Monday, July 17, 2017

The man who never reached Paradise.

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

When I began this project of researching the stories of what I thought was a mere handful of individuals buried in the tiny Paradise Cemetery in Marandellas [Marondera, Zimbabwe], I had no idea where it was going to take me, let alone how complicated it would get. The more I delve into the sources available to me, the murkier it all becomes. 

And I certainly had no idea I would stumble across a story about one man's treatment that created a major controversy in New Zealand in 1900-1901.

I am also finding yet more confirmation of official records that don't match with the evidence, errors and confusion over town names as to who was buried where or when and that it is highly likely that there are more Boer War personnel buried in Paradise than those listed in the published sources. 

One man said to be buried in Paradise is definitely not there. Although it means I've had to diverge from my original focus, his story and what happened after his death is worth putting on the record.

Although ZimFieldGuide and the Sabretache article suggest that Trooper F. Saxon of the New Zealand Rough Riders is buried in Paradise, I have now established that he never even reached Marandellas in the first place. He did not get beyond Beira and was laid to rest in the Santa Isabel Cemetery.

Follow this newspaper link for details of his full military burial service conducted by Her Brittanic Majesty's Consul in Beira. Feilding Star 27 August 1900.

A dashing New Zealand Rough Rider
Image from Te Ara

Shortly after this funeral, accusations of incompetence in hospital care were made in The New Zealand Times by that newspaper's official correspondent to the Boer War, Alfred Morton.

It has all the ingredients that would be right at home in our own 21st Century media scrum. Genuine investigative journalism or "fake news"? True recollections of fellow soldiers or "mis-remembrances"? Army cover up, political point-scoring or personal vendetta?

Who and what to believe?

In my earlier post about John Kiley from Australia, it was an army officer who gave his own private opinion on the disgraceful state of affairs in the hospital where Kiley died, but nothing further seems to have come of it. But here is a case debated publicly across New Zealand that no doubt caused the family considerable anger and stress to add to their grief and went as far as questions being raised in the NZ House of Representatives.

What makes it even more poignant is that this is the first image that I have found to put a face to a name; a handsome young Rough Rider whose natural robust health should have helped him to conquer a malarial fever that far less fit men managed to overcome but who became the victim of inadequate medical care at a critical time in his illness.

Auckland Museum Online Cenotaph

The saga is largely gleaned from the pages of New Zealand newspapers available online via Papers Past. Although mindful that what you read in newspapers is never to be fully trusted, one has to draw one's own conclusions and ask the important question:-

Why would the war correspondent, Alfred Morton - who described himself as a "conscientious journalist" - deliberately risk his career by challenging the top brass in the NZ army contingent with an invention? 

John Frederick Hyde Saxon was born in 1873. He seems to have been known as Fred and he signed his enlistment papers as Frederick. His occupation was Farmer, his height 5 ft 11 ins. His family were well-known pioneers in the Manawatu District.

Fred joined the 7th Company of the 4th New Zealand Rough Riders and sailed on the SS Gymeric from Lyttleton, NZ on 31 March 1900. 

SS Gymeric prior to her departure from New Zealand

The NZ Archives hold the Boer War record of service for Frederick Saxon, including statements relevant to his illness that can be read online here. They give his date of death as 19 June 1900 from malarial fever and burial in Beira, Mozambique.

On 25 June 1900 this appeared in the Feilding Star[original block text in these reports has been broken up into paragraphs to make the reading easier]
The Late Fred Saxon
When the news reached Feilding on Saturday of the death of Fred Saxon, a son of Mr John Saxon (now of Kereru, but one of the oldest and most respected settlers in this district) very general sorrow was felt and expressed.
It will be remembered that Fred Saxon joined the fourth contingent of Rough Riders, and  sailed for South Africa in the Gymeric. He was well liked by all owing to his many amiable qualities, and was of a most affectionate and kindly disposition combined with courage and determination. He was also a hard worker, and promised to make a good soldier as well as a useful settler.
Very general sympathy has been expressed for the bereaved parents and other members of this esteemed family. As a token of respect for the deceased soldier the flag at the Volunteer Drill Hall was hoisted at half mast.

Reports in various NZ newspapers including Nelson Evening Mail 16 October, also Otago Witness, 10 October 1900, printed various edited reports of Alfred Morton's statement that Fred Saxon had been subjected to shocking treatment during his final days.

Most of the reports are in a similar vein, but here is one of the more complete transcripts from the Feilding Star of 5 October 1900 

Death of Trooper Saxon
Writing under date Marandellas, July 24th, the special correspondent of the New Zealand Times, recorded as follows the disgraceful circumstances under which Trooper Saxon, of Feilding, went to his death in South Africa: —
In a previous letter I mentioned that Trooper Saxon who had been left behind on the hospital ship at Beira, was reported to be dead, and stated that if the report proved to be correct, I would have something further to say about his case. I would that poor Saxon had lived to make known with his own lips the shocking manner in which he had been treated, but as he now lies beneath the sod it is clearly my duty as a conscientious journalist to speak for the dead, regardless of consequences to the living, though it causes me great pain to do so, for I feel that what I have to say will inevitably bring discredit on someone, and just as likely as not on the wrong one.
On my return to camp after an absence of two days, I found the place deserted. Camp had been "struck," and the squadron to which poor Saxon belonged had entrained for Marandellas. Knowing that a number of New Zealanders were in the hospital, an old building which had been re erected at the end of the paddock a day or two previously, stretched out on a heap of straw in a more or less neglected state, I immediately proceeded to the hospital to see what had become of the unfortunate patients for whom I had many times felt in inclined to intercede but of course would only have laid myself open to be told to mind my own business, as it was no part of my business as a correspondent to interfere with camp arrangements.
My feelings on entering the building may be more easily imagined than described when to my surprise I found one solitary occupant, the emaciated form of Trooper F. Saxon, once a fine, strong young fellow, whose acquaintance I had made during the voyage. There, on the dirty floor, in the midst of swarms of flies, fragments of some decomposed food and dirty utensils, the poor fellow lay as helpless as a child, with nothing but this filthy chaos and the dirty, dismal walls of the building and complete solitude to cheer his rapidly expiring spirits.
A second glance was not necessary to convince me that my appearance had intensified the cause of the poor man's grief, for his eyes were still full of tears, and no wonder. I never in my life saw such a scandalous state of things. If the poor man had been a common criminal he could not have been treated in a more brutal manner.
In reply to my inquiry as to his condition he said, “I am well enough, only I feel dreadfully weak. I have been starved. I have had nothing to eat since evening, this was at 4 p m yesterday, when I had a bit of biscuit and a drop of tea. I am supposed to get beef tea and cornflour, but I have only had it once or twice. When I complained to the man who is supposed to attend to us he told me to get up and attend to myself or go without. I have not been able to walk for some time, I have been too weak. No one seems to take any interest in us or care whether we live or die. None of the officers have been near us.” Contradicting himself, he said, “Well, yes, Lieutenant Collins frequently came to see us, but most of the Auckland officers called almost every day to see their men.”
These statements, of course, were not made exactly in the order in which they are given, and in justice to the dead I may add that they were not made in a vindictive tone or spirit. Far from it. The poor fellow was too much overcome to entertain ill feeling towards anyone even though it was certainly deserved. I felt very indignant to learn that a helpless fellow countryman had been treated in such a heartless manner, and expressed my determination to let the New Zealand public know how the field hospital was being conducted.
But poor Saxon burst into tears and said, “Oh, please don't say anything about it just now. It would kill my poor mother if she knew how I was being treated.” It was most affecting. I shall never forget the incident -- to see an unfortunate young fellow, once strong and active, crying and sobbing as though his heart would break, evidently conscious that his end was near and that he would see his aged mother no more.
I, of course, did my best to pacify him, and went immediately to the staff officer to see what could be done for the poor fellow. I explained that he was in a dying condition without food, attendance or necessaries of any kind, and that he had been in that condition for 24 hours The officer sent two stretcher bearers away for the invalid at once, with instructions to remove him to the hospital ship without delay.
Nine days later poor Saxon breathed his last, and on the following day (June 17th [19th?]), he was buried at Beira with full military honors, E squadron, Victorian Imperial Regiment, forming the firing party. 
For reasons which will be appreciated by all intelligent readers, I have remained silent up to present moment, but I have no hesitation in saying that poor Saxon’s death was largely, if not entirely, due to neglect, and I say this fully conscious of the seriousness of the statement.

This sensational report was swiftly followed up on 8 October 1900 by a contradictory one in the same Feilding Star:
Trooper Saxon's Death.
Trooper De Loree of the Third Contingent, who was invalided home from South Africa lately was in Palmerston on Friday. In conversation with a representative of the Manawatu Times, he alluded to a statement which had been published by the New Zealand Times concerning Trooper Saxon's death, and said he was anxious that certain facts supplied to him should appear in print, as he was convinced the account published by the Times was incorrect.
Trooper De Loree then proceeded to state that the steamer by which he returned from South Africa also brought, amongst others, three Australian Bushmen who had been sent down from Beira as invalids. 
The Bushmen furnished many details concerning Beira and especially alluded to the hospital arrangements. They stated that in the same hospital as themselves was a young man named Saxon, belonging to one of the New Zealand contingents.The Bushmen had become acquainted with Saxon and they gave an account of his illness and how he eventually died.
At this time nothing was known on board the ship as to the statements made regarding the alleged neglect of Saxon, and Trooper De Loree says the Bushmen, unsolicited, praised the hospital in which Saxon and themselves were placed, and specially stated there was no fault to be found with their treatment.
Trooper De Loree says, in the face of the statements made to him by the Bushmen, he does not believe Saxon was in any way neglected, as there was nothing to be gained by the men telling him a wrong story, and even then when it was related to him none of them on board ship had any idea that a statement had been forwarded to New Zealand with regard to Saxon. Trooper De Loree says Colonel Hoad, of the First Australian Horse, has the names of the Bushmen referred to, which the Colonel will be only too willing to supply should further information be required.
And here is Fred's father’s letter to the editor of the Feilding Star, 25 April 1901 [unfortunately the issue of 17th is unavailable] and it is clear John Saxon was not happy with the explanation he eventually received from the man in charge, Col. Joe R. Sommerville.



SIR, -- In your issue of the 17th inst. you give an abridged account of Colonel Sommerville’s explanation re the treatment of my late son Trooper Saxon. I can only say the Times correspondent made a straight accusation of gross neglect, giving the time he was left alone. The same has been corroborated by many others. If it is not true then there is a libel on the commanding officers, and the correspondent should be made to prove his statement. At present nothing has been done to refute it.
 I am, etc.,
Koputarua, Manwatu Line. 
Fred's father, John Saxon (1837-1912)
Maj. (later Col.) J.R. Sommerville

And here is another side to the story from The Manawatu Times, 7 June 1901, Although the correspondent Alfred Morton definitely reported from Rhodesia, this Trooper Houston says he never went there! Dislike of reporters? Selective memory?

The Late Trooper Saxon.
The Tikokino correspondent of the H.B. Herald supplies the following: Trooper Houston, of the New Zealand Fourth Contingent, who has just returned from South Africa, is visiting relatives in this district, and has met with a cordial welcome here. Trooper Houghton has given most graphic accounts of the doings of the Fourth and Fifth Contingents in South Africa, and he says that the letter which was sent from Beira by a correspondent which referred to the illness and death of the late Trooper Saxon was a wilful misrepresentation of the facts of the case.
All that was possible to be done was done for the dying man, and the reason why the other officers besides Captain Pringle (Captain Pringle did visit the sick trooper) did not go to see Trooper Saxon was because they were down with fever themselves. The correspondent who wrote the misleading letter did not go with the contingents to Rhodesia, and he was "not missed" when left behind.
Alfred Morton did not alter his story. Here are some links to various reports in the same vein - including the possibility of bringing the matter before a Royal Commission - but whether Fred Saxon's father and family ever received a satisfactory explanation or apology is unknown. (Any descendants or others reading this who can throw further light on the matter, please do contact me to set the record straight.)

3 October 1900

4 October 1900

5 September 1901

14 September 1901

A typical ward on board a Boer War hospital ship

There are a number of genealogical sources online for the pioneering Saxon family in New Zealand. One describes a memorial service being held in 1901 for Fred Saxon at St. Mary’s Church, Levin, when a stained glass window was erected in his memory that read:
“To the glory of God and in memory of John Frederick Hyde Saxon, Fourth Contingent Wellington Rough Riders, who died of malaria at Beira, South Africa, June 19th 1900. Aged 26 years
The NZ War Graves Project has the sad statement that the lone New Zealander's grave “no longer exists” in Beira. It is not known if his grave ever had a marker to begin with, but at least he is remembered in perpetuity in a beautifully crafted artwork in his homeland.

(Note the initials J.F.H.S within the wreath)
The Saxon stained glass window
Lady Chapel of St Mary's Anglican Church, Levin, New Zealand
From Kete Horowhenua

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.e.

No comments:

Post a Comment