A few years ago I visited the main battlefields of the Zulu Wars unaware that there was a curious link between a man who would make his mark in the city of Liverpool and a notorious incident of the conflict.
Following the terrible defeat at the hands of the Zulus at Isandhlwana in January 1879 the British government reluctantly despatched a military expedition under Lord Chelmsford to bring the Zulus to heel. Living in England at the time was the 23 year-old Louis Napoléon, son of Napoléon III, and proclaimed by the Bonapartist faction to be Napoléon IV. Desperate to see action as a soldier he used his influence with Queen Victoria to obtain permission to be part of the Chelmsford entourage, on the strict understanding that he was not to go anywhere near the fighting. Once in South Africa he proved to be a difficult man to keep in order and on 1st June 1879 while part of a scouting party from the main column he rashly engaged a group of Zulus. It turned out that there were appreciably more of them than he at first reckoned and within a short space of time the young would-be Emperor lay dead, killed by a myriad of assegai blows. The survivors of the party fled back to the main column to report the disastrous news to Chelmsford. Aghast that his illustrious ‘guest’ had perished the next day he despatched a sizeable group to recover Louis Napoléon’s body. In that party was a young trooper by the name of James J Thomas who was given the task of delivering the body back to the British lines.
After leaving the army Thomas found himself in Liverpool and in 1880 he joined the Liverpool City Police as a constable, living at the Station House in Hatton Garden. His rise in the force was meteoric by any standards and in just 10 years he rose to the rank of Chief Superintendent. He was a founder member of the Police Mounted Section and organised the Police Cycle Corps. He served as Chief Superintendent of the Fire Brigade from 1899. In 1902 he was elected Vice-Chairman of the newly-formed Association of Professional Fire Brigade Officers of the British Empire, becoming the organisation’s President in 1905. After having seen their use in other European countries he was arranging for Liverpool to order petrol-driven engines in 1907 when he died after a short illness on 27th October.
He was given an official Fire Brigade funeral, the cortege travelling from Hatton Garden to West derby cemetery, many hundreds attended, including Chief Constables and Chief Fire Officers from across the country. In November a grand matinee was held at the Empire Theatre to raise funds for a memorial, realising over £500. The memorial was duly placed on his grave with the inscription “his life was useful; his end was peace”.
James Jeffrey Thomas was born on 8th August 1859 at Atherstone, Warwickshire. He married Edith Elizabeth Hebron in 1881 and after her death he was remarried in 1899 to Eveline Beatrice Hackett. He had five children.
At various times he lived at the Police premises at Hatton Garden (it was there that he died in 1907.) At the time of his first marriage he was living at 246 Falkner Street L7 and in 1891 he was living at 73 Bankhall Street in Bootle. Round about 1899 he lived at 11 Bold Place L1.
Thomas' home c.1899.
The buildings at Hatton Garden which were once the Police HQ and main bridewell where Thomas lived whilst a serving officer.
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