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DateOriginal Topic
17th January 2005Rev Smith of Rorke's Drift
By Andy Lee
I understand there is a suggestion that the Rev Smith was given the choice between a Victoria Cross or some sort of church commission for his actions at Rorke's Drift. I know from a friend of Cannon Lumis that he believed in this theory but does anyone else have any views on this matter.


17th January 2005Martin Everett
Dear Andy,
I think you have to leave the 11 recommendations for Rorke's Drift as they stand. How can we speculate what someone may or may not have said in conversation 126 years ago?

I believe that we tend today regard the award of VC in 1879 in the way that it regarded today. What was more important in 1879 to the average soldier was the £10 per annum for life rather than the status of the award. Furthermore I do hold with the idea of a type of 'plea bargaining'. Canon Lummis (correct spelling!) says that Smith was appointed Chaplian to the Forces in the Army Chaplains' Department on 1 January 1880 in recognition of his actions at RD (page 63) (this was the equivalent to an army commission.
17th January 2005Peter Ewart

Yes, the suggestion has surfaced from time to time but I have never been shown a single piece of evidence for it. Indeed, the evidence I do have indicates quite the opposite, and those who are experts on the VC or gallantry awards generally ridicule the idea.

His decision to apply for a position fascinates me, however. One of his obits infers that Archibald Forbes suggested the idea but no more detail is given. What is certain is that the exchanges between Smith, Brackenbury & the WO in Aug 1879 were rushed through because there was a strict age limit for accepting new army chaplains & his next birthday was a problem.

One or two of his previous colleagues raised the matter of an award for Smith via the newspapers (as did friends of other RD defenders) but I wouldn't say there was a press campaign.

It is often forgotten that Smith turned his back on what he had thrown himself into a few years back and his leaving the missionary field cannot have been a small step.

Some of Lummis's statements are definitely incorrect (and have unfortunately but understandably been relied upon by some AZW historians) and some of his research has to be described as a bit patchy, although he was very elderly at the time. He ignored all of Smith's youth & young life, which has encouraged me to research it myself and I have been able to discover a great deal about him as a young man and also his doings and travels in later life, apart from his various postings.

17th January 2005Mike Snook

Padre Smith did nothing to warrant the award of a gallantry decoration. Indeed he would have left the post with the Reverend Witt, but for the fact that his groom had made off with his horse whilst he was on top of Shiyane.


17th January 2005Peter Ewart
Quites so, Mike. His assistance with the distribution of ammunition and his encouragement (and admonishing!) of the men put him in no more danger than anyone else, nor would I assume it was any more than one would expect from an army chaplain in a similar situation.

He is praised by the men in one or two accounts (& mentioned in Chard's report if I remember correctly but I'm not checking now) and clearly did well - but so did more than 100 others. He was conspicious for obvious reasons during the engagement because he was "different."

He clearly put himself about during the aftermath, comforting the wounded, talking about (and collecting?) their experiences, etc - again, as one would expect. The thing about Smith and his high profile in the Rorke's Drift story is that his report(s) on the affair are among the two or three most detailed and lengthy, and are relied upon by us for much of the understanding of the events which took place.

I have never read a single word of criticism of Smith by anyone who came into contact with him, from his 20s to his 70s (which is not necessarily the same as saying no one ever criticised him) and there is no doubt he had the most engaging personality and, in many different ways, he was undoubtedly a remarkable man from an early age. A typically determined and earnest Victorian.

And yet, I have long had the uncomfortable suspicion (no more than that) that he was not completely averse to a little discreet self-advertisement. His long report of the defence was compiled almost immediately - as soon as writing paper arrived from Maritzburg. He knocked off a report & sent it to the press there in no time. Although it was published anonymously (and is often even today described as anonymous but "presumed to be by Smith" even though Chard clearly identified Smith in his own covering letter to the local press which published his own report) but from the time it was published he never looked back.

Neither his "alma mater" nor the missionary society he represented in Natal ever published a word of disappointment of their loss (the army's gain) despite their desperate need of men & their long investment in him - quite the opposite, in fact. They "milked" it for years afterwards and even Frere, a strong supporter of both bodies, encouraged them in this. And yet it was a serious wastage at a crucial time & cannot have been welcome news in 1879, especially as his mission was not one of those abandoned in 1878 as a result of the tension between Cetshwayo & the missionaries.

I also wonder what his fellow missionaries in Kaffraria, Natal and Zululand thought, as each laboured on for decades with mixed results until their health broke, while he breezed in to see them 25 years later during his brief Harrismith sojourn and fired off postcards to all & sundry from a round-the-world cruise during his 60s.

And who was it who provided de Neuville with much of the detail he needed, in "return" for a prominent place in the picture and a large personal copy for himself? Now I'm beginning to sound uncharitable. I'd probably forgive him if I found him appearing in a single cricket match but - unlike so many of his colleagues & friends - I can't!

18th January 2005Julian Whybra
People are not given a 'choice' when it comes to a V.C.
18th January 2005Mark Beaumont
Julian, it is suggested elsewhere on this site that CS Bourne was given such a choice . Is that not correct ? Mark
18th January 2005Mark Beaumont
Sorry just seen the earlier posts on Bourne !
20th January 2005Andy Lee

You could not be more wrong - what about 'when chosen by ballot'