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The Julian Johnson Collection

Julian Johnson, FRGS

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№ 135


10 May 2017

Hammer Price:

A rare Liyakat Medal in gold group of five awarded to Lieutenant-Colonel G. L. Bonham, Grenadier Guards, who was wounded in action during the Boer War at Biddulphsberg, 29 May 1900, and held positions with both the Macedonian and Ottoman Gendarmeries, for which he was awarded the Liyakat Medal - in recognition of services rendered during the revolutionary period of 1908. He was married to Amy Bonham (nee Gaskell), the daughter of the well known society hostess May Gaskell, and the subject of both a portrait by Sir Edward Burne-Jones and a book called A Profound Secret by Josceline Dimbleby

Queen’s South Africa 1899-1902, 2 clasps, Cape Colony, Orange Free State (Capt. G. L. Bonham. Gren: Gds.) clasps are tailor’s copies, with unofficial rivets; King’s South Africa 1901-02, 2 clasps (Capt. G. L. Bonham. Gren. Gds.) top lugs neatly removed; Coronation 1902, silver; Ottoman Empire, Order of the Medjidieh, 2nd Class breast Star, silver, gold and enamel, with Arabic backplate; Ottoman Empire, Liyakat Medal, gold, solder repair to suspension or last, this loose, edge bruising to first two, generally nearly fine or better (5) £1400-1800

This lot was sold as part of a special collection, The Julian Johnson Collection.

View The Julian Johnson Collection


Provenance: Christies, July 1990 (when sold without the Order of Medjidieh).

George Lionel Bonham was born in August 1873, the eldest son of Sir George Francis Bonham of Knowle Park, Cranleigh, Surrey. He was commissioned Second Lieutenant, Grenadier Guards, in March 1892, and advanced to Lieutenant in August 1896. Two years later he married Amy Bonham (nee Gaskell) who was the subject of a portrait by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Sir Edward Burne-Jones. The artist having a very close relationship with her mother May Gaskell (a successful society hostess - known as the “Lady of Marble Arch”), which along with the life of Amy and her tragic death is featured at length in Josceline Dimbleby’s A Profound Secret published in 2004.

G. L. Bonham also frequently features in the book ‘Lionel [sic] had fresh faced good looks and the perfect figure for a guardsman: tall, slim and erect. He looked immaculate in his uniform. When I showed a photograph of Lionel in his casual clothes - a straw boater and flannel trousers - to the oldest living member of his family, Sir Anthony Bonham, he said, ‘How debonair,’ which was exactly the right description. His wavy fair hair, blue eyes and rosy skin were unmistakably English... There is hardly a photograph of Lionel without a cigar between his rather full lips. But he was not a Philistine; he was a sensitive man who loved reading, and May was later to remark that he wrote some of the best letters of anyone she knew, which, considering her other correspondents, and her own talent for writing, was high praise indeed.’

The couple were married at St. Margaret’s, Westminster, 11 June 1898, ‘
The Times described it as ‘a pretty military wedding’. Standing at attention down the entire nave of the large church was a company of the second battalion of the Grenadier Guards, making a brilliant border in their scarlet uniforms. Lionel’s father Sir George Bonham, tall and handsome with aquiline features, had come from Rome where he was at that time First Secretary at the British Embassy.... Sir Edward Burne-Jones played his part in the family event by being a witness at the signing of the register.’ (Ibid)

Bonham advanced to Captain in October 1899, and went with the 2nd Battalion for service in South Africa:

‘Lionel had been active in the Orange Free State for the past few weeks. On 29 May [1900] he was wounded by a Boer bullet during the Battle of Biddulphsberg, which was near Senekal, a small town of about twenty-five houses and a church. As the Grenadier Guards advanced on the morning of the battle, they could see no sign of the Boers, but they soon came under a hail of bullets. They lay down on the ground but, still visible on the open veldt, were an easy target for the enemy. With many men already wounded, the long dry grass suddenly caught fire behind them, probably the result of a dropped match, though to this day no one knows for certain. The wind quickly fanned the flames and produced a high wall of fire and smoke. Faced with a hail of gunfire from the unseen Boers in front of them, the Grenadier Guards were forced to retreat through the flames carrying their wounded, with the result that many of the men were badly burned. Any wounded men who could not be carried were horribly burnt to death where they lay.

The Grenadiers lost over forty per cent of their men that day, more than in any other battle during the entire war. In the circumstances, Lionel was lucky not to have suffered any burns, and to have been shot only in the arm. At the end of this horrific day the Boers came out of their trenches and helped the British surgeons and orderlies to carry their wounded off the battlefield..... Lionel spent a month in the Dutch Reformed Church in Senekal, which the British had turned into a hosptial.’ (Ibid)

Bonham was invalided home, and after a period of leave and recuperation returned to South Africa in August 1901. His wife Amy followed him out to South Africa, travelling with Rudyard Kipling and his family, and briefly staying with them at their residence in Cape Town. With the conclusion of hostilities Amy returned to the UK in the summer of 1902, followed by Bonham in Autumn of the same year. He was appointed Second in Command of the School of Instruction for the Macedonian Gendarmerie, Salonika in April 1904. He held this position for two years before being employed as Temporary Lieutenant-Colonel, Grenadier Guards attached Chief Staff Officer, British Section, Ottoman Gendarmerie in August 1907 (Awarded the Liyakat Medal for services during the revolutionary period on 1908). He was promoted to Major the following year, and was employed as a Colonel in the Ottoman Gendarmerie, and Reorganiser of the Force in Smyrna, from March 1909.

In January 1910, Bonham contracted Typhoid and was moved from Smyrna to the British Seaman’s Hospital in Constantinople. He died 23 January 1910, ‘Sir Gerrard Lowther held a memorial service at the British Embassy Chapel in Constantinople. Several other ambassadors, attachés and prominent members of the British colony were there. Lionel’s body, sealed in a lead coffin, was taken to the docks and put on a steamer bound for England, as his parents wished for him to be buried amongst the other Bonham family graves, in the churchyard of St. Nicholas’s at Craneigh, near their estate.’ (Ibid)

Whilst Bonham was ill, his wife had been travelling in Ceylon, and she arrived back in England on 15 February, some 3 weeks after his death. Three days later she was found dead in the house that she had shared with her husband. The death was recorded as ‘heart failure’, and it is possible that she died of a broken heart, ‘like her mother, Amy was to marry an army officer. Like her mother, too, she soon began travelling on her own - first to the continent, and then to Ceylon, Japan, Peking. In 1910 she returned to England to bury her husband, whom she had not seen for two years. He had died of typhoid fever while serving in Turnkey. Two days later, she herself was dead. Of a broken heart? Or an overdose of laudanum?’ (
The Telegraph, book review 27 March 2004, refers).

It would appear that Bonham’s wife had acquired some exotic habits in his absence, but whatever the cause of her death the two of them were buried together side by side in St. Nicholas’s Churchyard.

Sold with extensive copied research (including photographic images of recipient), and a copy of
A Profound Secret by Josceline Dimbleby.