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Pursuit of the King – John O’Reilly


First Edition: 1970

Publisher: Books of Rhodesia Bulawayo 1970
Dust jacket intact
Book is clean and in excellent condition
No significant page browning evident
No inscriptions or markings

1 in stock


An Evaluation of the Shangani Patrol in the light of sources read by the author.

This article is about the Rhodesian military unit and associated battle.

Shangani Patrol – Part of the First Matabele War

Late Victorian-era battle scene with a row of colonial-looking figures facing the viewer, surrounded by fallen horses in the middle of a thick wood. Many of the men wear slouch hats; all brandish bolt-action rifles, standing in a row as if awaiting an unseen enemy.

The Shangani Patrol (or Wilson’s Patrol), comprising 34 soldiers in the service of the British South Africa Company, was ambushed and annihilated by more than 3,000 Matabele warriors during the First Matabele War in 1893. Headed by Major Allan Wilson, the patrol was attacked just north of the Shangani River in Matabeleland in Rhodesia (today Zimbabwe). Its dramatic last stand, sometimes called “Wilson’s Last Stand”, achieved a prominent place in the British public imagination and, subsequently, in Rhodesian history, mirroring events such as the Battle of Shiroyama in Japan, the Alamo massacre in Texas and the ancient Greeks’ last stand at Thermopylae.

The patrol comprised elements of the Mashonaland Mounted Police and the Bechuanaland Border Police. Scouting ahead of Major Patrick Forbes’s column attempting the capture of the Matabele King Lobengula (following his flight from his capital Bulawayo a month before), it crossed the Shangani late on 3 December 1893. It moved on Lobengula the next morning, but was ambushed by a host of Matabele riflemen and warriors near the king’s wagon. Surrounded and outnumbered about a hundred-fold, the patrol made a last stand as three of its number broke out and rode back to the river to muster reinforcements from Forbes. However, the Shangani had risen significantly in flood, and Forbes was himself involved in a skirmish near the southern bank; Wilson and his men therefore remained isolated to the north. After fighting to the last cartridge, and killing over ten times their own number, they were annihilated.

The patrol’s members, particularly Wilson and Captain Henry Borrow, were elevated in death to the status of national heroes, representing endeavour in the face of insurmountable odds. The anniversary of the battle on 4 December 1893 became an annual public holiday in Rhodesia two years later, and was an official non-work day until 1920. A historical war film depicting the episode, Shangani Patrol, was produced and released in 1970.

Controversy surrounds the breakout before the last stand—which various writers have posited might have actually been desertion—and a box of gold sovereigns, which a Matabele inDuna (leader) later claimed had been given to two unidentified men from Forbes’s rear guard on 2 December, along with a message that Lobengula admitted defeat and wanted the column to stop pursuing him. Two batmen were initially found guilty of accepting the gold, keeping it for themselves and not passing on the message, but the evidence against them was inconclusive and largely circumstantial; the convictions were ultimately overturned. – Source

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Weight 320 g

One Response to Pursuit of the King – John O’Reilly

  1. How can I obtain a copy of Pursuit of a King by John O Rielly?


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