Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wynne, Warren Richard Colvin

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WYNNE, WARREN RICHARD COLVIN (1843–1879), captain, royal engineers, eldest surviving son of Captain John Wynne, royal horse artillery, of Wynnestay, co. Dublin, by Anne, daughter of Admiral Sir Samuel Warren [q. v.], was born on 9 April 1843. After passing through the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich he received a commission as lieutenant in the royal engineers on 25 June 1862. He served at various home stations, and then for five years at Gibraltar, where he acted as adjutant of his corps. He was appointed to the ordnance survey in the home counties on his return to England at the end of 1871. He was promoted to be captain on 3 Feb. 1875.

On 2 Dec. 1878 he embarked in command of the 2nd field company of the royal engineers for Natal, and on arrival at Durban marched to join the first column as commanding royal engineer under Colonel (afterwards Sir) Charles Knight Pearson at the mouth of the Tugela river, to take part in the Zulu war. The river was crossed on 13 Jan. 1879, and in the presence of the enemy Wynne with his company of royal engineers, assisted by the line, laid out and built Fort Tenedos on the left bank of the Lower Tugela, which was completed on the 17th. He was in command of the right in the action on the Inyezane river on 22 Jan., where his company was employed as light infantry, and on arrival at Ekowe Wynne designed and built the fort there.

On 28 Jan. Lord Chelmsford's announcement that he was forced, on account of the Isandhlwana disaster, to retire to the frontier was received, with full discretion to Pearson to hold his position or retire to the Tugela. A majority of a council of war was in favour of retreat, when Wynne, mentioning that retreat would be hazardous, and its moral effect at such a juncture most prejudicial, succeeded with the support of Colonel Walker and Captain H. G. MacGregor in securing a decision to remain at Ekowe.

The construction of the fort was proceeded with. On 1 March Wynne was engaged in a successful sortie to destroy a Zulu kraal, and commanded the right flank of the column on its return in an engagement with the enemy, his company again acting as light infantry. Hemmed in at Ekowe, and unable to get runners through to Lord Chelmsford, heliograph signals from the Tugela were observed on the following day, and Wynne at once constructed a large signalling screen to reply, and made a balloon to carry a message. He was indefatigable in laying down ranges, repairing approaches, or cutting down bush, always resourceful and cheerful, making the best of the means at hand; and to his skill and exertions the successful defence was greatly due. Pearson, in his despatch (London Gazette, 16 May 1879), expressed his high opinion of Wynne's services.

On 12 March he was struck down with fever, the result of overwork. On the relief of Ekowe he was moved in a cart to the Tugela river, where he died on 9 April 1879, and was buried in the hillside cemetery overlooking the river and Fort Tenedos. His name is commemorated by his corps in Rochester Cathedral.

Wynne married first, in 1872, Eleanor (d. 1873), third daughter of J. P. Turbett of Owenstown, co. Dublin; and secondly, in 1876, Lucy, eldest daughter of Captain Alfred Parish, by whom he had three children, who with their mother survived him.

[Royal Engineers' Records; Despatches; Memoir and Diary in the Royal Engineers' Journal, 1879, with plans of Forts Tenedos and Ekowe and the action of Inyezane; London Times obituary notice, 31 May 1879; private sources.]

R. H. V.