Notes on the application of Henry Hook, V.C., for a post as a labourer at The British Museum
London, England, 30 September 1881
A successful application for a job at the Museum
The man whose name appears on this document could not fill in an application form because he could not read or write. In spite of this he became one of the most famous members of The British Museum's staff.
Henry Hook was the son of a farm worker. He joined the Army in 1877 and was sent to South Africa. On 22 January 1879 he was in camp at Rorke's Drift when it was attacked by a large force of Zulu warriors in one of the major battles of the Zulu War. Hook and a number of other soldiers defended the army hospital and its patients with great courage for several hours. For this he was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest award given to members of the British armed forces for bravery in action.
Hook bought himself out of the army and returned to England. By 1881 he was working as a casual labourer at The British Museum. He wanted to be taken onto the permanent staff, and was recommended by his former commanding officer and by the Prince of Wales, but he could not be accepted at once because he was illiterate. The notes about him in this envelope were made by Museum officials. However, he taught himself to read and write, and in December 1881 he joined the staff of the Museum as one of the Library Dusters. Later he became one of the Museum's cloakroom attendants.
Hook's health was permanently damaged by his years in the Army, and from the 1890s he suffered from 'consumption' (tuberculosis). At the end of 1904 his illness forced him to retire from work. He went to live in Gloucestershire, near to his birthplace, and died there in March 1905.