South African Military History Society

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Welcoming a few visitors from UK and some regular MHS members who had been absent due to illness, the Chairman, Jan-Willem Hoorweg, opened the meeting.

Plans were outlined for a visit to the newly refurbished Imperial Light Horse HQ with a tour to be led by Lt-Col Janzen. Tour will commence at 11h00 and last 2 hours on Saturday 19 November. Forms will be available at the next meeting.

Terry Willson, our curtain-raiser speaker, has had a life-long interest in military history with an emphasis on British weapons and their development. He currently possesses a specialized collection of Commonwealth muskets, rifles and bayonets spanning the period 1810 to 1975. His other activities include the restoration of antique firearms and target shooting where he holds the position of shooting instructor to the Swiss Rifle Club of Johannesburg.

Terry's well illustrated talk covered a controversial topic of which the finer details and implications were relatively unknown: the British military use of the so-called "dum dum", or more correctly termed, expanding bullet of high wounding effect.

Terry opened with a brief account covering the relevant ballistics in which he mentioned the interacting factors of velocity, muzzle energy and bullet construction. He then took us back to the early 1860s where to maintain its position in the European arms race the British had introduced a new series of breech-loading rifles. These used lead bullets of a construction which although conforming to the specifications the then-current St Petersburg Declaration, produced more deadly wounds than the previous pattern. These proved most effective when used against the brave warriors frequently encountered in the contemporary colonial wars.

However, in the late 1880s European technology necessitated the adoption of a new magazine rifle, the Lee Metford, firing a metal-jacketed bullet. The limited wounding power of this bullet placed the British Indian Army at a perceived disadvantage during close range encounters with its colonial foes. This lead to the development and manufacture of an expanding bullet with a slit jacket at the Indian Dum Dum Factory. Hence what has now become a generic term, dum dum. These and similar bullets were used effectively in India and also in the early days of the Sudan campaign, with a later Woolwich- designed pattern featuring at Omdurman.

Although technical problems were easily resolved, the British use of expanding bullets attracted international disapproval which finally climaxed at the Hague Convention of 1899. The nations present, with exception of Britain (which pleaded necessity in "savage warfare") and the United States, renounced the use in all wars of bullets having modified metallic jackets which expanded in flesh.

In passing, Terry next covered the limited use of the expanding bullet by both sides during the Boer War and later its role in the Bambata Rebellion.

He then concentrated on the years immediately preceding the First World War when British bullet development resulted in two patterns intended to meet Hague specifications but still inflict wounds equal to those of the earlier expanding types. The first of these was not particularly successful, but a later pattern, initially inspired by a German development, resulted in the well-known Mk.VII, the so-called "latent dum dum". This bullet was to remain in British service for more than 50 years, through both World Wars and Korea.

Terry concluded by briefly touching on modern developments in the field of small arms ballistics with an emphasis on American practices. These, in his opinion, largely render the Hague requirements irrelevant since high velocity has now largely replaced bullet construction in wounding capacity. In effect we are back where the British started 120 years ago. The reasons for use and results are similar; it is merely the technology which has changed.

The main lecture: British Imperialism in South Africa: The Neglected Voice of Frances Ellen Colenso was delivered by Elizabeth Leaver who is a Head of Department at King David School Victory Park. She discussed the nineteenth-century South African writer and political activist, Frances Ellen (‘Fanny') Colenso, 1849-1887.

The second child of the controversial first Bishop of Natal, John William Colenso, who had arrived in Pietermaritzburg in 1853, Frances spent her life supporting her father in his tireless campaign against what the Colenso family perceived as the brutal and violent treatment of the Zulu people by the forces of British imperialism and colonialism. Bishop Colenso was essentially a missionary bishop who possessed an innate love, and respect for, the Zulu, an attitude that was shared by Frances. The lecture explored three specific ways in which Frances fought for truth and justice throughout her life.

She rejected the claims of Lord Chelmsford, Commanding Officer of British forces in Natal, that it was Col. Anthony Durnford who was responsible for the British disaster at the hands of the Zulu at the battle of Isandlwana, 22 Jan 1879. Durnford was Fanny's secret lover and she dedicated all her energy and devotion to her struggle to prove his innocence.

Frances Colenso was also bitterly opposed to the way in which British imperialism oppressed the Zulu people. She was not against the ideology of imperialism per se, but rather it was the manner in which this was conducted that disgusted her so much.

Her father, Bishop Colenso, wrote a controversial series of theological texts, The Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua Critically Examined, in which he argued that the Bible was not the word of God. For this alleged heresy, he was excommunicated but won a reprieve by appealing to the Privy Council in London. Fanny always supported her father in private, although she never spoke openly about his religious views.

Fanny published three important historical works: My Chief and I: or, Six months in Natal after the Langalibalele Outbreak (1880); History of the Zulu War and its Origin (1881); The Ruin of Zululand (1885) in which she documented her support for the Zulu people and her loyalty to Durnford.

Fanny died of consumption on the Isle of Wight at the age of 38 and is buried there in the Ventnor Cemetery.

Pat Henning,

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Society's 50th Anniversary Lunch

Just a reminder to those members who signed up for the lunch at the Marrieres Wood Room at the Museum on Sunday 16 October at 12-30 for 13-00: you can pay Joan in cash at the next lecture meeting (Thursday 13th) or
(preferably) by eft deposit into the account at FNB Eastgate Branch
code 257705 ; a/c is in name SA Military History Society; number 50391928346

If you pay the bank by cheque or deposit cash, please add R40 because that is what the bank charges to process these deposits...

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KZN in Durban:

Cape Town:

Monday 10th October . SAMHSEC:

CR= curtain raiser; ML= main lecture; DDH = Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture

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For Cape Town details contact Johan van den Berg 021-939-7923
For Eastern Cape details contact Malcolm Kinghorn 041-373-4469
For Gauteng details contact Joan Marsh 010-237-0676
For KwaZulu-Natal details contact Ken Gillings 031-702-4828

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