Masked Raiders. Irish Banditry in Southern Africa 1880-1899

Masked Raiders: Irish Banditry in Southern Africa 1880-1899" tells the tale of history where Irish troops deserted their posts for the allure of the diamonds and gold.
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Title: Masked Raiders
Subtitle: Irish Banditry in Southern Africa 1880-1899
Author: Charles van Onselen
Publisher: Randomhouse Struik
Imprint: Zebra Press
Cape Town, South Africa 2010
ISBN 9781770220805 / ISBN 978-1-77022-080-5
Softcover, 15 x 23 cm, 312 pages, several b/w photographs


For two decades before a railway system linked southern Africa's principal cities in the mid-1800s, the world's richest supplies of diamonds and gold were transported by coach and horses to distant ports for export. For Irish soldiers based at Fort Napier, Pietermaritzburg, the temptation of this fabulous wealth proved irresistible: they deserted by the score and, as members of the criminal 'Irish Brigade', embarked on a spree of bank, safe and highway robberies. Masked Raiders follows the wild exploits of legendary brigands like the McKeone brothers and 'One-Armed Jack' McLaughlin, who ravaged the subcontinent, from the mining towns of Barberton, Kimberley and Johannesburg to the borders of Basotholand, Bechuanaland, Mozambique and Rhodesia. With tales of heists, safe-cracking, illegal gold dealings, prison breaks and hidden roadside treasure, the book reveals the potency of the highveld's 'criminal heroes', a force, until now, largely hidden from history. Startling new insights reveal how the hidden grammar of brigandage informed political actions of the day, such as the Jameson Raid, and how the movement of bandits across the interior helped shape the borders of what was to become modern South Africa. With inimitable storytelling flair, Charles van Onselen illuminates the intrigue and influence of a secretive, oath-bound brotherhood.

Content: Masked Raiders

From Agrarian Ireland and Industrial Lancashire to
Natal's College of Banditry
Deserters and Navvies: Birth of an 'Irish Brigade'
Bank Robbers in the Kingdom of the Imagination
Coach Robbers and Highwaymen in the Pre-Rail Era
Safe-Robbers and Blasters of the Witwatersrand
The Parameters of Popular Support: Criminal Heroes,
Outlaw Legends and Social Bandits
The Birth and Death of 'Outlaw Legends':
Social Banditry in a Racially Divided Setting
Illicit Gold Buying, the Attival of the Advanced Irish
Nationalists and the Loss of the Dorothea
Conclusion: The Irish Brigade and Anti-Imperialist
Struggles in Retrospect
Note on Sources
Select Bibliography