All writing © 2009-2015 by Colin Salter unless indicated otherwise. All rights reserved.
More information at

Saturday 11 September 2010


This is a tale of one man’s Imperial African adventures, but it also refers to terrible injuries which he sustained. If you’re squeamish about the latter, look away now. If on the other hand you are curious about the former, read on. Don’t worry – the details (in paragraph 7) are sketchy.

John Cooper-Chadwick’s grandfather was my 3x great grandfather, so we are cousins of a sort. The snippet of biography I have found about him is a paragraph of gems, a handful of little prisms through which you can get blurred glimpses of Britain’s Imperial Past. It begins:
“served with Sir Charles Warren’s Expedition in S Africa 1878-81, with Bechuanaland Border Police 1885 and with Rhodes’ Pioneers in Mashonaland 1888”

Sir Charles Warren (1840-1927)
photographed by Herbert Rose Baraud of London in the 1890s

Sir Charles Warren was something of an Imperial Stormtrooper, a troubleshooter whose business in 1878-81 was the suppression of an uprising in Bechuanaland, then a British Protectorate and now the state of Botswana. His main talent was as a military surveyor, in which role he made some contributions to archaeology in the middle east. It was the need to establish borders in the Northern Cape (northern South Africa) that first took him to that region. After his successful quelling of the Botswana rebellion, he later secured the region against Boer incursions from the Orange Free State to the east, in time for John C-C’s service there in 1885.

(Sir Charles’ subsequent career was less glorious. A spell as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in London made him many enemies – his political clashes, his grandiose uniform, his failure to solve the Jack the Ripper case, and his Bloody Sunday suppression of a demonstration in Trafalgar Square all contributed to his resignation in 1888. He returned to military service; as a General in the Boer War he was described as “perhaps the worst … and certainly the most preposterous … a duffer” whose indecision led to the catastrophic British defeat at Spion Kop.)

From Botswana JCC moved to Mashonaland, now the region around Harare in Zimbabwe. Cecil Rhodes’ Pioneer Column officially moved into the territory in 1890, to secure the area ahead of any German, Portuguese or Boer efforts to do so. It was a remarkable incursion of a mere 250 men, which in three months that year founded Rhodesia, imposing a a new political and moral order on the native populations of Mashonaland and Matabeleland. When the column was disbanded in October 1890, its members were given land to become the country’s first white farmers.

King Lobengula of Matabeleland and Mashonaland (c1845-c1894),
by Ralph Peacock after E.A. Maund

If JCC was there in 1888, then he was part of Rhodes’ entirely unofficial softening campaign. Rhodes’ first step was to sign a treaty with the Matabele King Lobengula, giving not Britain but Rhodes’ own British South Africa Company mining rights and administrative powers in the area. It seems that JCC formed part of Rhodes’ administration in some way, possibly attached to Lobengula’s entourage.

The evidence for this is in the 1894 publication of JCC’s memoir (of which a new edition was printed in April 2010), and here comes the squeamish bit, from his biography again:
“author of Three Years with Lobengula (which he wrote with a pen tied to his elbow joints as a result of losing his forearms in a shooting accident)”

Lobengula was a powerful warrior in his youth and ruled through terror and kidnap; but in middle age he became obese and ill. Rhodes secured his treaty partly through the services of his doctor who treated Lobengula for gout. When it became clear that Rhodes’ plans included the colonization of his kingdom, Lobengula tore up the treaty and ordered the British out. But his large and disciplined army – Matabele means men of the long shields – was no match for British maxim guns. He died in January 1894 a hunted man, in a tzetze-ridden swamp, probably of smallpox or dysentery.

Lobengula’s army fought fiercely to protect their king’s retreat in December 1893

John Cooper-Chadwick’s injuries were the resul not of war but, as he admits, of his own carelessness; he was leaning with both hands on the muzzle of his loaded gun when his dog leapt up and stumbled on the trigger. He was, if these dates are correct, only 14 when he first went to Africa, and under 30 when he had his accident. Retiring to the family home in Tipperary he married at the age of 32 the daughter of a local JP, with whom he had two sons. Having already lived an extraordinarily full life, he lived another 52 no doubt eventful years, long enough to see the birth of his two grandchildren. I rather wish I had known him.

John Cooper-Chadwick (1864-1948), centre,  in 1885,
at Langford Camp on the Orange River


  1. Hi there,
    I stumbled across your blog because I wanted to find out more about the Cooper-Chadwicks. My grandmother told me that John (she called him Jack) was her uncle, and she carries a copy of the book he wrote. Her maiden name is Cooper-Chadwick, and has photos of him and her family. Do you stay in South Africa?

    1. Hi Lee-anne
      I came across you message and would love to know how you fit into the family tree. My Great grandfather was richard austin Cooper-Chadwick brother of John cooper-chadwick. would also gladly share what info I have. My email


  2. Hi Lee-Anne, I'm so glad you left a note! I am in Edinburgh - Scotland, not South Africa. I am reading Jack's book at the moment and it makes terrific reading. Although some of his attitudes are very much of their time, the writing style is easy and modern. He comes over as a very likeable young adventurer. I have a fairly full Cooper-Chadwick tree based on Anthony Maitland's, which you have probably also found as I did on the internet. And I have a copy of "Butterhll and Beyond," a Cooper history by Richard Austin-Cooper. I'd be happy to correspond privately with you if you want to compare notes. All the best, distant cousin!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...