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A mounted Woodburrytype photograph taken from The South African Campaign of 1879 by MacKinnon and Shadboldt of Lt. Nevill Josiah Aylmer Coghill of the 1st Battalion, the 24th Regiment of Foot. He was killed in action on 22 January 1879 along with Lt. Teignmouth Melvill after escaping the massacre at Isandlwana while attempting to save the Queen's Colour of the 1/24th. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross in 1907.

Mounted Woodburytype Photograph
Original Format size: 8 inches by 10 1/2 Inches (20 cm x 27 cm)
The London Stereoscopic Company - Photographer
London, England
c. 1880 (Source Photo c. 1870

The following biographical sketch is taken from The South African Campaign of 1879.

LIEUTENANT NEVILL JOSIAH AYLMER COGHILL, who was killed on the Natal shore of the Buffalo River, in the neighborhood of Isandhlwana, on the 22nd of January, 1879, was the eldest son of Sir John Joscelyn Coghill, Bart., of Drumcondra, County Dublin, and nephew of the Right Rev. Lord Plunket, Bishop of Meath. He was born on the 25th of January, 1852, in Dublin, and was educated at Haileybury, after which he was for two years in the County of Dublin Militia. Having passed the examination for direct appointment to the army in 1871, he received a commission in the 24th Regiment, passed through Sandhurst, and, after serving for a short time in England, went out with the regiment to Gibraltar. From Gibraltar, he proceeded to the Cape and was there appointed Aide-de-Camp to General Sir Arthur Cunynghame, with whom he shortly afterward made a tour of inspection through the whole colony and the adjacent country, including Natal, Griqualand, the OrangeFree State, and the Transvaal. Shortly after he returned to Cape Town the Gaika and Galeka war was declared. He went through the whole of that campaign, continuing as Aide-de-Camp to Sir Arthur Cunynghame, and was mentioned in despatches. He subsequently returned to England with his General on the latter being replaced by General Thesiger, afterward Lord Chelmsford.


On preparations being made for the invasion of Zululand, Lieutenant Coghillat once hurried back to the Cape. Shortly after arriving there he was appointed aide-de-camp to Sir Bartle Frere and traveled with him to Pietermaritzburg, where he obtained leave of absence to join his regiment at the front. He was there appointed extra Aide-de-Camp to Colonel Glyn, who was in command of the column to which the 24th Regiment was attached, and continued to hold the appointment until the day of his death. The last letter received from him by his family was written in the highest spirits, just after the successful attack uponSirayo's kraal; in it, he expressed the general opinion that, after all, the campaign would be a short one, and that in a month the war would be reduced to the proportion of mere guerilla work — driving the beaten enemy from the bush. So far as can be gathered from official accounts, and the letters received from his brother officers, Lieutenant Coghill's share in the action which ensued at Isandlwana, was as follows:—Some days previously to the 22nd of January he had strained an already injured knee, and when it was arranged that the reconnoitering force under Lord Chelmsford and Colonel Glyn should start early on the morning of that day, he was desired to remain quietly in camp, instead of accompanying the party as he would otherwise have done.


In a letter received from colonel Glyn, that officer wrote that he left him shortly before daybreak quietly sleeping in his tent. The next that is heard of him is in the account given by Captian Young, who, towards the end of the battle, succeeded in cutting his way through the encircling horde of the enemy. He saw Coghill, who was a splendid horseman and well mounted, desperately fighting, but unable to make his way through the opening through which he (Captain Young) escaped. It is clear, however, that he did manage to break through the line, for he was shortly afterward seen by Lieutenant Higginson, of the Natal Native Contingent. That officer reported that while struggling in the Buffalo River, having lost his horse, he saw Lieutenant Melvill in the deep swift stream, with the colours.


Higginson was at this time clinging to a rock, and contrived, by seizing the colours, to drawMelvill into calm water. At this moment Coghill, who had got out on the Natalside, and was breasting the hill, perceived their condition and turning his horse rode back into the river to their assistance. Immediately afterward his horse was shot; nevertheless, the three contrived to reach the bank, and, according to LieutenantHigginson's report,“ managed to get about 100 yards up the hill, when Coghillcalled out, ' Here they are after us. They had both revolvers, and I had nothing to defend myself with, so I told them to fire. We waited till they got to about thirty paces, and then fired. Two men fell, who was in front. Then Melvill, who was very much done up, said he could go no farther, and Coghill said the same. I thought I would have one more struggle for life, though my horse had kicked me on the leg very badly, so I got past them, and got on top of the hill.”


A few days afterward their dead bodies were discovered some three or four hundred yards from the river, behind some large boulders, surrounded by more than a dozen dead Zulus. They were buried where they lay, and a stone cross was erected over the spot by Sir Bartle Frere and the members of his staff, with the following inscription: " In memory of Lt. and Adj. Teignmouth Melvill and Lt.Nevill J.A. Coghill, 1st Batt. 24th Regt., who died on this spot 22nd Jany., 1879, to save the Queen's Colour of their Regiment.” On the other face is inscribed: “ For Queen and Country - Jesu, mercy."


The official despatch of Colonel Glyn to Lord Chelmsford, bearing date February 21st, 1879, concludes with the following words: Similarly would I 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 thetruly noble task of endeavoring to save from the enemy's hands the Queen'scolour of their regiment; and greatly though their sad end is to be deplored, their deaths could not have been nobler or more full of honour.

An official letter, bearing date April the 21st, 1879, received by Sir Joscelyn Coghill from the Horse Guards, concludes as follows:


“ His Royal Highness (the Field -Marshal Commanding in Chief) in communicating this despatch too you desires me to assure you of his sincere sympathy with you in the loss of your son, whose gallant death in thee successful endeavour to save the colour of his regiment has gained the admiration of the army.


“ It is gratifying to his Royal Highness to inform you that if your son had survived his noble effort, her Majesty intended to confer upon him the Victoria Cross, and a notification to that effect will be made in the London Gazette .''

In a supplement to the “ London Gazette” of the 1st of May 1879, the following notification appeared: "Memorandum. Lieutenant Melvill, of the 1st Battalion 24th Foot, on
account of the gallant efforts made by him to save the Queen's colour of his regiment after the disaster at Isandhlwana, and also Lieutenant Coghill, 1st Battalion, 24th Foot, on account of his heroic conduct in endeavouring to save his brother officer's life, would have been recommended to her Majesty for the Victoria Cross had they survived."

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