The latest Rorke’s Drift defender medal (South Africa Medal 1877-79) to be offered by London saleroom Dix Noonan Webb (20% buyer’s premium) sold for £60,000 on July 19. Consigned by a UK private collector with an estimate of £40,000- 50,000, it went to an overseas collector.
It was awarded to Corporal James Bushe, 2nd Battalion 24th Foot. He was wounded in the nose during the defence by a bullet which had just killed Private Cole, and he was mentioned by Lt John Chard in his account of the action specially written for Queen Victoria.
Bushe was one of only 10 survivors of the 24th Foot who were wounded in the defence of Rorke’s Drift, four of whom won the Victoria Cross.
Last December, DNW offered a South Africa Medal awarded to Private Michael Minehan which sold for £70,000 – an auction record for a Rorke’s Drift medal that stood for just three months.
DNW broke the record again, when the medal awarded to Driver Charles Robson, Royal Engineers, sold for £110,000.
“The price of Zulu War medals – like those for other campaigns – are very much dependent on the story behind them,” says specialist Mark Quayle.
“Medals to Rorke’s Drift defenders are always at the top of the price league – there were only 150 men there – but the £110,000 price paid in March reflected Robson’s role as batman to Lt Chard. He was at the side of the commanding officer at Rorke’s Drift throughout the battle.”
Medals awarded to men who were at Isandhlwana, the disaster that preceded Rorke’s Drift, also fetch a premium.
In the July 19 sale, the South Africa Medal awarded to Pte Michael Campbell, 24th Foot, who was killed at Isandhlwana, sold on low estimate at £6000. Another awarded to Isandhlwana survivor Trooper W Sibthorpe, Natal Carbinners, also made £6000, but this was four-times top estimate.
Quayle has noticed a recent renewed interest in Zulu War medals further down the price echelon.
“Some new collectors have come into the market so it has been very buoyant.”