Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Mabin: The Fighting Clerk, Zulu War, 1879

George William Mabin VC
The picture of Mabin in uniform was taken in 1868 when he was around 19 or 20. It is the uniform of a Rifleman in the Rifle Brigade of the time and this photo would date to the first 4 years of his service. By 1872 Mabin had transferred and became a Clerk , an occupation he kept for the rest of his army life and civil life.

It is a well known fact that 11 VC's were awarded at Kwajimu and 5 DCMs or as was known "The Silver medal". This story is not about them nor indeed any member of the 24th . This offering concerns a man who served 30 years in the army and never once was on company defaulters parade, a rare feat back in Victoria's army. Our subject was born in Bristol and eventually returned to the country he fell in love with, South Africa. His family is well known in the Cape, mention the name and I am sure that you will get a story about him or his family.

The subject in question was born on October 5th 1848 in the St Augustine parish of Bristol, his parents were George James Mabin and Frances Mabin. George's father was a mariner by trade and also a publican. In 1863 George was the licencee at the Elephant and Castle public house in Bristol and George had a brother and two sisters. The name MABIN originates from Cornwall and the earliest reference we have of the name is from the Cornish Protestant Returns of 1641 which indicates MABINs as living in the parishes of Landrake, Menheniot, Launcells and Stratton of East Cornwall. The IGI index for DEVON for instance shows variants of the name (15 in total) and the most incorrect version shown is " MAYBIN" which appears on the roll at Rorke's Drift.

George William MABIN lost his mother in 1865 and his father re-married in 1866 to Hannah Robins. They had a daughter called Edith Elizabeth Mabin who was born in late 1866. Sadly George lost his second wife in 1870 at the age of 31, Edith was baptised on Christmas Day 1866. * My thanks to Kris Wheatley for help on this line *. If anyone who is a descendant of this Edith reads this please get in contact with me as Edith is the half sister of George William Mabin, of course.

At the age of 7 on the 5th of October 1855 George was given an acrostic poem by his father: in this style of poetry each line begins with the first letter of a person's name: try writing one for someone you care about. This is the poem for George William Mabin.

George William; now thy age is seven
Each blessing rest on thee from Heaven
Our prayer is this, that God thous't fear
Remember this from year to year
God will then surely guide and bless
Evil shall come not; nor distress
When father was far, far away
In dreams his thoughts to thee would stray
Looking upon thee elder grown
Light of our home; he this doth own
If three years absence caused him grief
A sight of thee gave him relief
Mother and father love thee well
More fair than any words can tell
And as thy years but number seven
Be this our prayer now heard in heaven
It is that God may spare thee long
Now until death keep thee from wrong.

If at the time of writing these words George could have looked into the future God did indeed spare him long. In May 1868 George William Mabin enlisted into the Rifle Brigade which had been known as the Prince Consorts Own. Amy life suited young George as he made rapid progress, never once in 30 years was his copybook blotted with an adverse entry, a rare feat in those days. From family records and letters he was a very caring and close family man with his children. When on a visit to Kent he met one Mary Elizabeth Ranger, they fell in love and married on Jan 3 1872 in Dover, Kent.

Between July 1873 and Jan 1897 they had no less than 11 children. The last six being born in Cape Town (must be the sea air!). In May 1872 George had risen to the rank of Sgt and had transferred to the Corps of Military Staff Clerks. In May 1875 he gained another promotion to Colour Sgt. Frank Bourne who won a DCM at Rorke's Drift did not become a C/ Sgt till 1878 and so MABIN was actually the Senior NCO on 22nd Jan 1879 when a certain incident took place!

The roll call taken after Rorke's Drift again shows Mabin as a Sgt when quite clearly he was not. I often wonder why Mabin, being a clerk, did not correct this fault and indeed it is another mystery as to why he was at the drift at all as he certainly was not a hospital patient and there are no records as to what his purpose was at the mission station. On the 6th June 1878 Mabin was appointed to the District Office, Cape of Good Hope and on the 4th July 1878 he found himself aboard the Nubian sailing to South Africa to become Chief clerk to Lord Chelmsford. Mabin served against the Gaikas and the Galekas with Chelmsford. In an account given on Jan 22nd 1914 Mabin states he was amongst the first to hear of the news of the disaster at Isandlwana when a rider who survived the massacre spoke to Mabin of the tragedy that had happened earlier. Mabin states that a pivotal moment was when the hospital roof was fired which assisted the defenders in holding off the determined Zulu.

George William Mabin did not receive a medal for his actions on Jan 22nd 1879 nor was he asked as a Chief Clerk to produce a roll call, with Frank Bourne being but 23 yet a C/Sgt I put this down to his inexperience at this time. Lord Wolseley who replaced Lord Chelmsford promoted MABIN to Sgt Major and Superintendent Clerk on Feb 19th 1880. Mabin saw action again when taking part in the Boer War and was alongside General Sir George Colley when Colley was killed at Majuba Hill in Feb 1880. It was at this battle and not at Rorkes Drift when he gained the nickname of the Fighting Clerk. Further action took place on Jan 28th 1881 at Laings Nek and at Ingogo also known as Schuinshoogte on Feb 8th 1881. May 31st 1898 saw Mabin become a civilian once again after 30 years service.

He left the army with a marriage, 11 children and six good conduct badges, the maximum that could be won. Amongst his medals won were the Meritorious service medal, South Africa medal (clasp) 1878, 79, Jubilee Medal 1887, and a special Diamond Jubilee Medal 1897 struck in gold, one of only two ever awarded, the other going to Gunner William Hollis of the Royal Artillery. This medal was made in the shape of the Continent of Africa surmounted by a crown and scroll with a laurel wreath and cannon below. Fate was unkind to Mabin because today he would have been entitled to a Long Service and Good Conduct Medal but these were not issued to the newly created rank of Warrant officer but to the ordinary soldier. Mabin spent 11 years and 11 months abroad in his service and 17 years as a Warrant officer. He was recommended 4 times for a commission but never took this up. Mabin returned to South Africa in 1900 to become a Clerk for the Cape Governor. In 1906 his wife died and George re-married one Sarah Annie Stroud who died in 1920. George often stated the number 8 played a role in his life as it did in his death: he died on October 23rd 1938 at Groote Schuur Hospital, Rondesbosch, Cape Town aged 90. He was outlived by one man of that famous defence and that was Frank Bourne who died on VE Day 1945. George was buried alongside both his wives in Maitland cemetery Cape Town, a perfect soldier, family man and all round good man. Melville and Coghill were awarded posthumous VC's and I firmly believe that No 1566 C/Sgt {Sgt Major} GEORGE WILLIAM MABIN should be considered for a well-earned LSGC medal even after this period of time.

Footnote: Not too long ago,  I was at a friend's house in Chelmsford when my friend called a number in South Africa; on the other end was Lawrie Mabin the great grandson of C/Sgt George William Mabin hero of Rorke's Drift.

Graham Mason
Anglo-Zulu War Researcher.

Diamond Jubilee Medal 1897 struck in gold, one of only two ever awarded.

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