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Great Canadian Heritage Discoveries

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More important Canadian antique memorabilia the Museum has preserved.

Great Boer War Discoveries ( Nov. 2004)

A Mystery Officer
Boer War "Discovery of the Month"
(Dec. 2004)
Who is that guy? How many times does one walk into an antique store, pick up a photo and find a great picture but no name attached?

"Haven't got a clue. There was nothing on it when we got it at a house clearance years ago. It's been laying upstairs for years gathering dust. It's yours for fifty bucks. Be glad to see it go!"

I looked again. No writing anywhere, front or back, even though I peered with my glass on every inch of the cedar backing and wooden frame. On the bottom right was stamped Pittaway, Ottawa, a leading photography studio in Canada's capital city, around the turn of the century.

The frame was good and period, and the glass was wavy. Just the way I like it. The photo was crystal clear and large, a good 5" x 10" image.

Besides, this guy looked very familiar; I was sure I had seen a younger image of him somewhere before. With a uniform like that in Ottawa at the turn of the century, he could only be a Brit. Hmmmh.... an upper level British officer, sometime during the Boer War.....

"Ok. 50 bucks. I'll take it!"

It was a five hour drive home, lots of time to think and mull things over.

Dundonald! That's who those eyes belong to. Make that the 12th Earl of Dundonald and Boer War cavalry commander. I'm sure of it. I could hardly wait for time to pass to get home and check my books.

The problem was in all of Dundonald's pics I could recall he was rather young looking with black hair. This guy had white hair. Could the Boer War have done that to Dundonald? In only a couple of years? I remembered reading in public school that Shoshone Chief Washakie's hair had turned white overnight, on learning of his son's death in combat. Suddenly a couple of years seemed feasible!

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Major-General, 12th Earl of Dundonald
Original Autographed Photo - Image Size - 5" x 10"
Found - Ottawa, ON
Stamped Pittaway, Ottawa. Original frame & glass, cedar shakes on back, containing newspaper dated Nov. 1904

Naah.... And how could Dondonald ever get to Ottawa? The match was poor. By the time I got home Dundonald was out...

First, we had to get the back off. Maybe there was a secret there? Or at least a way to date it...

I Get the Shakes! The back looked promising. The original paper that covered it once had rotted away long ago, exposing the cedar shakes that were commonly used to close in pictures in the 19th century. And the nails showed clearly that they had not been removed since the picture had been framed and locked in. We would be the first to take off the shakes in 100 years!!!!

Wow again! A newspaper had been used for backing, another common technique used in Victorian times. Perhaps there was a clue there!

The pages were cut from the middle of the paper so no dating header remained. But there it was, a wonderful ad for a train schedule for a federal election, the one Wilfrid Laurier would win in Nov. 1904.

So the photo had been bundled up sometime around Nov. 4, 1904. Not before, obviously, but also not long after. This officer was therefore of Boer War vintage.

Great Boer War Heritage Treasure
Cigarette Card, Earl Dundonald, 1900
Orig. Cigarette card - Size - 1.5" x 2.25"
Found - Toronto, ON
I thumbed through my 1900 cigarette cards of major players during the Boer War. There was Dundonald, a youthful and very dark haired general who had served as a dashing cavalry commander in South Africa. Just as I remembered him. But was it a match? I leafed through "Celebrities of the Army," and found him in full colour as he looked in 1900 (below).

The eyes were good, and eyebrows too, and the body shape, and even the moustache. Oh and the ears!! But the hair had gone from pitch black to total white. In two or three years!!!

Well the Vanity Fair print, from 1902, did show white hair!

Is that possible?

And what about the Canada connection!

We still had to find a way to get him to a photographer in Ottawa!


Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
12th Earl Dundonald, 1900
Orig. lithograph - Image size - 7.5" x 10"
Found - Toronto, ON
Celebrities of the Army was a large book printed in 1900, made up entirely of large colour prints of the top 74 British military leaders of the Boer War. On the back of each was a one page bio of the officer. Two of those selected were Canadians, an Anglophone, Col. William Otter, and Col. Francois Lessard, a Francophone.
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Vanity Fair Print, 12th Earl of Dundonald, 1902
Orig. lithograph - Size - 8" x 14"
Found - Seattle, WA
Signed Spy, Pub. Vanity Fair, May 8, 1902, "A Cavalry Reformer"

For decades Vanity Fair magazine produced huge (10" x 14") full colour prints of notable figures on the world stage.

The historic first issue of Vanity Fair was published in London on Nov. 7, 1868. The purpose of this weekly magazine was to expose the vanities of public figures. Each issue carried a large, original, coloured lithograph of a leading news maker of the day, portrayed in a smooth and good-natured style that set the standard for caricature art published during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Spy and Ape were the leading artists. For 45 years, until publication ceased in 1914, Vanity Fair produced the definitive portraits, that for millions of people, represented the public faces of major world figures.

Vanity Fair offered portraits of the principal actors during the Boer War.


The Canadian Link: Research established that Douglas Mackinnon Baillie Hamilton Cochrane, the 12th Earl of Dundonald (1852-1935) had indeed been in Canada and had been the second last British General to head the Canadian Army (Militia) in Canada.

Gordon of Khartoum: Dundonald made his reputation as a dashing cavalry officer during the British Army's Sudan campaign of the 1880s. He won undying fame for his celebrated ride with dispatches to announce to a world waiting with baited breath, that the British Relief Expedition was too late, that General Gordon was dead, and that Khartoum had fallen to the Muslim forces of the Mahdi.

Colenso: During the Boer War he commanded a cavalry division at the Battle of Colenso. In fact his cavalry division pushed the Boers back and relieved Ladysmith. He was one of the many senior officers who returned to England after Lord Roberts' March to Pretoria, thinking that the war was now over.

Oh Canada: He was appointed to Canada in 1902, to take over what what Vanity Fair called "the difficult command of the Canadian Forces," and served until 1904, living in Ottawa. He reorganized the Canadian Militia but had run-ins with the Canadians who thought things should be done their "colonial" not his "imperial" way.

So, not the Muslim hordes breathing down his neck, nor ambushes by the wily Boer, but tangles with those contrary upstart Canadian colonials, maybe, had turned his hair white, almost overnight!!! He was ultimately replaced by the last British general to command the Canadian Militia before the post was taken over by a Canadian.

Desperate to find any link between him and the picture, I used a loupe on the front of the photo looking for even the simplest clue to give me the ultimate proof that this indeed was Dundonald and ..... there it was....

Dundonald Found! Faintly, very faintly, in faded ink, just to the right of his sword strap, in the bottom right corner, was his personal autograph!

His very palm had rested on this same matte when he signed "Dundonald" across the bottom of this photo as a favour for an admirer, perhaps even as a farewell present, as by Nov. 1904, Dundonald was at the end of his term as head of the Canadian Militia.

In 1906 he was made a Lieutenant-General and in 1907 was knighted.


Wow Indeed! So far from having an unlabeled picture of an unknown officer, we now had a fine photo of a famous Victorian hero and British Army general who had also played a leading role in Canadian history, and which sported his own personal signature to boot!

How many people had picked up this photo over the years, and missed recognizing his face, or seeing his name, and dismissed it as some minor officer of a long time ago...

Another fine item rescued from the trash heap of history, and preserved for posterity by the Canadian Anglo-Boer War Museum.

c Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996 & 2000