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Fugitive's Drift

Location: A crossing over the Buffalo River downstream from Rorke’s Drift

When it became apparent that Cetewayo's main impi was about to overrun the camp at Isandhlwana, Lieut.-Colonel Pulleine, handed the Queen’s Colour to his Adjutant, Lieut. Teignmouth Melvill, entrusting it to his care and bidding him to take it to a place of safety. When Lieut. Melvill mounted and galloped off with the Colour, not far behind him rode Lieut. Nevill Coghill. These two young subaltern officers were destined to become the first British soldiers to be awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously for gallant conduct which culminated in their deaths in action at Fugitives' Drift on the Buffalo River on January 22nd, 1879.

Any attempt to escape the slaughter could only be through a narrow gap to the south, as the Zulus had gone round the back of the Isandhlwana hill-feature and cut the track leading back to Rorke's Drift. The Buffalo River, forming the boundary between Zululand and Natal, was over three miles away across rocky, boulder-strewn and densely bushed terrain. By crossing over to the Natal side such fugitives as were able to get that far hoped to reach the safety of the garrisoned post at Helpmekaar.

Coghill's horsemastership enabled him also to reach the river bank where he caught up with Melvill who was having difficulty with the cumbersome Colour.

The way down to the river was via a steep gorge, and the rushing waters of the river in spate added to their difficulties. Melvill, exhausted after his grim ride, was thrown into the river.