• Stephen Callaghan

The Wild Irish Man who Played Rugby for Natal



Torrens Trotter while in Natal

Torrens Trotter was born on 20 May 1877 at Glenleary, Ramelton, County Donegal. He was the son of Reverent John Crawford Trotter and Francis Rebecca Trotter (née Torrens). His father became rector in Ardrahan, County Galway in 1891 (until 1926). Torrens attended infant school in the Model School, Parsonstown (Birr). He later studied in the Royal University of Ireland. He moved to England and lived in Kingston on Thames, Surrey where he was a school master in The Queen Elizabeth School. Torrens enlisted in the South Africa Constabulary (SAC) on 6 November 1901. He sent a letter to the recruiting office asking if he could be sent to South Africa on the next draft because his mother wasn’t well and he wanted to visit her in County Galway. Torrens could speak French and Latin. He could ride, shoot and swim and had won prices at public school for long distance swimming races. He had some experience will military drills from an army instructor whist he was attending school. On enlistment he was recorded as 5 foot 9 inches tall, having blue eyes and brown hair. Trooper Trotter served in the SAC until he purchased this discharge on 26 July 1902, he served for 169 days. His service record remarks on his smart appearance and a very good character and an exemplary conduct. After this short stint with the SAC, Torrens worked for the Commission of Mines Johannesburg. They had offered him a job as a clerk for 6 months, his salary was 245 pounds a year. Whist working here he was also a reserve in SAC.

After working for the Commission of Mines he became a school teacher in Hilton School, Natal. Here he also played rugby at the time and was described as “the wild Irishman who played rugby football for Natal”. Torrens left South Africa and returned home to Ireland in 1909. He worked as a private secretary for the Westhmeath Foxhounds. In October of 1910 he was in court at the Mullingar petty session for larceny and the embezzlement of 160 pounds, which belonged to his employer, Mr. Frank Barbour, Master of the Westmeath Foxhounds. Torrens, through his solicitor pleaded guilty to larceny. The crown withdrew the charge of falsification of accounts. It was stated that drink had been the cause of the defendant’s lapse. In Torrens defence it was stated that he had been in the South African war and that the war had changed the habits of many excellent young men. The bench felt bound to impose a sentence of three months imprisonment on each of two of the charges which had been brought against him. Torrens served his sentence in Mountjoy Prison, Dublin. After his time in prison Torrens returned to his parents in Galway and is recorded on 1911 census with them. His occupation listed as an unemployed school teacher. Torrens moved to England shortly after. During the Great War he enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery on 22 June 1915. His address given was 54 Downspark Road, Clapton. Gunner Trotter was promoted to Bombardier on the 1 August 1915. Torrens married Helen Ferguson on 22 October 1915. Helen was from Midhurst in West Sussex.


Bombardier Trotter was discharged on 3 January 1916 and shortly after commissioned in the Royal Field Artillery as a second lieutenant on 11 January 1916. He served with “A” battery 177th Brigade. Second Lieutenant Trotter left for Salonika in September 1916. While on his way to Greece he developed a drinking problem. He arrived in Greece on the 4 October 1916 and joined with 132nd Battery on 5 October 1916, he was sent to fight at the Struma front. On the 9 October he was on a gun for 18 hours and came under heavy shell fire, his gun was hit and he was brought back to a field hospital by an ambulance. He was suffering from headaches, buzzing in his left ear, insomnia and bad dreams. He also gave unclear accounts of what actually happened. He left Salonika on the 9 October 1916 suffering from shell shock. He was admitted to a mental ward at Cottonera hospital in Malta for observation on 7 November 1916. When his conditions improved he was put in the officer’s ward. During his time in the hospital he was remarked as being very tremulous emotional, tremor of hands, lips and tongue. During his stay in Cottonera he went missing for a day, when he appeared again he was noted to smell of alcohol. He returned home to England on 7 December 1916. Torrens and Helen, moved to Helen’s hometown of Midhurst where they lived The Mint cottage. Torrens took an interest in the ruins of the Tudor Manor at Cowdray and complied and published a book on its history in 1922.


On 9 May 1923 Trotter was in London at Charing Cross hospital to have septic teeth removed. During the procedure he died. The cause of death was determined as a misadventure after chloroform and ether anaesthesia. His remains were brought back to Midhurst and he was laid to rest in Midhurst cemetery. Helen was the sole executor of his will. His widow wrote letters in 1924 to the Ministry of Defence stating that Torrens death was part due to his war service and that she would like to receive the Kings memorial scroll and memorial plaque. These where granted and sent to Helen.



Torrens' grave in Midhurst cemetery. Photo courtesy of Mark Robinson.

The blue of heaven is larger than the cloud. Photo courtesy of Mark Robinson.

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