Wargaming the Exploration and Colonisation of Tropical Africa by European powers from 1850 until 1918.

Friday 14 December 2007

German Schutztruppe Askari

These are my Schutztruppe Askari. They are Copplestone castings figures. The German is a Brigade Games miniature sculpted by Mike Owen. These are dressed as they were at the beginning of the war. Later on they adopted floppy hats and khaki puttees.

Saturday 24 November 2007

Jane Porter

Here is the Foundry Jane figure by Mark Copplestone. I finished her today having started her years ago but then had a failure of nerve over painting all that skin! I'm not sure whethere she should be in this blog or my Pulp one but as her fame is so closely linked to the Dark Continent I have put her here.

Jane Porter was the daughter of Professor Archimedes Q Porter and was stranded on the West African coast in 1912. Rather in the reverse of the situation regarding Henry Morton Stanley she is often believed to be British but was, in fact, an American, hailing from Baltimore, Maryland. Saved from the perils of the jungle by Lord Greystoke she returned home to become the fiancee of William Cecil Clayton. Back in Africa in the lost city of Opar Jane, appalled by Clayton's cowardice, renounced him and declared her love for Lord Greystoke.

Greystoke and Porter had many more adventures in the jungle and indeed, elsewhere. They married (although there must like, the Bakers, be suspicions about the nature of their relationship before this; especially given her immodest garb) and had a son Korak.

Sunday 28 October 2007

Henry Morton Stanley

I finished him off today and he has come out OK. He was a repaint of a figure I did years ago but doesn't look too bad given the number of coats of paint he has had!

The Copplestone sculpted Foundry figure is based on his clothes in a series of photographs taken in London, with his young gun-bearer Selim, after finding Livingstone. Unlike some of Copplestone's other Darkest Africa sculpts, which really capture the look of the historical figures, the Stanley figure is too gaunt and angular. Stanley had a rather rounded face but in a figure only just over an inch tall we can't complain too much I suppose!

The way I painted the pugaree on his pith helmet is based on the one he wore when he discovered Livingstone which is now in the Royal Geographic Society.

Famous "American" journalist Henry Morton Stanley was actually an illegitimate Welshman named John Rowlands who spent much of his early life in the workhouse. He got himself to America as a teenager and promptly started to re-invent himself more often than Madonna, taking on the name for which he is now famous. Stanley fought for both sides in the American Civil War and then covered the Indian Wars as a journalist, using very little veracity but a lot of writing style. As a result, he was hired to cover the British-Abyssinian war by the New York Herald and scooped his rivals by means of the creative use of bribes to ensure that his story was telegraphed first. He became a roving reporter and eventually found the "lost" Scottish Missionary Dr David Livingstone in 1871 during an expedition financed by his newspaper but which was almost entirely his idea.

His "Dr Livingstone, I presume" quote probably is, like much of what he wrote, total invention or, at least, hugely embroidered truth.

An excellent book on this quest is Into Africa by Martin Dugard which, whilst not entirely totally historically accurate in some areas, is, nevertheless a fantastic narrative acount written with great drive and style and is highly recommended for anyone interested in Darkest Africa.

Stanley's own book, How I Found Livingstone, is also a very good read only being even more inaccurate.

He returned to Africa for a truly epic expedition which saw him cross the continent from one side to the other finally tracing the route of the Congo a task which had been beyond many other explorers. He used a steamer called Lady Alice which could be taken apart and transported overland. The boat was named after a girl he thought was his fiance in New York but during his journey she married someone else, much to Stanley's understandable distress when he eventually returned from Africa.

Stanley did not receive the acclaim he expected for this amazing achievement largely because of passages in his book, In Darkest Africa, where he describes making what looked like an unprovoked attack on some natives. He tended to over-exagerate the numbers of natives killed in various skirmishes and rather than make him look more heroic as he had intended, even to Victorian readers this was considered excessive. It was not helped by the fact that the British public thought he was an American.

Tim Jeal's excellent book on Stanley offers a convincing defence for Stanley's actions, which has made it unpopular in some circles, but it is a truly wonderfully researched and written book which is unlikely to be superseded as the standard work for some time, if ever.

It is here that we leave him because Foundry make an older Stanley in his characteristic self-designed outfit from the period when he cut his way across King Leopold's Congo Free State and I will look at that controversial period another time.

Friday 27 July 2007

Sir Samuel and Lady Florence Baker

Sir Samuel Baker was one of the most active of African explorers in the 19th century and travelled everywhere with his “wife” Florence. He was one of those captivated by the race to find the source of the Nile, which was eventually discovered by his friend John Hanning Speke who trekked inland from Zanzibar. Baker took the more conventional, but no less arduous, route of following the river from Egypt.

Born in 1821 in Enfield, Middlesex, Baker came from a well-off family who had made their money from sugar plantations. He had three sisters and three brothers, including younger brother Valentine who commanded the Egyptian forces at the disastrous first battle of First El Teb in the Sudan in 1884.

He married a conventional wife, a vicar's daughter, and dragged her off to Ceylon for eight years where he successfully bred cattle and embarked on many of his characteristic hunting forays into the wilderness, publishing a number of books including the splendidly named The Rifle and the Hound in Ceylon. His wife was obviously not so robust and died in 1855 shortly after they returned to England. Not sure of what to do with his life he accompanied the Maharajah Duleep Singh, last crowned ruller of the Punjab, on a hunting trip to Central Europe.


Their boat was holed on an ice floe in the Danube and they had to stop off in Vidin, in what is now Bulgaria but was then part of the Ottoman Empire, for repairs.

Whilst there he attended an Ottoman slave auction and saw on the block a beautiful teenage Transylvanian girl, Barbara Maria Szász, who had been orphaned in the Hungarian uprising and brought up in a harem where she had been given the name Florenz. Despite having being bought by the local pasha, Baker stole her away and the couple fled back to the Austro-Hungarian Empire in a coach. She was about fourteen years old at the time. He was thirty eight.

They lived in Central Europe for a while but all the time Baker was reading of the escapades of his friend Speke and his quest to find the source of the Nile and developed a great yearning to go to Africa..

In 1861 he traveled to Cairo with Florence, as she was now known, who he called his wife (although they were certainly not married at this stage). He explored and hunted in the Sudan and Abyssinia to acclimatize to the continent before setting off from Khartoum, still accompanied by Florence, for a journey up the Nile. Whilst Burton, Speke and Grant all took the conventional route from Zanzibar into the interior of Africa, Baker decided to follow the river Nile itself. This was no less arduous and involved having to cross the great marshy area of the Sudd.

He was ably assisted by Florence who spoke fluent Arabic (a well as Hungarian, German) which she had learned in the harem. They met Speke returning from Lake Victoria, in 1863, which he had rightly identified as the source of the Nile, although his inability to conclusively prove it haunted him and he died shortly afterwards either from a hunting accident or suicide.

The Bakers continued exploring in the lake regions of Africa and went on to discover and name Murchison Falls and Lake Albert despite usually having a far smaller accompanying party than other expeditions.

Returning to the UK after four years in Africa he was awarded the Royal Geographical Society's gold medal and got married to Florence in 1865.

In 1869 he led a military expedition (with Florence) to fight slavers in Equatorial Africa, having been made Major General and Governor of Equatoria by the Viceroy of Egypt with a salary of a staggering £10,000 per annum. They fought the slavers, including a pitched battle in Masindi, for three years.

The Bakers returned to Britain in 1874 and bought an estate in Devon. He continued to travel and write books until his death in 1893. Florence outlived Baker by 23 years and in later life was looked after by her step daughters, one of whom was only six years her senior.

Baker has never been as well regarded or famous as his contemporaries Burton, Livingstone, Speke or Stanley. Although he was knighted in 1866 there was always rumour and innuendo about his relationship with his wife and her unconventional origins. Although she had been only fourteen when she first started living with Baker this in itself would not have counted for much; the age of consent in Victorian England was 12, although no lady would be generally acceptable until she came out into society at 17. Although Sir Samuel and Lady Baker were personally charming enough to conquer most of Victorian society the Queen refused to receive Florence at Court as she believed Baker had been "intimate with his wife before marriage", as indeed he had.

These days Baker is vilified because of his attitude towards the Africans and Arabs he met during his travels and is now considered a racist. Unlike Burton, Speke or Livingstone, Baker detested most of the Africans that he met; although to be fair, reading his book In the Heart of Africa, he does seem to have met up with the most despicable, untrustworthy, traitorous and ghastly people on his travels.

The figures are both from the Foundry Darkest Africa range. Although many pictures of Florence in Africa show her in a conventional Victorian lady’s dress and wide brimmed hat she did, when away from western company, indeed dress in an outfit almost identical to the one her husband had designed for himself. The Foundry figure reflects this and looks like the self portraits that Baker did of himself in his exploring clothes. No pictures exist of Florence in her equivalent outfit but Baker was very careful in his writings and pictures to portray Florence as a conventional Vicyorian woman. This she most avowedly was not, riding astride a horse in trousers, for example, when ladies rode side-saddle. So it is quite likely that the pictures he drew of her were not reflecting what she actually wore but what society would expect her to wear. As Baker seemed to often portray her in a blue dress (perhaps it set off her hair, she was a blonde – a source of constant amazement to the Africans) I have chosen to interpret this as her wearing a blue version of Baker's more conventionally coloured attire.

Tuesday 26 June 2007

Azande leader

Later in the period some of the Azande, particularly leader's bodyguards, affected Arab dress. Foundry do some Arabised musketmen and I should pick up a couple of packs for my army. I also have some more rank and file I need to paint which I got on eBay recently. Best to add to an army I already have than start a new one!

Princess makeover



I got home early today so had a go at re-painting my Azande princess. She looks much better. It makes me realise that most of my Darkest Africa stuff will need re-doing (except the tribesmen, they look OK).


The first figures I bought from the Foundry Darkest Africa range were some generic tribal warriors which I equipped with basket shields to be allies of the Azande, who were the next figures I bought. These were the first 28mm figures I had ever painted, after a lifetime of plastic, and they look a bit ropey now.

In fact, the first figure I painted was this one to serve as a princess. She definitely needs a repaint. I might have a go to see if I can improve her this weekend. It might make a good "before and after" project.

I like the Azande as an army; they are the Uruk Hai of Darkest Africa! Their name means the people who possess much land, and refers to their history as conquering warriors.

The Azande were experts at ambushes. In the early period they used bows and then later muskets.

During all periods, however, they used their characteristic throwing knives the kpinga.

These Azande musketmen are a mixture of Foundry and the later ones Mark Copplestone did for his own Copplestone castings, some of these were painted more recently and are a bit better done than some of the earlier figures I did.

This is my Azande command group, at least they know what to do with a Belgian!

An Azande chief's hut

Classic basketwork shield and knives. The sickle bladed ones are for hand to hand combat rather than throwing. The caption on this picture refers to them as Niam-Niam (or Nyam-Nyam) both of which terms were used to describe them by 19th century Europeans; the word being of Dinka (Sudan) origin and meaning great eaters (they were reputed to be cannibals).

The Azande would hold up to four kpinga in their left hands concealed behind their shields. In 1925 Emil Torday wrote; "The first attack was made of arrows..then all of a sudden some objects glittering in the sun as if they were thuderbolts come whirling with a weird hum through the air.. it smites the warrior behind his defence with its cruel blades." Nasty!

The Azande shield was known as kube and was made of split rattan cane reinforced with tightly braided ropes around the rims. The characteristic patterns were so that warriors could identify each other in the dark. There is a good collection of them in the Pitt-Rivers museum in Oxford (see picture below).

They also have a good collection of Azande and Belgian colonial stuff in the military musem in Brussels. It's rather an old fashioned museum with everything in old wooden cases but it suits the material somehow. I'm over there later in the year so will try to take a picture or two but I remember it being very dark and flash photography is probably not allowed. I also recently saw a nice Azande shield in the National Museum in Copenhagen. They had quite an interesting exhibition on the colonial Congo when I was there in March.

I played a Darkest Africa game at Guildford against Mike's (of Black Hat Miniatures http://www.blackhat.co.uk/) Belgians but my Azande got quite comprehensively massacred by his White Men and gunboat mounted cannon. Jolly unsporting! Most of my units were destroyed or ran away before they even came into combat!

The Azande people still live in the southern Sudan (mostly), The Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As usual tribal groupings are not recognised by colonial boundaries; the cause of most problems in Africa. Here is a Zande (singular of Azande as well as the language) girl and her Basenji hunting dogs.

Friday 22 June 2007

Mbongo, Mbongo they drink it in the Congo..

I have decided to set up yet another wargaming blog as I am getting back into Darkest Africa wargaming again. Partly based on my current project on the Sudanbut also due to a documentary on The Nile I saw on TV last weekend. I have always been interested in the exploits of explorers such as Burton, Speke, Livingstone, Stanly and Baker so the appearance of 28mm figures of these and many other characters (who would have thought you would ever be able to buy a 28mm Sidi Bombay?) by Mark Copplestone for Foundry pushed me into buying my first ever 28mm figures five or six years ago.

I have a fair number of painted figures already and, needless to say, a big collection of unpainted ones (including a Foundry Belgian deal I really need to address.

My most extant army is an Azande one with Congolese allies and I will put some pictures of these up over the weekend.

I have played several games at Guildford using Chris Peers Darkest Africa rules and am also tempted to try a game or two using The Sword and the Flame to see how the rules differ..

Oh, and Mbongo, Mbongo is the Zande name for the Elephant fish. And you thought it was a drink..