For two decades before a railway system linked southern Africa’s principal cities in the mid-1890’s, 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 ciminal ‘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’ McLoughlin, 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’. Startling insights also 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.