Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Chronicles of Hamilton

NOTE: All stories in this series on those who are buried at Paradise Cemetery in Zimbabwe can be followed via the links highlighted in blue below.

There is a fascinating connection between a famous lion doorknob in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and one of those men who died during the Anglo-Boer War and now lies far from his native land in a quiet corner of Paradise.

 (My initial blog post about this Boer War cemetery in Zimbabwe can be read here.)

The grave of Captain H.C.W. Hamilton of the 3rd (Queensland) Mounted Infantry Contingent * is the subject of quite a bit of confusion according to the ZimFieldGuide due to various authorities being involved in the reporting of the deaths and markers being made with errors. One cannot even be sure H.C.W. is where the cross says he is.

Also, on the cross the date of his death is out by a year and in fact he died on 12 July 1900. This also means that H.C.W. died for “Queen and Empire” not “King and Empire”, as King Edward VII did not ascend the throne until 22 January 1901 when Queen Victoria died.

It does not help either that H.C.W. accompanied the force but was never an official member of the 3rd Queensland Contingent and therefore does not appear in many of the usual Australian Boer War records. Naturally, this begs the question, why?

From ZimFieldGuide. (Note date error!)

The first record connecting H.C.W. Hamilton to Australia is a passenger list for the Duke of Buckingham, a ship carrying assisted immigrants that sailed from London on 4 November 1885 and arrived in Brisbane on 4 January 1886. He travelled Second Class, no occupation mentioned, aged 30. Thus one might assume a birth year of about 1856.

Queensland, Australia, Passenger Lists

With no matching birth records for him in England, the next clue was found in a Brisbane Telegraph newspaper report of his death dated 16 July 1900 which mentions the North Irish militia and from which it also appears he had been much younger than stated on the passenger list.

Thus a birth in Ireland looked likely, also that he had some status; enough to warrant several paragraphs in a colonial newspaper. **

There are a number of references in the Queensland Government Gazettes 1890-1896 to H.C.W.’s various promotions through the ranks in the Queensland Defence Force (Permanent Force) including his appointment as a Justice of the Peace. But H.C.W. resigned his commission in 1896 and it is not known what he did between then and accompanying the 3rd Contingent to the Boer War.

It turns out that Hugh Cecil Waldegrave Hamilton ^ was born on 17 November 1864 in Rathmines, Dublin, which would have made him just 22 when he arrived in Australia.

He had an aristocratic pedigree with links via his mother (Mary Warren) to the Baronetage of Borlase Warren that included a number of prominent individuals who had served in the Royal Navy, as Members of Parliament and Sheriffs of Nottingham. +

H.C.W.’s father was The Reverend Thomas Robert Hamilton, with many churchmen in his lineage and a descendant of an aristocratic Scottish family sent to Ulster in the early 17th Century by King James I. The Reverend, said to be an excitable individual with fierce opinions, including a hatred of Catholics, had been a chaplain in the Royal Navy during the Crimean War and later a curate at Holy Trinity Church in Rome and ultimately the Rector of St. Mark's, Dundela, Belfast.

Thomas and Mary had four children, two girls and two boys, but it was the younger sister of H.C.W., Florence (Flora) Augusta Hamilton (1862-1908) who left her mark in surprising ways. #

Flora went to Queen's University in Belfast (then Royal University of Ireland) from which she graduated with 1st Class Honours and a degree in Mathematics. It was very unusual for a woman to go to university and study such subjects at that time. She later went on to to marry Albert James Lewis and one of her sons was Clive Staples Lewis, best known to the world as the famous author of the Chronicles of Narnia , C.S. Lewis C.S. was only about 2 years old when his uncle H.C.W. died.

Some insight into H.C.W. and his family can be gleaned from this extract from C.S. Lewis: An Examined Life edited by Bruce L. Edwards: %

...According to Sayer [another biographer] Thomas and Mary were failures as parents - neither knowing how to make their children happy nor how to raise them without giving any of them preferential treatment. This they often did to Cecil [H.C.W.] and Lilian. Also, Gussie [the other son] was so disliked by his father that he refused to help him pay for his education as he helped the other children. And even though he eventually made good for himself, Gussie, in response, became completely self-centered and unkind to others, even to his mother and to his close friends. Hooper [another biographer] also notes that Cecil, after finishing his education and failing to obtain a commission in the Royal Army, emigrated to Australia - where he worked and served in their army, eventually dying in South Africa in 1900. Even Flora, with her great education at Queen’s University, Belfast, completed in 1886, as far as is known, failed to do anything with it, merely functioning as another servant for her mother. It would still be another eight years before she married Lewis’s father, Albert. Green and Hooper, among many other biographers, have noted how Thomas Hamilton misused Albert’s romantic interest in Flora for his own benefit, expecting Albert to travel with or make preparations for him, serving his hoped to be future father in law much as Jacob served Laban for Rachel.
 To add to this, there is this extract from a letter mentioned in the ZimFieldGuide and written by one of the commanding officers at Marandellas to his fiancee in Australia, dated 10 July 1900, and a picture begins to emerge of Cecil:
“ ... Captain Hamilton under my care who has gone to the dogs with drinking and morphine. No orderly would stay with him and I was afraid he would commit suicide. I had a bad time. I managed to get him into the hospital, so that was a relief.” 
and two days later: 
Captain Hamilton, I regret to say, died yesterday and was buried close to the camp.”
Did Cecil disappoint his parents or even disgrace them in some way and was thus packed off at the age of 22 to the colonies, a typical “remittance man”? Or did he leave of his volition simply to get away from family dysfunction or impossible expectations and find his own way in life? A not uncommon scenario in high achiever families, both then and now.

Although with his former career in the Queensland military, it is surprising he wasn't an automatic choice to be taken into the 3rd Queensland Contingent to Africa. Did he have addiction problems that would have been known to the recruiting authorities and this would explain his decision to travel with them as unattached? The references to alcohol, drugs and potential suicide carry all the signs of a man who may have not been suffering just from illness but who could have also been deeply troubled for other reasons.

For someone from a privileged background, the Irish Probate records of 1901 show that Cecil had a modest estate of £145. 12s. 10d, or around £14,000 in modern values.

No images of Cecil can be found, but perhaps he had some similarities to his sister, Flora.

Florence Augusta Lewis, nee Hamilton

And so to the doorknob mentioned at the start.

Perhaps that door of the rectory was intentionally banged shut by H.C.W. in 1885, who was never to return. Was he considered a black sheep? Did C.S. Lewis ever know the real reasons his uncle went off to Australia and how he died of dysentery in Africa? (If any student of the life and works of C.S. Lewis has any information to add in this connection, I would love to hear from you.)

A little ironic that H.C.W. was laid to rest in soil over which real lions would once have roamed.

The inspiration for Aslan, the Lion of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
Doorknob of Rectory of St. Mark’s Church, Dundela, Belfast, family home of Captain H.C.W. Hamilton 

YouTube Video showing the home of H.C.W. in Ireland.

This contingent consisted of 320 mounted infantry and was commanded by Major W. H. Tunbridge. It sailed from Brisbane on 1 March 1900 on the Duke of Portland arriving at the Cape on 3 April and was then sent to Beira, Mozambique, where it arrived in the middle of April. The contingent became part of the Rhodesian Field Force and travelled the first 500 kilometres overland, first via railway to Marandellas and then using other modes of transport, in coaches and wagons and on foot, another 500 km to Bulawayo in the west of the country. Exposure to deadly diseases such as malaria and dysentery while in Portuguese East Africa was to play havoc with the health of the troops.

** Queensland Officer.
Captain H.C.W. Hamilton.
Death in South Africa.

His Excellency the Governor this morning received a cablegram from the High Commissioner for South Africa (Sir Alfred Milner), announcing the death from dysentery of Captain H: C. W. Hamilton, of the Queensland Permanent Artillery.
Captain Hamilton joined A Battery of the Queensland Regiment of Royal Australian Artillery as a probationary lieutenant on May 14; 1890. He was promoted to be lieutenant on July 23, 1890. On February 25, 1895, he was promoted to the rank of captain. He resigned his appointment, and was placed on the unattached list, on November 18, 1896. Captain Hamilton went to South Africa with the third contingent, but not as a member. He was granted a free pass to South Africa, whither he went with a view of seeing active service. Captain Hamilton, at the time of his death was 35 years of age. He formerly belonged to the North Irish militia. The Defence Force authorities have received an official message from the officer commanding the lines at Marandellas, dated July 13, as follows: "Captain H. C. W. Hamilton, Queensland Mounted Infantry, died yesterday of dysentery at Marandellas." This seems to indicate that Captain Hamilton accompanied the Queensland third contingent as far as Marandellas, although he was not enrolled in Queensland as a member of the contingent.

^ With many thanks to a fellow member of Ancestry, V. Fawcett, for tracking down this information for me.

+ The family name lives on in a quite a different way with The Sir John Borlase Warren being a popular gastro pub in Nottingham, UK!

# Click here for more details on Flora Hamilton Lewis, mother of C.S. Lewis.

% Reference to H.C.W. Hamilton in The London Gazette reads - War Office, 7th February, 1882. MILITIA. ARTILLERY. Antrim, Hugh Cecil Waldegrave Hamilton, Gent., to be Lieutenant. Dated 8th February, 1882. 

All posts in this series on Digging the Dust

With special acknowledgement and thanks to ZimFieldGuideSabretache and to Robin Droogleever whose book That Ragged Mob has been an invaluable resource in re-discovering some of these lost men of Empire.


  1. Since writing this post, some further information has come to light in the pages of Robin Drooglever's detailed book about the 3rd and 4th Victorian Imperial Bushmen, "That Ragged Mob" while based at Marandellas and taken from the diary of Captain Joseph Dallimore. This extract is about the burial of Captain H.C.W. Hamilton although it has errors in respect of who he actually was.

    ' On the 13th July 78 members of B Squadron of the Victorian Imperial Bushmen were given the sad task of acting as the burial party to Captain H.C.W. Hamilton, believed to be an Imperial officer attached to the Queensland M.I. who had died of dysentery and fever the day before [A footnote with a further entry from Dallimore's diary dated 11 July 1900 states it was "believed he had drunk himself to death."]
    Led by Segeant Edgar Nelson, one of the few professional soldiers in the contingent, the party drilled in the morning ready for the afternoon ceremony, which would be held in front of officers from the Imperial and Colonial contingents in the camp. There were to be three volleys of blanks fired over the grave. The first two volleys were in unison but the third was ragged and reflected badly on the training of the Bushmen. Rose [another diarist] recalled that “we marched back with our tails between our legs.” '

  2. Two points:
    1 In the early days many a man with malaria fever took to his bed with quinine tablets and a bottle of whiskey. That was the accepted treatment when doctors, pharmacies etc. were few and far between. Morphine, not tightly controlled as it is now, would have been taken for the acute pain of dysentery. The combination, quite unwittingly, might have been lethal - especially in his weakened state. Malaria and dysentery were both individually, killers. Malaria still kills people.
    2 Lions still roamed in the Marandellas area half a century after H.C.W. Hamilton's death, when we lived at Karimba, the farm belonging to Winston Field. My mother says we never went outside after dark for that reason.

    1. 1. I well remember the quinine and whisky "cure-all" was common in my childhood - my uncle at West Nicholson swore by it - also morphine products were easier to come by until quite recently. Many kids, including myself, were given Chlorodyne containing opium for aches and pains. I think most people are aware that malaria is still one of the world's biggest killers. 2. Didn't go outside either at night in the bush area where we lived near the Copperbelt. In the 1940s leopards were more of a hazard there than lions.