Thursday, April 9, 2015

Zulu War ancestors: finding the true facts

Until a few days ago I had always believed that the VC won by Pte David Bell of the 24th in the Little Andaman Islands was due to the fact he saved a number of men from drowning; this was back in 1867 some 12 years before Isandlwana. Imagine my shock and surprise when I discovered in fact that no less than five VCs were won that day saving men from a colony of cannibals. One of the party of 5, a Pte GRIFFITH of the 24th, is well-documented as having been killed on 22 January 1879, a date known I think by everyone in this field.

What is not known are the names and more detail of the men concerned in this circumstance: with your indulgence I put that right with a piece on each man concerned. The VCs were won on the 7 May 1867 in the Little Andaman Islands. In no particular order, they were these:

Pte David Bell
1. Pte (later Sgt) David Bell 24th Foot, born in Northern Island, David died on 7 March 1920 in his home in Gillingham, Kent, and is buried in Gillingham Cemetery. The grave is well marked.
2. Pte Cooper 24th Foot born in 1840 (Birmingham), he died on 9 August 1889 and is buried in Hockley Cemetery Birmingham in an unmarked grave.
3. Pte William Griffiths 24th Foot born 1841 in Eire; Pte Griffiths was later killed at Isandlwana, of course, on 22 January 1879. Exact location unknown.
4. Pte Thomas Murphy 24th Foot born in Dublin circa 1839. Thomas died on 23 March 1899 in Philadelphia USA. It is understood his body was used for medical research and hence his burial on 28 December 1902 in Laurel Hill Cemetery Philadelphia. Although buried in a family plot his name does not appear on the stone at his burial site.
5. Surgeon (Lt Col) Campbell Mellis Douglas 24th Foot; born 5th August 1840 in Quebec, died 31 December 1909 in Somerset, buried 4 Jan 1910 at Wells cemetery Western Super Mare Somerset. Grave well marked.

Upon his discharge from the Army, Gunner Cantwell worked at the Gunpowder factory in Waltham Abbey in Essex, Cantwell suffered with impaired vision, hardly a condition suitable in a munitions factory, I would've thought. Cantwell later emigrated to South Africa on 5 November in the year of his departure. George William Mabin (note correct spelling of his surname) was actually a Colour Sgt at the Battle of Rorke's Drift and was the Senior NCO at this engagement. Frank Bourne was promoted to this rank in 1878 some 3 years after Mabin.

Cpl Allan (not ALLEN) was 10 years older than Frank Bourne at 33 on Jan 22 1879. Sgt Windridge who was known to have a fondness for the amber liquid was in fact married three times and his last wife had by the time of the 1901 census divorced him but later re-married a man called Jones whose father was William Jones! Windridge himself died in 1902 aged 60 at the home of his sister, his wife and remaining children having moved to a different address in Birmingham.

B Company at Rorke's Drift
QM Bloomfield of the 24th served with that regiment for 20 years from 1859 till his death on 22 January 1879 at Isandlwana; he, along with his father who was Drum Major in the Scots Fusiliers Guards, joined that regiment before he was 13 years of age. Both were called Edward and the son was born in 1835 in Marylebone in London and was not of Scots origin. Edward in fact married twice, the second time in 1873 and had in total three children, one with his first wife, Ellen, who was born in Mauritius in 1862, and two with his second wife. Sadly she and her youngest both died in 1892 and are buried in the now disused Lorne cemetery Brentwood in Essex. Pte William Neville, another Rorke's Drift defender, had a sister who had three children out of wedlock, but he himself married and had three children. Census returns show his wife became blind at some point.

It goes to show I think that many interesting details are still to be looked into and reported, many facts are still written incorrectly and you can never close the file on any individual, well-known or not. 

Graham Mason
Anglo-Zulu War Researcher

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