09 DECEMBER 1899
The English, bad as they may be, would not murder a wounded enemy in their hands—some of my amiable countrymen have told me so since I wrote down my belief that the captors of Ben Viljoen had finished him off. We are a most charitable people.
I asserted my opinion that the Boer General had been murdered. Any Irishman who regards the British as a civilised race is at liberty to disagree with me. I am going to assert no further opinions now, but to make six statements in connections with the last Matabili war which are absolutely true, and which, if the Chartered Company desires, I am willing to prove. I have a shrewd suspicion, however, that it will not give me the opportunity.
Firstly, I affirm, that by order of their officers, the Chartered Company’s troopers slaughtered the wounded kafirs after every engagement in which the English were successful. Secondly, that the most horrible and indescribable mutilation of the dead was practised by the English. Thirdly, that kafir prisoners were tortured to death. Fourthly, that ‘friendly’ natives—the Matabili equivalents of our ‘Loyalists’—were blown to atoms by the English with their maxim guns when they had no further need of them. Fifthly, that the murder of non-combatants—old men and women and little children—the outraging of women, robbery and arson, were practised by the troopers with the knowledge and sanction of their officers. Sixthly, that since the conclution of the war the natives have lived under a reign of terror which has degraded them below the level of the meanest animal that crawls the earth.
There were two modes much in favour with the English during the war of torturing their prisoners. One was to ‘gallop them.’ This consisted in taking a number of prisoners, ranging them in single file, tying them then one to each other with a long rope, the end of which was securely fastened around a horse. A sergeant sat on this horse, a trooper rode at the end of the line of prisoners, and a trooper at either side. The destination of the troopers would be some fort or British camp ten or twenty or thirty miles away, to which the prisoners were supposed, when time permitted, to be brought for interrogation before execution. The procession would start out at a gentle trot, but when the kafirs had become ‘warmed,’ as the technical term went, the sergeant would spur his steed into a gallop; to save themselves the kafirs would be compelled to run at the top of their speed, until some poor wretch, exhausted, fell to the ground and was dragged along the earth shrieking in his agony. If he did not bring down the line, he was allowed to drag along the ground until his brains were battered out. If he did bring down the line, the rear trooper rode up and untied him, and then, placing the muzzle of his rifle at the back of the kafir’s ear, pulled the trigger and ‘finished the heathen.’ By the time the procession had reached its destination there would be few prisoners left alive. These few, generally, were executed at sunrise the next morning. A short rope was tied from the bough of a tree and round the kafir’s neck. He was hung up to strangle and the troopers lounged around smoking and laying wagers as to the number of minutes it would take him to die.
The other favourite English mode of dealing with the natives was known as ‘giving them the gauntlet.’ A young and vigorous kafir would be brought out, and informed he would be given a chance for his life; he would be allowed twenty seconds’ start before he was fired upon by the troopers who had brought him out. Gladly the kafir would grasp at the chance and speed away. At the expiration of the twenty seconds—honourable men, the English—the troopers would fire, and generally fail to ‘pot’ him. High would rise the runner’s heart; he would shout aloud with joy as he heard the bullets whistle harmlessly by him and the hills where he would find safety came nearer to him. Even as he exulted a rifleshot would ring out beside him and a bullet find him. Perhaps, he would stagger on, and then from behind every boulder and tree rifles would crack and the Matabele would fall, riddled by scores of bullets, for the humane and honourable Englishmen always took the precaution to line the trees and boulders along the path the kafir would be forced to travers with sharpshooters.
Matabeleland, like Ireland, had its loyal minority. These savages, like our loyalists, were quite glad to aid the English in robbing and slaughtering the ‘rebels.’ Like our loyalists, too, they were fond of singing ‘God Save the Queen’ and going to church. Like our loyalists, too, they asked the English for a share in the loot. After a while the English got tired of sharing the loot—they had not nearly enough for themselves; so when Buluwayo was invested they put the representatives of Matabili wealth, intelligence, and respectability outside the town and when they tried to get back in mowed them down with the devil-guns, as the kafirs call the maxims.
There was an Irishman of whom I had a slight knowledge named W—. I refrain from giving his name, because his people are living in Dublin at the present time. In an evil moment he joined the Chartered troopers. One day a patrolling party of which he was a member seized a cave in which a few old men, women, and children were hiding. What ensued cannot be described, but W— refused to participate in the hideous atrocities. His comrades made him the butt of their brutal jests for his squeamishness. In the next fight with the Matabili W— galloped out into the open, flung away his gun, and let himself fall unresistingly beneath the assegais of the savages.
I have written enough for the present. There is no species of atrocity which the English did not practise upon these people. At the present time native men and women are bought and sold as ‘goods’ by the English; the white traveller through the Mashona country finds the timid natives fleeing everywhere before him, or, if unable to avoid him, prostrating themselves on the earth and moaning out to him appeals for mercy. This is no exaggeration—it is the literal truth.
But the magnanimous Britisher, I am assured, would have been incapable of assassinating an enemy, like Ben Viljoen, when he had the chance. He would, instead, have bound up his wrists, nursed him tenderly, and restored him to liberty at the first opportunity. After seven centuries’ experience the Irish people seem to be still unaware that their lords and masters are white barbarians.