Chaplain George Smith


The Reverend George Smith was a Norfolk man, big and tall with a stoop. He had come to South Africa in 1870 as a lay missionary under the auspices of the Society for the Propogation of the Gospel. In 1872 he had been ordained a priest by the Anglican Bishop of Natal, John William Colenso. Smith was not as Liberal in his views as Colenso and used whatever methods he saw fit to convert stubborn Africans from their heathen beliefs. His first military posting was with the Weenen Yeomanry, a short-lived local volunteer unit, and with them he went on an expedition sent out to bury the dead after the skirmish at Bushman's Pass. He felt that Langalibalele had got what he deserved. When the army was preparing for the invasion of Zululand he volunteered, was attached to the Centre Column and posted to Rorke's Drift where he took part in the defence.

He was very active in the distribution of ammunition and acted with great bravery throughout the battle. A caricature of him drawn by J N Crealock shows him dressed in a helmet and long black coat, faded to green, and a waist-belt with a pistol holster, and a binoculars case on a strap over his shoulder. He features in most of the paintings of the defence, notably the paintings by Alphonse de Neuville and Lady Butler, also the Keith Rocco painting.

After Rorke's Drift, Smith accompanied Chelmsford's advance on the Zulu capital and was present at Ulundi. His incumbency of the Mission at Estcourt expired in 1880, and on 1st Jan of that year he was appointed Chaplain of the Forces of the Army Chaplain's Department, a post awarded in recognition of his services at Rorke's Drift. He returned to England and was chaplain at Aldershot until 1881 when he was sent to Cork. He went to Egypt with Wolseley's Expedition, and was present at Tel-el-Kebir. He was awarded the Queen's Medal for Egypt and the Khedive's Star. He was also at the battle of Ginniss in the Sudan. In 1887 he returned to Britain and held a number of posts before retiring in 1905 to Sumner's Hotel, Fulwood at Preston, where he had spent several years as chaplain. He died on 27th Nov 1918 at the age of 73.


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by Stephen Luscombe