Monday, March 29, 2010

Ancestors in Police Units, South Africa

In the second half of the 19th c a number of semi-military police forces were formed. They arose out of the need to maintain law and order over large areas and difficult terrain in South Africa.

One of these forces was the Natal Mounted Police, first raised after the 1874 Rebellion, as well as seeing action in the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. This corps continued to serve through the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902 (at the Siege of Ladysmith) and the 1906 Rebellion until finally being incorporated into the South African Mounted Riflemen in 1913.

They numbered about 300 at the beginning of the Anglo-Boer War. Many of its members were recruited in England in the early years of the unit and it’s interesting that some of these men are individually-named on Natal passenger lists, coming out on board ships such as the Kinfauns Castle and Roslin Castle in the 1880s. These lists appear in the European Immigration Department registers (EI) held at Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository.

In 1894 the unit was amalgamated with other groups to form the Natal Police – it was known by this name (NP) until 1913.

If an ancestor was in the NMP/NP, the chances of finding out more about him are good. The history of the corps is told in Holt’s The Mounted Police of Natal; 16 volumes of original records of the unit are preserved at Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository. They contain nominal rolls, enlistment registers from 1874-1913, records of service covering that period and a roll of individuals granted Long Service and Good Conduct Medals.

Further detail at

Similarly well-documented, the Cape Mounted Police (CMP) came into existence in 1882. Enrolment records are held in Cape Archives Repository.

Not to be confused with the above were the Cape Mounted Riflemen, a distinct semi-military entity, which began its life as the Frontier Armed and Mounted Police (FAMP) ca 1855, with the change in title dating from 1878. Their history is recounted by Basil Williams in his Record of the Cape Mounted Riflemen.

NAAIRS at offers a large number of references concerning each of the units mentioned in this post.

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