The successful buyer must regard himself as fortunate in being the only bidder, and for getting the medals as the lower estimate. I would have expected there to have been competition from "investors" wanting to add this rare group to their portfolios.
Recently, I was also the beneficiary of a surprising result on a medal purchase. I seldom bid on Internet auctions, but an astute local collector alerted me to an Army of India Medal with a Natal connection that was recently on offer - another 'must have' for me, and a completely unexpected one. I sacrificed some of my City Coins Fund, and was amazed to get the medal at the starting price (about 850 GBP). I had expected some competition from South Africa and more from abroad, but I was the only bidder.
It is such experiences that make it enjoyable (and rewarding) to be a medal collector!
Pte. George Peters is confirmed as having been a survivor of the sinking of HMT Birkenhead.
The story of the Birkenhead is one of the most moving and tragic events that occurred with the transport of troops undertaken by the Royal Navy in the long reign of Queen Victoria during the many wars in far off places.
The Birkenhead was one of the first iron-hulled ships built for the Royal Navy. Initially designed as a steam frigate she was converted to a troopship before being commissioned. The troopship was lost when striking a rock off Danger Point near Gansbaai, some 140 kilometers from Cape Town, in the early morning hours of 26 February 1852. This occurred whilst transporting troop drafts intended to reinforce the various regiments engaged in the 8th Frontier War of 1851-53.
There were not enough serviceable lifeboats for all the passengers.
These young soldiers, even at a time of darkness and utter confusion, responded to the order to stand firm on board thereby allowing the women and children to board the boats safely and to escape the sinking of their stricken ship.
The soldiers' chivalry gave rise to the unofficial "women and children first" protocol when abandoning ship. All of them were saved through their chivalrous discipline. The steadfast conduct of the soldiers aboard, and these from so many different Regiments, quickly became famous in the annals of the British Army.
King Frederick William IV of Prussia was so impressed by the example of military discipline that he ordered the story to be read out at the head of all his regiments.
Whilst exact numbers are still debated it would appear that only 193 of the estimated 643 people on board survived. The issue of this medal is confirmed in Gordon Everson's published medal roll. Gordon was the author of a scholarly article published in Hayward's Gazette (Winter 1975) in which he listed the names of all the military survivors in this historic tragedy.
The South Africa 1853 medal was not issued to casualties nor to those who succumbed on that fateful day. It would seem that a very high percentage of the recorded survivors lived to receive the medal.
Everson records the "Numbers" of military draft soldier recruits rather than seamen and other passengers as follows:
Shortly before this tragic shipwreck the 43rd (Monmouthshire) Regiment had first disembarked at East London on 17 December 1851, where the Regiment was quickly given instructions on the principles of bush fighting.
It had taken a long time for the lesson to be learned that shining brasses, pipe clay and parade ground drills would not help to subdue their bush wise enemy.
Seeing early service in the field, five companies joined with the 73rd Regiment on a raid into the Amatolas where Surgeon Davidson was killed in an ambush near Baillie's Grave 27 January. Further casualties followed whilst scouring the forests of Fuller's Hoek and Hermann's Kloof and in a brisk fight prompted by a cattle raid near Mount Mac Thomas Captain Gore was also killed.
Interestingly, despite the Regiment's escalating number of casualties from skirmishes, perhaps the greatest loss to the Battalion in a single event besides those who perished with the Birkenhead was caused not by the warriors of Sandili but by an extraordinary thunderstorm which struck their camp at Keiskamma Hoek. A bolt of lightning exploded an ammunition store killing two men and injuring nineteen.
The 43rd remained in the Cape after the close of the Third War, later embarking for Madras and for service in the Indian Mutiny.
Provenance: Sotheby, 5 November 1981, Lot 43: £1.100.00