Private John Connolly – Rorke’s Drift Grave
Rededication in Swansea - Wales
Peter Hall and John Thomas, local Swansea Historians, recently discovered that a Private John Connolly from Bearahaven, County Cork, was at the Battle of Rourke’s Drift in Africa in 1879. He survived the battle but died at his Swansea home, 35 Llangyfelach Street penniless and a pauper and lay buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave and forgotten at Danygraig Cemetery in Port Tennant in Swansea for the 113 years.
In 1879 the British 24th Regiment, later to be called the South Wales Borderers, fought a brave defence against overwhelming Zulu numbers at Rourke’s drift in Natal, Africa.
Following the battle, 11 Victoria crosses, the highest award for gallantry in the British military were awarded. Peter Hall discovered that Private Connolly was injured and place in the hospital prior to the battle and carried to safety from the hospital by Private Henry Hook. Pte Hook was awarded a VC for his bravery.
After being discharged from Army, on medical grounds John Connolly was given a pension of ten pence a day.
The then Head Constable (Chief Constable) of the Swansea Borough Police (1877-1913) Captain Issac Colquhoun an Irishman, a junior member of the Colquhouns of Luss, Northern Ireland, was responsible for getting John Connolly’s pension of 1 shilling a day increased to 1 shilling and six pence to ease the burden of poverty on the Connolly family.
Before John Connolly’s death, he was visited by a reporter of The Daily Post who said that Connolly was full of his old-time grit.
The sunlight streamed through the little window across the bed on which he lay. “If the world frowns on me, the sun shines”, he said in humorous sadness.
Death has only now relieved him from constant suffering - rheumatic fever set in, complications ensued and dropsy ended him.
John Connolly died in 1906 and was buried in Danygraig Cemetery, Port Tennant Swansea.
However, despite being buried with full military honours his family were unable to afford a headstone for his grave and he was therefore buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave.
Although Peter is still trying to trace any remaining descendants of John Connolly. a Swansea Monumental Masons, Nurse and Payne of Fforestfach, have honoured John Connolly by supplying and placing a headstone on his grave free of charge and by doing this recognising his part in one of the major battles of the nineteenth century.
Nurse and Payne Monumental Masons of Fforestfach supplied, inscribed and place the headstone on the grave free of charge.
Mike is an artist in his own right and when he showed me the proposed inscription with the badge of the 24th Warwickshire Regiment (South Wales Borderers), and how it would look on the headstone you can see how his skills as an artist are shown in his work as an engraver.
The grave of John Connolly also contains the remains of one other person who died a pauper and they will also be honoured with their name inscribed on the headstone.
The story of John Connolly appears to have an uncanny link between the kindness and generosity shown to him just prior to his death and now some 113 years later.
Captain ISSAC Colquhoun (Chief Constable) Swansea Borough Police, helped to ease the family burden of poverty by having a pension increase for John Connolly and today Mike and Mathew ISSAC of Nurse and Payne Memorials have honoured the memory of John Connolly by supplying his memorial headstone free of charge.
The rededication of the grave of Private John Connolly will take place sometime this year at Danygraig Cemetery Port Tennant, Swansea, 113 years after his death and 140 years since the battle of Rorke’s Drift, together with Regimental Goat and Bugler of The Royal Welsh.