During 1897 a serious rebellion developed in the Uganda
Protectorate and the government of India was requested to send troops to
support British military activities in East Africa. In response the 27th
Bombay Light Infantry departed on 3rd December 1897 from Bombay
aboard the transport Nowshera, arriving at Mombasa on 12th
December. The battalion was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel W.A. Broome.
Fourteen British officers and 743 native ranks comprised the strength of the
At that time the Uganda Railway was under construction
from Mombasa to Lake Victoria and the railhead had reached Ndi, 109 miles from
Mombasa. Just southwest of Ndi the Taita Hills tower up above the plain to a
height of over 7,000 feet. These wooded hills were a prominent landmark for travellers
but were relatively unexplored. Local tribesmen who specialized in filing their
front teeth into sharp points lived on the hills in caves and villages, and in
1893 a missionary station had been opened there. Five years later the Imperial
British East Africa (IBEA) Company, a private chartered commercial organization
that was developing trade in the region, made a treaty with the Taita chief in
order to secure the land route that was being developed from Mombasa to Uganda.
Colonel Broome moved his battalion by rail up to Ndi by 8th
January 1898 and dispatched several companies on foot up the long trail to
Kampala, 687 miles away. More Indian reinforcements were requested from Uganda
and the 4th Bombay Rifles arrived in Mombasa on 7th
March. At Ndi transport problems were developing because the Taitas did not
want to be recruited as porters to carry loads up the trail. The Indian troops
needed special diets and this resulted in massive tonnages of food being
imported, all of which needed carrying from Ndi onwards. Even coastal porters
from Mombasa did not want the work and in March out of one group of 300
porters, 230 threw their loads down and vanished through the bush back to the
coast. The porters did have valid concerns as, apart from the risk of stepping
on snakes, thieves sometimes attacked them from the bush, and the railhead was
approaching Tsavo where predatory lions hunted men as well as wilder animals.
Eventually more porters and donkeys were brought up to carry loads, but this
was a difficult time for British authority.
On 20th March Colonel Broome received a letter
from Mr. Weaver, District Officer Ndi, who was at Bura in the Taita Hills (at
this time all spare British East Africa (BEA) Protectorate troops had been sent
up to Uganda). Weaver requested the help of Indian troops as the Magangi people
in the hills had rejected peace terms offered by the BEA Protectorate
authorities who had taken over the administration of the territory from the
IBEA Company. The Magangis could produce around 1,000 bowmen firing poisoned
arrows and carrying short swords. Broome marched at dawn the next day with
three British and two Indian officers and 78 Indian sepoys (infantrymen). Each
man carried 70 rounds of ammunition whilst closely-escorted porters carried
rations to last for 10 days. Twenty eight hours later the British column
reached Magangi’s valley, 23 miles from Ndi and 5,000 feet above sea level.
Above: The hut of the Taita Chief Mgogo
Mr. Weaver reported that the Magangi chief had attempted
to murder him two days previously, but the chief had been shot in the attempt.
Colonel Broome was requested to take steps to make the local people acknowledge
the authority of the Government of the Protectorate. A reconnaissance patrol
entered the Magangi area where the District Officer pointed out about 200 huts
in four villages that were the centre of resistance. At 0430 hours the
following morning Colonel Broome’s main body blocked exits from the villages
whilst Lieutenant Hulseberg and an assault party of 35 men rushed the huts.
Very few men were found in the huts as the warriors had withdrawn during the
night. The British column now split into two groups and advanced up both sides
of the valley where they contacted the tribesmen, killing 40 or 50 of them and
capturing 60 head of cattle for the loss of one Indian officer slightly
Above: Taita Hills from the South
The villagers now submitted to the District Officer’s
authority and by 25th March the Colonel and his column were back at
Ndi. This had been a typical colonial punitive expedition (exactly how many
natives had been killed didn’t really matter – a lesson had been delivered and
learned) and it had been a stroke of luck for the BEA administration that
Colonel Broome and his troops were camped only a few miles away. The tribesmen
could not compete against the firepower of the sepoys and once the column
showed that it was prepared to enter and fight in the hills then the tribesmen
knew that they could not win. On 4th April Colonel Broome was
ordered to proceed to Uganda to assume command in that Protectorate and he
started marching; however because of the transport difficulties already
mentioned it took his column four months to complete the journey to Kampala.
Left: Wa Taita Men
In Uganda the 27th Bombay Light Infantry fought
in several engagements over the next eight months. This campaign resulted in
the award of the East and Central Africa Medal with the clasp “Uganda 1897-98”
to all ranks involved in operations. The members of Colonel Broome’s short
expedition into the Taita Hills also qualified for this medal and clasp,
despite the fact that the Taita Hills were located in British East Africa many
Miles away from Uganda!
The group of medals shown here was awarded to Lieutenant
Cyril Uvedale Price, 30th Bombay Light Infantry, who was attached
to the 27th Bombay Light Infantry in Uganda. During the Great War
Lieutenant Price returned to the Taita area as a Lieutenant Colonel commanding
the 130th Baluchis. His battalion was in action securing a military
railway line that was constructed westwards from Voi, a station ten miles south
of Ndi, to and across the German East African border at Taveta just south of
Kilimanjaro Mountain. During these operations the Taita Hills were a vital
source of water both for the military railway line and for the thousands of
Allied troops that camped alongside it, and many Taita tribesmen served as
Intelligence Scouts or in other capacities for the British forces.
The hills themselves provided healthy locations for
sanatoriums for white and Indian troops recovering from fevers contracted on
the plains below.
Above: The medals of Colonel C.U. Price
(The medals shown are: East & Central Africa Medal
with clasp 1897-98, China Medal 1900, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, British
Victory Medal with Mentioned in Despatches oak leaf emblem, Delhi Durbar Medal
1903, Delhi Durbar Medal 1911, Russian Order of St. Anne 3rd Class
with swords. Not shown is an order of St. Michael & St. George C.M.G.)
This article recently appeared in "Durbar",
the journal of The Indian Military Historical Society.
SOURCES AND FURTHER READING:
Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India Volume VI by
Army Headquarters India.
History of the Baloch Regiment 1820-1939 by Major
General Rafiuddin Ahmed.
British Battles and Medals from Spink.
Permanent Way Volume 1 by M.F. Hill.
The Exploitation of East Africa 1856-1890 by R.
Kenya from Chartered Company to Crown Colony by
The Man-eaters of Tsavo by Lieut.-Col. J.H.