Thursday 2 January 2014

A Blast From The Past

2014 is said to be the year when we withdraw from Afghanistan after too long a stay.  Our history of interventions there is a long and not a happy one.  

In The Daily Mail today is a piece on the film "Zulu" which is based on the battle at Rorkes Drift on 22nd January 1879 immediately following the debacle at Isandlwana when an invading British force was cut to pieces by the Zulu's.

The Mail tells of the heroism at Rorkes Drift depicted in the film although with some inventions to add spice to the story line, notably about Henry Hook.

Just along from the statue of Robert Burns, who is well known, on the London Embankment is another of Sir Wilfrid Lawson, 2nd Baronet (see Wikipedia).  He was a leading figure in Cumberland and The Lakes, a Liberal and fiercely Temperance and known for his sharp tongue and vigorous speeches.

The report below from "The Spectator" archive dated 19 April 1879 is a choice example.


Sir Wilfrid Lawson made a very sharp attack on the Government in his speech at Cockermouth on Monday. The plea for a scientific frontier, he said, was a plea for robbery, neither more nor less.  

The first well-known ruler who wanted to rectify his frontier in this way was Ahab, and his rectification of it at the expense of Naboth, was an operation of precisely the some kind as Lord Beaconsfield's.   

He called the burning of the Afghan mountaineers' villages, and the slaughter of the mountaineers themselves, on the frontier, "the most atrocious massacring of human beings that ever was heard of."

He described the invasion of Zululand as one "brought about by the most treacherous and meanest devices on our part, and the injustice and brutality of which are perfectly amazing."

He could not withhold his need of praise from the Zulus, for the gallantry with which they were defending their country against a most unjustifiable invasion. He asked, " Who is to stop all this wickedness ?" and his answer was that only the country could stop it.

The aristocracy would not; Parliament would not; the Church would not, for, with many noble exceptions, the Bishops of the Church seemed, to him, to act more like " priests of Baal, than servants of the Prince of Peace." There is no jocosity in all that, and Sir Wilfrid Lawson was, for once, evidently in grim earnest.

Yet his view seems to us more or less distorted. You can seldom justly put the immorality of unjust wars and the immorality of private murders and robberies on the same moral basis.

The wrongness in each case is a wrongness of totally different quality and origin, and heartily as we agree in the main political drift of Sir Wilfrid Lawson's observations, we do not think that anything is gained—indeed, much is lost—by identifying the moral offence of men who make war on insufficient grounds, with those of men who rob and kill for their private advantage."


Lawson is not a person who fits easily into our ideas and prejudices about the past.  Very much a landowner his family were noted sportsmen in the hunting field.  The picture above from the 1920's is of his son and heir, also Wilfrid, who married Camilla Jane Macan, daughter of Arthur Turner Macan, formerly 21st Lancers, one of the leading huntsmen of his day and Master of The Oakley.

Macan was a fortunate man in that his mother Harriet, as a widow had remarried to William Henry Whitbread head of the brewing firm.  He was very generous to her family  and in turn was keen on the chase.  His Whitbread's were married into the family of the Earl's Grey, also huntsmen and one of whom was Private Secretary first to Prince Albert and later Queen Victoria.

There is a wonderful Victorian and Edwardian irony in the leading Temperance family in the land marrying into brewery money.

1 comment:

  1. "Lawson is not a person who fits easily into our ideas and prejudices about the past."

    He certainly isn't. He would probably have shredded a few of our leaders and been applauded for it.