Archive for August 2012

Military Monday: The Defence of Rorke's Drift

Category: Famous Connections

After my recent stay in hospital, Harvey (my hubby) decided to cheer me up by presenting me with a large print of a famous painting by Alphonse-Marie-Adolphe de Neuville entitled 'The Defence of Rorke's Drift'. The print measures approximately 110 x 75cm, including the frame, and hangs conveniently in my stairwell.

Followers of my blog will know that I'm distantly related to 716 Pte. Robert Jones V.C., who took part in the battle on 22nd/23rd January 1879. Whilst there are many different paintings of the event, this is my personal favourite.

The Defence of Rorke's Drift by A de Neuville
The Defence of Rorke's Drift by A de Neuville
(Click the image above to see a larger version.)

Created in 1880, the original oil painting was commissioned by the Fine Art Society in London. It was bought by the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1882 and is still amongst the collection to this day.

The caption underneath the print reads…

THE DEFENCE OF RORKE'S DRIFT
22nd January 1879

On January 22nd 1879, during the Zulu War, the small British field hospital and supply depot at Rorke's Drift in Natal was the site of one of the most heroic military defences of all time. Manned by 140 troops of the 24th Regiment, led by Lieutenant John Chard of the Royal Engineers, the camp was attacked by a well-trained and well-equipped Zulu army of 4000 men, heartened by the great Zulu victory over the British forces at Isandhlwana earlier on the same day. The battle began in mid afternoon, when British remnants of the defeat at Isandhlwana struggled into the camp. Anticipating trouble, Chard set his small force to guard the perimeter fence but, when the Zulu attack began, the Zulus came faster than the British could shoot and the camp was soon overcome. The thatched roof of the hospital was fired by Zulu spears wrapped in burning grass and even some of the sick and the dying were dragged from their beds and pressed into desperate hand-to-hand fighting. Eventually, Chard gave the order to withdraw from the perimeter and to take position in a smaller compound, protected by a hastily assembled barricade of boxes and it was from behind this barricade that the garrison fought for their lives throughout the night. After twelve hours of battle, the camp was destroyed, the hospital had burned to the ground, seventeen British lay dead and ten were wounded. However, the Zulus had been repulsed and over 400 of their men killed. The Battle of Rorke's Drift is one of the greatest examples of bravery and heroism in British military history. Nine men were awarded Distinguished Conduct Medals and eleven, the most ever given for a single battle, received the highest military honour of all, the Victoria Cross.

[Why Military Monday? This phrase has been included in the title in order to take part in Blogging Prompts at Geneabloggers]

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