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Trooper Secretan NMP medal
Special Artist


Joined: 29 Apr 2012
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For those with a little spare change burning a hole in their pockets, Baldwin's and Dreweatts of London are selling Secretan's medal, with an estimate of £10-12,000, Lot 37.
"A Rare and Emotive South Africa 1879 Casualty Medal awarded to Trooper Francis ‘Louis’ Secretan, Natal Mounted Police, killed in action at the Battle of Isandhlwana during the final retreat along the Fugitives’ Trail towards the Buffalo River, the location of his death confirmed as reported by his brother Archer Jeston Secretan in The Standard, March 25th, 1879, comprising: South Africa Medal, 1877-79, single clasp, 1879 (Tr F. Secretan. Natal Md Police.); officially engraved in large upright capitals, court mounted for display. Light and attractive tone, small lower reverse edge bruise and tiny nick, otherwise good very fine, and extremely rare when found with such detailed biographical and historical information." followed by a long biog.
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Peter Ewart


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
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Location: Near Canterbury, Kent, England.
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Although not a medal collector, I was struck by the mention of this posthumously awarded medal, as only a few days earlier I had come across the description of the battlefield by Secretan's brother (mentioned above) who had obviously been out with Chelmsford that day. I found it in The Guardian of 26 March 1879, although it acknowledged The Standard of the previous day, no doubt the same report referred to by Baldwin's & Dreweatts.

It may have been quoted in the forum before in connection with the Isandlwana mutilations, but I didn't see it after a search, so here it is:

There is a description of the bivouac in the dark, then ...

Morning at length came to our weary bodies, and we saw the scene of battle. All the white men, with their entrails, noses, ears and other parts of their body cut off and thrust in their poor, dead mouths; sides slit up and arms thrust in: horses and oxen all lying about, stabbed and ripped up.

The description of the route out of the camp towards Rorke's Drift, noting the trail of bodies, torn clothes, etc., gave me the impression of authenticity rather than camp fire tales during late January & February, suggesting the mutilations, too, may have been seen in detail as described. After all, it can't have been still pitch dark for the last to move off. Must admit I haven't checked to see if this particular extract has appeared verbatim in any published work already. I'd be surprised if it hasn't.

Incidentally, the surname - Secretan - also rung another bell, as only a few weeks ago I read that Ian Fleming had originally intended to call his hero Secretan, until he thought better of it and changed his name to James Bond.

Peter

P.S. Anyone know how much the medal went for in the end?
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peterw


Joined: 30 Aug 2005
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The sale is 5 June - tomorrow (at the time of writing). So still a last chance to break open the piggy bank.......

Peter
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This is as good a time as any to say -

I've been tempted to get medal books, so as I understand/can identify what medals are which and why they were awarded.

However, though perhaps a controversial point, I don't/can't understand the collecting of medals that surely belong to the recipients' family.

Yes, I know the awardee or their family can fall on hard times, needing to obtain finances pronto quicko, therefore selling the medal(s) - I've seen programmes where such has happened, which strikes me as tragic.

Note - I do not sit in judgement of medal collecting, but I for one could not do it.

I'd feel guilty owning them.

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peterw


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Fair point, but I disagree with you. Medals don't "belong" to the family - they are awarded to an individual. What that individual does with his or her medals is entirely up to them. Some sell them as soon as they have left the service (or even while in the process of leaving), sometimes for money, because they don't need them any more, bad memories etc.

If medals are handed down to future generations, again, some have no interest and would rather have the cash. A case in point is a British War Medal and Victory Medal from WW1 I bought on eBay from the grandson who inherited them. The recipient lived in the village where I grew up and I cherish those medals in a way he could not.

But I don't consider myself as an owner but a custodian. I have not - yet - been approached by any descendant of medals I have and would always offer the family first refusal. Additionally, I have a number of modern medals including one South Atlantic Medal for service in the Falklands. The recipient has dropped off the radar and is not in contact with any of his former colleagues. I have let it be known that - subject to its safe return - the medal is available for him to wear at any time.

I can only speak about why I collect medals and that it offers the chance to connect to a place and a time in history. It's great to walk the battlefields but that's not always possible, and the landscape has often changed anyway. But to hold a medal to someone who was there (even if they never lived to receive it), that's something special for me at least.

Peter
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peterw


Joined: 30 Aug 2005
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Secretan's medal hammered at £9,000 plus 24% commission and VAT so that's £11,160 assuming it sold to a UK bidder.

It sold previously for £6,800 hammer plus commission so £8,432 in total - the actual figure may be less as it was bought by Baldwin's who might be on a different commission rate as a fellow dealer.

Peter
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Peter Ewart


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
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Location: Near Canterbury, Kent, England.
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Peter

I understand that point entirely and if I were a medal collector, it would encapsulate my reasons for collecting. Medals are sold by the recipient or his family for more reasons than merely being hard up. I suppose everything has its price. Recipients - but far more often, I should think, descendants of recipients - have always sold medals. Occasionally hard up, yes, but surely far, far more often because they have no interest whatsoever in family history, military history, heritage or posterity - and that's their prerogative. Nothing wrong with that - they might prefer fishing or mucking about with motor bikes more than fiddling with a tarnished old medal with scruffy, creased ribbons. Or, just as likely, they have some interest in the history of the medal but not nearly enough to deter them from cashing in on a little asset that's been in the back of the sideboard drawer for yonks.

So, in almost all cases (save those few actually sold by those in a desperately impecunious position) the owner of the medal - who may be only distantly related to the orignal recipient, if at all - is merely one of several parties who are made happy by the transaction: the vendor, the purchaser and the dealer or agent. Ditto with every subsequent owner.

I'd very much like to own my grandad's DCM, awarded in the 2nd ABW, together with his QSA and KSA campaign medals. But not enough willingly to splash out however many thousands of pounds it would take to acquire them. Think of all those smelly books I'd have to sell to raise the funds, Coll. This medals group was still safely in the family in the late 1970s, when the recipient's daughter died. Her younger son - a Jock - was there in a flash and flogged them straight away, probably for peanuts. Was he hard up? Yup, but no more than at any other time. His elder brother - also a Jock, of course - would never, ever have done so, but his brother got there first! Even with such a small sample as this (both first cousins of mine) I take this as irrefutable evidence that only 50% of we North Britons actually live up to our hard earned reputation!

I put you and me in the "good" half, Coll.

Peter
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peterw


Joined: 30 Aug 2005
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In case anyone missed it, here's the catalogue description.
37
A Rare and Emotive South Africa 1879 Casualty Medal awarded to Trooper Francis ‘Louis’ Secretan, Natal Mounted Police, killed in
action at the Battle of Isandhlwana during the final retreat along the Fugitives’ Trail towards the Buffalo River, the location of his
death confirmed as reported by his brother Archer Jeston Secretan in The Standard, March 25th, 1879, comprising: South Africa
Medal, 1877-79, single clasp, 1879 (Tr F. Secretan. Natal Md Police.); officially engraved in large upright capitals, court mounted for
display. Light and attractive tone, small lower reverse edge bruise and tiny nick, otherwise good very fine, and extremely rare when found
with such detailed biographical and historical information.
Francis Louis Secretan was born in 1856 in Croydon, Surrey. His father Francis Herbert Secretan was a Stockbroker at the Stock
Exchange in London, who had married Ellen Elizabeth Levin at Hackney, Middlesex, in 1853. Francis Louis Secretan was raised with his
three brothers and two sisters, with whom he soon relocated to Camden Town by the time of the 1861 Census, later moving towards
his father’s place of birth in Leyton, Essex by the time of the 1871 Census.
Francis Louis Secretan and his brother Archer Jeston Secretan both appear to have taken the decision for an adventurous move to
South Africa c.1877-8, at the age of 21 and 20 respectively. The two brothers appear to be new arrivals at the time of the Anglo-Zulu
War, when both joined the Natal Mounted Police at Pietermaritzburg, Natal, on the 23rd of April 1878 (their recent arrival indicated by
the lack of a local contact address used upon enlistment by A J Secretan, deferring instead to the address of their father in Essex as
noted in the NMP enlistment register). The two brothers soon found themselves in the thick of it, as the NMP was sent as part of the
invasion force into Zululand under General Lord Chelmsford.
Having moved towards the frontier the British, Colonial and Native forces arrived at Isandhlwana, and against the advice of Inspector
Phillips - the NMP Second in Command, the camp was made with their backs set towards the foot of the monumental rock formation
there, and critically without making the recommended defensive ‘laager’ of wagons on the perimeter. Archer Secretan was subsequently
sent with his NMP Commanding Officer Major John G Dartnell as part of a small reconnoitring force to track Zulu movements roughly
10 miles to the South East, leaving his brother Francis and a remaining 33 men of the NMP to remain at the camp with the majority of
the British Forces, set against the eastern side of the foot of the hill at Isandhlwana.
Lord Chelmsford also personally led a larger force of approximately 1200 British and Native soldiers (further dividing his troops) to
reconnoitre, leaving the camp under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Henry Pulleine of the 1st/24th Foot, taking seniority over
Lieutenant Colonel Durnford of the colonial Natal Native Contingent.
It was here on the 22nd of January, 1879, that Francis Louis Secretan was killed in action. At roughly 11.00am the ‘head and horns’ of the
Zulu warrior force swept around and directly into the British camp, and despite desperate resistance for as much as three hours, the
British and Colonial and Native forces were vastly outnumbered and routed by the attacking Zulu forces, estimated at between 12,000
and as many as 20,000. To summarise, according to contemporary reports, the British and Colonial forces near the camp stood in lines
two deep with their rifles, initially taking a heavy toll on their attackers.
However these tactics left them very exposed, and through a combination of weight of enemy numbers and a possible lack of readily
available ammunition, the Zulus closed extremely quickly to get within stabbing range of their assegais, and despite attempts to form
squares of resistance and mount desperate fighting retreats and ‘last stands’, the British and Colonial force in the camp was killed
virtually to a man, suffering approximately 1,300 dead including Pulleine and Durnford, with Zulu casualties considered to be in the
region of 2,000 to as much as 6,000.
Only a reputed 55 British and Colonial men successfully escaped (those mostly with horses) along the so-called ‘Fugitives’ Trail’, but
many more died en route. Amongst these men, Lieutenants Melvill and Coghill managed to escape as far as the Buffalo River in an
attempt to save their regimental colours, only to tragically lose them into the river (where they were subsequently recovered
downstream) and be killed after crossing. These two soldiers were awarded the VC.
As recorded by A J Secretan in his letter home as printed in The Standard on the 25th of March, 1879, the reconnoitring forces returned
to the camp too late after getting word of the slaughter, and after shelling the remaining Zulus from the area, they remained in the
camp itself until dawn. As a section of his full and harrowing account records:
“Morning at length came to our weary bodies, and we saw the scene of the battle. All the white men, with their entrails, noses, ears, and
other parts of their body cut off and thrust in their poor dead mouths; sides slit up and arms thrust in; horses and oxen all lying about,
stabbed and ripped up. We saw the British soldiers all lying formed up in a square, where they had held their ground till all were slain where
they stood. The gunners were stabbed to a man where they stood by their two guns, the captain himself being shot whilst in the act of
spiking the last one. Our horses were almost dead beat, as this was the beginning of the third day they had not had their saddles off or
their bits out of their mouths, day or night; they were just like bags of bones.
Well, after the officers had gone round the sad scene we left about five a.m., twenty-five of the Natal Mounted Police forming a rear guard,
of which I was one. On the road to Rorke’s Drift we found all the way along torn clothes, dead bodies, &c., showing that the fiends had not
spared a being so long as they could get near enough to assegai them. We found a few wounded Zulus and stragglers who were promptly
despatched by us without mercy; our men were mad with revenge, and can you expect one to have the slightest piece of feeling for these
wretches? Further along the road we came across four mounted police lying side by side, three stabbed and one shot, the last named being
poor Louis. He had all his clothes on, even to his spurs, but everything about him - arms, money, &c. - was gone; he was not in the least
way mutilated. I think these four must have got so far on foot, and that they were followed up before they could get as far as the river, as
there were no horses near.
He was shot through the back of the head, and death must have ensued directly. I have the following from one of our fellows who escaped,
and who when leaving saw Louis mounting his horse. Colonel Durnford called out to him ‘What are you mounting for?’ He replied ‘I have no
more ammunition, sir.’ The officer then told him to stand his ground with his knife only, and Louis replied, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ So you see while
others were riding away and cutting their way through, Louis obeyed orders and stood with the soldiers until all the officers were killed and
there were no orders to be heard, and then it was every man for himself, and all did the best they could...” (© The British Library Board)
The location of his death is believed to be on the Fugitives’ Trail, towards the Manzimyama Stream, where the final survivors on foot
were killed, unable to escape more swiftly owing to his lack of a mount. The Natal Military Police are believed to have been camped
and located on the southernmost point of the camp, and nearest to the ‘Saddle’ of Isandhlwana and the escape route towards the
Fugitives’ Trail, so it does make sense that he might have managed to escape relatively far by foot, rather than assuming any instance
of cowardice. However it is reported that one of these ‘last stands’ was made by many of his NMP and Colonial troops around their
leader Durnford, set somewhat back from the camp - many of whom ‘could’ have escaped, as their horses were found slaughtered
close by, still on their picket rope.
The truth is we may never know exactly how Francis Secretan and his three other NMP cohort managed to escape on foot (perhaps
they had been separated somewhat earlier, were part of a vedette located to one side, had been attempting to retrieve ammunition
(whilst the other remaining Colonials had been surrounded etc.) but perhaps in the fullness of time their specific cairn will be identified.
Francis Louis Secretan’s official death notice records his final age as 22, leaving behind personal effects of ‘about £10’. A letter from
his father addressed to the NMP on the 30th of July 1879 names Archer Jeston Secretan to settle his brother’s accounts and to receive
all funds and other bank savings, totalling around £40. His name is recorded on the memorial by the City Hall at Pietermaritzburg, with
the rather inexcusable spelling error of ‘F Secreton’. The name of his brother ‘A Secretan’ appears in Tavender’s ‘Casualty Roll for the
Zulu and Basuto Wars, South Africa 1877-79’ - apparently confusing the two names, and this is then repeated erroneously in Roy Dutton’s
‘Forgotten Heroes: Zulu & Basuto Wars’ (Secretan A [F] KIA 1879) although there appears to be little doubt who was the true casualty.
Whilst portions of the above extract are often misquoted as written by an ‘Arthur J Secretan’ - there is no doubt that it is written (as
seen in print) by Archer Jeston Secretan. It appears that the link between the two serving brothers in the NMP and the above article
has not been made prior to this sale, particularly the fact that the author names his brother as ‘Louis’ - according to his middle name,
owing to the fact that their father went by the name Francis and would have been the only one called such in their household - and no
such details are to be found in the suggested references for this campaign.
Sold with a file of documentation, including copy roll mentions as detailed above, a full typed copy of the letter written to his father by A.J. Secretan, detailed genealogical research, copied pages from the NMP enlistment book, and a quantity of other useful research.

http://www.baldwin.co.uk/media/cms/auction-archive/auction-tms1/Orders,%20Decorations%20and%20Medals.pdf

The letter indicates that Francis Secretan stayed with Durnford until the ammunition had been expended and then fought his way towards the Fugitives' Trail with a knife. Since Francis Secretan was killed on the Trail I wonder whether he must have left earlier?

Peter
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I remember reading that many NMP bodies were found just beyond the nek at the beginning of the Fugitives' Trail, away from Durnford's stand and south of Shepstone's.

I figured there was perhaps a third stand by these men, whether having split off from Durnford, or been sent to try and hold this other area long enough for more men to get through the gap.

There is then the chance, that out of ammo, or their numbers depleted, that a few tried to get away on foot as the main Zulu force enveloped the camp and the men inside who were trapped.

This is just guesswork on my part though.
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I should have added that I no longer have the book the account was in - The Zulu War:Then And Now. By Ian Knight - which I'm sure it is in.

On a visit to the battlefield, the account writer wrote something like - ' like a long string with knots in it (describing the bodies on Fugitives' Trail)...then nearing the nek says - 'hereabouts many wore the uniform of the NMP'

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Trooper Secretan NMP medal
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