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The Fire of Venture Was in His Veins

Major Allan Wilson and the Shangani Patrol 1893

Series : From Musket to Maxim 1815-1914

Author : David Snape

The Fire of Venture Was in His Veins : Major Allan Wilson and the Shangani Patrol 1893


General - Pages : 164 | Images : c 30 b/w ills, 4 maps

Paperback - Size : 248mm x 180mm | ISBN : 9781914059902 | Helion Book Code : HEL1371

The Shangani or Allan Wilson’s Patrol was a minor incident in the British expansion in Africa. Much smaller in scale than the massacre of Isandlwana , the fate of the Patrol was a black mark on the British South Africa’s conquest of Matabeleland. The Patrol was part of the Ndebele War of 1893-94 which ended in the overthrow of the kingdom of Lobengula, King of the Ndebele.

The war was a joint enterprise of Cecil Rhodes’ British South Africa Company and the British Government but the Company was the senior partner. Leander Starr Jameson with his military adviser John Willoughby , both of whom were to be protagonists in the notorious Jameson Raid, were heavily involved in the overthrow of Lobengula . Jameson’s instructions to the leader of the Patrol, Major Patrick Forbes, placed him in an invidious position and virtually split his command. Allan Wilson and his men were sent to his death by Forbes but Wilson’s overconfidence in his ability to fight the Ndebele also played a major part in the massacre of his men.

The relationships between the three commanders of the Patrol was fraught with difficult and Forbes’ struggle to maintain control was gradually eroded by Commandant Pieter Raaff, the Afrikaner   with extensive experience in fighting the Zulus, whose caution might have been caused  by  his fatal illness. 

Accounts from Ndebele survivors of the battle paint a typical Victorian picture of brave men dying for Queen and country but did they actually die for Queen and Company? Did Forbes leave them to their fate? Whatever the cause, Wilson’s men’s bravery was unquestioned

The book provides an account of the causes of Ndebele War, and the relationship between the BSAC and Lobengula. The Patrol is examined in detail as are the battles of Shangani and Bembesi which preceded it. The theft of Lobengula’s gold by two members of the Bechuanaland Border Police became a cause celebre and may have contributed to Jameson’s decision to send the Patrol in pursuit of the King.

The Company’s victory contributed to the creation of Rhodesia and Shangani Day soon became a national holiday in the country. Jameson was seen as a hero and decorated by Queen Victoria for his part in the war.

In compiling the story of the Patrol, David Snape has used both contemporary accounts , Parliamentary Papers and the work of other historians to analyse the complexity of the circumstances which led to Wilson’s death and attempts to explore the less savoury aspects of this episode in the expansion of the British Empire whilst acknowledging the bravery of those involved. 

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