I really did not have an idea of what to expect when we entered the Alice campus of the University of Fort Hare, founded in 1916 on the site of what had been a British stronghold in the previous century. Signs of the latter can still be seen on the campus in the form of both a cemetery and a replica of Fort Hare.

Julius Malema had obviously addressed the student body on the 16th June this year – a public holiday known as Youth Day (which commemorates a wave of protests commonly known as the Soweto uprising of 1976). I imagine the sports complex was chosen as a venue in order to accommodate a large number of students. The scratch marks across his face pose an interesting question: if you don’t like him, why not remove the poster – after all, it is nearly two months old!

While the campus was looking reasonably well kept, given that it is winter and we are still experiencing a drought – there are still numerous signs of student unrest that led to the burning of buildings in the not too distant past.

A military cemetery/garden of remembrance on the campus is the final resting place for British and colonial soldiers who died during the 8th Frontier War, fought in 1850.

The names of those interred there have been inscribed on a monument erected by the South African War Graves Board in 1973.

There are nonetheless a number of graves of soldiers marked ‘unknown’.

Among the few elaborate graves is this one:

There is a brightly painted indication of where to find the Department of Fine Arts:

A replica of the original Fort Hare is also on the campus.

The Eastern Cape is criss-crossed with graves, remnants of forts, sites of ambushes and battles. Each provides an insight to the past that has forged the people who inhabit the area today. There is something very sobering about each site, particularly those out in what we call the ‘bundu’ where one is compelled to contemplate such events while surrounded by thorn trees, boulders, the wind, and bird song – signs that nature continues despite the human turmoil of the past.


  1. Baie interessant en ook hartseer, as mens na die uitgebrande geboue kyk. Geskiedenis moet nooit uitgewis word nie, al maak dit seer. Ons moet weet waar ons vandaan kom.


  2. I’ve just found this while looking for an image to accompany a post I’m writing about my (possibly) 4x great grandfather, John Gordon. Would you mind if I use your image of his memorial? If it’s ok, how would you like me to credit the image.
    Thanks so much in anticipation. I only discovered John Gordon’s story recently and it’s helped me break through a brick wall in my research.
    Cheers, Su


    • I am very pleased that you will find this photograph useful. Whenever I see graves and memorials such as this dotted about the country, I wonder about the families of the men honoured here. You may use the photograph with pleasure: provide a link to this blog post -so your readers can see it in context – and I would love to hear something about John Gordon’s story, so please link me to your post once it is done.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks so much Anne. I am the same with graves and memorials. I have been known to go to great lengths to research the stories behind them.
        I’ll put the links in place and publish now.
        Thanks again.

        Liked by 1 person

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  5. Hi Anne, I’ve ended up here thanks to Su Leslie.

    John Gordon was the older brother of my 3xGreat Grandmother Barbara Gordon (Stocks).

    The following is information from : John is entry No. 983

    John was born in 1808 and enlisted in the 91st foot regiment in 1825.
    In 1827 he was made a corporal, in 1828 he was made a sergeant, in 1831 he became a Colour Sergeant, in 1835 he was promoted to Sergeant Major, in 1841 he became Quarter Master, in 1847 he was promoted to Ensign & Adjutant, and finally, in 1847 he became Lieutenant. Not bad for an enlisted man from Fife.

    On 29th December, 1850, he was “assegaied mortally” (stabbed with a long spear) in action near Fort Hare, whilst saving the life of Lt Borthwick, who was wounded, and whom Gordon placed on his own charger (horse).

    At the time of his death, John and his wife Ann Flannagan had seven surviving children.

    For his gallantry, Gordon’s widow (who lost her reason on hearing of his death, but who had completely recovered by January 1860) was granted Blood Money: a gratuity of £608 6s 8d and a year’s pay, a third of a year’s pay to each of her seven children, and a pension of £60 under a royal warrant dated 3 Jun 1851, five children were place on the Compassionate List from 1 Oct 1851, at £8 each.

    Three of John’s surviving sons followed him into the military: Henry ended up as a Major in the New Zealand Army, William became a Major in the 73rd Foot and John Jnr became a Military Chaplain.


    • Duncan, this is FASCINATING. Between you and Su you have enlivened my enforced incarceration. Once we are allowed out and about and our local archive is open for research, my husband and I will see if we can find any information relating to the action (and actual place) where John Gordon was killed. If we are fortunate to find anything I shall forward it to you.


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