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Cpl. 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.

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Buried at sea off the coast of Angola having died on 14th. December 1884 en route to England.

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, 1300S/0724W 1,376Km. N.E. of Helena suggest a more accurate account of his death.

Rough location can be found on Google Earth at:



Plaque on display at Rorke's Drift Museum, Natal, South Africa

Front of VC Medal
Kindly supplied by Rafael von Waldburg Zeil

Rear of VC Medal
Kindly supplied by Rafael von Waldburg Zeil

Please click here to zoom in to the back of the medal to view the inscription...


Why was he awarded the Victoria Cross?

Despite suffering 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.

Further Information

Schiess served 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.

The Seraphis, 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.

Further Information supplied by the South Wales Borderers Museum, Brecon.