Unusual Zulu Status Staff/Club - Collected by Lt. John Gawne during Anglo-Zulu War
Item Description: An unusual wooden Zulu staff or club, probably a status piece, with a large partly-flattened disc instead of the usual ball-end. Overall length 27 ins, diameter of head 5 ins. From the collection amassed by John Moore Gawne, 4th King’s Own (Royal Lancaster) Regiment during the Anglo-Zulu War.
John Moore Gawne was the fifth son of Edward Moore Gawne of Kentrauch, Isle of Man. He was born in July 1854 and educated at Cheltenham College. He entered the 2nd Batt. 4th Regiment in 1874 and was promoted Lieutenant in June 1875.
The 2/4th were stationed at Aldershot when they received orders to proceed to Natal on active service in December 1878 (one of only two battalions sent to southern Africa by the Home Government in response to Lord Chelmsford’s request for reinforcements for the imminent invasion of Zululand). It embarked on three transports and arrived in Durban in January 1879 and marched to Pietermaritzburg and then piecemeal to the front. On 22nd January a small detachment of the 2/4th under the command of Lt. Col. Bray was on the road through Msinga, close to the central border, when it met survivors from iSandlwana hurrying in the other direction – Bray immediately occupied the nearby deserted Msinga magistracy and put it in readiness for attack, although the attack never in fact came. After iSandlwana the 4th were distributed in garrisons from Greytown to Luneburg. The Luneburg garrison was involved in a number of skirmishes as that sector was subject to a number of guerrilla raids orchestrated by the Swazi Prince Mbilini waMswati, who had allied himself to the Zulu cause.
According to Mackinnon and Shadbolt’s ‘The South Africa Campaign 1879’ Lt. Gawne was stationed at both Greytown and later Luneburg. On 18 May 1879 the commander in the Luneburg district, Commandant Friederich Schermbrucker, was ambushed whilst on patrol in the Ntombe valley with Captain Henry Moore of the 4th – Schermbrucker and Moore escaped but Schermbrucker’s orderly was killed. Partly in retaliation for this incident Schermbrucker led an attack on Zulu homesteads along the base of Mbongweni Mountain (‘Mbilini’s stronghold’) on 20 May. His force consisted of 20 Mounted Infantry of the 4th from the garrison at Luneburg led by Lieutenant Gawne, a further 25 of the 4th on foot, 70 African auxiliaries and twenty men of Schembrucker’s own Irregular unit, the Kaffrarian Rifles. The attack stalled in marshy ground, however, and the Zulus made a counter-attack. Schermbrucker’s men were able to extricate themselves largely thanks to a smart rearguard action executed by Lieutenant Gawne and his mounted detachment.
It is not clear when Gawne collected his Zulu souvenirs, although the 4th continued to be involved in pacifying the Ntombe valley, and destroying Zulu homesteads there, after the main Zulu army had been defeated at the battle of Ulundi on 4 July 1879. Indeed, detachments of the 4th took part in the last skirmishes on the war, and two men from the regiment were killed in a further attack on the Mbongweni Mountain caves on 8 September 1879. It is likely that Gawne acquired these items either during the subsequent Zulu surrenders or during the last punitive burning of Zulu homesteads in the region.
After the Anglo-Zulu War Gawne continued to enjoy a successful career. He was promoted Captain in May 1884, Major in June 1893, and Lieutenant-Colonel in February 1900. In 1884-85 he was back in southern Africa where he took part in Sir Charles Warren’s expedition to occupy ‘Bechuanaland’. The Royal Lancasters were also posted to the Cape to take part in the Anglo-Boer War, and in 1900 were deployed to guard the town of Vryheid, on what was then the Natal/Transvaal border (ironically Vryheid is within sight of the Hlobane Mountain, site of the Anglo-Zulu War battle and another refuge at the time of Prince Mbilini). Gawne was place in command of troops in the Vryheid district. At 1 AM on the morning of 11 December 1900 a Boer force made a sudden surprise attack on British positions on Lancaster Hill, above the town. Several British picquets were over-run but the defenders rallied behind a series of stone sangars and reinforcements from the town, led by Lt. Col. Gawne himself, sallied out to relieve them. Coming under fire as they reached the summit of the hill Gawne became impatient and led the men forward himself – he was shot twice and died shortly afterwards.
A photograph of Col. Gawne in the King’s Own Museum can be found here;
The Museum also holds a number of photographs relevant to his Anglo-Boer War experience, including his death at Lancaster Hill, and these can be seen on-line at http://www.kingsownmuseum.com/ko2730.htm
There is a memorial to John Moore Gawne in the Regimental Chapel in Lancaster Priory, Lancashire, and another in the family church near Port Erin on the Isle of Man. His grave is also marked.
Provenance: From the family by way of Anthony Cribb sale, June 2017.