The Modern Traveller 2016 Hand-woven archival ink-jet prints
29,7 x 21 cm
Text taken from the poem The Modern Traveller (1898) by Hilaire Belloc
The Maxim gun was first used by Britain’s colonial forces in the 1893-1894 First Matebele War in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). It played an important role in the swift colonisation of Africa in the late 19th century. The extreme lethality was employed to devastating effect against obsolete charging tactics, when native opponents could be lured into pitched battles in open terrain. As it was put by Hilaire Belloc, in the words of the figure ‘Blood’ in his poem The Modern Traveller:
Whatever happens, we have got
The Maxim gun, and they have not.
Lobengula’s troops were a disciplined force by pre-colonial African standards, and they were equipped with both assegais and Martini-Henry rifles, but the British pioneers’ Maxim guns, which had never before been used in battle, far exceeded expectations, according to an eyewitness ‘mow[ing] them down literally like grass’. By the time the Matebele withdrew, they had suffered about 1,500 fatalities; the British, on the other hand, had lost only four men. The annihilating effectiveness of the Maxims was such that they cut down wave after wave of advancing Matebele. In one engagement, for example, 50 company soldiers with just four Maxim guns fought off 5,000 Matebele warriors.