was useful to blindfold a colt with
or handle a bit of barbed wire.
Though the world may have thought it improper
to wear such old rubbish as that,
I’d have scorned the best London-made topper
in exchange for my old battered hat.