Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (10 & 11 May 2017)

Date of Auction: 10th & 11th May 2017

Sold for £5,500

Estimate: £4,000 - £5,000

Pair: Captain J. J. F. Darling, Enkeldoorn Garrison Troop (Salisbury Field Force), a well-documented Pioneer and a survivor of the defence of the settlement at Alice Mine in Mazoe country, where a dozen or so guns held off at least a hundred rebels until relieved by Captain R. C. Nesbitt, the latter being awarded the V.C. on the same occasion

British South Africa Company Medal 1890-97, reverse undated, 2 clasps, Mashonaland 1890, Rhodesia 1896 (Tpr. Darling, J. F. - Pioneers); Jubilee 1897, bronze, unnamed as issued, the first with edge knocks, otherwise very fine (2)


55 medals issued with these two clasps.

James Johnston ffolliott Darling was born in Dublin in December 1859, the son of Dr. John Singleton Darling, Manager of the National Bank of Ireland, where he studied medicine until failing his final year examinations. An argument with his father having ensued, young James opted for a new life in South Africa, where, on his arrival in late 1883, he joined the Cape Mounted Rifles as a Medical Orderly, and later rose to the rank of Sergeant in the Cape Field Artillery, in which latter corps he served in Pondoland before purchasing his release.

By 1888, however, Darling was running a chemist’s shop in Kimberley, but, departing for Johannesburg during the gold rush in the following year, found employment as an assayer and, according to one family source, in later years was ‘fortunate to secure very valuable mines which must have been worth in terms of ordinary investment about a million pounds sterling’ - good fortune that enabled him to show great generosity to family and friends during his intermittent return trips to Ireland.

Described in Darter’s Pioneers of Mashonaland ‘as an Irishman, who was a “broth of a boy”, a medical man and a great lover of dogs - his black and white spaniel went with him everywhere’, Darling spent most of his time prospecting for gold and very nearly died of malaria, and served in ‘A’ Troop of the Pioneers, under Captain Heaney, and in ‘B’ Troop from July, until demobilised in October 1890. But as evidenced by his letters home from Umtali and Salisbury - copies of which are believed to survive in the National Archives of Zimbabwe - he endured many hardships and difficulties as an early settler, his correspondence reporting on shortage of food, clothes and money. And such shortages were painfully apparent during the 1893 Rebellion, in which Darling embarked on at least one patrol with ‘Inspector Nesbitt, to look for Wilson’s party’, unpaid service that failed to gain him entitlement to the relevant clasp in later years.

Meanwhile, hardships aside, he had gained something of a reputation as a naturalist, frequently sending specimens to relevant institutions back in Dublin and London, and even had a freshwater bream named after him, the Pharyngochromis Darlingi, or the “Zambesi Happy”; reference to his work and collecting is to be found in T. R. Sim’s Ferns of South Africa (Cape Town, 1892), while an account of a hunting trip to the Crocodile River in 1890 - another of his passions - is also believed to survive in the National Archives of Zimbabwe, so, too, an unpublished paper entitled Six Months in Mashonaland, in which, among other subjects, he discusses the treatment for a snake-bite.

In a letter to home to his brother, written at Mazoe in September 1894, Darling states that he was employed by the Vesuvius Gold Mining Company and that he was able to ‘send men to work on his own claim’, but in another letter, written in June 1896, he confessed that matters were looking bleak - ‘There is nothing going on here except that the Matabele have been murdering some whites ...’

The defence of the settlement at Alice Mine

As fate would have it, Darling’s location in Mazoe country, where he had a prospecting interest in the Iron Mask range, was about to propel him into the headlines, for by June 1896 the Matabele were in full revolt and heading his way. As a result, he decided to join up with members of the nearby community at the Alice Mine, north of Salisbury, said community comprising 10 miners and three of their wives, namely Mrs. Cass, Mrs. Dickinson and Mrs. Salthouse - a coach had already been requested from Salisbury to take the ladies to safety. When it arrived, on 17 June, it was decided they should get moving back to Salisbury as soon as possible, an advance escort of six men leading the way - but the latter ran into a strong force of Matabele and Messrs. Cass and Dickinson, and one other, were killed. The coach and survivors were compelled to make a hasty retreat back to Alice Mine, where Darling and the others lent covering fire on their arrival. Having then offered the recently widowed Mrs. Cass his spare shot-gun - she was ‘a good shot and a big strong woman’ - Darling lent covering fire to an ill-fated sortie to the nearby telegraph office - two more men falling victim to the advancing Matabele. In fact, as his own account of the Alice Mine affair makes clear, the enemy were now advancing in worrying numbers (see On the African Frontier):

‘At first they advanced quite confidently, but we soon put a stop to that; the first man shot I bowled over, as he was running across an open glade, at 600 yards. Three or four ran out to carry him in; then I let rip at them and another fell, probably from fright. I fired another shot, and he dropped again. In fact it was very hard to tell when we had killed one of them, for they dropped into the long grass whenever a bullet passed close to them ... Before this, a Matabele had found a nice rock on the hill about 500 yards from us, and had opened fire from it. We could see only his head when he was shooting, and sometimes not even that. I got off my rock and stood behind another which covered me from him, but left me unprotected in front. I suddenly felt a bang on the elbow, and looking down I noticed that my arm was bloody and my shirt torn. I thought, “I can’t be shot in the elbow or it would have hurt a great deal more,” and then I saw what had happened; the bullet had struck the rock about a foot off, and splinters from the rock and the lead had hit me. I got a nasty gash, and it became a bit stiff and sore, but it was better the next day.

As we seemed to be in an exposed corner, I told the three women to get farther down under the rock. They behaved very well, and kept our bandoliers filled with cartridges as we required them. After a bit a big bullet came whizzing through, touched the rock, and grazed us all. Soon afterward, another hit a branch just in front of me. They had me marked, as my hat was rather light in colour and easy to see. Later, I put some blue cloth over it, and then it was not so noticeable. There were seven of us firing, and we were put to the pin of our collar to put the beasts away. Pascoe was doing good work on the rock close by me, and Salthouse, Fairburn, Zimmerman, Stoddart, Burton and Spreckley were all firing from the other sides of the laager.

As the afternoon wore away, three natives got into a thick patch of bush and long grass within 100 yards of our position, and one of them crept into a hut near us. As a rule, we could fire only at the puffs of white smoke. One fellow who had a Lee-Metford rifle smashed the rock just at my front in line with my face, and knocked splinters over me. We dropped a few of them, but it was hard to say how many. As night came on, the fire slackened and finally died out, with the exception of the occasional shot. After dark we induced a Cape boy of Salthouse’s to go down and set fire to the hut the native had been firing from. The boy brought back with him some biscuits and water.

That night was like one long nightmare. I sat at the top of the only entrance to our laager, and stared down till I thought the eyes would drop out of my head ... Of course we expected a rush in the night, for the natives knew very well how few we were, but I think we had scared them a bit during the afternoon. I could hear them talking in the bush under me and moving about; and every shadow and sound was magnified by my excited nerves ... About midnight the moon went down, and a little later we got a boy to go down again and set fire to another hut. At the grey dawn I felt certain they would come, but no. You may imagine it was a great relief to see daylight ...’

Luckily for Darling and his comrades, the Matabele had been temporarily distracted by assorted supplies, including liquor, in the Holton Hotel and store, but before the day was out he had experienced further close shaves:

‘I was touched that day, once on my heel and once on my chin; but nobody was hurt and the women kept up splendidly. They had nothing to eat but a biscuit and water the whole time.

At about four in the afternoon the Matabele leader began a great shouting for his troops, but they did not respond with alacrity, as they were busy in the store. After a little while we heard shots in front of us, and a small body of mounted men came into view. The natives were firing on them, and the leader roared again to his warriors at the store to run across and intercept them. Presently I observed some of the rascals running down the hill through a belt of bush about 600 yards away, and I opened fire, planting a few bullets in their midst. Pascoe also fired on them, and between us we quickly sent them back. In the meantime we heard, to our joy, the rattle of .303 calibre rifles, carried by the relief patrol, and up galloped five horsemen, two of them each carrying a man behind him. They had had an exciting ride out, as they had lost their way once, and had been fired at twice out of the grass at the road-side, having one man wounded and two horses killed.

We were very much disappointed at the size of the party, which was too small to enable us to get out, though, of course, it was a great assistance. After their arrival, the natives warmed up and kept us pretty lively for the rest of the afternoon, just to show us they were not frightened, I suppose ... That night we agreed to sleep in pairs, so that we could keep watch alternately at two-hour intervals. This, of course, was a welcome relief. The man in charge of the patrol [Lieutenant Dan Judson] wrote a despatch for more men and offered a tottie boy £100 to ride with it. He was a light little chap and had a good horse, so there was not much danger for him. When the moon went down, at about 2 a.m., he started off, and went safely through to Salisbury ...’

And so a gallant party of 13 men of the Mazoe Patrol, under Captain Randolph Nesbitt, finally fought their way through to the defenders of Alice Mine the following morning, ‘amidst cheers repeated again and again’. But their ordeal was far from over, a hazardous return trip to Salisbury now having to be undertaken with the wounded. Iron sheets were attached to the sides of the coach, to protect the wounded and the ladies, alongside which walked those without horses, the whole with mounted advance and rear guards. Darling continues:

‘The enemy’s fire became brisker as we proceeded; and as we could very seldom see the fiends, we were obliged to shoot at the puffs of white smoke coming from the trees and grass on the hill-side and at the river ... as we passed my camp [in the Iron Mask range] a heavy fire came from it, and one man, McGeer, was killed and a horse shot. The man was quite dead, so we took his rifle and bandolier, and left the body - we could not do otherwise.

On we went again, the shots coming thick and fast, while narrow shaves were numerous; but no one else was hit for some time. One bullet touched the leg of my trousers, and a little spaniel at my heels was shot twice. As we moved on many natives followed in the rear, so that we had to turn now and again to give them a few volleys; then the brutes dodged into the grass, and crept along trying to intercept us. Besides these, new arrivals were lining the road. After a bit our way led close to the hill on one side, and along the edge of a swamp on the other. From both sides the natives were peppering us, and it was remarkable that more damage was not done. Our procession became somewhat disorganised, more horses were killed, and very often the rear-guard pressed right up to the wagon; some of the footmen were getting out of breath, and had to hold on to the wagon, or jump up on the steps at the sides.

After going about seven miles we came to a hot corner, where the steep hill-side which ran down to the road was thronged with natives. The long grass on the opposite side was similarly occupied. The natives behind were pressing on with horse and foot. The two wheeler mules were in the coach and the firing became exceedingly heavy - flashes coming out of the grass within a few yards of us. We quickly cut out the dead mules and put in horses, which in turn were immediately shot dead. Pascoe was on top of the coach doing good work with his rifle. At one place, while helping to take out the dead horses, I was obliged to turn quickly around and rattle a few shots into the grass, where the flashes were thickest, and then rush to a dead man, take his rifle and ammunition and put them in the coach ... Burton was shot through the face, the bullet entering under the ear and making its exit at the cheek-bone opposite. He was standing at the side of the coach at the time, and never even fell down, but crawled along and got in. Two more men were killed, Van Stadden and Jacobs, both shot through the head. One of the advance guard was shot in the face, but kept his seat on his horse. Another man took the horse by the rein, and went off at a gallop with him, thus getting beyond the natives. They then hurried on to Salisbury, where they arrived at about 3.30 p.m., and told people there that we were in fearful straights, and that nothing less than 100 men could rescue us. As they could spare only 50, none were sent.

Nonetheless, we fought our way along and kept the devils back fairly well, although some of them kept cutting across to intercept us ... several bullets went through the top of the coach, and the iron sheets were well dotted by bullets and slugs, but none went through ...’

Darling and his comrades finally reached Salisbury at 9.30 p.m., where the story of their remarkable stand at Alice Mine, and equally remarkable escape, soon filled the columns of the local press. Moreover, on 7 May 1897, the London Gazette announced the award of the V.C. to Captain Randolph Nesbitt, Mashonaland Mounted Police, and late C.O. of the Mazoe rescue patrol:

‘This officer, on 19 June 1896, led the Mazoe rescue patrol, consisting of only 13 men, fought his way through the rebels to get to Salthouse’s party, and succeeded in bringing them back to Salisbury, with heavy fighting, in which three of his small force were killed and five wounded, and 15 horses killed and wounded.’

Interestingly, in a letter home to his father, dated 3 December 1896, Darling described Nesbitt as ‘a fraud’.

A meeting with Rhodes - and further campaigning

Following the Alice Mine affair, Darling was appointed Medical Officer to the Enkeldoorn Garrison Corps, under Captain Ferreira, and saw further action, a case in point being a raid on an enemy kraal in late November 1896, in which Cecil Rhodes accompanied Ferreira and his men. Darling takes up the story in a letter home to his father:

‘Yesterday morning we started out, Rhodes and all, and attacked a very strong kraal, where a very cheeky rebel chief lived. It is a very big town - or collection of kraals - each separately built and fortified, with large caves underneath. The river runs through some of them. We surprised them at daylight as usual and rushed the places one after another, one man being knocked down with a bullet through his shoulder, just touching the lung, but he is getting on all right. I was much afraid of getting shot by one of our fellows, for they were very wild and shooting all over the shop - the fact of Rhodes being there made them too keen. The natives fired a lot of shots but soon cleared into the caves ... I bagged natives as fast as I could load and fire, and old Prinsloo knocked them over like nine-pins, even though it was hardly light enough to see our sights. One fellow fired at me out of a hole at about five yards distance and missed, but I had not time to look after him as they were shouting for me to come and fix up Swartz. There were some very narrow shaves of fellows getting shot out of the caves - one old chap was showing me the mark on a rock where a bullet had hit just by his ear, fired out of a cave about 20 yards off. He had a face as long as my arm and I could not help laughing, and he was pointing over at the cave to show me where the shot had come from, when another came out at us from the same place but went wide, and the poor old chap’s face got longer than ever ... I took the wrong direction going back by myself and went on a long distance round and did not get back to the laager until after 1 p.m. - nearly 12 hours in the saddle and fighting ... Rhodes was very much pleased with the fight and its results and said he had not seen anything better in Matabeleland, or so well fortified a kraal.’

In the same letter, Darling describes how he approached Rhodes for ‘a grant of land at Mazoe embracing my claim, but he refused and said no more such grants will ever be made, but he promised that no-one else would get the ground and that I would get the water-rights as shown on my plan; I am to apply for it and get it provisionally on a company being floated’. In fact, Darling says he had several chats with ‘our uncrowned king, and he was very agreeable’, but that Rhodes would not entertain his ‘pretty straight talk’ and opinion regarding an unpopular missionary - said missionary was sacked a week or two later for fraud.

The Coronation Contingent 1897

Darling relinquished his commission as a Captain in January 1897 and returned to Ireland, where, later that year, he was alerted to the formation of “The Rhodesia Jubilee Troop”, a contingent required for the forthcoming Jubilee celebrations and, due to shortage of time, one which had to be manned by old “Pioneers” then resident in the U.K., and was among just 12 candidates selected from around 200 applicants - the Troop paraded with other colonial units along the Embankment, amidst much cheering, before taking up station outside St. Paul’s Cathedral. Moreover, a few days later, it was reported that each member of the Troop would receive the Jubilee Medal - a reward which is believed to have been presented to them by the Prince of Wales in a ceremony on 3 July 1897.

Back in Mazoe country by late 1898, Darling - who was not employed in the Boer War - took up farming, in addition to pursuing his study of local fauna and wildlife. He appears to have returned to Ireland around 1900, where he settled as a ‘gentleman farmer’ and died at his residence “Hoop Hill” in Lurgan, Co. Armagh in April 1929, aged 69 years. His papers were presented to the Rhodesian National Archives by J. E. Stephenson in 1938, and by his son, Major T. ff. M. Darling, of Dorset, in 1968.

Sold with original British South Africa Company letter, dated at the company’s City of London office on 29 May 1897, confirming that the recipient had been selected to represent Rhodesia in the Jubilee procession, was to attend a training programme in Aldershot with Colonel Gifford and Major Laing, and that the company would pay for his new uniform and hat; together with part of an original letter from the recipient to his father, dated in Mashonaland, 31 November 1896, discussing his meeting with Rhodes (see above), and full research.

See also Lot 302 for the group to Lieutenant Dan Judson. Darling can be seen standing at the back over Judson’s right shoulder.