|Private 1985 William Poxon 45th Regiment
William Poxon was born at Lockington, Leicestershire in 1822. He was working as a boatman in 1841 and was shown on that year’s
census as still living in Lockington. He had married Hannah Dakin at Shardlow, Derbyshire during the winter of 1839 and they
now had a young daughter of 11 months called Emma. William Poxon continued working as a labourer until making the decision to
enlist in the 45th regiment at their regimental depot in Nottingham. He attested on the 26th February 1841and was described
as being 5 foot 8 inches tall, with dark brown hair, hazel eyes and a fresh complexion. He was allocated to the reserve battalion
of the regiment which was then currently stationed at Cork, Ireland.
The regiment had two battalions, the 1st and the 2nd which was styled the reserve battalion.
The 1st battalion had received orders on the 31st January 1843 to prepare for service at the Cape of South Africa. The reserve
battalion was separated and stationed in Cork under the command of Major Butler while the 1st battalion sailed on the 24th
February aboard the “Thunderer”.
The reserve battalion remained in Ireland until they received orders on the 22nd December 1843 to prepare to sail to
Gibraltar. On the 12th January 1844 the battalion boarded H.M. troopship “Apollo” with a strength of 607 all ranks and
arrived at Gibraltar on the 19th. Here they remained until the 31st July 1845 when they boarded H.M. troopship “Resistance”
which was bound for the Cape of God Hope.
The “Resistance” was a 38 gun 5th rate, which had been built in 1805 and had then been converted at Plymouth to become a
troopship in 1841. After being at sea for five weeks, the “Resistance” called into Rio de Janeiro for fresh water, where Major
Butler, the battalion’s commanding officer died. Within a few days they were again ready to proceed but were redirected to
the River plate area where British citizens and their property were being compromised by the local population and native troops.
The “Resistance” arrived at Monte Video on the 25th September but the 45th remained on board until the 21st October when
it landed to protect the British citizens in that city. The men’s accommodation was extremely primitive, consisting of damp sheds
and a rat infested slaughterhouse. They had no bedding and were forced to sleep in their great-coats. On the 16th October
H.M.S. “Apollo” arrived with a draft of an extra 48 men for the battalion.
“Resistance” had returned to the United Kingdom bearing news of the 45th and was ordered to return to Monte Video and
embark the battalion for its original destination. The vessel arrived on the 3rd July 1846 and found the 45th in poor condition.
Two officers and 15 men had died from the climate and bad sanitation; while a further 100 men were sick with Dysentery,
Scrofula and Ophthalmia. William Poxon had started to receive good conduct pay of an extra 1d per day from the 4th March
“Resistance” arrived at Simon’s Bay on the 30th July and landed 84 sick troops together with the battalion’s wives and children.
It is extremely likely that Hannah and Emma were amongst the dependents landed. They do not appear on the 1851 United
Kingdom census and as William Poxon was already a married man before joining the 45th regiment, they would probably have
been taken onto the battalion’s strength when it was ordered for overseas service.
The rest of the battalion sailed on the 8th August and disembarked at Port Elizabeth on the 15th. The battalion had an effective
strength of 15 officers and 509 men. After disembarking the battalion marched to Grahamstown, which was reached on the 3rd
September. Two companies remained there as garrison troops while the remainder joined Colonel Somerset’s division on the Fish
River. In September, 58 men of the 45th regiment who had been left behind sick at Monte Video, arrived at the Cape. In the
middle of October, a further draft of 2 officers and 41 men arrived from Cork aboard the transport “Cornwall”.
On the 27th October the headquarters of the battalion crossed the Great Fish River and marched to Fort Beaufort and finally
Fort Hare at Block Drift, which would later become the post of the battalion for some time.
Fort Hare would be fully completed in 1847 and was a long boat shaped earthwork, with stone bastions and a palisade
fence, positioned on the eastern bank of the Tyumie River. The fort was named after Lieutenant Hare, who was the former
acting Lieutenant-Governor of the Eastern province. It was built on Khosa territory and was an attempt to stop the frontier
clashes and cattle raiding between the Khosa people and European settlers. It was eventually intended to be one of eight forts
which would finalise the military occupation of British Kaffraria.
By the 29th November a company of the sick troops which had been left at Simon’s Bay, rejoined the battalion.
The month of December saw some clashes with tribes still in open warfare with the Colony, but these soon ceased.
In February 1847, some cattle were stolen from the camp at Block Drift and a patrol which included some elements from the
45th regiment were sent out in pursuit and returned with a quantity of cattle which had been given as a compensatory fine. In
August the reserve battalion was moved into huts in the now competed fort Hare, which was made the first depot. Fort White
was 50 miles away and became the second depot and the third depot was King Williamstown. On the 19th September the first
patrols were sent out, the 45th being broken up into detachments. One party of 170 men patrolled under the command of Major
Hind while another group proceeded to Post Victoria to protect the Colonial boundary. The chiefs of the native tribes soon tired
of offering resistance, although little conflict had taken place, and by the 19th December 1847 the frontier war was over.
By early 1848 the reserve battalion was concentrated at Fort Hare, with one company at Fort Cox and a small detachment at
Fort White. On the 31st March the battalion was inspected by the commander of the troops in British Kaffraria and he
expressed his delight with the condition of the men.
Trouble was again occurring between the native tribes and Dutch settlers, which indicated that the intervention of British
troops would be required. The Boers, who were hostile to the thought of British Government, had started to trek away from
the Orange River. In March the area was proclaimed “The Orange River Sovereignty” but the Boers then threatened to revolt
and proclaim their independence. On the 17th July the Boers had advanced to within two miles of Bloemfontein and formed a
laager. Orders were issued for all available troops to assemble at Colesburg and included in this number were 170 men from
the 45th, formed into two companies and commanded by Captain Blenkinsopp. They had marched from Fort Hay on the 29th July
and arrived at Colesburg on the 21st August. The total force assembled amounted to 1,200 men and was commanded by Sir
Harry Smith. On the 22nd August the Orange River was crossed and the advance continued until on the 29th August, scouts
reported that the enemy were in force near Boomplaats.
A patrol advanced and Sir Harry Smith went with them in an attempt to negotiate with the Boer rebels. At 11 a.m. the party
crested a hill and were immediately fired upon by a strong body of Boers who fired two volleys into the party of horsemen.
The patrol immediately turned and galloped back to the waiting troops. The three 6lb guns with the column opened fire on the
Boer rebels where they appeared to be most concentrated, while the infantry prepared for their assault. The rifle brigade and
the two companies of the 45th were ordered to attack and turn the Boers left flank. Sir Harry Smith claimed that he had never
seen a sharper skirmish as the rifle brigade rushed at the Boer left flank while the 45th attacked the left centre, with both
regiments coming under a rapid, fierce fire. The assault carried all before it and successfully dislodged the Boers from their
defensive position, but they attempted to make a final stand at the Nek of a high ridge of hills. As the guns and infantry came
forward as rapidly as the heat of the day would permit, the Boers last hold was wrested from them.
Casualties to the 45th amounted to Bugler John Baylis and Privates Halton and Harvey being killed and 19 others wounded,
including Captains Blenkinsopp and Tench.
Leaving some of the wounded at the farmhouse at Boomplaats, the force pushed onto Bethany, a station on the Riet River. Here
they rested for two days before resuming their march and arrived at Bloemfontein on the 2nd September. It was from here
that Sir Harry Smith proclaimed the Queen’s authority from the Orange to the Vaal Rivers.
The two companies of the 45th were left at Bloemfontein as garrison troops, commanded by Captain Blenkinsopp. On the
15th September Sir Harry Smith left Bloemfontein and returned to the Cape. On the way he visited Fort Hare, where the
wives and children of the men in the battalion had now arrived.
It is now impossible to ascertain who participated in the skirmish at Boomplaats. William Poxon could certainly have been one of
the 170 men who were involved, which totalled about 1/3rd of the effective strength of the reserve battalion. With a lack of
written evidence of even the wounded from the skirmish, it can now only be tantalisingly recorded that he was in the area and
was just possibly engaged.
On the 1st May 1850, William Poxon finally received promotion to the rank of Corporal, but this unfortunately only lasted for
92 days, because on the 1st August, the reserve battalion was reduced and amalgamated with the 1st battalion. The reserve
battalion then became known as the left wing of the 1st battalion and William Poxon was reduced to the rank of private.
However, he was promoted to the rank of Corporal again on the 25th December 1850.
On the 26th February 1851 William Poxon received his 2nd good conduct badge together with its associated additional pay.
With the Boer population apparently subdued, the Government became concerned with the relationships of the Native tribes
between the Orange and Caledon rivers. Three powerful chiefs ruled over the area but disputed boundaries and carried out
continual raids on each other. On the 22nd December 1850 a Corporal and three men of the 45th were reported as missing,
believed killed. A party of 12 men were sent out to recover their bodies but were surprised and massacred. The attacking
force of Gaikas had then approached Fort White and had proceeded to carry away some of its cattle.
By the middle of 1851 the situation was so bad that an appeal for assistance was received from Bloemfontein. A force was
assembled which included two companies of the 45th and marched towards Bloemfontein, but on the 23rd August, the
commanding officer received a warning that the Boer population was again on the point of revolt. He halted his column and
formed a fortified camp, waiting for further instructions, which were not received until the 1st October and then it was
confirmed that he could proceed to Bloemfontein. Here the column was met by a company of the 45th who had been left in
the town since the Boom Plaatz affair.
The rest of the regiment was distributed as garrison troops of Fort Cox, Fort Hare, Fort White and other advanced posts.
Because the 45th were so divided they had little opportunity to become involved with the patrolling columns. In May 1851 the
regiment was divided as follows:- Invalids at Cape Town, two companies at Bloemfontein, 17 men at Fort Hare, 33 men at
Leeuwfontein, 8 men at Grahamstown, 200 men at Fort Cox and 50 men at Fort White.
In June 1851 the garrison at Fort Cox was increased to 294 men of the 45th and they were instructed that they were to make
“continuous and vigorous patrols”. On the 13th August, Major Kyle and 152 men of the 45th who were patrolling between Fort
Cox and Fort Hare, were attacked by a large body of natives and engaged them for two hours, losing one man killed and three
By the end of the year many raids had been carried out but little impression had been made upon the Gaikas.
In February 1852 a column which included the 45th regiment was sent into the Waterkloof region and after a lot of
skirmishing, managed to subdue the region. Larger patrols followed and in May three companies of the 45th established a
fortified post at Tamacka. Finally on the 9th March 1853 the Lieutenant Governor reported that all fighting was over
although detachments of the 45th regiment remained widely distributed throughout the area.
On the 15th April 1853 William Poxon was tried by court martial and sentenced to be reduced to the ranks after serving 10
days imprisonment. He also forfeited one good conduct badge, although no record of his misdemeanour is shown on his service
papers. This good conduct badge was restored on the 25th April 1854.
During 1855 Captain Grantham took his company to King
William’s town, where it constructed a large hospital for
the native population.
In February 1856 Headquarters moved to Fort
Beaufort and the various detachments which had been
spread along the line of the Buffalo River, were
relieved by other regiments and rejoined Headquarters.
On the 18th August 1857, William Poxon accepted a
free discharge from the Army under the provision of
a Royal Warrant dated 1st July 1848. He agreed to
defer his pension of 4d per day until he obtained the
age of 50 years. He also accepted a gratuity of
£16.0.0d upon settling in the Colony of the Cape of
Good Hope and was finally discharged on the 3oth
September at Fort Napier, Natal, where the 45th
regiment had been part of the garrison for 16 years.
It was his intention to take up residence at
Winterburg in the Eastern Cape, situated very
closely to Fort Beaufort, although his last known
details show correspondence with King William’s
Town in 1872, regarding his deferred pension.
|45th Regiment on patrol at a village in 1856|
|South Africa Medal 1853|
In November 1854, a medal was sanctioned for service in the various
frontier wars which had taken place in the Eastern Cape. It covered the
periods of 1834-5, 1846-7 and 1850-3 but was issued with no clasps and
only to surviving participants, which was approximately 9,500 men.
William Poxon qualified for his services in both the 7th and 8th frontier
wars and duly received his medal, which marked 14 years soldiering in the
one station, an incredibly rare event.