- Queens South Africa Medal with clasps Relief of Ladysmith and South Africa 1901 to 1226 Tpr. H. Knott, Natal Police
Harry Knott was born on 11 January 1862. His parents Richard Gray Knott, a Baker by trade and Ann Allerston had married in Bridlington, East Yorkshire in 1859 a few months before Henry’s oldest brother William, was born. Coming out to South Africa in 1861 the family settled in Pietermaritzburg in the Colony of Natal where Henry was born.
Mr Knott passed away at the early age of 32 in 1871 leaving his young widow to fend for herself in what was still a strange environment. This wasn’t about to stop her however and, being something of a merry widow, she became entangled with a Frank Burchell with whom she had a daughter before tying the knot (pardon the pun) with him. Thereafter she had a succession of children before succumbing herself on 18 November 1897 at the age of 56.
Harry was forever to play second fiddle to his illustrious brother William who became a prominent Civil Servant in Natal over the years. Harry never quite matched up to his brother’s potential although he probably tried quite hard. Having finished his rudimentary schooling a 19 year old Harry scouted around for something to do. He hit upon the Natal Mounted Police, a body to whom William already belonged, enlisting with them on 16 May 1881 at Pietermaritzburg and being assigned no. 431. A Compositor by trade it was noted on his attestation that he could speak “Kaffir”, had no religion, was born in Natal (an advantage)and was physically 5'4" in height with a sallow complexion, dark hair, grey eyes and a scar on the back of his left wrist. His next of kin he provided as his mother (by now Mrs Burchell) of Church Street.
Life in the NMP was no picnic, Holt in his book on them wrote,
“" The men who are at present serving in the force," writes Col. W. J. Clarke, who joined in 1878, and was in close association with many of the pioneers for years, " will scarcely realize the discomfort of veldt life which was experienced in the early days. Even when I joined, such luxuries as waterproof sheets, waterproof coats, pack-horses, etc., were unknown. We received no travelling allowances, had no kit-bags or kit-boxes, and everything we possessed in the way of kit had to be carried in saddle-bags on our horses. Mufti was almost unknown, and I believe that in a detachment of seventy-one men, with which I served at Estcourt, we had not one suit of plain clothes among us. Our boxes were left in Pietermaritzburg at our own risk, and most of these were stored at a confectioner's shop in Church Street. So opposed to the wearing of mufti was the sergeant major that we made all haste to dispose of such articles of attire as we possessed. For six and a half years I never wore any dress but uniform.”
Knott joined the Police at a time when the Colony was still recovering from the trauma and angst occasioned by the horrors and excesses of the Zulu War. Epic battles like Isandhlwana and the heroic defence of Rorke’s Drift were still very fresh in the minds of the people and patrolling the frontier alone (on many occasions) on horseback must have been a daunting task and not one for the faint-hearted. As if that hadn’t been enough a mere two months before he joined had seen the first Anglo Boer War where the British lost General Colley at Majuba and where the Natal Mounted Police had played a minor but important role.
At some point Knott took his leave of the NMP to pursue other avenues but on 12 March 1891 he was back. Although not unheard of re-enlistments into the Natal Police were unusual – with the illustrious William Knott as his referee (and brother) his request for reappointment was guaranteed. Assigned no. 1226 and the rank of Trooper he was about to start out on another chapter of his life adventure.
Eight years later, in October 1899 the Anglo Boer war broke out between Great Britain and the two Boer Republics of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. The Natal Police took a very active part in the War but won little distinction as a body, for, from the very beginning, they were split up into small detachments, although it was hoped when hostilities began that they would be formed into a field force about 400 strong.
With the outbreak of war the Natal Police were divided into two components – those who remained in their policing capacity and were to be found manning the various stations around the Colony both urban and rural, and those who were deployed in a more operational role as part of the Natal Field Force. It was the latter category which was to engage the Boers along with their regular army and colonial regiment comrades and it was to their ranks that Knott belonged.
When the siege of Ladysmith in early November 1899 began there were 60 members of the Natal Police at Nongoma, 10 at Nqutu, 84 at Ladysmith, 40 at Tugela Ferry, 40 at Estcourt, and 120 at Pietermaritzburg.
General Buller announced his intention of supervising in person the advance of the troops to relieve the besieged garrison of Ladysmith. He arrived in Natal on the 25th November, and joined a strong force of British troops at Frere, his bodyguard consisting of 40 men of the Natal Police, under Inspector Fairlie. The remainder of the police there were attached to a composite regiment under Major Gough, of the 16th Lancers.
This formed a portion of the mounted brigade under the command of Colonel the Earl of Dundonald. The troops moved forward to Chieveley on the 12th December, the mounted men being sent scouting in front.
Two days later the plan was announced for the attack on Hlangwane Hill, and while it was still dark on the following morning the police moved out as part of the advance-guard. The mountain was occupied by the enemy, who were shelled by the 7th Battery Field Artillery, the composite regiment accompanying them. The Irish Brigade and Colonel Long's guns met with disaster, and the mounted men, who were under a very heavy fire, were ordered to stand fast. It was an hour after the troops were ordered to retire that the mounted men received similar instructions, and though they were being heavily attacked the movement was well executed. The police had considerable difficulty in bringing away the Maxim gun, which had been hotly engaged.
Several of the police had narrow escapes during the day. A shell went between the legs of one of General Buller's escort while he was resting on an ant-hill.
A section of General Buller's force was withdrawn to Frere, owing to scarcity of water, but the composite regiment stayed at Chieveley, and reconnoitred in the direction of the Tugela.
General Buller started in a westerly direction on the 10th January, and as it had been raining heavily for three days, this was a very arduous undertaking. The infantry, following the transport, had to flounder through a sea of mud, but the mounted men, being in the advance-guard, were better off. The composite regiment had left to hold Springfield, and next day moved on to Potgieter's Drift, where a punt was seized and brought to the south side of the river, under a heavy fire from the Boers.
When darkness had fallen on the 16th January, General Warren's column, to which was attached the composite regiment, marched to Trichard's Drift, where the Royal Engineers made a pontoon bridge. While this operation was being carried on, patrols of the police were sent out, and in the afternoon a party of about three hundred Boers were seen riding down from Tabanyama towards the store at Venter's Drift. An attempt was made to ambuscade them, and the mounted men, by galloping at full speed, seized two kopjes to the west of the store. The Boers had no suspicion of the presence of the enemy, until someone carelessly fired a rifle, and then there was a general fusillade. The majority of the Boers turned and escaped, but some of them sheltered behind neighbouring boulders, and spiritedly replied to the fire. Supports were brought up, and the Boers surrendered, their total of killed, wounded, and captured being about fifty.
The police continued to guard the left flank of the troops until the 20th January, when the force was split up.
There was joy in Ladysmith on the last day of February, when Boers could be seen trekking to the north in small bodies, and in the evening cheering in the region of Caesar's Camp announced the arrival of the relief column's advance party, which included Sub-Inspector Abrahams and 15 of the Natal Police. There was great disappointment when it was found that they had not brought any food with them.
For Knott the war was over. He received the Queens medal with clasps Defence of Ladysmith and South Africa for his efforts. After 13 years and 17 days service he took his discharge from the Police on 18 May 1904 with a Character rating of Fair.
He went on to serve for a short period in the Bambatha Rebellion in 1906 with Royston’s Horse and was issued with the Natal Medal without clasp.
On 24 August 1914 Knott breathed his last at Grey's Hospital in Pietermaritzburg. 53 years and 8 months old Carcinoma of the Bowel had got the better of him. He had never married and had no immediate family to remember him.
One of my long term 'wants' is a Defence of Ladysmith to the Natal Police. The problem is that there were (according to my reference) only 73 issued. I assume you have at least one in your collection Rory. Do they crop up now and again in SA? I don't recall ever seeing one on the market in the UK.
This is about the only QSA to Natal Police I have ever been able to secure:
"2185 Tpr:F.S.Edwards, Natal Police".
Tpr Edwards formed part of Gen. Buller's escort at Belfast.
I suppose there would be a lot of interest in them from KwaZuluNatal collectors.