Nevill Josiah Aylmer Coghill

24th Regiment

22nd January 1879
Nevill Josiah Aylmer Coghill

Lieutenant Nevill Josiah Aylmer Coghill, 24th Regiment

Zulu War 1879

    Lieutenant Coghill had been told to act as galloper to Colonel Glyn on the unfortunate reconnaissance made from Isandlwana Camp, on January 22, 1879, but that officer, seeing he was quite lame, insisted he should remain behind and nurse his knee, injured while out foraging a few days before. He therefore remained in the camp, which, as soon as the Zulus had drawn off Lord Chelmsford and the main body of our troops, was attacked by an impi of 25,000 men, completely surrounded, and practically annihilated.

   Colonel Pulleine, who was in command, seeing the desperate state of affairs, called to Lieutenant and Adjutant Melvill to take the Queen's colour of the regiment and endeavour to cut his way through the mass of Zulus, to prevent its falling into the enemy's hands. This order Lieutenant Melvill proceeded to carry out, and, with Lieutenant Coghill, spurred his horse over the rocky and dangerous ground to the Buffalo River, six miles distant. The direction chosen was the only one possible which gave any hope of success, for the road to Rorke's Drift was now seen completely blocked by dense masses of Zulus. As it was, they had to fight nearly the whole way, for the enemy, whose running powers enabled them to keep up with the horses, were assagaing from the saddle most of the fugitives who had followed these officers. In company with one mounted soldier, Melvill and Coghill reached the Buffalo and plunged in, the soldier being at once carried away by the whirling stream and drowned. Coghill reached the Natal side in safety, and, turning round, saw Melvill, whose horse had been drowned, being carried down by the rushing torrent, and that the colour he had tried so hard to save, had been wrenched from his grasp and was floating away down the river. Though unable to walk owing to his injured knee, and knowing, as he did, that any accident to his horse meant certain death to him, with safety and life at hand if he chose to take them, yet Coghill refused to consider himself, and, turning his horse's head, rode back again into the stream to Melvill's assistance. The Zulus kept up a hot fire upon both men, and shortly afterwards Coghill's horse was shot. With the greatest difficulty both managed to reach and climb the steep bank, and took shelter beneath some huge boulders. Higginson, an officer of the Natal Native Contingent, who had succeeded in escaping thus far from Isandlwana, saw them at this point and joined them, but both Melvill and Coghill persuaded him to save himself by flight, as, being unarmed, he could render no assistance and, when discovered, would only add another to the two lives whose tide was so nearly at the ebb.

   Leaving them, he had gone some distance, when he heard shots fired, and, looking round, saw them both surrounded by Zulus. Of their actual end no living man has ever borne witness, but when the search party under Major Black discovered the bodies of these brave men, a ring of dead Zulus around them bore silent testimony that they had sold their lives dearly and had fought it out to the last.

   The Queen, whose colour these officers had died to save, was quick to recognize such heroic bravery, and sent two wreaths  to be placed on the arms of the cross which marks their grave by the Buffalo River, and later presented to the 24th Regiment a silver wreath to be hung on the colour pole for ever, upon which were inscribed four names :—Bromhead and Chard, of Rorke's Drift, and Melvill and Coghill, of Isandlwana.



Report of COLONEL GLYN, C.B,. commanding No. 3 Column, to Lord Chelmsford, commanding the Forces in South Africa, showing how the Queen's Colour of the 1st Batt. 24th Foot, which had been lost on January 22, has since been recovered, and giving an account of the gallant behaviour of Lieutenant and Adjutant Melvill and Lieutenant Coghill of that Regiment until they met their deaths in the endeavour to save this Colour from falling into the enemy's hands.

Rork's Drift, Buffalo River
February 21, 1879.

     I have the honour to report that on January 22 last, when the camp at Isandlwana was attacked by the enemy, the Queen's Colour of the 1st Btn. 24th Regiment was in the camp, the head-quarters and five companies of the regiment being there also.
    From all the information I have been since able to obtain, it would appear that when the enemy had got into the camp, and when there was no longer any hope left of saving it, the Adjutant of the 1st Btn., Lieutenant Melvill, departed from the camp on horseback, carrying the Colour with him in hope of being able to save it.
    The only road to Rorke's Drift being already in possession of the enemy, Lieutenant Melvill and the few others who still remained alive struck across country for the Buffalo river, which it was necessary to cross to reach a point of safety. In taking this line, the only one possible, ground had to be gone over which, from its ruggedness and precipitous nature, would under ordinary circumstances, it is reported, be deemed almost utterly impossible for mounted men.
    During a distance of about six miles Lieutenant Melvill and his companions were closely pursued, or, more properly speaking, accompanied by a large number of the enemy, who, from their well-known agility in getting over rough ground, were able to keep up with our people though the latter were mounted, so that the enemy kept up a constant fire on them, and sometimes even got close enough to assegai the men and horses.
    Lieutenant Melvill reached the bank of the Buffalo and at once plunged in, horse and all ; but being encumbered with the Colour, which is an awkward thing to carry even on foot, and the river being full and running rapidly, he appears to have got separated from his horse when he was about half-way across.
    He still, however, held on resolutely to the Colour, and was being carried down stream when he was washed against a large rock in the middle of the river. Lieutenant Higginson, of the Natal Native Contingent, who had also lost his horse in the river, was clinging to this rock, and Lieutenant Melvill called to him to lay hold of the Colour. This Lieutenant Higginson did, but the current was so strong that both officers, with the Colour, were again washed away into still water.
    In the meantime Lieutenant Coghill, 1st Btn. 24th Regiment, my orderly officer, who had been left in camp that morning when the main body of the Force moved out, on account of a severe injury to his knee, which rendered him unable to move without assistance, had also succeeded in gaining the river bank, in company with Lieutenant Melvill. He too had plunged at once into the river, and his horse had carried him safely across, but on looking round for Lieutenant Melvill and seeing him struggling to save the Colour in the river, he at once turned his horse and rode back into the stream again to Lieutenant Melvill's assistance.
   It would appear that now the enemy had assembled in considerable force along their own bank, and had opened a heavy fire on our people, directing it more especially on Lieutenant Melvill, who wore a red patrol jacket. So that when Lieutenant Coghill got into the river again, his horse was almost immediately killed by a bullet. Lieutenant Coghill was thus cast loose in the stream also, and, notwithstanding the exertions of both these gallant officers, the Colour was carried off from them, and they themselves gained the bank in a state of extreme exhaustion.
    It would appear that they now attempted to move up the hill from the river bank towards Helpmakaar, but must have been too much exhausted to go on, as they were seen to sit down to rest again. This, I sorely regret to say, was the last time these two most gallant officers were seen alive.
    It was not for some days after the 22nd that I could gather any information as to the probable fate of these officers. But immediately I discovered in what direction those who had escaped from Isandlwana had crossed the Buffalo I sent, under Major Black, 2nd Btn. 24th Regiment, a mounted party, who volunteered for this service, to search for any trace that might be found of them.
    This search was successful, and both bodies were found where they were last seen as above indicated. Several dead bodies of the enemy were found about them, so that they must have sold their lives dearly at the last.
    As it was considered that the dead weight of the Colour would cause it to sink in the river, it was hoped that a diligent search in the locality where the bodies of these officers were found might lead to its discovery. So Major Black again proceeded on the 4th inst. to prosecute this search.
    His energetic efforts were, I am glad to say, crowned with success, and the Colour, with the ornaments, case, etc., belonging to it were found, though in different places in the river bed.
    I cannot conclude this report without drawing the attention of His Excellency the Lieut.-General Commanding, in the most impressive manner which words can command, to the noble and heroic conduct of Lieutenant and Adjutant Melvill, who did not hesitate to encumber himself with the Colour of the Regiment in his resolve to save it, at a time when the camp was in the hands of the enemy and its gallant defenders killed to the last man in its defence, and when there appeared but little prospect that any exertions that Lieutenant Melvill could make would enable him to save even his own life. Also, later on, to the noble perseverance with which, when struggling between life and death in the river, his chief thoughts to the last were bent on the saving of the Colour.
    Similarly, I would draw His Excellency's attention to the equally noble and gallant conduct of Lieutenant Coghill, who did not hesitate for an instant to return, unsolicited, and ride again into the river, under a heavy fire of the enemy, to the assistance of his friend, though at the time he was wholly incapacitated from walking, and but too well aware that any accident that might separate him from his horse must be fatal to him.
    In conclusion I would add that both these officers gave up their lives in the truly noble task of endeavouring to save from the enemy's hands the Queen's Colour of their Regiment, and, greatly though their sad end is to be deplored, their deaths could not have been more noble or more full of honour.

I have, etc.,
(Signed) R. T. GLYN,
Colonel Commanding 3rd Column.  




Horse Guards
War office

  April 21, 1879
From SIR M. A. DILLON, Major-General, Military Secretary.
To Sir John Joscelyn Coghill, Bart.

   I am directed by the Field Marshal Commanding-in-Chief to inform you that His Royal Highness perused with melancholy interest the report forwarded to him by Lord Chelmsford from Colonel Glyn, showing how the Queen's Colour of the 1st Battalion 24th Foot would have fallen into the hand of the enemy on January 22 but for the gallant behaviour of your son Lieutenant Coghill, and Adjutant Melvill of that Regiment.
  His Royal Highness, in communicating this Dispatch to you, desires me to assure you of his sincere sympathy with you in the loss of your son, whose gallant death in the successful effort to save the Colour of his Regiment has gained him the admiration of the Army.
   It is gratifying to His Royal Highness to inform you that if your son had survived it was Her Majesty's intention to confer upon him the Victoria Cross, and a notification to that effect will be made in the London Gazette.

I have the honour, etc., etc.,
(Signed) M. A. Dillon, M.- Genl.


Nevill Josiah Aylmer Coghill eldest son of Sir John Joscelyn Coghill, Bart., J.P., of Castle Townshend, Co. Cork, Ireland, was born on January 25, 1852. He was educated at Haileybury, and passed direct commission in 24th Regiment ; became Aide-de-Camp to General Sir Arthur Cunynhame during the Galeka War, 1877, afterwards serving in a similar capacity to Sir Bartle Frere, who, at his own request, gave him six weeks' leave to join the fighting column in the Zulu War, under Lord Chelmsford.




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