The Life of David Jenkins (1846-1912): A Hero of Rorke's Drift

Geoff Rees writes: I hope that you do not mind my contacting you about my ancestor, Private David Jenkins, 1/24 S. Warwickshire Regiment, who was a local Brecon man before joining the army and spending five years in South Africa. David was a defender of Rorke's Drift and it has been established with the help of Major Everitt of the Regimental Museum in Brecon that he saved the life of the commanding officer, John Chard, during that action.
I hope this information may be of interest to your Society and I would appreciate any assistance that any of your members could offer. I can be contacted by email at

Geoff has provided the following account of his ancestor's life:

Until recently, David Jenkins's presence at Rorke's Drift was not acknowledged by historians or even by the Museum itself. This all changed when a cousin, also a great grandchild of David's, took his Rorke's Drift Bible into the museum . . .

David was brought up in Defynnog. He was born there on 3rd June, 1846, the son of Thomas Jenkins (tailor) and Elizabeth Davies (daughter of William Davies a local smithy). His parents had met and married in Tredegar, drawn there by the need for employment. By 1861, his father had become innkeeper of the 'Curriers' Arms' and then by 1871 of 'The Tanners' Arms' (still a going concern – its website carries a brief history of David's life). I wondered if there was anyone in your society with local knowledge of Defynnog.

David served an apprenticeship as a currier, but in the late 1860s it seems he left to seek employment elsewhere (Shropshire). By 1873, he had returned to the Brecon area, was a member of the Carmarthenshire militia and in 1874 took the major decision of joining the army. Within months he was sent first to Gibraltar and then South Africa. Like many of the soldiers in the army at that time, he was no angel, but he fought in the Xhosa War of 1877/78 and was one of the 150 or so men (100 fit ones!) who repulsed 5000 Zulus at Rorke's Drift.

On his return to Britain he was chosen as one of the models for Lady Butler's famous portrayal of the battle. Lady Butler was the most celebrated war artist of her time and she chose real soldiers as models for her paintings to help with their authenticity. She has actually written the name 'Jenkins' on her sketch of my ancestor.

Around the beginning of 1880, David seems to have met his wife, Annie Downey (born Penoyre circa 1852). Annie's parents were Matthew and Jane Downey (married July-Sept 1844). Matthew, originally from the north of England, was a gamekeeper (the gentry seemed not to trust local men!). Jane was from Wandsworth in London. The family lived at Lake Cottage, Penoyre. The adjacent census address was 'the Crug'.

Annie spent time in service as a maid to the Vicar of Llandeilo'r Fan (c1871). My book is about heroism and she is one of my heroes as she seems to have 'soothed David's wrinkled brow' when he left the service. As you may know, other Rorke's Drift men, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, fared not so well.

My grandfather, David and Annie's second child, was born in Defynnog in 1882. He was a wonderful man and bore great affection for the village, though, apart from holiday visits, he can't have spent long there. By 1884, David and Annie and their young family had moved to Swansea for him to find work and he became storekeeper for the Swansea Corporation near the docks.

On 20th July 1904, King Edward VII and his wife visited Swansea to 'lay the first sod' of the King's Dock. My great grandfather was introduced to the King as a Rorke's Drift veteran and was later sought out by Lord Butler who wished to convey his wife's regards. The news reports of this remarkable day in the history of Swansea are very colourful as there were no photographs. David and Annie had seven sons. All of them patriotically enlisted in the army in 1914 and faced extreme hardship. Two were killed in action. David at least was spared these tragedies as he died in August 1912 at the age of 66. Annie, however, lived on until 1939 and I have one relative still alive who can remember speaking with her. She adored David and always wore black from the day of his death until her own. Their descendants count in their hundreds. None of us would be here today if David had not survived Rorke's Drift.

On March 28th, 2010, a rededication ceremony was held at David's grave in Cwmgelli Cemetery, Treboeth, Swansea. Six regiments were represented and the ceremony was conducted by the regimental pardre from Brecon. Over one humdred friends and descendants attended.

I hope this information may be of interest to your Society and I would appreciate any assistance that any of your members could offer. I can be contacted by email at

Request submitted 20 February 2012

Related Links

Battle of Rorke's Drift: website –
Regimental Museum: The Royal Regiment of Wales –
The Forgotten Man: The Tanners' Arms (Defynnog) website –

If you'd like us to display details of a Breconshire-related problem of your own, please send full details to Hilary Williams.

Click the button below to return to previous page.