Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (17 & 18 May 2016)

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Date of Auction: 17th & 18th May 2016

Sold for £19,000

Estimate: £10,000 - £12,000

‘I would especially mention Sergeant Sharkey who with a party of five men held an exposed position on the roof during the whole siege, keeping the look out, informing me of every movement of the rebels and putting down fire from their position on the Stony Koppie with excellent effect to judge from the number of men seen to fall.’

An official report submitted by Major W. E. Montague in command at Standerton, refers, dated at Fort Alice on 29.3.1881, and addressed to General Sir Evelyn Wood (Ref. T.N.A.
WO 32/7833).
The excessively rare First Boer War D.C.M. group of three awarded to Sergeant P. Sharkey, 94th Regiment (Connaught Rangers), a veteran of the Zulu War who was decorated for his gallant work during the siege of Standerton in December 1880 to March 1881: some twenty years later - during the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902 - he re-enlisted as a Scout in the Scottish Horse, thereby earning a possibly unique combination of awards

Distinguished Conduct Medal, V.R. (L./Sergt. P. Sharkey, 2/Conn. Rang.); South Africa 1877-79, 1 clasp, 1879 (732 Corpl. P. Sharkey, 94th Regt.); Queen’s South Africa 1899-1902, 2 clasps, Transvaal, South Africa 1901 (175 Scout P. Sharkey, Scottish Horse), the first two with tightened suspension claws, although still loose on the Zulu Medal, occasional edge bruising, otherwise nearly very fine or better (3) £10000-12000

Footnote

Just 20 D.C.Ms were awarded in respect of the First Boer War 1880-81.

D.C.M. Submitted to the Queen 14 March 1882; the original document, signed by the Queen, survives in The National Archives (a copy is included).

Patrick Sharkey was born about 1857 and appears to have been a native of Omagh in Co. Tyrone, Ireland; certainly his father was living there at the time of the census in 1901.

Zulu War and operations against the Sekukini

Sharkey was serving with the 94th Regiment (Connaught Rangers) when it disembarked from the S.S.
China at Durban in April 1879, as part of the reinforcements which arrived after the major opening battles of the Zulu War. He was subsequently present at the final battle of Ulundi, where the 94th was the only regiment in Newdigate’s Division that had six companies present and suffered casualties of two men killed and 18 wounded.

When hostilities against Sekukuni in the Lydenburg district of the Transvaal were resumed in November 1879, four companies of the 94th formed part of the 1400 Imperial troops which attacked the reputedly impregnable stronghold, assisted by 800 colonials. Sekukuni escaped after the attack on his stronghold, but he was pursued by ‘B’ Company of the 94th and captured on 2 December 1879. Two Privates of the 94th, Francis Fitzpatrick and Thomas Flawn won the Victoria Cross for rescuing and carrying out of action, Lieutenant Dewar of the King’s Dragoon Guards.

Two of the regiment’s officers were created Companions of the Order of the Bath and five were mentioned in despatches. For his own part, Sharkey was promoted Sergeant on 24 December 1880.

First Boer War - Standerton - D.C.M.

The 94th Regiment remained in South Africa after the Zulu War, and was serving at company strength on garrison duty in a number of Transvaal towns about the time of the outbreak of the First Boer War; three companies were at Standerton, namely seven officers and 250 men, Sharkey among the latter.

The remainder of the regiment was marching from Leydenberg to Pretoria when, on 20 December 1880, it was ambushed by Boers at Bronkhorst Spruit, thereby giving rise to the First Boer War. The regiment’s losses on this occasion were serious - 54 killed in action, 21 died of wounds, 77 wounded and 82 taken prisoner.

Captain Froom, who had command of the 94th’s men at Standerton, decided to make a stand there, with the support of one company of the 58th Regiment (one officer and 75 men); command devolved on Major W. E. Montague following his arrival at the end of December 1880.

The garrison improvised a heliograph out of mirrors procured locally. South of the town, the Vaal River formed a natural protection and forts were built on the surrounding koppies and outworks constructed.

A good impression of the circumstances under which the siege was conducted may be found in the following extract taken from a contemporary newspaper report:

‘Visitors described Standerton as a miserable-looking place. Without trees or gardens, the fifty-odd iron-roofed houses looked to the traveller C. L. Norris-Newman ‘as if they had been a mud-splash thrown at random on the bare veld’. The one object of interest was the octogenarian ‘General’ Stander, a sturdy Voortrekker who had fought the British at Bloomplaats [33 years earlier] and given the town its name.

Standerton sprawled on a slope which overlooked a ford across the broad, sparkling Vaal to the south. The fort in turn lay below rocky kopjes rising to the north and east, and the towering, flat-topped Stander’s Kop which guided distant travellers on the veld.

Situated midway on the main road between Newcastle and Pretoria, Standerton’s strategic importance was obvious. On 21 December two companies of the 94th and one of the 58th marched in from Wakkerstroom and began making fortifications. Major W. E. Montague was still on his way from Pietermaritzburg to take command. The assignment was not to his liking. ‘I don't want to go, sir,’ he had told Colley, ‘I dislike the Transvaal more than I can say, but if you think there is any necessity for my going, I am ready to start at an hour’s notice.’ Colley thought it vital, and advised the Major, who had an outstanding record in the Zulu War, ‘You will find Standerton an excellent position for defence, strengthen it, take care they don’t get you unawares, and hold till I come [20 January] ... we shall march together on Heidelberg.’

To escape detection by Republican patrols (who had already taken two travelling officers prisoner), Montague disguised himself as a colonial bank messenger, journeying to the Transvaal in a post cart. He had bought a slouch hat, removed his collar and tie, and left his hair unkempt and his face unwashed after shaving his moustache (which by regulation was worn by all British officers). The Boers let him pass.

Arriving on 23 December, Montague found everything ‘in the wildest confusion’. The half-built fort a mile from town was ‘all dirt and muddle’. A strict, no-nonsense-type officer, he infused discipline and organisation while more vigorous preparations were made for the defence. While the parapets of the fort were being raised, the main stone buildings in the town were loop-holed and garrisoned. Marks were laid out at certain ranges to improve the shooting. Soldiers who misbehaved were bound and lashed. Having resorted to the cat from the outset, the Major had no difficulty in maintaining the strictest discipline during the rest of the siege. Even the volunteers, whose loyalty was questionable, carried out the commander’s orders in exemplary fashion.

In the beginning there were only thirty-four volunteers serving with the 350 regulars. Others ‘came in but slowly, many making excuses for not joining’, wrote Montague. ‘Pressure became necessary.’ He brought the number of ‘volunteers’ up to seventy-five.

On finding that a firmer hand was needed than that of the local magistrate, Montague declared martial law. The food supply was ample, but when Colley did not arrive at the appointed time rationing was introduced.

Boer sympathisers were given a chance to clear out. Their deserted homes were a great temptation to looters, who were difficult to check. The small Dutch party which remained complained of, among other things, the theft of the church clock, Bibles, hymn-books and other items from their place of worship. These were later found among the effects of the men of the 94th.

The women and children were placed in a large wool-store with the windows and doors blocked up. In a few days, however, the Boers made it apparent that they were satisfied to leave the town in peace. The ‘Flea laager’, as it was called, was abandoned, and the women and children returned to their homes where the only danger was an occasional stray bullet.

Operating out of three laagers, the Boer investment was complete by the New Year. They positioned themselves on the rim of kopjes and Stander’s Kop in particular, and the British soon learned that the long-range rifle fire of the Boers could be disturbingly accurate. To draw their fire away from the fort and at the same time to show the burghers how little their shooting concerned them, Montague left the tents outside standing throughout the investment. It took the Boers some time to discover that they were unoccupied. There was some difficulty at first, in keeping the soldiers from using them. Two men were severely wounded before the order was fully obeyed. Even the officers’ tents a little farther off and partially protected by walls of the fort were not entirely safe. Traverses of boxes were placed inside the tents and the officers occupied them as little as possible.

When the soldiers went to their positions, they were allowed to run but had to keep their heads up. The military propriety of ducking when under fire was a frequent topic for discussion among the soldiers of that day. Some held that it was an un-becoming sign of weakness. They saw a relationship between ‘bobbing’ and ‘bolting’. Others insisted that under fire such movements were as involuntary as blinking the eye; and after all it might spoil the enemy’s aim and save a man’s life. Nevertheless, to the Major ‘bobbing’ was unbecoming to a British soldier. Montague himself, while walking stiffly from post to post, received a slight wound in the leg.

If the Boer fire became too warm, Montague undertook a sortie. But invariably within the hour, because of the Boers’ excellent organisation, reinforcements rode in from distant Boer posts to discourage any further action on Montague’s part.

One night a drunken Sergeant and five of his comrades boasted that they could capture Stander’s Kop. They stumbled up the slope to a place near the top and seized a post which the burghers  left unoccupied after dark. When the unsuspecting Boers returned in the morning, the six opened fire. The fire was returned, of course, and the Sergeant and his men quickly sobered when they saw the seriousness of their position. Montague had to stage a diversion to bring them down safely to the fort. The fort was now called Alice - because ‘so many of us had an Alice we loved at home.’

To frighten the Boers from advanced positions, Montague ordered the construction of a dummy gun. This ‘gun’, fashioned from wood, painted black, and mounted on wagon wheels, was ‘prepared with much ostentation’. To give it a bark, four rifles were fixed underneath and fired simultaneously by strings connected to their triggers. The mere preparation of the dummy for ‘firing’ usually had the desired effect of driving off the burghers.

When the Boer patriots left Standerton on the eve of the conflict, they vowed to return and to whip the soldiers out of town. Unlike Potchefstroom, however, the siege was never pushed with vigour. The Boer commander, Lombaard, was less than Cronje, but then it appears that the men he had at his disposal were far fewer in number than the defenders.’

On 4 January 1881, the garrison made its first sortie, the intention being to occupy Stander’s Kop from where the enemy fire had proved annoying. An attempt to surprise the Boer piquet which occupied this height by day and was supposed to sleep in a farmhouse beneath the hill at night, ended in the raiding party being themselves surprised by a party of Boers. A second sortie was made by the garrison on 7 February, when the mounted men attacked a small fortification occupied by about 60 Boers some two miles away. Reinforcements to the threatened fortification were ambushed by the raiding sortie. On 7 March the garrison repulsed a determined attack made by the Boers from the south.

Officers bearing an official message from Sir Evelyn Wood rode into the town on 25 March and so ended the siege, which lasted 88 days, bringing to a conclusion a well sustained resistance with casualties amounting to five killed.

In his official report on the proceedings of the siege, dated at Fort Alice on 29 March 1881, Major Montague drew Major-General Sir Evelyn Wood’s notice to Sharkey’s gallant work:

‘I would especially mention Sergeant Sharkey who with a party of five men held an exposed position on the roof during the whole siege, keeping the look out, informing me of every movement of the rebels and putting down fire from their position on the Stony Koppie with excellent effect to judge from the number of men seen to fall.’

Montague refers to Starkey’s gallant deeds for a second time in closing his report:

‘To Captain Campion, 94th, in charge of the detachment quartered in the town and of the Forts surrounding, the Major wishes to express especial thanks; as well as to Colour-Sergeant Conway, 58th and Sergeant Sharkey, 94th, for the able way in which they kept him continually acquainted with all movements of the attacking force, and he considers that the security the Garrison enjoyed was largely attributed to their vigilance. In bringing the conduct of the Garrison to the notice of the Major-General commanding the troops he will not fail to mention the work done by these two gallant N.C.Os.’

Sharkey was duly recommended for the D.C.M., the relevant report being submitted to the Queen and approved in March 1882; an extensive account of the 94th’s time in South Africa 1879-1882 is recorded in four chapters of Jourdain’s regimental history.

Awards for gallant and distinguished services during the First Boer War amounted to six V.Cs; one C.B. - to Major Montague; four R.R.Cs; one C.G.M. and 20 D.C.Ms. No campaign medal, however, was issued.

Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902

Sharkey purchased his discharge in January 1882, ending full service with the Colours of four years and 94 days; this was the same date on which the 94th vacated Richmond Road Barracks in Pietermaritzburg to commence the journey home to England.

Following the advent of the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902, he attested at Dundee as a Scout in the Scottish Horse in January 1901. The regiment saw considerable action in the Eastern Transvaal and suffered heavy casualties at Moedwil on 30 September 1901 and at Brakenlaagte on 30 October 1901. Earlier, in the action fought at Vlakfontein on 3 July 1901, Lieutenant W. J. English of the Scottish Horse won the V.C. For his own part, Sharkey, who had at some time also served in the East Griqualand Mounted Volunteers, took his discharge in November 1901; his mailing address on the medal roll is given as ‘Rorke’s Drift P.O., Natal’.

Sold with copied research, including the recipient’s attestation form for the Scottish Horse and copy of the relevant Q.S.A. roll entry.