To the editor of the Evening Telegraph, published 26 January, 1907, two days after Blake’s death at the age of 50 at his home in New York from a suspected suicide.
Sir – The news of Colonel Blake’s death comes with a terrible shock to all who knew him. If the circumstances mentioned in the cablegram are true, it does not say much for our countrymen in America, that they should let a man like Blake die in their midst practically of starvation.
Those who knew him will readily understand why he may have hid himself away in a quiet corner of the great American city, for he was of a very reticent disposition, and probably never disclosed his true circumstances, to those who, I am sure, would have helped him had they known of it. Doubtless, many will be glad to do honour to him now; but the untarnished records of his stand for freedom in the South African Campaign form the noblest wreath of laurels that could be placed on the grave of an Irishman.
I first met Blake in Johannesburg towards the end of ’98. In September of that year the Irishmen on the Rand met in Johannesburg, and decided in forming an Irish Brigade. As Chairman of the Committee I was asked to accept the command, but having no military experience, I, of course, declined. Solomon Gillingham, who was present, then informed us that there was an Irish-American in Pretoria named Blake, who had been a lieutenant in the American Army, and that he thought he would be willing to accept the command. Gillingham was asked to bring Lieutenant Blake to Johannesburg. He did so on the following Sunday, and we met for the first time on the stoep of the Central Hotel. Blake was a splendid type of a man – about 6ft. 1in. in his stockings, and of a very genial disposition. I fell under his influence at once, and was so captivated by him that I proposed him at our next meeting to command the Brigade. He accepted the command, and performed his duty in the most praiseworthy manner. He was in active command of the Brigade till he was wounded at Modderspruit on the 30th October, 1899. He was a man of great thoughtfulness and consideration, and I shall never forget his kindness to myself the week before we reached Ladysmith. In my ignorance I started off with one rug; the Colonel had two, and he insisted on sharing his rugs with me every night. In fact, he was the type of man that would give the shirt off his back if he thought one needed it.
About 6 o’clock in the morning of the 30th October he was wounded, and had to retire to hospital. Two or three days after all the wounded men were ordered back to Pretoria, but Blake refused to go, as he wanted to be near the Brigade; and although not fully recovered from his wound he returned to our camp on the 14th December. For some time after he was not able to take an active command in the different engagements of the Brigade, but he remained with us until we were driven back to Pretoria, where he attached himself to one of the artillery commandoes, and fought with it to the end of the war.
On behalf of the men of the Old Brigade, I wish to pay a tribute to his memory, and so express my regret at the tragic circumstances of his death.