Voices from the Past

Major the Horse – the one that returned

Story by Gary Ross

Born in Wairarapa, of good stock, Major is believed to have been sent to the Boer War per the SS Monowai as one of  250 horses on board that were part of the Fourth Contingent, along with his rider Lt Robert Collins of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles.

It is most likely that, as his personal horse, (Major), was in the group at Ottoshoop in August 1900, that took gallant action at Buffels-hoek in the vicinity of Eland River. The horses were galloped at full speed towards well defended Boer positions, with artillery rounds screeching overhead.

Collins was badly wounded during the action, with a bullet passing through his wrist, and despite his protests he was relieved of duty.

Major had several other riders over the next six months but was finally handed to one Lt Col Thomas Porter, when 7th Contingent arrived in May 1901 and relieved the post for the 4th Contingent.

Porter rode Major through Beira to Rhodesia, Kimberly, Zululand, Orange River Colony, Transvaal, Natal, and Cape Colony. All of which covered between an estimated 3000 to 6000km.

Porter was wounded several times, as was Major. On one occasion Major had been wounded by a long distance stray bullet, which became lodged in his shoulder bone. He was due to be put down, in part to prevent the Boers utilising him, however the bullet was cut out and he was saved.

The technique of riding the horses into battle, dismounting and handing your horse to an orderly, often resulted in injury to the horses. On the occasion that Lt Col Porter faced the Boer General Botha, Major was noted to have had several bullets graze his skin during the battle.

When the decision was made that all of the 8000 horses, taken to South Africa, were not to return to New Zealand, (due to duress and the tsetse fly threat to New Zealand), Kitchener himself not only protested on behalf of Major, but stated the horse should be sent to England to be ridden in the coronation parade of King Edward VII in 1902. After being sent to the wrong castle in England the horse made it to London in time for the parade. Lt Col Porter was commander of the Coronation Contingent and proudly rode Major in the coronation parade.

When this was done, and Major was returned to New Zealand, where he was quarantined on Matiu/Somes Island for three months. He was then put into service with Lt Col Porter in Canterbury, Wellington and Gisborne, before dying from a chill, at Lt Col Porters private Gisborne residence Heatherlea, in 1909.