Although armies can sometimes ‘live off the land’ (i.e. buy or steal what they need along the way), the sparsely populated territories that saw much of the European colonial fighting simply could not provide for such needs, so a good logistical support was vital, and that meant either beasts of burden or wagons. Usually the local transport was the best, and in many areas that meant the ox wagon, particularly perhaps in southern Africa. When the Boers conducted their Great Trek from 1836, it was mainly in ox wagons as they were the most durable in a terrain largely lacking anything that could be described as a road. Such wagons could carry three tons or more, and would also be used to create a defensive laager when attacked. The oxen that provided the pulling power were slow – 20km a day was considered good progress – but they could graze off the land whereas the quicker mules needed fodder. When the British came to invade Zululand in 1879, they had to reduce the intended five columns to three due to a lack of such wagons, and the loss of many wagons after the disaster at Isandlwana was a large factor in stalling their plans.
This set contains three sprues, each containing one wagon and the two figures as shown. The wagon has a body length of 74mm (5.3 metres) which extends to 108mm (7.8 metres) when the central pole is included. This tallies nicely with the actual dimensions of such vehicles, although they came in various sizes and were not standard, since they were hired locally from civilians. The gauge between the wheels is 25mm (180cm), which is quite wide and wider than some, but again there was no standard and a greater width helped stability on uneven terrain. Such wagons might be completely covered, or completely open (a ‘buck wagon’), but the most commonly illustrated configuration is the one modelled here, the ‘half tent’, where roughly the rear third of the wagon was covered, so this is a good choice for this set. The wheels are nice and solid, and the design of the wagon is well done, including the rear wheel arches. In short, a really nice and accurate model.
The wagon comes with a pair of oxen, which again are nicely done. However the usual complement of such animals for a wagon of this size was at least 16, and for difficult terrain, fording rivers or going up steep slopes more than 30 would sometimes be used. Consequently just one pair is woefully inadequate, and to put together just one complete team would require purchasing three whole sets, unless you can source extra oxen from elsewhere. As a marker for a wargame this may not matter, but the purist would say this set is only half complete.
The wagon is a slightly more complex kit than usual which we found went together very well without the need to glue anything, at least until we came to the canopy. This last piece proved to be a nightmare, because it is supposed to fit snuggly between the rear wheel arches, but is too narrow to do so, and we struggled long and hard to glue this in place before eventually giving up. Also the pole is too wide to fit in the hole meant for it on the yoke, and the yoke itself just rests on the shoulders of the oxen, providing no sort of a fit at all, and again very hard to glue. To avoid excess plastic between the horns of the animals, one horn of each is separate, but this plugs in easily and securely, so looks good and works well. The overall result is a mostly pleasing model but the poor canopy and the great difficulty in fixing the ‘team’ seriously spoiled the experience for us.
When an ox wagon was hired it usually came with its civilian owners working as contractors, which is what we have on our second row. Normally a man would walk in front of the team (the ‘Voorlooper’), leading it in the right direction and dictating when they stopped to rest and graze. Others would walk alongside the team to encourage the animals to keep moving, and to do this they all had very long whips. Since these men have just two animals to cajole, little whips like those they hold might be adequate, but in reality they were very much longer than this. The dress of the figures is of course civilian, and is typical of the Boer contractors, or they could simply be Boer migrants too. The quality of these sculpts is fair but not particularly sharp, and the faces are something of a mess, particularly the man with the beard.
Unlike past HaT kits which were made in a very soft, rubbery material, the more normal consistency of this set makes assembling the parts pretty easy except where we have pointed out its deficiencies. Happily there is no flash on wagon parts or figures, so this is nicely produced. The frustrations we found in completing the model certainly take a lot of shine off the generally positive impression of it we initially formed, but the huge issue here is the lack of anything like an adequate team of oxen. When on the road one such wagon and team would generally take about 55 metres of space, but this model only occupies about 8 metres to scale, and if you start stacking goods on the wagon (which are not provided here), then it is ever more obvious that these two animals stand no chance of moving it. For this reason we have given quite a low score for accuracy, despite the wagon itself being a good, accurate model, as are the figures. How much this bothers you will depend on what you intended to use it for, and it should be observed that the box artwork makes no claim to include any animals at all, but if you really want a proper model of an ox wagon on the move than this is a good if exasperating start, but you will need to add the animal powerhouse from elsewhere.