Image “The Graphic” 27 January 1900
Born: 7th April 1871, at South Yarra, Victoria, Australia.
Died: 6th January 1900; age: 28; KiA at Suffolk Hill, Colesberg, Northern Cape, South Africa.
Residence: 43, Earl’s Court Square, London.
Francis passed out of the Royal Military College, Sandhurst with Honours, and entered the Suffolk Regiment 18th May 1892, as a Second Lieutenant.
Promoted to Lieutenant – 19th June 1895.
Promoted to Captain – August 1899.
Francis became Adjutant of his Battalion – 10th January 1899. He was fluent in German, Italian and French.
Rank: Captain and Adjutant.
Regiment: Suffolk Regiment, 1st Battalion, South Africa Field Force.
Clasp Awarded: Cape Colony.
1891 43, Earl’s Court Square, London.
Francis was 19 years old and living with his parents & sisters.
Alfred Wilkins, 57, a Gentleman – retired Merchant, born Chelsea, London.
Mary Ann Wilson Wilkins (nee Cowle), 52, born Hobart, Tasmania.
Mary Louisa Arundel Wilkins, 23, born South Yarra.
Annie Beatrice Cowle Wilkins, 22, born South Yarra.
Francis’s mother, Mary Ann Wilson Wilkins died July 1899, at 43, Earl’s Court Square, London.
Francis was educated at Westminster School as a ‘Town Boy’ entered 28th September 1883 (G) – left July 1888, Headmaster William Gunion Rutherford, and at Paris, France. He passed into the Royal Military Academy, at Sandhurst, at the head of the list.
Probate to Mary Louisa Arundel Wilkins – sister.
One of the notable Battles with a large loss of Suffolk life was the “Battle of Suffolk Hill” at Colesberg, Northern Cape, 5th- 6th January 1900. The hill was originally called Red or Grassy Hill. The Suffolk Regiment was ordered to make a night attack on a Boer position on the heights, four companies, 354 of all ranks, set out at midnight under the command of Col. Watson. The Suffolks were met by a storm of bullets. The Colonel was amongst the first to fall, and the party later retired with 11 officers and 150+ men killed, wounded or captured.
Friday, 12th January 1900 – Suffolk Chronicle & Mercury Newspaper.
COL. WATSON AND THREE OFFICERS KILLED.
Another disaster, in some respects resembling that of Nicholson’s Nek, is reported in connection with the operations in South Africa. In this the 1st Battalion Suffolk Regt. was unhappily involved, with the result that very nearly 180 officers and men were killed, wounded, and taken prisoners by the Boers. The story is told in a despatch from General French, commanding in the Colesberg district, as follows:-
French reports 6th January, “Situation much the same as yesterday,” but I regret to report that serious accident has happened to 1st Suffolk Regiment.
From news just come to hand from them, I gather that, with the authority and with the knowledge, of French, four Companies of 1st Suffolks advanced by night against a low hill one mile from their camp.
Orders to retire were given, it is said, by the enemy.
Three-quarters of the force retreated to the camp. The reminder held their ground till overpowered by greater numbers. They surrendered.
When the casualty list was made up, it was found the disaster was even more serious than was at first apparent. All the despatches from the scene – in the neighbourhood of Rensburg – affirm that the cry of “retire” was raised by the Boers. The importance of the hill is apparent from the fact that it commanded the Boer line of retreat towards the Free State. The abortive attempt is thus described by a correspondent:- Colonel Watson having urged the General to grant him permission, was allowed to attempt to occupy a very important hill commanding the road to Colesberg Bridge. The hill presents a bare face with a gentle ascent towards out position by rugged rocks, and has a steep front towards the east. Four Campanies of the Suffolk Regiment marched on the hill and took up a position. The Boers appeared in force from the east front and opened a hot fire.
A cry of “Retire” was raised, it is said by some of the Bores, and about two-thirds of our men retired.
The remainder held the position for twenty minutes longer, and then being outnumbered and surrounded, they surrendered.
The Standard, Wednesday, January 10, 1900.
The officers killed at Rensburg.
Lieut. Colonel Arthur John Watson, of the 1st Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment, was killed at Rensburg on Saturday last, was 46 years of age, having been born 4th June 1853. He entered the Army Sub Lieutenant of The 12th foot (now the Berkshires) on August 9th 1873, and received his Lieutenancy from the same date. He was instructor of musketry to the Regiment February 12th, 1880, to 24th, 1883, received his Company on the 14th April following, and, passing the Staff College in 1884, served with the Bechuanaland Expedition under Sir Charles Warren later in the year, and from February 17th to October 28th 1885, was Brigade Major in Bechuanaland, honorably mentioned in Despatches. He was employed on the Staff service with the Egyptian Army from 12th to September 7th, 1886, obtained is Major’s Commission on 21st October following, and in 1888 served in the Hazara Expedition as Brigade Major to the first Column under Brigadier General Channer, when he was again Mentioned in Despatches, and received the medal with clasp for his services. From July 20th, 1889, to February 20th 1896, he was Garrison Instructor in Bengal, Deputy Assistant Adjutant General for instruction in Punjanb, taking part in 1895 in the operations in Chitral, accompany the Relief Force under Sir Robert Low, acting as Road Commandant on the lines of communication. For services in this campaign he received his second medal with clasp. He was gazetted Lieut. Colonel of the Suffolk Regiment on 10th September, 1898.
Lieutenant Francis Alfred Pressland Wilkins, also of the 1st Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment, was 28 years of age, having been born on April 7th 1871. He entered the army in 1892, receiving Commission as Second Lieutenant on May 18th, and was gazetted to is Lieutenancy on June 19th, 18. He had been Adjutant of that Battalion since January 10th last year. Lieutenant Wilkins was an officer qualified interpreter French.
Lieutenant Seymour James Caley, of the same Battalion, 25 years of age, the date of his birth being August 5th 1874. He entered the Regiment as Second Lieutenant February 20th, 1895, and received his Lieutenancy on May 20th 1897. This was the first time he had been on campaign.
Lieutenant Cecin Arbuthnot White, the other officer killed belonging to suffolks, was born on August the 17th 1874, and entered the army from the Militia as Second Lieutenant of the Suffolk Regiment on May 15th, 1897, receiving his lieutenancy on March 22nd of last year.
Second Lieutenant Arthur Vivian West, of the 2nd Battalion of the Berkshires, who was the only officer killed at Rensburg on January 1st, who was the only son Lieut. Colonel Frederick West, and grandson of Admiral Sir John West G.C.B., and in his 24th year, having being born on June 18th 1876. He served in the ranks for just over 4 years, and was gazetted to Second Lieutenant in the Royal Berkshire Regiment on August 24th 1898.