Rufane Shaw Donkin
ALTHOUGH General Sir Rufane
Shaw Donkin left no descendants at the Cape and only spent a couple of years
in the colony, the adoption of his arms in 1861 by the town of Port
Elizabeth (which he had founded in 1820) has left an abiding influence in
the heraldry of the Algoa Bay region.
Rufane Donkin was born in
1772 or ’73 – the date September 1772 appears on his gravestone, but his
parents were only married in that year, and his school records reflect him
as being born in ’73 – and died on 1 May 1841. He was named after his
father’s General Robert Donkin then
superior officer, General William Rufane, who came from a family of French
origin. The surname appears to have been Ruffane or Ruffine before being
The shield is surrounded by
the collar of the Bath, and in addition to his personal motto there is the
motto of the order, Tria juncta in uno (Three joined in one; an
expression of the doctrine of the Trinity).
The motto Tu meliora
spera is an injunction to seek out in hope things that are better. The
other motto, Bona spes, has the same meaning (although doubtless a
very different derivation) as the motto shared by the Cape Colony, the Cape
Province, the Western Cape Province and the City and University of Cape
The stall plate version of
the arms includes the motto Ich dien (“I serve”, motto of the Prince
of Wales), which was also part of the insignia of the Order of the Bath.
The illustration above
right is shows the arms as displayed on the enamelled brass plate (known as
a stall plate) which in Sir Rufane’s lifetime was placed on his stall in the
the Order of the Bath, of
which he was a knight commander (the full plate is shown at left). The
chapel, also known as the Henry VII Chapel, is behind the high altar in
Westminster Abbey in London.
The stall plate was
purchased by the Port Elizabeth Museum, now called Bayworld, in 1980. The
second illustration (below right) is an old photograph of a library painting
of Sir Rufane’s arms executed in 1927 by a herald painter attached to the
College of Arms for the City of Port Elizabeth. The original hung in the
Port Elizabeth City Hall and was destroyed in the fire that ruined the
interior of that building in 1979.
The chief with its
elephant and the word “INDIA” were
granted to honour Donkin’s service in India, notably in the successful
British campaign against the Mahrattas in 1817-18.
The medal is not named in
any of the blazons I have been able to trace, but Robert Laing (editor of
Arma, journal of the Heraldry Society of Southern Africa) writes that it is
most probably the Peninsular Gold Cross, an award for participants in the
so-called Peninsular War fought in Portugal and Spain against Napoleon’s
allies. The medal was awarded late in Sir Rufane’s life, since all the
British decorations for service in the Napoleonic Wars were subject to a
delay of as much as a decade after Napoleon’s defeat. Donkin was a brigade
commander in the campaign along the Douro River (in northern Portugal) and
played a key role in the capture of the city of Talavera de la Reina, an
important gateway to Madrid.
Born in Ireland to a military family, the boy’s family hailed from
Northumbria, where it had been established for some 600 years, although its
coat-armour reveals it to be a branch of the Scottish family surnamed
Rufane Donkin, then a
major-general, was invalided to the Cape of Good Hope from India in 1819
following the Mahratta Campaign. (By the time he left the Cape he had been
promoted to lieutenant-general, and became a full general in 1838.) During
the Mahratta campaign his wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Dr Markham, Dean of
York, died of a fever at Meerut in August 1818, leaving him with an infant
son. Gen Donkin was
gazetted Knight Commander
of the Bath in October that year, which means that his wife was never known
as “Lady Donkin”, even though the title was apparently created for him as
far back as 1815.
In June 1820 Sir Rufane
visited Algoa Bay to to see how the landing of the British settlers was
progressing. These notes on his visit are taken from an article written by
“It was Donkin who realised
that a port was going to be needed on this part of the coast and took the
first steps to establish one, naming this prospective village after his
wife. He set aside land on the hill overlooking the bay to be forever an
open space and the site of a memorial. His choice of a pyramid is not at all
unusual for the time and the proportions are those of the memorial to Gaius
Cestius in Rome and the architect Hawksmoor’s pyramid in the grounds of
Castle Howard in Yorkshire, to name only two, and have nothing whatsoever to
do with Egypt. In addition, of course, it was also an uncomplicated
structure for the soldiers, who had to build it of the local sandstone."
The pyramid bears an
inscription which is a touching testimony to Donkin’s love for his wife.
There is, however, no truth in an often repeated rumour that her heart lies
buried under the pyramid. Although he did, in fact, carry her heart away
from India, it was buried in England. Returning to the Donkin/Duncan family:
since coat-armour, like tartan, is tied to a family name, the Duncans have
not only a different tartan from the Robertsons, but also a different coat
of arms. Since any coat of arms is the property of only one person at any
one time, different branches of the family bear different versions of that
coat of arms.
Another difference is the
crest a dismasted ship with the motto Disce pati (“Learn to suffer”)
on the arms Viscount Admiral Duncan of Camperdown but, not on Sir Rufanes.
However, where it appears as a bonnet badge, the ship is shown with its
masts whole and its sails filled this is incorrest..
The elephant is
Indian (of the species Elephas maximas) and has above it in gold
letters the word “INDIA”.
The buckles in Sir Rufane’s
arms are horizontally aligned (fesswise, in heraldic language) to the dexter
(the right, as seen from behind the shield), while in the city’s arms they
are upright (palewise).
One Port Elizabeth school,
Pearson High, bears arms in which the shield is divided as in Sir Rufane’s
arms, with a chevron and an embattled chief. The colours are entirely
different (except that the chevron is also silver and the buckles on it also
black). The buckles are also aligned fesswise, as in Sir Rufane’s arms.
by Mike Oettle,