SOUTH AFRICA 1877-79, ONE CLASP, 1879 ‘LIEUT: T. PURVIS NATAL NATIVE CONTINGENT.’
Thomas Purvis, aged 27 was commissioned Lieutenant into Hamilton Browne’s 1st Battalion 3rd Regiment of Natal Native Contingent (1/3 NNC) on 3rd December 1878. His battalion was one of the units that formed Colonel Glynn’s Centre Column (accompanied by Lord Chelmsford), crossing the Mzinyathi river into Zululand on 11th January 1879.
On 12th January, two detachments from Glyn’s column, consisting of four Companies of the 1/24th Foot, 1/3 NNC, with all mounted troops and a second of half a battalion of the 2/24th, with four companies of 2/3 NNC, set of to assault Sihayo´s Kraal. The force with the 1/24th were to set off first and the 2/24th force were to leave later by a different route and link up for the assault. However about a mile from Sihayo´s Kraal, the 1/24th force came across a large force of Zulu’s who had taken a herd of cattle into the steep cliffs of Negedla Hill and it was decided to attack the Zulu’s here.
Hamilton Browne’s 1/3 NNC were formed to make a frontal assault on the position, with the 1/24th companies supporting them. The mounted troops were ascend the hill from the other side in order to cut off any Zulu’s trying to escape. According to Colour Sergeant Edwards, 1/24th;
‘We paraded at 4.30 am, After going about six miles we came across the enemy in a large mountain surrounded by a dense bush. We crossed a river up to our knees in water, the extended in skirmish order through the bush. We were then ordered to loose our ammunition but not to fire unless they fired on us. We hadn’t gone very far before the commenced firing at us from the rocks. We wheeled around to our right and let then have it proper’
On attacking the Zulu positions, a short, sharp melee among the boulders took place between NNC and Zulu’s, before Sihayo´s retainers broke and fled, leaving 20 dead men behind. Two natives of 1/3 NNC had been killed during this action and six wounded. Lieutenant Purvis had been shot through the arm advancing on the Zulu positions and Corporal Mayer was slashed behind the knee by an assegai whilst prisoners were being collected together. As such Lieutenant Purvis had the dubious honour of being the first Imperial Forces battle casualty of the Zulu War.
The second 2/24th force was then ordered to go on and assault Sihayo´s Kraal itself, which was believed to be heavily fortified. However it was found to be deserted and was put to the torch. There were no casualties.
The wounded Purvis and Meyer were joined in the ambulance for the trip back to the hospital at Rorke´s Drift by two wounded survivors of Sihayo´s party, one with a thigh broken by a rifle bullet. Whilst being nursed at the hospital Purvis also started to suffer from an acute form of dysentery and when news of Isandhlwana was brought to Rorkes Drift, Captain Stevenson, who’s company of the Natal Native Contingent was based at Rorkes Drift, was ordered to take Purvis to Helpmaaker. Purvis was apparently in a very bad state, only just being able to mount his horse, the pair would leave just prior to the legendary action took place. This probably saved Purvis’s life, because in such a bad state he may well have ended up as one of those unfortunates to die in the hospital during the battle.
At Maritzburg, Purvis had a medical examination (a copy of the proceedings is included with the lot), in which it was concluded that his wound was the equivalent to the loss of a limb and that he would be unlikely to be fit enough for military service again.
Sold with a copy of Keith Smith’s article ‘Gunfight at Sihayo’s Kraal’, a 1992 letter from the late Terry Sole regarding Purvis’s medal, copies of the medical reports on Purvis’s and other research.
Condition GVF. Nice toning and a superb and rare medal. The only other medal to a casualty at Sihayo´s Kraal is Corporal Meyer’s. However he stayed on at Rorkes Drift during the battle itself.