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Hook of Rorke's Drift

Johnson, Barry.C.
Bartletts Press, ISBN 0951711555

Hook of Rorke's Drift__________________________________________________________________________________

I first saw this book listed on the website, and was surprised that there should be enough material on Hook for a full-length biography, given the paucity of documentary evidence normally available for working-class individuals - and indeed there is little even in Hook's case, especially for the first half of his life. The bulk of this text actually describes in detail the sectors of Victorian society in which Hook operated - the rural s.w. Midlands, the military, the British Museum. Most relevantly, there is much material here on the organisation and training of the three branches of the post-Cardwell army - militia, regulars, volunteers - in each of which he served; both the life of the ordinary soldier and the characters of the principal figures of the day are presented vividly and convincingly, and there are solid accounts of the last Frontier and Zulu wars. Hook himself, an intriguing and in some ways contradictory character, at times almost drops out of sight, and there are no surprising revelations here concerning the puzzles in his story (such as the ending of his first marriage and whether or not he went to London before joining the 24th. Foot), but what there is by way of record, surmise and folklore about him is clearly set out and discussed. Discreet use of contemporary sources and explanations of technicalities, together with a very clear and precise style, make this a very readable and informative account, and, although not generously illustrated, it contains some interesting contemporary photographs.

J.R.Gregson . August 2006