Teignmouth Melvill VC

b. 08/09/1842 Marylebone, London. d. 22/01/1879 Buffalo River, South Africa.

Teignmouth Melvill (1842-1879) was born at 4 Clarendon Place, Marylebone, Central London on September 8, 1842, the son of Philip Melvill, Secretary in the Military Department to the East India Company. He was educated at Harrow, Cheltenham College, and Cambridge University, and he graduated with a B.A. in 1865.

Teignmouth Melvill VC

Melvill entered the Army in 1865, and became Lieutenant in December 1868. He proceeded with his regiment to Malta and then to Gibraltar. Whilst in Gibraltar he joined the Lodge of Friendship on 1 April 1874 stating that his Mother Lodge was Glittering Star Lodge No. 322 I.C. A few months later, in September 1874 another young Lieutenant from his regiment (Nevill Coghill) was initiated into Friendship. Both men called off from Friendship Lodge on the 31st December 1874 prior to their departure from the Garrison.

Melvill passed the examination for Staff College and was ordered home to join that establishment. When the Galeka War broke out he obtained permission to rejoin his regiment, and served through the suppression of the outbreak. At the commencement of the Zulu War he joined the Headquarters’ Column, and, with his regiment, took part in the attack and capture of Sirayo’s stronghold on January 13th, 1879.

Lt. Melvill was serving as adjutant of the 1st Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot (2nd Warwickshire Regiment / South Wales Borderers) during the Zulu War of 1879 in South Africa. On 22nd January 1879, the 24th Regiment of Foot was involved in the Battle of Isandhlwana. 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.

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.

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.

Both Melvill and Coghill’s gallant actions were mentioned in a memorandum in the London Gazette on 2nd May 1879 and it stated “they would have been recommended to Her Majesty for the Victoria Cross had they survived.” It would be twenty-eight years later, in 1907, following an amendment to the Royal Warrant of the Victoria Cross permitting the award of posthumous awards, that saw both men recognised. It was officially announced in the London Gazette on 15th January 1907. Melvill’s medals are held by the South Wales Borderers Museum, Brecon, Wales.