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Auction: 18002 - Orders, Decorations and Medals
Lot: 267

(x) Bettington's Horse

Raised as No. 3 Troop of the Natal Horse at Rorke's Drift in February 1879, the unit was formed from the officers and non-commissioned officers of the disbanded 3rd Regiment of the Natal Native Contingent. The Natal Horse comprised of three troops: No. 1 Troop under Captain de Burgh, No. 2 Troop under Captain Cooke and No. 3 Troop under Captain Bettington. The first two Troops were sent to join Crealock's 1st Division on the coast and No. 3 troop moved up to Utrecht and became part of the 2nd Division. Henceforth, it became 'Bettington's Horse'.

Claude Albemarle Bettington had grown up in New Zealand, working as an ostler and keeping a livery stable before coming to South Africa in 1872. Rapidly promoted, he took leave of the 1st/1st Regiment of the Natal Native Contingent in April 1879, when he took charge of Bettington's Horse. The corps was originally involved in patrols on both sides of the Buffalo River, the Times of Natal detailing one such adventure:

'On Tuesday, Captain Bettington and about eighty men crossed the Buffalo, and patrolled to Baltee's Spruit; then down past John Uys' house on Conference Hill, down the Blood River; after bivouacking there for the night, they crossed the Blood River at Bemba's kop, and patrolled up to the range of hills to the east; they there saw a few natives and started in pursuit, but they got away leaving their kraals, however, unprotected. The patrol burned these, and then moved off eastwards to another range, and bivouacked there for the night.'

The arrival of the Prince Imperial

The 1st of April witnessed the arrival in Durban of yet another volunteer. A man small of stature, wearing the uniform of a Lieutenant of artillery, in his pocket a letter from the Commander-in-Chief of the British Army requesting that all possible assistance be given to the bearer. The young man was Napoleon Eugene Louis John Joseph Bonaparte, the Prince Imperial of France. Chelmsford placed the Prince as an aide-de-camp on his staff.

Within days it was clear that the Prince was a concern to Chelmsford; described as being rather impulsive and an extrovert, the Prince had never been shy, and his exuberance nearly got the better of him when he struck off after a small party of Zulu. In a letter to his wife, Chelmsford wrote:

'The Prince Imperial went out on a reconnaissance a few days ago and nearly came to grief. I shall not let him out of my sight again if I can help it.'

With both Chelmsford and Buller much concerned by their having to care for the Prince, a solution was found with his allocation to Colonel Richard Harrison; under orders to reconnoitre and map the route for the coming second invasion of Zululand, Harrison welcomed the Prince, adept as he was at reading a compass, map-making and writing reports.

First Blood

On 18 May, Colonel Harrison, the Prince Imperial, Captain Carey, Captain Bettington and approximately 25 men consisting of Bettington's Horse and Basutos, crossed the Blood River and proceeded to the south-east spur of Itelezi. At daybreak on the 19th, having failed to liaise with 300 men and Colonel Buller, this small forced marched for the Incqutu to pick up a road. On approaching the ascent leading to a large kraal, approximately 60 Zulus, 11 mounted and the rest on foot, lined the top of the rocks on their left and right front, and opened fire on the little party, which fire was vigorously returned.

Captain Bettington rode straight up to them, the Prince behaving with utmost coolness and evidently relishing the opportunity of first hand action. The road was steep and covered in boulders; Bettington succeeded in taking the position, killing two Zulus, wounding one, driving the rest away, and capturing seven of their horses which they abandoned. Among the spoils of the kraal lay many curious relics of Isandhlwana; a saddle of Colonel Black, 2-24th; empty boxes of Martini-Henry and an artillery forge bellows.

After breakfast, Colonel Harrison and Captain Bettington went to the top ridge alone on a small reconnoitre; they saw three Zulus about 100 yards off, two armed with guns and one with an assegai. Colonel Harrison was unarmed, but Bettington held a revolver and galloped up to them. They, thinking he was unarmed let him get within ten yards and came up to him. He called out, raised his revolver, and the first two chambers missed fire; with one Zulu aiming at him from behind a tree at about fifteen yards, fortunately the third chamber proved honest and Bettington shot him. The other two fled down a rocky cliff.

Following such adventures, it is clear that the Prince felt free and unencumbered by his position and new-found freedom under Captain Bettington.

Death of the Prince Imperial

On Saturday 31 May, the Prince approached Colonel Harrison requesting if he could go out on patrol on the following day, to the ground the column would reach on the day of invasion; as that ground would be covered by mounted patrols of the marching column, Harrison was not unduly concerned so long as at least half a dozen of Bettington's Horse accompanied, under Bettington himself, together with six mounted Basutos.

However, Bettington had other orders and Harrison had to come up with someone else to command the patrol; Lieutenant Jahleel Brenton Carey approached him having heard of the intended patrol and asked if he could accompany the Prince as he wanted to verify certain points on a map which he was working on. Harrison, delighted at the offer, accepted.

At eight o'clock the next morning, Carey rode over to the cavalry lines and returned with six men personally selected by Bettington. The Basuto Scouts had been instructed to join them within the hour, but shortly after nine, the Prince announced: "Let's start. Leave orders for the Basutos to follow." There were no objections and the small party moved off. Carey, not sure what to do, was advised 'Do not interfere with the Prince,' and from that moment, the Prince regarded himself as in command of the party.

Just after noon, on a hill above the river, Carey completed his map and the Prince made a sketch of the surrounding countryside. The Prince then led his party down to some huts by the river where the men could get washed and some water to cook a meal; entering a small kraal, the men dis-mounted and a fire was lit for the brewing of coffee. At half past three, having rested and allowed the horses to graze, Carey suggested that they saddle up, to which the Prince relied: "Let us take another ten minutes". Suddenly, the Zulu guide appeared and Corporal Jim Grubb interpreting, announced that he had seen a Zulu come over the hill. The Prince called out "Prepare to Mount," but if the order to mount was ever uttered, it was drowned out by the crash of rifle fire as 30 or more Zulu burst from the long grass. Frightened, the horses reared and stampeded. The Prince, hanging on to a frightened horse, attempted to vault into the saddle, but the strain was more than a holster strap could take and it gave way. With horse off, the Prince staggered to his feet and drawing his revolver with his left hand, having hurt the right in the fall, he turned to face the enemy. In only seconds, he went down, mortally wounded, and the Zulu crowded over him, their assegais doing their deadly work.

As part of the invading force Bettington's Horse was involved in a large number of further skirmishes and took part in the Battle of Ulundi. The only battle casualties suffered by the unit were Troopers Abel and Rogers, who died with the Prince alongside the cattle kraal.

Originally 60 strong, by the end of hostilities the regiment has increased to 112 men. The regiment was disbanded at Durban in October 1879.

68 Medals were awarded to Bettington's Horse, 63 of them with the '1879' clasp.

South Africa 1877-79, 1 clasp, 1879 (Sergt Smith, Bettingtons Horse), very fine

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