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Billy Bunbury, aka 2nd Lieutenant William McClintock Bunbury (1878-1900)

Photo of Billy Bunbury and his mother, Kate (née Bruen).

The Hon. William McClintock Bunbury was born at Lisnavagh on 15 September 1878, the eldest son and heir of Thomas Kane (Tom) McClintock Bunbury, 2nd Baron Rathdonnell, and his wife, Lady Katherine Anne (Kate) Rathdonnell, née Bruen. His birth was recorded by Mary Anne McGrath, who was present at his birth.

It was the second happy event of the week for the family as Billy’s uncle Jack McClintock Bunbury had married Myra Watson of Ballydarton on 11 September.

He was baptized in the church in Rathvilly on 23 October 1878 and named William in honour of his paternal grandfather, Captain William McClintock Bunbury, RN, the builder of Lisnavagh House. Although I am by no means a regular churchgoer, I found myself in the same church with my wife and daughters for a Thanksgiving service which took place on 23 October 2011, exactly 133 years to the day later.

Billy’s birth was registered in Rathvilly on 8 October 1878.


The Dragon School


Billy was educated at the Dragon School in Oxford. Founded in 1877 by a group of Oxford dons, the school was formally known as Oxford Preparatory School. During Billy’s time, the school was at 17 Crick Road, known as “School House”; it moved to its current site at Bardwell Road in 1895. Assuming he was six or seven years old when he started, his time at the Dragon School would have likely crossed with two headmasters, A. E. Clarke (1877–1886) and Charles Cotterill Lynam (“The Skipper”), who took over as headmaster in 1886 and remained in that position through until 1920.

In the spring of 1891, he accompanied his parents and sisters on a Mediterranean cruise in Thauma.


Eton (1892-1897)


In April 1892, he entered Eton College where he went into the house of Dr Warre’s successor, the Rev S.A. Donaldson, an enthusiastic rowing coach, who went on to become Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge. His classmates included the author Lord Dunsany and the 6th Earl of Clarendon. [1] He was a member of Pop, the club for prefects, at a time when its president was Walter Guinness, third son of the 1st Earl of Iveagh and younger brother of Rupert Guinness, the 2nd Earl. Walter, who won the Diamond Sculls in 1895 and 1896, went on to serve in the Boer War and was raised in the peerage as Baron Moyne. Assassinated in 1944, he was father to the Hon. Desmond Guinness.

I am unsure why Billy’s younger brother Tim did not also go to Eton. Indeed, nobody seems to know why Tim went to Charterhouse. Was it a Bruen school? Could Tim have been seen as a challenge to Billy? Or was it unfair to pitch him into a school where his brother had excelled at rowing and cricket?

According to Billy’s obituary in the Eton College Chronicle of 1 March 1900:

There are many still in the School who well remember BILLY BUNBURY. He came to Eton in the Summer Half 1892 and, following his father’s example, became a wetbob; but he did not distinguish himself markedly on the river until he rowed in the Trial Eights in 1896. The following Summer, he stroked the Eton Eight to victory at Henley, and repeated the feat in 1897, in the later year – according to competent judges – being mainly instrumental in achieving the result by his admirable pluck and judgment: so proving himself a worthy son and nephew of strokes famous and victorious in byegone [sic] years. He won the Pulling with John Philips in 1897, and left as Captain of the Boats in December of that year. He was a conspicuous member of the School in many ways, besides rowing, playing football, fives, and cricket too, vigorously and successfully; and often acting as the Commanding Officer’s mounted Orderly in Field Days. He was a beautiful rider, with perfect hand and seat, and knew no fear.

It is only a short twelve months ago that he gained his Commission in the Scots Greys, a type of all that is manly, and brisk, and keen, and straight. Such was his lusty love of living, so super abundant were his high spirits, so attractive was his personality, and so warm his heart, that it is hard indeed to associate his bright and promising young life with the idea of death.

It was a terrible shock to many of us to find that he was one of the very few to fall in General French’s Relief of Kimberley, so brilliantly accomplished the week before last. His loss causes deep grief to his friends here, and we would fain convey to his parents our true sympathy in their bitter trial.

As one of his brother officers, and old school friends, said, “It was surely the death he would have himself chosen.” But those who loved him – and there are many at Eton – may, perhaps, be forgiven if they find it hard at once to acquiesce, while their hearts are still sore, and they wish him back. ” But God had provided some better thing for him.’ [2]


Champion of Henley


Assuming they are recreating the positions of the crew when they were in the boat, the names from top to bottom would be as follows:
Bow Hon. M. C. A. Drummond
2.  C. M. Black
3.  F. W. Warre
4. E. L. Warre
5. J. L. Philips
6. J. A. Tinne [3]
7. W. Dudley Ward
Str. Hon. W. McClintock Bunbury
Cox R. A. Blyth

Like his father before him, Billy captained the rowing team at Eton. A detailed account of his rowing career is provided at this link on the Hear the Boat Sing blog courtesy of Greg Denieffe who, circa 2010, purchased the rowing medals (2 Henley, 2 Eton and 2 Oxford) of J. L. Phillips, Billy’s pairs partner.

In 1896 Billy won the Ladies’ Plate when rowing for Eton at the Henley Royal Regatta. This was an age in which Henley was regarded as the foremost rowing event of its type in the world, superior even to the Olympics.

According to the Windsor and Eton Express of Saturday 11 July 1896:

The Eton crew gained a very popular victory in the Ladies’ Plate, and it was a singular circumstance that Dr Warre, the Head Master of Eton, who witnessed the race from the launch Hibernia, had not only two sons in the Eton boat, but one in the Balliol crew which opposed them.

Assuming they are recreating the positions of the crew when they were in the boat, the names from top to bottom would be as follows:

Bow Hon. M. C. A. Drummond
2.  C. M. Black
3.  F. W. Warre
4. E. L. Warre
5. J. L. Philips
6. J. A. Tinne [3]
7. W. Dudley Ward
Str. Hon. W. McClintock Bunbury
Cox R. A. Blyth

The Ladies Plate has always been the trophy for which “present” boys have striven for, and during the past three or four years Eton has always been first and the rest nowhere. There have been really splendid eights sent to Henley of late years; but on this occasion it was generally thought that the crew was scarcely up to the high standard of last or the previous year. Mr R. S. de Haviland, however, worked wonders with the boys during the three weeks prior to the regatta, and some critics aver that the Etonians at Henley this week have seldom been surpassed for speed or graceful rowing.

The inclusion of the Hon. W. M’Clintock-Bunbury as stroke almost at the last minute, however, made a vast difference to the eight, and supplied the “missing link” in the boat. He is a very capable young oarsman. and will undoubtedly be heard of a great deal more in the big aquatic contests for years to come.’
Windsor and Eton Express – Saturday 11 July 1896.

In August 1896, Billy was at Painstown Church, Oak Park, when his cousin Helen Bruen married Major Charles Bishop, 9th Lancers. Billy’s older sister Isabella was also married to an officer of the 9th Lancers, namely Forrester Colvin, of whom more anon.


The Eton VIII from 1896 with the Ladies Plate from Henley. Left to right (top row): Hon. M.C.A. Drummond, Hon. W. McClintock Bunbury (stroke), C.M. Black, F.W. Warre, J.L. Philips, W. Dudley Ward, J.A. Tinne, E.L. Warre, R.A. Blyth (Cox).  In another picture they are in the shape of a ladder, almost certainly recreating the positions of the crew when they are in the boat as per the listing in the Windsor and Eton Express of 11 July 1896 above.


The Henley Regatta, probably 1896 or 1897.

Aquatic Champion, 1897



On Saturday evening the Senior Pulling amongst the Etonians was decided, the trial heats being  rowed the previous night. The course was a severe one, starting from the Eton Brocas, round the ‘Rushes’, and back to Windsor Bridge, a distance of nearly three miles. On each evening there a large crowd of spectators assembled on Windsor Bridge and the banks of the Brocas to witness the rowing, amongst whom we noticed several well-known oarsmen, old Etonians, officers of the Brigade of Guards, and a goodly sprinkling of Oxford and Cambridge old Blues. We were pleased see that Dr. Warre, O.U.B.C. (head master), is quite himself again, and was on the Thames sculling.

The entries and rowing was quite up to the average, and, considering the strong rough water, times were good.

Mr. R. S. de Haviland, O.U.B.C., kindly officiated as starter and umpire.

The date of the above race was altered from the 25th to last Friday and Saturday.

Details. —Heat 1: Station 2 (Windsor).—J. L. Philips and Hon. W. M’Clintock-Bunbury, first. Station 1 (Eton).—Hon. Guinness and F. Warre, second. Station 1 (Windsor).—T. G. Rawstone and C. D. Stanley, third. Station 2 (Windsor).—G. B. S. Foilott and M. A. Sands, fourth.

The race was detained in consequence of a barge being across the stream. At the word “Go!” Guinness, who had the best station, dashed off with the start, and were leading at the Clumps. On rounding the bend at Bargeman’s the first and second captains of the boats, who were rowing in splendid style, and very steady, passed them, which lead they kept throughout, and won easily by a clear length. Time, 19mins. 33 sec …

… Final Heat: Station 2 (Eton).—J. L. Phillips and Hon. WMcClintock Bunbury, first. Station 2 (Windsor)—Hon. Guinness and F. Warre, second. Station 1 (Eton)—Lord Vivian and W. H. Chapman, third. Station 1 (Windsor).—P. Cockerell and R. F. Robinson, fourth.

A capital start. The captains of the boats immediately took the lead, and soon got clear of their opponents. Steering well round Bargeman’s Bay, gradually increased their lead, and won, hands down, by nearly dozen lengths. Time, 19 min. 13 1/2 sec.

The victory of the captains was most popular.

Sporting Life – Wednesday 26 May 1897, p. 1.

Old Captains of The Boats’ Crew, 1898.

Billy was team captain by the time of the Henley Regatta on 16 July 1897, on which the Morning Post recorded:

‘… the Ladies’ Plate excited more attention than almost any other race. Eton College, who always make a brave show in this event, won after a fine struggle with Emmanuel College, Cambridge, by half a length, in record time for this event, namely, 7 min. l sec. Their stroke, the Hon. W. M’Clintock Bunbury, well backed up by his men, deserves every credit for his good generalship. Ladies waved their handkerchiefs, men shouted themselves hoarse, and the vanquished had almost as good a reception as the victors.’[4]

On 4 June 1898, Billy joined his father for a photograph of Old Captains of the Boats Crew photo at Eton. Also pictured were Sir John Edwards Moss, Colonel F. C. Ricardo and Messrs. G. C. Bourne, H. G. Gold, M. C. Pilkington, V. Nickalls and C. P. Sercold (cox). Tom Rathdonnell was the most senior captain present; Billy the most junior, although Sercold looks young too. Colonel Ricardo was the inspiration for Toad of Toad Hall in ‘The Wind in the Willows’.


Billy’s Last Dance


Billy’s dance card from the 1898 Kildare Hunt Ball.

I have a dance card for the Kildare Hunt Ball, which took place at the Town Hall in Naas on Wednesday 6 January 1898, with the Viceregal Band. According to a report on the ‘much-enjoyed’ ball in the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News of 5 February 1898, ‘Liddell’s band supplied the dance music, and tire catering was more than safe – it was superlative – in the hands of Lovell’s accomplished aides. The dresses worn were quite lovely, and county belles were present in picturesque numbers and brightness.’

Ever since I found the dance card in the attic at Lisnavagh, I’ve had a hunch that this belonged to twenty-year-old Billy and sure enough, a perusal of the Kildare Observer and Eastern Counties Advertiser of 29 January 1898 confirms he was there. There are six names pencilled on the back and it is difficult not to read into the largest name ‘Amy’ which fills the spot for the No. 2 dance (Valse: Marguerite), and also the 5th (Lancers: The Geisha). It’s tricky to read the other names but it looks like he had Mrs Mitchell for the 11th and Lady Evelyn HH (Hely Hutchinson) for the 19th and penultimate dance.

I was of the view that Amy was Amy Duckett, only daughter of Mr. Steuart James Charles Duckett, D.L. (1847-1915), and Mrs. Duckett, of Russellstown Park, County Carlow. However, she does not seem to be named on the list of attendees provided by the Kildare Observer which may scupper that one. She was certainly Billy’s age, while their fathers were also exact contemporaries, as well as old Etonians; Steuart was also Hon Secretary of the Carlow Hunt.

On 6 October 1909, nine years after Billy’s death at Kimberley, Amy was married in Urglin to Major Louis Murray Phillpotts, DSO (1870-1916), a veteran of the Anglo-Boer War who also took part in the advance on Kimberley.


Militia Exams (1898)


Having left Eton in 1897, Billy was appointed second lieutenant with the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers (Militia) on 9 October 1897.[5] He then went to Hove, near Brighton, Sussex, where he was prepared for his exams for the Militia Competitive for the Fifth (Cavalry) by Mr Spencer Mitchell (late the Border Regiment), assisted by Colonel E Kensington, late Royal Artillery. He sat the exams in October 1898, scoring 1,726 points, meaning he was successful at his first trail. [6]

On 10 December 1898, it was announced that he had successfully passed his examination as a militia candidate for the cavalry.[7]


Appointment to the Scots Greys


On 3 January 1899, the War Office announced that Second Lieut. the Hon. W. McClintock Bunbury was to be transferred from the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers to the Royal Scots Greys (Second Dragoons) ‘in succession to Lieut. T. Conolly, seconded.’ [8] Raised in 1678 as three independent troops of Scots Dragoons, the Royal Scots Greys were formed as The Royal Regiment of Scots Dragoons in 1681. Tom Conolly of Castletown House, his cousin, was also fated to be killed in the Boer War.

Billy was assigned to the regiment’s C-Squadron, which was based in Scotland during the time. On 7 April 1899, he was an also ran at the Eglinton Hunt Meeting when his six-year-old horse Santa Lucia contested the Royal Scots Greys’ Hunt Cup.[9] He also steered his own horse to come second in the Regimental Cup, as per here? In July 1899, his horse Scotty enjoyed an ‘easy win’ in the Maiden Scurry Stakes.[10] In mid-September 1899, he managed to slip away to attend the Ayr Race Ball at the County Hall in Ayr.[11]


Charles Knight took this photograph of the Royal Scots Greys en route to the front, which was published in The Sketch on 6 December 1899. (See here).

Mobilisation for South Africa


You might consider listening to this recording of ‘Goodbye Dolly Gray’ by Harry MacDonough which, released in 1901, became particularly popular during the Boer War.

On 1 November 1899, it was announced that C Squadron would shortly embark for South Africa to deal with the escalating tensions between the British army and the Boers of the Transvaal and Orange Free States. The Scots Greys – without their greys – would take part in the last major cavalry charge of the British Army at the Relief of Kimberley at the time of Billy’s death.[12]

The squadron left Edinburgh on 2 November as per this report:

‘Last night the main body of C Squadron of the Scots Greys, consisting of four officers and 114 men, left Edinburgh for Aldershot to join the draft already there taking over horses, making up the strength of the squadron which sails from London next week by the s.s. Chicago for South Africa to seven officers and 173 rank and file. Thousands of people gave the Greys an enthusiastic send off.’ [13]

On 3 November 1899, the Globe reported:

‘In consequence an outbreak of influenza among the horses of the Royal Scots Greys, Edinburgh, a squadron of 160 non-commissioned officers and men has arrived at Aldershot to take over other horses and saddlery. The squadron, which is accommodated in the East Cavalry Barracks, vacated by the 12th Lancers, will leave next Wednesday, and embark in the Chicago, at the Royal Albert Docks. Capt. Fielden is in command of the squadron, the other officers being Capt. Maxwell, Lieut. Foster, and Second Lieuts. Fordyce, Long, and the Hon. M’Clintock Bunbury.’ [14]

Five days later, the London Evening Standard provided this update:

‘By to-night all the regiments for the Cavalry Division should be on the way to South Africa, the embarkations, which began with the 12th Lancers on the 22d ult„ having to be completed today at the Royal Albert Dock, where the Chicago will take on board the remainder of the Carabiniers for the First Brigade, and for the Second Brigade the squadron of the Scots Greys which lately went from Edinburgh to Aldershot, to be furnished at the latter station with horses in place of those which had gone sick at Edinburgh.
In the emergency it has been found impossible to provide the men with the grey mounts which have made the regiment distinct in the British Cavalry Service, and the C Squadron will embark with horses of various colours and but few greys. The Chicago will also take out a portion of the No. 4 General Hospital, supplied from the Aldershot establishment, and the 12th Field Company of the Royal Engineers for the Third Infantry Division.’[15]

On 18 November 1899, the Eastern Morning News reported:

‘The transport Chicago, with the C Squadron 2nd Dragoons, Scots Greys, half of the 6th Dragoon Guards, and medical detachment, passed St. Vincent yesterday.’

Charles Knight took a photograph of the Royal Scots Greys en route to the front, which was published in The Sketch on 6 December 1899. (See here). Two days later, the press published this update:

Her Majesty’s transport British Princess (No. 50), which left Southampton November 16. arrived at Cape Town yesterday with 8 officers, 1 warrant officer, and 101 men and 38 horses of the ammunition park, C Squadron 2nd Dragoons (Scots Greys), remounts from Aldershot, second half of 61st Howitzer Field Battery, and General Hospital detachment. The Scots Greys number 18 officers, 1 warrant officer, and 372 men, with 349 horses.[16]

On 27 December 1899, The Sketch observed:

‘Lieutenant William M’Clintock Bunbury, of the Scots Greys, who is the son and heir of Lord Rathdonnell, is probably one of the youngest, if not the youngest, of the officers engaged in the present campaign, being only just twenty-one years of age.’



Billy’s Boer War Letters (9 December 1899 – 12 February 1900)


Portrait of Billy Bunbury in uniform, at Lisnavagh.

Billy was with C-Squadron of the Royal Scots Greys (2nd Dragoons) when the regiment was posted to South Africa in 1899. These letters cover the time from his arrival in Cape Town in early December to his death at Dronfield less than 10 weeks later. Presumably the mail arrived by means of the British control of the railway line from the Cape.

Billy’s commanding officer was Major-General Sir Henry Jenner Scobell (1859-1912). Born in England and educated at Eton, Harry Scobell joined the Scots Greys in 1879 and had become a major by 1896. During the South African War, he served in both the Cape Colony and the Transvaal, capturing amongst others the Boer Commandant Lotter who was subsequently executed in circumstances that aroused much criticism.

Billy arrived in South Africa in early December 1899, just before the British defeat at the Battle of Magersfontein halted the advance of Lord Methuen’s forces up the railway line. Methuen’s aim since November 1899 had been to relieve the towns of Kimberley and Mafeking, which were both under siege by Boer forces. With the defeat at Magersfontein, the British were effectively stalled for two months, during which time Billy’s regiment were in patrol between the Modder and Orange rivers.

Billy’s enthusiasm for life at the front seems to peter out quickly what with his disapproval of Lord Methuen’s tactics and the way in which he and his men are apparently left to do nothing for weeks on end. I spy a welcome streak of rebellion in the lad when he and his fellow officers chase after springbok on their new ponies and prepare for the big race meeting whenever they finally reach Pretoria.

His letters take on a sweet and affectionate tone when he talks of his sisters Mamie and Poly, although Isabel Colvin (Forrester Colvin’s wife) rarely gets a look in and I don’t see anything at all about his younger brother Tim, my father’s grandfather, subsequently 3rd Baron Rathdonnell.

My brother Andrew alerted me to the manner by which  Kimberley was named in 1873 after John Wodehouse, 1st Earl of Kimberley, secretary of state for the colonies. According to Brian Roberts, author of ‘Cecil Rhodes: Flawed Colossus’ (1987), Lord Kimberley sought a new name for the electoral division (formerly called New Rush) but insisted on “decent and intelligible names. His Lordship declined to be in any way connected with such a vulgarism as New Rush and as for the Dutch name, Vooruitzigt… he could neither spell nor pronounce it.”  The matter came before J.B. Currey, Colonial Secretary to the Government of Griqualand West, who, Roberts writes, “proved himself a worthy diplomat. He made quite sure that Lord Kimberley would be able both to spell and pronounce the name of the main electoral division by, as he says, calling it ‘after His Lordship’.”



The First Letter Home


Billy’s first letter home after his arrival in South Africa, written and sent from Government House in Capetown. The letter was written on Government Houses headed paper. There is no envelope.

Government House, Cape Town. 9. Dec. 99.

My dear Mother,

We arrived here safely on Wednesday & are now in Camp at Maitland about 4 miles from here – ready to leave at 2 hrs notice. We shall probably leave for the front, Kimberley way, almost directly. It’s awfully hot & dusty, & the last squadron came in here this morning but have not landed yet. The 12th 6th Dgns. 10th Hussars have all left, except the Squads. On the 10th which have no horses. Here they think the War has only just begun – we have had to cast all our brown {bells? Re] & have to be just the same as the men as 20 per cent of the Boers have been told (to aim for) officers& sergts. They seem to be awfully treacherous. One of the Guards was shot by a wounded Boer when he was helping him. The horses are wonderfully well. This will probably be last letter (civilised) I shall be able to write. L(ord?) Belgrave(?) is ADC here & he goes in French’s staff immediately. We’re beginning to really rough it now. No knifes & spoons & we have boxes to eat off & sit on – there’s no news here, as you will probably have seen all the news for the next fortnight before you get this. They seem to be in great want of cavalry at the front & send all up as early as they can. The Inniskilling had orders at 12 yesterday & left at 2 although they all aren’t here. I hope all of you are quite well. I’ve no time to write to any of the others as the mail goes soon and this is the first chance I’ve had at writing since we arrived as disembarking & setting up our own camp has been filling up our time for the last two days and a half. This is rather a fine town & the bay with the Mountain behind is an awfully fine sight. The Railway is rather a funny one, much smaller gauge than the English ones. Has Father been hunting at all yet (?) – I hope he likes his new horses – my two are very well & were never bad on board. [17] Mr. [Indyce? R.D. Fordyce?] lost both of his – and we lost seven of the squadron ones. I’ve got a nice pony, a [loaned?] by the Govt for £2.10 a quarter. Got about the best of the lot too.

I’ll write again by a later mail when there is something [write you?].

Best of love to you and all, your loving son,





The regiment’s mission during this era was to patrol the area between the Orange and Modder rivers. Just over a week before Christmas 1899, he wrote two letters home from the Orange River Station. The first is to his father; the second to his mother.


Orange River Station. S. Africa. Sunday Dec 17th 1899

My dear Father,

You will see by the “address” we are now up at the front. We left Maitland Camp early on Tuesday morning. It took about 40 hours in the train. The railway is built absolutely regardless of hills (up or down) & they don’t seem to mind right angle curves. All the country we came through was very bleak & completely dried up. Hardly any inhabitants in sight of the railway barring a few blacks. This place here is rather an important place as the railway crosses the Orange River here. It is quite close as [—?] see on the map to Spytsfontein where Methuen made such a ghastly blunder with the Highland Brigade last Monday – we are hoping & expect him to be superseded, as we’re under his command here. All his troops are completely broken hearted & have lost all faith in him. No wonder from all accounts. He seems to be completely off his head – Takes no precautions to save mens lives & always attacks positions in the way calculated to cause greater loss – so the wounded officers say who are here. There is a hospital here as well, & many wounded here – we are patrolling all the country round here. Subalterns patrols – up to date we have not come in contact with them but the night before we began the Mounted infantry ran into them at Zoutpansdrift, about 10 miles N.W. of here & killed some of them, but Bradshaw who was in command was killed & about a dozen men wounded. [18]

Things are rather at a standstill here now since Monday’s fright & of course we hear very little of any fighting in Natal or near Colenso, where we were first intended to go. You can’t imagine the heat here. Everything is melting including all my condensed food – the chocolate, lozenges &c are a sort of unrecognisable pulp. The nights too are as hot – we thought it hot at Cape own but it was nothing to this. There are I think three trees in sight – & they a long way off so you can imagine the sort of place – all low scrub & big stones, & dried up water courses. However we better off than we shall be as we bathe in the River which is about a mile away. The horses on the whole are very well. We’ve lost only about three since we landed – my two are well. Filgate’s one is eating everything she can get near & doing well. The other is, I’m afraid, very thin, tho picking up a bit now & feeds well at night. The “2.10 a quarter Government Pony is useful but awfully lazy & gone in the wind but does the job well enough. There are a fair amount of troops here now. ! Battn. 1 battery R.A. (15 pdrs). 1 Howitzer battery (Lyddite) Mounted Infantry & ourselves. They are very anxious the railway s’d be kept safe. So we have to patrol about 8 miles down it.

There are reported to be two lots of Boers near here – one between us & Spytsfontenin & the other at Zoutpans drift, where they had the fight the other night – but transport is very amusing, consisting of long narrow wagons driven by Cape boys – 10 in hand – mules – they drive extraordinarily well.

Hippesley [sic] is too appalling for words. He’s quite made up his mind we are all going to be killed. [19] The other day he said – to Archie Seymour & [Dag?] Harrison [20] – “I know we shall all be killed – I must go & write to my unfortunate wife” – can you imagine such a man. He does nothing but whine all day, & paint everything black.  This place is overrun with rats & in the rocks scorpions – The guard on the top of a small hill 100 yards away can’t sleep on account of them. The Orderly D- has to turn it out every two hours every night. Rather fun!

We’re not in the lap of luxury here only tinned meat and tepid water & lime juice to drink. The water is very yellow, very nasty to look at. But they say its alright. Its so hot that if one leaves ones tin plate or knife & fork in the sun, they get so hot you can’t pick them up. I’m going out patrolling tonight & if I’m in time tomorrow I’ll finish this. Please give my love to Mother and everyone. I hope you’ve been having some hunting and some good sport. Have you been out in Meath at all [?]

With best love,

Your loving son,





Orange River Station. S. Africa. Sunday Dec 17th ’99.

 My dearest mother,

 Your letter has just arrived & I have time to write now so as to catch tomorrows mail. I’m just going out on an escort of the companies of the Duke of Cornwall L.I. [to] a place called [Witteputs?], & shall not be back in time tomorrow to catch the mail. I’m enclosing this in a letter I wrote this morning to father. Its sure awfull the heat out here – I wonder what all the English Papers have been saying of Methuen. The feeling here is very strong against him. Everyone considers him “mad” in the true sense of the word. No man in his proper senses could possibly have behaved as he has done, not only last Monday but ever since he has command. We all hope very much that he will be superseded as we are now under his command at the present moment in the 1st Cav[alry] Brigade. They are always changing plans & we never know where we shall be next day. We were moved up to here only about 6 hrs notice. The country here is very dull to look at, it was very “fine” scenery on the way up. Great mountains – practically uninhabited near the Railway. You’ve no idea what disaffection there is in the Colony itself. If they had the slightest opportunity they would all rise. Here we run in anyone who has not got a pass or who does not know the [comlu?sign]. We have a lot of prisoners here. Some men with grey beards & some quite young. Its quite useless telling you any news as of course you will see it in the papers & besides we have very little here & scarcely ever see a paper except old English ones. The latest are the 23r Nov. Mamie wrote to me too. I wonder what she’s called the Squawker. I suppose I mustn’t call Poly’s a Squawker. Mamie tells me its called “Mark Over” – let Mamie call hers “Forrard Away”.

I have very little time so must stop as I must write to Mamie.

 With vy best love from

 Your loving son, Billy.



Billy’s Letter to Miss Doyne, 26 December 1999


Jane Pidcock (daughter of Major Mervyn Doyne, agent at Coolattin in 1950s) sent this letter to my father in September 2014. She explained how she found the letter while tidying up some filing, adding: ‘Great Aunt Berta Doyne lived at Seafield (now a golf course near Courtown) on the Courtown Estate. She was sister of C. M. Doyne and aunt to Dermot who lived at St. Austins – Tullow. She sent shamrock – gloves , mittens – etc. to troops in the Boer War and in particular anyone she knew in the forces.’

Orange River Station, S. Africa.

Dec 26th 99.

Dear Miss Doyne,

So very many thanks for your delightful Christmas present to our Countrymen out here, Tho’ I’m afraid a sad fate has overtaken the Shamrock before it ever reached here. The awful climate of this country has completely shrivelled it up so that it was completely unrecognisable. However taking it in a selfish point of view, you’ve no idea how pleasant it was receiving your nice letter and the shamrock even though it had come to such catastrophe.

This country is no country for a white man at all. I’m writing this in a sand storm. The Christmas weather out here evidently – Instead of the snow storms connected with our Christmas at home. We are at present having a very dull time – Waiting. There will I fancy be little done now till Lord Roberts comes out and up this direction. How awfully sad his son Freddy Roberts being killed last week with many more. Thanks for your too kind present and though the men unfortunately have been unable to partake in it I think I may take it on myself to say “thank you” from them too.

 Yours sincerely, W. McClintock Bunbury.


Letters to His Mother


British Casualties coming down from Spion Kop.

Orange River. Dec 29th

My dear Mother,

I am still in time to wish you a Happy New Year, also Father & Isabel. Please thank Isabel for her letter which I got yesterday – I also heard from Mamie & Eleanor. There is no news to tell you from here. In fact you hear all the news long before we do, from other parts of the country. We are at the present waiting for Lord Roberts. Weren’t you sorry to hear of poor Freddy Roberts being killed the other day at Colenso. We hear such a lot of “Canards” here. Most startling thing is we heard the other day Ladysmith had been relieved & Buller killed. I suppose its not true as we s’d have heard by now – Methuen is not allowed to do anything now fortunately as he w’d probably have another go at Magersfontein. In fact he intended doing so in precisely the same way the next day only the Brigade Major of the Highland Brigade aid it was an impossible thing to do. I don’t know if you’ve really heard the facts of the battle but you anyhow will have heard how the Black watch & Seaforthers were marched up to within 200 yds of three lines of Boer trenches in [quarter] column – after that no orders were given, no one knew who commanded them. Every unit was mixed up in another. No one even knew who was in command or who was killed. They lay there from six a.m. to 2 p.m. when the [—-?] went. Then in the evening Methuen told the High[land] Brigade Major he intended doing the same thing next morning, but was prevented fortunately by circumstances. However he had the Highland Brigade up [– —–] … said he condoled with them on the loss of their General & hoped they w’d always do their duty. He has never been to the hospitals or visited the wounded & to all intents & purposes blames the officers for the defeat. That place requires at least 80 thousand men & a siege train to take it. There are 26 miles of entrenchments & underground passages. A regular fortress, bult on the most modern principals. However, I dare say you will have heard all this from Forester who I suppose is up there.

We’re having much larger patrolling now. 30 miles sometimes & they are strengthening the guarding of the railway from here to Modder. Major Middleton’s Squadron has gone up to [Honey] [ ___] [—loof]. We see a lot of Officers of the Gordons & I have seen some of the Seaforthers and one of the Black Watch so know the history of Magersfonetin well by now. The idea now is we shall march on Bloemfontein from here now but of course we s’d know before you get this. Lord Roberts should be here in a little under a fortnight now. Our horses are doing very well indeed up to date on the whole & my own are extremely well fit. We have been having the most awful dust storms here the last few days. Altogether this is a most undesirable a spot with no decent water. [Mr? W?] Sinclair is very very bad with dysentery & will have to go to the base to recover. However he’s far better now though he’s been awfully bad. [Mr?]. Lindsay went out buck shooting with a carbine a few days ago & got one too it being the [close/] season at present but it begins on Jan 1. This rather a bigger thing than everyone thought it was going to be, isn’t it[?]. We haven’t turned the Boers out of Zoutpans drift yet. They fired on one of our patrols a few days ago but did no damage.

We’ve caught 2 spies a Boer & a Kaffir & have had an armed demonstration at Hopetown- artillery, infantry & our squadron. Nothing else has been happening her of late tho they seem to expect the Boers to come here to destroy the bridge. They’ll get it fairly warm if they do as there’s a Lyddite battery here now. Also a Filed one & some R.H.A.

However perhaps they won’t come – we generally seem to expect them from exactly the opposite direction to which they finally do come. At least Methuen does.

With best love to you all,

Ever your loving son,




These two letters of 10 and 12 January 1900 (including a map) arrived in the same envelope, addressed to Lady Rathdonnell, Drumcar, Dunleer, Co. Louth, Ireland. Also on the envelope are the words “Zoutpans drift. No stamps available. Wm. Bunbury. Scots Greys. A stamp mark suggests the British Army paid the tab on 14th January and the letter was on the sea by 2nd February. I do not know whether she would have received these letters before or after her son’s death on 17 February. The subject of these letters includes some disconcerting references to raids on Boer farmsteads.


Zoutpans Drift, Orange Free State. Jan. 10. 00.

My dear Mother,

By the above address you will see I’m in the first force to invade the enemy territory. We marched here last Friday, leaving camp at Orange River on Friday evening & bivouacking about 20 miles north of the Ridge. We started again at 2am Sat & arrived here at 11am – having met the opposition. This is the spot where the fight was about a month ago & we have found a lot of Boer cartridges. &. The force here is 50 men & 3 officers. Of ourselves – 30 Mtd Infant’y & about 300 infantry (D of Cornwall’s & Shropshires) 9th Co. R.E. 2 guns RHA. [21] Scobell, Ussher [22] & myself are the ones here. There are to all appearances may Boers around though they at present keep out of contact, but we see them often in the distance. Ina straight line this is about 12 miles up the River from Orange River but the River is between & no bridges so to get to camp we have 20 miles to go round. There are reported to be 800 Boers about 6 miles from here. We did a Raid yesterday & bought in 64 head of cattle, 12 Cape horses and 5 mules – all of us, the 2 guns & mounted Infantry went out – we saw some Boers who retired. The Raids are rather amusing. We looted a deserted farm about four miles away too. There are two small houses here, one has been made into a fort & the Infantry Officers occupy it. We ate in the other, at least the kitchen & another small room where we keep our things & eat, but they are too hot to sleep in. We have been bivouacing since we left camp – I’m making a small picture of this place.

[Picture of area including an * marking spot “where Bradshaw was shot”].

You can see our supplies come from Orange Station on the other side. We are allowed no baggage or more than 3 days supplies this side of the river – I saw Forester just before leaving on Friday on the way to Cape Town. He came & had some dinner at our camp, also one of the Grenfells [23] – they seem to be having a very dark(?) time at Modder now.[24] The two squadrons at Orange River were out for about 5 days, after the Boers who were defeated at Sunnyside the other day, but did not come in contact with them. Their horses are very done up. We are a completely mixed lot here, horses & men from every squadron. Scobell is quite different out here. I’m very glad he’s come. He works hard and doesn’t fuss so much as Headquarters do.

My mare is very well (Myrtle). I rode her 24 hours out of 48 2 days ago then a days rest & ten hours yesterday & she feeds well & is very fit. She stands the work well & is very clever over the country. We get really onto the open veldt now. She is the only one I have out here.

We’re going on another Raid tomorrow or the day after. If this hasn’t gone I’ll continue.

Enclose sketch of country round the Modder.

Your loving son Billy.

The Unveiling Ceremony for the Memorial to the Royal Scots Greys on Edinburgh’s Princess Street was attended by the Rathdonnells in November 1906. A copy of the statue was given to them to mark the occasion. My father met someone else connected with the Greys who had a similar model of the memorial.

Friday Jan 12th 1900 – II

My letter as you see has not yet gone & I have some more news. Yesterday we went out on another raid. We started at 5am & the guns at 5.30amgoing along the same road up to the farm we looted 2 days before, then keeping further North along the Jamesmith road about three miles when we sight two large farms about 3 miles to the north. Some Boers were reported on our front & right front. However we came to the first one. While nearing them my scouts on the right saw some men driving cattle who retired behind some kopjes on seeing us. We left them alone & came to the 1st farm where we waited. After that we went on to farm No. II out of which about 10 men were seen to go at a gallop. We pursued them & captured some cattle, the ones I had seen earlier. We saw 2 waggons (sic) about a mile further but left them alone. We were returning then, my men (on our left& myself going to look for some sheep we had seen earlier – not finding them we were returning when almost 600 or 700 yards from a low range of kopjes the Boers opened fire on us. The first intimation being a report & a “fut” in the sand about two yards to my left at which the mare nearly shied me off. After that they came pretty thick. One going nearly between my mares hind legs. However none were hit & I dismounted with a few of my men & began potting at them at 1000 yards-

Meanwhile Scobell & the Mounted Infantry we [were?] killing kids to take back here for eating purposes. He was near the farm at 1200 yards from the Boer position- & loading the kids in the artillery wagon. He had to leave hastily as the bullets were coming all in along the goats& co & left the tarpaulin behind. Meanwhile the two guns, about a mile behind, came up at the gallop& came in & began to shell the hill when the Boers apparently quitted. However they didn’t worry us anymore. Our booty for the day was 30 head cattle, 20 kids & a sheep (cold meat), a saucepan, the latter we’d been greatly in want of for a long time & I have secured a very nice bridle for a pony I intend “commandeering”. I’m sending you a small sketch of the farms & where shot at the Boers.

A loyal Boer came in this morning & said the 2 waggons we’d seen were a decoy & there were 300 boers there – I also think the cattle I saw in the morning was a decoy too, so on the whole we rather scored off them – This is how the farm aly –

[Basic pencil drawn map showing site of the skirmish indicating positions of Boers, the cavalry, wagons, artillery, farms and Scobell].

The two farms are about 2 miles apart. * where we captured the cattle. The Boers were waiting by the wagons off the right edge of the paper – & when we retired came up into the position marked X—X arriving there when I was … & Scobell was at ¨. I had to retire to let the artillery in – not a very great battle but it was getting very monotonous & dull hardly ever seeing a Boer & never meeting them & the men were beginning to be careless – However this has cheered them up tremendously & they are as pleased as anything.

We hear rumours of a big fight at Ladysmith but have no details as yet. We have just heard Roberts has landed at Cape Town, so we should know what we are going to do here – The colonel & (Nuller?) were over here this morning to see the horses – but brought no news – I believe all our squadron are coming here – Mamie wrote to me saying they’d been having very hard frosts in England. I hope it hasn’t stopped hunting in Ireland –

There is no more news to tell you So with best love to everyone,

Ever your loving son Billy.


Billy Bunbury to Forrester Colvin


F. F. Colvin was co-author with Captain E. R. Gordon of the “Diary Of The 9th Lancers”.

This letter has no date but was written between 12th and 19th January 1900. It was written in pencil on a thin scrap of light blue writing paper. The words are fading fast and I would greatly welcome a writing boffin to capture every last word soon.

Lieut. Colonel Frederick Forrester Colvin, also known as Freddie, was married to Billy’s elder sister Isabel and served with the 9th Lancers. (See the Colvin family here). His regiment had been stationed in Muttra, India, prior to sailing from Mumbai (then Bombay) to South Africa on three ships in September 1899. A horrific storm nearly capsized one ship; 83 horses were killed or washed overboard.

F. F. Colvin was co-author with Captain E. R. Gordon of the “Diary Of The 9th Lancers In The South Africa Campaign 1899-1902″, a popular reference book for Anglo-Boer War historians.[25]

NB: Billy spells his name Forester, as do others, but the name was properly Forrester with two r’s.

North Bank. Zoutpans Drift. O.F.S.

Dear Forester,

I suppose the Heliograph [26] I got yesterday was from you, at least it was signed Colvin. We’re here for some time & the country round is (culping?) with Boers – we marched in here Saturday week ago & have done two raids into the country and captured about 100 cattle and a few necessaries like chairs & saucepans for our own use- on Thursday we had a bit of a fight about 10 miles into the country but lost no men or horses. They nearly finished my mare off as a bullet hit the ground just between my mare’s feet. We had just an ideal force ourselves about 48 2RHA Guns & a few Mountain Infantry. About 10 Boers have been seen so must close today & they think they’re going to attack us as the river is so flooded it takes hours to get anything across. I hope you had a good time at Cape Town. We hear no news here, awfully out of the world. Sending this (with / into) a R by (our) vet who came out this morning and told me the little news there is – Don’t expect you’ll be able to read this. Only (burting?) I’ve got. Give Johnnie my love.

Yours ever,

 W. McClintock Bunbury

The memorial to Billy and the other fallen men of the Scots Greys at Princess Street, Edinburgh. In November 1906, Tom and Katherine Anne attended the unveiling of the Memorial to the officers and men of the Royal Scots Greys killed during the Boer War. The name of the Hon. William McClintock Bunbury was etched upon this. Approximately 84 years later, Tom’s great-great-grandson found himself asleep beneath this same monument after a hefty night on the batter following a rugby match at Murrayfield. (Photo: Andrew Bunbury, who remarked: Normally there is beer in a cupboard underneath this).


The Elgin Watch


The dangers that Billy faced came home to County Carlow with the news that Jack Eustace had been killed at Chieveley, South Africa on 19 January 1900. John Spottiswoode Eustace, South African Light Horse, was the second son of James Eustace and his wife Emily Catherine (née Stack) who had their main residence Newstown, in County Carlow. James Eustace was the eldest son of Hardy and Bridget Anne Eustace of Newstown.

Robin Harvey has told a great tale of an Elgin pocket-watch that Jack Eustace (as he was known) bought in the USA, which was rifled from his body by the Boers only to be found on a Boer prisoner later on, and sent back to his mother.



Letter from Billy to his Mother


Zoutpans Drift, OFS.

Sunday Jan-21 1900

My dear Mother,

I’ve exceptionally little news to tell you & a short time to tell it in. We’ve been sitting here doing nothing but expect being attacked which hasn’t happened yet.

They’ve taken away our RHA & put two obsolete M.L. 9 pounders on the top of the hill. So our raids are stopping for the present. The General, I believe, was furious at the Horse Guns being sent away. He went down to Cape Town to see Little Bob & the man who was left in command wanted people to know he was somebody so moved them to Belmont. However I believe the General has “spoken” to him.

Its very trying sitting here doing nothing but patrolling within a radius of 4 miles, Yesterday we saw Boers building a fort on the top of a hill about 7 miles from here & a party came within 2000 yards of the camp, so they are fussing like anything now & say an attack is sure to come. I wonder if it will. We’re about 300 men here, Yorkshire L.I. & only 70 thousand rounds of ammunition. So it s’d be exciting if we are attacked.

I’m just off now to get on top of a kopje 4 miles out & watch the hill where they saw the Boers building yesterday. They have us up every morning at four o’clock, saddled & everything & the Infantry all in the trenches.

Your letters & Isabel’s have just come across the river which has come down a lot the last few days & they have a flying bridge across it. A party of 5 Boers thought they were going to have a look at us from the kopje the other day & we’d have bagged the lot only a fool of a trumpeter(?) got excited & showed himself & they got away after we’ll fired one volley only got one of their horses. The horses are very well here especially mine. Myrtle is very fat &

I’ve got a far better pony now.

Best love, your loving son, Billy.


Addressed to The Lady Rathdonnell at Drumcar

Zoutpans Drift, OFS. Feb 3rd 1899.

My dear Mother,

Thank you very much for your letter. There still is nothing exciting from here tho they still expect an attack. A large force of Boers was seen yesterday & we have had two or three alarms lately but they have not come within four miles of us. If they do attack with force & with half their usual cunning I don’t know what’ll happen to us. The chief scout, a man called Beddy who scouted for Methuen, won’t even sleep this side of the river as he thinks it a bit warm for him. We all fail to see the Generals object in leaving the place so badly garrisoned but it certainly shows why the British Army does not get nearer Pretoria than it does if everything is done this way. We hear no news of Buller or any other force now. Kitchener has collected all the transport which is being run by the AJC now. There’s a rumour of Roberts going up the Modder but these tales from Orange River are generally lies. I should think more false news has been circulated from O.R. than any other ten places in the world for the last decade. You’ve no idea of the stories one hears. My horses are extremely fit & very fresh., both of them. There’s plenty of grass & the grazing does them any amount of good. All the horses here in fact are doing first class & are really looking extremely well.

[Ifew?] old obsolete muzzle loading guns, 2 Companies Shropshires & about 80 of us – 2000 Boers are reported within 8 miles with 5 guns. The river is in flood so we can’t retreat & can’t get guns over – the shape of the place is something like this. The squares are the 2 cottages – our position is marked a—–a, the two guns are about the centre. You see from B. The Boers command the entire inside of the position, & of course they can occupy from B to river. They can come up to this position unseen or by night & there guns of course are far more modern & probably longer range ones than ours which are only 9 pounders. Scobell, Maxwell, Long & myself are here. The rest of the regiment have gone to Modder where, I believe, the new division will go which are now at orange River. They still won’t let us reconnoitre into the free state but are told to wait here & do nothing. The General says he hopes they will attack him. Don’t think we’re quite so keen, as you see we can’t hide our horses & hardly ourselves for that matter. Its certainly nice to have a “run for one’s money” & we all fancy our run won’t be a very large one.

However perhaps they won’t attack after all.

The chief crate of the commandeered horses is the [midday?] saddle gives them sore backs but we have very few here now with sore backs. We’ve been having rather fun lately after springbucks & occasionally let the general & his orders slide a bit & go a little run thru the laid down 4 miles from camp . Pretty safe as long as one keeps away from kopjes. We ride our native ponies & gallop after them & shoot (at) them with [woobers?], We’ve only managed to collect one that way but its very exciting riding on account of the Boer Cut holes which are numerous & very large. The ponies are awfully clever at jumping over them or dodging round & none of us have come down yet. I’ve secured a topping Argentine pony, think it sh’d win the Baggage Pony race we intend having in the races at Pretoria (whenever we get there). Its along way the fastest of the three here. We’re making some hurdles to make a gallop to keep ourselves fit over on the veldt outside, as otherwise they will simply eat their heads off on camp because as I’ve already said there’s very little to do here except going round our outposts which only takes up two to three hours a day & our day is from 4am to 9.30pm. It’s a bit long & then one always seems to miss any excitement there may be out there such as potting at Boers who come too close. We’ve not bagged any but I hear we got one or two that day we went out with the RHA about 3 weeks ago. Got a big man too, Mr. Van der Merwe, a Volkstaad man I believe. Up to date I think we’ve had the best & most exciting time in the regiment & one doesn’t mind the heat so much now the nights are getting a good bit cooler.

Please thank Mamie & Poly for their letters & say I’ll write to them sometime soon.

Please don’t circulate this too much as it doesn’t do to criticise generals & no doubt his plans are excellent only we can’t see them here. I’m just going out to “shoot” sand partridge & cape pigeons with a carbine. There have been no casualties among them so far. Please thank Poly v. much for cigarettes. They were most welcome. If you send any, w’d you send Benson & Hedges “Celebrated” small size – Cakes too are much appreciated by C Squadron Scots Greys.

With much love to everyone,

Ever your loving son,



The Last Letter


In February 1900, Field Marshal Lord Roberts – whose mother was a Bunbury – assumed personal command of a significantly reinforced British offensive, initiating a new drive to relieve the siege of Kimberley. [Lord Roberts’ only son Freddy was mortally wounded at the Battle of Colenso in December 1899]. On 11 February, Roberts collected large numbers of reinforcements which had recently arrived in South Africa along the railway line between the Orange and Modder rivers. This letter from Billy was addressed to The Lord Rathdonnell, Drumcar, Dunleer, Co. Louth, Ireland, OHMS, and stamped and marked 12 February 1900. It looks to me like this well-read last letter arrived at Dunleer on about 10 March.

Richmond. Friday Feb 9th 1900.

My dear Father,

[Chester] Master of [Remington] Guides is going into Belmont tomorrow so will post this I hope. We left Zoutpansdrift at the beginning of the week & marched to Belmont where we arrived in the dark and raining hard. Next day we came here, & the next day Wednesday we made a march on Sunnyside reported to be held by about 2000 Boers who disappointed us by running away. We came back here yesterday. Our force consists of 500 Roberts Horse “P” battery R.H.A. – C squadron of us and some Mounted Infantry – some Canadians . An entirely mounted force under Col. Broadwood. Tomorrow we start for a weeks excursion into the Orange Free State. What we are going to do I can’t tell you as naturally we don’t know. Anyhow we are to pick up some Engineers on the way so I expect we shall go across the Riet river. I like the marching much better than sitting still – we have not slept in the same place two nights running & have only our cloaks, no baggage at all – we have to carry two days forage & rations on our horse & 5 days on wagons where we start for the free State tomorrow. I hope we [next?] make a dash for Bloemfontein would be rather nice – I shan’t be able to get any letters for a long time & of course we have not had the last mail or even half of the one before.

It’s getting too dark to go on writing. I’ve borrowed this paper &c from Scobell/ My horses are keeping very well indeed. Best love to all of you,

Ever your loving son,




Harry Scobell’s Letter to Billy’s Father


Boer leaders in Kimberley area. General Koos de la Rey is the man with black beard in right foreground

On 14 February 1900, Lord Roberts invaded the Orange Free State with a force of 20,000 British troops. The plan was to outflank the Boer and pass his cavalry around them to relieve Kimberley, while his infantry secured control of the vital fords behind them. On 15 February, General French’s division began the final march to relieve Kimberley. Billy was killed two days later. On 19 February, Sir Harry Scobell sent the following letter to Lord Rathdonnell. 

Kimberley Feb 19th 1900

He was as I dare say you know in my squadron and I had grown very fond of him. Well, I will tell you just what happened. Billy had been for four weeks at Loulbaer’s Drift in the Free State, on the banks of the Guenge River, with me and the greater part of the squadron. He enjoyed himself there, I think, as it was a much nicer place than Orange River Camp, where he had come from, and we were independent, had our own little mess in a deserted farm building and were quite happy. He used to go out often with a carbine slung over his back and shoot springbok and I used to have some trouble in keeping him within the bounds we were allowed to move in, as he had absolutely no fear.

We made two or three little expeditions which delighted him immensely: capturing cattle, and on one occasion had a bit of a skirmish with the enemy in which Billy fired (I believe) the first shot fired by the British force in the enemy’s territory, as he had nipped off his horse before the rest of the men and fired three or four rounds before they were ready. He was always saying “How I wish we could go to their place and mentioning places where Boer laagers were supposed to be) knock them out” and was always willing me to go somewhere where there might be a chance of a fight.

We went from Loutbaas Drift to Richmond to join Broadwood who had 2000 or 3000 mounted infantry and had been sent on an expedition to punish some rebels at Sunnyside. We were a week on the job and poor Billy was very disappointed when it was found the rebels had slipped us. We then marched to Ramdam to join the rest of the Regiment who had come with French’s division from Madder.

You will have read in the papers all about our march to relieve Kimberley, though perhaps it won’t be stated what a very hard time both men and horses had during the five days march and the three actions we fought on the way – we, personally, hadn’t much fighting to do though we were under fire each day several times and I need hardly say Billy behaved as one knew he would behave through them all.

We reached Kimberley after a very long and tiring day getting to camp with the squadron at 11 at night and to bed not much before 1. Billy was as fit as possible and up next morning like the rest of us at 4.30. At 5 we were told to turn out at once – before the horses had been watered or fed or any breakfast to the men or own clues. We all thought we were going out for 3 or 4 hours to the Boer position and would be back at noon at latest. However we were mistaken. We were sent on the most useless purposeless mission a general ever sent a body of troops on. There were a few hundred Boers in a very strong position about 8 miles off who would have been glad to get away had they not been surrounded, and their big gun had been carted off the night before.

Though there were hundreds of people who could have told us just where the enemy’s main position was, no one knew. The consequence was that our Brigadier (Porter) had us in mass formation just behind their entrenchments and the first thing we knew was a storm of bullets passing (luckily) over our heads from a kopje 500 or 600 yards on our left. It was then that I got orders to dismount half my squadron and attack this kopje.

Half my squadron that day was only about 35 men and Billy came with me. We crept up the slope of the hill firing as we went. I was told to advance, I did so by rushes of 40 to 50 yards. The last time I did this , I saw we were in view and within 250 yards of entrenchments and were being fired upon by a great many Boers.

I gave the order to retire and crawl back slowly so as to get under the cover of the hill more. Billy was just by me at the time. We went back 40 or 50 yards very slowly as if we had stood up to retire we would all have been hit and it was just as I told them to halt again that Billy got hit.

I was 10 or 15 yards away from him by then and I didn’t know he was wounded until I looked about me as he made no sound and I only knew what was the matter when I said something to him and he made no answer. I then went to him and saw what had happened. He was shot through both legs. The right leg was only a flesh wound, through the thick part of his thigh and he would have been well in 2 or 3 weeks from that injury. The left leg though was very bad. The bullet had gone in at the back of the knee, had shattered what I believe is called the femur bone and had not come out though there was a swelling on the outside of his thigh about 10 inches up from the knee where the bullet (which had splintered) was found when they operated that night.

Poor old Billy was as brave as a lion though he was suffering a good deal of pain. I lay with his head on my knee while I was seeing the men get away by twos and threes from a very tight place. When they were nearly all gone and I could go myself, we, three of us, carried Billy back to a tree more or less under cover. I very quickly got the doctor attached to the Regiment who did all he could for him with the appliances he had in his cart. He lost very little blood but one could see the shock had been terrible.

He was wounded about 10 or 10.30 and he lay there whilst an ambulance was sent for in every direction to take him and Fordyce (who was wounded about a minute before Billy) back to Kimberley. No ambulance could be found. Some say there were 2 out, others say there weren’t any. I don’t believe there were any, which seems a crying shame. Anyhow not a man wounded that day in our part of the field (and there were 20 or 30)was taken back on an ambulance. I had to be with my squadron and lost another man killed and another man wounded later in the day.

Finally I got leave to go back to where Billy and Fordyce were lying under the tree. No ambulance could be found, the troops had been ordered to retire (having done absolutely no good), it was getting dark and the Boers who were still in their entrenchments would be almost sure to come out when it was dark and capture or perhaps kill anyone they could find. It meant simply murder to put Billy in his state on a springless wagon and I eventually got some men of Middleton’s squadron (my own had started home about an hour) to volunteer to carry Billy and Fordyce on the stretchers they had been lying on. Billy was perfectly conscious but very weak and didn’t seem to rally at all. These men carried them for about 4 miles though of course the progress was very slow. It was then quite dark and about 7.30 and the men were so dead that they could absolutely not carry them a yard further. Accordingly Billy and Fordyce were put down on the veldt.

I stayed with them and the rest went on, Lawson going on as fast as he could to bring back help, This he found at the de Beers mines and about 10 o`clock I heard them shouting and they came up and carried Billy the 2½ or 3 miles to de Beers mines, and then put him on a tramway which took us to the hospital at Kimberley, reaching it about 1.30.

Billy was quite conscious then and spoke to me lots of times. He rambled a little when we were left on the veldt and asked for Colvin and asked for me and I don’t think he suffered much all that time. I left him in the doctors hands at the hospital and went away. They had operated on him at once to remove the fragments of bone and bullet and placed him under chloroform for nearly an hour. He bore this well and the head doctor told me he had, at that time, fair hopes of saving both his life and leg.

When I came back to the hospital next morning (or rather, the same morning) about 7.30, I was told he was very bad. He had sunk into a semi-conscious state and was very very weak. He heard me, I am sure, once, as he smiled at me but he couldn’t speak and I don’t think he knew anything I said to him. I stayed with him till he drew his last breath about 9.30.

His end was perfectly peaceful and absolutely painless. This I tell you as truth and not because I want to spare you any pain. I don’t think he ever knew his end was near. He certainly didn’t know when I left him that morning and hadn’t a notion that he was more than badly wounded. I never dreamt that he would die from the shock of the wound. He was so well, so strong and so full of life.

It seems very, very hard and his young life was sacrificed for no sort of good. It tempts one to ask why are such things permitted but that is beyond us, I suppose. The doctor told me afterwards that he had just made up his mind that the case was hopeless from the first though he didn’t think so when he operated. He said the only possible chance would have been to have the leg off on the spot. This would have meant cutting it off about half-way between the knee and hip. Do you think Billy would have cared for his life under these conditions. I don’t. He looked so young, so peaceful and so happy as he lay on his bed after death.

I kissed his forehead for you and his mother. We buried him next day (yesterday) at 8.30 in the cemetery just outside the town. He had every man in the Regt who could be spared to follow him and I know that every heart was as heavy nearly as mine was, as no one in the Regt was more popular than Billy was. The Archdeacon here performed the service. I forget his name now, but he told me he was at Eton with you. Of course George Colvin will give directions about what few effects Billy had here, and I will see that they are carried out.

I need hardly tell you, I think, how much I feel for you and Lady Rathdonnell. It will be a blow you won’t get over I know for a long time, but it must be a comfort to you to know that your son died in as gallant a way as any soldier has or will die in this horrible war, and there wasn’t a braver, more manly or more loveable man fighting for his country throughout S. Africa than poor little Billy. You will let me know of course if there is anything you wish me to do that is in my power to do.

I enclose a sprig off a tree just by the spot he is buried.

 Yours very sincerely,

 Harry Scobell.




Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 10 March 1900.

How Grant and Lawson Tried to Save Billy


Lieutenant W. Gordon Grant, who served in the Kenilworth Defence Force, saw ‘the Boer guns limbering up while the relief column arrived’ and fought alongside the Queensland MI, New Zealanders and horse artillery. He recalled how the Defence Force sought to “clear the Dronfield Kopje, where the Boers used to shell our fort from, and the fight lasted the whole day, and we had three soldiers killed. We found six dead Boers, and took some 30 prisoners.’

They also found two subalterns of the Scots Greys shot in their legs, namely Billy Bunbury and Lieutenant R. D. Fordyce from Aberdeenshire. Together with Lieutenant Lawson, another Scots Grey, Grant went out under the cover of darkness and brought Billy and Fordyce some six miles into safety. Billy, of course, did not ultimately survive.[27]




There was to be much brutal fighting the week after Billy’s death. Some 1,270 British were killed or injured in the Battle of Paardeberg on the banks of the Modder River between 18 and 27 February, when the Boer General Cronjé surrendered. By nightfall on Sunday 18 February, some 24 officers and 279 men had already been killed while another 59 officers and 847 men were wounded. (The day became known as Bloody Sunday.) There was another showdown in the Battle at Wynne’s Hill on 22 February. Five days later, On 28 February 1900, the British troops in Ladysmith were relived after a 119-day siege by the Boers.




Forrester Colvin’s Recollection


The Sphere – Saturday 9 June 1900

On 23 February 1900, a week after Billy’s death, his brother-in-law Forrester Colvin wrote a letter to his aunt Annie from the Roodoosand Drift on Modder River between Kimberley and Bloemfontein.[28]

When I was going back to the Camp, I heard a report that Billy was wounded. On the following morning I went up to the hospital and found Harry Scobell just coming out who told me the sad news that he had succumbed to his wounds. He was hit in the morning at my kopje we had shelled in the evening and was hit in the back of the knee, the main artery being severed. He also got a flesh wound in the other leg. Harry was with him the whole time and did what he could for him. They were storming the kopjes with a sqd dismounted which seems quite unnecessary for cavalry to attempt and nine precious lives have been lost in this way than any other. Poor boy, he called for me several times Harry told me before he got unconscious. We were several miles off at the time but I would have given anything to have been near him. He looked quite calm and peaceful when I saw him and Harry said he thought he hardly suffered at all. They said that an amputation at the thigh was the only thing that could be done for him, poor chap. It was indeed a sad day and one I shall never forget. It will be such a terrible blow for them at Drumcar. I couldn’t even stay for the funeral as we marched here the next morning.

We marched here the next morning about 32 miles and had a bit of a fight at the Drift which we held on our own. The force under Kitchener had held Cronje’s force holed up between 2 drifts and as they have been there since Sunday in the bed of the river. We hope every minute to hear of surrender. We surprised a party of Boers (1500 strong) the day before yesterday and got rather a heavy fire from them before we scattered them. D Campbell got hit but luckily only a flesh wound. Today Lund’s Sqn has been having a bad time as he was left holding a farmhouse and the Boers attacked him in force and he had only 50 men with him but he hung on from 5 to 7 when he was reinforced and they were driven off. We go to Bloemfontein as soon as our supplies come in but we live from hand to mouth and often go rather short of a bite. One has had quite enough of fighting to satisfy the most hardy and we shall be precious glad when the Boers sue for peace.”


Major Scobell’s Account, 1 March 1900


The following letter was published in the Montgomery County Times and Shropshire and Mid-Wales Advertiser on 31 March 1900, p. 3, and provides some additional context about where they were and the sort of thing they had been up against in the weeks before Billy’s death, as well as the circumstances of the fatal day itself.


Mrs Arthur Levett, of Greenfield, has received an interesting letter from her brother-in-law, Major Scobell, of the Scots Greys, whose wife is a nursing sister at the front (now at Orange River).

Writing from Koodoos-rand Drift, Modder River, Orange on March 1st, Major Scobell says:-

‘We have just heard of the relief of Ladysmith. This, added to our successes on this side, i.e. the relief of Kimberley and capture of Cronje with his 4,000 men, must make a lot of difference in the state of affairs, and we may fairly consider the back of the job broken, I should think. A fortnight ago, before the march to Kimberley, it seemed as though it would be a desperately long business and every-one was despondent. You in England know what has been going on infinitely better than we do out here: in fact, except for what has happened in one’s immediate neighbourhood, we hear nothing, and our news is all derived from English newspapers, when we get them!

We haven’t had any letters or papers through for three weeks now, as we have been very busy all that time, moving about incessantly, and travelling with practically no luggage at all. Campaigning is not all fun! During this last month I have seen the stern realities of war, and it is not pleasant, I can assure you. We have had to put up with a very considerable amount of hardship; frequently short of food, water and sleep, and many times during the last week or two have I heard the remark made, “If those chaps in England who are all clamouring to get out here with the Yeomanry could have a taste of this, they wouldn’t all be so keen to come!” However, one doesn’t expect to be out here in a sort of military picnic, and I, personally, have been very well all the time, so have nothing to grumble at.

Well, I must tell you now what I personally have been doing; you will have read all the big facts in the papers, so I need not tell you about them. I was at Zoutpans Drift, on the banks of the Orange River in the Free State, with my squadron for over five weeks, when I first arrived from New Orleans (where, as you know, I had been for a long time buying mules.) I did not do much there, but had some rather interesting expeditions: to raid cattle, sheep, and report on the country, with my own squadron, two guns of the Royal Horse Artillery, and fifty or sixty Mounted Infantry, This was very interesting for me, as I was in command, and twice had little fights on my own account with small parties of Boers, who tried to prevent our taking cattle, etc., away. But my two guns shut them up pretty quick.

Between three and four weeks ago I left Zoutpans and went to a place about forty miles off to join Colonel Broadwood, who had between 1,500 and 2000 Mounted Infantry and some guns at a place called Richmond, and was told to attack a force of the enemy who were raiding the country around, and had a laager about fifteen miles off.

We had a lot of hard work there; but could never get up with the Boers, who were always twenty-four hours ahead of us. From there we went by two long marches to join my regiment, who were with the rest of the Cavalry Division at a place called Ram Dam. It was the first time I had done duty with the regiment since I had come to South Africa. It was then that we commenced our march to the relief of Kimberley and, for the next five days it was, indeed, very hard work.

Boer Commandos in attacking position.

We fought three actions, and on the right flank (where we were) an extra one, to repel some hundred Boers annoying our advance during the five days, and though there were not a great many causalities (about 150) these fights entailed a lot of moving about and hard work on the horses. I think you knew Captain Majendie in the Rifle Brigade. At the passage of the Riet River, on our first day’s march, there was a good deal of shooting from the banks, and when I crossed it, late in the afternoon, and was watering my horses, I heard that Majendie was lying wounded close by. I went to see him, and he was so pleased to see someone he knew that I could hardly get away again. He had no idea he was mortally wounded, but said he could not breathe very well, and as he was shot, poor chap, through both lungs, it was no wonder the doctor told me it was hopeless, and I heard that he died that night.

Well, we reached Kimberley at a terrible expenditure of horse flesh, as scores, or rather hundreds, of horses dropped out of the ranks, and died on the veldt from exhaustion towards the end of each day. It was not only the distances that they went, but the heat of the sun, which was terrific those few days, and we were never once able to water our horses from the time we marched (usually at sunrise) until late in the afternoon, after sunset, and as it is of no use feeding if you cannot water them, it meant that the poor brutes were without food or water all day. However, it was worth the horseflesh to reach Kimberley, as we did, as’ the moral effect will be great. It was high time the town was relieved, as they had come down to horseflesh rations of ¼ Ib per head, and all the women and children were living down the De Beers’ mines, to keep them safe from the shells, which created great terror.

I with my squadron got into camp the night we reached Kimberley at 11 p.m., having been left out to hold a kopje until dusk. We all thought we were fairly entitled to a rest next day, but to our dismay next morning, at 5, French came through our lines and said we were to turn out at once. Our Colonel asked our Brigadier if we might wait to water and feed the horses, and for the men to have some breakfast first, but he said, “No; turn out at once.” Accordingly, out we went, nobody fed or watered, and no one got back to camp before 7:30 that evening. I, personally, only got into shelter again at 2:30 next morning, having had nothing but a biscuit I had put in my pocket since the evening before the last. It was a most disastrous day as far as my squadron was concerned. I was told about 10.30 to dismount, some of my men and attack a hill, whence we were being fired on. I went with about 30 men and my three subalterns. It turned out to be the Boer’s main position, which the whole division were unable to turn the Boers of during the whole day. I got within view of their entrenchments, and found myself after my last rush about 250 yards from their parapets, a storm of bullets was directed at us, and how any of us got away I have no idea.

As it was, I lost four killed and five wounded of my little force.

Fordyce was shot through the knee, but is doing well.

Billy Bunbury was shot through both legs, the thigh bone of one being shattered by an explosive bullet. He lay on the hill with his head on my knee for a long time, poor little chap; and it was a difficult job to carry him down as the brutes fired on us all they knew, while we were doing so, though they could see perfectly that we were carrying a wounded man. Fordyce had to be carried back, too, but the other wounded could crawl back all right.

Toby Long (son of the Right Hon Walter Long, M.P.) was all through this very awkward business, and behaved splendidly; he was not touched then.

We were two hours on that infernal hill and I don’t think I shall ever forget it. Later in the afternoon Toby Long got wounded. He charged with his troop through some trees where some Boers were sneaking away, and was shot through the left forearm by a Boer not more than ten yards off. He dropped the Boer with his revolver, though, I am glad to say. He had a most ghastly-looking wound, a large piece of flesh being blown right away, but though they had great doubts about saving his arm at first, he is doing very well now I am delighted to say, and is looked after in a first-rate manner at the hospital in Kimberley.

There were no ambulances out that day. more’s the shame, and I was at my wits’ end towards sunset, with three wounded subalterns, and no means of taking them back. I eventually put Toby on a gun-waggon (a horrible conveyance for a wounded man) and the other two had to be carried by soldiers as far as they could carry them, which was not half-way, and then Billy Bunbury and Fordyce were put down on the veldt with me to look after them for the night. However, about 11 some real good chaps from the De Beers mines came out and carried them the rest of the way. I got them into hospital about 2.30 a.m. Poor little Bunbury died about eight or nine hours later, having never really recovered from the shock. He was such a nice boy, and poor Rathdonnell will almost certainly break his heart over it, I fear.

We stayed in Kimberley three or four days, and then came out here, and I am writing to you about six miles above the place on the river where Cronje surrendered two days ago. I went yesterday to see the Boer trenches. They are wonderful; so cleverly made, so deep, and such excellent shelter, but the awful stench from scores of dead horses, oxen, mules, and men, was quite over-powering, and how they stood it I cannot think. Mrs Cronje had been there all the time, and had been wounded in the leg. There are a great number of Boers massing they say between us and Bloemfontein, which, I suppose, is the next point we march on, but the reverses they have suffered will, perhaps, alter this.

Anyhow, the end must be in sight now, and two or three months will see the job finished. Everyone will be delighted when it is over, as we are all very sick and tired of it. However, there is bound to be a good bit more fighting before Pretoria is readied, and I only trust I may get through it as well as I have hitherto. I have had some very narrow shaves, and my horse has been hit twice, but I am all right.

I have no idea where Milly is now, as I have had no letters for three weeks; probably, I shall find out if l ever do get my letters. I know she wanted to get back to this country (after taking home a ship toad of wounded to Netley) and goodness knows there must be plenty of sick and wounded to look after now. I should say there must be some hundreds to go from Ladysmith now it is relieved, so I suppose she is out here again, but I have no idea whereabouts.

I hope you are all right, and Arthur, too. Perhaps he has come out with one of these Yeomanry regiments, as I hear lots of gentlemen have joined as privates.

Do write to me when you can – letters (when one gets them) are such a God-send out here.


Photo: Charné Kemp.

Photo: Charné Kemp.

Billy’s Grave


The Dundee Evening Post of 30 May 1900 reported that Billy left £407, 14s 5d.

Billy was buried in the Gladstone cemetery in Kimberly, South Africa, where his parents later erected a beautiful Celtic Cross to his memory. This was probably erected in or after the winter of 1902 when Tom and Kate Rathdonnell went to South Africa to see Isabella and Forrester Colvin, who were based out there, and visited Billy’s grave.

By chance I found myself in South Africa in February 2000, exactly one hundred years after Billy’s death. However, I was in Cape Town, which transpired to be 940km south-west of Billy’s grave so sadly I did not make it to his graveside to mark the occasion.

Of much sadder consequence, his grave was among many that were vandalised in the early 2020s. The cross was pushed over and cracked into at least two parts. Many other headstones have been pillaged for their granite, marble and metal crosses. In July 2023, Steve Lunderstedt, historian and author, described the cemetery as ‘the most vandalised cemetery in South Africa.’  [29]



The Felling of the Tree


Luke Torris told me of a curious tale in the diaries kept by a Termonfeckin lady, Mary Anne Flanagan, between 1903 and 1913 (of which 100 copies of an edited version was published). She wrote:

“In the afternoon Andrew (Cunningham) took us for a long drive…. He showed us the trees Lord Rathdonnell planted when each of his sons were born and told us the story of how one of the trees was cut down the day one of his sons was killed in the South Africa war. Rathdonnell offered a large reward to the man who cut the tree but the person who did it never came to claim it.”

Rather spooky.



The novelist Thomas Hardy by now well known for his novels  wrote The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), The Woodlanders (1887), and Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891), would write to his friend Florence Henniker from Dorchester on 25 February 1900:

Poor Mr Bunbury: I met him at your house I think. It must be grievous to you knowing so many.[30]




Rathvilly’s Response


The gorgeous stained glass window to Billy’s memory at St Mary’s, Rathvilly, County Carlow.

A meeting of the Select Vestry of Rathvilly Parish was held on 17 February 1900, at which the following members attended :- Rev. James O’Callaghan, Peter Salter, William Salter, Harold Philip Earl, Chas Butler, Wm Burgess, J.P. Churchwarden ; Benjamin Allshire, Dr Thomas Kidd, William Corrigan, Hon Secretary ; Mr Wilson, J.P., sent an apology for his unavoidable absence.

The following resolution was unanimously adopted :-
“We the Select Vestry of Rathvilly Parish, having heard with regret of the death of the Hon. William McClintock Bunbury from wounds received on the march to the relief of Kimberly, beg to tender to Lord and Lady Rathdonnell and family our most sincere and respectful sympathy in the grievous loss they have sustained in the death of their son.
The melancholy news has cast a gloom over this his native parish, and the painful occurrence is deeply felt by all classes and creeds, without distinction.
We feel it must be some consolation to the afflicted parents to know that their gallant son met a soldier’s death while taking part in a deed that must ever rank amongst the most brilliant in the annals of the British Army.’


News Reports of Billy’s Death


The Carlow Nationalist and Leinster Times of 24 February 1900 reported:

‘Much regret has been caused in Carlow by the news that the Hon. W. M’Clintock-Bunbury, eldest son of Lord Rathdonnell and grandson of the Right Hon. Henry Bruen, P.C., Oak Park, Carlow, has been killed in South Africa. The young officer was a Lieutenant in the Scots Greys, and lost his life in the engagement at Rensburgh. He was a young man of much promise and idolised by his relatives … In consequence of the death of the Hon W. M’Clintock Bunbury the Carlow Hounds did not hunt this week.’

On the same day, the Carlow Sentinel wrote:

‘The sad news from the seat of war of the death from wounds of Second-Lieut. Hon. W. M’Clintock Bunbury, eldest son of Lord Rathdonnell, was received with profound regret by all classes in Carlow, his native county, on Tuesday last. As a mark of respect to his memory Mr Robert Watson, Master Fox Hounds, who was hunting when the intelligence reached him, drew the pack off, and at once intimated that the Carlow and Island Hounds would not meet this week.’ 

Memorial to William McClintock Bunbury at Drumcar Church, County Louth.

His obituary in the same newspaper was kindly transcribed by Michael Purcell in 2013: 

Death of the Hon. William McClintock Bunbury.

The news flashed by wire on Tuesday of the relief of Kimberley was saddened by a wire that followed soon after announcing that a gallant young officer, the Hon William McClintock Bunbury, had died from wounds received in the engagement, when in the forefront of the battle with his renowned Regiment, the Scots’ Greys, in which he held the rank of Second Lieutenant.
With profound sorrow the mournful intelligence was received throughout the length and breadth of this his native county, with which his family have been intimately and honourably associated for centuries, and in which his early boyhood days were spent.
He was eldest son of the Right Hon. Lord Rathdonnell, Lord Lieutenant and Custos Rotulorum [Keeper of the Rolls] of County Carlow, and grandson of the Right Hon. Henry Bruen P.C.
He was born at Lisnevagh [sic] on the 15th September, 1878, and consequently was only in his twenty second year — full of health and life and promise, when he fell at the post of duty, bravely fighting for Queen and country, and leaving behind an unsullied and imperishable name and fame.
In this their great hour of trial his bereaved parents and relatives will find some consolation in the knowledge that, with many other brave comrades in arms, he shared a soldier’s fate and fell gallantly leading on his men to victory.
If deep and widespread sympathy can do aught to assuage their grief it is sincerely offered by very many who share their sorrow and deplore their loss.
One who knew him from boyhood, and mourns his death, writes :- He trod in the footsteps of his father all through his short life.
At an early age he went to Eton, where in a short time he showed his love for the river and became a “Wet Bob,” and soon after was recognised as a very fine oar.
He won many cups and sweepstakes ( as his father did before him ) on the river, and ended up his Eton career by rowing “stroke” in the Eton eight when they won the Ladies’ Cup at Henley regatta, in 1898, thereby gaining the highest summit of ambition that can be attained by an Eton “Wet Bob”.
From the Eton “Army Class” he passed almost direct for the Army, which shows that he did not devote all his time to the “river”.
He was gazetted to a commission in the Scots’ Greys (the Regiment in which his father and his late uncle, “Jack Bunbury,” served for many years ), on January 4th, 1899.
During the short time that “Billy” Bunbury served with his Regiment none amongst the subalterns of this crack corps was more universally popular.
He was a keen sportsman, alike in the saddle as in the Eton “eight,” and showed his prowess in the former by steering his own horse second in the Regimental Cup at the “Greys” race last October.
“Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” [How sweet and right it is to die for one’s country]
The Hon. Thomas Leopold McClintock Bunbury, born 1881, now becomes heir to the peerage – which is an Irish one — Lord Rathdonnell sitting in the House of Lords as a representative Peer.



His death was reported in the New York Times on 21 February 1900:

‘The list of casualties again demonstrates that a number of mere boys are serving in South Africa. Lieut. the Hon. W. McClintock Bunbury was the eldest son of Lord Rathdonnell. He was born in 1878. Lieut. H. M. Durand [who was reported wounded] was born in 1876. He is the heir of Sir Henry Mortimer Durand, British Minister at Tehran, Persia. Lieut. W. Long [also reported wounded] was born in 1879. He is the heir of the Right Hon. Walter Long, President of the Board of Agriculture.’

St James’s Gazette of 22 February 1900 opined:

‘He was a good “chip of the old block,” and Eton, Radley, and Leander will join in lament for him, and for his career cut short.’

The Pall Mall Gazette of 23 February 1900 reported:

‘The Carlow Hounds have suspended hunting for the present as a tribute to the memory of Mr. McClintock-Bunbury, Lord Rathdonnell’s eldest son, killed in South Africa.’

The Illustrated London News of 3 March 1900 reported:

‘In the list of the casualties at the relief of Kimberley occurs the name a very young officer. Second Lieutenant the Hon. William M‘Clintock Bunbury, of the Scots Greys, the elder son of the second Lord Rathdonnell, Representative Peer of Ireland. He entered the 2nd Dragoons from the Militia last year, and came of age only a few months ago.’

The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News of 10 March 1900 published Billy’s photo by Hill and Saunders along with this report:

‘THE LATE HON. LIEUT. McCLINTOCK- BUNBURY. Great gloom has been thrown over Eton by news of the death of the Hon. Lieutenant McClintock- Bunbury, 2nd Dragoons. He stroked Eton to victory in the Ladies’ Plate at Henley in 1895.’

Sandow’s Magazine of 1900 carried this obituary:

‘Eton College has received a shock in hearing of the death Lieutenant the Hon. W McClintock Bunbury, who died from wounds received in the Kimberley engagements. He rowed stroke in the Eton eight as recently as 1895 and 1896, and stroked his crew to victory in the Ladies Plate at Henley. In those years, he was a sterling oarsman. Eton has lost many gallant sons in this war, but none more universally regretted than McClintock Bunbury.’ [31]


 Harry Scobell & the War with Khaki


The Anglo-Boer War was the first British war in which its men were kitted out in something other than bright red. Since the Cape Colony’s Army Act of 1881, the Imperial Military Authority has claimed khaki uniform as their sole right. Anybody found wearing it without permission was liable to be shot. By 1901, the British were deeply alarmed by the consistency and depth of the Boer fightback. This guerrilla war had been a totally new bag. Too many British soldiers had died at the hands of Boers clad in khaki or stolen British uniforms. It was time to fight dirt with dirt.  In December 1900, Martial Law was extended from throughout the Cape Colony with the exception of the Ports and the so-called Native Territories. On 13 March 1901, the Beaufort Courier, a colonial newspaper featured a short advertisement, in English and Dutch, from the government, indicating the extremes that the authorities were prepared to go in their war on khaki.  “Uniform. No person, except in military or police employment, is permitted to wear any article of military uniform, or clothing of a khaki colour calculated to have the appearance of a military uniform.”.

In September 1901, General John French issued an order that anyone found wearing khaki was to be shot. This drastic step was released in the wake of an ambush of the 17th Lancers at Modderpoort in Tarkastad by a party of Jan Smuts khaki-clad Boers on 17 September. Forty men were killed outright or died of their wounds, while a further 36 were seriously wounded. It was the highest casualty figure of the Cape Colony’s guerrilla warfare period. The British went nuts. Sir John French wrote to Lord Roberts on 22 October saying: “I sent an order round the columns at once ordering any prisoners taken in khaki to be tried there and then by summary court martial, and, if found guilty, to be shot instantly. Three Boers have been shot in this way, and now we know the Boers are throwing away their khaki coats.” [32]

Among those unhappy cases where Boers were shot for wearing khaki is that of Jack Baxter, which is apparently referenced in the “Diary Of The 9th Lancers” on 13 October 1901:  “A Boer has lost his way in the mist. He was dressed almost entirely in clothes taken from the 17th Lancers. Baxter was tried by Court Martial and shot as we left camp.”  Before his execution, the bespectacled Baxter genially wrote a letter to Cmdt Bouwer asking him to stop the Boers wearing khaki as they would be executed if caught. Baxter’s execution was actually ordered by one Colonel Harry Scobell. There has been some subsequent controversy about the event because others insist Baxter wasn’t wearing khaki when he was arrested.

Colonel Scobell was later involved in a similar case, concerning Hendrik Bester of Klerksdorp who was captured at Kingscrown, Aliwal North. On 23 November 1901, F. F. Colvin’s “Diary of the 9th Lancers” reads:  “Bester was tried yesterday evening for being in khaki as well as being a deserter from the Cape Police. He was shot this morning.”  Harsh tricks but it seems to have worked. As news of the executions of khaki wearers spread, so Boers began to dye their khaki clothes in darker colours.




In 1914, Billy’s younger brother Tim McClintock Bunbury would name his firstborn son William, presumably in Billy’s honour. Indeed, my eldest brother would also be named William when he was born in 1966. Harry Scobell went on to become one of the main men in Kitchener’s Fighting Scouts (KFS), a corps raised in December 1900 and recruited in Cape Colony and Natal. [33] Comprising of two companies, with 400 men in each, KFS had a reputation for being a rough lot and their second-in-command, Colonel A. F. Wilson, apparently kept a bawdy house in Bulawayo. They took part in Colonel de Lisle’s successful drive of General Hertzog’s men from the Piquetberg Road to Clanwilliam.  During February 1901, they were involved in the Great de Wet Hunt. On 27 February, they were surprised at Klipkraal. Six men died and 10 more were wounded. They regained their strength during March and continued to drive the enemy forces back into the badlands.

Harry Scobell personally commanded an attack on a Boer encampment at Jansenville on the banks of the Sundays Rivers. The Boers only escaped because Maintz used a bullwhip to urge them through the nasty thorn-noors that blocked their escape route. After they’d finished in the Cape Colony, they were dispatched to the Transvaal where they gained a good reputation, and Wilson a mention in dispatches.

In 1909, Harry Scobell was given command of the British garrison in Cape Colony. He was to be its last commander before the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, but died of enteric fever two years later, aged 53. General Smuts, who became Minister of Defence after the Union, was so angry about the shooting of his men for wearing khaki that he refused to meet Colonel Scobell. Smuts claimed his men had worn the khaki clothing from necessity. On the other side, Winston Churchill was so impressed by the concept of the Boer Commandos that he would create a commando regiment just over 40 years later, following the catastrophe of Dunkirk. The Commandos were at one point going to be named the Night Panthers …


Appendix 1: Obituary to Sir Harry Scobell (1859-1912)


Sir Harry Scobell pictured in the Illustrated London News, Saturday 10 February 1912.

Of Worcestershire Descent.
A Reuter’s telegram of Friday’s date announces the death of Major-General Sir Henry Scobell, commanding the Cape of Good Hope district, who had for some time been seriously ill with enteric fever.
South African Tributes.
A later despatch states that on the motion of the Prime Minister, seconded by Sir Thomas Smartt, the House of Asembly adjourned as a mark of respect to the late Major General. General Botha referred to Major-General Scobell as a good friend and and a good man, who had done good work for South Africa. He paid a tribute to the qualities which he displayed, whether as Acting Governor of the Cape, as commanding officer of his Majesty’s Forces, or as a man. Sir Thomas Smartt, in the absence of Sir Starr Jameson, Leader of the Opposition, spoke in similar terms.
Mr. Merriman, supporting the motion for the adjournment, paid a notable tribute to the late officer’s administration as Acting Governor of the Cape when he, Mr. Merriman, was Premier, making special reference to his tact and good form. He declared that the Cape had never had a more Constitutional Governor than General Scobell, and that he was thoroughly versed in the affairs of Colonial Government and discharged his duties most tactfully.
Harry Scobell, as the officers of the Army affcctionately called the late gencral, has succumbed to the virulent enteric fever of South Africa after a gallant struggle for life which has lasted two months from the day he sickened of the fell disease. He was a son of Colonel Scobell, of the Abbey, Pershore, and was born in 1859. He joined the Scots Greys in 1879, and was a major commanding a squadron when the war broke out in South Africa. His first important service was the famous march under Sir John French.
Scobell took pest in the subsequent operations which wore executed by Sir John French in over-running the Free State and the Transvaal. He subsequently commanded a column in the campaign against the Cape rebels, and captured the partisan leader Lotter after an exhausting pursuit in 1901, For his services in the war Scobell was mentioned four times in despatches.
He was made a C.B. in 1904, and K.C.V.O. last year [1911]. After the war he commanded the 1st Cavalry Brigade at Aldershot; on the expiration ofthis command he became Inspector-General of Cavalry, and in this most important post he conducted the great cavalry manoeuvres of 1908. Like all Sir John French’s selections for high command, Scobell belonged to the school of thought which favours decisive action in war as opposed to the disciples of desultory and cautious operations, which have never yet achieved a great victory.
In 1861 Scobell married the daughter of Captain Willes-Johnston, M.P. By his death the Army loses a brave commander, and many of its officers a true friend … [his] funeral service took place … with full military honours, in the Memorial Chapel of the Wynberg Military Camp. The Archbishop of Capetown participated in the proceedings. The distinguished congregation included Lord and Lady Gladstone, Lord Methuen, and General Botha. Amid the firing of minute guns the coffin was conveyed to the station on a gun carriage drawn by men of the 84th Garrison Artillery, the funeral cortège including detachments of troops stationed in the Cape Peninsula and Naval Brigades. The pall bearers included Rear-Admiral Bush, Commander-in-Chief at the Cape: Lord Methuen, General Botha, Sir Starr Jameson, Mr. Sauer, and Mr. Merriman. Lord Gladstone and his staff followed the gun carriage.’

Worcester Journal – Saturday 10 February 1912, p. 5



[1] Billy’s contemporaries at Eton would have included rowing supremo and composer Frederick Septimus Kelly DSC (1881–1916), or one of his three older brothers (e.g.: Willie Kelly (1877-1960), the Australian politician who was at Eton from 1893 to 1896). They were the sons of a wool-broker from Westmeath who had made a fortune in Australia (just like Fred Dalgety’s old man); Kelly stroked the Eton eight to victory in the Ladies’ Challenge Plate at Henley in 1899 and went on to win the gold medal for Great Britain at part of the Leander crew in the eights at the 1908 Summer Olympic.

[It’s to be noted that Kelly sought hypnotherapeutic treatment from J. Milne Bramwell, the Scottish specialist medical hypnotist, in London, in 1907; Bramwell was the fourth son of James Paton Bramwell (1824–1890), chief consulting surgeon at the Perth Royal Infirmary, so do they connect to the other Bramwells!?]

With the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, Kelly was commissioned into the Royal Naval Division (Churchill had created this division because he had not enough soldiers and too many sailors; as a naval division, the men were allowed sport beards).

Also in the reserve were his friends—the poet Rupert Brooke (the poet) and William Denis Browne (the critic and composer) and one can’t but wonder at how Gallipoli must have been full of classics scholars initially elated by the prospect that they were about to visit ancient Troy … before the horror began. Kelly arrived with the Hood Battalion … he ended writing several scores in his tent at base camp, including his tribute to Brooke, Elegy for String Orchestra: “In Memoriam Rupert Brooke” (1915); Kelly was among the party who buried Brooke on Skyros. Browne also died; his body was never recovered. Frederick Kelly is said to have conducted Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture at the Somme, with real cannons for the crescendo, before he was killed in action at Beaucourt-sur-l’Ancre, France, when rushing a German machine gun post on 16 November, during the last days of the Battle of the Somme.

[2] Eton College Chronicle, 1 March 1900, p. 784.

[3] J.A. Tinne was Nick Tinne’s grandfather. Nick writes: ‘He went on to win the Grand with Leander, but never rowed in the Boat Race. He was awarded a Blue, but got some bug. I have his Oxford cap. His younger brother was in the 1912 Boat Race, when both crews sank, when they re-floated he could not be found, as he had gone to have a pint!’

[4] Morning Post – Saturday 17 July 1897, p. 4.

[5] Morning Post – Wednesday 13 October 1897, p. 3.

[6] Brighton Gazette, 2 March 1899, p. 7.

[7] Belfast News-Letter – Saturday 10 December 1898, p. 3. Barton B. Crozier, son of the Bishop of Ferns and Ossory came top of the class.

[8] Civil & Military Gazette (Lahore) – Wednesday 25 January 1899, p. 8.

[9] Manchester Evening News – Friday 07 April 1899, p. 3.

[10] An easy win was that of the Hon. W. McClintock Bunbury’s Scotty in the Maiden Scurry Stakes. (Sporting Gazette, 29 July 1899).

[11] The Scotsman – Friday 15 September 1899, p. 4.

[12] In 1971, the Scots Greys were amalgamated with the 3rd Carabiniers (Prince of Wales’s Dragoon Guards) to form the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers and Greys).

[13] Greenock Telegraph and Clyde Shipping Gazette – Friday 03 November 1899, p. 3.

[14] Globe – Friday 03 November 1899, p. 7.

[15] London Evening Standard, 8 November 1899, p. 3.

[16] Aberdeen Press and Journal, 8 December 1899, p. 6.

[17] My father remarked in September 2014: ‘How nice he always reported on the condition of their horses and was concerned for his father’s hunting.’

[18] Captain William Edmond John Bradshaw of the York and Lancaster Regt. was killed at Zoutspan Drift on 13 December 1899, aged 31. Born in 1868, he had served in the Sudan 1898 (medal, Khedives medal and 2 clasps, Order of Medjidie 4th class, MID).

[19] I wonder is this the man who as Lt. Col. Richard L. Hippisley, CB, RE, would go on to write the celebrated History of the Telegraph Operations during the War in South Africa, 1899-1902 (HMSO, London, 1903). Or perhaps he was the Torquy-born Captain George Augustus Ashfordby-Trenchard who enjoyed a brief spell on the stage under the name George Hippisley before obtaining a commission in 1899 and making his way to South Africa with the 5/ Royal Irish Regiment. This latter poor fellow died of enteric at Elandsfontein on 21st March 1902 aged 32.

My father advised me in 2014: “I was in Saunderites with a A.B. Hippisley who in 1975 had an address at St. Andrews; another in the list was J.P. Hippisley, Saunderites left in 1924, address in Bath.”

[20] This might be Lieutenant John Collison Harrison of the 2nd Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys) who was wounded near Belfast on 26 August 1900 and died at Pretoria on 3 September aged 31. In which case, it sounds like Hippesley was correct with his forecast.

[21] My father remarked in September 2014: ‘His possible indiscretions about troop strength and disposition, useful to the enemy should the postman be ‘stopped’, were later overcome by all letters being censored.’

[22] Presumably Captain Edward Ussher, DSO, 2nd Dragoons, who was wounded at Klippan on 18 February 1902, almost exactly two years after Billy’s death, and died at Nigel Mines on the 20th, aged 32.

[23] I’d bet my bottom dollar that this was one of the Grenfell twins, Francis and Rivy. As a Captain of the 9th Lancers, Francis would go on to win the first VC of World War I to be gazetted for his bravery at Audregnies, Belgium on 24th August 1914. Born at Hatchlands, near Guildford, on 5th September 1880, the twins had followed family tradition by going to Eton at the age of 14. Billy would have been their contemporary. He might even have watched Francis score a whopping 80 runs at Lords in the Eton – Harrow cricket match in 1899. Soon after this, Francis joined the army and, after serving with the Seaforth Highlanders in Egypt, he was commissioned in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps. In 1901 he went to South Africa and fought in the Boer War. Later he joined the crack cavalry regiment, the 9th Lancers in India. On the outbreak of the First World War Captain Francis Grenfell and the 9th Lancers were sent to France. So also was Rivy who’d joined the Bucks Hussars. On 16th August, Francis and the men under his command were sent to carry out reconnaissance in the Harmignies area of Belgium. After returning to base Grenfell took part in the Battle of Mons. During the battle, the 9th Lancers were ordered to charge the German gun positions. Hit by a hail of machine-gun fire, shelling and rifle fire, casualties were heavy. When they reassembled on the outskirts of Elouges they discovered that than had suffered over 80 casualties. Later that day Francis and a small group of his men volunteered to try and rescue the men of the 119 Field Battery who were in danger of being captured by the Germans. The operation was successful but Francis was badly wounded and taken by his friend, the Duke of Westminster, in his Rolls Royce to the nearby town of Bavai where he was treated by French nuns in a convent hospital. Francis recovered from his wounds and was awarded the Victoria Cross for the role he played in saving the 119 Field Battery. While Francis was in hospital he heard that Rivy Grenfell, had been killed on the Western Front.
In October 1914, Francis returned to France as Squadron Commander of the 9th Lancers. He was seriously wounded a few weeks later and shipped back to England for treatment. By the spring of 1915 he had recovered and on 7th April he had a farewell dinner with his close friends, Winston Churchill and John Buchan, both Boer War veterans. Francis Grenfell was sent to Ypres and on 24th May endured the first German chlorine gas attack on the Western Front. The following day he was shot and killed on the Ypres-Menin road. In fact, Captain Francis Grenfell was one of the 208 casualties out of the 350 men in the 9th Lancers who had taken part in the action that day. His last words were apparently “I die happy. Tell the men I love my squadron”.
An American journalist called Frederic Coleman, was with the 9th Lancers on 25 May 1915 and wrote: ‘As the sun went down that evening their comrades of the 9th Lancers buried the bodies of Francis Grenfell and Algy Court. Court’s face wore a smile, as though he was quietly sleeping. Grenfell, shot through the heart at the height of the battle, bore, too, a look of deep peace, as if at last he had cheerfully gone to a better country, to join his beloved Rivy, from the shock of whose death, on the Aisne, Francis had never recovered.’
But perhaps Billy was talking of Lieutenant Claude George Grenfell of Thorneycroft’s M.I., killed in action at Spion Kop on 24 January 1900.

[24] Modder lies on the main railway line between the Cape Colony and Kimberley not far from the site of Magersfontein, of which battle Billy was by now well aware.

[25] The 9th Lancers were stationed in Muttra, India, in September 1899 when they were warned for service in S Africa where war with the Boers was imminent. The Regiment sailed from Bombay on 24/25 September in three ships, one of which encountered a fierce storm between Durban and Cape Town resulting in 83 horses and nine mules being killed or washed overboard. This storm is vividly described, the carnage among the animals on deck was appalling as they were flung about among the wreckage of the wooden stables. The contents are set out in diary form with dates in the margin against the narrative which covers all matters affecting the Regiment – actions, casualties, reinforcements, extracts from Army, divisional etc orders and other correspondence, strength states, awards, all are duly noted. The first entry is for 8 Sep 1899 when the Regiment was ordered to mobilize and prepare for active service and the final entry is for 9 April 1902 when the Regiment arrived back in India after some two and a half years on active service. It saw plenty of action – at Kimberley, in the Transvaal and Orange Free State and River Colony; clasps to the Queen’s South Africa Medal gained by the Regiment as a whole were: Belmont, Modder River, Relief of Kimberley, Paardeberg, Johannesburg, Diamond Hill and Witterbergen. Casualty details are given at the end of the book, 225 in all of whom 45 died in action and 26 of disease or from accident. There is also a complete list of officers who served with the Regiment during the campaign, a list Awards and Mentions in Despatches, and finally a record of distances covered – a total of 8,530 miles.

[26] A heliograph was a device which employed a circular, slightly concave mirror about 25cm in diameter, levered to a Morse Code keypad – all assembled atop a portable tripod. Thanks to William Paterson.

My father adds: “Someone in my youth showed me a heliograph, I think as a toy, but the army used them for signalling in WWII.”

[27] From, W. Gordon Grant, ‘Besieged in Kimberley’, Northern Scot and Moray &Nairn Express, 31 March 1900, p. 6. Quoted on page 142 of Edward Spiers book, ‘Letters from Kimberly: Etewitness Accounts from the South African War’ (Frontline, 2013).

[28] With thanks to Serena Merton.

[29] Others in the Gladstone graveyard include Victoria Cross recipient Thomas Lane; Fergus Carstairs-Rogers, architect of the City Hall; Elizabeth Radford, first principal of the Kimberley Girls’ High School; Barney Barnato’s father-in-law; George Labram, inventor of the grease table and the Long Cecil gun; Henry Scott-Turner; Flora Brown; and the writer RW Murray.] See under TKMcB 1901 also. See

[30] ‘One Rare Fair Woman: Thomas Hardy’s Letters to Florence Henniker 1893–1922,’ edited by Thomas Hardy, F. B. Pinion (1972), p. 93.

[31] Sandow’s Magazine of Physical Culture, January to June 1900, by Eugen Sandow, p. 343. Eugen Sandow was a great amateur and professional athlete. He devoted a large portion of his life to helping the would-be athlete and all who desired to attain perfect health, increased strength and full development of their physical frame.

[32] The Hon Gerald, The Life of Field Martial Sir John French (Cassell and Company, London, 1931).

[33] The SA Field Force Casualty List for Kitchener’s Fighting Scouts gives 12 killed between January and June 1901, 12 killed between July and December 1901, and, amazingly, 12 killed from January to June 1902! They seem to have seen action all over the place and very few of them died of disease.