Seaman and Chief Steward, Natal Naval Corps – Bambatha Rebellion
Corporal, South African Engineers Corps (S.A.E.C.) - WWI
- Natal Rebellion Medal with 1906 clasp to Seaman T. Murchie, Natal Naval Corps.
- 1914/15 Star Cpl. T. Murchie Cpl. T. Murchie, S.A.E.C
- British War Medal to Cpl. T. Murchie Cpl. T. Murchie, S.A.E.C
- Allied Victory Medal (bilingual issue) to Cpl. T. Murchie Cpl. T. Murchie, S.A.E.C
- Colonial Auxiliary Long Service and Good Conduct Medal to No. 31 Chief Steward, Natal Naval Corps
Thomas Murchie was born in Shettleston, in the County of Lanarkshire, Scotland on 3 July 1874, the son of David Murchie, an Iron Plater by trade, and Mary McColl Murchie (born McColl) on 3 July 1874
At the time of the 1881 Census, the Murchie family lived at 8 Wellfield Place, Petershill Road in the district of Dennistoun, Glasgow. Thomas (6) had an older sister, Jane, aged 8; as well brothers Hugh McColl, aged 3, and David aged 1. His parents were both 29 years of age.
The latter part of the 19th Century was the age of the volunteer with many young able-bodied man joining the ranks of the local militia. Murchie was no exception, on 4 March 1890 at the age of 15 he joined the ranks of the 2nd Battalion, Highland Light Infantry as a Private with no. 6784. He was to spend 1 year and 11 months with them – until 17 February 1892.
During this time the 1891 Census rolled round – this revealed that the family had moved one house down to 6 Wellfield Place. Thomas, now 16, was employed as an Iron Plater, following in the footsteps of his father. The family had grown with the addition of Christina; aged 9, Mary, 7, William, 4 and Isabella aged 2.
On 15 March 1892 Murchie joined the 4th Scottish Rifles as a Private with no. 5069. With this outfit he spent considerably more time – 4 years and 19 days – until 2 April 1896 and, not yet tired of volunteer life he next enlisted with the 1st Lanarkshire Royal Engineers with no. 4810 and the rank of Sapper on 29 March 1897. This was the same outfit his brother, Hugh McColl Murchie, joined and saw service with in the Boer War. Thomas Murchie, on the other hand, spent 5 years and 1 month with them, all home-based service in Scotland, until taking his discharge on 2 May 1902.
It was during this last flirtation with a uniform that he met and married Margaret Hedderwick Smith in Glasgow. Not long after a daughter, Margaret Schiach Murchie, was born to them on 7 May 1897. Murchie is described on the birth certificate as an Engineer of Hillary, Durban, suggesting that he and his wife had travelled to Natal at some point.
The Scotland census of 1901 revealed that Murchie was back in Glasgow and living at 10 John Carrick Road along with his wife and now two children – 3 year old Margaret and new addition Mary (1). That the family remained there for the next three years was confirmed by the Glasgow Street Directory for the years 1901, 1902 and 1903. He was listed as an Iron Turner by trade.
In September 1903 he took passage for Durban where, on arrival, he wasted no time in enlisting with the Durban Light Infantry for service with no. 1476 and the rank of Private. Natal was still recovering from the aftermath of the Anglo Boer War and volunteer numbers were down which would have made Murchie’s enlistment a welcome one.
Perhaps a yearning for the sea influenced his next decision which was, on 25 May 1904, to join the Natal Naval Corps as a Seaman. The N.N.C. had begun life in 1885 under the guise of the Natal Naval Volunteers of whom many members did sterling work in the Anglo Boer War. In about 1905 the name was changed to the Natal Naval Corps.
Largely unsuspected by the man in the street Natal, a mere four years after the cessation of hostilities in the Boer War, was about to become embroiled in yet another armed dispute. The colonial fiscus, largely empty thanks to the costs of waging the previous war, was in desperate need of additional money and hit upon an ingenious money-making scheme – a poll tax of £1 per head for every black male of 18 years of age and older. Some of the Chiefs, when this was communicated to them, were compliant but resentful. Others were not quite so accommodating and one in particular, a minor Chief named Bambatha of the Zondi clan near Greytown, went about inciting opposition and defiance to the collection of the tax.
In early February a Magistrate and his Natal Police escort were assaulted when they went to collect the tax – two of the N.P. were shot and killed. This led to the mobilisation of the militia which was to include 100 men of the Natal Naval Corps. This first uprising proved to be a damp squib and the men were stood to return home.
But a more serious rebellion was soon to follow – one in which Bambatha was to play a central part. On 9 March a party was sent to arrest him for failing to report with his men to pay their tax. He eluded his captors and visited the Royal Kraal of Dinizulu at Nongoma returning home on 2 April with a pledge of support.
On 5 April he and his impi ambushed a well-armed column of the Natal Police in dense bush in the Mpanza Valley, killing four men. This led to the second mobilisation of the militia forces. The Zululand Field Force under the command of Colonel McKenzie was called together for the suppression of the rebellion – 106 men of the N.N.C. were in the field.
On 5 May 1906 the N.N.C. as part of the force under Colonel Mansell, made a reconnaissance in force towards Cetewayo’s grave in the Nkandla Forest. On entering the forest the troops were fired upon and when descending Nkomo Hill by a precipitous route, the advance guard was attacked by a large number of Zulus. The main attack commenced at about 14h00 when the advance guard suddenly came upon 300 of Bambatha’s impi. Being heavily outnumbered they fired several volleys and retired on their supports.
The whole column then advanced about a mile, the Zulus simultaneously moving to within a few yards of the column and attacking. They were unable to withstand the fire levelled against them and fled, leaving some 55 dead on the field. The rearguard, of which the N.N.C. was part, also came under attack but the Zulus were steadily repulsed by the Durban Light Infantry and the Natal Naval Corps firing volleys and using Maxims.
Eventually the troops marched under sporadic fire for Fort Yolland which they reached at 23h30, having ben on their feet for eighteen hours. Subsequently the force encountered an enemy camp near the end of the Intati Valley, the whole force advancing to dislodge the rebels from their stronghold. The rebels were hiding in caves and among rocks making it difficult to reach them. The Natal Naval Corps had other things to keep them busy in addition to their fighting duties. It is noted that “the Gingindhlovu Convoy” consisted of 22 wagons and has only as escort two guns, 100 Navals and 30 Police. They were also used as a reserve party at Greytown.
Bambatha was killed on 10 June 1906 although the rebellion dragged on for several more months. The Natal Naval Corps suffered only one casualty – Hugh McColl Murchie – Thomas Murchie’s brother.
Seaman Thomas Murchie was awarded the Natal 1906 Medal (with clasp) for his role in the rebellion. The N.N.C. received a total of 203 medals of which 136 were with the 1906 clasp.
A montage of N.N.C. life at their base on Durban's Bluff circa 1910
The troubles over Murchie returned to civilian life but remained a member of the N.N.C. deciding to finally take leave of them, after 8 years and 2 months service, on 10 August 1912. On the same day he applied for the Colonial Auxiliary Forces Long Service Medal. The service requirement being met by combining the service he had with all the aforementioned outfits just amounting to the 20 years required. By the time of his resignation he was a Chief Steward with no. 31. The medal was awarded to him on 12 April 1913.
The world at large was unaware of what lay ahead – on 4 August 1914 Germany and her Allies declared war on the might of the British Empire –the world was at war.
Murchie, now 39 years of age, enlisted for service on 3 October 1914 with “C” Company of the S.A.E.C. (South African Engineer Corps), with the rank of Corporal and number 915. He was mustered as an Electrician and provided his next of kin as his wife, Mrs. Murchie of Hillary, Natal.
On 19 October 1914 he embarked aboard the “City of Athens” for Luderitzbucht and commenced operations against the Germans there. This theatre of war was unlike any other – the men had to contend with desert-like conditions of intense heat during the day combined with freezing cold temperatures at night. Coupled with this were the dreaded sand storms and the complete lack of water and provisions, with the retreating Germans poisoning the water wells as they went.
An officer in the South African Engineer’s Corps (Murchie’s Corps) told about his unit being stuck in a village for a fortnight, ‘very nearly starving and fondly and vainly waiting for supplies to come up… We trekked through some eighty miles of pure desert without one single blade of grass, then another eighty miles of stunted bushes and rocks. For the first part of the march, where water was scarcest, whenever we did come to a watering place we found the water poisoned.’
Murchie was to endure until 16 May 1915 when he succumbed to a bout of Diarrhoea which necessitated his hospitalisation at Keetmanshoop. Having recovered he served on until taking his discharge on 15 August 1915.
For his services rendered in the service of the Empire, Murchie received the 1914/15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal all impressed to the S.A.E.C. These were despatched to him on 20 September 1922.
At some point he and his family moved to the Transvaal where he commenced work on the Gold Mines near Benoni, following his trade as an Iron Turner. He passed away, aged 62 years at 69 Manning Road, Durban although his residential address was the Masonic Hotel in Brakpan, Transvaal. He was survived by his wife and three children – Margaret (now married to Edward Herbert Tyass), Mary Scott McColl (married to a Jessiman) and Jean Logan (married to a Walker). A son, David, had predeceased him on 23 March 1935.
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