I recently attended in the Town Hall, Athy, an exhibition of elements of the forgotten heritage of County Kildare. The display sought through the use of photographs, text and line drawings to illustrate the less obvious but no less important aspects of the County’s heritage. Of particular interest to Athy was the display relating to Kilmoroney House. Included in the Kilmoroney material was a copy of an old photograph of a young man dressed in an Officer’s uniform of the British Army. He was Captain George Anthony Weldon who was killed in 1899 at the age of 33. His position in history is assured as the first Army officer killed in the Boer War.
Weldon, the son of Col. Thomas Weldon of the Indian Army, was grandson of Sir Anthony Weldon of Kilmoroney, Athy. He followed the family tradition of service in the British Army as did his two brothers, Francis Weldon and Waller Weldon who served in the Sherwood Foresters and Manchester Regiment respectively. Commissioned in 1886 into the Royal Dublin Fusiliers he served during the Burmese expedition of 1887 - 1889. He was promoted to the rank of Captain in 1896. As an Officer Weldon involved himself in all the gentlemanly pursuits which were the preserve of landed gentry and officers in those Victorian days. General Sir Alexander Godley in his Reminiscences published in 1939 recalled playing polo on the Dublin Fusiliers Regimental Team with George Weldon in tournaments held in the Curragh Camp.
Just before the outbreak of the Boer War the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers were despatched to the northern Natal town of Dundee in anticipation of the Boer invasion. The Boer forces occupied the crest of a hill called Talana which rose some 600 ft. to the north of the town giving it a commanding view of the British position. On the morning of 20th October, 1899 the 2nd Battalion Dublin Fusiliers with the 60th Rifles and the Royal Irish Fusiliers were all ordered to take the hill.
The Irish men attempted to advance up the hill under sustained fire from the mauser rifles of the Boers. Weldon led a Company of the 2nd Battalion. Their advance being checked by the heavy rifle fire Weldon followed by men from his Company climbed over a wall and sheltered behind it. One of his soldiers, Private Gorman climbing the same wall was shot and fell backwards in full view of the Boer Marksmen commanding the hill. Captain Weldon rushed forward, seized Gorman by the arm and was dragging him to safety when he himself was shot. Weldon died instantly. The battle continued and later that evening when attempts were made to retrieve his body Weldon’s pet terrier was found waiting patiently by his master’s lifeless body. Weldon was buried that same afternoon in a small cemetery facing the hill on which he met his death.
Captain George Weldon has the unique distinction of being the first Army Officer to die in the Boer War. Memorials to Weldon can be found in St. Michael’s Church, Athy and in the former depot barracks of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in Naas. There are also memorials in St. James’ Church, Dundee, Natal, South Africa and at St. George’s Church, Pietermaritzburg. On a memorial to Weldon in St. Mary’s Church, Blyth, are inscribed the words “He hath done well and so made good his name”.
I understand that the original of the photograph which was on display in the Town Hall is in the possession of a lady in Naas whose father was batman to Captain George Weldon. After almost 100 years the story of the man captured in the photograph is almost forgotten. The FAS trainees who were responsible for putting on the exhibition in the Town Hall have done an excellent job of work in highlighting this and other aspects of County Kildare’s almost forgotten heritage. I hope that they will continue to delve into our history and help us all to have a better understanding of our past.