Los Angeles County
CAPTAIN JAMES CAMPBELL BESLEY
JAMES CAMPBELL, Mining, United States and Mexico,
residing at Coronado Beach, Cal.,
was born in London, England, November 12, 1874, the son of Bryan
Charles Besley and Mary Ann (Harvey) Besley.
Captain Besley is a member of one of the oldest families in England, whose
members have served the Crown in war and peace for generations. His father was Inspector General of Forces in
and other British provinces and an extensive landowner.
Captain Besley’s boyhood was spent in various parts of the British
Empire, but largely in Australia,
where his father was stationed for many years.
He received his primary education at the Christian Brothers’ College of Adelaide, Australia,
but when he was about twelve years of age entered Prince
Albert College in Adelaide. Three years later he returned to England and entered Eton to prepare for Oxford. He finished at Eton in 1893 and immediately
but did not finish at the latter institution, leaving at the end of two years
to take up the study of mining and metallurgy.
He studied for a time at the Royal School of Mines in London,
but finished at the Broken Hill School of Mines in New South Wales. This school, located in the heart of the
celebrated Broken Hill mining district, is one of the largest institutions of
the kind in the world. It is one of the
features of the great Broken Hill mining district, the center of one of the
greatest pastoral tracts of Australia
and the country’s principal silver mining region.
his degree as Engineer of Mines in 1896, Captain Besley
entered the service of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company, owners of the
celebrated “Proprietary” mine. This
property, in the working of which more than three thousand men are employed, is
noted as one of the greatest producers of silver in the world. Captain Besley was
engaged in surveys, engineering and metallurgical work
for approximately two years, but in the latter part of 1897 resigned his
position and joined the rush to the goldfields of Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie,
in the western part of Australia,
which are now known among the great gold producing regions of the world. Captain Besley
acquired some valuable mining claims in this district and worked them with
great profit for about a year.
In 1898, however,
upon learning of the discovery of gold in Alaska,
he disposed of his holdings in the Coolgardie
district and set out for the Klondike region,
unmindful of the fact that his destination was more than ten thousand miles
away. Arriving at Alaska,
he joined the stampede to Dawson
was among the earliest locators in that region, staking out five claims which
he immediately began to work. During the
first six months of his stay there Captain Besley
took out approximately a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of gold, and added
to this materially during the rest of his stay in the country, covering a
period of approximately eighteen months.
remarkable physical endurance and trained to withstand hardships, he was
unaffected by the rigorous weather and other trials which confronted the men of
the region. He figured in many thrilling
episodes during his year and a half in the country, and Besley
Creek, tributary to the Klondike, where he
discovered gold in great quantities, was named in his honor. It was in this district also that he rescued
two comrades from death by cold and starvation.
At the outbreak
of the Boer War, Captain Besley, loyal to England, left the Klondike
and hastened home to offer his services to his country. He was commissioned Junior Lieutenant in “Kitchener’s Fighting Scouts,” and immediately sailed for South Africa. This command was made up of men experienced
in the wild regions of South
Africa and other countries, who knew the
duties of scouts, were inured to hardship and capable of holding their own in a
fight. In his youth, Captain Besley, accompanying his father, had spent considerable
time in South Africa
and was well acquainted with the country.
Added to this was the experience he had gained in the bush country of
Australia and desolate regions of Alaska, and this, combined with extraordinary
ability as a marksman and a rider, made him a peculiarly well equipped member
of the select band of soldiers to which he had been assigned.
Reaching South Africa, Captain Besley
and the rest of Kitchener’s Fighting Scouts were
placed under command of Colonel Johann W. Colenbrander,
a veteran of the Rhodes campaigns in Matabeleland and one of the distinguished
soldiers of South Africa. Led by Colonel Colenbrander,
the column started through the northern Transvaal
country, at that time alive with Boers, and their progress was marked by
numerous engagements with the enemy.
Their objective point was Krugersdorp, but before they reached there
Colonel Colenbrander received a request from
Lieutenant-Colonel Plumer (later Major-General Sir
Herbert Plumer, K.C.B) for a man to undertake the
hazardous task of penetrating the Boer lines outside of Mafeking with dispatches for General Sir
Baden-Powell, who was under siege at the latter place.
Colonel Colenbrander selected Captain Besley
for the task, and he in turn chose a companion to accompany him on the
journey. Arriving at Zeerust,
a small town in the Transvaal, about 130 miles west of Pretoria, they were met by Colonel Plumer’s command and Captain Besley
and his companion, receiving their orders, started off on their dangerous
mission. They were compelled to “feel” their way for a distance of 120 miles,
owing to the fact that the Boers were thick and capture might have meant
death. But aside from that, they were
compelled to undergo other hardships, including hunger, thirst and lack of
In due time,
however, Captain Besley, after passing through the
Boer lines several times, finally reached Mafeking and delivered to General
Baden-Powell the dispatches notifying him that relief was near at hand. This done, he started back to his command and
had to undergo the same perils through which he had previously passed and
walked or crept the entire distance of 120 miles.
accomplishment won for Captain Besley the admiration
and appreciation of Colonel Plumer, himself a veteran
of the Soudan and other campaigns, and he immediately recommended the scout for
promotion, the rank of Captain being conferred upon him shortly afterward. This feat on the part of Besley,
while one of the most sensational instances of individual courage during the
entire war, was not the only one accomplished by him, his record being replete
with many others.
About two months
after his return from Mafeking
he was leading a party of scouts and ran into a Boer ambush. A battle between the small party of Britishers and the more numerous Boers ensued and Besley fell, shot through the arm and through the
side. The scouting party was captured
and Captain Besley was held a prisoner for two months
before he was exchanged for a Boer soldier.
Shortly after his
return to his command, Captain Besley was attached to
the Bushveldt Carbineers,
commanded by Major Charles Ross, another noted fighter, and saw extraordinary
service under him. At the end of three
months Major Ross was transferred to another command, and Captain Besley, now commissioned Major, was placed at the head of
He commanded them in their operations from the northern Transvaal down
to Bloemfontein, in Orange Free State, where they were stationed
until the close of the war.
Captain Besley was in service about two years and four months and
in that period distinguished himself in numerous ways. Upon his retirement, however, he discarded
the title of Major.
At the conclusion
of his military service, Captain Besley was engaged
as a special engineer by Cecil John Rhodes, the immortal empire builder of South Africa,
to write a geological and topographical report on a large area of territory in
which he was interested. This finished,
the Captain, in whom love of nature is strong, went on an extended hunting trip
in the African wilds, in search of big game.
Later, following the death of Rhodes,
Captain Besley was chosen as one of a mounted guard
of honor at the funeral and escorted the body of the great leader from Bulawajo to the tomb in the Matoppos,
a distance of thirty-one miles. The
casket was conveyed on a gun carriage and was deposited in a tomb in the
wilderness, with only a tablet to mark the resting place of one of the world’s
Soon after this
event, Captain Besley returned to the United States and went immediately to Alaska. He remained in the Klondike
a short time, but finally sold out his interests there and left, his trip
having covered the period between the close of navigation in 1902 and its
opening early in 1903.
Captain Besley at that time turned his attention to mining in Mexico and visited several different sections of
that country in search of investments, purchasing and later selling the Noche Buena Yaqui R., near Syopa,
and the San Carlos,
in the Matapa district. He finally purchased a mine in northern Sonora, known as the
Cerro de Plata mine, a valuable silver property, and began active development
work in 1908, operating the property continuously since that time. He erected a ten-stamp mill and other
improvements and has worked the mine profitably for more than four years. Like
other foreign property owners, he suffered considerably through raids by rebels
during the Madero and Orozco revolutions, but did not halt his work for any
Captain Besley owns a copper property on the West Coast of Mexico,
near the Gulf of California. He also has other mining interests in Mexico and the United States.
For some years
Captain Besley, besides his mining work, has been
engaged in cattle raising in Sonora
and Sinaloa, Mexico, where he has a ranch of
more than fifty thousand acres. This
property, like his mine, suffered greatly at the hands of vandals during the
war. The rebels not only confiscated many
head of cattle, but committed other depredations. Captain Besley,
however, was too good a soldier to complain and holds nothing but the kindliest
feelings toward the people of Mexico.
Aside from his
prominence in mining affairs, he is also noted as one of the best Polo players
in America. During his days at Oxford
he was active in athletic affairs and has since played Polo in various parts of
the world, including England,
Africa, Australia and the United States. He began playing in Southern California about
1907 and since that time has been one of the picturesque figures of the game,
being regarded as one of the best players on the Pacific Coast. In 1908 he organized a team known as the Hermosillos, and entered the Southern
California tournament, with the result that they won the Junior
Championship for that year. He has since
played on several different teams and during the seasons of 1911 and 1912
played on the English team at Coronado. His play is marked by remarkable skill and
daring and splendid horsemanship. He has
a stable of Polo ponies, regarded as among the best in the country.
Captain Besley is a Life Member of the American Institute of Mining
Engineers and a member of the Mining and Metallurgical Society of Great
Britain. He also is a well known
clubman, being a member of the Rugby Polo Club, of England;
Turf and Travelers’ Club, of London; Melbourne
Club, of Melbourne, Australia;
Manhattan and Knickerbocker
Clubs of New York; Pasadena Polo Club, of Pasadena,
Cal.; Riverside Polo Club, of Riverside, Cal.,
and the Coronado Country Club.
Marilyn R. Pankey.
Source: Press Reference Library, Western Edition Notables of the West,
Vol. I, Pages 631-632, International News Service, New York, Chicago, San
Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, Atlanta.
© 2011 Marilyn R. Pankey.
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