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TOPIC: Medals to men who survived Isandhlwana

Medals to men who survived Isandhlwana 2 years 4 months ago #53086

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An important South Africa Medal awarded to Acting Commissariat Officer J. N. Hamer, who left a vivid account of his escape from the massacre at Isandhlwana in January 1879 - ‘on coming up we saw the Zulus, like ants in front of us, in perfect order, as quiet as mice and stretched across in an even line. We estimated those we saw at 12,000’

SAGS (1) 1878-9 (Ag. Comst. Officer J. N. Hamer),

James Nathaniel Hamer was born in Clerkenwell, London, in October 1858, the son of James Hamer, a Clerk of the Queen’s Bench.

Believed to have served briefly as a member of the 6th (Volunteer) Battalion, Manchester Regiment, Hamer departed for South Africa in 1878, where he applied unsuccessfully for the position of Postmaster-General for Natal, no doubt on account of his youth, but with the advent of the Griqua War, he quickly found alternative employment as a Civil Commissariat Officer. So, too, in the Zulu War, when he was among a handful of men to escape the massacre at Isandhlwana in January 1879, and fewer still to leave such a detailed account of events. A letter to his father takes up the story, the transcript of which is held in the collection of the National Army Museum:


‘I dined the night before in his tent with Colonel Durnford and (poor?) Captain Geo. Shepstone. We were then at Rorke’s Drift about 10 miles from the Isandhlwana camp. The next morning Wed. Jan. 22, we had a dispatch from General Lord Chelmsford and Colonel Durnford sent for me to his tent. I had some breakfast with him & he gave me a verbal message to Lord Chelmsford at camp. When I got there I found the General had left the camp to attack the Zulus. About an hour after my arrival in camp, Col. Durnford arrived with his mounted native horse, the rest of the native contingency being some miles behind. The Zulus were then seen on the distant hills in small numbers (for an officer lent me his glass and I saw them myself). Colonel Durnford being superior officer took over command and orders from Colonel Pulleine and of course has all the ... (?). Very soon after the mounted native horse had arrived they were sent out to some hills on the left of the camp. Captain George Shepstone in command. I went along with him, and after going some little way, we tried to capture some cattle. They disappeared over a ridge, and on coming up we saw the Zulus, like ants in front of us, in perfect order as quiet as mice and stretched across in an even line. We estimated those we saw at 12,000. After his having given orders to the Captain of the Native Horse to retire gradually, Geo. Shepstone (& myself) rode as hard as ever we could back to the camp and reported what we had seen. A company of the 1/24 Foot was sent to back up our horsemen who by that time had retired down the hill towards the camp (I sent you a plan of the camp - which being the first I made out is slightly incorrect - I made out two other plans which have been sent to England to the War Office). We left our horses (for Geo. Shepstone & myself had rejoined the men) at the bottom of the hill, and went up and attacked the Zulus on foot, we drove them back at first, but after retiring over a ridge they were reinforced and came on in overwhelming numbers and we had a sharp run for it to our horses, which were some little distance away. We retreated towards the camp. Up to that time I had only had a revolver, so I rode into the camp and got a carbine. I then joined some soldiers in front of the camp and fired away as fast as possible, but we had to run for the Zulus came on us like ants on all sides. I had the greatest difficulty in finding my horse but got him and galloped through the camp, the Zulus being within 200 yards and then our company of the 24th with poor Colonel Durnford making a heroic and most gallant stand to cover the retreat. The scenes at the top of the camp baffles description, oxen yoked to waggons, mules, sheep, horses and men in the greatest confusion, all wildly trying to escape. I saw one gun brought over the neck of the hill, but it stuck fast among the stones. We had a very bad country to go over, large rough boulders and stones. Some distance from the camp is a small ravine which was hid by bushes, the greater part of the fugitives fortunately went above it, but several (with myself) went too low down, and met it at the centre. We could not go above as the Zulus were too near, and we had to go to the end of it before we could cross. The Zulus saw this and in large numbers tried to cut us off, I and four others were the last to get round, and we had to use our revolvers very freely, for the Zulus followed us up quickly, the ground being very bad for horses, and footmen had not the ghost of a chance. Several even were stabbed on their horses. My horse (Dick) had had a great deal of work that day and with tracking over the stones he got completely done and would not move a step further. I was in a jolly predicament when (thank God) a man of the Rocket Battery galloped up with a led horse and let me have it. I had just taken the saddle off poor Dick when a bullet struck him dead and the poor fellow who gave me the horse had only ridden ten yards when I saw him fall killed from his horse. The animal I was now on was a splendid beast, but the girth of the saddle was not strong enough and when I had galloped another two miles it burst and I came down on the stones, luckily I stuck like mad to the bridle and quickly rigged up a girth by passing the neck rein through the D of the saddle, and thereby saved myself as the Zulus were by this time close upon me. I managed all right till I got to the Buffalo River which was very difficult to cross. I myself saw several men swept down and drowned or killed. The Zulus charged us down to the river but they took care to cross lower down where it was safer. I had a dreadful ride to Helpmakaar half insensible and wet through. We got in about 6 p.m. to Helpmakaar and were up all night making ... (?) and keeping guard. We four volunteered to go with Major Spaulding next morning to Rorke’s Drift. Where as I had lost everything I possessed, horse (and my cash went down the river in my saddle bags where I had another spill getting out), Lord Chelmsford with his extreme courtesy and kindness (he is beloved by every one, and we only think of him in this sad affair), I mean chiefly for poor Col. Durnford, Geo. Shepstone and the other brave fellows, it is too awful to think of (and I have escaped on mere luck) allowed me to accompany his staff to Helpmakaar and thence to Pietermaritzburg. I am to my deep disgust now today in Natal and am proceeding up country to Ladysmith ... ’

Not mentioned in Hamer’s account is the fact he was given a new horse by Lieutenant Horace Smith-Dorrien, 95th Foot, attached as a Transport Officer, on reaching the other side of the river bank at Fugitive’s Drift, one of two incidents that were to lead to the latter being recommended for the V.C., but owing to the the wrong channels of communication being used, he never received the award. Hamer, however, did all within his power to get the recommendation accepted:

‘Mr. Hamer, the civil commissary whose life he [Smith-Dorrien] had saved, wrote copious letters to the Horse Guards and to Horace’s family but to no avail. When this became apparent, Hamer did his best to obtain for him the Royal Humane Society’s Medal but was told it was too late’ (The Man Who Disobeyed: Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien and His Enemies, refers).

Also present at Ulundi, Hamer later gained appointment as a Sergeant, afterwards Acting Sub. Inspector, in the Cape Mounted Police, and was also for two years a Deputy-Commissary of Ordnance under the Cape Government. Having then briefly returned to the U.K., he sailed for New Zealand, where he found employment as a Sub. Manager with the Trust & Agency Co. of Australasia and was married in 1888.

And over the coming years he became a prominent local figure, rising to Manager of the Trust & Agency Co. and being elected a fellow of the Royal Colonial Institute, in addition to serving with the Canterbury Yeomanry. Less happily, he was divorced in November 1900, after a much publicised case involving his adultery ‘with a woman in Wellington’.

In the following year, Hamer enlisted in No. 24 Company of the 7th N.Z. Contingent, and briefly saw service as a Lieutenant in the Boer War before being invalided home on account of sickness - as a result of which he received the Queen’s South Africa Medal with clasps for ‘Cape Colony’, ‘Transvaal’, ‘South Africa 1901’ and ‘South Africa 1902’. He also remarried in June 1902 and the couple eventually settled in Kent with her two children. Hamer’s step-daughter later left a colourful account of her new life, from which the following extract has been taken:

‘We only remained at the old home for another three years, because during that time my mother re-married a Captain in the South African War. I remember being decked out in a new green suit and hat, and my brother in a Norfolk suit, so that we could go to meet him. We were rather dubious as to what he would be like as we had heard terrible stories about stepfathers. He looked every inch a military man with his waxed moustache, as he whisked us away in a cab to go to the London Zoo, which was a great event for us. He was very kind, I guess he thought he had better make a good impression, which he did, and all through the years he lived, I must say he was always very kind to me.

When the day came for us to leave London, we were told that we were going to live in a 500 year old country inn, in Kent. Of course, this seemed a great adventure for my brother and I, and we were thrilled but very tired when the moving van arrived at 3.a.m., to take us to our new home. My stepfather had bought us a parrot in Africa so, of course, it had to go along with us.

Eventually we moved into the Chequers Inn, which however, was only to be our home for eight months. We were placed in school there, my brother at the Grammar School, and I was sent to a young ladies school. However, it was not for long, as it appeared my stepfather had a drink problem.

At the back of the Chequers Inn lies the old Castle, hundreds of years old. Our new friends spent many happy times playing there. Playing there soon came to an end, as life was very unhappy for my mother. She tried to stay as long as possible at the Inn, but the environment was not at all good, so one day, we were told that we were moving back to London, that is, my mother, brother and I. I know she was very sad as she had to leave all her furniture and start life afresh to provide for us, as my stepfather's capital had all gone. I can only realize now, in later life, how brave she was. My aunt was still living in London, but mother was independent and wanted to face her troubles alone. Of course, my brother and I were sad at leaving our new friends but knowing nothing could be done otherwise, we tried to help all we could.

We, my mother, brother and I lived a normal life at 29, Tremadoc Road until my step-father arrived and decided he was going to live without alcohol, so my mother took him in and trusted that life would be made easier for her. His endeavours did not materialize. Finally, he decided he would try again, but in another country, and Canada was his choice ... My mother had received many letters from Canada written by my step-father asking her to join him, way far, in land up the coast of British Columbia, where he had obtained a position as supervisor of a Government Salmon Hatchery ... ’

This was in 1906 and his wife duly joined him Canada shortly before the Great War, but she died in British Columbia while Hamer was visiting the U.K. in August 1920, so he decided to remain here and died at Clun, Shropshire, in September 1925; sold with a quantity of copied research, including family photographs.

DNW September 2012. £15,000
Dr David Biggins
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Medals to men who survived Isandhlwana 2 years 4 months ago #53087

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A rare Isandhlwana survivor’s South Africa Medal to Trumpeter J. J. Horne, Newcastle Mounted Rifles, shot through the leg he was fortunate to escape the massacre at Fugitive’s Drift and, some 50 years later, related his story to a newspaper reporter

SAGS (1) 1879 (Trumpt. Horne, Newcastle Md. Rifls.)

Around 75 European officers and men escaped the massacre at Isandhlwana, John Joseph Horne appearing on the list of survivors posted to Helpmekaar on 24 January 1879.

No better summary of Horne’s military career may be quoted than the following feature which appeared in the Natal Advertiser on 24 January 1920, on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Isandhlwana:

‘A surprising number of lsandhlwana survivors has been revealed by the 50 years’ peace celebrations. Mr. John J. Horne, an organiser of the Newcastle Mounted Volunteer Corps in 1875, and one of the survivors of lsandhlwana, is still hale and hearty and lives in Durban.

His account of the preparations for the battle at lsandhlwana shed new light on why no laager was formed. He and his corps were stationed at the far end of the camp and two members of his corps, Berning and Dinckleman, were on vedette duty about four miles out of camp Dinckleman rode in to Home with the report that the natives were approaching in mass formation.

Colonel Dumford, then in command, rode up, and Home passed on the report to him. The Colonel ordered the dispatching of the ox wagons and the formation of a laager, but shortly afterwards Colonel Pullin rode up with an auxiliary force and the laager was not formed. Why the order was countermanded is not known to Horne.

Horne escaped the massacre with a shot through the leg. Mr. Horne's career has had more excitement during a year than most people have in their lives. In 1870 he was given an appointment in the Government service at Ladysmith. He joined the Natal Frontier Guards in 1871. In 1873 they were ordered out on the Langalibalele rebellion. He was one of the first volunteers to join up when the trouble started. During the course of the campaign he went into Basutoland by way of the Double Mountains and the Bushman's Pass, under Captain Ellis, where they captured their man and brought him to the gaol at Matitzburg. In the latter end of 1875 Mr. Home was transferred to Newcastle, where he acted in many civic roles through the lack of other officials. Mr. Melmoth was magistrate of Newcastle at the time and when he received a request from a Major Dartnall to raise a mounted corps he asked Horne to do it. After official sanction had been obtained Horne raised a force of 37 men, whom he trained and drilled. In 1877 the Major inspected the corps and paid its organiser a compliment as to its efficiency. It was then brigaded with the Buffalo Border Guard between Newcastle and Dundee. A year later the corps was called up for the campaign the first leg of which ended in the disaster at Isandhlwana.’

Just 38 South Africa Medals were issued to the Newcastle Mounted Rifles, at least seven of whom were killed in action on 22 January 1879.

DNW December 2014 £5,800
Dr David Biggins
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Medals to men who survived Isandhlwana 2 years 2 months ago #54146

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SAGS (1) 1879 (Tr . Sibthorpe Natal Carbine...)

Reconstituted from a mount or menu-holder, edge rubbed with loss of initial and last three letters of unit, heavily polished and worn £1200-1500

Trooper Sibthorpe is confirmed as one of the European survivors of Isandhlwana (The Noble 24th, by Norman Holme refers).
Dr David Biggins
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