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Date of Auction: 23rd June 2005

Sold for £26,500

Estimate: £18,000 - £22,000

The important Rorke’s Drift group of four awarded to Colonel H. “Harry” Lugg, Natal Militia, who, having departed Devon to seek his fortune in South Africa, enlisted as a Trooper in the Natal Mounted Police and fought with distinction in the defence of that place on 22 January 1879: his account of the action - noted for its inclusion of the quote “As black as hell and as thick as grass” - was subsequently published in the home press, while his heroic deeds were further commemorated by his inclusion in Alphonse de Neuville’s famous oil painting, itself said to have been based upon a sketch provided by Lugg

South Africa 1877-79, 1 clasp, 1879 (Tr. H. Lugg, Natal Md. Police); Queen’s South Africa 1899-1902, 4 clasps, Tugela Heights, Relief of Ladysmith, Transvaal, Laing’s Nek (Major H. Lugg, Vol. Staff); King’s South Africa 1901-02, 2 clasps, South Africa 1901, South Africa 1902 (Lt. Colonel H. Lugg, Natal V.S.); Natal 1906, 1 clasp, 1906 (Lt. Col. H. Lugg, Natal Militia Staff), this last with slightly bent suspension bar, minor edge bruising, generally good very fine and almost certainly a unique combination of awards to a Rorke’s Drift defender (4) £18000-22000


Henry “Harry” Lugg was born at Okehampton, Devon in 1859 and went out to South Africa in early 1878, one account attributing the cause of his journey to the pursuit of a courtship with Miss Mary Camp, whose brothers Edward and Henry enlisted in the Natal Mounted Police at Pietermaritzburg at the same time as Lugg in May of the same year.

Not long after the commencement of hostilities in 1879, Lugg was entrusted with the task of taking a despatch to Pietermaritzburg, a journey he completed using ten horses in relays, but which ended in him being confined to the hospital at Rorke’s Drift after his one of his mounts lost its footing crossing the river Mzinyathi and crushed his knees as it fell. To begin with the resultant swelling made it impossible for Lugg to even walk, but after a few days at the mission station’s hospital he became a little more mobile, an improvement in condition that quite possibly saved his life - at least one bedridden occupant of the hospital met his end at the point of an assegai.

Lugg’s actual account of the defence commences on the afternoon of the 22 January 1879, an account that was first published in the the correspondence columns of the Bristol Observer in March of the same year:

‘ ... It must have been about 2.40 p.m. when a carbineer rode into the little yard, without boots, tunic, or arms, and leading a spare horse. All we could glean from his excited remarks was, “Everyone killed in camp, and 4000 Kaffirs on their way to take the mission station” (or rather hospital), not pleasant tidings for a hundred men, you may be sure. When he came to himself a bit he said, “You will all be murdered and cut to pieces,” and the only answer he received was, “We will fight for it, and if we have to die we will die like Britishers.”

All those who were able began to throw up sacks and knock loopholes out with pickaxes, and otherwise make preparations to receive them. We had some 2000 Native Contingent there on the mountain, and occupying the krantzes and caves. Noble savages!

As soon as they heard the Zulus were to attack us they made a great noise, had a big dance, clashing their assegais against their shields, and otherwise showed warlike spirit. Now I must describe the fort. It consisted of two small houses, one used as a store and the other as a hospital and mission station. These houses were about 40 yards apart, and our ramparts were composed of mealies three sacks high, and running from the corners of one house to the corners of the other, but the one great danger being thatched roofs to both. There were two missionaries (Swedish) living in the hospital. They were absent for some twenty minutes, out for a ride, and no one could help laughing at their gesticulations when they came back on seeing the best parlour paper being pulled down and loopholes being knocked out, while splendid furniture was scattered about the rooms. His first question was, in broken English, “Vot is dish?” Someone replied that the Zulus were almost on us, upon which he bolted, saying, “Mein Gott, mein wife and mein children at Urmsinga! Oh, mein Gott!”

In the meantime a mounted infantryman and two of our men, Shannon and Doig, came in excited and breathless. Upon my asking, “What is it, is it true?” Doig replied, “You will all be murdered”, and rode off with his comrade. Consolatory, certainly, but nothing remains but to fight, and that we will do to the bitter end. A man named Hall, of the Natal Mounted Police, rode out to see if he could see anything of them, and on going about 1000 yards out he could see them just a mile off, as he described it, “As black as hell and as thick as grass.” “Stay operations and fall in!” My carbine was broken, or rather the stock bent. I found a piece of rein, tied it up, and fell in with the soldiers. I thought, if I can get somewhere to sit down and pop away I shall be all right, because my knees were much swollen. I was told off in my turn to take a loophole, and defend the roof from fire. At about 3.30 p.m. they came on, first in sections of fours, then opening out into skirmishing order. Up came the reserve, and then they were on us. The place seemed alive with them. No orders were given, every man to act as he thought proper. I had the satisfaction of seeing the first I fired at roll over at 350 yards, and then my nerves were as steady as a rock. I made sure almost before I pulled the trigger. There was some of the best shooting at 450 yards that I have ever seen.

Just before dark we had beaten them off with great losses, and only a few casualties on our side, two killed and one wounded. One of our fellows named Hunter, also ill with rheumatism, was assegaied in the kidneys and five wounds in the chest. Before it got really dark the fiends lit the hospital thatch, which being very closely packed did not burn well. At about 10 p.m. they came on in tremendous force, sweeping the fellows before them and causing them to retreat to the store. But Providence favoured us. The thatch roof burst out in flames, and made it as light as day, and before they had time to retreat we were pouring bullets into them like hail. We could see them falling in scores. Then you could hear the supressed British cheers. They kept up the attack all night with no better luck. We knocked them down as fast as they came. At five a.m., 23 January, the last shot was fired, and the last nigger killed; he had a torch tied on his assegai and was in the act of throwing it into the storehouse thatch, but he was ‘sold’. The column came to our relief about 5.30 and real British cheers went up I can tell you. When the Major [Dartnell] saw me he said, “I never thought of seeing you alive again, my boy.” The tears were standing in his eyes. He said, “We saw the fire last night, and thought you were all murdered.” Thank God it is not so. I have sustained no damage beyond the loss of everything (except letters) and a little weakness of the eyes, I suppose from peering out of the loophole all night, and the constant straining of the eyesight.’

While undoubtedly a valuable source of information, Lugg’s account is patently an extremely modest one. Here, after all, was a man who ‘fired his carbine so rapidly and frequently at Rorke’s Drift that the barrel became red hot, scorching the protective woodwork’, and who on at least one occasion broke cover to go to the rescue of a wounded comrade during the desperate evacuation of the mission’s hospital. But by means of consulting today’s plethora of published histories, and more specialist sources such as A Natal Family Looks Back, which was published in 1970 by one of his descendants, H. C. Lugg, it is quickly possible to build up a picture of this gallant Devonian going about his duties in a manner way beyond that usually expected in someone so young and inexperienced.

Initially ordered to take up post at a loophole in the kitchen extension of the hospital, Lugg managed to bring down a number of Zulus attempting to storm the building, while those who were fortunate to evade his attention were confronted by Privates Robert and William Jones, both of the 24th and both subsequently awarded V.Cs, who did great execution with their bayonets. Inevitably, however, the time came when the hospital had to be evacuated, Lugg and five other patients making their escape through a high window and down into the yard, across which they had to run, hobble or crawl to the new line of defence - a wall of biscuit boxes - running out from the corner of the store house. Lugg now took up position in the embrasure on the front left corner of the store house, right by Surgeon Reynolds’ hastily established infirmary on the building’s verandah, but continued to offer assistance to those still emerging from the burning hospital, on one occasion returning to the yard to help bring in Trooper R. Green, a comrade from the Natal Mounted Police who was too weak to walk.

As it transpired, this was one of the gallant deeds that Alphonse de Neuville chose to depict in his famous canvas, Lugg clearly being visible in his Natal Mounted Police hat, carrying Green from under his shoulders, with another defender clutching his knees - ‘eager hands pulled them to safety’ as they reached the wall of biscuit boxes, but not before Green was hit in the thigh by a spent bullet.

Yet even when the nightmare of the hospital evacuation was over, Lugg kept his cool, manning the embrasure nearest the corner of the store house and offering renewed succour to the wounded. The Washing of the Spears, by Donald R. Morris, takes up the story:

‘Harry Lugg manned an embrasure under the eaves of the store house, firing at the Zulus who charged across the yard from the ruins of the hospital. A man posted on the ridgepole was shot through the chest and slid helplessly down the thatch to drop in an inert heap onto Lugg. Hands reached out to pull him off, and someone murmured, “Poor old Brickey,” but Brickey opened his eyes and chirped feebly, “Never mind lads. Better a bullet than an assegai.” Brickey had no sooner been dragged away to the shelter of the storehouse than Private Desmond, at the next embrasure, was shot in the left hand. He turned to Lugg and held out his arm, and Lugg tore an old haversack into strips and bound the wound. Desmond turned back to the embrasure and continued to fire ...’

There is also mention of Lugg spotting a Zulu creeping into the deserted cook-house to light his gudu - a large horn usually used to smoke cannabis - in the embers of the stove. He shot the warrior dead. Many years later, in 1902, while visiting the graves at Isandhlwana in his capacity as a Staff Officer in the Natal volunteer forces, Lugg came upon an elderly Zulu who had fought at Rorke’s Drift, but rather than divulge that he was also a veteran of the action, invited the ancient warrior tell his story. He was an engaging speaker, so much so that Lugg did not reveal his true identity until his story was complete, when he asked him whether he knew who was the Zulu he had shot in the cook-house - “And were you there also?” cried the astonished man, “And so perished Mngamule! We were merely dogs under your feet.”

No doubt Lugg accounted for others before dawn broke and the Zulus retreated, at which point Chard ordered one or two patrols to go out and investigate the immediate vicinity of the mission station. Lugg was among the chosen few but was probably not fully aware of the dangers that still lurked in the heaps of seemingly dead Zulu warriors surrounding the mission station. In fact quite a few of them, though wounded, were still capable of putting up a fight, as Lugg, limping around just outside the entrenchment, quickly discovered, when one such Zulu sprung up from the ground and jammed the barrel of a rifle into him - the trigger clicked but the weapon misfired, and before the Zulu could react further, Lugg plunged his hunting knife into him, a knife that had been a gift from his future mother-in-law before he embarked for South Africa. As a result of this incident, he was given the African name Gwazamazulu - literally the “Stabber of Zulus”.

Soon after the defence of Rorke’s Drift, Lugg went down with an attack of rheumatic fever, and was moved to Greys Hospital at Pietermaritzburg, where, in February 1879, he was discharged from the Natal Mounted Police. But, as evidenced by his impressive array of awards, and a local newspaper source, this was not to prove his sole experience of active service:

‘After the Zulu War, he, with Colonel Bru-de-Wold, raised the the Border Mounted Rifles, which did magnificent service during the South African War [1899-1902]. He served with this unit for some considerable time. During the South African War Henry Lugg took part in the relief of Ladysmith and was staff officer to the Umvoti-Helpmekaar column until Dundee was occupied. He was also placed in charge by Brigadier-General Dartnell [his old C.O.] of a column at De Jager’s Drift. After the war, Colonel Lugg took appointments in the Natal civil service at Umsinga in 1906 and at Mapumulo in 1910.’

Lugg died at his residence “Lynton” at Port Shepstone, Natal on 27 October 1927, aged 68 years. Close by, no doubt, was the 17th Lancers belt that had been presented to him while hospitalised at Pietermaritzburg, soon after the action at Rorke’s Drift, a belt that he wore ‘every day for the rest of his life’. In fact Lugg left behind several interesting relics from his Zulu War days, among them his spurs, which he recovered from the ruins of the hospital at Rorke’s Drift, ‘burnt black’, and the carbine and hunting knife that he used throughout the defence, and which were still in possession of his descendants as late as the 1960s - and are today on display in the Warrior’s Gate Museum, Durban, together with his cap.

Sold with a file of related research and an original statement of authenticity signed by three of Lugg’s descendants in July 2001.