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Irish soldier’s rare Zulu War medal expected to fetch as much as £30,000 in London auction

Michael Minehan pictured in 1879 [Picture: Dix Noonan Webb]
Michael Minehan pictured in 1879 [Picture: Dix Noonan Webb]
A RARE Kaffir and Zulu War medal awarded to Irishman Private Michael Minehan comes up for auction in London on December 8.

Private Minehan was born at Castlehaven, Co. Cork in 1845 and was one of 16 Irishmen among a British force of 150 which famously fought off over 4,000 marauding Zulu warriors on January 22-23, 1879.

The Battle of Rorke’s Drift was made famous by the 1964 film Zulu, which featured Michael Caine as Private Minehan’s commanding officer Gonville Bromhead – who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions at Rorke’s Drift.

Minehan was highly regarded by his officers and received several testimonials of good character from them, including one written by Lieutenant Bromhead himself.

“Minehan was a great pal of mine; he was right-hand man, front rank of B Company, who knew his drill well and had often kept me straight,” wrote one.

Michael Minehan's Zulu War medal [Picture: Dix Noonan Webb]
Michael Minehan’s Zulu War medal [Picture: Dix Noonan Webb]
In October 1864, Minehan enlisted in the 24th Foot Regiment and went on to serve in India, South Africa and the Mediterranean.

In 1879 his ‘B’ Company was part of a British Army force that invaded the then independent kingdom of Zululand.

Minehan was posted to Rorke’s Drift itself which took the brunt of the attack by thousands of Zulu warriors, spurred on by a previous victory against the British.

A total of 17 soldiers in the British Army were killed when thousands of warriors under Prince Dabulamanzi kaMpande converged on their position.

The British force came very close to being defeated and massacred but eventually repelled their assailants.

It was a turning point in the Anglo-Zulu War, eventually resulting in a British victory and the end of the Zulu nation’s dominance in the east of present-day South Africa.

A total of 11 Victoria Crosses were awarded to soldiers from the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, more than in any other single-day battle in history.

The day after the battle Private Minehan was so exhausted that he was unable to speak, the 34-year-old Irishman having stabbed a Zulu attacker to death with his own bayonet.

After returning from South Africa after the Zulu War, Minehan was posted back to India where in 1884 he contracted cholera.

He was sent back to England and examined at Netley Hospital in Southampton, where he was found to be unfit for further service and was discharged.

Minehan died on May 26, 1891 at the age of just 45 and is buried in a churchyard at Castletownshend in his native Co. Cork.

His grave marker is a cross made of wrought iron inscribed with the epitaph “Michael Minihan(sic). Late of the 24th Regiment and one of the gallant defenders of Rorke’s Drift.”

Private Michael Minehan’s campaign medal for South Africa 1877-79 is being sold at Dix Noonan Webb by a private collector on December 8.

The medal comes with a clasp inscribed “1877-8-9” and is described as being in very good condition.

The private collector has valued the medal at an estimated £26,000-£30,000 (€30,000-€35,200).

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One comment on “Irish soldier’s rare Zulu War medal expected to fetch as much as £30,000 in London auction”

  1. David Ebsworth

    It's excellent that there's now some recognition for the part played by Private Minehan and the other usually overlooked Irish soldiers of the Anglo-Zulu War. But the article's claims that the defence of Rorke's Drift was "a turning point in the Anglo-Zulu War" and that the war itself meant "the end of the Zulu nation’s dominance in the east of present-day South Africa" are wildly inaccurate. The Anglo-Zulu War was, in reality, an illegal invasion of the independent and sovereign Kingdom of Zululand which began in January 1879. The invasion began with the catastrophic defeat of 1,500 British and colonial native troops at Isandlwana - a modern European army defeated by Zulu regiments armed with little more than spears and shields in defence of their homeland. That disaster was only marginally offset by the defence of Rorke's Drift, also on 22-23 January 1879. But the war then dragged on for a further six months, saw several other British defeats and an eventual "victory" at the Battle of Ulundi that was only won by the British reliance on gatling guns and heavy artillery. It was a shameful little war that, in practice, led only to white supremacy in South Africa through the growth of the Dutch-Boer republics and, directly, to the Apartheid System. The soldiers who fought on both sides, British and Zulu alike, did so with incredible valour - but the conflict itself is just one more dirty step on the path of British Imperialism.

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