Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (1 & 2 March 2017)

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Date of Auction: 1st & 2nd March 2017

Sold for £11,000

Estimate: £10,000 - £12,000

The unique Boer War D.S.O. and Albert Medal for Sea group of six awarded to Lieutenant-Colonel E. D. Thornburgh Cropper, West Kent Militia and Imperial Yeomanry, who was awarded the Albert Medal and Royal Humane Society Medal for gallantly trying to save the life of a waiter who had fallen overboard from the S.S. Idaho in San Francisco Bay on 6 August 1878, by diving into the treacherous Bay after him. Subsequently serving in Africa, he was Mentioned in Despatches for his conduct at Ulundi during the Zulu War, and again during the Boer War, where he was dangerously wounded in December 1900, awarded the D.S.O., and died three months later. Only 12 Albert Medals for Sea have been awarded to the Army, and Thornburgh Cropper’s A.M. is unique for an act of gallantry in the United States of America

Distinguished Service Order, V.R., silver-gilt and enamel, with integral top riband bar; Albert Medal, 2nd Class, for Gallantry in Saving Life at Sea, bronze and enamel, reverse officially engraved ‘Presented in the name of Her Majesty to Captain E. D .Thornburgh Cropper of the West Kent Militia for attempting to save the life of Thomas Nolan of Steam Ship “Idaho” on 6th. August 1878.’, reverse of the crown with maker’s cartouché Phillips, Cockspur St., and officially numbered ‘No. 41’, with originally-ordained narrow riband; Jubilee 1897, silver (Captain E. D. Cropper. Pembroke Yeomanry Cavalry.); South Africa 1877-79, 1 clasp, 1879 (Capt. E. D. Thornburgh Cropper A.D.C.); Queen’s South Africa 1899-1902, 2 clasps, Cape Colony, Orange Free State (Major E. D. Thornburgh Cropper. 30/Co. Imp. Yeo.) re-engraved naming; Royal Humane Society, small bronze medal (unsuccessful) (Capt. E. D. Thornburgh Cropper. 6th. Aug. 1878) with top bronze riband buckle, mounted court-style for display purposes, dent to convex reverse of AM, otherwise very fine and better (6)


Provenance: Payne Collection 1911; W. F. Hughes Collection; Edkins Collection, Glendining’s, September 1986

D.S.O. London Gazette 26 September 1901.

A.M. London Gazette 5 June 1879:

‘At 11 a.m. on 6th August, 1878, as the steamship “Idaho”, belonging to the Pacific Coast Steamship Company, was in the act of crossing the bar of San Francisco Bay, outward bound, about two miles from the shore, Thomas Nolan, a coloured waiter, threw himself overboard. Immediately there was a cry of “a man overboard”, and Captain Cropper, a passenger, without a moment’s hesitation, threw off his coast and waistcoat, rushed to the stern, and jumped overboard. Although Captain Cropper made a most gallant attempt to reach the drowning man, Nolan sank before he was reached. Captain Cropper was subsequently picked up by the steamer’s lifeboat, after being in the water five-and-twenty minutes. The steamship was going eight knots at the time, and there was a high sea running with a westerly wind.’

Royal Humane Society Case No. 20514:

‘At 11 a.m. on 6th August 1878, in San Francisco Bay, North America, Captain E. D. T. Cropper, West Kent Militia, jumped overboard into a rough sea 8 fathoms deep and 2 miles from the shore and swam through water towards the drowning man, Thomas Nolan, a Negro waiter from the S.S “Idaho”, but he sank before being reached and was drowned. Cropper then undressed in the water and waited forty minutes until he was picked up by a boat.’

Edward Denman Thornburgh Cropper was born at Swaylands, Kent, in 1855, and educated at Eton. Commissioned Sub-Lieutenant in the West Kent Militia on 20 May 1875, he was advanced to Captain on 20 March 1878.

In August 1878, Thornburgh Cropper, having married a Californian lady by the name of Virginia in 1874 (although records about their marriage were destroyed in the earthquake and fire of 1906), and whilst a passenger on board the 1,077 ton, 3 deck steamship Idaho, two miles from the shore in the Bay of San Francisco, made an unsuccessful attempt to rescue the life of a suicidal crewman who had thrown himself overboard. For his unsuccessful attempt to rescue the crewman, and one where it was considered that the risk of death to Thornburgh Cropper exceeded his chances of survival, he was awarded both the Albert Medal and the Royal Humane Society’s Bronze Medal, the latter being sent to him in February 1879.

Thornburgh Cropper returned from America and served throughout the Zulu War as orderly officer and extra Aide-de-Camp to Sir Evelyn Wood, V.C., and was present at Ulundi and with the flying column. He was Mentioned in Despatches (London Gazette 21 August 1879), in which it is stated that he and Colonel the Hon. R. Needham, as orderly officers, ‘have worked continuously in assisting to get the column transport forward on the line of march’. He retired from the West Kent Militia on 29 January 1881, and was appointed a Captain in the Royal Pembroke Artillery on 29 June of that year. During the First Boer War in 1881 he again served as orderly officer to Sir Evelyn Wood, and was again Mentioned in Despatches. Following his return from South Africa he transferred to the Pembroke Yeomanry as a Lieutenant on 19 August 1885, and was promoted Captain on 15 June 1893.

Having reportedly served in the Spanish-American War in Cuba, Thornburgh Cropper was gazetted a Captain with the 30th (Pembrokeshire) Company, 9th Battalion Imperial Yeomanry, and served during the South African War. He was dangerously wounded near Bethlehem, in the Orange Free State, on 29 December 1900, most likely having fallen victim to the Boer’s isolated but effective guerrilla tactics and dumdum bullets. The following month he was promoted Major and honorary Lieutenant-Colonel in the Pembroke Yeomanry Cavalry.

Mentioned in Lord Roberts’ Despatch (London Gazette 10 September 1901), and created a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order for his services in South Africa, tragically Thornburgh Cropper did not live to receive either award, dying on 29 March 1901 from influenza and pneumonia whilst recuperating in London from an operation, presumably related to the severe wound he had received exactly three months previously. Described by an officer who knew him well, ‘he was an exceedingly popular officer in “club-land”, and also in the county. He has been described as one of the “Dare Devils” in the British Army.’

Sold together with a letter from the Royal Humane Society giving details as to the case; and a photographic image of Sir Evelyn Wood surrounded by his staff officers.

12 Albert Medals for Sea have been awarded to the Army. In addition, only 18 Albert Medals have been awarded for acts of gallantry in North America, 17 in Canada, and this unique award for gallantry in the United States of America.

Note: Lieutenant-Colonel Thornburgh Cropper’s original Queen’s South Africa Medal (which would have been issued posthumously to his next of kin is in Newarke House Museum in Leicester.