The Fire of Venture was in his Veins

Major Allan Wilson and the Shangani Patrol 1893

David Snape

An examination of the Ndebele War of 1893-94 and circumstances leading to the massacre of Major Allan Wilson's Patrol which perished whilst in pursuit of Lobengula, king of the Ndebele.
Date Published :
March 2022
Publisher :
Helion and Company
Series :
From Musket to Maxim 1815-1914
Illustration :
20 b/w ills, 22 b/w photos, 2 color ills, 3 maps
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Paperback
ISBN : 9781914059902
Pages : 178
Dimensions : 9.75 X 7 inches
Stock Status : Available


The Shangani or Allan Wilson’s Patrol was a minor incident in the British expansion in Africa. Much smaller in scale than the massacre of Isandlwana, the fate of the Patrol was a black mark on the British South Africa Company’s conquest of Matabeleland. The Patrol was part of the Ndebele War of 1893-94 which ended in the overthrow of the kingdom of Lobengula, King of the Ndebele.

The war was a joint enterprise of Cecil Rhodes’ British South Africa Company (BSAC) and the British Government, but the Company ensured it was the senior partner. Leander Starr Jameson, with his military adviser John Willoughby, both of whom were to be protagonists in the notorious Jameson Raid, were heavily involved in the overthrow of Lobengula. Jameson’s instructions to the leader of the Patrol, Major Patrick Forbes, placed him in an invidious position and virtually split his command. Allan Wilson and his men were sent to his death by Forbes but Wilson’s overconfidence in his ability to fight the Ndebele also played a major part in the massacre of his men.

The relationships between the three commanders of the Patrol, Forbes, Wilson, and Commandant Pieter Raff, were fraught, and Forbes’ struggle to maintain control was gradually eroded by Raaff, who was an Afrikaner with extensive experience in fighting the Zulus, and whose caution might have been caused by his fatal illness.

Accounts from Ndebele survivors of the battle paint a typical Victorian picture of brave men dying for Queen and country, but did they actually die for Queen and Company? Did Forbes leave them to their fate? Whatever the cause, Wilson’s men’s bravery was unquestioned.

The book provides an account of the causes of Ndebele War, and the relationship between the BSAC and Lobengula. The Patrol is examined in detail as are the battles of Shangani and Bembesi which preceded it. The theft of Lobengula’s gold by two members of the Bechuanaland Border Police became a cause célèbre and may have contributed to Jameson’s decision to send the Patrol in pursuit of the King.

The Company’s victory contributed to the creation of Rhodesia and Shangani Day soon became a national holiday in the country. Jameson was seen as a hero and decorated by Queen Victoria for his part in the war.

In compiling the story of the Patrol, David Snape has used both contemporary accounts, Parliamentary Papers, and the work of other historians to analyze the complexity of the circumstances which led to Wilson’s death and the relationships between the senior commanders. The book also attempts to explore the less savory aspects of this episode in the expansion of the British Empire, while acknowledging the bravery of those involved.

About The Author

David Snape spent almost 40 years in Education during which he occupied a number of senior posts. He was a Head Teacher of two secondary schools, a Chief Examiner, a School Adviser and worked for a Local Education Authority. On his retirement he pursued his lifelong interest in Military History at a more formal level by taking two M.A. degrees at the University of Wolverhampton. In 2017, he was awarded the prize for best performing postgraduate student in History, Politics and War Studies for his work on the Indian Army in the First World War. A regular contributor to the Victorian Military History Society’s magazine, Soldiers of the Queen he was awarded the Society’s Howard Browne Medal in 2019 for an assessment of Kitchener’s Indian Army reforms. David is a keen Freemason and currently Chair of Governors of a local primary school. He belongs to a small group of Helion’s writers with a shared interests in the Indian Army which is known as the ‘Curry Club’. He and his wife live in Northamptonshire and he has a daughter and granddaughter; all of whom have supported his interest in research.

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