SOUTH AFRICA 1877-9, CLASP 1879 ‘MAJOR, J.R. POOLE. ROYAL ARTY.’
Joseph Ruscombe Poole, the son Gabriel Poole and Maria, daughter of Sir Richard Westmacott was born on 27 January 1843, in Bridgewater, Somerset. Educated at the Royal Military Academy, he was Commissioned into the Royal Artillery as a Lieutenant on 18 December 1861 and was promoted to Captain 16th January 1875.
Captain Poole served during the Zulu War of 1879 as aide-de-camp to Colonel Reilly, Royal Artillery, who was commander of Artillery between February and August 1879. Appointed Brigade Major on Reilly’s Staff on 7 April 1879, he is listed among Lord Chelmsford’s Staff, South African Field Force, at the end of May 1879. Present at General Wolseley’s camp when The Zulu King; Cetshwayo, was captured, on 29th August 1879 Captain Poole was given a great honour (and responsibility), when he was ordered by General Wolseley to take charge of Cetshwayo and to escort his prisoner from Ulundi to the Cape Castle. Here Poole served as the king's gaoler during his captivity. Before setting off, according to Wolseley, Cetshwayo;
“..was told that his destination could not at present be communicated to him but that he would be told further on his journey. Captain Poole R.A. was introduced to him and he was told that every care would be taken of him and all his wants supplied by Poole, to whom he should apply if he wished for anything. He has four men and a boy with him, all of whom wish to leave him; indeed, they have to be closely guarded to prevent them from bolting. He also has three women and a little girl with him. I shall send the lot to the Cape with him”.
Poole remained with Cetshwayo at Cape Castle until December 1880, acting not only as his gaoler but speaking on behalf of the King and seeing to his needs. During their time together the king and the Poole apparently struck up a friendship, hardly surprising after spending a year in each other’s company and it was Poole who taught Cetshwayo to write. It was said that on Poole being removed from his position, Cetshwayo petitioned that he should be permitted to remain. Captain Poole obtained a Brevet of Major 24th July 1880 for his services during the Zulu War (LG 23rd July 1880).
At the outbreak of the Transvaal War, Major Poole was attached to the Major General Colley’s Staff (Commander of the Field Force) as his Deputy Assistant Adjutant General. He proceed with the Field Force from Pietermaritzburg on 10 January 1881 with intention of moving into the Transvaal via Newcastle and then on to Laing’s Nek. On 18th January Poole was sent with a escort of 50 men of the Natal Mounted Police on a reconnaissance to map the route to the Boer positions at Laing’s Nek and make sure the roads were clear. Reporting his findings the small British force proceeded towards their object.
Major Poole would be Killed 10 days later at the Battle of Laing's Nek 28th January 1881. He, other members of the Staff and Major Hingeston of the 58th, had lead the charge of the 58th that was shot to pieces before they even reached the Boer positions. All the staff were somewhat inexplicably mounted and all but one; Major ‘Lucky’ Essex, who had also survived Isandhlwana, were killed or wounded. Major Poole was the second most senior officer killed that day.
Regarding Major Poole’s fate;
‘The Major Poole and Lieutenant Henry Dolphin, of the 58th were killed, and their bodies were found lying well in front of where their men lay dead in swathes, like grass beneath a scythe. Captain Lovegrove was wounded and nearly every non Commissioned Officer was killed or Wounded’.
When Major Poole’s body was recovered, if was found he had been shot through the throat.
From ‘Recent British Battles..’ By Grant:
‘In Major Joseph Rushcombe Poole, who fell at Laing’s Nek, the Royal Artillery lost one of its most skilful and experienced officers – one who was perfect in the drill and technical details of his branch of service. A bold and able horseman, he was “judiciously selected by Colonel Reilly, R.A, from a host of artillery Officers to act as his aide-de camp; and afterwards as brigade major in the Zulu campaign, Major Poole performed his duties with admirable tact, skill and precision, and at the close of the war was entrusted with the custody of the fallen Cetewayo.” A few years previously, when a subaltern, he had served in the same battery with Captain Slade, R.H.A., afterwards known as the “gunner hero of Maiwand” and a close relationship always existed between them.’
Cetshwayo’s official interpreter, Mr. Samuelson had to break the news to Cetshwayo, ‘...as soon as the bad news had been interpreted by me, Cetshwayo’s head drooped downward and tears rolled down his cheeks.’
Major Poole was buried in Mount Prospect Cemetery, South Africa. He is also commemorated on a Royal Artillery memorial to those who lost their lives in South Africa and Afghanistan 1877-1881 at the Royal School of Artillery, Larkhill, Wiltshire….
Condition EF, lovely patina and original ribbon. Sold with copy research. A really quite outstanding medal for both the Zulu and 1st Boer War.