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Lieutenants Melvill and Coghill

Lieutenant Teignmouth Melvill was born at 4 Clarendon Place, Marylebone, Central London on 8 September 1842. He died aged 36 when trying to save the Colour from Isandlwana on 22 January 1879.

He, along with Coghill, were among the first recipients of the posthumous Victoria Cross in 1907.

Lieutenant Nevill Josiah Aylmer Coghill was born Drumcondra, Co. Dublin, Ireland on 25 January 1852. He died with Melvill trying to save the Colour.

When the situation at Isandlwana seemed hopeless, Lieutenant-Colonel Pulleine ordered Melvill to save the Colour. He was accompanied by Coghill, he having sustained an injury to his knee earlier in the day when trying to catch a chicken for Lord Chelmsford's supper. It was this injury which meant that he was unable to go with Chelmsford's force moving to the South East in search of the main Zulu force.

Lt. Melvill

Lt. Coghill

Melvill and Coghill made their way through the battle and through to the Buffalo River. Coghill was first to arrive and managed to cross to the Natal side. He turned to see Melvill plunge into the water, with the Colour in its case, only to have his horse shot from under him. He was swept to a large boulder, Coffin Rock, showing out of the torrent. He was soon joined by an NNC officer named Higginson. Melvill asked for help to save the colours but it was torn from his grasp by the strong current and disappeared.

Coghill turned to help the two in the river, but then his horse was shot in the head, plunging him into the water. He struggled to the rock and all three men then managed to swim to the Natal side of the bank. Higginson went to look for horses, while Melvill and Coghill struggled up the steep sides of the valley. They were killed by supposedly friendly natives who had been threatened by the Zulus on the opposite bank with death, had they not chased Melvill and Coghill and killed them.

Click here to view a contemporary engraving

They were buried on 4 February 1879 where they died. They were reburied in an isolated grave on 14 April, the site being marked by a memorial. There are also two cairns just below this, presumably where other fugitives died and were buried. The site has been known since then as "Fugitive's Drift".

The Colour was found some weeks later by a patrol who saw the pole sticking out of the water. Most of the gold braiding had perished. The restored Colour now hangs in Brecon Cathedral.

Coffin Rock...
The crossing on the Buffalo, known as 'Fugitive's Drift'.

The memorial to Lt's Melvill and Coghill

One other VC winner on the 22nd. of January was a Private Samuel Wassall from Birmingham. He rescued a comrade who was drowning in the Buffalo River during the retreat from Isandlwana. He went on to live until he was 70. He is buried in The Barrow-in-Furness cemetery, section 3.B. plot 1952. There was another VC winner who died at Isandlwana. He was Private William Griffiths, born in Ireland. He won his VC in 1867 at Little Andaman Island. His grave is unmarked on the battlefield at Isandlwana.