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

published on July 3, 2020

coins medals they're small they're


right wrong my name is Henry Flynn and

I'm the project curator for the money

metals Network here at the Vichy museum

and welcome to my corner the money and

metals 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 69 a

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

Churchill 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 some of

very flee what happened was the former

missionary station and supply camp

Rorke's drift which was being defended

by around about 100 British soldiers it

was attacked by around 4000 Zulu

warriors overnight and these these

hundred men successfully defended their

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 forgot

three 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 favors to

help him get this job one of the favors

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 library and we didn't have

a director back then at a principal


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 lone object from the

regimental Museum of the Royal Welsh I

mean you can see that this is this is a

handwritten letter and the handwriting

is a little tricky to decipher over 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 Wong's

drift I shall always be ready to keep it

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 it's nice innit

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 about the apron

and so I've obviously very proud of

having one of these medals and 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 the

Gloucestershire air might do him some


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 is now being

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 1905 which indicates that perhaps

it's one of the very last photographs of

him ever taken this picture is of hooks

daughters from his second marriage here

this was taken shortly after cooks death

if you look closely here on the dress of

hooks eldest daughter this is Victoria

Katherine BC interesting and she's

wearing two tiny little medals here

these are actually hooks 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 were 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

and 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 V see 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 learned from this morning's mail of

the death of my old comrade-in-arms your

late husband Henry Hook VC I tended 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

much indeed for listening if you'd like

to find out more about the money metals

Network or indeed more curators 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

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