Henry Hollingworth Harward: cowardice or self-preservation?

Make one decision, and you win the Victoria Cross; make another, and you face court-martial and disgrace – life can be that simple and that harsh.

On 25 November 1847, Henry Hollingworth Harward was born at the vicarage, East Grinstead, England, son of John Netherton Harward and his wife Harriet. Henry’s christening on 24 February 1848 was recorded, and probably conducted, by this father, the local vicar.

Christening register showing entry for Henry Hollingworth

Henry is recorded as playing cricket for Brighton College in 1865-6 and for Reading in 1867-8, which suggests a typical private school education for a son of a member of the Church of England clergy at that time.

The ‘Brighton College Register, with Brief Biographical Notices’, published in 1886, lists Henry as: “[Pupil no.] 867. HARWARD (HENRY HOLLINGWORTH), 13, son of Rev. John N. Harward, Vicar of East Grinstead, Sussex. 1861-65.”.

In December 1871 Henry was appointed a Sub-Lieutenant in the 1st West India Regiment and, according to his Army record, appointed full Lieutenant in the same month. (Subsequently I have seen notification of other people being appointed Sub-Lieutenant and Lieutenant on the same day); from the same document we also know that he was a tall man for his time, at 5’ 10”.

Appointment of HHH as Sub-Lieutenant, W.I. Regiment. London Gazette.

Eight West India regiments, consisting of a mixture of European and local troops, were commissioned in 1795, to be stationed in the British Caribbean colonies; unusually for colonial units, they formed part of the regular British Army. The 1st West India Regiment, also referred to as “Whyte’s” after its first colonel, General John Whyte, was one of the final two surviving West India regiments, which amalgamated as the West India Regiment in 1888.

West India Regiment trooper with uniform based on French ‘zouave’.
Photo: National Army Museum, out of copyright.

Henry Harward spent his first two years of service in England according to his record, and only from 5th May to 2nd December 1873 in Jamaica, before travelling with his regiment to Africa to take part in the Third Ashanti War from 3rd December 1873 to 12th May 1874. (A posting to the Caribbean was often a death sentence for British soldiers, with two regiments losing nearly 50% of their men to yellow fever, malaria or dysentery in the first three months after arriving.)

The Ashanti (or Anglo-Ashanti) Wars took place from 1806 to 1900, in what was then called the Gold Coast of West Africa, now Ghana. In an interesting parallel with the rise to power of the Zulu kingdom under Shaka and later rulers, the Ashanti kingdom trod a similar path of military development, followed by the defeat and absorption of their enemies.

This area was originally the Portuguese Gold Coast, then the Dutch Gold Coast. The British Gold Coast was created in 1867 and involved the purchase of territory from the Dutch which was also claimed by the Ashanti; as a consequence, the Ashanti invaded the new British territory.

This was followed by the Third Ashanti War of 1873-4 (strictly the sixth, but the first three were given non- numerical names). Under Gen. Sir Garnet Wolseley’s plans, Royal Engineers constructed a road from the coast to Coomassie (160mi/260km) inland, and every night a fortified stockade was built for the engineers’ protection – Lord Chelmsford, please note!

HHH’s Ashanti War medal. Photo: National Army Museum

Two thousand fighting troops, including just under five hundred men of the 1st & 2nd West India Regiments, advanced along the new road to the first major engagement at Amoaful. Neither regiment took part in the fighting, nor were they involved in the subsequent capture and destruction of the Ashanti capital, Kumasi. The 2nd Regiment left for the West Indies in March 1874, whilst the 1st Regiment remained as garrison troops on the Gold Coast.

Lt. Harward didn’t remain long in West Africa – probably a wise decision in health terms – and transferred to the 80th Regiment of Foot (Staffordshire Volunteers) who in the early/mid 1870s were posted in Singapore and Hong Kong. The 80th arrived in Natal, South Africa, in 1877 and were subsequently involved in the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879-80, as part of Lord Chelmsford’s invading force.

Transfer of HHH from 1st West India Regiment to 80th Foot. London Gazette.

After the famous defeat of the Imperial force at Isandlwana on 22 January 1879 there was general panic in Natal, with fears of Zulu reprisals for the British invasion. Troops from Chelmsford’s No.5 column were transferred to Col. Evelyn Wood’s No.4 (“Flying”) column, with the 80th Foot under Maj. Tucker being the last to move, in February 1879.

Isandlwana, scene of Britain’s worst military defeat of the Victorian era

By the end of the month, the 80th had almost completely relocated from Derby in the Transvaal to Luneburg in Natal, with only a single 20-wagon convoy of food and ammunition left to arrive. On 1st March, Capt. Anderson left Luneburg with men of D company, 80th Foot, to rendezvous with the wagons. After excessive rainfall the track was a sea of mud and the wagons were making very little progress.

Due to a misunderstanding, Anderson returned to Luneburg with his men, leaving the convoy unguarded and, in his absence, the wagons were attacked by local Zulu leader, Mbilini, with the loss of a small amount of stores and oxen. Annoyed that the convoy had been left unguarded, Maj. Tucker sent Capt. Moriarty and 106 men to accompany and protect the wagons.

When Moriarty reached Meyer’s Drift on the Ntombe river he found that only two of the wagons had made it that far. Leaving 35 men on the south, Luneburg, side of the river with Lt. Lindop, Moriarty crossed over with his remaining men to help retrieve the rest of the wagons. This took until 11th March and, during that time, the two wagons at the drift were, with difficulty, dragged over to the Luneburg side.

Maj. Tucker then arrived at the drift from Luneburg, with Lt. Harward, Sgt. Anthony Booth and 32 other ranks. Sgt. Booth was an experienced, capable soldier, the kind of senior NCO you could rely upon in an emergency. Lt. Lindop and his men then returned to base with Maj. Tucker, leaving Lt. Harward and his fresh troops at the drift.

Because of the mud and the consequent difficulty of moving the wagons, the defensive laager on the north bank was only an inverted V with the open end facing the river. Moriarty’s men, tired and wet, retired to their tents; Moriarty’s own tent was outside the laager, which contained a large number of cattle and probably stank of manure.

Harward had spent the day on the north side, but returned to the south bank of the river where he and his men also retired to their tents. Around 4am Harward woke to the sound of a shot; Booth called over to the the men on the north bank, but no-one seemed to take any particular interest. Feeling uneasy about the situation, Booth dressed, picked up his rifle and ammunition and sat on one of the wagons, smoking.

At. 4.45am all hell broke loose on the north bank; Zulus appeared from the darkness, fired into the soldiers’ tents then finished the job with their spears. Moriarty was both shot and stabbed, allegedly shouting “Fire away lads, death or glory. I’m done!” (which sounds like a typical Victorian newspaper invention to me).

A small number of Moriarty’s men plunged into the river to escape the Zulus, but few made it over to the south bank; those who escaped joined Booth and his men beneath their two wagons. Lt. Harward appeared from his tent, gauged the situation and jumped on his pony, shouting to Booth that he was going for reinforcements and that the sergeant should withdraw with his men to a deserted farmhouse some distance away.

Booth was stunned – officers did not desert their men in a situation such as this and surely someone else should have been sent in his place. Many of Harward’s detachment followed him towards Luneburg (on foot and with fatal consequences) and Booth was left with only a handful of men, together with those who had escaped alive across the river.

What followed has always been described as a classic fighting retreat. The Zulus started to cross the river in numbers and attacked Booth’s small party. The soldiers retreated as a group under Booth’s direction, and when the Zulus got too close, Booth and others would stall them with rifle fire. When the soldiers reached the farmhouse, the Zulus lost interest, preferring to loot the wagons, and they moved away; by that time, just Sgt. Booth, Cpl. Burgess and five other ranks remained.

Harward reached Luneburg, burst into Maj. Tucker’s tent shouting “The camp is in the hands of the enemy; they are all slaughtered, and I have galloped in for my life!” before collapsing.

Sgt. Booth’s subsequent description of the situation was more blunt: ”I commanded the party on this side as Lieutenant Harwood saddled his horse and galloped away leaving us to do the best we could.“

Tucker gathered all available mounted men in Luneburg, ordered another 150 infantrymen to follow, and rode to the Ntombe river, passing and checking on Booth and his party as he did so. At the drift there was a mass of bodies, shot and disembowelled. All the dead except for Capt. Moriarty and a civilian doctor were buried at the drift.

Harward’s action was initially quietly covered up but, in December of that year, three of the survivors of Ntombe Drift wrote to Gen. Sir Garnet Wolseley setting out the true facts. Tucker belatedly recommended Booth for the Distinguished Conduct Medal, but Wolseley personally recommended the award of the Victoria Cross.

In February 1880, Henry Harward was arrested and charged with:

1. Having misbehaved before the enemy, in shamefully abandoning a party of the Regiment under his command when attacked by the enemy, and in riding off at speed from his men.
2. Conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline in having at the place and time mentioned in the first charge, neglected to take proper precautions for the safety of a party of a Regiment under his command when attacked.

The court martial sat for a week, and Harward was eventually exonerated. Wolseley was incandescent and said ““That a Regimental Officer who is the only Officer present with a party of men actually and seriously engaged with the enemy, can, under any pretext whatever, be justified in deserting them, and by so doing, abandoning them to their fate. The more helpless a position in which an officer finds his men, the more it is his bounden duty to stay and share their fortune, whether good or ill.” Under undoubted pressure, Harward resigned his commission in May 1880.

The London Gazette of 6 August 1880 (Issue 24871, p.4313) reported: 80th Foot, Lieutenant John F. C. Hamilton from the 38th Foot, to be Lieutenant, vice [in place of] H. H. Harward, resigned. Dated 8th May, 1880.

Sgt. Booth had been promoted to Colour Sergeant and received his Victoria Cross from Queen Victoria, in person, at Windsor Castle in June 1880.

Gazetting of Colour-Sergeant Booth’s VC

I looked for any surviving record of Harward’s court martial, but so far no success.

In Victorian society, Henry Harward would have found life difficult as a disgraced officer; I doubt he could have kept it hidden. What did he do after leaving the army? In the London Gazette dated 23 June 1882 I found a notice dissolving the partnership between Henry Harward and Edgar Edmond, Patent Agents and Consulting Engineers. Personal disagreement? Professional misdeeds? Who knows.

Extrace from the London Gazette dated 23 June 1882

Edgar Edmonds was clearly the Patent Agent, since I found reference to his Patent Application No. 4,810 for “A revolving frame for umbrellas, etc.”; perhaps, Harward was the engineer in their partnership?

Henry Harward died in Eversfield Hospital, Kent, in August 1897. After his death, probate was granted to his solicitor and ‘Arthur Hill Holme, civil engineer’. Another engineering connection, and perhaps that tells us what Henry Harward did after his exit from the military, in disgrace.

(Arthur Hill Holme appears to be Lt.-Col. Arthur Hill Holme, 1841-1912, 1st Lancashire Rifles. He was a Director of Holme & King, a contracting company which ‘carried out a number of important railway, dock, and waterworks contracts in the North of England‘ (from Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History)).

Notice in the London Gazette (mentioning Arthur Hill Holme) dated 6 March 1883

I obtained a copy of Henry Harward’s will which bequeathed all his “real and personal estate whatever nature quality or kind soever” for the lifetime use and enjoyment of his sister, Augusta Mary Harward, and after his sister’s death, his remaining real and personal estate devolved on his niece May, daughter of Henry’s brother, General Harward.

One disastrous decision, a life blighted.

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