The Horrors of Majuba

’Twas after the great Majuba fight:
And the next morning, at daylight,
Captain Macbean’s men were ordered to headquarters camp,
So immediately Captain Macbean and his men set out on tramp.

And there they were joined by the Blue Jackets and 58th men,
Who, for unflinching courage, no man can them condemn;
And that brave little band was commissioned to bury their dead,
And the little band numbered in all about one hundred.

And they were supplied with a white flag, fit emblem of death,
Then they started off to O’Neill’s farm, with bated breath,
Where their comrades had been left the previous night,
And were lying weltering in their gore, oh! what a horrible sight.

And when they arrived at the foot of Majuba Hill,
They were stopped by a Boer party, but they meant no ill,
Who asked them what they wanted without dismay,
And when they said, their dead, there was no further delay.

Then the brave heroes marched on, without any dread,
To the Hill of Majuba to collect and bury their dead;
And to see them climbing Majuba it was a fearful sight,
And much more so on a dark pitch night.

And on Majuba there was a row of dead men,
Numbering about forty or fifty of them;
There were also numbers of wounded men lying on the ground,
And when Captain Macbean’s party gazed on them their sorrow was profound.

Oh, heaven! what a sight of blood and brains!
While the grass was red all o’er with blood-stains;
Especially at the edge of the Hill, where the 92nd men were killed,
’Twas there that the eyes of Macbean’s party with tears filled,

When they saw their dead and dying comrades in arms,
Who were always foremost in the fight during war’s alarms;
But who were now lying dead on Majuba Hill,
And, alas! beyond the aid of all human skill.

They then went about two hundred yards down the Hill,
And collected fourteen more bodies, which made their blood run chill;
And, into one grave, seventy-five bodies they buried there,
All mostly 92nd men, who, I hope, are free from all care.

Oh! think of that gallant British band,
Who, at Majuba, made such a heroic stand,
And, take them altogether, they behaved like brave men,
But, alas! they were slaughtered like sheep in a pen.

Poor fellows! there were few of them left to retire,
Because undauntedly they faced that murderous fire,
That the mighty host poured in upon them, left and right,
From their numerous rifles, day and night.

The conduct of the 92nd was most brave throughout,
Which has always been the case, without any doubt;
At least, it has been the case in general with the Highland Brigade,
Because in the field they are the foremost, and seldom afraid.

And to do the British justice at Majuba they behaved right well,
But by overwhelming numbers the most of them fell,
Which I’m very sorry to relate,
That such a brave little band met with such a fate.

The commanders and officers deserve great praise,
Because they told their men to hold Majuba for three days;
And so they did, until the most of them fell,
Fighting nobly for their Queen and country they loved right well.

But who’s to blame for their fate I’m at a loss to know,
But I think ’twas by fighting too numerous a foe;
But there’s one thing I know, and, in conclusion, will say,
That their fame will be handed down to posterity for many a day!

The Fight on the Majuba Height

The London Gazette contains despatches relating to the fighttng on the Majuba height. Major Fraser, R.E., thus describes the engagement, illustrating the position by a sketch map:-

“The men, heavily weighted as they were, had made extraordinary efforts to reach the top, and were extremelv exhausted. On our return they were extended all round the brow showing on the sky line. The Boers were completely ignorant of our movements. General Colley forbade firing on some of them below us, but some shots were fired without orders at about 5.45 A.M. The General thought the troops were too exhausted for any systematic entrenchment, but the extended men made covers of stones and turf, &c., and two wells were dug, where shown. We looked down upon the whole position of Laings Neck, and saw three large Boer waggon laagers in rear of it, at 2000 to 3000 yards to north-west, and a fourth about 1500 yards to west of us. Shortly after 6A.M. the Boers began a desultory fire; they inspanned their oxen in lagers, and stood ready to go. At the same time reinforcements, mounted and oan foot, kept coming up. We counted 160 men in one party alone. These all worked up skilfully under cover till within 600 yards from the brow, and then kept up a rapid fire, to save ammunition. Comnmander Romilly was shot between us by men from below firing from the south-west. Finding the ground so occupied the General did not give the order to entrench. The fire somewhat slackened till 11.30 A.M. By this time the Boers had advanced up the steep slopes, which were unseen from our shooting line. They were massed under cover and then moved up rapidly. Some 15 or 20 of our men were now sent up the rocky peak on our extreme left, and a few sailors were sent to guard our rear. Col. Stewart and myself and others took the rest of the reserves and reinforced the shooting line about 12 noon, but not finding room for these supports whence they could shoot down the brow, we withdrew and posted them on the second range about 12.15 to 12.30 P.M. The sailors now came running down, saying that they were attacked from the east. We sent them back to do the best they could. As the Boers closed General Colley was at (9) on the sketch map, Colonel Stewart next him, and I was on the left towards (7); all in the shooting line. We had succeeded in getting the men to fix bayonets. The attack advanced firing so rapidly that we could only see their rifles through the smoke as they crept up. Ours fired repeatedly and fell fast. They began to retreat and make for the last ridge (12) about 12.45 P.M. Col. Stewart ran back to rally them, and failing to do so was returning to General Colley when the latter fell. As the Boers came up to the rocky ridge the remainder of our men fell back after the others. I now went after our retreating men walking from the hollow towards the point (11), feeling too exhausted to catch up the men. As I was near the hollow I saw Generel Colley with a few men moving back near the wells. He turned round to face the enemy, and fell shot through the head by the fire from the rocky ridge which he had just left. Fresh firing parties now opened on me from below, and in seeking shelter I went down the precipitous hillside 200 or 300 feet. About 1.30 to 2 P.M., when our retreat was ascertained, two guns and two companies of the 92nd were sent out about a mile north of the camp so as to check pursuit. By these means the retreat was partly covered.”

Lieutenant Scott says in a despatch that most of the men lost their arms in retreating, the sides of the mountain being almost perpendicular where they were obliged to come down.

Glasgow Herald, 5th May 1881

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