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Thursday, January 22, 2015 Anthony William Durnford A Timeline 1830 - 1879

Edward Durnford and Elizabeth Langley - Their eldest son Anthony William Durnford.

When I began the stories of our Isaacson ancestors  I always knew that one of the most difficult stories to write would be about Anthony Durnford.                          In our lineage he is a 2nd cousin*3.

However I had no idea what facts I would eventually find.

As a young child growing up, in the 1950's  both my fellow Durnford cousins and I at some point, became aware of a "famous" person in our family.  We knew his name and that he had been in South Africa, not far from Australia just across the Indian Ocean.  There were not many of us living south of the Equator, we were rather like the "distant" cousins.  No-one really knew  how he was related, they just knew he fitted in somewhere into our Australian lineage.  We knew he had done something quite bad, and nothing more would be said about him.

He was famous for the wrong reasons, so famous in fact that Burt Lancaster played his role in the movie Zulu Dawn.  All those years ago, the movie was to me, gruesome.   I had no idea of what the whole story was about, I hid behind my pillow on many parts of it.

Fast forward 35 years, and I am now a far more wiser person, made all the more wiser through the research of my ancestors.

I understand how it is easy to develop an affinity when living and working amongst different people, from our own personal experiences from living for two years in Bougainville and how I felt while they were in Civil War.

There is not just one part to Anthony's time in South Africa there are many.

But firstly the facts about this cousin, prior to his appointment in South Africa

The Castle
Anthony was born on 24th May 1830, the first born son of Edward and Elizabeth.

 At the time they were living in Ireland, and he was born at Manorhamilton Leitrim Ireland.

He was baptised at the Church of Ireland Church June 1830.

Manorhamilton (Irish: Cluainín (Uí Ruairc) ) is a small town in north County Leitrim, Ireland


 A Timeline of his life.

1830                       He was born at Manorhamilton in Ireland, his schooling was in Ireland
1842                       He went to live with his uncle Thomas John Langley and his wife Emily in                                                                                      Dusseldorf in  Germany for schooling.  
 Sept 1846            He entered Royal Military Acadamy at Woolwich as a Cadet
27 June 1847        Cadet  Lieutenant Royal Engineers 
                           Served as Chief of Staff with the field force under the command of  Lt Col Mills 
27 June 1848        He became 2nd Lieutenant in the Corp of Royal Engineers.
July 1848             Posted to Chatham for further training at the Corp's Headquarters at Chatham
 Dec 1849            Posted to Scotland   Edinburgh Castle and Fort George    
Oct 1851             Posted to Ceylon, engaged in the harbour defences as Trincomalee.
7 Feb 1852          He became a 1st Lieutenant
1854                   He was promoted to Lieutenant
15 Sept 1854       He married Frances Tranchell, daughter of Colonel Tranchell of the Ceylon Rifles,                             grandddaughter of the King of Sweden's Commissioner in Ceylon, Johannes                                    Tranchell
1855                  In addition to his military duties, he was appointed Assistant Commissioner of                                  Roads  and  Civil Engineer to the Colony.
19 June 1855      Birth of son, Edward William Durnford              
1856                  Posted to Malta  as Adjudant under his father Col Edward Durnford
16 July 1856      Death of Edward William Durnford
 5 Jan 1857        Birth of daughter Frances Elizabeth Mary Durnford is born on Malta
18 Mar 1858      Promoted as 2nd Captain  Served at Aldershot and Chatham
23 Sept 1859      Birth of daughter Julia Catherine Brabazon Durnford at Alverstoke
April  1860        Death of baby Julia Durnford
1860                  Posted to Gibraltar in command of 27th Company of Royal Engineers
5 Jan 1864         Promoted as 1st Captain
Aug 1864           Returned to England
Nov/Dec            Posted to China.   Landed in Ceylon severely ill from heat apoplexy and nervous                                breakdown?   General Gordon a hero in Khartoum, assisted him in his recovery        Jan  1865          Raglan Barracks  In Portsmouth
 - 1870              At Queenstown Harbour Ireland to maintain the forts (Cobh)
1871                 Living at 7 Molesworth St Stoke Devenport
1871                 Offered appointment with Royal Engineers in South Africa
23 Jan  1872     Arrived in Cape Town then to Port Elizabeth on Syria finally to King William's Town
1872                 Worked in King William's Town
1872                 Designed Fort Durnford and first Anglican Church Little Bushman's River drift                                 Estcort
5 July 1872       Promoted as Major
Jan  1873          Ordered to Cape Town and stationed in Cape Castle
May 1873         Posted to Pietermaritzburg
Aug 1873          Accompanied Theophilus Shepston Sec for Native Affairs into KwaZul,
1 Sept 1873      Senior British officer at the "coronation" of King Cetshwayo kaMpande
Sept 1873         Reported to Lieut Col. Thomas Milles 75th Stirlingshire Regiment of Foot, senior                                    officer at Fort Napier.
Sept 73            Appointed Chief of Staff with 55 Natal volunteers (carbines) 25 mounted Africans of                               baTiokwa tribe  - 17 with firearms and an interpreter Elijah Kambule
7 Sept  1873     Commander of Natal under the suppression of the rebellion of the Artain Zulu Tribes                                              until December 1873
4 Nov 1873      The battle of Bushman's Pass in Dreakkenburg   Injured
Nov 1873         Appointed Acting Colonial Engineer effective 1st November 1873
11 Dec 1873     Promoted as Lieut Colonel
1874                Fort Durnford constructed (built by Jeromia Faulds)
1874                Worked with amaPutini men in blocking mountain passes, and road work, with                                    many  wishing to volunteer for work with him
1875                Wolsely reprimanded him for his views about the treatment of the locals
10 Oct 1875      Officially relived of his civil appointment by Capt Albert Henry Hime RE
27 May 1876    Returned to England Medical grounds, for specialist treatment on his arm.
1876                Germany for spa treatment in Black Forest, takes his daughter Frances
1877                Posted to Queenstown Harbour Ireland to maintain the three forts..
1877                Re-appointed Colonial Regiment Engineers Natal
8 Feb  1877      Returned to South Africa  departed from Southampton on Danube
10 Apr 1877    With Col Charles Knight Pearson of 2nd Battalion Regiment of Foot to Newcastle
11 Apr 1877     Entered the Boer Republic under the guise of property speculator to intelligence
15 Apr 1877     Arrived Pretoria, Shepstone had claimed Transvaal as a British colony on 12th
26 Apr  1877    Returned to Pietermaritzburg
1877                Frere the GG launches a propaganda campaign against King Cetshwayo, his                                        intention  to draw the amaZulu into war.
Feb 1878         Appointed as a Commissioners to inquire into the disputed Natal-Zululand boundary                            with John Shepstone Acting Sec for Native Affairs and Natal attorney General                                     Michael Gallwey
March 1878     First meeting of the Commissioners at Natal - known as Rorke's Drift
11 April 1878   Conclusion of Commission
20 June 1878    Commission issues report in favour of the Zulu claim for title to the land.
June 1878         Reports sent to Frere for approval.  Findings were not of his liking.
July 1878         Actions by the wives of a Zulu, resulted in an incursion into Natal by Methlokazulu                                   kaSihayo and his followers.  Frere saw that as to his advantage.
1878                Ordered to complete a feasibility study of bridging the Tugela River.
1878                He recommended the formation of an African corp.  That was met with                                               opposition but eventually permitted with the full knowledge of the Commander-in-                                Chief of the British Army the Duke of Cambridge.
Oct 1878          After much debate permission was granted for 3 battalions designated as Natal                                   Native  Contingent, known as 1st Regiment under his command.  These men                                     held Anthony in high regard.
11 Dec  1878     Promoted to Brevet Colonel.
1  January         Received orders from Lord Chelmsford to remain at Middle Drift until the invasion                                   scheduled for 11th January
11 Jan  1879     Met with Lord Chelmsford, with intelligence regarding the Zulus obtained by                                             Luthran Bishop Hans Schreuder
13 Jan 1879      Received further updates from Schreuder about the threat of a Zulu incursion at                                       Middle Drift
13 Jan 1879      He wrote to Chelmsford advising of the threat and that he intended to meet the                                          enemy on the Zulu side of Middle Drift.
14 Jan 1879      2.00am preparations to leave at 4.00am  
14 Jan 1879      Messenger arrives from Chelmsford forbidding the intended meeting.
15 Jan 1879      Reports near Rorke's Drift with a hew companies of his N.N.C, 5 troops of the                                   N.N.H.and  rocket battery under command of Brevet Major Francis Broadfoot                                   Russell.
19 Jan 1879     Ordered to relocate immediately to the Zulu bank of Rorke's Drift
20 Jan 1879     No 3 Column reaches Isandlwana
21 Jan 1879     Chelmsford leaves on a two pronged reconnaissance to search for the Zulu forces
21 Jan  1879    Contact with Zulu forces made, message to Chelmsford at Isandlwana                                                       requesting reinforcements
22 Jan 1879     Clelmsford decided to divide No 3 Column, leaving half at Isandlwana and                                                   marching with the other to meet the Zulus.
22 Jan  1879    In command of No 2 Column of the Expeditionary force at the Battle of Isandlwana
22 Jan 1879    3.00am Lieut Horace Smith-Dorrien of 95th Regiment of Foot ordered to return                                      to Rorke's Drift, with orders for Durnford, instructing him to reinforce the camp                                    at Isandlwana
 22 Jan  1879   7.00 am orders received Durnford moves towards Isandlwana with the mounted                                            troops
22 Jan 1879     Meets John Chard, Lieut 5th Company who informed him that the Zulus had                                        been seen close to the camp.  He instructed Chard to inform the two NNC                                              companies to hurry to Isandlwana.
22 Jan 1879    10am arrived at camp, with 250 NNH "D" company followed by the rocket battery                                   At rear was Captain Walter Stafford and his E company acting as baggage guard         
22 Jan 1879    On hearing of more reports of increasing Zulu activity, Durnford decided to                                           sweep the area, and asked Pulleine (who had been ordered to guard the camp)                                        for some Imperial infantry to assist.  Pulleine refused.
22 Jan 1879    He sends two troops to the Nquthu plateau under the command of Captain W                                        Barton, and he went with two troops of NNH, following was Major Russell and                                    the rocket battery and another company under Captain Course.
22 Jan  1879    Zulus were encountered and the Battle ensued.
22  Jan  1879   Killed at Isandlwana along with his troops.

23 May  1879  His body found on the Battlefield  4 months after the fight.  Buried under a stone cairn

5 Oct 1879      Body interred, taken to Pieterzburg
12 Oct 1879    Buried in Fort William Cemetery

.  A commemorative window to Col Anthony Durnford in Rochester Cathedral in Kent was donated by his brother officers in the Royal Engineers in 1880.


Of the 16 months following his arrival in the Cape Durnford spent the greater portion at King William's Town

When he returned to Cape Town he had his quarters (five rooms and a kitchen) in the Castle. To complete his domestic establishment he also acquired a dog, 'a magnificent animal of the "kangaroo hound breed"' which he named 'Prince' and which became his constant companion.

On more than one occasions  he had demonstrated his personal dedication and courage. Once, while stationed in Scotland as a young lieutenant, he had shown great courage in helping rescue the crew of a small craft which had run aground during a heavy storm between Berwick and Holy Island
; later, when serving in Ireland, he was involved in a railway accident and nearly lost his life, but notwithstanding his own injuries he persevered in assisting a mortally injured fellow-passenger


The British newspapers announced the sad deaths of 

John Mackenzie

Killed at Isandula South Africa on the 22nd January John third son of the late John Mackenzie Esq The Hermitage, Golspie N.B..  27

Frank William Buee 

In the massacre at Isandula, Zululand on the 22nd January Frank William Buee aged 24 Lieut Acting Surgeon of the 3rd Regiment of the NAtal Native Contingent, eldest surviving son of William Urban Buee of The Cedars, Slough

Anthony William Durnford

Killed in action, at Isandula, in Zululand, South Africa, on 22nd January, Colonel Anthony William Durnford, Royal Engineers, eldest son of General E.W. Durnford, Colenel Commandant, Royal Engineers 48

Arthur Gibson

Killed at the battle of Isandula, South Africa on the 22nd January, Arthur Gibson Lieutenant 3rd Natal Native Contingent, and previously of the Frontier Light Horse, aged 22, third surviving son of John Gibson, Esq, 11 Westbourne Square London. W


The key points regarding Anthony's life before and in South Africa have been sourced and researched from a great deal of material including both Edward and Frances' books and many others including
John Young of the Rork's Drift

A Snapshot of his early days in South Africa  -  The complete story in the following series of posts.

Anthony Durnford left England late in 1871, where he had been living at Devenport, when he was offered an appointment with the Royal Engineers in South Africa.

Museum at King William's Town
He left Southampton and then arrived in Cape Town, then travelled to Port Elizabeth on the ship Syria and finally arrived at King William's Town.

King William's Town owes its establishment to warfare with the Xhosa during the nineteenth century and the tenacity of a Scottish missionary, John Brownlee. He had established the Buffalo Mission Station on the fertile banks of the Buffalo River in January 1826. 

 In 1857 the total number of European inhabitants in British Kaffraria (some 1792) was increased by the arrival of 2119 German military settlers. The population return for 1857, published in January 1858, lists the Xhosa population of British Kaffraria as 52186.

Although Sir Harry Smith's Crown Colony of British Kaffraria was to be short-lived - by 1866 it had been incorporated in the Cape Colony - King William's Town was permanently established at last and could flourish and grow

During that period he designed Ford Durnford and the first Anglican Church built at Estcourt near the Little Bushman's River drift.     (has been replaced)

Estcourt is located at the confluence of the Bushmans and the Little Bushmans River. It is also on the main Durban - Johannesburg railway line some 160 km north of Durban and 25 km south of the Tugela River crossing. In earlier years the main road, later to become the N3, passed through the town. The town itself is 1196 m above sea level and lies in the hilly country that dominates most of the Natal Midlands. The Drakensberg lies some 40 km to the west of the town.

In 1872 an Anglican church was built on the banks of the Bushman's River, and Fort Durnford was built in 1874 by Lt-Col Durnford, a military engineer, as a base for the Natal Mounted Police.

In 1847 a detachment of the 45th Regiment was sent from Fort Napier in Pietermaritzburg to protect the Boers in that region from the raids of the Bushmen. For their station they chose the flat top of a hill across the Bushman’s River from Saailaer. This w Type of site: Fort Previous use: fortifications and stables. Current use: Museum. Coming into Estcourt from Pietermaritzburg turn right onto Kemps Road just before crossing the railway. This extensive fortification was designed by Colonel A.W. Durnford and erected in 1874

The fort became a substantial stronghold, and was used to protect transport riders and the herds of cattle driven across the ford.

It is as secure as any castle with drinking water tanks in the basement, a drawbridge, moat and two secret tunnels.

Colonel Durnford, RE, was responsible for the design of the fort. At that time he held the rank of Captain and had temporarily assumed the office of Colonial Engineer, following the retirement of Patterson and prior to the arrival of Captain Hume, RE.

Fort Durnford is an interesting example of a late 19th-century form of defence, presumably built to the specifications laid down by the ROYAL ENGINEERS for use in the colonies. Constructed of sandstone, it was built by British soldiers and was the largest of the Natal fortifications.     (Built by Jeromia Faulds)

Surrounded by a ditch which, according to the original plans could be flooded as a moat, the fort was entered by means of a drawbridge leading through to stout iron-plated doors. There was ample stabling, provision for a courtroom, officers' mess, armoury and strongroom - each made homely by the presence of fireplaces. The devices for the fort's defence were several and ingenious, but in fact were never put to the test; the mere presence of this twin-towered fortification kept the peace.

In the period of alarm following the Langalibalele Rebellion in 1873 in Natal the Natal government decided in 1874 to build a permanent fort overlooking the village of Estcourt.  Designed by Lieut Colonel Anthony William Durnford the acting colonial engineer, the blockhouse was two stories high, with two flanking towers and water storage tanks in the basement

A detachment of the Natal Mounted Police was stationed there.  In 1878 it was linked by stone walls to stables and blockhouse to form the Estcourt Laager.

(Anthony lived for some time at the fort, he even planted a flower garden while he was there)

The Natal Mounted Police continued to be stationed there until 1900

In 1873 he was ordered to Capetown and was stationed in Cape Castle


On 1st September 1873 he was the Senior British Officer at the Coronation of King Cetshwayo

The Durban Volunteer Artillery accompanied Sir Theophilus 
Shepstone to Mlambongwenya ikhanda (barracks) during
 the official coronation of Prince Cetshwayo kaMpande on September 1, 1873.

In 1878 he was in command of the Natal Native Contingent

The Natal Native Contingent

The black population of Natal were subjected to conscription to raise enough manpower to supplement the under-strength army. There was a concern that the Zulu impi could cross into Natal while the British were advancing into Zululand so a large force was needed to guard the border. The recruitment and training of native Africans was left rather late so they were not very useful as soldiers. The white colonial NCOs were brutal to their recruits and led by fear rather than encouragement. The infantry were formed into 3 regiments, the 1st had 3 battalions, the 2nd and 3rd had two each. The battalions were 1,000 strong and mostly armed with shields and spears. They looked quite similar to the Zulu enemy apart from red cloths tied around their heads. One in ten men had a rifle but they were often out of date and the men were poorly trained. But there was no lack of motivation as these natives hated and feared the Zulus. 

The Natal Native Horse
The Natal Native Horse

The local irregular cavalry were formed into 5 Troops of about 50 men each. They wore uniforms, of a sort, carried carbines and were led by competent officers. The Troops were drawn from different tribal or religious groups. Three of the Troops were of Sikali's Horse, Basutos from the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains, the Hlubi Troop were from the tribe of that name. The last Troop, the Edendale Troop were Christians from the Wesleyan Edendale Mission, who had been raised after the Langalibelele Rebellion in November 1873

This information from the Province of KwaZulu-Natal.  

bout KwaZulu-Natal
Welcome to the Zulu Kingdom or the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal:enticing, spectacular and fascinating multi-cultural showpiece destination flanked by warm Indian Ocean and soaring peaks.
KwaZulu-Natal: the coastal iSimangaliso (Greater St Lucia) Wetland Park World Heritage Site - due east of pivotal landmarks in Zulu history. KwaZulu-Natal: the mountainous 'Barrier of Spears' uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site, adorned with Stone Age cave paintings. KwaZulu-Natal: realm of the legendary Zulu kings and steeped in living Zulu tradition. KwaZulu-Natal: timeless Indian culture in the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi. KwaZulu-Natal: Colonial reminders shoulder-to-shoulder with icons of democracy. KwaZulu-Natal: the gateway city of Durban -

Big Five nature reserves of international repute amid Zulu customs in KwaZulu-Natal Zululand unbroken from antiquity. KwaZulu-Natal Midlands: history-filled towns leading to adventure sports and game viewing, along with outlets for unique arts and crafts. KwaZulu-Natal: Battlefields of yesteryear where Zulu, Boer and British now make pilgrimages of reconciliation. KwaZulu-Natal: hotbed of live performance creativity - from progressive theatre to multi-genre music.
KwaZulu-Natal: South Africa’s domestic tourism leader, highly popular among visitors from throughout continental Africa and increasingly on the "must-see, must- do" lists of discerning travelers. These travellers from all points of the globe seek and find a unique blend of sophistication, cultural diversity and excitement – in the most breathtaking setting imaginable. Welcome to South Africa's Zulu Kingdom: KwaZulu-Natal.

The battles fought in the rolling hills and valleys of northern KwaZulu-Natal some 120 years ago changed the course of South African history and still today, the area now known as ‘the Battlefields’ seems to echo with the heroic and often tragic deeds of the past. The sites of famous skirmishes that rocked the British, weakened the Boers and broke the mighty Zulu nation continue to draw visitors.

A good place to start and to give some context to your visit of this fascinating and beautiful region of KZN would be to take a guided tour. Other options are to self-drive to each site with a good guidebook and just enjoy the beautiful and often haunting views, or for a wonderfully authentic experience, in some places, you can tour them on horseback. A great many forts established by the British during the South African wars have disappeared, while others such as Fort Durnford near Estcourt are now most interesting and somewhat quirky museums.

Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift are two of the most famous battlefields in the country and also perhaps in British history, perhaps because it was here that in a furious two hour battle, Zulu forces armed primarily with traditional spears and shields thrashed the mighty British Colonial Empire, one of the few times they were ever routed by an indigenous army. Eleven Victoria Crosses were awarded to those who defended Rorke’s Drift.

Another interesting battlefield site is Spioenkop, where three men who would play an important role is world affairs were present. Winston Churchill was there as a war correspondent, Mahatma Gandhi was present as a stretcher bearer and Louis Botha became the first prime minister of the Union of South Africa.  Visits to Elandslaagte, the Blood River Monument and Talana Museum near Dundee are also worthwhile.

On an annual basis, numerous “re-enactments” of some of the famous battles take place. These are great fun affairs with many local people dressing up in bright red, colonial British or traditional Zulu warrior attire. Food, music and other activities often accompany these events.

Not far from the quirky town of Babanango is the highland Ntingwe Tea Estate that famously sells a high quality tea to the famous London Store, Harrods. A tour of the estate takes one through the mountain top tea plantation, the factory and to meet some of the pickers.

Just as interesting in this area of KwaZulu-Natal, are the excellent game reserves such as WeenenNambiti Private Game Reserve with its luxury lodges to hire, and Spioenkop Nature Reserve all of which have great game viewing and bird watching experiences.

A lovely romantic experience is to take an early morning hot-air balloon flight over the region near Vryheid to enjoy a bird’s eye view of some of the battlefields as well as do some game viewing.

If you would like to receive a brochure on the Battlefields of KwaZulu-Natal, please send an email requesting one to


Zulu Dawn is a 1979 war film about the historical Battle of Isandlwana between British and Zulu forces in 1879 in South Africa.

The film is set in British South Africa, in the province of Natal, in January 1879. The first act of the film revolves around the administrators and officials of Cape Colony, notably the supremely arrogant Lord Chelmsford and the scheming Sir Henry Bartle Frere, who both wish to crush the neighbouring Zulu Empire, which is perceived as a threat to Cape Colony's emerging industrial economy. 

Bartle Frere issues an impossible ultimatum to the Zulu king, Cetshwayo, demanding that he dissolve the Zulu Empire. Cetshwayo refuses, providing Cape Colony with a pretext to invade Zululand. Despite objections from leading members of Cape Colony's high society and from Great Britain itself, Bartle Frere authorises Lord Chelmsford to lead a British invasion force into Zululand.

Peter O'Toole: Lord Chelmsford. The arrogant commander of British forces in South Africa, Chelmsford is eager to advance his military career by crushing neighbouring Zululand, believing that "for the savage as for the child, chastisement is sometimes a blessing". 

During the invasion, Chelmsford refuses to listen to advice from his British and Boer advisers, and from the comfort of his tent and personal coach, authorises his troops to torture Zulu captives. On the day of the battle, Chelmsford commits a cardinal error in splitting his forces.

While the troops at Isandlwana fight for their lives, Chelmsford and his equally arrogant officers, a few miles away, enjoy a silver-service luncheon. Chelmsford is last seen arriving at the site of the battle several hours later, mortified by the defeat of his soldiers, absorbing the news that the victorious Zulu army has invaded Natal.

Chelmsford's arrogance was mixed with incompetence as he left unclear instructions to those left behind at Isandlwana including which officer was in charge, Durnford or Pulleine. Chelmsford would later lay the blame for the disaster on Colonel Durnford.

 Burt Lancaster: Colonel Durnford. Commander of a large force of the Natal Native Contingent (NNC), Britain's African allies, Durnford is a humane officer who expresses concern for the lives and welfare of his African troops. 

When war breaks out, Durnford, much to his chagrin, is ordered to remain in Natal and defend the border rather than accompany the invasion force. 

His troops are ultimately called to reinforce the invasion army, and on the day of battle, Durnford and his African cavalrymen are driven into the camp at Isandlwana. 

As the British forces break apart, the one-armed Durnford becomes trapped in the camp. Hoping to save his men, Durnford orders his African cavalrymen to retreat. Remaining on foot at the battlefield, Durnford is killed alongside his infantrymen.

Durnford would later be painted by Chelmsford as the scape-goat for the disaster.

That is a very short version of events of one particular battle.

The stories of his life follow that of his timeline.

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