Masked Raiders: Irish Banditry in Southern Africa, 1880-1899

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9781770220805: Masked Raiders: Irish Banditry in Southern Africa, 1880-1899

For two decades before a railway system linked southern Africa’s principal cities in the mid-1890s, the world’s richest supplies of diamonds and gold were transported by coach and horses to distant ports for export. For Irish soldiers based at Fort Napier, Pietermaritzburg, the temptation of this fabulous wealth proved irresistible: they deserted by the score and, as members of the criminal ‘Irish Brigade’, embarked on a spree of bank, safe and highway robberies.

Masked Raiders follows the wild exploits of legendary brigands like the McKeone brothers and ‘One-Armed Jack’ McLaughlin, who ravaged the subcontinent, from the mining towns of Barberton, Kimberley and Johannesburg to the borders of Basotholand, Bechuanaland, Mozambique and Rhodesia. With tales of heists, safe-cracking, illegal gold dealings, prison breaks and hidden roadside treasure, the book reveals the potency of the Highveld’s ‘criminal heroes’, a force—until now—largely hidden from history. With inimitable storytelling flair, Charles van Onselen illuminates the intrigue and influence of a secretive, oath-bound brotherhood.

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About the Author:

A graduate of Rhodes University, Grahamstown, and St Antony’s College, Oxford, CHARLES VAN ONSELEN is an acclaimed historian and author of The Seed is Mine and The Fox and the Flies. His awards include the American African Studies Association’s Herskovits Prize, the Institute of Commonwealth Studies’ Trevor Reese Memorial Prize and the Alan Paton Award for non-fiction. He has published extensively in leading historical journals in America, England and France, and has been honored with visiting fellowships at Cambridge, Oxford and Yale. He is currently Research Professor in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Pretoria.

Review:

Van Onselen (humanities, University of Pretoria) examines a little-known aspect of society in South Africa in the twenty years leading up to the Boer War, the Irish bandits. Ironically, he notes that many of them were trained for lives as outlaws on the mean streets of Manchester and in the British Army, which brought them to the region. Van Onselen looks at the phenomenon of the "Irish Brigade" who were equal-opportunity thieves, robbing rich, poor, black, white, British and Boer. He gives some background on individuals, such as Jack McBride, who ran a gang but couldn't convince his sister to leave the native chief she had married. The political climate is also considered as a reason for the early success of the bandits, along with the romantic Robin Hood myths told about them. Van Onselen also discusses the advent of middle-class Fenian men who became a second, very political, Irish Brigade, fighting against the British. He encourages other historians to look beneath the obvious polarizations to find the outsider groups that act as a trigger to set off major political events. (Book News, Inc.)

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