b. 12/01/1826 34 Cuyler Street, Uitenhage, South Africa. d. 12/04/1876 Penge, Surrey.
Joseph Petrus Hendrik Crowe (1826-1876) was the first South African born recipient of the Victoria Cross, being born on 12th January 1826 at Vermaak’s Military Post, 34 Cuyler Street, Uitenhage, Cape Colony. His father, also named Joseph, was an Irishman who had been an officer in the 60th Rifles, and had been garrisoned in the Cape when he met and fell in love with, and married, an Afrikaans girl, Clasina Magdalena Vermaak, in March 1815. Placed on half pay, Crowe decided to settle in South Africa, starting a farm in Uitenhage. When his son, Joseph, was at an age when he wanted to join the Army, his father applied to Major General Sir George Napier on the strength of his previous service and his request was granted. On 27th October 1846, Joseph Crowe was appointed ensign in the 78th Regiment of Foot (Ross-shire Buffs) and was posted to the Regiment in India.
He served in the Persian Campaign of 1856, earning the Medal and clasp. The following year, the Indian Mutiny broke out in Meerut, and Crowe’s Regiment became heavily involved in the fighting. On 12th August 1857, the column came up against the enemy in the village of Boursekee Chowkee about a mile and a half in front of Bashiratguni. The enemy redoubt, on a hill some 400 yards from the main road, was heavily defended by artillery. A deep and wide marsh protected its front and heavy rain had made the area impossible for the moving of guns. Without support from the artillery, the infantry formed up ready to storm the redoubt under heavy fire from the mutineers. Lieutenants Crowe and Campbell stood just ahead of their troops waiting for the order to charge through the thick mud. The order was given and both officers engaged in a race to be first to reach the breastwork.
Crowe reached the redoubt just ahead of Campbell and clambered over the wall, sword swinging and ploughed into a group of mutineers. The troops soon followed and in no time all the rebels were killed. The rest of the column chased the rebels out of the village and then out of Bashiratguni. The only wound Crowe received was the loss of the end of his little finger to a tulwar’s stroke. Both Crowe and Campbell were recommended for the VC, but Campbell succumbed to cholera just four days later. Crowe’s citation appeared in the London Gazette on 15th January 1858, but there is no record of when or where Crowe received his Cross. At the same time he was promoted to Captain and was transferred to the 10th Regiment of Foot.
In 1860, his regiment were posted to the Cape Colony for garrison duty, which gave Crowe the chance to see his family for the first time in 13 years. A further posting to Malaya and Singapore saw his health undermined by tropical disease. He sailed to the UK and, in January 1876, ill-health saw him retire from the Army as a Lieutenant-Colonel. He lodged with his niece in Upper Norwood, South London and soon afterwards, he died in Penge, Surrey on 12th April 1876 aged 50. His death was attributed to lung congestion which was brought on by a chill he caught whilst shooting snipe in Ireland. He was interred in a non-descript grave in West Norwood Cemetery. In 1957, his overgrown grave was discovered by his great-grand-nephew Professor J.F.V. Phillips , and in August 1976 (just over 100 years after his death) his remains were exhumed. On 5th February 1977, following a military ceremony in St Katherine’s Anglican Church, his casket was carried on a gun carriage to the MOTH Garden of Remembrance, Uitenhage, where he was re-interred. Joseph Crowe bequeathed his Victoria Cross to his sister, and the medal returned to the Cape Colony. Sadly, some years later, the medal was destroyed in a house fire.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: DESTROYED IN A FIRE.
BURIAL LOCATION: HEROES ACRE JUBILEE CEMETERY, UITENHAGE, SOUTH AFRICA.
Crowe's grave in Uitenhage, South Africa. (Picture - Derek Walker).