In 2013, for our wedding gift, my husband’s mom presented us with a beautifully framed ink sketch. It is mounted above our fireplace, and enjoys pride of place as the finest work of art in our home. When we first saw it, Janet told us how she’d been going through some old boxes from back when Al, her late husband and love of her life, was alive. Al was a 30 year navy veteran and had traveled all over the world. Janet had married him toward the end of his military career, and said that she didn’t know where he’d acquired this particular work, only that it seemed apt, as Africa is the country of my birth.
I didn’t think it particularly odd that my husband appeared to get a bit teary eyed at this; after all, weddings are an emotional time and it was only later on that he told me the other part of the story of this piece. After everybody had gone home and the cleanup began, we stopped to admire the work again, discussing where we’d put it, etc. It was then that I heard the part about my husband as a young boy of maybe 10 years, going into his dad’s work area, and there was a rolled up parchment, held closed by a paperclip. Being curious, he tried to move the clip to get a glimpse (which he did) but not without putting a tiny tear into the parchment. He’d had no more than a second to look, and the picture was still in a roll, so he wasn’t sure until he examined the top left corner. And there it is, a small tear.
The signature on the work is very clear, as you can see here. There is no doubt (to my eye and mind) that it says “T. C. Weeks – 1886”. It is equally evident that this is an original work, most definitely not a copy or print. I researched battles in Southern Africa, and although this was a time where battles were being fought on all side with regularity. Gold had been discovered, new taxes and land grabs became a new concern for those who were already on their proverbial heels (the tribal folk, for example Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, etc). It has a frantic feel to it; it is easy to imagine the din of battle in the distant part of the field, and more sharp in contrast the sounds of horses, men, weapons and detailed close quarter clashes.
Recently a dear friend visited us from South Africa. She remarked on how this picture has the perspective of what appears to be the rear of the British forces. In those days, they may have employed the services of sketch artists, to capture the “glory” of the battle and as proof to commanding officers at distant locations, perhaps the equivalent to our modern day reporters with smart devices, but still a valuable skill and one that might have been in demand, depending on what the life expectancy for such helpers might be, and other factors. It has, over the years since we’ve been married, become something of an ongoing mystery. We find nothing when we search T.C. Weeks nor can I find any particular battle that was fought in this specific year.
The battle at Isandlwana began on our around January 21st 1879; the Zulu army would have preferred to wait, as it is documented that it was New Moon on that day and was considered unlucky to fight on a day that the light was low, also known as the time of the dark of the moon. Durnford, leading the British forces was not a cautious or particularly mature leader. He made an error in judgement and pursued a small party of Zulu scouts, and was rewarded for this impulsive action by stumbling onto a waiting army of more than 20 000 Zulu warriors. This must have been a sight to strike fear into a man’s heart, as they say. It is also said in the same article (and I can recall this being said when I lived in the land of the Rainbow Nation), that it is the culture of the Zulu to “take no prisoners, nor leave any living in spite of pleas for mercy.” The Zulu warrior is a proud, honorable, dedicated and tenacious fighter. The battle must have been intense, as I’m certain all such battles are. This is what comes across in this work, the sheer intensity of the time, the crazy blood lust and the chaos that is inherent in such situations.
These things I ponder as I drink my coffee and gaze at the work over the fireplace. I think about how talented the man was, particularly if he was required to sit and work while the battle raged all around him or her. Would they have allowed a talented young lady to take up such a post in such a time? I doubt it. Look what is happening today with respect to women’s equality… and this is over 100 years ago! We can hope that one day we will not even think to ask such questions, but think of the time we are talking about, so it is logical to speculate on this aspect.
So, I think its a safe bet that this T. C. Weeks was a man, and perhaps was in the middle of the action, or had been that close to it that he was able to sketch out the images burned into his mind’s eye. I can’t help but think that those who lived in those times, at those places were made of much tougher stuff than the average human today. But that is a discussion for another time.
What I’d like to know is, does anyone out there have any information on this mystery artist, T. C. Weeks? We would really love to know more about the work, the time, the legacy and the story behind this painting. Is it the Battle at Isandlwana? Is it the Battle of Rorke’s Drift which happened shortly after? Is it a different battle altogether? Perhaps the artist was inspired by the events of the past, the Battle of Blood River, maybe? Except, there doesn’t appear to be water, or any type of bank that could be attributed to a river (pun not intended, but I’m sort of proud of it all the same 🙂 ) plus, I don’t see Ossewa (Voortrekker ox wagon) and that was fought Zulu versus Boers in the early part of the 19th century, if memory and Google serve…
I am not a fan or advocate of war, I think there are smarter ways to fix problems. But I do love to look at this piece of art, and ponder the circumstances surrounding the creation of the work, and of people in those days. If you have any information on the work, the artist, or just to discuss the piece, please contact me via email or the comments below.
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