The Defence of Mafeking 1899

Steve Newman Writer
5 min readNov 17, 2020

Jack Newman wanted adventure…

Defence of Mafeking by A Sutherland. Image: The Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University

My great uncle Jack was a loveable man with a handle-bar moustache and centrally parted, heavily brilliantined, dark hair. He smelled of Sunlight Soap, and Wills’ Gold Flake cigarettes, which he smoked incessantly, as did his younger brother, my grandfather Harry, as would Harry’s son, my father Roland.

Back in the mid-1950s my sister and I loved going to Uncle Jack’s cottage in Hampton Lucy, where he was born in 1877, a cottage that belonged to the Fairfax Lucy family, who lived in the big house, Charlecote Park, where Jack’s father had been the book-keeper for over fifty years.

We always called to see him after church — he was a widower and lived alone — and there would always be shop bought cakes and lemonade, and the same old picture hanging on the wall above the fireplace. We always asked the same question: “ What’s the picture about, uncle?”

He’d then flick the ends of his moustache, and say: “ That, children, is a picture of the Defence of Mafeking, and I was there.”

As you can see above, it’s a very exciting , cinematic piece of work that lays out clearly the town of Mafeking, and the surrounding area. You can look at it for hours on end and still see different things. It’s an extraordinary piece of work that, for a young boy, must have been worth a million Mars Bars.

While we ate our cakes and drank the lemonade, uncle Jack would tell us his stories about being a member of Colonel Robert Baden-Powell’s Mounted Rifles, pointing to the armed riders having a go at the Boers in the picture.

“ Good fighters they were, the Boers. You didn’t want to mix with them too often.”

“ Why uncle?” we’d ask in unison, knowing full well the answer.

“ Ruddy good shots, that’s why. You had to take ’em by surprise if you could, which wasn’t that easy on a horse, was it.” He’d answer, laughing. Which made us laugh, which made him laugh even more, slapping his legs as he did so; laughter that slowly turned to coughing, with his eyes watering.

“ Oh dear, oh dear,” he’d say, as he lit a cigarette and wiped his eyes.

In 1899 Jack wanted adventure, and had seen an advert in the local paper asking for recruits…

Steve Newman Writer

Playwright and Freelance Writer…