Before Isandlwana

Batsford, 100 Newland Street, Witham and its interior; Felsted School, Dunmow.

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Early life in England

Richard Walford Stevens came from a family of lawyers. His grandfather, William, was a solicitor in London. His father, Richard, was a solicitor in London and Witham, Essex. His brother, Charles Richard, his half-brother, Francis, and his brother-in-law, Frank Postle Bawtree, were solicitors. Frank Bawtree became a partner of father Richard’s and ultimately of his brothers-in-law when they took over from Richard to form the firm Stevens, Bawtree and Stevens. Richard Walford, as a result, had a privileged upbringing despite losing his mother soon after he was born.

His mother, Eliza Anne Malyon, was a Witham girl with a more working-class background. The Malyons were a longstanding family in the Witham/Great Waltham area of Essex and were well known as master builders. Eliza’s great-grandfather, Charles Malyon, is still remembered for building the brick bridge across the River Brain on the north side of Witham in 1770. It took him three weeks and is still in daily use today carrying large, heavy modern trucks and buses.

Eliza and Richard are first found together in the 1841 Census. 1   Richard is recorded as a legal clerk living with his principal, Edward Banks, at Batsford, 100 Newland Street, Witham. Eliza is shown as living at the house as a “Female Servant”. She and Richard were married in July 1843 at Lambeth in London, but their first child, Emma, was born in January 1843 at St Osyth, Essex. It seems that the unmarried Eliza went to the coastal village to have their baby in seclusion.

Batsford, 100 Newland Street, Witham, Essex.
©Alun Stevens 2016

This indiscretion may have been the cause of the Stevens’s unusual living arrangements. Eliza and the children lived in London. Richard lived and worked in Witham. The 1851 Census shows Eliza and five children living at 19 Bennet Street (now Rennie Street), Southwark with two servants. 2   Richard is shown as living with his by then partner, Edward Banks, at Batsford in Witham with his mother-in-law and sister-in-law as servants. 3   Richard was clearly a frequent commuter to London because baptismal records show that all their children, apart from Emma, were born in south London. The last of them, Richard Walford, was born at 8 Brunswick Street (now Falmouth Road), Newington, London on 17 October 1858.

Eliza, unfortunately, died in February 1859. The family remained in London until at least August 1859 when Richard Walford was baptised at the nearby Holy Trinity Church. 4   It seems very likely that he was given the second name “Walford” after Witham polymath, Cornelius Walford. Cornelius was Richard Walford’s uncle, married to his mother’s sister, Jane Malyon. The Walford’s were probably his godparents. 5   The whole family then went to live with their father at Batsford in Witham, which Richard had by then purchased from Edward Banks. Richard remarried in 1861 and had three more children. The third, a son, was born in 1865. Richard’s second wife, sadly, died five days later, and her two older children, both daughters, died within two weeks of her.

Batsford is a large and comfortable house and easily accommodated the large family and servants. Richard also ran his legal practice from there. His position as a country solicitor provided him with connections to local dignitaries and gentry including William Luard, the later Admiral Luard, whose father was a local magistrate and J.P.. Richard was also a staunch supporter of the Conservative Party, which undoubtedly provided further connections in business and military circles. He was clearly successful because his sons all attended Felsted School at Dunmow.

Felsted School, Dunmow, Essex.
©Alun Stevens 2016

Felsted school records show that Richard Walford attended from August 1870 to December 1875 and played cricket for the 1st XI in 1875. All but one of his brothers also played for the 1st XI. 6  

The Stevenses were a cricketing family and Richard Walford’s brothers, Charles Richard and Francis, were frequently mentioned in cricketing reports of the day. Charles Richard also helped organise and played in the match in 1868 between Witham and the touring Indigenous Australian team. The first ever overseas tour by a national sporting team. In later reports about Isandlwana, Richard Walford was reported as being a well-known local cricketer but this would appear to be a confusion with Charles Richard because there are numerous newspaper reports of Charles Richard playing cricket, but none of Richard Walford doing so.

Felsted boasted a Rifle Corps that had affiliations to the Essex Rifle Volunteers. The December 1873 edition of the school magazine, The Felstedian, reports on a training day held in the environs of Dunmow which included attacking and defending positions, skirmishing and training in volley and independent firing. 7   Richard Walford isn’t named, but he is recorded in newspaper reports as having joined the 10th Essex Rifle Volunteer Battalion that was based at Witham.

The move to South Africa

Richard Walford moved to South Africa in 1878 in order to join the Natal Mounted Police (NMP). This move appears to owe much to the recruiting strategy for the NMP and his family connections.

The Natal legislature established the NMP as a para-military force in 1874 following the “rebellion” by Chief Langalibalele. The first commanding officer was Major John George Dartnell, a retired British Army officer. In the preface to the seminal history of the force by H.P. Holt, The Mounted Police of Natal, Dartnell commented:

I also wanted to induce a good class of men to enlist in the force by the prospect of promotion, and I achieved my object, for after a few years about a third of the men were gentlemen. Some of them were University men, and there were boys from nearly every public school in England. (Holt 1913, ix)

This took time and struggle because the colonial authorities did not want Dartnell to recruit in England. The corps grew very slowly as a result. Holt, however, notes:

There was still the utmost difficulty in getting recruits for the corps in South Africa and, as it was considerably under strength, thirty men were sent out from England in 1877 and twenty-five the following year. (Holt 1913, 38)

These two groups included many of the “boys from nearly every public school”. One of the thirty men in 1877 was William James Edgworth Bawtree, the son of a Naval surgeon. He had been at Felsted between 1873 and 1875 with Richard Walford and was a cousin of Frank Postle Bawtree, Richard Walford’s brother-in-law. It is impossible to say whether William’s recruitment had any influence on Richard Walford, but it does show that the recruiters were active in his family, social, and possibly school circles.

Richard Walford was one of the twenty-five recruits who arrived in 1878. They all arrived in Durban on the SS Teuton on 19 April 1878. 8   He appears to have embarked on a colonial adventure in the footsteps of his next eldest brother, Arthur Partridge, who had gone to Melbourne, Australia in late 1876, but unfortunately died of fever on 26 September 1878 whilst on a gold prospecting expedition to Papua New Guinea. 9  

Richard Walford then went to Pietermaritzburg where he joined the NMP on 22 April 1878 at their headquarters at Fort Napier as recruit 256. His recruitment record shows:

Brought letter of introduction from Sir Garnet Wolseley – –
Is a friend of Lieut Gifford VC. 10  

This is quite extraordinary. General Sir Garnet Wolseley was one of the most respected and well known military men of Victorian England having served with distinction in the Crimea, India, Ashanti, Canada and China. He was also an erstwhile Governor of Natal.

“Lieut. Gifford VC” was Edric Frederick Gifford, 3rd Baron Gifford, who had won his VC in 1874 in Ashanti while serving in the same 24th Regiment that was to play a central role at the battle of Isandlwana. His commanding officer at the time, and the man who recommended him for the VC, was Sir Garnet Wolseley. Gifford was to be Wolseley’s aide-de-camp when Wolseley replaced Lord Chelmsford the following year as commander of British forces following the defeat at Isandlwana. How two such powerful and well-connected men came to know and endorse Richard Walford is quite intriguing. How did he become friendly with Gifford? Did Gifford ask Wolseley for the endorsement? Did the endorsement come via father Richard’s political connections or via then Rear Admiral Luard? At the time of writing, there is no indication of how Richard Walford crossed paths with these men. Nonetheless, he joined the NMP with very powerful endorsements.

He would then have settled into the daily grind of police life and training.

Richard Walford Stevens – Isandlwana ◄ ● ► Isandlwana: Richard Walford’s View

©Alun Stevens 2023

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