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Lieutenant Thomas Errington Tanner, late Salisbury Horse

Scarce BSAC Medal to NZMR Officer

SKU: ZM121
  • The scarce and desirable British South Africa Medal, Matabeleland 1893 reverse, awarded to New Zealand-born Thomas Errington Tanner, who was the first man into Lobengula's kraal at Bulawayo. He later served with the 5th NZMR Contingent during the Boer War.


    Thomas Errington Tanner was born 10th May 1868 at Napier, New Zealand. Son of Thomas and Julia Tanner (née Denton). After a period working as a station hand, Tanner evidently went to Southern Africa, like so many young adventurers of his time. In 1891 he joined the British South Africa Police (No. 776, Trooper), later joining the Mashonaland Civil Police. During the First Matabele War of 1893, Tanner was appointed to the staff of Major P.W. Forbes as a galloper. His first encounter with the Matabele was on 15 October 1893 when he was involved in a skirmish whilst with a herd of captured cattle. The commanding officer present, Captain J. A. L. Campbell, was shot and later died of his wounds. Tanner brought the news of the action to Major Forbes. Campbell was the first casualty of the war.


    On 3 November 1893, Captain H. J. Borrow with ‘A’ Troop of Salisbury Horse, as advance guard, was sent forward to occupy Bulawayo. A little time afterwards, Tanner was sent by Forbes to impress upon Barrow that there should be no looting, until the main columns arrived. Tanner rode hard after Borrow’s Troop but failed to catch him, Borrow having turned aside at the outskirts of the kraal. Not knowing this, Tanner then entered the burning kraal, which except for dogs, was deserted. Finding himself in such an exposed position, Tanner quickly made his escape. Nevertheless, Tanner had been the first man of the columns to enter Bulawayo.


    Tanner was with Forbes in the pursuit of Lobengula but was sent back to Umhlangeni with captured cattle and sick men; Tanner himself suffering from malaria. Tanner later became Magistrate’s Clerk to Major Forbes when the latter was appointed Resident Magistrate of Bulawayo.


    Tanner suffered from malaria whilst in Africa, and he appears to have returned to New Zealand in the late 1890's to recuperate. With the outbreak of the 2nd Anglo-Boer War, men with previous military experience in Africa were sought after, and Tanner was granted a commission (Captain) with the 5th NZMR Contingent. The 5th Contingent were landed at Beira, in Portuguese East Africa (modern day Mozambique), an area rife with malaria. Unfortunately Captain Tanner was soon struck down with the disease, which forced his invaliding back to New Zealand. He received the Queen's South Africa Medal with clasp 'Rhodesia'.


    In later life Tanner appears to have been something of a nomad - never really settling in one place for too long. He lived in Canada for  a period, and was in the UK during the First World War, and was posted to No.22 Officer Cadet Battalion in June 1918. Once again illness caught up with him and he was discharged in October 1918, receiving the Siver War Badge number 506904.


    Thomas Tanner, adventurer, farmer and soldier, died 18th January 1931 at Suva, Fiji and his buried in the Suva Cemetery.


    The BSAC medal is correctly engraved LIEUT. T.E. TANNER SALISBURY HORSE. This is a scarce medal to a New Zealand-born recipient. Tanner's service was recorded in the book 'The Men Who Made Rhodesia' by Colonel A. S. Hickman.

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