Babington's Mistake

by Ellen Martin

This is a poem "Babington's Mistake" written by John Sheehan. John was born in Ashburton, New Zealand in 1898 and died in WW1 in South Africa. He was with the 4th New Zealand Contingent, known as the "Rough Riders" or "New Zealand Bushmen", embarking from Wellington on the SS "Gymeric" 31 March 1900.

John is my husband's Great Great Uncle.


By John Sheehan, - who left New Zealand early in 1900 as a member of the 4th Contingent of the New Zealand Rough Riders, for the South African War.

This poem illustrates the difficulties and disappointments encountered by the New Zealand troopers in their search for the Boer leader, General De La Rey, who was a very able and astute soldier. John Sheehan later died of wounds received in Gallipoli in World War 1 when a member of 9th Battalion A.I.F.

Says Babington to Captain Grey,
"I'll have a look around today,
And if I think the Boers are near,
We'll march straight on, not tarry here."

Old Babs then jumped upon his moke,
Not armed, but with a telescope,
And galloped for a kopje top
Some sixteen miles from Ventersdorp.

He there sat on a boulder great --
Or so they say, at any rate -
And looked afar across the plain,
And saw the rising sun aflame.

Says he, "That's a laager fire.
To get that laager's my desire,"
So on his horse again he jumped
And back to camp at top he bumped.

He flung himself into a chair,
Beside a little table there,
Pen, ink, and paper soon were brought,
And then a mighty plan was wrought.

The plan was great; there is no doubt --
It took ten hour to work it out;
And at the end a line did say,
"This is the end of De La Rey."

The right flank, also that flank there,
Will co-operate with Colonel Hare.
Bob Ridley's force will guard the rear -
At that point we have naught to fear.

"Old Gordon's men the left will guard,
The Dutchman's progress will retard;
And if the Boers should try to run,
He'll turn on them his long range gun."

And more was in that mighty plan;
A little passage thus it ran:
"No man may smoke or strike a light,
And all must march at dead of night"

We marched from camp, with Babs in front,
Of fight prepared to bear the brunt.
Along the road the pace was swift,
Past many a spruit and many a drift.

And on we marched as well we might,
Till daylight brought the end of night;
But yet no sun shone on tho veldt,
And everyone his absence felt.

Soon Davies was by Dillon sought --
A message from old Babs he brought:
"Say, Davies, you must take the lead -
You've man and horse to do the deed."

Then Davies sent his men well out,
And every inch they had to scout,
The veldt for Boers that ne'er were seen,
But soon found where they'd laagered been.

Then Babs, he bit his under lip,
A little from his flask did sip,
And someone close by heard him say,
"I'm had once more by De La Rey."

And now my story must conclude.
It's long, perhaps a little rude;
But had you been there that day,
You'd have given the palm to De La Rey.

- John Sheehan