|In the December 1963 issue of Rhodesiana, published by the Rhodesians Society of Salisbury, A. S. Hickman recounts a little
known episode of the Matabele/Mashona Rebellion of 1896. At the time a small store/trading post owned by Messrs. Deary
& Company was located in the Abercorn District of Southern Rhodesia and although the area was initially free from the
fighting it was soon overtaken by events. Local residents took refuge at the store which soon proved indefensible and a
fortified laager was built close by. The laager was occupied by some eighteen people eight of which were European men and
the remainder African men, women and children. On 21 June the laager and its occupants found themselves surrounded by
The eight defenders included John Robert Rowland, John Fletcher, Joseph Francis Dean, Edward Charles Broadbent, George
Holman, James Stroyan, J. Pickering and A. Ragusin. Surviving on canned goods and beer and wine from the store the group
withstood 23 days cooped up in the laager and during that time many of the Africans were killed or disappeared while foraging
for water and the nearby Pote River. Fletcher was killed early on when he unwisely left the laager unarmed and most of the
rest wounded to one degree or another.
The group held out until 13 July when a small relief force under A. H. F. Duncan arrived from Salisbury. As stated earlier
John Fletcher was killed early in the fighting and John Rowland died soon after the arrival of Duncan's force. This left six
defenders still alive.
While it is possible that this photograph depicts members of Duncan's force – or another group altogether - it could very well
actually depict the six surviving defenders of the Abercorn District store/laager. In his article A. S. Hickman states that he
was not able to trace these men - Joseph Francis Dean, Edward Charles Broadbent, George Holman, James Stroyan, J.
Pickering and A. Ragusin - much beyond the events described above so I don't have much confidence in finding any confirmed
photographs of the defenders to compare with.
Subjecting the photograph to a bit of visual forensic examination it appears to have been taken in southern Africa sometime in
the very late 1890s or possible in the early 1900s. These men’s manner of their dress suggests this locality as opposed to
India or other colonial outpost. While the men could be outfitted for a hunting expedition rather than fighting - the man seated
center is armed with a rather expensive looking double-rifle - and the others are armed with Lee-Metford or Enfield rifles or
Martini-Henry rifles, one of which (on left) has clearly been “sporterised” with a cut down for-end, such arms were carried in
the field during the Matabele and Moshona Rebellions. The man dressed in dark clothing at far left also has an interesting
device of some sort on his belt which is unidentified but may be a pedometer or compass.
Although much uncertainty remains in regards to this photograph is does seem likely that it is somehow related to the events
at the mostly forgotten siege of the Abercorn Store.
The investigation continues…
Southern Africa, Possibly Rhodesia