Christian Ferdinand Schiess (Natal Native Contingent). He was born on 7 April 1856, Burgdorf, Bern Canton, Switzerland. His place of origin was Herisau, Canton Appenzall Ausserrhoden. He died in poverty on board 'Serapis' on route to England, his passage being paid for by public subscription. He was unable to find employment in South Africa, even from the British authorities, and it was said of him later that had he mentioned that he had been involved at Rorke's Drift, and had indeed won a Victoria Cross, then the men he knew may well have had a different attitude to him - Still, it was too late then.
Directions to Memorial
Buried at sea
off the coast of Angola having died on 14th. December 1884 en route
There were some
reports of him being spoken to in Allahabad, India by a Capt. Penn-Symons
in November 1891. However, the recorded details of the location
of his burial at sea, 13°00S/07°24W 1,376Km. N.E. of Helena suggest
a more accurate account of his death.
with problems to his feet, he displayed great gallantry when the
garrison had retired to the inner line when the Zulus were upon
the mealie bags. He crept along the wall to dislodge them, killing
three before returning to the inner defences. He was 22 at the time
of the defence.
in the French army before sailing from Hamburg to East London South
Africa in 1877. He volunteered and served in the 9th Frontier War.
Colonel Durnford appointed him a Corporal in the 2nd Battalion,
Natal Native Contingent.
Because of his
ill-fitting boots, he found himself in the hospital at Rorke's
Drift on 22 January 1879. After much pressure, he was awarded
the VC - the first to a soldier serving with South Africa forces.
He received the VC from Sir Garnet Wolseley at a special parade
in Pietermaritzburg on 3 February 1880.
aboard which Schiess died.
Image supplied by John Young
After the disbandment
of the volunteer forces, he failed to find work. In 1884, he was
found on the streets of Cape Town suffering from exposure and malnutrition.
The Royal Navy found him, gave him food, and offered him a passage
to England, which he accepted, but he became ill during the voyage.
He died on board ship on 14 December 1884 aged 28, and is buried
at sea off the coast of Angola. His VC was with him when he died.
It is now on display in the National Army Museum in London.