Gonville Bromhead, Lieut: 62nd: Regt: Quarter Master, his signature from a regimental paylist dated Bradford, England, 20 February 1783
Born: Lincoln, England, 30 September 1758
Regimental commission dates:
Quarter-Master, 18 January 1770
Ensign, 1 January 1774
Lieutenant, 3 March 1776
Captain-Lieutenant, 30 May 1786
Captain, 25 June 1789
Captured: Saratoga, New York, 17 October 1777 (Convention Army)
Died: 11 May 1822
Anyone who is interested in studying the Anglo-Zulu War (1870s), has watched the 1964 film “Zulu,” or is a fan of actor Michael Caine, has no doubt heard the name Gonville Bromhead before. In fact, Caine's character in Zulu, Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead, referred to his “grandfather” the “general.” This was a direct reference to his character's ancestor and namesake, Gonville Bromhead, who is the subject of this biography.
Named after his mother, Gonville Bromhead was the son of Boardman Bromhead of Thurlby Hall (died 7 December 1804)) and Frances (née Gonville) Bromhead. In 1770, Gonville entered the 62nd Regiment of Foot as a staff officer—the regiment's quarter-master—at the age of 12. How such an important job was entrusted to a boy may be explained by the presence of his father, Boardman, who was then major of the regiment. Gonville was educated under Dr. Wharton at Winchester College and afterwards at the Military Academy in Little Chelsea under its famed Master Lewis Lochée. While Major Bromhead exchanged into the 28th Regiment of Foot in 1771, his son stayed on with the 62nd, obtaining an ensigncy at the age of 15 and a lieutenancy little over two years later. Lieutenant and Quarter-Master Gonville Bromhead served with the regiment during the entirety of the Northern Campaign of 1777. According to The Annual Biography and Obituary for the Year 1823 (volume VII, A & R Spottiswoode, London: 1823), Bromhead's military service entailed the following:
In the ensuing campaign [of 1777], being with the advance in taking possession of Mount Independence, he narrowly escaped the explosion of several mines, which the enemy left on evacuating the place. Shortly afterwards, on the 19th of September, 1777, at the battle of Freeman's Farm, nearly the whole of his regiment was destroyed, himself and two privates being the only two persons of the company to which he belonged, that were not either killed or wounded. On this occasion he was attached by Sir Francis Clerke, to the colours of the 9th regiment, which was then advancing. He was also present at the disastrous affair of the 7th of October, after which the army retired to Saratoga; and at Fort Hardy, near that place, he was wounded. At this time also General Burgoyne, the commander-in-chief, being anxious to recover stores to a great amount, fallen into the hands of the enemy, he volunteered to ascend the river in the night, and succeeded, amidst a heavy fire, in cutting the cables of the bateaux, which drifted down with a large quantity of provisions to the royal army: for this service he was honoured with his Excellency's thanks. Being with the army at Saratoga, he was detained prisoner of war upwards of three years.
During the Irish rebellion (his regiment having been previously reduced) he actively assisted his brother-in-law, Lord Ffrench, in organizing the yeomanry cavalry, and served himself as a volunteer. Lord Carhampton, the commander-in-chief in Ireland, at that period, expressing himself sensible of his zeal, recommended him for more efficient service, and he was immediately appointed to the lieutenant-colonelcy of the Lochaber Highlanders, who were stationed on the coast, in expectation of the descent of a large French force. When the volunteer levy in England was made, on the threatened invasion, he was appointed brigadier-general on the staff, and by indefatigable exertions, rendered the great body of his different corps fully competent to act with the line. He afterwards succeeded to the rank of major-general and lieutenant-general.
Upon his return to the regiment in England after his exchange in 1781, he was the lieutenant of Captain William Hall's company.
Gonville Bromhead married The Honourable Jane ffrench (died 2 September 1837) on 18 July 1787. He was created 1st Baronet Bromhead, of Thurlby Hall, co. Lincoln on 19 February 1806. The Bromheads had three sons, Sir Edward ffrench Bromhead, 2nd Baronet (born 26 March 1789), Sir Edmund Gonville Bromhead, 3rd Baronet (born 22 January 1791) and the Reverend Charles ffrench Bromhead (born 18 May 1795). It was the second son, Sir Edmund, who had seven children, the youngest of whom was named after his grandfather. It was this Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead (of the 2nd Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot) who fought in Africa at the famed Battle of Rorke's Drift on 22-23 January 1879, and was decorated with the Victoria Cross (V.C.) on 2 May 1879 for his actions. At Rorke's Drift, he and Lieutenant Chard (Royal Engineers) commanded about 140 men at a small missionary station against an attacking Zulu warrior force of three to four thousand men. The Zulus attacked only half an hour after the first warning was received and in that time the defenders erected barricades. From after 4pm until daybreak next morning, Chard and Bromhead directed operations while their men kept up a steady fire, which ensured the successful defense of the post against overwhelming odds.