Birkenhead survivors


Sergeant William Henry McCluskey

WILLIAM HENRY McCLUSKEY was born in Armagh on June 18th 1839 and about 1843 emigrated to South Africa with his parents where they lived on a farm near Capetown.  He joined the Cape Mounted Rifles and was aboard the Birkenhead to join units fighting the  war in the Eastern Province.  When the ship went down he swiftly got away from the wreck and being a powerful swimmer he struck out for the shore and after a time managed to join another soldier holding on to a floating spar.  The waves threw them on to the rocks where they rested for a while then made for the shore which they reached bruised and bleeding.  After recovery he was sent to serve in the Kaffir wars.

Later he tried his luck in various gold and diamond fields but without much success. He was commandeered into The Diamond Field Horse 1877-8 attaining the rank of sergeant. His final military service was as a member of the Beaconsfield Town Arms during the siege of Kimberley.

Captain C A Blackboard mayor of Beaconsfield SA said of him `McCluskey was an old friend of mine I`ve known him for over 20 years. We were comrades in arms in the Griqua war 1877-8 he was then a sergeant in the Diamond Field Horse and I was a trooper. I little thought that when my mother used to tell us stories of the wars and the wonderful story of the loss of the Birkenhead and the heroism, discipline and fortitude of its gallant heroes that I should have the privilege of meeting with one of the survivors`.

After retirement from military service he worked as a jailer and a security guard and whilst in the employ of the De Beers Company at Bultfontein he was brutally beaten to death on October 5th 1903.  At the subsequent trial Michael Mongale was found guilty but escaped the death penalty as he was assessed to have been suffering from temporary insanity.  The punishment was reduced to life imprisonment 

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