Boer War- Links With Bovey Tracey

The Boer War – Links with Bovey Tracey

Malcolm Billinge 2018



General Sir Redvers Buller returned home from the Boer War as a hero (Fig. 1). He had many relatives living at different times in Bovey Tracey following the acquisition of the Bovey Pottery in  1843 by Capt. Thomas Wentworth Buller. Capt. Buller, not a Bovey Tracey resident himself, was co-owner of the Pottery which included a brickworks. He promoted the draining of agricultural land (WT 23 May 1846, p. 7) and by 1847 land within the Stover estate in the ownership of the Duke of Somerset, was drained by tiles that had been supplied by The Bovey Tile Works (The Western Times 10 April 1847, p. 8). Bovey Tracey brick-workers feature in this article.


Figure 1. General Sir Redvers Buller. Malcolm Billinge 2018.


Bovey Tracey Recruits for the Boer War

Four men from Bovey Tracey are known to have taken part in the Boer War and they were labourers employed in the Candy & Co. Brick and Tile Works at Heathfield and the Bovey Pottery. Two other men involved in the war were related to the Buller family and they also had close connections with Bovey Tracey.

In 1900 these four reservists are known to have joined British forces sent to South Africa, and a service at the parish church was held for Alfred Steer, Henry Payne and William Wallen, their wives and, ‘a few interested friends.’ (The Western Morning News 12 February 1900, p. 3).

These Bovey Tracey men would have known of the local gentry – The Hughes of Dunley and the two Phillpotts sisters of Bradley House. Miss Sibylla Phillpotts played the organ at this church service and she was a sister of Lady Georgiana Hughes, the mother of Louis Hughes, below. Following the service the party was given a breakfast and, ‘each wife received 5s 8d, the balance of a fund raised by sixpenny donations, amounting to £2 4s collected by Mr Hamilton. Alfred Steer had previously received a present of three guineas from his fellow-workers at the [Bovey] Pottery.’ The three men were given a ‘send-off’ at the railway station by the Bovey Band, and the band of the Lads’ Brigade (The Western Morning News 12 February 1900, p. 3).

Henry Payne and William Wallen were then given, ‘a great reception at Heathfield station on their way to the Exeter Depot. The whole of the reservists’ workmates, numbering about 250, at the works of Candy and Co. (Ltd), glazed brick and sanitary ware manufacturers, which adjoin the station, awaited the arrival of the train from Bovey to say ‘good bye’ and to wish their mates ‘God speed and a safe return’.  A fourth, unmarried reservist Felix Nankivell had left some days before.

Henry, William and Felix were employed at the Candy & Co. Brickworks in Heathfield and their employer had, ‘generously promised to keep open the situations for the reservists, and to pay half their wages to their wives [Henry and William] weekly and 1s extra for each child.’ (The Western Times 16 February 1900, p. 2).

A farewell service was held at Exeter cathedral, ‘to wish ‘God-speed’ to the volunteers of the Devon Regiment who are going to the front on Wednesday.’ (The Western Morning News 12 February 1900, p. 3).

The Boer War had begun in October 1899 but following British defeats in December, a time known colloquially as ‘Black Week’ the year ended with Ladysmith, Mafeking and Kimberley under siege (Fig. 2). Thousands more British troops were sent to South Africa in January and February 1900 amongst whom were the four reservists from Bovey Tracey. In attempting to relieve Ladysmith the British suffered a defeat at Spion Kop when they found that a hill taken from the Boers was in range of enemy artillery fire from surrounding higher land. Buller was replaced as Commander in Chief but he led his troops into Ladysmith in February 1900. Kimberley was also liberated in February and Mafeking in May.

Figure 2. Men and boys of Bovey Tracey outside the Union Inn celebrating the Relief of Mafeking in May 1900. By kind permission of the Mann family.


Reports of the Bovey Tracey reservists’ time during the Boer War are lacking but they all appear to have survived as they are recorded as having later served in the Great War as documented in Smitten Down Yet Not Destroyed by the Bovey Tracey Heritage Trust. Felix Nankivell died in 1918 and is buried at the Pembroke Dock Military Hospital.

General William Templer Hughes, after a final period of military service in India settled at Dunley, Bovey Tracey with his second wife Georgiana and their family. Connections with the Buller family were as follows: William had inherited Dunley from James Buller, uncle to his first wife Katherine Buller. His second wife Georgiana was the daughter of Louisa Buller, but also the sister of William Phillpotts who had married Katherine’s sister Gertrude Buller.

At the time of the 1891 census the Hughes family at Dunley included Louis Cambell Hughes aged fourteen and Janet Mary Hughes aged twelve. They had both been born at Awlsicombe, East Devon.

Col. Russell Dunmore Gubbins (1862-1938)

In 1914 Janet Hughes married Col. Russell Dunmore Gubbins, Field Artillery. Russell had undertaken military service in India in 1888 and he was on active service again during the 1899-1902 Boer War, being twice mentioned in despatches. Russell was promoted to major in 1900 (Anglo-Boer War records 1899-1902; Hart’s Annual Army Lists 1908). It would be interesting to know more about Russell’s service during the Boer War. Russell lived to also take part in WW1 despite being fifty-two at the outbreak.

Incidentally, Russell’s sister Frances Gubbins had married Janet’s brother Edward Hughes in 1895 (The London Evening Standard 27 March 1895, p. 1).

Louis Campbell Hughes (1877-1901)

Ten-year old Louis attended a fancy-dress ball at the Dolphin Hotel, Bovey Tracey in 1887 (Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 29 December 1887, p. 6) before entering Marlborough College for his secondary education (Marlborough College Register, 1843-1933, p. 372).

In February 1901 Louis travelled to South Africa having enlisted in the Canadian Mounted Rifles which was part of the South Africa Field Force. He began his active service on the 28th February and would have missed the liberation of Ladysmith and Kimberley. It is not known whether or not he took part in the May liberation of Mafeking. Louis was a lieutenant with Kitchener’s Fighting Scouts when he was killed in November 1901 at Tweefontein / Groenkop and he was mentioned in despatches by General Lord Kitchener, ‘for conspicuous gallantry in action.’ (Anglo-Boer War records 1899-1902 Transcription – By this time the Boer War consisted of guerrilla warfare on the one hand and lines of block-houses, scorched-earth tactics and ‘concentration camps’ by the British. Tweefontein was a block-house that was attacked and overrun in the early hours of Christmas Day 1901, but Louis was not alive to witness this defeat.

There are memorial tablets to Louis at Exeter Cathedral and at Marlborough College (Morning Post 22 November 1901, p. 1; Marlborough College Register from 1843-1933, p. 372; Anglo-Boer War records 1899-1902 Transcription – (Fig. 3).

Figure 3. Exeter Cathedral plaque naming Louis Campbell Hughes. Malcolm Billinge 2018.


There is an enigmatic and difficult to read citation that appears to read, ‘Kitchener’s Fighting Scouts’ Lieutenant Hughes “Delete medal and clasps off this roll” ‘ (UK, Military Campaign Medal and Awards Rolls, 1793-1949 for Louis C. Hughes : The meaning is unclear but presumably a technicality rather than a snub.

The battle of Spion Kop gave its name to a short road in Bovey Tracey that connects two elevated terraces of houses to Mary Street below. Eureka Terrace and White Heather Terrace were built after the Boer War and before 1911 and, like others in the town they were most probably built using locally made Bovey bricks (Fig. 3).

Figure 4. Eureka Terrace, Spion Kop, Bovey Tracey. Malcolm Billinge 2018.


Post-Script  –  The Canadian Volunteer Bounty Act 1908

Through this Act the Canadian government offered 320 acres of Dominion lands to Boer War  veterans. Louis’ mother Lady Georgiana Hughes applied (undated) for a land grant, ‘I, Georgiana Maria Hughes, now of Larkbere House, Ottery St Mary, in the parish of Talaton  …   before that of Dunley, Bovey Tracey …  legal representative of my son the late Louis Campbell Hughes, do thereby apply for a grant of land under the provisions of the Canadian Volunteer Bounty Act of 1908. Louis Campbell Hughes was enlisted in the Canadian Mounted Rifles and served with it and other British Forces in South Africa from 28th February 1900, or thereabouts, to 14th November 1901, the day of his death.’ (Canada, South African War Land Grants, 1908-1910 for Louis Campbell Hughes : Ancestry).

It is not known whether Georgiana was successful but by all accounts the scheme was a disaster as 95% of the 1.25 million acres thus distributed in Saskatchewan, for example, was acquired by speculators (James Murton, 2011. Creating a Modern Countryside: Liberalism and Land Resettlement in British Columbia).