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Boer War Local Heroes 17
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Great Canadian Heritage Mystery!!
The Mysterious Canadian Officer: Recently, at an international auction, an old military photograph of an officer was offered as:

"Canadian Boer War officer, Ottawa, a beauty"

"Please read the description through to the end. This lot a black and white matt board mounted photograph, photo measures 7.5 x 5.5 inches, matt measures 8.5 x 10.5 inches. Photographer marked Sparks Street, Ottawa, Ont.

"Condition: matt is poor, stained, with very round corners, small tears and bruises. Photo is much nicer, matt (not glossy) and shows some surface abrasions and small stains. Detail is a little soft around his waist, otherwise crisp. Unit insignia cannot be made out. A very nice portrait of an unidentified officer."

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The accompanying photo (right) was provided as an aid to identification.

Do you know who that is?

The seller reported that the photo caused a flurry of interest across the country as he, and other individuals, groups, and museum experts, sought to rack their collective memories of just who this officer might be?

The bids went higher than they should for an anonymous officer but there was the suspicion that this just might be someone whose identity could be discovered.

An on-going problem, at auctions, is the countless people photos that turn up, none of which are ever labelled. So one has to compare known photos and see if they match.

Is it a Match? One museum thought it might be Agar Adamson (left), then rejected that. What do you think?

Here is another such typical searching adventure:

But, in the end, no one could place the soldier's name... He went back into the dust bin of History, unrecognized, unsung, and uncherished....

And lamentably, finally sold as an "Unidentified Canadian officer..."

Until the Canadian Boer War Museum saw the photo...

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Major Arthur "Gat" Howard, 1900 (detail)
Orig. photo - Image size - 5.5" x 8"
Found - Vancouver, BC
Photo by Lancefield's Studio, 61 Sparks St. Ottawa
Lancefield's was a leading Ottawa Studio in 1900. In fact that same year as the above photo was taken, they had taken a photo of Bert Harper, one of future Prime Minister Mackenzie King's closest friends, who, a year later, would jump into the ice-filled Ottawa River, trying to save the life of a woman who had fallen in, and died in the attempt. King was so stricken that he raised a subscription for a statue to him and wrote a book about his life called, "The Secret of Heroism."
Great Canadian Heritage Discovery
Shame on You: In fact the mysterious "unidentified officer," is none other than Major Arthur "Gat" Howard, who played a significant role in Canadian history on a number of occasions.

Howard had first entered the national scene with a big splash - make that a big bang - during the Riel Rebellion in 1885, and is even pictured on the bottom right of the most famous lithograph of its bloodiest battle, operating a big gun. (below).

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
The Capture of Batoche 1885
Orig. lithograph - Image size - 19" x 24.5"
Found - St. Thomas, ON
Signed WD Blatchly, from sketches, Toronto Lithographing Co.
Pub. by Grip, Toronto, 1885

American Guns to the Rescue!

In 1885 the North West Rebellion broke out in the distant reaches of Canada's prairie frontier. The Canadian Militia limbered up to go set things right again, by putting the Indians and Métis rebels in their place.

It was the "confrontation period" of Canada's history - where you go to shoot people to make them understand you...

Enter the Americans who are good at this sort of thing.

The Colt Firearms Manufacturing Company in the United States saw this as a good marketing opportunity, and offered the Canadian Militia a deal it couldn't refuse - a loan of their latest technological firearm, a Gatling gun, and an operator, Capt. Arthur Howard of the Connecticut National Guard, and all for free. The offer was accepted.

Left, Howard poses in a studio with the very Gatling Gun he used during the North West Rebellion. The Gatling Gun was a quick-firing machine gun using many barrels to fire off a shower of bullets. Howard turns a crank to rotate the barrels and fire them off, quickly and automatically, one after the other, the bullets being fed in by a stick magazine on top of the breech.

At various times Howard's weapon attracted incredulous comment for the stream of bullets it could spit out. And it only needed one operator, not a whole team that it took to fire a traditional artillery piece.

The progress of the Gatling Gun can be followed in the Riel Rebellion prints. At Cut Knife, the Gatling is noted far off, as a distant "Gatling" speck shooting beside the other two artillery pieces just in front of Col. William Otter. But the artist clearly has no clue on how to represent a Gatling, and so draws it like a traditional artillery piece, belching smoke, and surrounded by a team of operators!

In fact during the retreat from Cut Knife Hill later, the Gatling Gun kept the Indians off the backs of the retiring army. The gun was gaining approving notices.

Howard and his Gatling Gun were at Batoche, but, in the original Batoche print, published by the Canadian Illustrated News (below), the Gatling Gun is not mentioned or included. Big traditional artillery pieces are featured in the bottom corners of the print.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
The Capture of Batoche, 1885
Orig. lithograph - Image size - 14" x 19.5"
Found - Cooksville, ON
Hand-coloured, Canadian Illustrated News Souvenir Edition, Pub. Toronto Lithographing Co. 1885
But in the chromolithograph, published a few months later (see above), a significant change has been made in one area of the original print.

In the first litho (left) the stretcher bearers are looking at the charging gun crew; in the next (above and below) they see only one man and one gun, in the same spot!. That man is Captain Howard, and his Gatling Gun.

OOPS! Someone must have pointed out the glaring oversight made by the Toronto-based Blatchly.

Blatchly then did a repaint, incorporating the reputation of the gun and the man into the larger Batoche print. They would never be separate again. He was known as "Gat" Howard till the day he died.

Below, at Batoche, the man and his gun get first tier billing at the bottom right of the print.


Blatchly, though, had Gat in a bit of an inglorious position, having him shoot from behind the lines through his own men! Gat was a daredevil and would usually be found in the front lines, where the firing was hottest, and his gun would have better targets. And when the odds were mounting up against him, he was always last to abandon a position.

In the best tradition of the Victorian British Army Officer Corps, Gat Howard brazenly - the age would say heroically - led from the front. It was a brave display that rewarded many good men with a premature death.


Gat Howard in the Boer War

Gat Howard in the Boer War

Gat Howard decided to remain in Canada after the Rebellion, and settled in Montreal, where he became very wealthy as a stock holder in the Dominion Cartridge Factory.

When the Boer War started, in 1899, Howard offered to equip four machine gun detachments - at his expense - for the Government of Canada to use in South Africa, but his offer was refused.

Gat took a commission with the Royal Canadian Dragoons as a machine gun officer, and gained a reputation as a strong-willed and daring officer with a mind of his own and an eagerness to tangle with the enemy regardless of orders from his superiors.

When the Dragoons returned to Canada, in Dec. 1901, Gat stayed behind. If the fighting was going on he wanted to be a part of it. Life in Montreal was just too boring compared to living "on the edge" in South Africa.

Gat started the Canadian Scouts, a volunteer corps of mounted scouts that acted independently under his command, but worked in support with regular British army units. He equipped his Scout unit with six Colt machine guns, which Gat now preferred to use instead of the Gatlings.

The Canadian Scouts, under Howard, won acclaim among the British for their toughness and ruthless campaigning, but earned the enmity of the Boers.

On Feb 17, 1901, Howard and his aide were caught alone and rode into a Boer ambush. Both were killed. The story spread that the hated Howard was actually captured alive but executed by vengeful Boers. Gat Howard was only 55.

The purported death scene was drawn and widely publicized during the Boer War, in Wilson's "After the Flag to Pretoria" to portray the Boers as ruthless and bloodthirsty killers of unarmed men.

It became part of the propaganda war to win the hearts and minds of British people, and rally support for a conflict that was increasingly criticized, not only across Europe, but even on the home front.

What really happened that day will probably never be known.

But Gat Howard entered Canadian history in the company of violence, and left it in the same way. Someone should really coin a phrase here...


c Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996 & 2000