A museum in Kent has acquired three items relating to Lieutenant John Chard, remembered for his role in the Battle of Rorke’s Drift – one of Britain’s most famous military victories.
The Royal Engineers Museum, based in Gillingham, managed to secure the artefacts at auction at the end of last year thanks to financial support from more than 700 members of the public, as well as serving and retired Royal Engineers.
On 22 January 1879, during the Anglo-Zulu War, thousands of British soldiers were massacred at Isandlwana having been outmanoeuvred by Zulu forces. However, a vulnerable garrison nearby at Rorke’s Drift defended itself against attack, despite being heavily outnumbered.
A young Lieutenant John Chard of the Royal Engineers, along with Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead, successfully repulsed 4,000 Zulu warriors with fewer than 150 men. Chard was, along with ten other soldiers, later awarded the Victoria Cross for heroism.
At the auction, the museum acquired three lots belonging to Chard: a small archive of material relating to his life; a manuscript copy concerning the battle (probably written by one of his sisters); and surveying and drawing instruments in a wooden case belonging to the Lieutenant.
The museum said it was particularly pleased to have acquired the instruments, which they said ‘brilliantly’ represented the ‘professionalism’ of the engineers’ work. However, it also expressed regret at being unable to secure Chard’s manuscript report of the battle itself, or his personal photograph album, due to tough competition at Bonhams’ sale in London last December.
‘We are really very happy to have secured these historic items for the Corps,’ said Rebecca Nash, Museum Director. ‘They will bring the events of the Battle of Rorke’s Drift to life for our many visitors, enrich our understanding of a remarkable man, and inspire future generations of Royal Engineers.’
As well as being on public display, the items will be available to researchers later this summer with the opening of the museum’s new research centre. The institution is Kent’s largest military museum, with a collection including 25 Victoria Crosses, several Zulu weapons, Wellington’s map of Waterloo, and an unexploded V-2 rocket, among other items.