THE SHANGANI PATROL
William Abbott was baptised at Thornthwaite 25th Dec 1863 son of Joseph and Dinah Abbott. Killed 3rd December 1893.
Major Allan Wilson (third from left) and some of the men of his patrol
Patrol was a group of white Rhodesian police officers killed in
battle on the Shangani River in Matabeleland in 1893. The
incident achieved a lasting, prominent place in Rhodesian
colonial history and is roughly the British equivalent to
Custer's Last Stand.
Following the abandonment of Bulawayo, during the First Matabele War, a column of soldiers had been despatched by Leander Starr Jameson to attempt the capture of Lobengula, leader of the Ndebele nation. The column camped on the south bank of the Shangani River about 40 km north-east of the village of Lupane on the evening of 3 December 1893. Late in the afternoon, a dozen men, under the command of Major Allan Wilson, were sent across the river to reconnoitre. Shortly afterwards, Wilson sent a message back to the laager to say that he had found the king, and requesting reinforcements.
of the column, Major Patrick Forbes, unwilling to set off across
the river in the dark, sent 20 more men under the command of
Henry Borrow, intending to send the main body of troops and
artillery across the river the following morning. However, on
their way to the river the next day, the column was ambushed by
Ndebele fighters and delayed. In an act of near desperation,
Wilson had sent his two American scouts and George Gooding, an
Australian, back for further reinforcements also that morning. In
spite of a shower of bullets and spears, the three men set off to
find Forbes. When Burnham, Pearl "Pete" Ingram, and Gooding did
finally reach the Forbes encampment, the battle raging there was
just as intense and there was no hope of anyone reaching Wilson
in time. As Burnham loaded his rifle to beat back the Matabele
warriors, he quietly said to Forbes, "I think I may say we are
the sole survivors of that party." In the meantime, Wilson,
Borrow, and their men were surrounded by a large number of
Ndebele, and the Shangani River had suddenly risen in flood,
making it impossible to cross. The patrol used their dead horses
as cover, but their number steadily dwindled. Many were killed
outright, and the wounded went on fighting until they lost
consciousness. The fight went on until late in the afternoon.
Just before the end the few surviving white men staggered to
their feet, sang a few bars of "God Save the Queen", shook hands
with each other, and waited for the end. It was not long in
coming. The Matabele charged them with their assegais, and gave
no quarter. One last man escaped for a few precious minutes,
gained the top of an anthill a few yards away and shot down
several Matabele before a bullet smashed his hip. He was still
firing a revolver as the assegais ended his life.There were no
survivors, and this is the proud epitaph on their memorial. No
one knew of their fate until two months later, when James Dawson,
the trader, was led to the spot by a party of natives and found
their skeletons. The trees all round were scored by bullet marks.
The Matabele spoke of them reverently and had been so impressed
by their bravery that they had refrained from mutilating their
bodies and had left them where they fell. Dawson dug a large
grave and gave them temporary burial close to a tree on which he
cut a cross and the words, "To Brave Men". Their bones were later
interred at Zimbabwe, since they had all come from Fort Victoria,
and in 1904 removed to the Matopos, to the hilltop "consecrated
and set apart for ever for those who had deserved well of their
Wilson’s Last Stand was produced on the stage as a patriotic play and ran in London for two years. In the play, based on some embellished facts, it is said that in the killing of Wilson and his thirty-one men, Lobengula lost 80 of his royal guard and another 500 Matabele warriors. Wilson was the last to fall and the wounded men of the Shangani Patrol loaded rifles and passed them to him during the final stages of the defense. When their ammunition ran out, the remaining men of the Patrol are said to have risen and sung, God Save the Queen. Once both of Wilson’s arms were broken and he could no longer shoot, he stepped from behind a barricade of dead horses, walked toward the Matabele, and was stabbed with a spear by a young warrior.
The Shangani Patrol entered Rhodesian colonial history as part of the mythology of white conquest, with Wilson and Borrow hailed as national heroes.