THE DESPATCH RIDER'S THRILLING STORY.
HOW HE WAS STOPPED BY THE BOERS.
THREATS OF THE MALMANI LANDROST.
THE DESPATCHES OPENED.
WHY DELAY WAS CAUSED.
Dr. Jameson and his men have had their day. They shot, meteor-like, across the thin line that divides the placid horizon of international peace from that of hideous war, leaving a burning trail of patriotic sentiment. But, all too soon for them, the march of events - events in the Soudan and events in the South Africa they have left - have been so rapid that they have been almost completely absorbed in newer excitements. They lost the spurious halo of popularity when they donned society's prim attire - threw it aside with their South African uniforms - and today they are as other men in similar positions, merely ordinary individuals awaiting the decision of an English magistrate upon their conduct. The appearance of Bow-street at half-past ten this morning was a fair indication of the revulsion of popular feeling. Whereas last week and the week before hundreds of people were waiting to catch a glimpse of these South African explorers - can such a term be used in the circumstances? - this week there was scarcely a single individual there. In the Court, of course, there was the usual crush. There are so many prisoners, and they have so many friends that the courteous officials - Messrs. R. Cassels, I. Cox, A.E. Washbourn, G. Scotchbrook, and all the rest - have to provide seats or standing-room for almost every sister, and cousin, and aunt, and relative of undiscoverable grade. The troopers are fast becoming quite popular among those whose business calls them to the Court. A small batch of them came this morning under the protecting care of a small batch of females. They sat at the back, knocking the poor Pressmen's elbows as they wrote - a bevy of brightly-dressed lasses, full of garrulous conversation, and joking most immoderately about the events in which the sturdy troopers had taken such an important part.
FASHIONABLE VISITORS IN COURT.
Sir John Bridge could not, naturally, afford the slight accommodation of the bench to go to waste. So he had invited a distinguished party, including Dowager Lady Annaly, Lady Foley, Duke of Abercorn, Lord and Lady Monkswell, Miss Collier, Viscount and Lady Deerhurst, Mr. and Mrs. H.M. Bompas, Lady Ernestine Bruce, Lady Finlay, Lady Kinnaird, Lady Audrey Buller, Lady Ribblesdale, Mrs. Arthur Paget, the Hon. H. Cuffe, and Mr. B. Thomas, and a very fashionable throng they were - the ladies, of course. Lady Monkswell, for instance, wore an exquisite apple-green costume, with a hat trimmed with a huge bunch of flowers and tulle. Lady Ribblesdale was a mass of flashing tinsel, and in her hat, ornamented by a shivering osprey, was a sparkling diamond brooch. And the perfume! Why, all the most delicate satchels of the most popular of all the London perfumeries must have been ransacked to produce the almost overpowering accumulation of sweet scents. Sir R.B. Finlay was the first Crown counsel to put in an appearance, followed shortly after by Sir Richard Webster, Mr. Sutton, Mr. Horace Avory, and Mr. Charles Matthews. Sir John Bridge was a little late. He did not enter till nine minutes past eleven o'clock, but as he did so he bowed to all the counsel and to those around him on the Bench, and exchanged a few common-place remarks with Sir Richard Webster.
MATTER FOR SPECULATION.
Then the jailor approached the bar, and whispered to the Clerk of the Court. This movement and a little delay gave rise to some little speculation. It was even whispered, with almost bated breath, that some of the prisoners had not arrived. Sir John sat back in his seat. Mr. Cuffe went up to him, and so did Mr. Cutbush, the Clerk, while the jailor thrust open the prisoners door and disappeared. The three representatives of the law remained in close conversation while Inspector Swanson darted across the room and into the passage leading to the cells. All this time excitement was growing apace, but at fourteen minutes past eleven the door opened again and the whole of the prisoners filed in. Dr. Jameson came at the head of the second batch, attired in a dark morning suit and wearing, very negligently, a pair of tan gloves.
The defendants whose names are entered on the charge-sheet are: - Dr. Leander Starr Jameson (late Administrator for the British South Africa Company), Major Sir John Willoughby (Royal Horse Guards, Colonel the Hon. H.F. White (Major Grenadier Guards), Colonel R. Grey (Captain 6th Enniskilling Dragoons), Major the Hon. R. White (Captain Royal Welsh Fusiliers), Major J.B. Stracey (Scots Guards), Major C.H. Villiers (Captain Royal Horse Guards), Captain R.G. Kincaid-Smith (Lieut., R.A.), Captain C.L.W. Munro (3rd Battalion Seaforth Highlanders), Captain C.P. Foley (3rd Battalion Royal Scots), Captain E.C.S. Holden (Derbyshire Yeomanry), Captain C.F. Lindsell (4th Battalion Durham Light Infantry), Lieutenant H.H. Grenfell (1st Life Guards), Major the Hon. C.J. Coventry (Captain Worcestershire Militia), and late Bechuanaland Border Police, and Captain Audley Vaughan Gosling (Chartered Company's Police.)
ONE OF THE BECHUANALAND POLICE.
The first witness was a short, deeply-tanned, military-looking gentleman, Major Francis William Panzora, of the Bechuanaland Border Police, and formerly Superintendent of Public Works in the British Protectorate. At the outset his evidence did not appear to be of very great import. He had before him a map of the country in which the "fitting out," as the law has it, of the expedition took place, and he handed it in. It showed Mafeking, Pitsani, and several other places - it was, in fact, a map pretty much the same as that published in The Echo last week, and for about ten minutes we listened to a mere recital of elementary geography.
Sir Edward Clarke, the prisoners' leading counsel, carefully traced the route indicated by the witness, as also did Sir John Bridge, on maps produced by the witness, who had marked with a red, white, and blue mark the spot where the camp was pitched in September of 1895 at Pitsani. The evidence was intensely monotonous, and one or two of the spectators left the building, but, of course, it was necessary to take it for the assistance of the Higher Court to which the case must inevitably go. But the Solicitor-General is a stickler for detail, and he got from the witness very minute particulars of the peculiarities of the country, of the building of the railway north of Mafeking, and of the different boundaries separating the countries of the different chiefs. Then Sir Edward Clarke rose to cross-examine the witness, while the prisoners chatted with each other, utterly careless of all the witness was saying.
Mr. C.F. Gill popped into the Court just before twelve o'clock, and stood outside counsels box chatting with one of the juniors. Meanwhile, Sir Edward plied his questions, elicited facts we already knew as to the transference of the Bechuanaland Police to the Chartered Company, the alteration in the administration of Bechuanaland, &c. There was just one flash of interest when the witness told us that he knew the Chief Lynchwe very well, and that that gentleman "was practically a squatter, whose territory has never been officially defined" - an opinion which may appear in another guise some day, when the African rush becomes even keener than it is now.
A WITNESS RECALLED.
The tedious witness was succeeded in the box by the young Sergeant Cumming, who was recalled by the Attorney-General to correct some slight inaccuracy in his evidence in chief, concerning the ammunition used by the men on their march from Mafeking.
MEN'S CONDITION DEPLORABLE.
Further than that, he told us how deplorable was the condition of the men when they surrendered. He said that at that time many of the men were without ammunition. They had fired it all away, though there was a fourth of the ammunition left on the whole. "How do you know?" asked Sir Edward Clarke at once. "Well," was the reply, "from what I observed. Some got none, and others got plenty." "Had you any left?" again asked Sir Edward. "No," was the prompt reply.
A SERGEANT'S EVIDENCE.
A sergeant next came upon the scene, James Thomas White, who now lives in Pengwern-road, Earl's-court. Like all these young fellows who have gone across to Africa to make money and fame and a home, he is a smartly-built young man, with a sun-tanned face, and a fair amount of education. He spoke of his former connection with the Bechuanaland Border Police (B.B.P. is the familiar name of the force), and of his having been formerly a lance-corporal in the Matabeleland Border Police. He told us of the march of his troop, at that time quartered at Gabronnes, to Mafeking, where they arrived on December 12th, they being under orders for disbandment, though they were told they could join the Chartered Company's forces if they cared to.
ASKED TO JOIN THE CHARTERED FORCES.
When the got to Mafeking several of the prisoners were there, but Captain Gosling seems to have acted as the mouthpiece of the officers of the Company's forces. He asked all the men to join the Chartered Company's forces, and told them they should have 1s. a day extra and the rank of seniority would be respected. But White remained firm. He would not join. Even when Gosling approached him individually he still remained firm, and the following colloquy will show why: -
Did Captain Gosling have a conversation with you afterwards? - Yes; a day or two afterwards he asked me to come over to the Company's service, and said that if I did he would promote me to full sergeant. I refused.
Why? - I told him I was a married man, and could not afford to knock about in that irregular course. (Laughter.)
What did Colonel Grey say to you? - He also asked me to come over to the Company's service. Captain Coventry also spoke to me, and I gave the same reply.
Was anything else said to you? - Captain Coventry added that very soon after leaving Mafeking we should probably see active service.
How long was that before the column started? - The day before.
The men who did not wish to join the Company's service, what troop were they formed into? - They were drafted into the F Troop, and men of the F Troop who did join the Company's service were shifted to other troops.
A FAMILIAR SCENE.
From this point White took us to the familiar scene at the muster at Mafeking on the night of Sunday, the 29th Dec., and he repeated what he remembered of the speeches. This was very interesting, for according to White Captain Coventry said to the men of the F Troop: -
We have got order to go to Johannesburg. We have got to get there in 50 hours, and I want all you fellows to come with me. Those men who are willing to, proceed right out to the front.
This is quite different from the accepted version of the affair, though what immediately followed is not. Coventry rode away because no one responded, and Colonel Grey came up. The succeeding incidents are best shown in the witness's own words: -
What did he say? - He said, "What's the matter with you men? Why won't you come?" Then one of the troopers asked him, "Are we going to fight for the Queen?" Colonel Grey said, "No; we are going to fight for the supremacy of the British flag in South Africa."
Did he say anything further by way of appeal? - No, but twelve or fifteen men went over.
Did they go away to the other troops? - They remained fallen out. Colonel Grey dismounted and had conversations with the members of the troop who had not come forward.
What did he say to you? - He said, "I know all about you; you can fall away."
Did you say anything to him on that occasion about your reasons? - I told him I had already given him my reasons, and had nothing else to say.
What orders were then given to the men who had not volunteered? - I don't know. I went to my tent.
What was Colonel Grey's position before that? - He had commanded the Bechuanaland Border Police up to that time.
What uniform was he wearing on the night of December 29th? - That of an officer of the Bechuanaland Border Police.
What was Captain Coventry's position before that? - He had had command of the E troop of the Bechuanaland Border Police at Macloutsie.
THE DESPATCHES TO DR. JAMESON.
Having recited so much, in response to the Attorney-General, White next spoke of the departure of the column into the Transvaal later on in this memorable night, and then he brought us to the still more famous ride of his - the ride with the despatches to Jameson and his men, started after they had been gone about twelve hours - a ride across the veldt and through a comparatively unknown country. Here is his description of this event, drawn from him by Sir Richard Webster: -
On Monday, December 30th, did you receive orders to go to the orderly-room? - Yes, and I there saw Captain Walford and Mr. Newton, the Commissioner.
Did Captain Walford say anything to you? - He asked me if I was willing to take a despatch into the Transvaal. He said I must go unarmed, but in the uniform of the British Bechuanaland Police.
Did you say you would go? - Yes. Mr. Merton gave me a pass.
What was it? - "To all whom it may concern. This is to pass Sergeant White, of the B.B. Police, in carrying despatches from the High Commissioner to Dr. Jameson."
What became of the pass? - It was afterwards taken from me by the Dutch.
Did you also get any orders to call at the hotel at Mafeking for something? - Yes. I then saddled the horse and got the despatches.
From whom? - Sergeant-Major Butler.
How were they done up? - In a piece of canvas, or waterproof. They were tied up, but not addressed.
And were you told to take them to Dr. Jameson? - No. To take them to the Colonel.
Who did you think that meant? - I thought Colonel Grey.
Were you told about the speed you should go - slow or fast? - Yes. I was told to catch the Colonel at any cost.
Anything said about the horse? - Yes. I was told not to spare it.
About what time did you leave Mafeking? - Between 2 and 2:30 in the afternoon.
Were you told what road to take? - Mr. Newton told me to take the Malmani road.
On that afternoon, after passing the border, were you stopped by anybody? - Yes, by a small troop of armed Boers.
Did they want to know your business? - Yes.
And you told them? - Yes.
Did they take you anywhere? - To Field-Cornet Louw's house at Molopo.
Were you subsequently taken to Malmani? - Yes.
Had you still got your despatches? - They had been taken from me.
Whom did you see at Malmani? - The Landrost, Marais.
Do you know whether the bundle of despatches had then been opened? - They had not. The Landrost wanted me to open them. I said I couldn't do it. He said if I did not he would send me back over the border and the despatches would never reach Dr. Jameson.
What did you then say? - I said if he liked to open them he could, but I could not give him authority to do it.
Did he then leave you? - Yes, in charge of Louw and other Boers. In half an hour he sent for me, and said he had opened the despatches and would allow me to proceed under escort. He said I must not attempt to escape or I should be shot.
How long from the time the Boers stopped you to that time; what was the delay? - About four hours.
Did you then start off again? - Yes. I was escorted by Field-Cornet Louw and a Transvaal policeman.
Had the despatches been given back to you? - No, Louw had them. They had been done up again.
On that evening did you reach a store about six o'clock? - Yes, and I saw forage and tinned fruit there, but no one appeared to be in charge, and we helped ourselves to forage and food that night. About two hours and a half later we came to another store, and still later we reached a third. Neither of them was in charge of anyone.
On the veldt did you see two horses? - Yes, and there was someone in charge of them.
Did you notice anything about them? - I noticed that they had their tails cut, being police horses. I went to them, and found two Kaffirs armed with Lee-Metford rifles and bandoliers.
What horses were they? - They were both branded "C.C." They were Chartered Company's horses, and not of the Transvaal.
AN ADJOURNMENT FOR REFRESHMENT.
The witness went on to describe how on the Tuesday morning they reached a fourth store, where the Field Cornet stopped, having previously handed him his despatches, which had been opened. White then went on with the Transvaal policeman, and after crossing Eland's river he came up with the column. This was about two hours and a-half after he left the fourth store, and after riding the whole night, and traversing 80 miles across the country on only one horse.
Here the interesting narrative ended for a brief period, while the Court adjourned for luncheon.
A SWEEPSTAKE IN THE COURT.
Verily this trial is full of surprises, but perhaps the greatest surprise of all was how the majority of the pressmen spent their luncheon interval. There, beneath the shadow of the magisterial Bench, almost under the very nose of Sir John Bridge, they actually organised a sixpenny sweepstake on the Lincoln Handicap - organised it by the side of the prisoners' door, and drew for horses even as the crowd of fashionable personages, headed by the chief magistrate, gradually shuffled out of the Court! The prisoners, meanwhile, were provided with everything they required in the shape of creature comforts outside in the corridor, entertained their friends as sumptuously as the exigencies of the case would allow, and puffed their cigarettes till the Court was full again with the aroma.
When, at two o'clock, we settled down to business again, Sir Richard Webster again resumed his examination of White. The witness told us that when he reached the column he noticed there were more troops than had left Mafeking, and that the additions were composed of the Chartered Company's forces. They had halted when he reached them, and this conversation, question and answer, shows what followed: -
Did you go to where you saw some of the staff officers? - Yes. I addressed myself to Colonel Grey.
Did you give Colonel Grey the packet? - I had opened it when I passed through the outposts of the column. I found it contained five letters, which I handed to Colonel Grey.
What did he say to you? - He said, "Take them to Sir John Willoughby." I found Sir John Willoughby, and said to him, "Here are some despatches," and he said, "Take them to Dr. Jameson."
Did you take them to Dr. Jameson? - Yes.
What did he say? - He said, "Take them to Sir John Willoughby; he is in military command."
[This beating from pillar to post afforded much amusement in Court.]
Neither of these gentlemen had, so far, taken the letters out of the envelopes? - No.
When you took them back to Sir John Willoughby what did he do? - He took them from me, and gave some of them to Captain Coventry.
Did you see Sir John Willoughby take out one of the letters and read it? - Yes.
Did you notice whether Captain Coventry took his out and read them? - Yes, he did, and I heard him say to Captain Gosling, "Here's an envelope. Yours has been taken by the Transvaal Government. Read mine."
While these questions were being put and answered, Captain Coventry, who appeared to dissent from what the witness said, borrowed a piece of paper from one of the Pressmen sitting nearly opposite, and hurriedly scribbled a note, which was handed across to his counsel.
Did you notice whether Captain Munro read the letter? - Yes.
What did Sir John Willoughby say to you? - He said, "Wait for an answer." I waited about half an hour, and then Sir John Willoughby sent for me.
What did he say to you? - He said, "Tell your commanding officer that the despatches have been received, and will be attended to."
HORSES SEIZED BY DUTCHMEN.
Before he started back Colonel Grey asked White to take back to Mafeking some 300 horses that had apparently been used by the troopers, but he refused to do so. The majority of these horses were branded C.C. - the mark of the Chartered Company. However, Colonel Grey said, "If I give you six Cape boys will you see them on the road?" and White replied in the affirmative. He then counted the horses - 290 in all - and told the "boys" to take them to Mafeking. Before they could start, however, some armed Dutchmen came upon the scene, and they put a sentry over the horses, and the "boys" could not take them. This, as witness explained, was about half an hour after the column had left in the direction of Johannesburg.
(The report will be continued.)
Source: The Echo, Tuesday March 24, 1896, Page 1