top of page

A mounted Woodburrytype photograph taken from The South African Campaign of 1879  by MacKinnon and Shadboldt of Lieutenant & Adjutant Teignmouth Melvill of the 1/24th Regiment of Foot. He was killed in action on 22 January 1879 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. 1877)

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

LIEUTENANT AND ADJUTANT TEIGNMOUTH MELVILL, who was killed on the Natal shore of the Buffalo River, in the neighborhood of Isandhlwana, on the 22nd of January, 1879, was the younger son of Philip Melvill, Esq., late Secretary in the Military Department to the East India Company, by his marriage with Eliza, daughter of Colonel Sandys, of Lanarth, Helston. He was born in London on the 8th of September, 1842, and was educated at Harrow, Cheltenham , and Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. in February 1865. He entered the army in the same year, and at the end of December 1868, was gazetted to a lieutenancy in the 1st Battalion of the 24th Regiment. He joined that corps in Ireland and afterward proceeded with it to Malta, to Gibraltar, where he was appointed adjutant, and, in January 1875, to the Cape. Whilst in South Africa he passed the examination for entrance into the Staff College, and in January 1878, was ordered home to join that establishment.

On hearing of the outbreak of fresh hostilities among the native tribes in Cape Colony, Lieutenant Melvill immediately expressed his willingness to rejoin his regiment: he was ordered out accordingly, and arrived at King William's Town at the end of February. He served with his corps through the whole of the suppression of the Galeka outbreak, performing many arduous and important duties. Immediately prior to the outbreak of the Zulu War, Lieutenant Melvill proceeded with his regiment to join the Head - Quarters Column, which was then in course of formation on the Natal frontier. Taking part in its subsequent advance into Zululand, he was present at the reduction of Sirayo's stronghold
in the Bashee Valley, on the 13th of January, 1879. The following account of the manner in which he met with his death on the day of the fatal attack on the camp at Isandhlwana is taken from a special despatch written by Colonel Glyn, describing the saving of the colours of the 24th Regiment, bearing date February the 21st, 1879 -

" 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 Battalion of  the 24th Regiment, Lieutenant Teignmouth 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 remained alive struck across the 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, the ground had to be gone over which, from its ruggedness and precipitous nature, would under ordinary circumstances, it is reported, be deemed almost utterly impassable 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, was 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 downstream 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 in the meantime, Lieutenant Coghill, ist Battalion 24th Regiment, my orderly officer — who had been left in camp that morning, when the main body oftheforce moved out, on account of a severe injury to his knee, which rendered himunable to move without assistance — hadalso succeeded in gaining the river-bankin 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 LieutenantMelvill, and seeing him struggling to save the colour in the river, he at once turned his horse and rode backinto the stream again to Lieutenant's 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 whenLieutenant Coghillgot 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 riverbank towards Helpmakaar, but must havebeen too much exhausted to go on, asthey were seen to sit down to rest again, 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 Isandhlwana had crossed the Buffalo, I sent, under Major Black, 2ndBattalion 24th Regiment, a mounted party who volunteered for this service, to search for any trace that could 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.

“ I cannot conclude this report without drawing the attention of his Excellency the Lieutenant-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 defense; and when there appeared but little prospect that any exertions 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,

" In conclusion, I would add that both these officers gave up their lives in thetruly 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."

The two bodies were buried where they were found, and a stone cross was erected over the spot by Sir Bartle Frere and the members of his staff, bearing 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'sColour of their Regiment.” On the other face is inscribed: “ For Queen and Country-Jesu, mercy.

Immediately after the receipt of ColonelGlyn's despatch in England, an official letter was sent to Mr. Melvillfrom the Horse Guards, expressing the sympathy of the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief, and intimating that the Victoria Cross would have been conferred on Lieutenant Melvill had he survived his noble effort.

The following notification appeared in a Supplement to the “ London Gazette” of the ist of May 1879:“ MEMORANDUM. Lieutenant Melvill, of the 1st Batt. 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, ist Battalion 24thFoot, on account of his heroic conduct in endeavouring to save his brother officers life, would have been recommended to Her Majesty for the Victoria Cross had they survived."

Lieutenant Melvill was married in February 1876 and leaves a widow and two sons.

bottom of page