The Horrors of Majuba

William Topaz McGonagall 1825 – 1902 (Greyfriars Parish, Edinburgh)

'Twas after the great Majuba fight:
And the next morning, at daylight,
Captain Macbean's men were ordered to headquarters camp,
So immediately Captain Macbean and his men set out on tramp.

And there they were joined by the Blue Jackets and 58th men,
Who, for unflinching courage, no man can them condemn;
And that brave little band was commissioned to bury their dead,
And the little band numbered in all about one hundred.

And they were supplied with a white flag, fit emblem of death,
Then they started off to O'Neill's farm, with bated breath,
Where their comrades had been left the previous night,
And were lying weltering in their gore, oh! what a horrible sight.

And when they arrived at the foot of Majuba Hill,
They were stopped by a Boer party, but they meant no ill,
Who asked them what they wanted without dismay,
And when they said, their dead, there was no further delay.

Then the brave heroes marched on, without any dread,
To the Hill of Majuba to collect and bury their dead;
And to see them climbing Majuba it was a fearful sight,
And much more so on a dark pitch night.

And on Majuba there was a row of dead men,
Numbering about forty or fifty of them;
There were also numbers of wounded men lying on the ground,
And when Captain Macbean's party gazed on them their sorrow was profound.

Oh, heaven! what a sight of blood and brains!
While the grass was red all o'er with blood-stains;
Especially at the edge of the Hill, where the 92nd men were killed,
'Twas there that the eyes of Macbean's party with tears filled,

When they saw their dead and dying comrades in arms,
Who were always foremost in the fight during war's alarms;
But who were now lying dead on Majuba Hill,
And, alas! beyond the aid of all human skill.

They then went about two hundred yards down the Hill,
And collected fourteen more bodies, which made their blood run chill;
And, into one grave, seventy-five bodies they buried there,
All mostly 92nd men, who, I hope, are free from all care.

Oh! think of that gallant British band,
Who, at Majuba, made such a heroic stand,
And, take them altogether, they behaved like brave men,
But, alas! they were slaughtered like sheep in a pen.

Poor fellows! there were few of them left to retire,
Because undauntedly they faced that murderous fire,
That the mighty host poured in upon them, left and right,
From their numerous rifles, day and night.

The conduct of the 92nd was most brave throughout,
Which has always been the case, without any doubt;
At least, it has been the case in general with the Highland Brigade,
Because in the field they are the foremost, and seldom afraid.

And to do the British justice at Majuba they behaved right well,
But by overwhelming numbers the most of them fell,
Which I'm very sorry to relate,
That such a brave little band met with such a fate.

The commanders and officers deserve great praise,
Because they told their men to hold Majuba for three days;
And so they did, until the most of them fell,
Fighting nobly for their Queen and country they loved right well.

But who's to blame for their fate I'm at a loss to know,
But I think 'twas by fighting too numerous a foe;
But there's one thing I know, and, in conclusion, will say,
That their fame will be handed down to posterity for many a day!

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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William Topaz McGonagall

William Topaz McGonagall (March 1825 – 29 September 1902) was an Irish weaver, poet and actor who lived in Scotland. He won notoriety as an extremely bad poet who exhibited no recognition of, or concern for, his peers' opinions of his work. He wrote about 200 poems, including "The Tay Bridge Disaster" and "The Famous Tay Whale", which are widely regarded as some of the worst in English literature. Groups throughout Scotland engaged him to make recitations from his work, and contemporary descriptions of these performances indicate that many listeners were appreciating McGonagall's skill as a comic music hall character. Collections of his verse remain popular, with several volumes available today. McGonagall has been lampooned as the worst poet in British history. The chief criticisms are that he was deaf to poetic metaphor and unable to scan correctly. His only apparent understanding of poetry was his belief that it needed to rhyme. McGonagall's fame stems from the humorous effects these shortcomings are considered to generate in his work. Scholars argue that his inappropriate rhythms, weak vocabulary, and ill-advised imagery combine to make his work amongst the most unintentionally amusing dramatic poetry in the English language. His work is in a long tradition of narrative ballads and verse written and published about great events and tragedies, and widely circulated among the local population as handbills. In an age before radio and television, their voice was one way of communicating important news to an avid public. more…

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    "The Horrors of Majuba" Poetry.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2020. Web. 5 Dec. 2020. <https://www.poetry.net/poem/41916/the-horrors-of-majuba>.

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