James Rorke

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James Rorke

Postby DavidB » 05 Aug 2008 20:23

With the recent query over on the Zulu War board about Rorke's Drift, I got to reading (or re-reading) various material.

The following comes from the website rorkesdriftvc.com:
"In 1849 a trader named James Rorke purchased a tract of land measuring a thousand acres on the banks of the Buffalo River in Natal. The river formed a natural border between British governed Natal and the independent Kingdom of KwaZulu. Apparently, Rorke was the son of an Irish soldier who had served in the Eastern Cape. James Rorke himself had allegedly seen service in the Seventh Cape Frontier War. On the river at the point close to where Rorke settled was a natural ford across, or as it is referred to in South Africa - a drift. A drift, which in time would bear his name."

So who was James Rorke exactly? Was he an ex-soldier, or son of a soldier? And did he serve in one of the Frontier Wars?
I have the South Africa 1853 medal roll and although I can spot 4 or 5 Rorke's, no immediately obvious match for James.
Any ideas? :|
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Re: James Rorke

Postby mike snook » 06 Aug 2008 00:07

I am not a medal man but the roll to which you refer is surely for the 8th CF War, not the Seventh?

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Re: James Rorke

Postby Mark » 06 Aug 2008 09:51

If it helps the South Africa Medal 1853 was issued for the following three campaigns:

- 6th Cape Frontier War 1834-36
- 7th Cape Frontier War 1846-47
- 8th Cape Frontier War 1851-53

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Re: James Rorke

Postby mike snook » 06 Aug 2008 12:10

Mark

Didn't know that. That explains it.

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Re: James Rorke

Postby Mark » 06 Aug 2008 12:19

It doesn't look like James Rorke was issued this medal according to the roll. However it is not that unknown for names to be missing from the roll especially for locally raised units. He could also have possibly been issued the medal late and his name was never added. Maybe he never claimed it?

Of course this is all guesswork and as the evidence stands it doesn't look like he received the medal.

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Re: James Rorke

Postby mike snook » 06 Aug 2008 14:45

Amoaful

James was not himself a regular soldier but is believed to be the son of one (an Irishman obviously). The received wisdom is that he served as a volunteer in the War of the Axe (7th CF). Later in life he joined the Buffalo Border Guard, (BBG) rising to be its lieutenant. It was a very small local unit probably never exceeding around 30 local settlers from farms along that stretch of the Natal-Zululand frontier. There isn't much more on him. It's interesting that he doesn't appear to have claimed a medal, given that he was still a serving volunteer later in life. You'd have thought he might have chased it up but living in so remote a place, he might never have felt the inclination. Clearly he drifted a long way from Cape Colony to Natal, before putting down roots at the drift, which I imagine he did in between the 1847 end of hostilities in the 7th War and the issue of the medal in the 1850s. I suppose its conceivable that living in such an out of the way place, he never knew that such a medal existed, though doubtless he would have been an avid scourer of old newspapers that found their way to him. I am unclear whether it can be shown that the BBG ever paraded or drilled in Pietermaritzburg - where the absence of an entitled medal might just have been noticed or have come up in conversation - but it's an awfully long way from RD - and the very idea of the BBG was they were a local paramilitary-constabulary force for the border zone.

Perhaps somebody else has more, but that's me about played out on the subject of old Jim. It would be ungentlemanly to remark on his poor taste in women - but watch out for Mrs R's photo!! Approach with caution.

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PS If I know you under another name you will let me know via a PM or something won't you, to save any unecessary labour!!
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Re: James Rorke

Postby Mark » 06 Aug 2008 14:50

mike snook wrote:It would be ungentlemanly to remark on his poor taste in women - but watch out for Mrs R's photo!! Approach with caution.


Mike

You can't leave it there, you got to show us her photo or point us in the right direction to find it.

Or am I going to regret asking?

Mark :lol: :P
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Re: James Rorke

Postby mike snook » 06 Aug 2008 14:54

Mark

The 8th war began in 1850, by the way, with the ambush in the Boomah/Booma/Boma Pass on Christmas Eve or Day - I forget which of these two days it began on, but it became a two day running fight. I can check easily enough if you want me to.

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Re: James Rorke

Postby mike snook » 06 Aug 2008 14:58

Mark

:D heh heh. I came across her in an unexpected encounter on the wall of the visitor centre at RD. Quite a shock I can tell you. I'm not entirely sure where the original comes from and I can't immediately bring to mind if I've seen it in any of the literature. I'll browse the AZW shelves a bit later - having taken on a glass of something strong for my stomach just in case she leaps out at me again. :wink:

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Re: James Rorke

Postby Mark » 06 Aug 2008 15:05

Mike

I think you are correct regarding the 8th CF War. I found several references to it with the start date as 1850 or 1851 but I went for the 1851 date as this was from a direct reference to the medal issued for the campaign. However the date 1850 is, I believe, actually the correct date.

As for Jim Rorke, well there is no accounting for taste I guess and each to their own. Still it was a hard life in those days... :P

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Re: James Rorke

Postby DavidB » 06 Aug 2008 18:42

Thanks for that info Mike.
PS If I know you under another name you will let me know via a PM or something won't you, to save any unecessary labour!!

Not aware I know you from anywhere else, but feel free to call me David rather than Amoaful. :)

I've been digging around myself and have found the following re. Rorke.
"An Irish regiment landed at Mossel Bay in 1821......... and 2 brothers and a cousin named Rorke were serving in the ranks. One of the brothers stayed in the Cape Colony after his service expired - or he may have simply deserted - and there he married and there his son James was born in 1827. James in his turn served as a civilian attached to the commissariat in the 7th Kaffir War in 1846, and in the course of that year he arrived in Durban. He married and a year or so later he drifted upcountry with his wife. In 1849 he acquired 3000 acres on the right bank of the Buffalo River."

Looking back at that medal roll then, there are 108 men listed under the commissariat. Among them is a Commissary Thomas J.Rorke! :roll:
Despite the account above saying James was a civilian attached, it does seem a strange co-incidence at the very least to then see a Thomas J. Rorke listed among such few men. Wonder what the J. stands for?

By the way, which Irish regiment landed at Mossel Bay in 1821?
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Re: James Rorke

Postby kaiser » 06 Aug 2008 18:56

1821 it could only be one of four: 18th Royal Irish Regt, 27th Enniskillen, the 83rd Royal County Dublin, or the 88th Connaught Rangers
Mon General, if by you action the British Army is annihilated, England will never pardon France, and France will not be able to pardon you! Always looking for medals to the Irish Regiments: 18th, 27th, 83rd, 86th, 87th, 88th, 89th,
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Re: James Rorke

Postby mike snook » 06 Aug 2008 22:46

Very good David, will do.

I fancy that isn't Jim, as commissary is an officer's (equivalent) rank and young Jim would, by that reckoning, have been only a 20-year-old. It's not impossible but it seems a bit improbable doesn't it?

Whilst the stuff about serving in the 7th War is the received wisdom, I for one am certainly not sure what its evidential basis is. It may just be plain wrong. His service in the BBG is a matter of record however.

Mark

Yep - just did a quick look-see in the library - the fight and hence the war began on Christmas Eve and ran on into Christmas Day as the column withdrew to base, rather the worse for its unpleasant and unexpected experience of the previous day. The 'Kaffir Police' and CMR were allowed through the ambush point, (many of them to mutiny subsequently of course), and then the lurking Xhosa opened up on the regular infantry. The more eagle-eyed infantrymen noted packets of cartridges being dropped by the police as they went ahead - this gave them some early warning that treachery might be afoot. It was.

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Re: James Rorke

Postby DavidB » 07 Aug 2008 10:49

I fancy that isn't Jim, as commissary is an officer's (equivalent) rank and young Jim would, by that reckoning, have been only a 20-year-old. It's not impossible but it seems a bit improbable doesn't it?


Possibly unlikely, but I've just found another fact that makes it a little more likely.
Apparently the Commissariat was purely a civilian organisation until put under military control in 1858 (although they did wear uniforms from 1834).
So a commissary in 1846 would be a civilian. :)
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Re: James Rorke

Postby DavidB » 07 Aug 2008 17:19

There really doesn't seem to be any definitive story out there for Jim Rorke.
Lots of words like apparently & allegedly though, and the sense that much is just received wisdom as Mike said earlier. :roll:

Had a look today at the Army Regimental Birth Indices and Army Chaplains Birth Indices considering he was supposed to be the son of a soldier and born in Africa.
In all these indices there is just one Rorke born in the right place, and that's in the Army Chaplains Birth Indices:
Thomas James Rorke, born at The Cape and the year given is 1832.
Not being familiar with these indices, I don't know if 1832 is actually the year of birth, year of registration or year it was compiled in the index.
Only way to know would be to order the certificate I suppose.

Doesn't prove anything either way again, but it's another curious coincidence.
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