Trooper, Bechuanaland Border Police – Matabele Rebellion of 1893
- British South Africa Company Medal with Matabeleland 1893 reverse to 1936 Troopr. J.H. Bradbury, B.B.P.
John Bradbury was born in the Cape Colony in about 1865. At some stage in his life he enlisted with the Bechuanaland Border Police.
The B.B.P. was brought into being as a result of the territory adjoining the Transvaal Republic being proclaimed a Crown Colony in 1885. It was decided to raise a regiment of mounted riflemen to garrison the territory, named British Bechuanaland, to be known as the Bechuanaland Border Police with recruiting starting on 7 September 1885.
Headquarters were at first in Mafeking close to the Transvaal border and the strength of the regiment was capped at 500 members, including an artillery troop. Lt. Colonel Frederick Carrington was selected to command this force and the majority of officers were seconded from the regular army or the militia. The existing local police were absorbed into the corps and the remainder of the men were obtained partly from the men of Sir Charles Warren’s abandoned force and partly from time-expired men of the Cape Mounted Riflemen. In addition a number of men came out from England in the hope of securing a commission.
Men signed on for an average of two years to join this Mounted Infantry regiment wearing puttees, a first for any corps at the time. Their nickname was the “Blue Blooded Police” or the “Top Hat Brigade”. Armed with the Martini Henry rifle they were a formidable sight mounted on their chargers.
In 1890 Carrington and the staff of the regiment raised the first units of the British South Africa Police at Mafeking, some of the B.B.P. personnel transferring to this new corps. In October of that year detachments of the Hussars and the B.B.P. escorted the Governor, Sir Henry Loch, to the Matabele frontier and in June of the following year Carrington, with some of the regiment, moved up to the Limpopo River to stop the Transvaal Boers trekking into what became known as Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
In 1893 Carrington was succeeded by Lt. Colonel Goold-Adams and the headquarters were moved to Macloutsie on the Matabele border. On the 5th October a patrol of the regiment was fired on by some of Chief Lobengula’s men leading to the outbreak of the first Matabele war. Goold-Adams was given command of the Southern invading column which consisted of 225 B.B.P. men with two 7 pounders and four Maxims along with 220 mounted European volunteers.
On the 2nd November this column was attacked at Impandine which was only beaten off by machine gun fire. The force then joined the Chartered Company’s troops under Dr Leander Starr Jameson, near Bulawayo. The main Matabele army had been heavily defeated by Jameson and was retreating under the command of the King. In an effort to bring an end to the hostilities it was decided to capture the King and on 14 November a strong force was despatched for this purpose under the command of Major Forbes.
This patrol consisted of 90 B.B.P. men and 210 Chartered Company volunteers. From the very outset things went very wrong – the weather was wet, supplies were scarce and some of the volunteers refused to advance. On the 28th November Forbes tried again - having sent back most of the malcontents, the sick and the badly mounted, he was left with 78 B.B.P. men and 98 volunteers under the now famous Major Allan Wilson. This led to the legendary Shangani Patrol – regarded in some quarters as the colonial version of Custer’s last stand – wherein Wilson and 31 others under his command were led into an ambush with no survivors.
Whether or not Bradbury was one of the 78 B.B.P. men is open to conjecture – there is no reason to suppose that he was not in which case he would have been heavily engaged as part of Forbes force against the Matabele – an engagement which, it is said, cost the Shangani Patrol their lives because Forbes, having already dithered with sending relief to Wilson, was then set upon by a large party of Matabeles.
In January 1894 Goold-Adams tried to push up the Shangani with 180 B.B.P. men to the scene of Wilson’s disaster but was stopped by inclement weather. The war ended in February 1894 and the B.B.P. returned to Bechuanaland. In August 1885 Bechuanaland became part of the Cape Colony and it was decided to disband the regiment at the end of the year with the British South Africa Police taking over the responsibilities. A number of B.B.P. personnel transferred to the B.S.A.P.
A number of these men joined the ill-fated Jameson Raid a year later but Bradbury’s name does not appear among them. Indeed it is suspected that he had already taken his discharge from the force to return to Cape Town where he gained employment as a Storeman. At some point he had married a lady called Anna, possibly of Dutch descent, who was to bare him a number of children.
The baptismal records of St. Paul’s in Cape Town record that, on 6 August 1897 a child, John Henry, was born to the couple who lived at 6 Nelson Street, Cape Town. On 20 January 1899 another son George Augustus, was born but, sadly, Bradbury didn’t live to see the birth of his child. What had occasioned his demise? According to his death notice he had passed away at the age of 33 on 25 June 1898 “from injuries sustained by being accidentally run over by a railway engine.”
For his efforts in the Matabele War he was awarded the British South Africa Company Medal with Matabeleland 1893 reverse.