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Estimated at £10,000-15,000, it was one of 15 lots in Bonhams’ Fine Books and Manuscripts sale that had come by descent to the vendor.

Chard was among the 11 men awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery during the defence and, at the personal request of Queen Victoria, wrote an account of the battle.

The document for sale was a handwritten draft. The 40-page manuscript account is mostly written in brown ink with annotations, additions and corrections (in the text and margins) in blue and brown ink.

Much of the battle for the outpost took place on the afternoon and evening of January 22, 1879, the fighting continuing through the night. By the following morning, 370 Zulu warriors had been killed and the British forces had lost 15 men.

Bonhams head of books and manuscripts Matthew Haley said: “The defence of Rorke’s Drift was an important boost to morale after the heavy defeat of British troops by the Zulus at Isandlwana. The exceptional courage of Chard and his small band of men struck a chord with the public at the time which has echoed down the years, most famously in the feature film Zulu.

“Chard’s account of his exploits is a vivid reminder of valour against all odds and I am not surprised there was so much interest from collectors nor that it sold for such an impressive amount.”

Other lots relating to Chard at the sale on December 17 included a presentation sword of honour given to him by the people of Plymouth in November 1879, a matter of months after his heroic exploits, which made £65,000 (estimate £15,000-25,000). Born in Boxhill in 1847, which was then on the outskirts of Plymouth, he had studied at Plymouth New Grammar School.


Presentation sword of honour given to John Chard by the people of Plymouth in November 1879 – £65,000 at Bonhams.

Sold for £69,000 (estimate £3000-5000) was Chard’s personal photograph album, commemorating his service during the Zulu War. Among the 44 albumen prints are five relating to Rorke’s Drift including views of the storehouse and the pontoon beneath Signal Hill and the plain.

A previously unknown portrait of Chard in the uni form of the Royal Engineers, by Alphonse de Neuville, took £28,000 against a guide of £1000-2000. De Neuville’s famous 1880 view of the action, The Defence of Rorke’s Drift, is in The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.

The manuscript account, sword, photograph album and Chard portrait were all bought by the same private collector on the phone, but the 15 lots attracted multiple buyers otherwise.