In my small collection of Stellaland revenue stamps I have two 6d revenues cancelled with the signature of CG Dennison. The signature is not illustrated in the Trotter and Midwood book17. Charles George Dennison is known to students of Stellaland history for the role he played in the life of the short-lived Republic seated at Vryburg, on the margins of the Kalahari. What may be less known to philatelists is the significant role he played as a military figure in southern Africa. Dennison has been described as “one of the most famous South African irregular commanders” and “having probably seen more active service in South Africa than any living man?”
Dennison was born at Cradock in the Eastern Cape on 21 November 1844. His father George Dennison was an 1820 settler and farmer (his right arm smashed by shrapnel during the Border War of 1851) and who died 10 years later in Graham’s Town. CG Dennison received his schooling at Graham’s Town and “always wanted to be a soldier.” His forefathers had a strong military tradition; his grandfather served in the American Revolutionary War as colour sergeant in the 55th Regiment of Foot and was wounded at the battle of Bunker Hill on 17 June 1775. The grandfather also fought in the Peninsular War (1807-1814). Dennison married Anna Maria Hoffman (a descendant of the de Villiers Huguenots) at Aliwal North on 29 August 1876. He was as fond of hunting, most of which was done in Matabeleland and Mashonaland and he knew Courtney Selous well.
Two of Dennison’s sons died during the Anglo Boer War (Alexander George, KIA 18 Sept 1901 and Clifford Rice, killed at Carter’s Ridge near Kimberley). His seventh child was named Frederick Weatherley Dennison (the Weatherley is significant).
The above image shows Officers and NCOs of Dennison’s Scouts (from AngloBoerWar.com). The HJ Dennison back row right is Charles’ son Harold James. Photo taken at Vryburg during the guerilla phase of the ABW. Note the mourning band on Dennison’s left arm after the death of his son Alexander.
Record of conflicts
“I first saw active service when I served as a trooper in the Bloemfontein Rangers (OFS Republican Forces). I commanded the Rustenburg Rifles a local corps raised in Rustenburg, Transvaal Republic, in 1876 with President Thomas Burgers as commander of his bodyguard. I was second in command of the Border Horse under Col. Weatherley, with OC sir Evelyn Wood in Zululand in 1879 when they were practically wiped out and both Col. Weatherley and his young son fell at Hlobane on March 28, 1879. Was promoted to the command with the rank of commandant and colonel’s pay (Zululand Medal); served under sir Garnet Wolseley in Sekukhuni’s country as commandant commanding Border Horse; raised troops on two occasions in Bechuanaland; defeated the natives during the Rebellion of Mashonwing River, Bechuanaland; captured the rebel chief Golishwe in the Kalahari desert, and thus stopped what might have become a prolonged and costly rising to the Cape Government (Bechuanaland Medal); raised Dennison’s Scouts and served with them as OC and served with the Irregular Mounted Forces in the Boer War of 1899-1902. I cannot give particulars as to which particular act gained me the DSO. Got the column – known as the Kimberley Column – out of difficulties on different occasions during the Boer War1”
Chief Galeshewe was captured at Mopoleng on 26 August 1897. Dennison never received the £500 bounty put on Galeshewe’s head by the Cape Government14. The arrest marked the end of the Langeberg Campaign, an uprising inter alia resulting from the culling of cattle herds to quell the spread of rinderpest during the pandemic of 1896. Galeshewe (below) served 10 years on Robben Island.
Dennison joined the Bloemfontein Rangers in 1865, serving under Capt. ES Hanger (there is still a Hanger Street in Bloemfontein). He fought in the Second Basotho War (aka the Seqiti War. Seqiti being a Sotho onomatopoeia of the sound of Boer cannons firing) 1865-1866. Dennison was present when Cmdt. Louw Wepener died in the attack at Thaba Bosigo on 15 August 1865. Around 1869 Dennison and his family moved to Rustenburg in the ZAR where he joined the Rustenburg Schützen Corps (created by Capt. WF Schroeder and well-known at the time for the its regimental band. The corps uniform was a green tunic with red piping, white trousers and a peak cap covered with white calico) in 1871. He was on the ill-fated campaign to punish Sekhukhuni with President TF Burgers in 18764. On the Sekhukuni campaign, the Zoutpansberg contingent was led by Capt. Dahl. Dennison was commissioned an officer with rank lieutenant in 1877. The unsuccessful Sekhukhuni campaign led to Burgers’ ultimate failure as president of the ZAR and contributed to Shepstone’s annexation of the Transvaal.
Up to this point, Dennison fought with Republican forces in the OFS and the ZAR. His allegiance then appears to switch. He was conflicted as a burger of Transvaal to fight against the Union flag. He rode out to Boekenhoutkloof outside Rustenburg to discuss the issue with Paul Kruger at the outbreak of the War of Independence.
Dennison was awarded the Queen’s Medal with 3 clasps (Cape Colony, OFS and Transvaal), the King’s Medal with two clasps (Major Western L.H.), SAGS 1879 as commandant Border Horse, CGHGSM (shown below) as captain in the Stellaland Horse, was mentioned in despatches and was created a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order2. The DSO bestowal document was signed by King Edward VII2. Dennison’s medals were sold at a Spink auction in London in December 2002 for £ 10,912 (including commission) with a pre-auction estimate of £3,000-3,500.
The Battle of Hlobane
I include the reference to Ron Lock’s remarkably researched article on the battle of Hlobane and the controversy that ensued7. Of the 500 men involved in the battle on the British side, 300 were killed19. In short: Dennison later contradicted Lt. Col. Evelyn Wood’s despatches and Wood’s account of the battle. During the battle Lt. Col. FA Weatherley and his 14-year-old son Rupert were tragically killed15. The young Rupert held the rank of sub-lieutenant. Wood never mentions Weatherley by name in despatches4. Dennison served as second in command to Weatherly and after the battle was the only officer of the Border Horse to survive the carnage. Petrus Lafras Uys (Piet “Hlobane” Uys, not to be confused with Piet “Italeni” Uys) died in this battle 28 March 1879. It was for his gallantry at the battle of Hlobane that Lt. Col. Redvers Buller was awarded the Victoria Cross. A total of 5 VCs and 5 Distinguished Conduct Medals were awarded after the battle.
Previously the hapless Weatherley was also part of a scandalous divorce case at Pretoria after his wife Maria was involved in an extramarital affair with the charlatan Gunn of Gunn (Charles Grant Murray Somerset Stuart Gunn), a scoundrel who tried to have Theophilus Shepstone removed from his post at Pretoria. The divorce shocked polite society in Pretoria at the time15. The case came to court in November 1878.
During the War of Independence 1880-81, Dennison distinguished himself by keeping official communications open between the besieged town of Rustenburg and army headquarters at Pretoria. Dennison was at that stage living at his trading store at Wolhuter’s Kop between the two towns20. After the war, Dennison moved to the diamond fields at Kimberley and on the Harts River, trading in wood. Wood was in short supply at Kimberley and the going price for a wagonload was £20-£30.
Curious incident at Kuruman
Prior to the Anglo Boer War, Dennison was an intelligence officer (Imperial Intelligence Department) at Vryburg. The Stellaland Horse was raised by Dennison at Vryburg in December 1899. During the war the Scouts and some Cape Mounted Police under Capt. A. Bates defended Kuruman with a troop of 63 men against a combined Republican force of 1000 for seven full weeks. A third of the defending troops were wounded during the siege. At the time Dennison was wounded (shrapnel wound to the neck) the force surrendered to Republican troops on 1 January 1900. Dennison was captured and spent five months as a POW in jail in Pretoria and then at Waterval. He was released when Roberts took Pretoria on 5 June 1900. After his release he became Assistant Native Commissioner for Rustenburg and Zeerust. The Dennison Scouts under Dennison formed part of the Kimberley Flying Column2.
During the siege of Kuruman in the ABW, the Transvaal forces were under Cmdt. HJ Visser and the Free State forces under Field Cornet FC Wessels. The two did not see eye to eye. Wessels proposed a ceasefire for Christmas Day 1899 which Capt. Bates accepted on behalf of British forces, but Visser did not concur. The result was the Transvaalers and the defenders opposing them kept at sniping at each other while the Free Staters and their direct opponents went down to the river and spent the day relaxing together17. Hostilities resumed the next day.
The dates of importance for Stellaland postage12:
January 1883 (approx.) – Post office opens at Vryburg & postal service commenced to Christiana (Putzel)
7 August 1883 – Stellaland proclaimed an independent republic by Gerrit Jacobus van Niekerk (Theal)
8 August 1883 – Vryburg listed as the post office of Stellaland Republic (Putzel)
February 1884 – Stamps delivered.
23 September 1884 – Postal contract concluded between Stellaland Government and WM Geeringh, the Vryburg-Christiana postal contractor.
7 February 1885 – Sir Charles Warren’s expedition reaches Vryburg.
23 March 1885 – Vryburg post office listed under British Bechuanaland (Putzel)
11 June 1885 – Francis Eaton replaces Ferdinand Hartzenberg as postmaster of Vryburg.
30 September 1885 – British Bechuanaland proclaimed. Stellaland and Goshen incorporated into the crown colony of the British Bechuanaland.
1 October 1885 – Land commission set up to assess land claims in the old Stellaland and Goshen.
2 December 1885 – Stellaland postage stamps replaced. The Stellaland revenue stamps were withdrawn from use at the end of 188718.
Postmasters F Dekker: appointed approx. 1882. Ferdinand Hartzenberg: 1884 – 11 June 1885 (Initials: “FH”) Francis Alexander Eaton: 1 July 1885? – early 1886. CG Dennison: date?
On the webpage of Bechuanaland and Botswana postage stamps9, Hennie Taljaard makes mention of a single 3d postage stamp with the initials CGD. This stamp shows the abbreviation “PM” for likely postmaster. There is no date on the stamp. Illustrated below are the two Stellaland revenues (BB1 series, phase 1) with the full signatures of Dennison. On the right is an 1884 6d revenue yellow orange without the JPS monogram. On the left an 1884 6d revenue yellow orange with the JPS monogram. On the right example Dennison adds “acting clerk of the court”. So at least for some period of his time in Vryburg, Dennison was postmaster and acting clerk of the court. Both stamps are dated June 1886 in manuscript thus signed as part of British Bechuanaland and not Stellaland. The oval handstamps at Vryburg were introduced and used in 1886 but manuscript cancellations are again seen 188718. These two stamps are exceptions in this case.
The power of attorney below is of interest. It contains the signatures of three of the Dennison clan. The wife, the husband and DJ Dennison (brother of CG Dennison). The document is signed at the Deeds Office, Vryburg, British Bechuanaland 25 March 1886.
Dennison wrote a book of the history of Stellaland, published in Vryburg in 192814. This is a frank, personal history of Stellaland’s existence and makes for interesting reading. Dennison was personally involved in laying out the town of Vryburg (they had to redo the effort because the original erven were too big for the land allotted to the town). He also makes mention of the renowned de la Rey family including the fiery Groot (Big) Adriaan de la Rey. Groot Adriaan was the brother of Lang (Tall) Adriaan who in turn was the father of the famous General Koos de La Rey of ABW fame. Groot Adriaan was 6’6” tall and after being arrested for failing to swear the Oath of Allegiance, the handcuffs were found to be too small to fit around his wrists. He was tied to two soldiers instead. There was also a Klein (Small) Adriaan in the clan. The de la Reys moved to the Western Transvaal after Sir Harry Smith’s troops burnt down their farmhouse near Winburg in the Free State. Dennison goes on to describe the civil administration under Gert van Niekerk and an elected Volksraad. Frank Ludorf, son of a missionary at Thaba Nchu, was appointed State Attorney with Lionel George Lee appointed as Registrar of Deeds and followed in the post by MC Genis, late magistrate at Rustenburg where Dennison knew the family well. Muller was the son in law of Groot Adriaan de la Rey and was appointed Landdrost. After British annexation in October 1885 (this is the date Dennison uses in the book. It was on 30 September 1885), Abraham Fourie Robertson was appointed magistrate with EC Baxter as distributor of stamps and tax master. Dennison is outspoken in his criticism of Shepstone’s replacement by col. Lanyon during the annexation of the Transvaal and is quite convinced that Shepstone understood and managed the Boers better than the unsympathetic Lanyon.
MC Genis was a “capable and respected administrator” and was known for his loyalty to the government of the day14. Owing to his service to the Crown, he received harsh treatment at the hands of republican sympathisers during the War of Independence 1880-81. At the outbreak of the ABW Genis was accused by some Transvaalers of communicating with the enemy and was subsequently arrested and imprisoned. He was in ill health at the time of his arrest and was subsequently released from prison but died at home shortly afterwards leaving a widow and seven children.
Charles George Dennison died at Plumtree in the then Rhodesia on 31 May 1932, aged 88. The image above is his grave at Plumtree, taken from his book20. His wife died in Johannesburg 6 months later.
- Spink catalogue 5 December 2002. https://www.angloboerwar.com/forum/5-medals-and-awards/29115-medals-to-dennison-s-scouts
- Dennison, CG, 1904, ‘A Fight to the Finish’
- Natalia 27, p. 42-68 http://natalia.org.za/Files/27/Natalia%20v27%20article%20p42-68%20C.pdf
- Lock R, undated ‘The Battle of Hlobane New Evidence and Difficult Conclusions’ https://www.anglozuluwar.com/images/Journal_6/J6l_The_Battle_of_Hlobane_-_RL.pdf
- Dennison CG, 1928, ‘History of Stellaland’ Vryburg.
- Dennison CG; History of Stellaland, Pretorius Bros Printers, Vryburg, 1928.
- Amery, LS, editor 1909, ‘The Times History of the War in South Africa’ iii p. 112-4.
- Trotter B and Midwood N, in ‘Revenues of Southern Africa part1.
- Dennison CG, ‘Zulu Frontiersman’ edited 2008 by Ron Lock and Peter Quantrill (https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Zulu-Frontiersman-Kindle/p/6662)