The ‘incompetent’ Lebombo scout who helped win Boer War

SUNDAY SUPPLEMENT: In the latest stage of his world tour of places named after Croydon, DAVID MORGAN encounters some old-style adventurers in southern Africa

Raiders of the lost mines: the Victorian adventure novel was set close to Croydon

If you are a fan of the quiz show Pointless, then you will know that Eswatini is an answer to keep up your sleeve for a question on geography or vexillology (the study of flags, to save you looking it up…).

Eswatini is a small landlocked African country which, until 2018, was known as Swaziland.

The name change was decided upon and announced by King Mswati III. He explained that the change would give a complete break from the country’s colonial past and it avoided any confusion between Swaziland and… Switzerland.

The new name means “land of the Swazis”. You might have seen King Mswati III on your television screen this year as he was seated in a very prominent position in Westminster Abbey at the coronation of King Charles. He was accompanied by one of his many wives, Inkhosikati LaMbikisa. The others he had to leave at home.

Eswatini, a member of the Commonwealth, has a distinctive national flag with a Nguni shield and two spears on it, signifying protection from its neighbours. The country is surrounded on three sides by South Africa and on the fourth by Mozambique.

And, just as we have discovered in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Utah and in Queensland, Eswatini also has its very own Croydon.

There are at least 11 places in the world named “Croydon”. There’s two in this country (the other in England is a village 10 miles south-west of Cambridge). There are three in the United States, three are in Australia, one is in South Africa, one in Jamaica and then there’s one in the Kingdom of Eswatini.

Colonial ambitions: the European map of south Africa in 1895 – with Swaziland’s borders established. Note the ‘British Chartered Company’s Territory’

Eswatini’s Croydon is a village situated on the main road between the towns of Mliba and Dvokolwako.

The origins of Croydon in Eswatini are similar to the Croydons on other continents. An area of land got leased to settlers. Back in the 1880s there was an area in Swaziland known as The Buckhams, named after the man who first held the lease. The name changed to Croydon about that time.

Croydon, “the place near London”, was said to be where Frank Buckham originated from.

Yet no evidence of him or his family living in Croydon has surfaced. No Buckham entries have been found in the old Croydon Parish Church records. If he ever lived in our Croydon, no one has yet found the evidence.

Buckham’s business: the general store in Croydon

Buckham, together with other people in the district, almost by default got caught up in the Second Boer War, in which the British Army was embroiled in guerilla conflict with mainly Dutch settlers between 1899 and 1902.

Swaziland wanted to pursue a position of neutrality in the conflict. A Scotsman named David Forbes, an influential settler with interests in ranching and mining, raised the Lebombo Intelligence Scouts quite late in the war in 1901. The Lebombo Intelligence Scouts were part of the Field Intelligence Department and were described as a British Irregular Unit.

One of Forbes’ early recruits was Buckham, the storekeeper at Croydon. The task for this small group was to harry the Boers, intercept any messages being taken across the country and replenish supplies to another unit, Steinaecker’s Horse. Forbes made it clear to his small force that indigenous people were not to be harmed and their lands left alone.

Buckham, though, was no soldier and after just a couple of months he was discharged for “incompetency”.

In November 1905, Buckham was back home growing cotton on land by the Mbuluzi River. He used to send in samples to the British Cotton Growing Association for valuation. His Croydon Store was sometimes used as a meeting place for the concessionaires who were part of the planters group.

Buckham continued to live and work in Croydon for the rest of his life. He died in 1914 and was buried in the old cemetery in what was then known as Bremersdorp, now called Manzini. In 1924, the current village plan was laid out on lands that were part of Buckham’s original lease.

Today’s village contains dwellings which are spread far and wide. The main reason why people stop in the village is because of the petrol station and stores. Other businesses are located along the main road, including a builder’s cash and carry yard.

Passing through Swaziland in the 1880s, to the north of where Buckham settled, was H Rider Haggard, the Victorian author. Rider Haggard was well acquainted with southern Africa, as he had been sent by his father in 1875 to take up an unpaid post with the secretary to the Lieutenant Governor of Natal.

In 1877, he was present at the ceremony when Britain annexed the Boer Republic of the Transvaal. He ended up being the person who actually read out the declaration, because the official tasked to do it had lost their voice.

The descriptions of the beautiful countryside along the Ezulwini river valley which Rider Haggard viewed are said to be the ones that he used to describe the African panoramas in his lost world novel, King Solomon’s Mines, a book which was turned into adventure films and probably had some influence on the makers of the Indiana Jones movies.

Today, two peaks on the side of that valley are named Sheba’s Breasts, after the Biblical queen who seduced Solomon. Legend has it that Rider Haggard located his fictitious gold mine right here.

Visitors today can follow the Sheba’s Breasts Hiking Trail which begins at the Lidwala Lodge, one of the many tourist centres in the country. Modern day safaris are very popular in Eswatini, with eight National Parks having been set up to protect wildlife.

Next time you see the Eswatini name in a sporting context or as part of a trade mission or represented at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday when the Commonwealth wreaths are laid, remember there’s a Croydon there too.

  • David Morgan, pictured right, is a former Croydon headteacher, now the volunteer education officer at Croydon Minster, who offers tours or illustrated talks on the history around the Minster for local community groups

If you would like a group tour of Croydon Minster or want to book a school visit, then ring the Minster Office on 020 688 8104 or go to the website on and use the contact page

Other articles by David Morgan:

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  • ROTTEN BOROUGH AWARDS: Croydon was named among the country’s rottenest boroughs for a SIXTH successive year in 2022 in the annual round-up of civic cock-ups in Private Eye magazine

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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1 Response to The ‘incompetent’ Lebombo scout who helped win Boer War

  1. Andy Hebden says:

    Another splendid read. Thank you.

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