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 Erskine of the NNC

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MarkSalter




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PostSubject: Erskine of the NNC   Erskine of the NNC EmptyThu Sep 22, 2022 2:28 pm

Greeting to all members,
I wonder if someone could point me towards a path of discovery regarding Lieutenant/Captain Erskine of the 3rd NNC. I have acquired a QSA to William George Erskine, and in researching him I found he signed the death notice of his brother, CHARLES ALEXANDER ERSKINE, who was, according to that notice, killed at Isandlwana. Captain Erskine wrote a letter to his mother, saying correspondence should be sent c/o Captain Lonsdale.
However, a narrative by Captain WALTER STAFFORD, a survivor of the battle, refers to him saving the life of one WALLACE ERSKINE.
He wrote:
As far as I can recollect the following officers, whose names recall many old Natal and East-Griqualand families, were in charge of different native companies - Charlie Raw, Wyalt Vouse (?), Nourse, Barton, Harry Davis, Henderson and myself. Joe Lister and WALLACE ERSKINE were amongst the Lieutenants and Andrews and some N.C. Officers.

He says he took 'Wally' Erskine, who had an assagai wound to his thigh, on to his horse. He later mentions that he last saw Erskine at Helpmekaar, and that Erskine told Wolseley of his heroic deed. Which indicates that Erskine did not die at Helpmekaar.
Were there two Erskines? I cannot find two on the medal rolls.
Does anyone have any lines of investigation I could follow?
Many thanks in advance
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Frank Allewell

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PostSubject: Re: Erskine of the NNC   Erskine of the NNC EmptyThu Sep 22, 2022 3:04 pm

Captain Erskine is also shown on the roll of the 2/3rd Natal Native Contingent for the medal with clasp ‘1879’ which implies the possibility of a second medal having been issued.

Charles Alexander Erskine was born at Grahamstown in about 1846, the son of Alexander Erskine and Mary-Ann. He served as a Lieutenant in the Queenstown Volunteer Contingent against the Gaikas, Galekas and other Kaffir tribes during 1877-78 (Medal). In late 1878 he joined the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Regiment, Natal Native Contingent, and was killed in action at Isandhlwana on 22 January 1879.

His ‘Death Notice’, obtained from the National Archives in Cape Town, confirms ‘Charles Alexander Erskine, Captain, Natal Native Contingent, killed in action at the battle of Isandhlana (sic), Zululand, 22nd January 1879. In 32nd year.’ He left his estate to his brother W. G. Erskine, who signed the Death Notice at Grahamstown on 28 May 1879. Appended to the Death Notice is an interesting letter written by Captain Erskine to his Mother, dated Sand Spruit, 29 December 1878:

My dear Mother,

Just a few lines to let you know how I am getting on. We arrived here about 15 days ago and encamped to get our men together we have now got almost all now and as soon as the others come we move to where the soldiers are waiting for us about 20 miles from here. We are getting on fine as yet with the men. They are picking up the drill better than I expected as they are taught just the same as the soldiers.

As soon as we join the soldiers we are to move into Zulu country in three divisions each division being 5000 strong with two Batteries of Artillery & 2 Batteries Rocket Guns to each division so I think we ought to do a little execution with 15000 men altogether. Old Cetywayo can bring out about 70000 trained men against us.

This place is called Sand Spruit and it is a Sand Spruit for as soon as the rain is over the water all soaks away but by digging about 3 feet in the sand we get any quantity of water. This country is the worst place ever I saw for rain every afternoon we have a thunderstorm. We had Regimental sports the day after Xmas they passed off very well. As yet our Camp is in a healthy state and I hope it keeps so.

This sort of life seems to agree with me, and another thing it and don’t care how long it keeps on especially as the pay is good. We have lost a few more horses since I last wrote of sickness.

I hope you received my last in case you did not I will let you know again that I have lodged in the Standard Bank Pieter Maritzburg a little money and will also place all I can there so that if anything happens to me you must see and get it for your use. I would like you to keep these two letters in case of accidents.

As I have no more news I will now close with Love to all Relations & Friends and accept same,
From Your Son,
Charley

P.S. when you write address as follows:
Capt. Erskine
c/o Comdt. Lonsdale
2/3 Regt. N.N.C.
Helpmakaar
Natal.

I think these are the comments and letter you refer to. Wally Erskin was with Durnfords column and left behind at the  Bashe River crossing when Durnford moved of to the battlefield.
Erskin was wounded and rescued by Stafford
Shortly after we came across Lieutenant Erskine who was lying against a rock with an assegai wound through the calf of his leg quite exhausted and unable to proceed further. Opportunely I was able to get Erskine up behind me just in the nick of time. The scene now baffles description. It was a perfect pandemonium. Loose mules and pack horses and oxen, some with ghastly gashes were galloping over the veld at will, some with saddles and others with blinker only. How sad to think what these noble animals are called upon to suffer in their masters’ wars. Fortune favoured us now as a large white horse with a rein round his neck came up alongside us evidently instinct prompted him to seek protection and we were able to catch the charger. The rein was twisted round the lower jaw, as all youngsters who are brought up on a farm learn to do, and Erskine was pleased to have his brave back."
Account of Lieutenant W Erskine, Natal Native Contingent, 22 February
On the morning of the 22nd January, at about six o’clock, Colonel Durnford gave orders to march. We at once packed up the tents, and inspanned the wagons.
We started about seven o’clock a.m. from our camp on the Zulu side of the Buffalo. We marched as far as the Bashee stream about ten a.m, where Capt. Russell of the rocket battery gave orders for D company to march on with all speed with him, and E company, with Capt. Stafford, stayed behind to escort the wagons.
After staying there about a quarter of an hour, orders came for Capt. Stafford to leave part of his company as escort for the wagons, and to hurry on with the rest to the front. He left me with 16 men, and told me to hurry on the wagons, which I accordingly did, to the best of my ability. We had then heard the firing of the cannon for about a quarter of an hour (since about ten a.m.), and I continued to hear it until I arrived at the camp (about half past ten or eleven a.m.) at Isandhlwana. There I took my escort to the front, which was then about a mile a-head of the camp. The Zulus were then about 700 yards away. I placed my men in position, and told them “to fire low,” while I sat down and watched the progress of affairs. After sitting so for about five minutes, I felt I myself must have some shots, and accordingly went back to camp to get a gun, not having had one before.
Capt. Stafford told me to give my gun to a kafir while I went back to the wagons, saying that I could get it at the camp on my arrival. My company was already at the front, so I did not again see the kafirs. When I returned, I was just mounting to the top of the hill where my kafirs were, when I saw the hill to the right of the camp black with Zulus.
I got into my place, and began firing. I had fired only a few shots when Pakadi’s men, among whom I was, began to run. When the Zulus got about 300 yards from me, I saw that the Mounted Native Contingent and the whole column to the right of the guns were retiring (about three o’clock) and I followed, firing as I went, thinking they were falling back on the camp. When we got about 200 yards in front of the camp we all stood, except the Pakadi’s men, who were then in full flight.
The cannon here began to fire harder than ever, but the Zulus kept on pouring down in front and on our flank; those in front of the cannon when they saw the gunners stand clear would either fall down flat or divide in the middle so as to leave a lane, and when the shot had passed would shout out “Umoya!” There was no confusion or hurry in these movements of theirs, but all was done as though they had been drilled to it. They kept on advancing till within 100 yards. The Zulus on our flank were then about 200 yards off, when the whole army made a simultaneous charge upon the camp. I had then retired as far as the wagons, when seeing the Zulus carrying everything before them, and everybody scattered and bolting. I naturally did the same on foot, about four o’clock.
After running a long way I got completely blown with the weight of my gun and ammunition I thereupon threw my ammunition away, all except five rounds which I kept for self-defence, having no doubt that the Zulus would catch me. After running a few yards further I was dead beat, and sat down on a stone with my gun beside me. On looking round I saw the Zulus killing soldiers close behind me. I jumped up and ran on, forgetting my gun in haste.
I soon overtook Capt. Stafford, who was riding one horse and leading another. I asked him to lend ma horse, as I could not go any further. He dismounted and gave me the one he was riding, while he mounted the other.
He said, “Keep behind me,” but on looking round he had disappeared. I thereupon watched where the contingent kafirs were making for, and followed them.
After riding about two miles, I was watching a soldier who was running about ten yards from me, when just as he had passed a bush a Zulu sprang out and said, “Uya ngani umlungu,” and threw a broad-bladed assegai at him with his left hand, which pierced the poor soldier between the shoulders. The poor fellow fell forward on his face, and the Zulu ran up to him and calling out “Usutu,” stabbed him to the heart with the same assegai. He had no sooner done this than I saw him throw one at me, and bobbing on one side to avoid the assegai, it stuck me in my leg. I had just shaken out when another one came and struck my horse.
I pulled it out and threw it down, when, on looking for the Zulu, he had disappeared. After going about 500 yards further I saw a puff of smoke, and a bullet whizzed about an inch from my nose. I shouted out to the marksman, “Iya wa uti u ya dubula bane na?”
After this I came to a precipice, which I found impassable. I was going to turn back, when I saw the Zulus about twenty yards behind me. I therefore thought I had better risk my neck over the precipice, which was about twelve feet high, than the Zulus. I shut my eyes and jumped my horse over it. I landed safely at the bottom but never looked back to see what had become of the enemy. When I arrived at the river I could not get my horse into it on account of his being nearly exhausted. I made way for Capt. Cochrane, whose horse mine then followed. When I got into the middle of the stream, out of the horse’s depth, four or five men caught hold of his tail, so that he could not move. While they were still holding on the Zulus came up and assegaied some, while others let go and were carried away by the stream, only to be murdered further down.
On getting out on this side the Edendale men told me to lie flat on my horse’s neck, which I did, thinking the Zulus were going to fire on me, but was surprised to hear our own men firing over my head; they killed about a dozen Zulus. While watching this little skirmish I saw one of our kafirs brought to bay by a Zulu. After some preliminary guarding on the part of both, the Zulu stabbed our kafir in the shoulder; thereupon our kafir jumped up into the air and stuck his assegai to the Zulu’s heart. Both of them rolled into the river. The Zulus crossing, we continued our flight to Helpmakaar where we arrived quite safely at about half-past six. The Zulus chased us about three miles this side of the river.
The following questions were then put to the narrator, whose answers are appended:
When  you arrived at the camp, what was its position; were any wagons insappned, and if so for what purpose? – I did not take minute notice of the formation of the camp. Noticed the tents, and the wagons arranged behind them; some of the wagons were inspanned, for what purpose I cannot say; at other wagons I saw the oxen tied to the yokes.
How far were you from the military during the engagement? -At one time with them, but most of the time about a half mile from them.
In what order of battle were they, so far as you observed, and how far from the camp? -They appeared in double column, in line; they did not skirmish. They were about half a mile from the camp, in front, facing the high hills.
Did you hear the sound of any bugle, or was that impossible from the noise of cannon and small arms? -I heard no sound of bugle; there was too much noise.
Did you see any aide-de-camp riding and conveying orders during the day? -I did not. I never heard of any. I did hear that someone was sent to the column under the General, to request aid.
You say you were engaged from about 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. During this time was any general or particular order conveyed to you, or to your company, so far as you are aware, with reference to your plan of operations? -None to myself. I am not aware of any having been issued to my company. I saw no staff officer, nor did I see any commander.
Do you know whether the cannon fired ball, grape, or canister shot? -I think only ball was fired, from what I saw, and afterwards heard.
Did the rocket battery, so far as you could observe, do any execution? -I did not see the rocket battery fired: but I was told by a brother officer that only one rocket was fired, and he was watching It very particularly. He saw the rocket pass over the head of the Zulus without doing any execution: that is, so far as he saw.
When did you last see Colonel Durnford? –At about 11 a.m., after I arrived at the camp, I saw him some distance off, on our right. After the retreat I saw his horse without a rider, near the Buffalo, the saddle hanging at its side. A soldier tried to catch it, without avail; it rushed into the river, and was carried down. I do not know whether it swam out.
Did you hear the Zulus say, “Leave the black men, and attack the soldiers and the whites?” -I never heard this myself, but the Native Contingent told me they heard the Zulus say, “leave the kafirs, as the white men cause them to fight.”
Did you recognize any women in the field? -I never saw one or the appearance of one.
Were there any women, do you know, amongst our camp followers? -I did not see any, and I never heard of any being with the wagons.
Did you notice, or hear of any white man being with the enemy? -I never saw a white man; but I was told that a white man was engaged at Rorke’s Drift, and the man who told me said he himself shot him; but the next morning, on looking for his body it could not be found. He was very like a white man if he was not one; he wore European clothes.
When the general stampede took place, at about 4 p.m., about what number of men were still alive and engaged? -But few were then killed. Up to this time, I never saw a dead white man, or a dead contingent. The Zulu shots went over our heads, and it was only when the “chest” of the Zulu army came that the contest appeared hopeless, and then the general flight and massacre took place. We all think that had the General’s column appeared, the day would have been ours.
What was the Zulu war cry? –“Usutu” and “Qoka a Amatye,”. I don’t know what they meant by calling “Usutu”; but every time a white man was stabbed to death, the cry was “Usutu”.
Did you understand every word? -Yes; but I do not know what they intended to convey by the word “Usutu.” When the cannon fired, they cried out “Umoya” (wind).
How many of the contingent officers understood the kafir language? -Many of the Captain and Lieutenants, but none of the non-commissioned officers.
When you say Pakadi’s men began to run, had they lost many white officers? -I saw no white officer with Pakadi’s men; no commander at all. They were acting entirely on their own account. They kept up a fire against the Zulus until the latter were within 300 yards of them; when, being without control, they bolted. Some of the indunas called out “mani buya”, meaning “return to the fight;” but a panic had evidently seized them, and they would not obey the induna; that is if they heard him.
How did Zidali’s people behave? -Well; splendidly. They were commanded by Capts. Nourse and Stafford.
During the five minutes you were watching the progress of affairs, did you note anything special, and did you realise the position as critical? -I was noticing the calm, steady way the Zulu army advanced under such a heavy fire it was receiving from us. I thought the Zulus would soon retire; long before they could reach us; but no, they never halted in their step. Once they were driven back by Captain Barton. They were the left horn of the Zulu army. After this they came steadily on; everyone of us retiring for the camp.
What distance was it from the camp to the Buffalo where you escaped? -The way we took would be about seven miles. It was away from the main road.
What distance from Buffalo to Helpmakaar, and what the nature of the country? -I think seven or eight miles open flat country, to within two miles of Helpmakaar, where there is a stiff rise; after that it is flat to the fort.
During the five minutes you were watching did you notice the effect of our fire upon the Zulus, and theirs upon our own people? -I did not see any of our people shot; and whether the gaps I saw in the Zulu army were from shots or from their own guarding (“vika”) I cannot say.
Did you hear the Zulu commander give orders to his men not to cross the Buffalo? -I did not. I could not distinguish any induna from a common Zulu. I heard no such order. I do not dispute that such may have been given; and I cannot understand why the Zulus did not follow up their victory.
When you saw George Shepstone return to the camp, do you know what he came for? -I do not know; bit I heard him rallying the people, and saying they were wanted at the front. There were soldiers and others left in charge of the baggage.
There is a lot more on Wally available


Last edited by Frank Allewell on Thu Sep 22, 2022 3:12 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Frank Allewell

Frank Allewell


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Erskine of the NNC Empty
PostSubject: Re: Erskine of the NNC   Erskine of the NNC EmptyThu Sep 22, 2022 3:07 pm

Letter from Lieutenant Erskine to his Father, published in The Cheltenham Looker-On, December 13, 1879.
MY ESCAPE FROM THE BATTLE OF ISANDHLWANA
We arrived at the Buffalo River on the night of the 21st. On the morning of the 22nd Col. Durnford told us to saddle-up, after which he gave us the order to march. We started about seven a.m., and marched as far as the Bashee, a stream about seven miles from the Buffalo, and about three from Isandhlwana. He ordered my company to stop there to escort the wagon, while he rode on to Isandhlwana, with the Edendale Kafirs, Basutos, and the other company of foot Kafirs. As soon aswe were off-saddle we heard the cannon firing at Isandhlwana, and after about an hour’s waiting, we were ordered to proceed to the front.
When we had gone about two miles farther, Capt. Stafford orderedme to take sixteen men and go back and wait for the wagons and escort them to camp, and to hurry them on as fast as possible, as the Zulus were trying to cut them off. I accordingly took the Kafirs and met the wagons, and took them safe to the front, and told the Kafirs to fire low while I went back to the wagon to fetch a gun. I got one, and went back until we got to camp, when we made another stand, and fired harder than ever. When the cannon fired, the Zulus would either lie down or break away, and leave a lane down the middle, so that the shell had very little effect. When they got about one hundred yards off, the fire was so heavy that they could hardly come on. We were then suddenly surprised to hear a rush on our right flank, and on looking round saw that we were surrounded, and that it was the left horn of the Zulu army that was in the camp.
During this momentary pause the chest-guard found time to charge, and then the confusion began. It was impossible to stand the Zulus with their short assegais, which were awful. We were overpowered and driven back. The confusion was horrible. Soldiers, Kafirs, horses, oxen, dogs, bucks, grasshoppers, wagons, &c., &c., all flew in the same direction. The slaughter was awful. The yells of pain from sundry horses and mules made it fearful.
I started off to run, but soon got blown, with the weight of my ammunition, gun, sword-bayonet, &c., and was obliged to throw everything away except my sword-bayonet and gun, with five cartridges. At last I could not run any farther- so I sat down on an ant-heap, determined to fight it out to the last. Suddenly I heard a rustling behind me, and looking round, I saw the Zulus, within five yards of me, killing soldiers right and left, and off I started again, forgetting my gun in my haste. I had now nothing left except my sword-bayonet, which I stuck to. After running some distance, I saw my Captain with two horses, one of which he was riding and the other leading. I called out to him to give me a horse, which he did. I jumped on, and on looking round for him, he was gone. I thereupon looked which way the Kafirs were going, and followed them. I found that the horse I was riding was nearly done up, and would not go out of a walk. After proceeding thus for about half a mile, I was watching a soldier who seemed at the end of his breath, when suddenly a Zulu appeared behind him, and calling out “U yong assi venlunga” (where are you off to, white man?), he sent his assegai in between the soldier’s shoulders, and then finished him with a stab in the side. To my dismay, I saw him come after me, and all at once I saw him throw his assegai at me; it went into my leg. He then pulled out another, and let fly, and sent it into my horse, behind the flap of the saddle. On looking for the next assegai to come, I could not see the Zulu anywhere, and do not know what became of him. A little farther up, up jumps another “Johnny” Zulu, and catches hold of the reins of my horse, and presents an assegai at my chest, but he was too slow, for I cut the top of his head very nearly off with the sword-bayonet.
On I went again, and then Colonel Durnford’s horse passes me, with his saddle under his belly. I managed to catch him, and gave him to a soldier, who was so done that he could not get on to him. While he was trying to get on to it, the Zulus assegaied him, and the horse flew past me. Then I suddenly found that I had left the trail and got on top of a precipice about twelve or fifteen feet high, and while I was turning back to look for a road down, the Zulus came up to me- so sooner than be assegaied, I jumped my horse over, and fortunately neither myself nor my horse were hurt by the jump. So off I went again, my horse going slower than ever. Then into the river we went helter-skelter; nine out of every ten were washed down- horses and all. I suddenly found that my horse was fast, and on looking round to see what was the matter, I found five men hanging on to his tail and the flap of the saddle, while I was calling out to them to let go and hold on to some one’s horse that was fresh. The Zulus came and assegaied them all, and then my horse, relieved of the burden, swam through safely. Then whizz came a bullet, and missed me, but killed poor Dubois, who was just in front of me; my horse stepped over his body, and I continued my flight to Helpmakaar, where I stayed two weeks before returning to Pietermaritzburg. My wound took six weeks or more to heal. Then I left for Blood River, to finish my six months under “Offy” Shepstone.
WALLACE R. ERKSINE
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Frank Allewell

Frank Allewell


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PostSubject: Re: Erskine of the NNC   Erskine of the NNC EmptyThu Sep 22, 2022 3:08 pm

Details on Lieutenant Erskine’s Injury. Extract from “Surgical Experiences in the Zulu and Transvaal Wars, 1879 and 1881” by D. Blair Brown. Page 13.
Mr W. B. E., an officer in the Natal Native Contingent, was escaping on horseback from the camp of Isandhlwana, when an assegai hit him in the back of the thigh, “pinning him to the saddle.” When galloping on he withdrew the weapon, and was seen next day by me at Helpmakaar. The wound presented the appearance of a simple wound made by a bladed instrument, did not injure any important part, and required nothing but a bandage to effect a cure.
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Frank Allewell

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PostSubject: Re: Erskine of the NNC   Erskine of the NNC EmptyThu Sep 22, 2022 3:16 pm

Hope that helps.
There are other statements, newspaper articles etc but they are really just repeats if the above.
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MarkSalter




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PostSubject: Re: Erskine of the NNC   Erskine of the NNC EmptyThu Sep 22, 2022 3:40 pm

Thank you both for those fascinating accounts. I shall assume there were two Erskines. I wonder where the body of Charles Alexander Erskine was found, and how they identified him... so many questions. Thanks once again for your invaluable input.
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Frank Allewell

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PostSubject: Re: Erskine of the NNC   Erskine of the NNC EmptyThu Sep 22, 2022 3:57 pm

Mark very definitly 2 Erskins, Charlie was about 14 years older than Wally. As far as Im aware there is no placement of his body, identifying would have been quite a task, one colonial was identified by the size of his head.
in Local General Orders No 113 dated December 1878 Charlie was appointed as Captain to the 2/3 NNC.

Cheers
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MarkSalter




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PostSubject: Re: Erskine of the NNC   Erskine of the NNC EmptyFri Sep 23, 2022 7:14 am

Frank Allewell wrote:
Mark very definitly 2 Erskins, Charlie was about 14 years older than Wally. As far as Im aware there is no placement of his body, identifying would have been quite a task, one colonial was identified by the size of his head.
in Local General Orders No 113 dated December 1878 Charlie was appointed as Captain to the 2/3 NNC.

Cheers
Thank you so much for that info Frank. That is so helpful and clears up my nagging confusion. I am writing up a brief history of William George Erskine and that adds greatly to the timeline. Best regards, Mark
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Frank Allewell

Frank Allewell


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PostSubject: Re: Erskine of the NNC   Erskine of the NNC EmptyFri Sep 23, 2022 8:40 am

Further:
WB Erskin was appointed Lieutenant LGO 203 21st November 1878.
Posted to Col.Durnford Col LGO 209 28th November

Cheers
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