ANNIE FLETCHER  LETTER FROM BULAWAYO LAAGER - Outbreak of Matabele Rebellion, 1896. 

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Bulawayo, April 15th 1896

If I could have sent you all the papers as they came out I am sure they would have interested you very much. But unfortunately papers & unimportant things they did not bother about. Is it not wonderful though that the coaches have managed to run at all. In many places the mules have been stabbed by the Matabele & the coach has had tp proceed as best [it could?] Most people were dumbfounded when it was [ ] the Matabele had broken out . Bertie Fynn was told that it was the case & that a prospector Maddocks was murdered. He did not believe it, anyhow he jumped on his horse & rode off to Cunninghams with another man. There he saw a ghastly sight - and then knew that the Matabele had risen. There lay the family of Cunninghams - father, mother - and six children brutally murdered and chopped about with battle axes & thrown onto a heap outside. There were small children of about three & four simply cut to pieces & a boy of about fourteen still with life in him - Bertie moved him into the shade but he was all but dead. He then galloped & brought together as many [ ] [Page 2]
as he could into a small place that they fortified (He was not fighting there for three days as we first heard) He staved off the fighting & collected people & fortified the place (They could not waste ammunition by attacking) He made[sic] sure that Bulawayo was wiped out as three days passed & no runner had arrived with news. On the third day in the nick of time Gifford and a small body of men arrived - and it was their salvation, as soon after that the Matabele came in the early dawn and made a most determined attack. Bertie says they [were so] daring & came so close that they almost had to stop firing and use the butt-end of their guns. There was a woman and child in the room & she was so brave. We were astonished to see Bertie alive every one thought he was dead. The cause of the war is the U'mlimo or witch doctor. It is wonderful but he foretold the cattle disease. Then he said that when the white man's blood was spilt the rain would come. (The murders were started in Bertie's district [ ] went like a wave through the country & sure [enough] it has rained since, out of season too. [ ] the Umlimo said the white man's bullets [Page 3]

would turn to water. But anyhow the old gentleman was wrong there. He also says a disease will break out amongst the people. That is a pleasure to come. We are very well protected in Bulawayo in a strong laager. There are about 700 [100?] armed men. Then you see many cannot be spared to go out and fight as it weakens the laarger - so until reinforcements come there will only be a little skirmishing round about the town. They have been within three & four miles of the town. [There] is supposed to be an impi at Govt house now There are supposed to be fully [underscored] two hundred people murdered. That is not counting ten men killed in action & twenty or twenty five wounded in action. We have been lucky so far in not losing any of our boys. But there will be lots more fighting when reinforcements come. Let's hope it it will be the same then. In Greys Scouts Harry (Huntley), Tempie[?] (Fynn], Willie F (sergt), Bert. Leach Giffords Horse Percy (Ross), Bertie (capt) Fynn, Tunnie Webb, Jim?[ ? ( l)] Fynn Selous Scouts Rob F[letcher], Bob McD[onald] [Page 4]

These are the troops the boys have joined. When reinforcements come anyone is at liberty to leave if they please. Pat (Fletcher) is at Gwelo Bertie is very highly spoken of and his title Capt Fynn is quite universal every one speaks of him as Capt Fynn. Percy says old Sarah was not such a fool after all when she used to call him Capt Fynn. Harry they say is a very lucky scout. [G}iffords horse went towards Shiloh about [ ek] ago with 10 of Greys scouts (Harry & Tempie [in?]cluded) They had very hot fighting two men killed & five wounded Col Gifford & Capt Lumsden both shot. The latter has died since & Col Gifford has had his arm taken off Capt Brand (the officer least thought of) & his men had the worst time of all. They went to Gwanda & coming back had a very bad time five killed and fifteen wounded. Fancy with [underscored] Capt Brand some of the Africander corp went under Capt Niekerk. Do you know [ ot] a single dutchman was killed & only one [ ]nded!! [ ] Selous also had a hot time of it in the [Page 5]

Matoppo hills for a couple of hours. Two m[en] wounded. If you only knew how Dr Jameson is missed Duncan the Act Administrator & Gen Willoughby you must know are no good. The public have absolutely no faith in him. There has been lots of disatisfaction & when Rhodes comes we will be happy. I cannot write much about this for fear of this letter being stopped. The food supply is very serious. However [ ] towns people have taken it into their own [ ] & made Duncan promise to get mules & {bring?] [in?] at once. We are very very short. There is [no?] sugar in town. Meal is £10 a bag and mighty scarce. They sell it at 1/- a lb. Selous troops have gone to hold Mangwe pass and build forts (it is on the Mafeking Road) so I will be alone for about a month. I am living in Robs office during the day & sleep in the laarger at night. The suburban people are not allowed to stay in their houses. We are expecting nightly to see our houses in flames. They are only a quarter of a mile out & the Matabele have been as near as that [ ] & driven off cattle. They are so daring. [Page 6]

[On?]e Matabale servant went into his mistress bedroom with an open knife evidently with the intention of murder. He was caught tried and shot. He never flinched. They tied his hands behind his back & he stood with his back to the firing party. He stood firmly erect & fell with two bullets in his head & six in his body. Nine men arrived from Lower Gwelo a few [da]ys back They were a pitiful sight . They [were] warned by friendly natives & cleared [ ]luwayo. For nine days they were on [the r]oad without food & ate locusts & berries [ ]y hid in the day & crept on at night all through the kaffirs. There have been some wonderful escapes , one man Joe O'Connor was warned that the kaffirs were just behind the house. He ran out and was attacked by twenty matabele. He fought his way down to a mine about half a mile off He arrived there half dead & slipped down the rope on to some of his own boys coming up in the box. They then attacked him - He fought & fought & [ ]t into a drive They left him & threw two charges of [ ]namite (they know how to use it) into the shaft [Page 7]

Luckily it exploded & left him unharmed [ ] the drive or he fainted & came round in the night & crept out. He dragged himself up to the house which was burnt & there lay his two chums murdered. Then he struck out for Buluwayo He only had a shirt & a pair of trousers on. He took off his shirt & tied it round his head which had eight wounds on. In his half dead condition he travelled on. Some miles on he met two men he knew well. But he was so swollen & bruised & full of blood that he was [n ] recognised. The next day they were picked up [ ] Spreckleys column. He is now in the hospi[tal] recovering ?? will get along after the Matabele have been [ ] out [?] A lot of friendly natives have come ?? & the author[ities?] have set them on to burying the dead rinderpest cattle. What a horrible disease that is. We have lost every beast we possessed and I am sad to say that the Matabele have taken my colonial cow - but am putting in a claim of £30 [?] for it. Greys scouts are quartered just opposite me & I have been watching them - "feed" - is the word. Willie sitting in a corner with a big black pot in front of [him ] he is in deadly earnest. Harry and another one have [Page 8]

[ ?] tug-of-war over a pan. There is evidently something nice in it. There is a great clatter of tin cups & stamping about . They have no tables or beds. They roll up on the floor in a blanket & all look very jolly & happy. They are a fine lot of men. Giffords horse are a little further on and are also a fine body of men. ??dd Abrahams is cook in Percy's mess. Percy's place has been burnt & looted. I believe there is nothing left. He & Harry had been working hard & their camp was very nice & comfortable [ ] Abraham escaped into the hills & watched the last [ ]masters property destroyed then he made tracks [ ]luwayo [ ] scouts picked up a Mrs O'Maker [?] who had been walking for four days without food with her husband. Now she lives with them, cooks & bosses up generally she calls herself a scout & wears their colours. I am afraid I am writing a lot of twaddle that will not interest you - but I expect the "mothers & sisters & cousins" will be glad to hear anything about their boys. They all send love today they are too busy to write but have appointed me "war correspondent." There are no men in the field at all now & will [ ]t be (except skirmishing round about should the [Page 9}

natives come too near) until reinforcements arrive. Rob will be at Mangwe pass for about a month so I will be alone a long time. When the war is over all the boys have made up their minds to take a trip down to the Colony. Rob wants me to go as soon as the road is safe but I want to see it all out before I go. We e[xpect?] to be in laarger three or four m[onths?] Friday morning 17th There are impis about five miles from town they burned down the Welsh Harp Hotel there yesterday afternoon. Three o'clock this morning Grey's scouts were ordered out with the Africanders. They have already had a fight & are returning one man [Page 10}

wounded & one horse killed. What the losses are on the native side we have not heard yet. Some more men have been ordered to hold themselves in readiness to go out. It is very hard to say if they will attack the town or not. M' Colenbrander says they will within the week. but you will [k]now before you get this. [ ]ss of love to all from Annie Endnotes:

Annie McDonald, wife of R.A. Fletcher, had arrived in Bulawayo the previous year with two small children, Kenneth and Hugh. On the coach trip up from the Transvaal Republic she travelled with her brother Robert (Bob) McDonald and her sister-in-law, almost certainly one of her husband's sisters. The McDonalds were from the Queenstown area of the Eastern Cape Colony, as were many of the others mentioned in the letter - her various cousins, notably the Fynns, Huntley, Ross etc. Her husband's family were also connected to the Eastern Cape, though they were born in Namaqualand. This is clearly a "letter home" to her family, aunts and uncles, but it is not known to whom it was addressed in particular. Annie's mother had died when Annie was about. ten. But her father was still alive. Would she in a letter to her father have said " Percy says old Sarah was not such a fool after all ...." [Percy=Ross?] check for other Sarah's. Ida, Kathleen, Hugh.... Agnes F? one of the Fletcher girls?The letter was in Ben> Expecting to see their houses in flames: In particular which. Rinderpest not yet arrived? PF? Related Files: "Annie Kept Us In" - A childhood letter in which Annie's sister Kathleen writes to her cousin Bliss Fynn (cousin of Bertie Fynn and the others mentioned in the Rebellion account). Both these girls later came to Bulawayo from the Eastern Cape. Admin File Created: 26.06.2008. Previously Modified 18 March 2009 Last Modified: 27 May 2010


  
 

 

Officers - Gifford's Horse.
Capt. Bertie Fynn. Lieuts. Moffat, Jackson, Warwick(?)
Simms, Bob McDonald - Byo - 1896

Laager, Market Square, Bulawayo 1896

Gwelo Troop - 1896

Africander Corps

Fort Figtree - 1896

Main St. - looking N-NE

Mangwe Pass

Mangwe Pass Inscription.
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