The Shangani Patrol was a group of white Rhodesian settlers 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.
The commander 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. All 31 men were killed, but the inaccessibility of the spot and the risk of attack by the Ndebele made it impossible to recover the bodies until February 1894.
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.
"I send this message in order, if possible, to prevent the necessity of any further killing of your people or burning of their kraals. To stop this useless slaughter you must at once come and see me at Bulawayo, when I will guarantee that your life will be saved and the you will be kindly treated. I will allow sufficient time for this message to reach you and return to me and two days more to allow you to reach me in your wagon. Should you not then arrive I shall at once send out troops to follow you, as I am determined as soon as possible to put the country in a condition where whites and blacks can live in peace and friendliness."Jameson never received a response and the Matabele war raged on. However, later in the war it was learned that Lobengula had sent two messengers to Jameson to admit his defeat, along with a large quantity of gold-dust. The message and the gold-dust were handed over to two troopers of the rear guard, Daniels and Wilson, who then traitorously suppressed this information and kept the gold-dust for their own. Both men were tried by the Resident Magistrate and four assessors at Bulawayo, found guilty and sentenced to fourteen years' imprisonment with hard labor. But the High Commissioner's legal experts pointed out that the magistrate's powers did not entitle him to pass sentences of more than three months' imprisonment. The sentences were afterwards quashed and the men released. The treachery of these two troopers indirectly led to the deaths of thousands of Matabele warriors and of the Shangani Patrol.
The remains of the Patrol members were interred at World's View in the Matobo Hills and are currently buried next to the bodies of Rhodes and Jameson. At the request of Rhodes, a memorial to the Shangani Patrol was erected at the site. Designed by John Tweed, the monument was dedicated by Bishop Gaul of Mashonaland in 1904. The memorial is an austere, oblong monument, 33 feet high and made of granite blocks hewn from the neighboring kopje, with a panel on each of the four sides depicting the members of the patrol in bas relief.
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