Google+ Badge

Friday, January 30, 2015 Anthony Durnford - Langalibalele - 1873 Bushmans Pass

Bushman's River Pass  1873                              

In November 1873, Anthony Durnford was involved in a Battle at a place called Bushman's River Pass.   Their mission was to blow up the pass, and not to fire a shot. The story of the Buhman's Pass is contained in the book History of the Zulu Wars written by Frances and Edward.

It was during this battle that Anthony suffered a dislocated shoulder and a spearing in his left arm.  

The South African Military History Society presented this article

Photo from Frances' book The Chief and I as per her chapter

Military History Journal     Vol 14 No 2 - December 2007

Durnford, 'Long Belly' and the Farce at the Pass    by David Saks

On 3 November 1873, a short, confused skirmish took place in the heart of the Drakensberg between Chief Langalibalele's amaHlubi warriors and a small Colonial column under Major Anthony Durnford. From a military point of view, it was a trifling affair, but it was nevertheless to have far-reaching repercussions, both for the amaHlubi and for the young colony of Natal.

Giant's Castle
This amaHlubi Colonial forces clash, which took place at Bushman's River Pass near Giant's Castle, is also of interest from the point of view of Durnford himself, given the important role he would play in the much more well-known black/white showdown at Isandlwana a few years later, in 1879.

Durnford's distinguished, if often controversial, military career has been admirably addressed in these pages by Steve Bourquin, 'Col A W Durnford' in Military History Journal, Vol 6, No 5, June 1985.

This article will provide a more detailed focus on the Bushman's River Pass engagement itself, based on the first-hand accounts of some of those who had the dubious privilege of being caught up in it.

The Drakensberg only fit for mountain goats

  The trouble with Chief Langalibalele of the amaHlubi, nicknamed 'Long Belly' by the British, began when the Resident Magistrate of Estcourt, J MacFarlane, ordered him to comply with the terms of the Gun Law by having all firearms in his people's possession sent in for registration.

Langalibalele failed to comply, reluctant to press his subjects to surrender their hard-won weapons, even for a temporary period. Many believed that it was all a ploy to disarm them and, in practice, it indeed happened that guns brought in were retained indefinitely or rendered useless before return.

Had the Natal authorities been less heavy-handed and the amaHlubi less panicky, the controversy need not have got out of hand. Instead, the initial incident led to a rapid deterioration of relations between the two, causing a chain reaction of accumulated misunderstandings that left each party convinced that the other was intent on war.

Losing patience with the recalcitrant Langalibalele, Lieutenant-Governor Sir Benjamin Pine eventually decided to mobilise a large force to bring him to heel. This force comprised the Pietermaritzburg and Karkloof Troops of the Natal Carbineers, two companies of the Gordon Highlanders, the Richmond Mounted Rifles and some 8 000 Natal Native Levies.

Langalibalele's response was to retreat to the relative safety of the southern Drakensberg passes, accompanied by his warriors and his people's cattle. His flight was considered an act of secession and was therefore treasonable.

To prevent the amaHlubi from leaving Natal, Pine decided to detach part of the Natal force and use it to turn them back at the Bushman's River Pass, near Giant's Castle.

The Karkloof Troop under Captain Barter received their orders to turn out on 31 October. The next day, they mustered at Fort Nottingham where they were joined by the Pietermaritzburg contingent.

The combined force was made up of 55 white troopers (including two officers and six NCOs), 25 mounted baSotho auxiliaries and a baSotho interpreter, Elijah Kambule. Maj (later Col) A W Durnford of the Royal Engineers was in overall command.

 Born in Ireland in 1830 and a professional soldier since the age of sixteen, he had arrived in South Africa in 1871 and been transferred to Natal a few months previously.

   On Sunday, 2 November, Durnford and his 80 mounted troops set out from Fort Nottingham to intercept Langalibalele. Simultaneously, Border Agent CaptainAllison and 500 black auxiliaries were instructed to ascend via the 'Champagne Castle Pass' and then proceed southwards along the escarpment to link up with Durnford at the head of the Bushman's River Pass early on the following Monday morning.

 As subsequent events were to prove, it was an absurdly simplistic and over-optimistic plan, casually conceived as if all that was required was a canter over a few undemanding hills. Negotiating the mighty ramparts of the Drakkensberg was not a job to be undertaken lightly under any circumstances.

To expect Durnford's men to proceed all the way from Fort Nottingham to one of its highest summits in a mere ten hours or so was unrealistic, to say the least. Military Intelligence had also done a poor job of reconnoitring the country, with the result that Allison never made it to the summit at all.

 Champagne Castle on the left, enveloped in clouds in the background.
 (It might have helped had 'Champagne Castle Pass' actually existed). Durnford, meanwhile, took the wrong route and reached their objective a full day later than was intended. Had he known that the planned rendezvous with Allison would not take place, he almost certainly would have abandoned the expedition. Durnford's expedition started to go wrong almost from the outset.

The night was foggy, with the result that those in charge of the pack horses, lagging in the rear, lost their way in the gloom, depriving the column of most of its supplies and much of its ammunition.'

The baSotho men were asked to share their rations, which they did willingly. Morale remained high, despite this setback, It was already clear that this was not a routine patrol and the largely untried volunteers were eagerly anticipating their first taste of combat.

At daybreak on 3 November, the column advanced up the Game Pass, a spur of the main range. From there, they had a clear view of the Bushman's River Pass leading up to Basutoland (present-day Lesotho) and of amaHlubi herdsmen driving cattle up the steep, rocky slopes.

 It was then that the men strayed off course. Instead of attempting to ascend via Giant's Castle, they proceeded up the Hlatimba Pass, some ten kilometres further south. The Hlatimba route, apart from its extra distance, entailed a nightmarish trek through some of the most difficult terrain in the country, a veritable maze of deeply cut valleys, cliffs and ridges calculated to daunt even the staunchest of mountaineers. Even so, for all its difficulties, it was at least passable - just - for mounted men.

This was certainly not the case with the precipitous slopes leading up Giant's Castle. The exhausting day-long climb, which began at daybreak and continued until well into the night, effectively crippled the Carbineers as an effective fighting force long before the first shot was fired.

Even those who managed to struggle through to the summit were to be too wretched and exhausted to be of much use. During the ascent, Durnford's horse, Chieftan, lost his footing and dragged his master over a steep incline. As a result, he fell about fifty metres, 'head over heels, like a ball', breaking two ribs, dislocating his left shoulder and sustaining severe lacerations.

Chieftan, by remarkable chance, escaped largely unscathed. Badly shaken and in considerable pain, Durnford would have been justified in handing over command to someone else at this point, but he decided to press on.

 Some of his men, overcome with exhaustion, were unable to match his soldierly stoicism and dropped out, one by one, as the day progressed. Those who persevered made a pitiful sight as they clambered, yard by yard, up the forbidding mountainside, leading their horses and frequently slipping as they sought to avoid colliding with them.

Trooper Henry Bucknall later recalled how he and his comrades were able to cover no more than twenty to thirty metres at a time before being forced to rest. Durnford's second-in-command, Captain Barter, more advanced in years than the men under him, was reduced to crawling and had to be helped along.

He later described the spectacular but wild and forbidding nature they encountered: 'The scene before us was savage in the extreme. Down the bare side of the Mountain hung ribands of water, showing the spot to be the very birthplace and nursery of rivers; above, huge krantzes frowned, while the masses of unburnt dry grass, hanging like a vast curtain, gave a sombre and malignant aspect to the scene.'

  Hungry, exhausted and dispirited, the remaining 32 men who eventually reached the head of the pass were in no state to fight a battle the next morning. Too cold to get much sleep, they off-saddled and waited wretchedly for morning, smoking their pipes in lieu of dinner.

Durnford, his left arm in a sling, had understandably lagged far behind the rest of the horsemen, fainting away completely at one point. Without the attentions of Trooper R H Erskine, who loyally attended to his stricken commander throughout the day, he would never have made it to the summit.

It was only at 03.00 on Tuesday that he finally caught up with the column.

It was soon reported to Durnford that Langalibalele had already succeeded in escaping into Basutoland, but that many of his people had yet to cross the border. Durnford had no intention of allowing them to do so.

There was no sign of Captain Allison, only thousands of head of cattle attended by about a hundred young amaHlubi herdsmen. Durnford strung his tiny force in a long line across the mouth ofthe pass, dismounted and at intervals of six paces, and gave strict instructions not to fire unless confronted with an overt act of aggression.

 In this, he was only following the instructions of his superior, Lieutenant-Governor Pine. Many embittered troopers strongly criticised the order afterwards, claiming that, had they been given a freer hand from the outset, things might have turned out differently.

If Durnford's intention in deploying his men in an extended line had been to stage a show of strength, he failed. Instead, the thin line showed the amaHlubi, who were making their way up the slopes, how few white men there were against them and their confidence grew as the morning wore on.

Since the troops were ravenous by then, Barter ordered one of the Hlubi animals to be slaughtered. Durnford insisted that the animal be stabbed rather than shot, as he was afraid of the potential effect of a gunshot on the bristling tribesmen.

A farcical scene ensued, at the end of which a cow was finally dispatched, but the watching amaHlubi had probably become even more agitated from watching the melee than they would have been, had the animal been simply shot. Some of the Karkloof men, for reasons best known to themselves, then dissuaded Durnford from paying for the kill, something that would have gone a long way towards appeasing its owners. So famished were the troops that several ate their meat raw.

At 08.00, some mounted black troops appeared near the summit of the pass. Thinking that they might be Allison's men, Durnford, accompanied by some of the baSotho auxiliaries and the interpreter Kambule, rode up to them.

A long parley ensued between him and Mabuhe, commander of Langalibalele's forces. It was a tense time for all concerned, but especially for the straggling band of inexperienced Colonial troopers exposed on the mountainside.

By then, scores of amaHlubi were streaming up the slopes and lining the rocks on either side of their pitifully thin line. Those who had firearms - a not inconsiderable number - sighted them at the troopers at little more than 80 yards (73m) range and waited.

Others climbed to the rear of the column, completely surrounding them. Under these circumstances, Durnford's orders to turn back any amaHlubi moving up the pass looked increasingly ludicrous. Before long, the latter began to push their way past the Carbineers on their way to the summit, ignoring any feeble attempts to stop them. Those on the flanks became progressively more menacing, ostentatiously sharpening their assegais on the rocks or jeering at the nervous troopers, telling them to bring out their real army.

By 09.00, 400 to 500 amaHlubi were positioned around the head of the pass and at least half of them carried firearms of some sort. Even seasoned professional troops would have been hard-put to maintain their discipline under such circumstances.

Many had lost faith in Durnford, who seemed oblivious of the fact that the situation was on such a knife-edge and that, at any moment, the amaHlubi might rush down and annihilate them. Certainly, Kambule had no doubts on that score. He practically begged Durnford to allow his men to open fire, but Durnford was determined to stick to the letter of his directive not to fire the first shot.

  The behaviour of Sergeant Clarke, the Carbineers' drill instructor, helped to turn the uneasiness into mutinous panic. As a veteran of the Eighth Frontier War and a long-serving regular soldier, it had been hoped that his experience and age would serve to stiffen the resolve of the men of the column.

Instead, he began to shout, at the top of his voice, that they were all about to be murdered. He would be severely censured for this 'shameful and mutinous' conduct, in the words of Lieut-Governor Pine. His defence would be that he had only been trying to show his obstinate commander how perilous their position had become.

Sensing that his men were on the point of breaking, Durnford called out dramatically, 'Will no-one stand by me?' Three of the troopers, Erskine, C D Potterill and E Bond, responded, rallying to his side. He then gave the order for a slow withdrawal to higher ground and the men, forming fours, moved off at a walk towards the gully through which they had entered.

 They did so in fairly good order, considering how jaded and scared they were at this stage, but matters had already gone too far.

"'Whiz" came a bullet,' recalled Trooper H Bucknall, 'Then they poured in thick like the pattering of a hailstorm.' There was no thought of answering the fusillade. Durnford turned to see his men disappearing at a gallop around the shoulder of a stony hill, the orderly retreat instantly transformed into a rout. Durnford's men now had to run the gauntlet of at least 200 muskets fired at them at close range while their tired horses attempted to negotiate the treacherous slopes.

The flanking hills were wreathed in smoke and swarming with excited amaHlubi warriors running back and forth to get a clearer shot. Their firearms were too antiquated and their marksmanship too poor for them to do much damage, but the skirmish was destined to claim a few lives before it was over.

The first to fall was the gallant Trooper Erskine, followed soon afterwards by Bond and by Katana, one of the baSotho levies. Potterill was next. One of the amaHlubi later recalled seeing him, dismounted and possibly already wounded, being pursued by three warriors. He managed to shoot one of his assailants before the other two caught and dispatched him.

Durnford nearly shared the fate of the three loyal young men who had answered his call for support and had paid for it with their lives. He had hung back to allow Kambule, whose horse had been wounded by an assegai thrust, to mount behind him and this delay enabled two warriors to rush in and seize Chieftan's bridle.

Before he could draw his pistol and shoot them, Durnford received two assegai wounds, one through his already injured left arm that severed a nerve and left the limb permanently disabled. Kambule was killed in the flurry, shot through the head.

All that Durnford could do was to follow the retreating horsemen down the gully, which he did, almost weeping with rage and frustration. He recalled how, at the time, his main concern was not so much to ride free as it was to shoot his cowardly men when he caught up with them. Sergeant Varty also had a narrow escape during the retreat

His own horse was shot and he was only able to cover another hundred metres or so on Erskine's horse, which Trooper R Spiers had been able to catch for him as it careered down the slopes, saddle turned almost under its belly, before it was also wounded. Fortunately, Durnford's spare charger was available. While Sgt Varty was getting it under control and remounting, under heavy fire, several of his comrades hung back to support him.

  The Carbineers were thoroughly shown up by the mounted baSotho auxiliaries who, rallied by their young chief, covered their precipitous retreat and kept the amaHlubi at bay. Durnford tried to rally the Carbineers, but they broke again as soon as the first pursuing amaHlubi came into view and did not stop until they reached the camp. The miserable drill instructor, Sergeant Clarke, led the way, thereby putting the seal on his ignominious day's performance. The amaHlubi followed on foot for as long as they could down the Hlatimba Pass until their quarry were finally out of range and then returned in triumph, singing their war song.

Durnford and his ragged force returned to Fort Nottingham on 5 November, three days after their departure. Their arrival sparked a bitter furore of recriminations, accusations and counter-accusations that would take a considerable time to die down.

 Few emerged with much credit from the whole fiasco and at least one career - that of Sergeant Clarke - was ruined because of it. Clarke tried in vain to clear his name, writing a series of letters to the local newspapers and beseeching, without success, the Natal Governmentto institute a commission of enquiry.

 Later, when he was dismissed from the army altogether, he chose to leave Natal rather than be identified forever as a coward. Two weeks after the abortive expedition, Durnford, accompanied by some men of the 75th Regiment and several hundred mounted levies, returned to Bushman's River Pass to bury the five men who had fallen in the skirmish.

Cairns at the top of the pass - now known as the Langalibalele Pass - mark their graves and climbers in the area will be familiar with the adjacent peaks that today bear their names: Erskine, Bond, Potterill, Kambula and Katana. For good measure, there is also a Mount Durnford and a Carbineer Point.

Durnford's career survived the debacle, although he, too, came in for much criticism

In particular, he was accused of having ignored the advice of the Colonials, who, after all, knew the country and its people better than he did. Judging by the accounts of some of those who had served under him, Durnford does appear to have been profoundly out of touch with the feelings of the amaHlubi and of his own troops.

His blunt assertions that the Carbineers had failed in their duty further enraged the colonial population, who took this as a slur against the local militia. Someone even went as far as to poison his dog. Nevertheless, on 11 Dece:mber, Durnford was promoted to lieutenant-colonel, a vindication of his personal performance in the otherwise disastrous affair.

The final chapter in this gallant soldier's career - and the one for which he is primarily remembered - would be written a few years later on the blood-soaked field of Isandlwana.

For Langalibalele, the story does not have a happy ending. Four flying columns were organised to capture him and, on 11 December, coincidentally, the day on which his adversary was promoted, he was handed over by the baSotho chief, Molapo.

Following a mockery of a trial in Pietermaritzburg, he was sentenced to banishment for life. He returned in 1887, after the British Government intervened on his behalf, and died two years later.

The amaHlubi also paid dearly for their defiance.

Over a hundred were killed in a series of punitive attacks and their land and cattle were confiscated by the Natal Government.

BaSotho Troopers, just after the Langalibalele Uprising, stationed in Bushman's Pass. All appear to armed with Terry's carbines, save for the standing figure, who appears to have an Enfield carbine, hence the cap pouch.

Although he was prone to rash decisions, he was considered a kind and considerate commander; his African troops were fiercely loyal to him.  This did not make him popular among his fellow officers. His superb troops of Mounted Basuto guides were soon know as "Durnford's Horse." He was sympathetic towards the native population, having served on the Boundary Commission that had found in favour of the Zululand claims versus those of the Boers. Shortly before the war he wrote of King Cetshwayo of the Zulus, "Poor devil! He is doing all he can to keep peach, but the white man wants his land, and alas for Cetshwayo!"

Towards the end of 1873 he was appointed Chief of Staff to a Field Force under the command of Colonel Miles which was sent as a reconnaissance to deal with a rumoured native rising under Chief Langalibalele.  Durnford was ordered to seize and hold the Bushman's River Pass to prevent the escape of Langalibalele. After a difficult march up the pass Durnford met with an accident by being dragged backwards over a precipice by his horse, sustaining a dislocated shoulder and 2 injured ribs. He succeeded in reaching his destination where he was surrounded by hostile natives. 

 Having been ordered by the Lieutenant-Governor "not to fire the first shot," he went forward attended by his native interpreter, and endeavoured to pursued the natives to disperse peacefully which they refused to do.  The natives opened fire and they retreated.  The native interpreter's house was shot, and Durnford rode to his assistance. 

While helping him to mount behind them the interpreter was shot and two of the natives seized Durnford's bridle.  He was able to escape but received an assegai through his already helpless left arm.  In spite of his severe injuries, he led out a rescue party.  
The local wildlife have no problem!

He permanently lost the use of his left arm from the assegai wound.  In 1873 he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel.  He returned to England 1876 returning to South Africa in 1877.   

To tackle the Mountains, must have been a huge task for the men!  

Lt Governor Sir Pine knew how to take responsibility!

In a despatch dated 13th November 1873, Lieut Governor Sir B.C.C. Pine who accepted 
the responsibility of the orders not to fire the first shot, and said of Major Durnford  "He behaved, by testimony of all present in the most gallant manner, using his utmost exertions to rally his little force, till left absolutely alone he was reluctantly compelled to follow them - wounded"

For consideration

During the course of the skirmish a spear had pierced Durnford's already injured left arm at the elbow severing the nerve, and a bullet had grazed his cheek.  His baptism of fire was hardly an auspicious event, although he had attempted, in vain, to save the life of Elijah Kambule, and had shot two amaHlubi, his command had quit the field in disarray.

 Nearly a fortnight after the skirmish Durnford led a burial detail to the Bushman's River Pass.  The bodies were recovered and buried, the committal service being conducted by the Reverend George Smith, the Vicar of Estcourt and Honorary Chaplain of the Weenen Yeomanry, 

After this the local tribes were displaced.

At the time of the battles with the Langalibalele so many women were injured in dislodging them from the caves, that on his second return from the mountains Anthony instituted a hospital tent where they might be attended to; but such humanity was by no means the general rule

   Durnford was in the meantime tasked with blocking the Drakensberg passes, in order to prohibit in order preventing a repetition of the amaHlubi incident, and any possible incursion from the BaSothos on the other side of the mountains.  He had an available labour force in the amaPutini men who had unjustly been accused of conspiracy with the amaHlubi.  

Durnford bargained for the rights of these tribespeople, urging the Colonial Administration to repatriate to their dispossessed lands.  Having successfully completed the task of blocking the mountain passes, the amaPutini set to road work, and the reputation of the work gang grow, so much so that Africans were actually volunteering to work for Durnford.  

The took up the cause of the injured and innocent people. At the time of Bushmans Pass there was a problem with getting some of the tribes back to their villages,  he paid the full wages of free labourers for the time during which they had worked. The mounted Basutos where were with him at Bushmans River Pass accompanied remained his devoted followers for the rest of his life.

He had a caring nature, and as his Isaacson family included so many learned Bishops scholars, and clerics that this trait of caring for people is more likely in his genes, and it is one of ours as well!)

Anthony's Report.

Having reached the Bushman's Pass at 6.30 a.m., on the 4th November, with one officer, one sergeant, and thirty-three rank and file of the Carbineers, and a few Basutos, I at once formed them across the mouth of the pass, the natives in charge of cattle already in the mountain flying in every direction.  Possibly there may have been one hundred at the outside, about half of whom were armed with shooting weapons.  

Having posted my party, I went with my interpreter to reassure the natives.  Calling for the chief man, I told him to assemble his people, and say that Government required their Chief, Langalibalele, to answer certain charges; that his people who submitted to Government should be safe, with their wives, children, and cattle; that all loyal people should go to Estcourt, where Mr. Shepstone, Minister for Native Affairs, was, and make submission, and they should be safe.  My interpreter was recognised as one of Mr. Shepstone's attendants, and the Induna thanked me in the name of the people, saying they would all go down and tell my words to the tribe, who were not aware of the good intentions of Government and were afraid.

 I told them to take their cattle and go down.  The Chief said they would, but begged me to leave them, as he could not answer for the young men, who were excited, and might injure me.  I left him exerting himself, so far as I could judge, in carrying out my wishes.

 Seeing that the natives were getting behind stones commanding the mouth of the pass, I turned their position by sending my small party of Basutos on the one side, I taking half the Carbineers to the other - the other half guarding the mouth of the pass.  All were then in such position, that had a shot been fired, I could have swept the natives down the pass.  Their gestures were menacing, but no open act of hostility was committed.

  About this time I was informed that many men were coming up the pass, and, on reaching the spot, found it was the case.  On ordering them back, they obeyed sullenly.  Matters now looked serious, and I was informed by the senior officer of volunteers present that the Carbineers, many of whom were young men, could not be depended upon.  

They said they were surrounded, and would be massacred.  I have reason to believe that this panic was created by their drill instructor, an old soldier of the late Cape Corps, up to whom they naturally looked.  Upon this, as the only chance of safety, and in hopes of saving men's lives, although perfectly aware that it was a fatal line of policy, I drew in my outlaying party, and gave the order to retire. 

There was nothing else to be done.  I had no support.  As I was about to retire by alternate divisions, the first shot was fired by the natives, followed by two or three, when, seized with panic, the Carbineers fled, followed by the Basutos.

 My interpreter and three Volunteers were killed.  There were probably two hundred natives present at the time the  first shot was fired.  The firing was never heavy, and their ammunition soon became exhausted.  The orders I received were "not to fire the first shot." I obeyed.  

Major Royal Engineers.

The British Press Reported the stories

18 December 1873   The Falkirk Herald

Kaffir Revolt at the Cape  -  The chief item of news brought by the South African mail relates to an outbreak of Kaffirs in Natal.  It seems however to have been confined to a  single tribe the chief, which refused to submit to a regulation requiring him to have his arms registered.  A troop of Carbineers was sent to intercept the tribe at a mountain pass, but was surrounded and three Europeans including a son of Major Erskine the Colonial Secretary were killed and the commander of the troop Major Durnford, wounded.  The others took refuge in the hills until the natives withdrew i is supposed into Basutoland.  One report speaks of 90 Kaffirs being killed.

The Bath Chronicle enlarges on the story.

The native chief named Chief Langalibalele who commands 10,000 followers and whose location is at the foot of the Drakensberg mountains, defied a Government order to have firearms registered.  2000 men of his tribe returned from the diamond fields armed with guns.

The 30 Carbineers, under Major Durnford, had occupied a pass unsupported, and for some time almost without food; that they were at last obliged to kill a beast and eat it raw; that a strong party of Kaffirs came up the pass, with a number of cattle.  There was an encounter and the following casualties  Privates Erskine, Potterill and Bond, Privates, and three natives killed, 5 horses killed.

A letter from Colonel Mills to Major Erskine says"  "Your son behaved gallantly and but for his saddle turning round he would have returned safe

Langalibalele has escaped. his camp empty.  Another letter from Drill Instructor Sergeant Clark  - 

 The facts are we arrived at the top of the Bushman's Pass just as the Kaffirs were taking their cattle up, and stopped them; but they soon surrounded us and killed the 3 privates horse and natives.  

The troop is now  up the mountain and are all right.  We were three days on the top without food for horse or man.  The troop has performed wonders in marching.  We were in the saddle on Sunday evening and Monday 18 hours and 21.5 hours, from Tuesday to last night coming of the berg.

The Kaffirs are well arrmed and well drilled.  I shall be in town on Friday and let you know all about the affair.  We have 5 horses killed and three natives, one of the Mr Shepstone's man Elija Kanbule a fine brave fellow.  We are glad to hear that a rumour about town that Mr Shepston is wounded is without foundation.

Mr W E Shepstone has letters from both his father and brother both of whom are well.  From him we learn that Major Durnford was endeavouring to release Elijah from his horse, which was shot and fell upon him, when the Major was himself attacked, and for for shooting both his assailants would probably have been killed; likewise we learn that Major Durnford is wounded, and Captain Boyes had a very narrow escape.

There was an Enquiry 

The BRP Court of Enquiry was held at Pietermaritzburg from October 1874 to mid-December. Sadly, the official records of the COE were destroyed on instructions from, probably, the Secretary of State for the Colonies. 

The very detailed information relating to the incident was therefore extracted by Drooglever from the Natal Witness. Durnford's own evidence was printed in that newspaper on 11 December 1874. 

It may not help you too much but for those in the UK, copies of the Natal Witness (and other contemporary Natal papers) can be found in the British Newspaper Library at Colindale, London. Incidentally, the terms of reference were 'to enquire into all aspects of the expedition relative to the [Natal] Carbineers and to decide whether those on the Pass "merited censure" '.

 (Here I am quoting Drooglever.) 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015 Anthony Durnford - Natal Mounted Rifles and Natal Native Contingent His Soldiers His Role and His Views

During his time in South Africa he worked with the men of both the Natal Mounted Rifles and the Natal Native Continent.     There mutual respect of each other is never more evident than when they faced death and told in his own words at the end of this story.

Their logo
These stories are from wikipedia and other sources:

The Natal Mounted Rifles is an armoured regiment of the South African Army. As a reserve unit, it has a status roughly equivalent to that of a British Territorial Army or United States Army National Guard unit. It is part of the South African Army Armour Formation and is based in the city of Durban

In May 1868 the Regimental Committee of the Durban Mounted Rifles, presided over by Captain WH Addison, held a meeting to discuss the forming of the Natal Mounted Rifles.

The formation of the regiment would entail the amalgamation of four Volunteer Units; Royal D’urban Rangers (1854), Victoria Mounted Rifles (1862), Alexander Mounted Rifles (1865) and Durban Mounted Rifles (1873)

Major General Sir Dartnell

The Natal Mounted Police (NMP) was formed in 1874 by a retired British Army officer, Major (later Major-General Sir) John Dartnell as a para-military force and the first line of defence in the Colony of  Natal.

 Its men first saw action in the Zulu War of 1879, where one detachment went in search of the Zulu army while another stayed and fought in the Battle of Isandlwana.

Twenty-five of the latter died of whom 21 fought in a last stand with 19 Natal Carbineers trying to protect the camp commander, Colonel Durnford. Two men, one of whom was killed, took part in the Battle of Rorke's Drift.

Natal Mounted Policemen later served in the Basuto Rebellion (1880/1) and the Transvaal Rebellion (1st Anglo-Boer War) (1880/1). Normal policing included providing an escort for the Empress Eugenie in 1880 when she visited the site where her son, the Prince Imperial, Louis Napoleon, was killed during the Zulu War. After 1881, out-stations were established throughout Natal and policing often consisted of long patrols in out-of-the-way places.

19 Natal Carbineers HQ

This story gives and account including a version of the Battle.

“The Mounted Police of Natal.” (1913)
Holt, H.P.: The Mounted Police of Natal (1913)
Back to
This is a digital copy of a book that was preserved for generations on library shelves before it was carefully scanned by Google as part of a project to make the world’s books discoverable online.
It has survived long enough for the copyright to expire and the book to enter the public domain.

THE Natal Police have a fighting record second to that of no similar body of men in the world, and on two occasions they have had the distinguished honour of covering the retreat of British troops.

The first was during the retirement of Lord Chelmsford’s force from Isandhlwana to Rorke’s Drift, on the 23rd January 1879. And the second was after the disaster at Laing’s Nek in the Boer War of
1881 , when the column under General Colley retired to Mount Prospect on the 28th January.

The corps has had its ups and downs, but it is to-day the best organised police force in South Africa
In order not to lose touch with the Zulus, Major Dartnell decided to bivouac with the police,
volunteers, and Native Contingent on the ground he had taken up, and two Staff officers, Major Gosset and Captain Buller, returned to the main camp to report the presence of the enemy and ask approval of the bivouac.

In many accounts of the Zulu war it is stated that he appealed for reinforcements, but this
is incorrect. He had decided to attack the impi at dawn, adding that a company or two of the
24th Regiment might instill confidence in the Native Contingent, but whether they came or not the attack would be made at 6 a.m.

The promised hot dinner having long gone cold, far away, the men had a cheerless prospect. They
were without blankets, and the night was bitterly cold. Moreover, there was the ever-constant dread
of a surprise attack. The troopers hitched up their belts, and bids up to ten shillings were made for a
single biscuit ; but nobody had any to sell. The horses were linked, one man in each section of fours
being left on guard over them, and the Native Contingent provided outlying pickets.

In several ways it was a night never to be forgotten. Captain Davy, adjutant of volunteers, had
gone back to the camp, and it was anxiously hoped that he would return with some food. He returned
late at night with a very inadequate supply of provisions, which quickly disappeared.

Quietness reigned during the early hours of the night, but just before the ‘witching hour a shot was
fired by one of the outlying pickets. Instantly there was terrible confusion. The whole Native
Contingent, consisting of 1600 men, stampeded into the bivouac, rattling their shields and assegais.

The sudden awakening from sleep, the din, the hoarse cries of the natives, the knowledge that a
large body of the enemy was in the vicinity, the difficulty of distinguishing friend from foe in the
darkness, and the confusion that invariably follows a stampede, would have been sufficient to startle
the best troops in the world. The natives crouched down near the white men for protection, and for a
time nobody knew what had caused the panic.

The wonder is that many of the native soldiers were not shot by the white troopers. The discipline of
colonial troops has rarely been put to a more severe test. The small body of police and volunteers,
miles away from support, fell in quietly and quickly, and remained perfectly steady.

Some of the natives declared that an impi had passed close to the bivouac, and was going to make
an attack. The troopers were ordered out to the brow of the hill to feel for the enemy. Suddenly
shots began to ring out, and bullets whizzed past the white men. The scared Native Contingent,
blundering again, had opened fire on the troopers, who were not sorry to get the order to retire.

It was so dark that the force would have been practically helpless had a large impi rushed down on them, and the majority of them never expected to see daylight again; but the Zulus did not come, and
the natives were with difficulty driven to their own bivouac.

A couple of hours afterwards the weary troopers were awakened by another similar panic, and again
shots were sent flying by the natives, who almost got beyond control. Their officers and their European non-commissioned officers were so disgusted that they spent the rest of the night with the police.

The experience was a striking proof of the unreliability of undisciplined native troops in the hour
of danger. It is a wonder that the whole force was not exterminated, for from what Mehlogazulu, a son of Sirayo, afterwards told General Wood, it appeared that the chiefs of the neighbouring impi decided to postpone such an easy task until they had first ” eaten up ” the main camp.

There were many pale, haggard faces when daylight broke on the morning of the eventful 22nd
January. The colonial troops were not destined to fight a battle on their own account, for at 6 a.m.
Lord Chelmsford joined them with Mounted Infantry, four guns of the Royal Artillery, and six companies of the 24th Regiment.

The Zulus had retired from the ridge before dawn, so the British force moved into the valley in
search of the impi. Small parties were seen about four miles away, and several hours were spent in
chasing them. There was some skirmishing, and about sixty Zulus, who took refuge in caves and amongst the boulders on a hill, were surrounded and killed.

The dongas running down from the hills offered a very serious obstacle to the passage of guns and
ambulances, and greatly retarded the men’s movements, so a halt was called at midday, when a rumour was circulated that fighting was going on at the Isandhlwana camp.

The firing of heavy guns could be heard, and the General decided to return with the Mounted Infantry and volunteers, leaving the police and men of the 24th Regiment to bivouac with part of the Native Contingent a prospect which was not at all appreciated after the experience of the previous night.

The General had promised to send out rations, and firewood was being collected from a deserted kraal when a Staff officer galloped up with instructions that the whole force had to return to camp instantly.

The disastrous battle of Isandhlwana was in progress, and a man on a spent horse had come out with
the following thrilling message :
” For God’s sake come, with all your men ; the camp is surrounded and will be taken unless

Still worse was a report from Colonel Lonsdale.
He had unsuspectingly ridden close to the camp, and was within a few yards of the tents, when he was fired at.

 He then recognized that all the Zulus near were wearing soldier’s clothing, and that the camp was
entirely in the enemy’s hands. He turned back quickly and escaped the bullets.

The smoke of the infantry fire had been seen, and the occasional boom of the 7-pounder field-guns was heard. Thousands of the enemy could be seen in the distance, retiring from the camp to the hill which they had occupied previously. It was late in the afternoon when Lord Chelmsford briefly addressed the force under him, prior to the dash back to the camp, at a spruit  about two miles from the tents.

The situation was as bad as it could be, he said, but they must retake the camp.

He expressed his confidence in them to avenge the death of their comrades and uphold the honour of the British flag.

The column gave three cheers, and then advanced in the deepening gloom upon what appeared to be
a most desperate venture. Ammunition was scarce, there was no food, the greater part of the men had
marched for two days and had passed a sleepless night, while over and above these material
disadvantages there was the depressing knowledge that the enemy which could annihilate one-half of the force in the daylight might, favoured by night, with equal certainty demolish the other half.

Much has been written about the ghastly massacre at Isandhlwana in which Cetewayo’s overwhelming army of about 20,000 men killed 689 officers and men of the Imperial troops and 133 officers and men of colonial volunteers, Natal Police, and Native Contingents ; and scarcely any one has denied that the colossal tragedy was due to blundering.

It was the intention of Cetewayo to drive the third column back to Natal, but he never contemplated an attack on the 22nd January until he found his enemy had split up, spreading itself over a great area and practically delivered itself into his hands. The state of the moon was not propitious, according to Zulu tradition, and the inevitable sprinkling of medicine before a battle had not taken place, but when the king saw an obvious opportunity staring him in the face he made his attack and won.

The Zulus were not seen from the camp until 9 a.m., when a small number were observed on the
crests of the hills. An hour later Colonel Durnford arrived from Rorke’s Drift, and went out with a body of mounted natives. Every one was utterly ignorant of the fact that such a huge impi was near, and forces were sent out in several directions. A large body of Zulus attacked Colonel Durnford, who retired to a donga, disputing every yard of the way. When reinforced by twoscore mounted men he made a stand, every shot appearing to take effect amongst the solid mass of black some hundreds of yards away.

The natives employed their usual well-organized method of attack, being formed into a figure roughly resembling that of a beast, with horns, chest, and loins.
A feint is generally made with one horn while the other, under cover of a hill, or bush, sweeps round to encircle the enemy. The vast chest then advances and crushes the foe. The loins are left a little
distance behind, ready to join in pursuit where necessary.

It was the left horn of Cetewayo’s army that was held in check by Colonel Durnford. The chest, or
main body, became engaged with the force at the camp, and the right horn was swinging round the hills to the rear of Isandhlwana.

The Zulus were fast surrounding the camp, when the Native Contingent and camp followers fled in all directions, seized by panic. Steadily, remorselessly, the impi closed in, a hungry sea of Zulus of overwhelming strength. Then followed the ghastly butchery. With short stabbing assegais the naked savages rushed straight on, treading under foot those in their own ranks who were shot.

Mercy was neither expected nor granted during that brief scene of slaughter.
Fighting like demons, a party of the 24th men, the Natal Police, and volunteers rallied round Colonel
Durnford and held their ground gallantly, attacked on all sides by a shrieking mass of blacks, until their last cartridge was fired.

Then they were stabbed to death. Twenty-five of the police were amongst the victims, and of these a score were afterwards found lying round the body of Colonel Durnford. They had fallen where they fought, and died fighting.

Practically nothing is known of what happened in that awful few minutes at the finish, for the Zulus
were not very communicative on the subject for many years afterwards.

While in prison Mehlogazulu, who had been in command of one portion of the impi, made the
following statement :

” We were fired on first by the mounted men, who checked our advance for some little time. The rest of the Zulu regiments became engaged with the soldiers, who were in skirmishing order. When we pressed on, the mounted men retired to a donga, where they stopped us, and we lost heavily from their fire. As we could not drive them out we extended our horn to the bottom of the donga, the lower part crossing and advancing on to the camp in a semicircle.

” When the mounted men saw this they galloped out of the donga to the camp. The main body of
the Zulus then closed in. The soldiers were massing together. All this time the mounted men kept up
a steady fire, and kept going farther into the camp.

The soldiers, when they got together, fired at a fearful rate, but all of a sudden stopped, divided, and some started to run. We did not take any notice of those who ran, thinking that the end of our horn would catch them, but pressed on to those who remained.

They got into and under the wagons and fired, but we killed them all at that part of the camp.
When we closed in we came on to a mixed party of mounted men and infantry, who had evidently
been stopped by the horn. They numbered about a hundred, and made a desperate resistance, some firing with pistols and others using swords.

I repeatedly heard the command ‘ fire,’ but we proved too many for them, and killed them all where they stood.

” When all was over I had a look at these men, and saw an officer with his arm in a sling, and with
a big moustache, surrounded by carbineers, soldiers, and other men I did not know. We ransacked the
camp and took away everything we could, including some ammunition which we got out of boxes. “

Before the living ling finally closed round the doomed men, a rush was made by those who could
escape in the direction of the Buffalo River. These were followed by a section of the enemy, who hacked the fugitives as they ran.

Of the 34 members of the Natal Police who had been left at the camp by Major Dartnell, only 9 escaped. The bodies of three were found a couple of hundred yards away, and one was lying in Fugitives’ Drift.

The members of the force who were killed at Isandhlwana were : Corporal Lally, Lance-Corporal
Campbell, and Troopers Banger, Berry, Blakeman, Capps, J. Clarke, Daniells, Dorey, Eason, Fletcher, Lloyd, McRae, Meares, Niel, Pearse, Parsons; Pollard, Pleydell, F. Secretan, Siddall, Stimson, Thicke, C.White, and Winkle.

The men who escaped were : Lance-Corporal Eaton, Trumpeter Stevens, and Troopers Collier, Doig, Dorehill, W. Hayes (died of fever at Helpmakaar), Kincade, Shannon, and Sparks.

So sharp and terrible had been the onslaught that the police who survived were unable to say much about the last scenes. They had been sent out with all the mounted men to hold the main Zulu army in check, which they did until their ammunition was exhausted.

Messengers galloped back frantically for more cartridges, but did not return, so the whole body retired.  It was then learnt that the messengers had found the cartridges, tightly screwed up in boxes, and it was impossible to get at them.

The practice of screwing down the lids was abolished when the news of this incident reached England.

At the moment the mounted men fell back to the camp the right horn of the impi appeared on the
nek, closing the road to Rorke’s Drift. Even then, had the troops been concentrated, and ammunition
available, it is possible that the position might have been held, but the infantry were split up, and it was too late to move away.

As the final rush came, Colonel Durnford clearly saw that death was inevitable for nearly every one.

‘ ‘ Get away as best you can , ” he shouted to the police and volunteers near, but very few heard or obeyed him.

To escape along the Rorke’s Drift road was impossible, and those who left could only make a
dash over terribly rocky ground where even horsemen had the greatest difficulty in avoiding the pursuing natives.

Scarcely a single person on foot reached the Buffalo River alive. The river was in flood, but
the Zulus pressed hard behind, and there was no time to look for a ford. Each man dashed into the
stream as he reached it. Trumpeter Stevens, of the police, was washed off his horse, which swam
across. The trumpeter owed his life to a native constable, who caught the animal and bravely took
it back, enabling Stevens to cross the river before the Zulus attacked him.

While the historic tragedy was in progress the force under Lord Chelmsford was approaching.

They did not get close to the camp until it was dark, and merely the black outline of the hills could be seen. Shrapnel shells were sent bursting over the camp, but not a sign came from the desolate place, and the force advanced cautiously up the slope. When within three hundred yards of the nek they opened fire again, and a detachment was sent to take a kopje on the south.

Not a Zulu was seen, and the force moved up to the place where dead men only were encamped.
Stumbling over the bodies of white men and natives in the darkness, they made their way, awestricken,to the nek.

Every man was knocked up with continual marching and lack of food, and they lay down;
weary and almost broken-hearted amidst the debris of the plundered camp and the mangled corpses
of men and horses. It was a night of horror. The men who lived through it do not care to recall the

Bright fires were seen in the distance, so the horses were not unsaddled but were ringed,
and stood uneasily all night with the bodies of dead men lying round them.

” I had charge of thirty of the horses during part of the night,” writes Colonel Clarke in his diary.
‘ There were the corpses of four men of the 24th Regiment in the ring, and others under the horses*
legs, which caused the animals to surge to and fro so that it was almost impossible to control them.

At one time we were on top of the adjoining ring, which brought curses on my head. I was not sorry
to be relieved.

‘ There were several false alarms, with some firing. In the middle of the night some one found
a commissariat wagon and called out ‘ Roll up for biscuits/ but there was no response so far as we were concerned.

” The night seemed endless, but at break of dawn we were able to realize the horrors of our situation.
Mutilated bodies were lying everywhere, some naked, some only in shirts; and nearly all without
boots. The Zulus had done their plundering very thoroughly.”

Most of the fallen men were mutilated, but with few exceptions the members of the police had been
killed with one or two stabs. Everything in the camp was broken ; sacks of mealies and oats were ripped open, tins of bully beef were stabbed, bottles were broken and tents destroyed. Even the wagons had been overturned into dongas in the mad carnival of wrecking.

In the numerous descriptions of the battlefield very little mention is made of the fact that the police
shared with an equal number of volunteers the honour of having made the last stand on the nek of
the hill. At the crest where the dead men were lying thick, a large proportion of them were in the
uniform of the Natal Mounted Police.

In a patch of long grass, near the right flank of the camp, lay Colonel Durnford’s body, a central figure of a knot of brave men who had fought it out around their chief to the bitter end.

Around him lay 14 carbineers and 21 of the police. Clearly they had rallied round the Colonel
in a last despairing attempt to cover the flank of the camp, and had stood fast from choice when they
might have essayed to fly for their horses, which were close by at the picket line.

The Natal Native Contingent was a large force of auxiliary soldiers in British South Africa, forming a large portion of the defence forces of the British colony of Natal, and saw action during the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War. 

The NNC was originally created in 1878 out of the local black population in order to bolster the defences of Natal. Most NNC troops were drawn from the Basuto and Mponso tribes, which had had long experience of fighting against the Zulus.

Due to budget constraints in South Africa, the British were unable to provide NNC troops with uniforms. Instead, soldiers wore their traditional tribal apparel with a red cloth bandanna around their foreheads, the only item to distinguish them from Zulu warriors. The NCO's and Officers wore Khaki and black uniforms.

The European population of Natal had long feared that arming the black population would constitute a severe security risk and as a result only one in ten NNC soldiers was issued with a rifled musket, while the rest were armed with their traditional spears. The officers and NCOs, about 90 men per battalion, carried rifles, ammunition and bayonets.

In addition, those soldiers issued with a musket firearm were provided with only four rounds of ammunition at any one time. The bulk of the NNC fought with traditional African spears and shields and only about 20% of the unit had some sort of gun.[

At the beginning of the Anglo-Zulu War in January 1879, the NNC's commander, Colonel Anthony Durnford, frequently voiced his opinion that the NNC troops should be used as scouts for the advancing British army, as their similar appearance to Zulu warriors would confuse Zulu scouts. The NNC was, in his view, particularly well-adapted to reconnaissance and light infantry roles, as NNC soldiers were generally in better physical condition than British regulars (some of whom were hampered by heatstroke and illness resulting from over-exposure in the South African summer) and were not encumbered with heavy equipment.

Instead, the British commander of the invasion force, Lord Chelmsford, frequently assigned NNC troops to menial labouring tasks, believing that their fighting ability was almost non-existent.
Battlefield performance was very uneven.

At the Battle of Isandhlwana, units of the NNC fought hard alongside their British allies, and sustained heavy casualties. Many of the NNC were killed in fierce hand to hand fights while trying to retreat across the Buffalo river.

 At the Battle of Rorke's Drift, the NNC officers, NCO's and soldiers who possessed firearms were deployed along the barricade. The rest of the NNC, stripped of their command, armed only with spears, were posted outside the mealy bag and biscuit box barricade within the stone-walled cattle kraal.

They broke and fled as soon as the Zulu force came into sight, some NCOs and Captain Stephenson joining them. A Swiss corporal of the contingent, Christian Ferdinand Schiess, remained and won the Victoria Cross for his gallantry in the ensuing battle.

Five troops of the NNH were present at Isandlwana, three of them forming the "Sikhali Horse" squadron, named after their chief. The troopers fought well against the Zulus, and late in the battle were dismissed by Colonel Durnford, who was eager to save as many of his men as possible from the chaotic battle.

 Due to their being mounted on horseback, NNH soldiers were able to escape quickly from the battlefield, and many black NNH troopers are credited with having stopped to give rides to both native and British soldiers struggling to escape the battlefield on foot, most notably Horace Smith-Dorrien, who was rescued and ridden to safety by an NNH trooper.

Around 200 NNH troopers survived Isandlwana, but unlike the NNC infantry, were recommitted to the war; the remainder of the NNH saw action at the Battle of Kambula and at the Battle of Ulundi.

After the war, the NNH was retained as a police force in conquered Zululand, and saw action during the Zulu civil wars which began in the early 1880s. 

The NNH was finally disbanded during the 1899–1902 Second Anglo-Boer War, under a government initiative to disarm all black units in South Africa out of fear that they could side with the Boers

 To the right understanding of what follows it is necessary to give a somewhat detailed account of the situation. The leading feature of the plain on the southern slopes of which the English camp was placed is the Isandhlwana, or Lion Hill. 

To the west it rises abruptly, forming the head of the crouching animal it resembles in shape; after forming the back it descends sharply to the east. At both ends are necks or ridges connecting the hill with the smaller undulations of which the more level part of the country consists.

The road from Rorke's Drift passes over the western ridge, while on the north facing the camp was a deep ravine and watercourse. To the immediate right was a small copse; beyond this the ground was much broken, irregular krantzes and hills all covered with huge boulders continuing as far as the Buffalo river. To the left of the camp, at the distance of rather more than a mile, ran a long ridge towards the south, connecting it with the great Isandhlwana hill, having on its summit a plateau which, towards the east, opened on to an open and extensive valley. 

On the extreme left of the camp, looking towards the ridge, were pitched the tents of the Natal Native Contingent; between these and the next two battalions intervened a space of rather less than 300 yards; occupying the centre were the British regular Infantry, just above whom came the headquarters camp of Lord Chelmsford, and in close proximity the headquarters of the column. On the right were the guns and mounted corps lining the edge of the road. Soon after it came over the neck at the back of the camp the ground rose considerably, until the bottom of the precipitous Isandhlwana was reached: the camp therefore literally had its back to a wall.
At six a.m. on the 22nd, a company of the Natal Natives was ordered to scout towards the left, the enemy having appeared in that direction. Whilst these were away Durnford arrived, about nine o'clock, with a rocket battery under Colonel Russell, R.A., 250 mounted natives, and 250 native foot.

News was now brought in that the Zulus in very large numbers were driving the pickets before them. A later messenger—a native without uniform, supposed by some to be a Zulu purposely sent with false intelligence—brought the news that the Zulus had divided into three columns, one of which it was supposed was about to attack Colonel Durnford's baggage, still on the road from Rorke's Drift, the other to harass Lord Chelmsford and Colonel Glyn's party in their rear, whilst the third was to hover round and watch the camp.

 Finally came the news "Zulus retiring in all directions." Colonel Durnford thereupon asked Colonel Pulleine to lend him a couple of the 24th companies, but he declined, saying his orders were to guard the camp, and he could not, under the circumstances, let them go without a positive command.

Durnford then determined to go on with his own force, which he divided into three, one part being sent up the hill to the left (east), one to the left front, and the third to the rear, in the direction of Rorke's Drift, to act as an escort for the baggage not yet arrived.

The rocket battery was of the party that proceeded to the front under Colonel Durnford in person, to a distance of four or five miles from the camp, but being unable to keep pace with the mounted force was soon left behind.

During the night, however, Major Dartnell appears to have become aware of his critical position, and at half-past two on the morning of the 22nd (Wednesday), Colonel Glyn received a letter from him, saying that the Zulus had been strongly reinforced, and were now in his front in great strength. 

Instead of recalling the column, or at once pushing forward troops to its assistance, a delay took place, and a staff officer was despatched to ask Dartnell what he wished done. After some further lapse of time the General ordered Colonel Glyn to march to Major Dartnell's assistance with the 2nd battalion 24th Regiment, consisting of six companies, the mounted infantry, and four of Harness's guns.

As this detachment would considerably weaken the camp, the General at the same time sent off two expresses to Colonel Durnford, who had been left at Rorke's Drift, telling him to move up at once to Isandula with his 500 native troops, 250 of whom were mounted. 

The General then decided to accompany Colonel Glyn's force, and Lieutenant-Colonel Pulleine, 1-24th, was left in charge of the camp, with orders to defend it, pending the arrival of Durnford's natives.

The actual fighting strength of Pulleine's force consisted of 2 officers, 78 men, and 2 guns R.A.; 1-24th Regiment, 15 officers, 334 men; 2-24th Regiment, 5 officers, 90 men; mounted Europeans, 5 officers, 204 men; Native Contingent, 19 officers, 391 men; Natal Pioneers, 1 officer, 10 men; while Durnford, when he arrived very soon after, brought with him 18 officers and 450 men, thus making an aggregate of 772 Europeans and 850 natives, or in all 1622 combatants. 

On his arrival at the camp, Colonel Durnford, being the senior officer, of course immediately assumed the command.

The body of troops despatched to the left became engaged with the enemy almost immediately, and firing was soon heard all along the crest of the hill. In about an hour Durnford's mounted men re-appeared over the hills, hotly pursued by swarms of Zulus; at the same time the horsemen to the front were also driven back.

 These, after retiring steadily in skirmishing order for about two miles, came upon the remains of the rocket battery, which had been cut off and broken up, whilst a hand to hand engagement was going on with those who remained.

It appears that Russell, whilst advancing with his battery, perceived a body of the enemy on his left, he fired three rockets with some effect; then the Zulus fired a volley, upon which the Native Contingent of infantry retreated, the mules were frightened, and disorder ensued.

Taking advantage of this, the enemy charged down the hill, a mêlée ensued, and Russell was killed. As the mounted men retired towards them, the Zulus retreated to their cover, and they, after making a final stand in a spruit about a mile and a half in front of the camp, were eventually driven in.

 Underestimating the Zulus' speed of movement and fighting ability, Chelmsford split his column. On 22 January 1879 his camp, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Pulleine, was surprised by the Zulu army at Isandlwana. The camp had not been adequately prepared to resist attack. 

Pulleine's troops were dangerously strung out. His over-extended line was swamped by sheer weight of numbers and the majority of his 1,700 troops were killed. The Victorian public was shocked by the news that 'spear-wielding savages' had defeated their army.


Although the stories of the Battle of Bushman's River Pass in 1873, Battle of Isandhlwana and Rorke's Drift are yet to be told in this series, those familiar with the events of 22nd January, 1879, would be fully aware of the fact that Anthony lay dead, surrounded by his brave men.

All who died with him.  One wonders why they remained.  Perhaps this passage explains the reasons.

This book based on the Bishop's instructions was called The Ruin of Zululand: an account of British doing in Zululand since the invasion of 1879.

Frances Colenso includes a passage that can also be found in "The Soldier's Life in South
Africa 1872 - 1879"  by Edward Durnford.

In a memoir of the late Colonel A. W. Durnford, K.E. (• A Soldier's Life and Work in 
South Africa,' by Lieut.- Colonel E. Durnford; Sampson Low & Co. publishers) 

we find at p. 101 the following sentences, taken from a letter from Colonel Durnford 
to his parents in England 

" The tribe of Langalibalele has been pardoned, and the Bishop of Natal has a scheme of
buying land for them in a dozen different places (as they must not live together 
as a tribe) they working out the purchase money. 

They say they will all come to me [Colonel Durnford was acting as Colonial Engineer 
in Natal at this time, and could employ them on the public works] ; and they
are right too.

They stood to their chief like men, and deserved every credit for it. 

Have we not exchanged ' love-tokens ? 

' Are not their dead on the field where they fell, and am not I half a cripple yet ? 

" And again at p. 104 

he writes : — " They come to me for protection, which I give to all who ask. 

You see these Zulus, like Afghans, consider that wounds given and received are 
love-tokens between brave men, and that they give a claim to help if required 
— a true soldier's creed it is too."


The Natal Field Artillery was established in September 1862 when the Artillery Company of the Durban Rifle Guard was reformed under the command of Captain AW Evans, an early Natal settler.
It was equipped with two 2.5-inch rifled breech-loading Armstrong guns – the first such field pieces in more than 600 years of artillery.

The regiment can trace its ancestry, however, to April 1855 when a public subscription was raised to buy a field piece for the Artillery Company of the Durban Volunteer Guard. This company was retained when the Durban Volunteer Guard became the Durban Rifle Guard in 1859, but was disbanded temporarily due to lack of funds.

In 1870, the Artillery Company of the DRG became a separate unit under the command of Capt Harry Escombe and became known as the Durban Volunteer Artillery. The DVA accompanied Sir Theophilus Shepstone to Mlambongwenya ikhanda (barracks) during the official coronation of Prince Cetshwayo kaMpande on September 1, 1873.

After the battle of Isandlwana on January 22, 1879, the DVA joined other Colonial Regiments in a parade on January 24 that was held to restore confidence and two days later it was deployed on the south bank of the uMngeni (previously the Umgeni) River to counter any possible attack on Durban by the Zulus.

On June 11, 1879, the Unit took part in the funeral procession of the Prince Imperial of France after his death on the banks of the Tshotshosi (or Jojosi) River in Zululand on June 1, 1879.
It was also responsible for firing several salutes on ceremonial occasions.

When the Natal Government Railway reached Charlestown on April 4, 1879, president SJP Kruger of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek visited the Colony.

The DVA fired a salute when the presidential party crossed the border.

The Battery was then rushed to Ladysmith where it fired another salute, then on to Pietermaritzburg and finally to Durban. Evidently the president was surprised and impressed by the “large number of artillery Natal possessed”.

In 1892, the name of the regiment was changed to the Natal Field Artillery.

Then there is this report in the Daily Mail.      He was reporting a story about the re-enactment of the battle last year.   

The day I saw the British army being butchered by Zulus: It's the shaming defeat Britain tried to hide. MAX HASTINGS saw it being relived...

  • In 1879, the British invaded Zululand lead by Lord Chelmsford
  • At the battle of Isandlwana 1,500 British fought 25,000 Zulus
  • The red coats were defeated, with just 55 men escaping
  • It was the most humiliating defeat ever inflicted on the army, and commanders diverted attention to the Battle of Rourke's Drift
  • There 150 British held off 4,000 Zulus for half a day and night

 One of the largest painted cairns today stands on the shoulder of the hill behind the camp, where a dwindling band of soldiers sustained volley fire until their ammunition was exhausted. 
Their officer, Captain Younghusband, then drew his sword and led them in a suicidal bayonet charge which ended with every man engulfed in stabbing Zulus.

Most of the black soldiers who escaped were cut down by Zulus, who chased them to the flooded Buffalo river, five miles from Isandlwana where, unable to swim, they became easy prey.

'Here was one of the most humiliating disasters ever to fall upon a British colonial army.'
When some begged for their lives, a Zulu warrior cried: ‘How can we give you mercy when you have come to take away our country and eat us up? Usuthu!’

A breathless white bandsman on foot pleaded with interpreter Jim Brickhill for a lift on his pony. Brickhill answered: ‘My dear fellow, it is a case of life and death with me,’ before leaving the bandsman to his fate.

Just 55 British officers and men — all mounted — escaped from Isandlwana, while more than 1,300 perished, including 52 officers.

Late that night, Lord Chelmsford led his column back to the camp, where they were stunned by what they found.

Every redcoat had been eviscerated — not, as the British supposed, as an act of savagery, but to fulfil the Zulus’ belief that they thus released his spirit.

Some of Cetewayo’s men had taken gruesome souvenirs, such as men’s jawbones with beards attached.

The British recoiled at the spectacle of a bandboy, a mere child, suspended upside down from the tail of an ox cart, his throat cut.

The camp had been comprehensively looted, providing the Zulus with 1,000 rifles and 250,000 rounds of ammunition.

Here was one of the most humiliating disasters ever to fall upon a British colonial army.