The extremely fine and regimentally rare South Africa Sukukuni Campaign 1878 and Zulu War 1879, and Sudan Gordon Relief Expedition Battle of Abu Klea and Metemmah casualty group awarded to Private A.C. Nicholson, 1st Battalion, 13th Regiment of Foot - the Prince Albert’s Somerset Light Infantry, later 1st Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry, who saw extensive service in South Africa from February 1878, when his battalion took part in the Ninth Xhosa War during the Sukukuni Campaign in 1878 including the decisive action at Tolyana Stadt on 27th October 1878, and was then present during the Zulu War from the very beginning, being involved in the disaster at Hlobane Mountain on 28th March 1879, the Battle of Kambula on 29th March 1879, and the decisive battalion of the war, the Battle of Ulundi on 5th July 1879. After a period of home service, Nicholson was posted to Egypt in August 1884, and was present on operations in the Sudan during the Nile Expedition in the attempt to relieve General Gordon at Khartoum, being confirmed as present in action at the Battle of Abu Klea on 17th January 1885 when he was one of 21 men of his regiment present and forming part of the Mounted Infantry serving with the Camel Corps. It was whilst he was in action near to Metemmeh on 19th January 1885 however that Nicholson became one of two men of his regiment to become casualties during these operations, the other being Lieutenant Snow, both men being severely wounded, Nicholson having been wounded in the thigh.
Group of 4: South Africa Medal 1877-1879, 1 Clasp: 1878-9; (36/1260. PTE: A. NICHOLSON. 1/13” FOOT.); Egypt and Sudan Medal 1882-1889, reverse undated, 2 Clasps: The Nile 1884-85, Abu Klea; (1260. PTE: A.C. NICHOLSON. 1/SOM: L.I.); Khedive’s Star dated 1884-6.
Condition: first with light contact wear, otherwise Nearly Extremely Fine.
Alexander C. Nicholson was born in 1859 in Marylebone, London, the son of William and Jane Nicholson. Having worked as a labourer and see service in the Militia, he attested for service with the British Army in London on 26th March 1877, joining as a Private (No.36/1260) the 36th Brigade, but then transferred to the 1st Battalion, 13th Regiment of Foot - the Prince Albert’s Somerset Light Infantry on 26th January 1878, and was posted to South Africa on 5th February 1878. Nicholson arrived at an interesting time of native unrest and was shortly afterwards present in the Sekukini Revolt of 1878.
Sekukini was a tribal leader whose people lived in the northeast Transvaal. He was stirred up by Cetewayo to attack farms owned by Boers and British livestock breeders. On 13 Aug 1878 seven companies of 1/13th were chosen to join a column of all arms led by Colonel Hugh Rowlands VC. The campaign against Sekukini involved half the battalion operating in the mobile column while the other half garrisoned forts such as Oliphant, Mamelube, Faugh-a-Ballagh, Burghers and Weeber. Fort Burghers was the nearest to the enemy stronghold in the Lulu Mountains, and was garrisoned by 3 companies of the 13th, whilst the other forts had only 50 men of the battalion. There had already been a skirmish between one company and some tribesmen in the Steelport Valley a month before.
The advance to the Lulu Mountains began on 3rd October 1878 but progress was slow because of the difficult country and the lack of water. They bivouacked at the base of very steep hills on 4 Oct and at 8pm a great number of the enemy were seen pouring down the hillside. They had time to form up with the cavalry on the flanks, and bring their 2 Krupp guns into action. The attack was easily repulsed but they lost many slaughter-oxen which stampeded. There was some more action the next day against enemy positions but Rowlands decided to bring the column back to Fort Burghers on the 7th. The garrisoned forts had seen some action, when Forts Mamelube and Faugh-a-Ballagh were attacked, and a raid on a convoy to Fort Weeber caused two men of the 13th to be wounded.
Rowlands decided to take a different approach, and sent 3 companies of the 13th to the Speckboom Valley to construct another fort, called Jellalabad. The 80th Regiment arrived to relieve the garrisons of some of the forts so that four companies of the 13th, commanded by their CO Lieutenant Colonel Gilbert, were available for the mobile column which this time headed for the Steelport Valley. The column with a strength of 1,200, set off on 24 Oct 1878 and encountered the enemy positioned on some steep hills beyond a stream in the Umsoct Valley. However, on climbing the hills the tribesmen retired and were later found to be at Tolyana Stadt.
The column advanced at 4.30am on 27 October and found that Sekukuni's men had occupied houses at Tolyana Stadt. These were shelled by Rowlands' artillery at a range of 1,200 yards causing the enemy to evacuate the buildings and take up positions on two gigantic masses of rock to the rear. A difficult flanking move was made by Pieter Raaf's Transvaal Rangers, a company of the 13th commanded by Captain Otway, and some friendly Swazis. Another move covering the left flank was made by the Frontier Light Horse and some Mounted Infantry to check the threat from the enemy. The frontal attack on the rocks was made by the 3 companies of the 13th under Lt-Col Gilbert, and the Rustenberg contingent of Boers, covered by artillery fire. As the infantry forced their way to the top they found that an even higher hill overlooked the heights. Two companies were ordered to assault the enemy position on this hill but found that the Swazis and Otway's company were attacking from the other side. It was not long before Sekukini and his men were in full retreat. The sight of 600 tribesmen running away was greeted with cheers, and the artillery took advantage of such an easy target. The column lost 11 men wounded, 7 of whom were of the 1/13th. Colour Sergeant Pegg died of his wounds the next day. The Sekukini 'trouble' was now dealt with, but almost immediately the Zulu War was looming and the different detachments of the battalion had to be assembled and marched to Utrecht to join Evelyn Wood's column.
On the outbreak of the Zulu War, the 13th arrived at Utrecht on 22 December 1878 they were welcomed by the 90th Light Infantry (Evelyn Wood's regiment) just out from Britain. The contrast between their appearance was marked. The 90th were well turned out in new uniforms while the 1st Battalion 13th were in tattered and patched uniforms, worn out boots and helmets 'of the old Indian pattern, covered with old shirts to keep the cotton wool on the bamboo frame'. Wood's column was number 4 in an army organised into 5 columns, all under the command of Lord Chelmsford.
An advanced depot had been established at Baltee Spruit, 20 miles south of Utrecht where one company each of the 13th and 90th were sent with a convoy. The main column set off on 3 Jan 1879 and encamped at Bemba's Kop three days later. On 10 Jan the column marched south down the left bank of Blood River towards Rorke's Drift but after meeting with Chelmsford 12 miles from the Drift they turned round and returned to Bemba's Kop. Then on 18 Jan the column marched east and the Irregulars had a skirmish on the White Umfolosi River. The Zulu chief Tinta had his kraal on the river and surrendered his people to the column on 20 Jan. They were all sent back to Utrecht. A fort was constructed on the river as a store depot, garrisoned again by one company each of the 13th and 90th, and 2 guns.
Wood split his column into 3 smaller columns to advance northwest to Zungi Mountain. The 13th were in the 3rd of these columns, setting off and arriving later than the other two. The first two columns ascended to the top of Zungi unopposed and could see 4,000 Zulus on the slopes of Hlobane Mountain to the east. This was the 22nd Jan, the day of the massacre at Isandhlwana, and gunfire could be heard coming from the south where the ill-fated camp was. But news of the disaster did not reach them until the 24th. On that day there was a battle going on in Zungi Nek where the 90th LI and the Frontier Light Horse, attacked a strongly held Zulu Kraal. This was captured but the retreating Zulus were not pursued since Colonel Wood had received news of Isandhlwana and Rorke's Drift. He decided to march his column back to the fort on the White Umfolosi. This was evacuated a few days later and on 31 Jan they reached Kambula Hill where they built up the defences.
The debacle on Hlobane Mountain on 28 Mar 1879 did not involve the 13th LI but Major Knox Leet commanded the 2nd Battalion Wood's Irregulars which was sent with other units to create a diversion to draw Zulus away from Eshowe which Chelmsford was anxious to relieve. Hlobane was a flat topped mountain occupied by abaQulusli Zulus. The plan was to raid their cattle herds but while this was going on a huge impi of Zulus could be seen approaching the mountain. The easy way down was blocked off by the approaching impi so they had to retreat down Devil's Pass which was almost impossible for horses, and difficult for men. The abaQulusi pursued the retreating soldiers, and Knox Leet's Zulu irregulars deserted so, although crippled by a twisted knee he managed to ride a pack horse down the pass and save the life of an officer. He and four others won the VC for their heroism that day, including Redvers Buller.
The 13th meanwhile, had been strengthening the defences of the redoubt, 'Fort Kambula', and preparing the laager and cattle kraal for defence.The largest area was the laager which had a hospital, and was defended by the majority of the force. The regiments that fought this 4 hour battle were the 13th and 90th LI and mounted irregulars such as the Frontier Light Horse. It proved to be a turning point in the war because it showed that massed Zulu discipline and warrior courage were no match for British firepower. On the morning of the 29th two companies of the 13th were sent out to cut firewood about 5 miles away. Intelligence reports prepared Evelyn Wood for an attack at 1pm so he recalled the wood-gatherers and ordered the men to eat before taking up positions. The report was that an impi of 10 Zulu regiments was coming from the direction of Zungi Mountain. The redoubt was on the highest point, defended by one company each of the 13th and 90th all commanded by Major Knox Leet. A cattle kraal was to the rear of the redoubt, manned by one company of the 13th under Captain Cox. The remaining 5 companies of the 13th and 6 companies of the 90th were in the main laager which was a square of wagons with earth and mealie bags banked up against the wheels. Inside this laager were the hospital, the stores and the mounted troops. There were 2 guns in the redoubt and 4 guns in the open between the redoubt and main laager.
The Zulus approached and appeared to take a wide detour to the north of Kambula so that it was feared that they would bypass the fortified position and head for Utrecht. But it soon became clear that the northward movement was turning towards the main laager and that this was the right horn of the enemy attack, while the left horn prepared to move along the ravine south of their position. Wood ordered Buller to take his 100 mounted troops out of the laager and 'sting' the right horn into making a premature attack. This succeeded, although there were some mishaps. The men dismounted to fire on the Zulus and some had difficulty in mounting their frightened horses. Heroic acts saved Major Russell and Trooper Petersen, so that Lt Browne of the 24th MI won the VC.
The 'stung' right horn attacked, and within 300 yards came under fire from both the laager and the redoubt so that the Zulus had to abandon the assault and retire to a rocky outcrop half a mile away. The centre and left then moved in, although according to Zulu tactics the encircling attacks were supposed to be simultaneous. Captain Cox's company were now in serious trouble as they were the first to come under pressure. After some hand-to-hand fighting they were withdrawn to the main laager, having abandoned the cattle kraal to the enemy. One regiment of Zulus took cover in the long grass of a former rubbish dump to the left rear of the main laager and were able to fire on the soldiers with Martini Henry rifles taken at Isandhlwana.
The Zulus in the ravine to the south were preparing to attack so Wood ordered another sortie, 2 companies of the 90th under Major Hackett lined the edge and fired down on the hidden enemy. But the Zulus in the rubbish dump were able to pour enfilade fire from their right and they soon had to retire after some serious injuries were sustained. The right horn, having recovered from their first rebuff, came out of their rocky outcrop and made another attempt, this time on the redoubt. But the heavy fire from the infantry and canister fire from the artillery cut them down and they retreated once more. Buller organised careful rifle fire to dislodge the enemy in the rubbish dump, and now an attempt was made to dislodge the Zulus who occupied the cattle kraal. Two companies of the 13th and one of the 90th were detailed for this task and more hand-to-hand fighting ensued, but they succeeded in driving the Zulus out.
A sortie by another company of the 90th took up position where Hackett's men had been and repelled an attack from the ravine. It was now clear that the Zulus were becoming discouraged, and when they started to retreat Wood sent out the mounted troops to harry them. The Frontier Light Horse were eager to avenge the losses they had suffered at Hlobane and pursued the tired warriors, killing all they could with their carbines, and then using captured assegais to spear them. Those that attempted to hide were hunted down and killed. It is thought that the Zulus lost 2,000 killed that day. The British lost 18 men killed and 65 wounded. The 13th had 6 men killed and 24 wounded. Two of the wounded died soon after.
The days following the victory at Kambula were spent burying the dead; the bodies of Zulus in the immediate vicinity numbered 785. EvThere was no question of Lord Chelmsford being deflected from the obvious choice before him. The negotiations came to nothing due to bad communications between Chelmsford and the Zulu King. There had to be one last pitched battle to finish off the war with Cetshwayo's Zulus. At 5am on 5 July 1879 the mounted troops under Buller's command crossed the Umvolosi River followed by the rest of the army. In an area of open country the infantry formed into a large rectangle 150 yards wide and 350 yards long. They kept this formation as they advanced northeast, and halted on advantageous ground on the Mahlabatini Plain, one and a half miles west of the King's Kraal of Ulundi. The 1/13th formed the right flank of the square with eight companies; their strength was 24 officers and 587 other ranks. Once in position the infantry were in four ranks, the front two kneeling, the rear two standing. The 13th was the only regiment with a band and they played as the men prepared themselves. The Colours were also on display, the last occasion that the 13th went into battle with Colours flying. As the Zulus appeared the artillery fired from a range of 2,300 yards. The main attack came against the front and right side of the square, but the firepower of the rifles and gatling guns meant that the Zulus never got nearer than 30 yards of the infantry bayonets. The battle only lasted 35 minutes, and it was clear that the Zulus were not as determined as they were at Kambula. When Chelmsford saw that the enemy attack was weakening he sent the 17th Lancers who were inside the square, to pursue and kill the fleeing Zulus. The massed impi had started with around 20,000 warriors, and lost 1,000 on the battlefield alone. The enemy casualties must have been much higher after the lancers had done their work. The British loss was 10 killed and 87 wounded. The 13th had two privates killed in action and 17 wounded. Of the wounded, however, one officer, Lieutenant Pardoe, died on 14 July. A bugler and 3 privates also died of wounds.elyn Wood's column remained at Kambula until 5 May 1879 during which time the defences were moved 600 yards to the west, although the redoubt stayed in place. They were now constituted as a Flying Column and were on the move soon after Lord Chelmsford's inspection on 3 May. They marched south to Sengonyama Hill and then Wolfe's Hill. They constantly practiced drills for taking up defensive positions. On 25 May they reached Mumhla Hill and were later joined by 5 companies of the 80th (Staffordshire Volunteers) and Owen's Battery of 4 Gatling guns. The British/Colonial forces at Chelmsford's disposal in June 1879 had been augmented by new arrivals from England. Instead of the 5 Columns as before, the army was now in two divisions with Wood's Flying Column remaining independent. On 18 June the 2nd Division and the Flying Column marched towards Ulundi. This was a slow and laborious trek through difficult country in which fortified posts had to be established along the way. The expectation was that Cetshwayo would negotiate a peaceful settlement but nothing was left to chance. On 3 July Buller's mounted troops made a reconnaissance in force across the White Umvolosi and came upon 5,000 Zulus, prepared for battle. On the same day Chelmsford received a message from Sir Garnet Wolseley who was on his way to take over as C-in-C. Wolseley expressed his opposition to the splitting of the army into two divisions and told Chelmsford to joined the 2nd Division to the 1st as soon as possible.
With the end of the Zulu War, Nicholson was posted hone on 19th September 1879, and with the re-organistaion of the British Army, then from 1st July 1881 continued in the service with the newly titled 1st Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry, being permitted to extend his service to complete 12 years with the Colours on 28th April 1883, he then found himself posted to Egypt on 27th August 1884, and went on to see service in the Sudan during the Nile Expedition in the attempt to relieve General Gordon at Khartoum, being confirmed as present in action at the Battle of Abu Klea on 17th January 1885 when he formed part of the Mounted Infantry serving with the Camel Corps. It was whilst he was in action near to Metemmeh on 19th January 1885 however that Nicholson became one of two men of his regiment to become casualties during these operations, the other being Lieutenant Snow, both men being severely wounded, Nicholson having been wounded in the thigh.
Posted home on 2nd August 1885, Nicholson was eventually discharged on 25th May 1889. Confirmed as his full entitlement. Only 21 Abu Klea clasps were awarded to the men of the 1st Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry, all for service as Mounted Infantry with the Camel Corps, two being to officers, and 19 to other ranks.