Royal Military Academy, Pollock gold prize medal, for the year 1891, awarded to Cadet R. Polwhele, later Lieutenant, Royal Engineers, who died while on attachment to the Egyptian Army, on railroad duty, during the Dongola Expedition in Sudan on 29th July,1896.
Pollock Prize Medal, 22 ct gold, 64 gms, the rim engraved: R. Polwhele, 22 July 1891.
Condition: The relief is very bold and the fields deeply mirrored. Significant edge bruise at 1 o’clock, minor edge bruise to obverse rim at 7 o’clock with minor reverse rim nick, otherwise nearly Extremely Fine. In later Mappin and Webb fitted case.
Instituted by the Royal Military Academy Woolwich as a prize medal given to the most distinguished cadet of the season and to commemorate the services of Major General Sir George Pollock. B. Wyon was the engraver for the manufacturer, Pinches.
Reginald Polwhele was the second son of Thomas Roxburgh Polwhele, a farmer of 299 acres at. St. Clement, Truro, Cornwall. He was born in 1892 and. entered the Royal Military Academy as a Gentleman Cadet in 1890. As the most distinguished cadet of his season he was awarded the Pollock Medal on 22 July, 1891, and commissioned Lieutenant into the Royal Engineers two days later.
While on the 1896, conquest of Sudan, Anglo-Egyptian ‘Dongola Expedition’, he died at Wady Halfa on 29 July 1896. He had been promoted to Lieutenant on 7 Aug, 1894, and was serving with the Egyptian Army, helping to build railways.
Polwhele is commemorated with a fellow officer, Lieutenant E. H. S. Cator, Royal Engineers, on a brass Memorial Plaque in Rochester Cathedral. It was erected by their Relations and by those Brother Officers who served with them on the Dongola Expedition, 1896, and states:
“In memory of R Polwhele & E H S Cator Lieutenants Royal Engineers who died on service in the Sudan 1896-7.”
During the second half of the 19th century, the British became increasingly engaged in Egypt. Among other interests, they sought to protect the link with India via the Suez Canal (which had opened in 1869) and to ensure timely repayment of Egyptian debts. With some British participation, Egypt maintained control of Sudan. This arrangement became increasingly costly after 1870 due to an Islamist rebellion (the Mahdi Revolt). As this gathered steam, the British drew back their presence and insisted that Egypt do the same.
To facilitate the withdrawal, the British sent Major General Charles George Gordon, who arrived in Khartoum February 1884. Gordon was a seasoned veteran in Sudan, having served previously as Governor-General of Sudan, a post he held on behalf of the Egyptian government and with British support. In that earlier role, he had put down rebellions, led peace missions, developed some aspects of the economy, and used his power to suppress the practice of slavery in Sudan.
Upon his return to Khartoum, Gordon evacuated civilians, wounded soldiers and others, but also feared that, left unchallenged, the Mahdi forces would advance to Egypt. So, he defied the wishes of the British authorities and organised a defence for Khartoum drawing on Egyptian, Sudanese and British forces. Soon, the Mahdi forces laid siege to the city.
Back home, popular support for Gordon prompted the government to change course. General Garnet Wolseley took command of the appropriately-named Nile Expedition, leading an army of 5,400 men with the objective of saving the situation in Khartoum. Wolseley sent 2,400 troops by camel and the rest travelled up the Nile with the support of roughly 400 boatmen specially recruited from Canada for that purpose.
Alas, conditions deteriorated for the defenders of Khartoum and the city fell to the attacking army (50,000 strong) on 25 January 1885, two days before the reinforcements arrived. The victorious army massacred the garrison and cut off Gordon’s head and presented it to their leader, Muhammad Ahmad, the Mahdi.
This did not set well with the British. In the 1890s, they mobilised the latest military resources and with Egyptian support launched a campaign under General Herbert Kitchener to regain control of Sudan. Lieutenants Polwhele and Cator, as engineers, played some role in the construction of infrastructure for the advance and resupply of the British army (including railroads). In the course of this, they lost their lives.
His father administered his estate, his effects and the sum of £253 9s.7d. were passed to his father at Bodin in 1897