Francis William Panzera (1851-1917), Colonel

Col. F W Panzera (1906).


France William Panzera was born in Canford, Dorset; the son of Mr J. G. I. A. Panzera, a civil engineer of some repute, and the grandson of Mr J. G. Panzera, former Minister of War and British Consul at Naples. Panzera served two years in the Royal and Militia Artillery and was then posted to serve as an Acting Engineer with the Royal Engineers to raise and train the Harwich Militia Division and First Class Army Reserve Submarine Miners. In 1892 he became part of the War Officer and served in the Colonial Office in South Africa. He was then Government Engineer Officer and Superintendent of Public Works for the Protectorate of Bechuanaland Border Police, becoming a member of the Protectorate Concessions Commission and taking command of the imperial base at Macloustie and the Eastern line of communications (1893). He served during the First Matabele War (1893-1894) where his actions were rewarded with the British South Africa Company (BSA) medal and promotion to Major in the Reserve of Officers. He was served as magistrate for Macloustie and Tati districts, becoming secretary to the Khama Eastern Boundary Comission and representative to the Vryburg-Palepve section of the Rhodesian railways. He was an expert adviser for the British Treasury at the time of the Jameson trial (1896). Some further insight into this period is given from the brief biography given before his evidence in the trial where he reported

I am now living at the Grand Hotel, Harwich, and am a major in the reserve and the militia, and also on leave from the Bechuanaland Border Police, for which for three years I have been an engineer officer. I am Superintendent of Public Works in Bechuanaland and the British Protectorate; north of British Bechuanaland to the Matabele border. On December, 1894, I was also appointed Government engineer to the railway extension works north of Mafeking. I had charge of all buildings, roads, and forts and works of various kinds, and had a thorough knowledge of the county (Manchester Guardian, 25 March 1896: 5, col. f).

He was Special Commissioner for the Ngamiland region (in modern Botswana) (1898-1899), and later during the Second Boar War (1899-1902) he commanded the artillery defences during the Siege of Mafeking (1899-1900) under Colonel, later Lord, Baden Powell (see below, Panzera is on the back row on the extreme left). His conduct at Mafeking saw him mentioned in dispatches and singled out for praise:

Maj. Panzera, British South Africa Police, as commanding Artillery, showed himself a smart and practical gunner, endowed with the greatest zeal, coupled with personal gallantry, even when opposed to the modern armament of the enemy, was largely due to Panzera’s organization and handling of them (The Times, 13 February 1901: 3, col. c).

Having earlier congratulated him:

You were armed with obsolete weapons, but you made up for these by your cool shooting and the way you stuck to your guns (The Times, 28 May 1900: 7, col. c).

Major FW Panzera (back row, first on the left), at the Siege of Mafeking (1899-1900), alongside Colonel (later Lord) Baden Powell

His actions saw him receive the King’s medal, with two bars, and promotion to Lieut.-Colonel of the Reserve of Officers. Subsequently Panzera became a close friend of Baden Powell. Panzera held a number of positions in the Bechuanaland Protectorate (later the Republic of Botswana) where he became Assistant Commissioner for the Northern Protectorate and Resident Magistrate for Palapye and Francistown (1902-1906). Later Panzera was promoted to the position of Resident Commissioner (1907-1916) a position which saw him assume responsibly for a population of some 125,000 citizens, and settle several boundary disputes (Herter 2011). His success saw him created Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) (The Times, 02 January 1911: 9, col. f).

Panzera gave up his position to take up a position as Commandant of a Detention Camp in England, and later took control at Knockaloe, succeeding Lieut-Colonel J M Chippendale in 1916 who resigned after the discovery of an escape tunnel (Ramsey Courier, 18 February 1916: 5). While in charge at Knockaloe Panzera “proved to be a Christian gentleman with real sympathy for the unfortunately men under his charge” (Picton 1918: 66). At Knockaloe,

His previous experience in administrative work in various Government departments, specially fitted him for the difficult duties which the management of the Camp devolved upon him. Since his arrival, the working of Knockaloe Camp has been carried on quietly, but firmly, with the result that comparatively few breaches of discipline or Camp regulations on the part of the interned men have taken place. A thorough disciplinarian, those with whom he came in contact, either officially, or in any other capacity, always found him and impartial judge (Ramsey Courier, 8 June 1917: 3).

Reflecting on internment he wrote:

The attitude of prejudice or even hatred towards enemies, whether prisoners or not, often disappears when men are brought face to face in the work of an internment camp, for example, and find that they are very much like each other. An officer of a certain camp here was taken prisoner and interned for six months in Germany before he escaped. He says that two or three times the officers of the camp were changed, and in each case began with harsh treatment, either the result of official suggestion or of the general feeling. In each case, after the lapse of a short time, close acquaintance modified this attitude, and finally kindly relations and treatment resulted. In the same way the nurses in a certain hospital here refused to receive or treat German prisoners until a company of the wounded men arrived, when the feeling of natural humanity proved too strong, and they were quite eager to attend to them. At the internment camps in this country the officers generally speak of the men under their charge with humanity and respect (after Picton 1918: 67).

Throughout his career he published books on Questions and Answers on Gunnery (1882), a highly regarded work that went into its fourth edition, and The Officering of the Artillery Militia. Panzera had been in ill health for a little while, but died of heart-failure while conducting a tour of the camp with Brigadier-General D. A. Thomas (CMG) in June 1917 (Ramsey Courier 8 June 1917: 3). His widow was at the time of his death living at the family home in Gatwick, Dovercourt (Essex), while his daughters were living with him in Peel, Isle of Man. He also had a son and grandson, both of whom were serving in the African campaign at the time of his death. In a personal letter to Panzera’s widow, Baden-Powell wrote:

The news will come as a shock to a very large number of his friends and Mafeking Comrades. He was a splendid type of man and the bravest I ever saw. To me personally he was the most loyal and helpful officer and I owe him much that I could never repay. I had a great affection for him. (, accessed 21 March 2013).

“Col. Panzera was extremely popular at the Camp, the military and vidial staffs and the interned aliens holding him in high respect” (Isle of Man Examiner, 9 June 1917: 6, col. c & d). The Ramsey Courier reported

During the time Colonel Panzera has been on the Island, he has made himself a great favourite with the officers and men at Knockaloe, and the aliens have always spoken of him as a great and just soldier. Civilians who have come into contact with him have been charmed by his manner and his general desire on all occasions to make things as easy and as pleasant as possible. The country can ill afford to lose such a man as Colonel Panzera, a man who has done so much in building up our great Colonial Empire. (Ramsey Courier, 8 June 1917: 3).

Following his death it was reported that

… the whole of Knockaloe Camp – soldiers, civilian staff and prisoners – mourned the loss of one whom it will be hard to replace…. The proceedings on Wednesday morning were very uiet. Reveille was sounded in the Camp at 5 a.m. – an hour earlier than usual – and every solider, except those actually on guard or otherwise engaged, paraded with their companies to pay their last respects to the late Commandant. (Ramsey Courier, 8 June 1917: 3).

He was succeeded by Lieut.-Colonel B Metcalfe-Smith (CBE) (Sargeaunt 1922).


Herter, S. B. (2011). No More Tiaras: A memoir of eight decades. Xlibris: Unknown.

Panzera, F. W. (1882). Questions and answers on Gunnery. For the use of officers of the Auxiliary Forces at Woolwich and Shoeburyness. W. Clowes & Sons: London.

Picton, H. (1918). The Better Germany in War Time. Being some facts towards fellowship. National Labour Press: Manchester.

Sargeaunt, B. E. (1922). The Isle of Man and the Great War. Brown & Sons: Douglas.