Private Samuel Pitt

Written and researched by Gerald Jarvis.
On behalf of G.V.H.S

Samuel Pitt was born on 20th October 1855 in Portskewett, Monmouthshire. His parents were listed as Jesse Pitt, Agricultural Labourer and Jane King. By the early 1860s Samuel’s parents had moved to Aberkenfig. Samuel’s family were lodging with Jesse’s brother Seth and his wife Gwenllian. Jesse was working as a labourer. Fortunately they were not there very long, because the family moved to Tyn Y Garn, Nr Aberkenfig, Bridgend, (now between Pen y Fai and the M4). Constantly looking for work Samuel’s family had to move again in 1871, this time to Railway Cottages, Higher Newcastle, Bridgend.

Samuel was by now 15 years old and still listed on the Census as a scholar. This is strange as by this time he would have been considered old enough to go to work to help support his family.

On February 9th 1877, aged 21 Samuel Pitt went to Cardiff and enlisted in the Army. Whether this action was brought about by the recent death of his mother Jane at this time, we do not know. We were unable to locate Samuels’s actual service documents. The only note of his description was that he had red hair. We can assume that he was physically fit and of sound mind as he was accepted for service as a Private on the 10th Feb. 1877.  He was given his regimental number 1186 on the 22nd February, 1877 and became a member of B Company 2nd Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot.

In 1878 Private Samuel Pitt 1186 left Great Britain on board the Troop Ship Himalaya with the rest of his Battalion for South Africa. On arrival the Regiment were immediately sent to fight in what was to known as the Kaffir War 1877-1878. Before he went he made a ‘remittance of his pay’ of 1 Pound to his father, Jesse.

This war was one of the many ‘necessary wars’ of the Empire, brought about to subdue any of the existing tribes in the area, and basically ‘steal’ their lands in the name of Queen and Country. So that the incoming white settlers could establish themselves, and have the then displaced natives as a ready-made workforce.

When this action ended the Regiment was sent to the Natal and by December 1878,  B Company 2nd Battalion. 24th Foot were stationed on the banks of the Buffalo River at a place called Rorkes Drift.

Rorkes Drift had been previously used as a mission station. It consisted of a storehouse, and a building for living accommodation, and two stone built cattle pens (Kraals).’ B ‘Company were left behind to guard the river crossing and the hospital stores for the main column. On the 22nd of January the men at Rorkes Drift were warned by a rider from the main camp at Isandhlwana that they had been overrun by Zulu’s! And that the main column had been slaughtered to a man. And that now the entire Zulu army was heading straight for Rorkes Drift mission. (In fact the Zulu’s that they were about to face, had not fought in the Isandlhwana tragedy.) The 100 men of the Rorkes Drift garrison were just about to face 4,500 warriors of the Zulu reserves.

Bromhead, Chard and Commissary Dalton, the senior officers took immediate action to fortify the station, by building a perimeter wall of Mealie bags, overturned Wagons and Biscuit boxes. Also inside this perimeter a further wall of stores across the station was built and beyond that a Mealie bag redoubt from where to make a final stand if necessary. Some military historians have calculated that the 139 soldiers at the walls, had 1.6 metres (3’ 6”) of wall to defend. This calculation coupled with the fact that there were approx. 4,500. attacking Zulus, works out at 16 warriors per defender.

Samuel Pitt was positioned at the North part of the perimeter wall, and it was this wall that bore the brunt of the first of the many attacks by the Zulus. Samuel gave an interview to the Western Mail on the 11th May, 1914. In which he describes in detail his part in the action.

“It was about 2:30 in the afternoon when we first caught sight of the enemy rounding a bend at the base of the hill. (Shyane / Oscarberg Hill) From the direction of Isandhlwana, and the country was soon black with them. We were without artillery and it was an hour before the Zulu’s were within rifle shot.  As soon as they were, we pounded away for all we were worth; raining bullets amongst them, but on they came, not fearing death at all. They were sharp enough however, to take advantage of every bit of cover they could. Firing away as we did, it was impossible to keep them at a distance, and we were forced to retire to an inner enclosure. By 9:00 pm, when darkness set in, the Zulus had got to close quarters with us; they were gripping our bayonets through the firing gaps in the mealie bags. It was really “touch and go” at the time, and how they were kept out was miraculous. Just when the fray was at the thickest a loud ‘Hoo Hoo’ (‘Usutho, Usutho’) was sounded from the Zulus on the hills around us, and we had quiet for a while. The Zulus seemed to go to ground for a bit. Then there was the sound all around us, and a renewed attack was made.

The Hospital, was just outside our defences, was ablaze, and in the glare the Zulu’s were holding up their dead comrades bodies for us to fire at, the idea, I think was to get us to expend our ammunition. Somehow or other we kept them at bay and only one got over our defences, needless to say,  he did not live long.We found afterwards that we did not suffer many casualties. In the morning we found the ground strewn with dead and dying Zulu’s. We reckoned we had accounted for about 875, but the school books tell you 400-500…..”

It is an interesting fact, that the stores at Rorkes Drift had 20,000 rounds of rifle ammunition before the battle and on the morning afterwards there were only 900 rounds left. Due to the continuous firing, the soldiers’ Martini-Henry rifles overheated and this often caused a ‘flashback’ in the breech. One of Samuels N.C.Os, Sgt Henry Gallagher suffered burns to his face through this, while fighting at the South wall, and was scarred for the rest of his life.

After the battle B company were sent to rest, to a camp at Pinetown, Durban, and there a group photograph of the surviving defenders was taken. I think I have been able to pick Samuel Pitt out of the faces, and many of the more ‘famous’ defenders,  Lt Chard , Lt Bromhead, Pte Hook, C S Bourne are identified.

Although very many medals for personal bravery were awarded for this action, it was not regarded as a good thing by the Generals back home.  General Sir Garnet Wolseley is on record as saying “It is monstrous making heroes out of those who, shut up in buildings at Rorkes Drift could not bolt, and fought like rats for their lives which they could not otherwise save.” Pte Samuel Pitt was not awarded a medal. However he did receive an illuminated address from the Mayor of Durban and a personalized  copy of the Bible from the Ladies of the Cape Colony, inscribed “With gratitude for his part in the courageous stand against overwhelming odds at Rorkes Drift”. (This Bible is now believed to be held in the South Wales Borders Museum, Brecon.) Samuel also received the South Africa Campaign Medal with clasp 1877-78-79.

After Rorkes Drift. The 2nd 24th Regiment were sent from Pinetown, Durban. Then on to Casement Barracks, Gibraltar, and in August 1880, posted to Secunderabad, India. The Regiment then returned to England on the 26th of May 1883.

Pte Samuel Pitt was discharged from the Army at Gosport depot in June 1883 given 10s / 2d and a travel warrant to Cardiff, and discharged to the reserves until 1889.

His family was by now living at New Buildings, Ty Isaf. Penycae, near Bridgend. Samuel’s father, Jesse was now a widower and living with him was Samuel’s sister Elizabeth (23), who kept house, while his brother Jesse Jnr (14) and sister Rachel (13) were still at school. Jesse senior was working as a ‘land drainer’.

Just 32 days after his discharge from the army Samuel Pitt got married. His bride was Mary Venn, she had once lived next door to Samuel, and his return from the wars must have rekindled their relationship, for on the 23rd of July 1883 they were married at Bridgend Registrar’s Office. Following the marriage they went to live at Cildaudy cottages, Coytrahen, Llangynwyd, Bridgend. Samuel found work as a collier, possibly at Coytrahen, where there was a small drift mine.

Samuel and Mary went on to have 6 children. Mary Jane, Born 19th May, 1884, (sadly she died in 1886. aged 2.) Charles Henry born 13th July 1886. Elizabeth Ann was born on 10th October 1889. Kezia born on 23 September 1891. Jesse born on February 1894. Wyndham born 23rd September 1896.

Samuel was now working  for the Coytrahen Estate, (then belonging to the Treharne family) He is listed in the 1891 Census as being employed there as Butler/Gamekeeper.  But due to his growing family he left to become a collier once again. This involved a move to the Ogmore Valley. Where they lived at 9 Fron-wen Terrace, Wyndham. It was here on the 26th March that Samuel’s wife Mary aged 35 died of Typhoid fever. She is buried in Tynewydd Methodist Chapel cemetery, Ogmore Vale.

Faced with being a single parent trying to bring up a large family whilst working, Samuel decided to put the youngest, Wyndham who was only 6 months old in to foster care.

Although times were hard they were going to get a lot harder for the Pitt family. In April 1898 the Colliery owners locked the men out. For 5 months Samuel was effectively unable to put food on the table for his family and had to rely mostly on charity, and soup kitchens, and probably his game keeping skills. When the dispute ended both Samuel and his eldest son Charles (12) went back to work.

In 1901 the Pitt family had moved to 3 The Buildings, Penycae, Bridgend. Samuel was able to take on an unpaid lodger/housekeeper, Rachel John (24) an unmarried mother with a one year old daughter, Carrie

One by one his children grew up and left home, even Rachel John had left to get married. Samuel was able to spend more of his free time at his local The White Lion, in Maesteg. He became the President of the Bagatelle Billiards Team, who in turn became Bridgend and District Champions in 1909. We have a picture of Samuel aged 54, sitting proudly in front of the trophy.

In 1911 Samuel is listed as living at 61. Ogwy St, Pricetown. With his son Jesse, 17. and a General servant, Lily Ridges aged 13. Both Samuel and Jesse were listed as working in the Wyndham Colliery. On the 6th of March 1918. Samuel Pitt of 47, Wyndham St, Ogmore Vale. Got married to Rosina David. 54, a widow. The two witnesses to the wedding were Rosina’s children Thomas H David and Rosina David.

Samuel became an active supporter and life member of the then newly formed Royal British Legion, Maesteg Branch, when it was first established in 1921. In 1926 the country was plunged in to industrial chaos once more by the General strike. Officially it started on the 4th of May and was originally declared over on the 13th of May. But the Miners decided to stay out until the 9th of November. until they were forced back to work having to accept less pay and longer hours in some cases. Those people, who were deemed as active participants in the strike, were never re-employed.

On the 21st of November Samuel Pitt passed away at his home 13 Carmon St, Caerau. He was 71 years of age. Cause of death was cardiac failure. Probably brought on by a bout of Acute Bronchitis he had suffered 10 days previous. His stepson Thomas David was the informant. Samuel Pitt was buried in the churchyard of Bettws St David’s, row 3 plot 29a.

What happened to his ‘birth’ children after his death is not clear.

Wyndham, the son Samuel had fostered out, was shown to have enlisted on the 6th of November 1914. at Bridgend. He was aged 19. 5′ 6″ tall. and he worked as a collier. Although Wyndham passed the preliminary medical at Bridgend, on arrival at Aldershot a more thorough examination declared him Unfit for Military Service. He returned home to help the War effort by going back to the colliery. Wyndham himself passed away in 1972 and is buried near his father in the same churchyard at Row 3 Plot 10. In March 2001 Wyndham’s youngest son, Kenneth died and it is he who is laid to rest with his Grandfather, Samuel Pitt.

Click to enlarge

Gerald Jarvis.

Acknowledgements and thanks to

Bill Howells, Llynfi Valley Historical Society

Christine Phillips, Newcastle Historical Society

17 comments Add yours
  1. This site was sent to me by my 4th cousin, we being related to Samuel. I found his story to be most interesting – I love to know how my predecessors lived their lives. Very interesting!

  2. Like R Ballard and Rachel, Samuel was also a relation to myself…a most enjoyable and engrossing article and very well written!!!

  3. Excellent article. Accurate and well researched. Samuel Pitt was my grandfather. I have a photograph of Samuel Pitt and John Williams (Fielding) taken at Jackson’s Wellington Studio, Brecon. Both men are in civilian dress but are wearing their medals and John Williams’ V.C. can be seen clearly. I don’t know the date of the photo.

  4. I was so pleased to find this fascinating article. Samuel Pitt was a first cousin of my great-grandmother Mary Harris nee Pitt – her parents were the Seth and Gwennlian Pitt referred to in the article. I’m almost certain that Samuel’s second wife Rosina David was nee Harris, born in Selworthy, Somerset in 1858 daughter of Thomas and Sarah Harris – they moved to Aberkenfig in the early 1860s. Rosina was first cousin to my great-grandfather Tom Harris, who married Mary Pitt as his second wife – Samuel was the informant of his death in 1908. If anyone has any information on any of these I would be very pleased to have it.

  5. Very happy and proud to find this article. Samuel Pitt was my Great-Great-Grandfather (my Grandfather Leonard Pitt’s Grandfather). Also very interesting to see how the name Jesse is prevalent in our family tree!

  6. Fascinating reading as Samuel Pitt was my great granfather, Kezia (his doughter) being my grandmother. Only found this information because of a project my sons are doing in school on ancestors. Have been to Brecon to find out more info about his war service records. Family rumour has it that his Rourke drift medal and bible were sold by a family member many years ago. Would be interested to hear if anyone has any further memories as my mother can only just about remember him in her childhood briefly.

  7. Hello Kate.
    Thank you for your comments. It was areal pleasure to research and write Samuel`s story, and you and your sons should be very proud to have this man as an ancestor.
    I have had contacts from all over from people with common ancestry with Samuel Pitt . If you would care to get in touch direct on my home email. I will try and give you a list of names and their e-addresses. And then you will be able to share stories maybe? I look forward to hearing from you soon
    regards
    gerald

  8. My great grandfather.His son Wyndham Pitt,my grandfather,had a gunshot head wound.On the Somme.?.then sent back to Blighty…Wayne Pitt.

  9. I have a Private 11262. Wyndham Pitt. South Wales Borderers. Born 1895 in Nantymoel. Enlisted 9/11/1914.
    Recovering from a gun shot wound to the ‘ shoulder’ in Hospital on 15/2/1915. Before he enlisted he lived & worked at James Rd, Blaengarw? No mention of a head wound, maybe it happened later on in the war because a lot of records were destroyed in WW2.
    I do have a typed newspaper report from the Gazette of April 1917 for Pte Stanley Pitt, 3rd Batt: Welsh Regiment, being awarded the Military Medal for bravery under fire. Let me know via my email if you want a copy

  10. Gerald

    My cousin, Nigel Thorne of Bryncethin, is researching his family history and came across a reference in the 1901 census (Wales) to a Wyndham Pitt, aged 5 (born Dec quarter 1896 Bridgend 11a page 813 we think).

    He is listed as the adopted son of my cousin’s great great grandfather Thomas Thorne and his wife Sarah. They are shown in the census as living at Pwll Carne House, Blaengarw. We don’t know if this is a family connection although some of Nigel’s family are from Selworthy in Somerset which is where Samuel’s second wife Rosina David originated (as per previous messages).
    Best wishes
    Linda

  11. Very proud to read this as Samuel Pitt was my grandfather Leonard Pitt’s grandfather! Very interesting read

  12. great bit of research and a good story. I have come across this during research for John Wyndon Lyon who also was at Rorkes Drift. He migrated to Australia and is buried in Brisbane’s Toowong Cemetery. Samuel Pitt attracted my attention as my ancestor also a Samuel Pitt but from Tiverton in Devon had children with with similar christian names. I wonder if a couple of generations further back into the 1700s some Pitts have wandered a little north of their homes.

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