Rorke’s Drift to the British Museum: The story of Henry Hook I Curator’s Corner Season 4 episode 5


Coins. Medals. They’re small. They’re boring. Right? WRONG! My name’s Henry Flynn and I’m the project curator for the money and medals network at the British Museum and welcome to my corner. The money and medals network is a subject specialist
network that exists to provide help support and advice to people working and
volunteering in the UK museum sector with collections of coins medals and
banknotes and associated objects. We had an exhibition about the the network
recently that was on in gallery 69a here at the British Museum and it was
intended to celebrate the work of the network which had just reached his tenth
anniversary this year 2018. We were very lucky to be able to have six
participating members of the network represented through the loan objects and
I have some examples to show you here and this is a great example to use
because these are all from a military museum, the regimental Museum of the
Royal Welsh very kindly lent us these objects and what was particularly
interesting about them is that they all relate to someone who after serving in
the Army worked right here in the British Museum. Henry Hook was an ordinary working class man who was born in a village called Churcham in Gloucestershire He was born in 1850. He was an agricultural labourer
but what he felt that he needed to do, like many people like him,
was join the army. He became part of the the B Company 2nd battalion 24th foot. He found himself slap-bang in the middle of the battle of Rorke’s Drift To sum up very briefly what happened was the former missionary station and supply camp,
Rorke’s Drift, which was being defended by around about 100 British soldiers
was attacked by around 4000 Zulu warriors overnight. And these these hundred men successfully defended the settlement. Hook was involved in helping
patients from a hospital building escape during this siege he was involved with
another soldier by sort of breaking holes through partition walls to help
these injured men escape to safety. When the battle was all over he was awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry. After that in 1880 he decided to buy himself out of the army and came back to England. When he was back in
England he was looking for work found himself living in London and he wanted
to work right here in the British Museum. What he wanted to do was become, his job title, was inside duster of the books in the Iron Library and that’s the library
that surrounds the Round Reading Room which actually is just through that door
there. Being a Victoria Cross winner it seems that that wasn’t quite enough for
the trustees of the British Museum at the time. He called in some favours to
help him get this job one of the favours he called him was from his former
commanding officer, the commanding officer of his regiment, Lord Chelmsford
and Chelmsford wrote on his behalf to the principal librarian, we didn’t have
a director back, then we had a principal librarian. Chelmsford wrote to as the principal librarian on Hook’s behalf in the interest of just just helping him to get this job get him started here. And this
letter here is a loan object from the Regimental Museum of the Royal Welsh. You can see that this is a handwritten letter and the handwriting is a little tricky to decipher, with the best will in the world. Luckily for me, I’ve got some transcriptions here and this letter from Chelmsford says ‘It has
given me great pleasure to be of some slight service to you by writing you in
your favour to the principal librarian the promise I made to you at Rorke’s
Drift, I shall always be ready to keep to the best of my abilities as I can
never forget those who made such a stand and behaved as nobly on that memorable
occasion. Believe me always your well-wisher Chelmsford.’ That’s nice isn’t it? So, this letter did help out Hook. Hook got the job And he started working here
right about 1882. He wore his medals to work which I think is really nice. He
would have worn an apron over his ordinary clothes but there are
references to him wearing the medals underneath an apron that the ribbons
could be seen peeking above the apron So, obviously very proud of
having one of these medals. He was promoted to the position of umbrella
attendant and he had a very specific responsibility in the cloakroom he
looked after the umbrellas and the walking sticks of people who came to use
the books in the library. He very much enjoyed working here
but had health problems he had received a head wound from a spear during the
siege of Rorke’s Drift, that didn’t trouble him too much when he was a young
man in his 20s but by the time he was getting into his 50s he started to have
very painful headaches regularly he’d had breathing problems when he started
working here at the BM which was not helped by all the dusty work he was
doing with dusting the books and in fact he’s developed consumption. He resigned
his post here in December 1904 I went back to Gloucestershire which was at his
doctor’s suggestion that the Gloucestershire air might do him some
good. Sadly, he did in fact died in 1905 just a
couple of months short of his 55th birthday. But here we have a very nice
photograph of him so this is from the family archive which has now been
donated to the Regimental Museum of the Royal Welsh. and this is hook in his
uniform here wearing his Victoria Cross and South Africa campaign medal. You can
see that he has sergeant stripes on here this doesn’t mean that he was a sergeant
in the Regular Army because he was only a private when he bought himself out of
the Regular Army but he joined the volunteers and this is actually him in
his Royal Fusiliers uniform where he did attain the rank of Sergeant. This photograph has written on the back here the year 1905, which indicates that perhaps it’s one of the very last photographs of him ever taken. This picture is of Hook’s daughters from his second marriage. This was taken shortly after Hook’s death.
If you look closely here on the dress of Hook’s eldest daughter this is Victoria
Catherine, VC interesting, and she’s wearing two tiny little medals here
these are actually Hook’s miniatures so the metal miniatures would have been
worn to formal occasions it’s not the actual Victoria Cross it’s the medal
that he would have worn to formal dinners for example he’d have had this
pin to his dress uniform for formal occasions like that. So she’s wearing the miniatures there. We very lucky to be able to feature those very miniatures
in the exhibition and here they are. Here’s the miniature Victoria Cross and
the miniature South Africa campaign medal. Now I want to just talk to you about
the final object here, this is a letter written to Hook’s widow, his second wife
Ada after he died in 1905 and it’s a very heartfelt letter from one of his
former comrades this is from John Williams VC another Victoria Cross
winner at Rorke’s drift and Williams was in fact one of the people who was with
Hook when they were rescuing people from the burning hospital building and what
it says is; ‘Madam, it is with deep regret, I learn from this morning’s mail of the death of my old comrade-in-arms your late husband Henry Hook VC. I tender to
you my sincere sympathy in this the hour of your bereavement and trust you will
find some solace in the thought your late beloved husband’s memory will be
cherished for his worth as a hero and a man so long as English history is read. I
remain, dear madam, yours very truly John Williams VC.’ And there we have it. We
chose to display these letters and the photograph together with the medals as
the star object at the bottom of the showcase. It really helps to bring that
person’s story to life for a whole new audience. And having these objects
brought to British Museum where this gentleman worked was a very very nice
connection to make I think it was it’s a very very powerful story to tell and
illustrative of the fact that although medals are small they’re certainly not
boring. so there we are thank you very So there we are. Thank you very much indeed for listening if you’d like
to find out more about the money metals Network or indeed more Curator’s Corners
then please have a look at the links to my left and don’t forget to subscribe to
the British Museum YouTube channel. It’s really good.

100 thoughts on “Rorke’s Drift to the British Museum: The story of Henry Hook I Curator’s Corner Season 4 episode 5

  1. Coins a medals aren't boring? How much of the video above was about the medals and how much was an interesting story. Coins and medals are a little boring compared the the life of Henry Hook. Thanks for the good story!!!

  2. Militarily speaking, lord Chelmsford was a complete dunce..Man lost half an army at Isandlwana.. The men of Rorkes drift were made into heroes to makeup for this abysmal leadership, in the grand scheme of things it was utterly insignificant. Victoria's army's were brave and professional men generally led by idiots, like Elphinstone, Raglan and Cardigan

  3. What a pleasant way to spend retirement after such hard duty. Though they’d fire me for reading instead of dusting. Or maybe that was why he got “promoted” to umbrellas and walking sticks.

  4. First of all, what a fantastic channel for interested people that may not ever have the chance to visit the British Museum. I feel like I get a private tour with each episode, and the best part is that the presenter is very enthusiastic and an expert on the subject matter. Bored tour guides of the 20th century can dwell in the past.

    I find it sadly amusing that Mr. Hook can distinguish himself in battle in service of the British crown with accolades of gallantry, but he's not seen fit to lend help to the museum. Were they worried that he'd have a fugue and start hacking at the displays with his cane or pipe?

    John Williams' letter was very powerful. He clearly held Henry Hook in the highest esteem. Because of this video and that letter, his bravery lives on over 100 years after his death. English history is still being read.

  5. I have Googled in vain to get an explanation of how Henry Hook “bought himself out” of the British army. There must have been a sliding scale of prices by rank but so far I haven’t found it as well as the reasoning behind the practice. Can anyone shed some light on the question?

  6. Found a link to here on Reddit, …… Subbed! ……. really interesting stuff.
    On the main British Museum website you need to put the "Follow us On … " links to the top and make them bigger, been on there a few times and never noticed them.
    Great Channel.

  7. Love Military History,The Zulu War in particular. Also a great Film although Hook is made out to be a lovable Rogue!

  8. Excellent. I suggest people read 'The Red Soldier'. Sorry I forget the author. I read it while visiting South Africa back in 1979. It gives many first hand accounts of the soldiers who fought in the Zulu Wars. In fact, after reading this book, I found that the movie, 'Zulu' actually underplayed the bravery of the men at Rorke's Drift.

  9. 2:16 “…he wanted to become… “Inside-Duster-of-the-Books” in the Iron Library…” — man I really want to watch GoT now…

  10. 2:16 “…he wanted to become… “Inside-Duster-of-the-Books” in the Iron Library…” — man I really want to watch GoT now…
    Edit: is this still a job? and who is the caretaker of the umbrellas nowadays? – They should all wear medals^^

  11. The only reason so many Victoria Crosses were awarded at Rorkes Drift, was the fact that at Isandlwana some weeks before the British were defeated by the zulu losing 1300 men. The British Army had suffered its worst defeat against an indigenous foe with vastly inferior military technology and wanted to cover it up 😃😃😃😃😃😃😃

  12. "Hookee– that's company punishment!" Well, don't forget during the making of the movie's time the anti- hero was played up in most "kitchen sink" dramas, actor James Booth (born David Geeves); (19 December 1927 – 11 August 2005) did a superb job as such, granted it was played with great licence of facts, but his characterization was enthusiastically embraced by moviegoers of the time, so in a way, Hook was indeed viewed as a flawed, but genuine hero.

  13. Every time television shows the movie from childhood on my brother and I both watch it. My brother and I both served in the American army as paratroopers, myself in Vietnam. The story of Henry Hook and Roarke’s Drift is inspiring . Those soldiers never stopped believing in themselves. The Zulu respect them. Thank you for allowing us to learn more and this hero.

  14. I saw the movie Zulu as a kid but as I grew older I learned the truth about Henry Hook and what a truly brave man he was, In the movie he was portrayed unfairly as a shirker and malingerer nothing could have been further from the truth, The film makers should have told the truth it would have made the film so much better.

  15. Nice to see the correct information about Henry Hook, far from the malingerer shown in Zulu. Unfortunately it was The Warwickshire Regiment not the Welsh Regiment at the time of Roark's Drift.

  16. Wonderful tribute to a courageous soldier who in the movie Zulu is portrayed as a bit of a drunken skiver when in fact the army rightly so him as hero and obviously had engaged with the Zulus,we don't know if the spear was thrown or stabbed but obviously the Zulus were very close to him.
    Lovely video,not jingoistic or hostile,just fact based and complementary to a brave and humble man.

  17. With respect, Mr. Flynn, nobody who receives a medal for valor 'wins' anything. I know from personal experience that for a situation to reach the point that medals for valor are considered appropriate things have to go very, very wrong. And everyone that I've ever known or heard of who sought to 'win' a medal always ended up realizing just how foolish they were.
    May I suggest that a better term to use would be 'recipient' instead.
    That out of the way, let me say thank you for your informative video about the life of a man that the movie industry treated so poorly. Sgt. Hook was not drunken lout redeemed by courage as portrayed in the movie 'Zulu', but was a rather exemplary soldier. I appreciate your work in helping people become aware of the man Mr. Hook was.

  18. At he premier of the film Zulu, Henry Hook's family were invited to attend and when they saw how the film was portraying their illustrious forebear, they got up and walked out.

  19. Do we know how many of the men at this battle were Welsh? The film of course was made by Welshman Stanley Baker, so not only pro Welsh but also containing a number of Left Wing sentiments said by Baker – a solid Left Winger with a political agenda.

  20. i,ve seen his grave , its at Churcham just outside Gloucester, its a lovely headstone , he was obviously well thought of

  21. Hook got such terrible treatment in the movie Zulu. Great movie character, but nothing like the real man

  22. I am now retired and keep no contact with my old department. It will be eleven years this year since I left. Soooo, I can only assume this still true. Hook's grandson, David Hook, was or is a firefighter in my department, Prince William County of Fire and Rescue, Prince William, Virginia, the United States of America.

  23. I believe that they 'loaned' you the objects son…well over 100 soldiers at the drift…you should have said 'elder' daughter, you are comparing two, not three…not very good with your spoken English, old man…you are in the public eye man…

  24. as i have said many times over the years, please, please do NOT get your history from the film industry……

  25. 'ookie was portrayed as quite a character in the movie Zulu. When the chips were down and the assagais were flashing, he performed heroically in the makeshift hospital at Rourke's Drift.
    I hope that portrayal was somewhat accurate, as it gives ne'er do wells like me a proper example to follow. I followed it, in my own, way for more than a dozen years in the US Navy, though I never was decorated for bravery.

  26. Hooks account of the battle of Rorke's Drift in his own words. http://www.rorkesdriftvc.com/vc/hook_account.htm

  27. I Live in Cwmbran, South Wales. John Williams VC is buried in a small churchyard at Llantarnam. Well worth a visit, with a nice pub next to the Church.

  28. 2nd battalion 24th foot……Royal Warwickshire Regiment……no Ivor Emmanuel singing 'Men of Harlech'! Many years ago I was checking a customer's paperwork,surname Hook,living in Gloucestershire and I casually asked "Related to Henry?".
    He confirmed that he was a descendant and regrettably I have forgotten exactly what his connection was but we had a nice chat and it was a great pleasure to meet him.
    I first saw the film 'Zulu' when I was 12,at grammar school as cadets we used to spend a week on the Brecon Beacons and managed to talk one of our teachers into taking us into Brecon to the SWB museum but as a Stratford-upon-Avon boy it excited me even more when I discovered that 2/24 were R.Warwicks!
    'Washing Of The Spears' has been a permanent resident of my bookshelf for decades.

  29. It's a disgrace the Government did not look after some of the men who won this country's highest medal honour and who fell on hard times. Nothing has changed for today's soldiers alas.

  30. Lord Chelmsford was indeed his overall commander but he personally had nothing to do with Rorkes Drift. It was a rearguard action after the biggest defeat for the British Army in years.. Chelmsford was responsible. I am talking about Isandlwana. Without going into detail, I can safely say the man was an arrogant fool who totally underestimated his Zulu enemy. It is my opinion he should have faced a courts martial but such was the influence of the upper classes in those days, he was safe.

  31. I suddenly want to see a historically accurate remake of Zulu that features Henry Hook as he actually was, not the drunken complainer that they originally portrayed him as.

  32. When the movie Zulu was premiered in 1964 in London descendants of some of the characters were invited to attend including Henry Hooks two daughters, (5:53) they were elderly ladies by then and were so horrified at the portrayal of their father as a malingering drunken thief that they walked out in disgust. In real life Hook was an honest soldier and a teetotaller. The producers of the film later issued an a apology to the Hook family.

  33. his character was twisted in the movie Zulu for dramatic purposes. It is good to see the real man discussed.

  34. This was very interesting and informative. Thank you. However, as a retired military officer, I encourage you to use the term “received” rather than “won” when referring to award of any medal for gallantry, since winning implies a contest or competition. Medals, such as the VC or the US Medals of Honor, are awarded for conspicuous merit, not through competition. Thank you for considering this suggestion. Keep on with the wonderful videos!

  35. The movie "Zulu" is one of my favorites and I bought a DVD to watch occasionally. I am very unhappy to learn that this great man was so abused by the film. I think of him and the others at Rorke's Drift, and it gives me the chills to think of what happened there. It is a scandal that this man was thought to be suitable only for dusting shelves and caring for umbrellas. The film makers should be embarrassed, and should issue an apology. Rorke's Drift is on a par with "The Charge of the Light Brigade" and better, because the "charge" was the result of a poorly written and badly interpreted order. I suspect that if Pvt. Hook was an officer, he would have been treated much better. Cheers to Chelmsford for trying to help him, though.

  36. Thank you Hook. A true Englishman.
    A shame that the BBC don't choose to showcase true heroes like Hook………. but no, they wouldn't would they………??

  37. 24th Foot 1879 VCs:
    https://archive.org/details/bookofvictoriacr00stewuoft/page/198
    War Office 2 May 1879:
    http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documents/lieut-g-bromhead-vc-reg-wo98-4.pdf
    The lead in February 1879 despatch Military affairs:
    https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015082125256;view=1up;seq=5

  38. Mr Hook was a real man. A hero and a true gentleman. Thank you for sharing this. Im of Welsh decent and often wondered if any of my ancestors fought in any welsh regiment in this time period. I can only dream they did

  39. I've read many posts about how the film makers maligned the reputation of Hook by making him 'more interesting' a kind of anti hero.
    Funny how films will announce that 'no animals were injured in the making of this film' but happily twist the truth of events and people just to make it more interesting.
    I now wonder did the film have a disclaimer that the truth has been stretched to make characters more interesting, or as they do when they say names have been changed to protect the innocent etc. I suppose I'll have to watch the closing credits to find out if animal wlfare is more important than a man reputation.

  40. So nice to hear the truth of a much malined hero, Hollywood should hang their heads in shame for the damage they did to his character.

  41. Yes the movie portrayed Hook poorly for added drama, but most know the truth about him.
    It's great work you're doing to showcase these and other treasures of history. Well done!
    Thank you.

  42. Hook was in the British Museum militia. He started the shooting competition between the British Museum and the British Museum (Natural History) in Kensington. The cup he donated used to be in a cabinet in the BM staff canteen.  I hope it's still there. The British Museum had a 25 yard indoor rifle range in a sub-basement of what was later part of the British Library.

  43. Zulu is a wonderful film, but completely inaccurate. Not only about Hook, but the regiment was a borders regiment. The nationalities in the battle were vast majority English. There were some Welsh and Scots too, but per capita of the regiment, less than you'd normally get in an English regiment. Stanley Baker, who produced the film, was Welsh and inserted the 'welshness' in for his own patriotism and for dramatic license. Not hatimg, Welsh are fine soldiers and a patriotic and decent people, but Rorkes Drift was fought by an English company, and was not in any way Welsh.

  44. These movie makers are divorced from logic and reality. They are like some liars you meet in life who will make a lie even when the truth would serve them better. To use the name of a Victoria Cross holder falsely for commercial gain is disgusting. He is an official hero! To Americans it would be like making Cpl. Alvin York out that way or John Glenn. Trooper Hook I salute you and your unit. I am just glad I never faced a Rorke's Drift.

  45. My dad took me to see Zulu when i was little, and i loved it. For nostalgic reasons, I still do, but I’m disgusted with the way the film makers trashed the reputation of Henry “Harry” Hook. Far from being “a thief, a coward, and an insubordinate barrack-room lawyer”, he was a model soldier, and a teetotaler. Had he really been like the film character, I suspect he wouldn’t have been awarded the VC, but merely been absolved of his crimes and been allowed to go back on duty, as a reward for doing his job. Shame on Stanley Baker and Cy Endfield. Rest easy, Private Hook.

  46. The Filmmakers who are cowards always trying make Vets look like immoral men which Filmmakers truly are immoral and cowards. He didn't win he received for bravery quiet saying a soldier won a award like its a game he won.He fought for his life and for others around him.

  47. This chap is clearly well read, just not very mature in his understanding of what he's talking about.
    Obviously in his case, it's not who who know…

  48. I saw the movie in 1964 when I was 11 yrs old. It was so amazing that I stayed in the cinema and watched it again 🙂

  49. 11 recipients but we only ever hear about Hooks
    It's like Simpson and his donkey at Gallipoli, you'd think he was the only one who'd been awarded a VC in that engagement

  50. My family just told me that this man was my great great great uncle (or something close to that)
    It angers me that the film depicts him as a cowardous villain, when our family and the records show he was an exemplary man

  51. I know his family despised how he was portrayal in the film. but for me it was one of the best portrayal of a soldier ever.

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