Allan Wilson (army officer)

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For other people with the same name, see Alan Wilson (disambiguation).
Allan Wilson
Allan wilson.jpg
Born 1856
Glen Urquhart, Ross-shire, Scotland
Died 4 December 1893 (aged 36–37)
Shangani River, Rhodesia; buried at Matopo Hills, Rhodesia
(both today in Zimbabwe)
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  British Army
Years of service 1878–1893
Rank Major
Commands held Victoria Column; Shangani Patrol
Battles/wars First Matabele War:
Shangani Patrol

Allan Wilson (1856 – 4 December 1893), was an officer in the Victoria Volunteers. He is best known for his leadership of the Shangani Patrol in the First Matabele War. His death fighting overwhelming odds made him a national hero in Britain and Rhodesia.

Early life[edit]

Wilson was born in Scotland. Upon completion of his apprenticeship at a Fochabers bank, he went to the Cape Colony and joined the Cape Mounted Rifles. He fought in the Zulu War and the First Boer War and was promoted to Sergeant. After taking his discharge he became a trader and gold prospector, and he earned a commission in the Basuto Police. Later he joined the Bechuanaland Exploration Company as Chief Inspector and was sent as their representative to Fort Victoria (now Masvingo) in Matabeleland, serving as the senior officer in the Victoria Volunteers, reaching the rank of major.

Shangani Patrol[edit]

Main article: Shangani Patrol

When the First Matabele War broke out, Wilson was given command of the Victoria Column and appointed the rank of major. He led the Shangani Patrol in search of King Lobengula and, on 4 December 1893, he and 33 of his men were cut off from the main column and killed by the Ndebele warriors. In desperation and only hours before his defeat, Wilson sent Frederick Russell Burnham and two other scouts to seek reinforcements from the main column commanded by Major Patrick Forbes. The battle raging there was just as intense and there was no hope of anyone reaching Wilson in time. The incident achieved a lasting, prominent place in Rhodesian colonial history and is considered to be roughly the British equivalent to Custer's Last Stand.[1]

Wilson is buried, along with most of his patrol and with Cecil Rhodes, in Matabo Hills, Zimbabwe. He was considered a national hero and one of the founding fathers of Rhodesia.[1] The date of his death was a Rhodesian national holiday.

Wilson's Last Stand[edit]

A cigarette card depicting "Wilson's Last Stand"

A patriotic play by Augustus Harris called Cheer, Boys, Cheer! was performed in London's Drury Lane theatre in 1895, running for 177 performances.[2] Its climax was "Wilson's Last Stand", a reenactment of Wilson's death.[3] In the play, based on some embellished facts, it is said that in the killing of Wilson and his thirty-one men, Lobengula lost 80 of his royal guard and another 500 Ndebele warriors. Wilson was the last to fall and the wounded men of the Shangani Patrol loaded rifles and passed them to him during the final stages of the defense. When their ammunition ran out, the remaining men of the Patrol are said to have risen and sung "God Save the Queen". Once both of Wilson’s arms were broken and he could no longer shoot, he stepped from behind a barricade of dead horses, walked toward the Ndebele, and was stabbed with a spear by a young warrior. A rescue party, led by "a plucky girl", arrive just too late.[2]

The Last Stand was reenacted once more at the 1899 Greater Britain Exhibition in London, which featured a play called Savage South Africa, described as "A Vivid, Realistic and Picturesque Representation of Life in the Wilds of Africa", in which scenes from the Matabele wars were re-created.[4] A film called Major Wilson’s Last Stand, based on the play, was produced in 1899.

Robert Baden-Powell in his Scouting for Boys advised scoutmasters to put on patriotic plays, giving "Wilson's Last Stand" as one of the suitable subjects.[5]

A docudrama by David Millin, Shangani Patrol, was released in 1970. The film was based on the book A Time To Die (1968) by Robert Cary, and was made on location by RPM Film Studios. It stars Brian O'Shaughnessy as Major Allan Wilson and co-stars Will Hutchins as Fred Burnham.[6]


  1. ^ a b Gann, Lewis H (1965). A history of Southern Rhodesia; early days to 1934 (First ed.). London: Chatto & Windus, p.118.
  2. ^ a b Freeman, Nicholas, 1895: Drama, Disaster and Disgrace in Late Victorian Britain, Edinburgh University Press, 2011, p.185.
  3. ^ Parsons, Neil, King Khama, Emperor Joe, and the Great White Queen: Victorian Britain Through African Eyes, University of Chicago Press, 3 Feb 1998, p.15.
  4. ^ Shepherd, B., "Showbiz Imperialism", in John M. MacKenzie, Imperialism and Popular Culture, Manchester University Press, 1986, p.97.
  5. ^ Robert H. MacDonald, The Language of Empire: Myths and Metaphors of Popular Imperialism, 1880-1918, Manchester University Press, 1994, p.92.
  6. ^ Internet Movie DataBase


  • History of Rhodesia, by Howard Hensman (1900) -- the full-text of the book can be found online for free PDF
  • Scouting on Two Continents, by Major Frederick Russell Burnham, D.S.O., Autobiography. LC call number: DT775 .B8 1926. (1926)