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|Subject: Lieutenant Alfred Fairlie Henderson, Natal Native Horse / Shepstone's Native Horse Sat May 12, 2018 8:51 pm|| |
Alfred Fairlie Henderson was born sometime in1854 and educated at Heidelberg in Germany, returning to Natal in 1872 where he began farming and prospecting for gold. Of his fortunate escape from the battlefield of Isandhlwana, the following details appeared in the Natal newspapers at the time of his death: “With the passing of Mr. Henderson, Natal has lost a soldier whose experiences in the Zulu and Anglo Boer Wars were probably more trying than any other men who survived them. In 1879 he was one of the very few to escape the massacre of Isandhlwana and in 1899/1900 he again figured in the very few who existed through the siege of Ladysmith. It was his extensive knowledge of the Zulu language, his wide experience of Dutch habits and his familiarity with every part of Natal that made him an extraordinarily useful man in these wars. And, combined with those acquired qualifications there was an innate ability for soldiering which readily brought him to the forefront in the Intelligence Department in both campaigns. At the outbreak of the Zulu War in 1879 Mr. Henderson was placed in command of a big batch of natives recruited from Edendale under Captain George Shepstone. This contingent was amongst those surrounded but with one or two others Mr. Henderson broke through the weakest spot in the Usutu circle and effected a narrow escape. Having come through such a slaughter with his own life one would have expected that he would have moved on to safety as quickly as possible, but he did not, and in his actions at this juncture one can read the bravery, unselfishness and hardiness which combined to form a noble character. One of the very few Natal Carbimeers who escaped was Trooper Barker whose narrative of the battle was taken as an official one. In Barker’s description one reads that he (Barker) escaped and was riding away when he came across Lieutenant Higginson who was running away having lost his horse in crossing the flooded river. Barker gave his horse to Higginson and continued on foot. It appears that Mr. Henderson saw Higginson riding and recognised Barker’s horse, so promptly discovered that Barker was left behind unmounted, fleeing from a horde of blood-thirsty Zulus. It was riding to a possible death but Mr. Henderson did not waver. He collected another horse and rode back to meet Barker. In company with other men they escaped to Helpmekaar.”
Three days after the disaster at Isandhlwana Henderson wrote to his father from Helpmekaar, “You will have heard before this reaches you of the fight and massacre in Zululand. I would have written you yesterday only I wanted to try and hear something about George [Capt. G. J. P. Shepstone, Natal Native Horse, killed - Alfred’s brother-in-law]. I am afraid there is no hope for him. Colonel Durnford we think was killed as he has not turned up. The kaffirs surrounded us in thousands. We were fighting from about 9.30 a.m. until about 2 p.m. when the Zulus drove us into the camp. Our kaffirs fought well and stood their ground until we were surrounded. I never saw George all through the fight as he was with another part of our mounted men. There must have been about five hundred of our men killed. Twenty-two of the Natal Carbineers are killed. I don’t know what they are going to do with us just now. We have lost everything belonging to us. We may have to go down to town to fit out again then I will be able to give you more particulars.”
Alfre wrote again three days later with further details: “I wrote you the other day to say that I had got out of the fight the other day. I have not as yet heard anything about George. If I had known what sort of a man Durnford was (when he got into action) I don’t think I would have gone with him. He was close to me during most of the fight and he lost his head altogether in fact he did not know what to do. The General was (I think) a good deal to blame as he left the camp in such a bad place to defend. As far as I can make out there are about 700 killed white and black. They say there were about 20,000 Zulus and I think there must have been quite that number. We shot hundreds of them but it seemed to make no impression they still came on. Here we are now with nothing, all I saved was my mackintosh which was on the saddle. I have got one shilling left today. We have got to patrol the country with my troop and the Edendale troop, the only ones left...”
It is curious that Henderson makes no reference in his letters to the remarkable defence of Rorke’s Drift, for, at about 3.30 p.m. he arrived there from Isandhlwana with some one hundred men of the Hlubi and Edendale troops, Natal Native Horse. Lieutenant Chard, no doubt grateful for some reinforcements in light of the disturbing news that Henderson carried with him, put them out as a mounted screen to observe the Drift and the reverse slope of the Oskarberg. Several more survivors from Isandhlwana arrived and attempted to impress upon the garrison the futility of a defence, but Chard’s resolve could not be altered. These survivor’s, however, having seen the horror of Isandhlwana, and believing the same fate would surely befall Rorke’s Drift, continued their flight. At about 4.20 p.m. sporadic gunfire was heard behind the Oskarberg, and the Natal Light Horse galloped past the mission station in the direction of Helpmekaar. Lieutenant Henderson, pausing only to report that his troops refused to obey orders, took off in pursuit of them.
Henderson shortly afterwards contracted typhoid fever and returned to his home where he was nursed back to health in time to be in at the kill when the Zulu power was crushed at the battle of Ulundi. For the next twenty years Alfred was engaged in business with interests in several mining concessions amongst other enterprises. In the Boer War Henderson again came to prominence and received high commendation from the Director of Military Intelligence: “Mr. Alfred Fairlie Henderson, Field Intelligence Department, took part in the Defence of Ladysmith and was present at the operations near Helpmekaar and the actions at Alleman’s Nek and Bergendal and the advance on Lydenburg. Mr. Henderson’s services were invaluable. Mentioned in despatches, London Gazette 8th February, 1901.” For his scouting services throughout the defence of Ladysmith, Henderson was created a C.M.G.
Alfred subsequently served through the Zulu Rebellion of 1906 in the Helpmekaar Field Force under Colonel Mackay of Estcourt and was Chief Leader of the 1st Estcourt Militia Reserves. In a newspaper report of the 1st June, 1906, a correspondent with this force wrote that it seems a strange coincidence so many years after Isandhlwana that the Carbineers should camp on the scene of the calamity which had taken place twenty-seven years earlier. He added that it seemed even stranger since, with the Carbineers in the person of Mr. Henderson, chief leader of the Estcourt, Mooi River and other reservists, there should be one of the survivors of the fight. “A hale hearty old Gentleman, Mr. Henderson despite his years is as eager now as he was in the full vigour of his youth in pursuing the work he has taken up.”
Much of the information given above has been taken from the history of the Henderson Family by Peter Hathorn (privately published, Pietermaritzburg, 1973) which includes a full chapter on Alfred Henderson.
His grave is situated at St John’s Anglican Church Cemetery, Mooi River, Natal. He died in Melbrake Fell on 21st July 1927 aged 72 years.
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|Subject: Re: Lieutenant Alfred Fairlie Henderson, Natal Native Horse / Shepstone's Native Horse Sat May 12, 2018 10:09 pm|| |
This excellent book is still available now and then, but it
is pricey.. worth it for anyone wanting to know more about
the Colony of Natal.[You must be registered and logged in to see this image.]