Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (19 & 20 September 2013)

Date of Auction: 19th & 20th September 2013


Estimate: £6,000 - £8,000

A highly unusual Victorian D.C.M. awarded to Private T. Rolph, 2nd Royal Fusiliers, who was decorated for his courage under fire during a riot by ‘Moplah fanatics’ in Malabar in December 1884

Distinguished Conduct Medal, V.R. (Pte. T. Rolph, 2/Rl. Fusrs., 29th Decr. 1884), with original riband and wearing pin, very fine £6000-8000


D.C.M. General Order 61 (India) of 1885.

The original recommendation - signed and approved by the Queen - states:

‘That a Silver Medal for Distinguished Conduct in the Field be granted, without Annuity or Gratuity, to each of the undermentioned Soldiers, in recognition of their gallant conduct on the 29th December last, in laying, under fire, charges of Dynamite against the doorway of a Temple at Trikallur, East Indies, in which a band of Moplah fanatics had taken post:

Private Thomas Rolph, 2nd Battalion, The Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment), late 2/7th Foot

Private Lewis Bessett, 1st Battalion, The Oxfordshire Light Infantry, late 43rd Foot.’

A more detailed account of the above events is to be found in the history of the 7th or Royal Regiment of Fusiliers:

‘Shortly after Captain Heron-Maxwell’s ‘B’ Company arrived at Calicut, the troops were called out against the Moplahs, a troublesome and fanatic tribe of Mahommedans on the Malabar coast. After serious riots at Malliapuram, the Moplahs fled to the hills, and took refuge in an old temple at Trekkular, which they loopholed. On the 29 December [1884], a party of Native police, supported by 50 men of ‘B’ Company, 2nd Royal Fusiliers, under Captain Heron-Maxwell, were sent against the Moplahs, who at once opened fire. It was necessary to blow in the doorway of the temple with dynamite and, while fixing the bursting charge, Private Miles, of ‘B’ Company, was shot dead. Private Ralph (sic), also of ‘B’ Company, at once took his place, and succeeded in laying the charges. The doors were blown open; whereupon the Moplahs rushing out were met with a volley, and killed or wounded almost to a man. The district was disarmed, as far as the Moplah tribe was concerned, and about 8,000 guns and rifles, and 5,000 spears and swords were brought in. For his gallantry on this occasion, Private Ralph (sic) was promoted to Lance-Corporal and awarded the Medal for Distinguished Conduct in the Field.

The following letter was received by Captain Heron-Maxwell from Sir Frederick Roberts’s Military Secretary, Lieutenant-Colonel Pole Carew, dated Commander-in-Chief’s Office, Headquarters, Madras, 8 January 1885:

‘Dear Captain Heron-Maxwell - The Chief desires me to send you his hearty congratulations on the behaviour of the officers and men of the 7th Royal Fusiliers in the little affair at Trekkular the other day. HIs Excellency particularly requests me to notify his approval of the very cool and gallant manner in which Private Ralph of your Battalion advanced and fixed a bursting charge after Private Miles was shot dead by his side. Perhaps you would kindly convey the substance of this letter to the mend under your command.’

The Times later reported that nine Moplahs were killed and another wounded, while Lieutenant Day and a Private of the Oxfordshire Light Infantry were wounded, in addition to the loss of Private Miles of the Fusiliers.

Thomas Rolph, who was born Morton in the Marsh, Gloucestershire, circa 1865, first appears in regimental musters on his arrival in India from England in November 1882. Following his D.C.M.-winning exploits, he was employed at Wellington Sanatorium and Cantonment in Madras Presidency, and was advanced to Corporal in February 1888. No further mention of him appears in the musters after this date, but he is known to have found employment as a labourer on leaving the Army, and was residing with his wife, two step sons and three daughters, at Clayton Buildings, Lambeth, in 1901. Ten years later, according to the relevant Census, he was residing in Spencer Street, Southall, and was employed as General Dealer, while his wife worked as a Certified Midwife. Rolph died at Brentford, Middlesex, in September 1934.