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An Epic of Zululand (From the Zululand Times January, 17, 1952).

On Tuesday of next week January 22 falls the 73rd anniversary of one of the saddest epics in the annals of Zululand. It was on that day in 1879 that the disastrous. Battle of Isandlwana was fought - a battle in which the  defenders of that outpost of the British Empire were slaughtered almost to a man by the triumphant Zulus who were sweeping down towards Natal.

In the article on this page, published by kind permission or the Rev. F. E.  Osbourn is a detailed, account of the battle loaned by Sgt. F.E. Little. Formerly of The Natal Police.

Until 1881 the South Wales Borderers, the regiment so vitally concerned in the action, was designated the 24th Regiment  (2nd Warwick's), but after that date it became the South Wales Borderers (24th Regiment). Lieut. Melville's son passed away in England during October. 1951.Two years previously he had donated to the Regimental Museum his  father's Victoria Cross that had been awarded for the part Lieut. Melville had played in he battle. Also housed in the Museum are the Victoria Crosses won by. Williams Jones, Allen and Hook. At an exhibition held during 1951,  no fewer than five Victoria Crosses were on show at the same time - all awarded on the same date, January 22, 1879.


11th Jan. The 3rd Column crossed the Buffalo River at daybreak covered by the guns of Harners's battery. When the crossing was completed the mounted men with Lord Chelmsford preceded 12 miles northward to meet Colonel Wood.  After a consultation Lord Chelmsford returned to Rorkes Drift, where in the evening, he had an interview with Colonel Durnford, commanding No. 2 Column, who had arrived from Middle Drift, Durnford returned next day.

Arrival of Troops

20th Jan. The troops arrived at Isandhlwana, and took up their positions. There were no entrenchments. In front of the camp, facing east, there is a plain extending about 8 miles with a width or about 4 miles much  intersected by watercourses. The view from the camp looking east (front) was extensive, but the view on either flank was very limited.

The camp was guarded by a chain of vedettes from 2 to 3 miles distant with an infantry  outpost line closer in. This line was composed of one Coy. From each of the 4 infantry battalions. At night the outpost line was brought in to about 500 yards of the tents and made continuous, i.e., it encircled the Isandhlwana  Hill.

The Native battalions were posted On the left as it was thought there was less chance of an attack on that flank. The Native battalions also maintained a detached outpost by night to the north of the camp. Regimental  transport was parked in the rear of the tents of each unit.

Lord Chelmsford and Staff arrived at the camp at noon, but started off again at 1 p.m. with an escort of M.D. on a reconnaissance of Matyane's stronghold some 10  miles south-east of camp. He returned at 6.30 p.m. Orders were issued for Major Dartnell with Mounted Police, Volunteers and best part of the 2 Native battalions under Commandant Lonsdale, to make a reconnaissance in force the  following day.

21st Jan. left 4.30 a.m. Lonsdale, accompanied by Capt. Huller (Staff). Dartnell left 5.30 a.m., accompanied by Major Gossett (Staff). One day's rations were carried. Later in the morning a small party of M.I.  under Lieut. Browne were sent to make an independent reconnaissance towards Isipenyi Hill. Browne returned at noon and reported he had had a skirmish with the Zulus.

At 4 p.m., whilst Lord Chelmsford and Colonel Glynn were on  Hill " B," they met Buller and Gossett returning to camp. They reported that a considerable Zulu force had been seen and that Dartnell requested reinforcements be sent to him. Lord. Chelmsford, however, declined to  accede to this request.

22nd Jan. 1.30a.m. Note received by Major Clery, S.O. to Colonel Glynn, from Dartnell, stating that he and Lonsdale did not consider force at their disposal sufficient to attack and requested that 2 or  3 Coys. of the 24th Regt. be sent as reinforcement. Lord Chelmsford immediately gave orders for the Mounted Infantry4 guns R.A., 6 Coys. 2/24th and some Native pioneers to be sent out in support of Dartnell.

Note: 7 Coys. 2/24th would have been detailed, but "B." Coy. Was on outpost duty.

4 a.m. Inc troops marched off at 4 a.m. accompanied by Lord Chelmsford and Colonel Glynn. The men in light marching order without  great coats or blankets. Each man carried one day's cooked rations and 70 rounds of ammunition. The tents were left standing. A convoy of 50 wagons was to have left for Rorkes Drift, but this was countermanded, as, owing to the  shortage of troops, no escort was available. These wagons were parked between the road and the south end of Isandhlwana Hill.

The troops left in camp were: 30 M.I., 80 Police and Volunteers, 2 Guns and 70 men R.A., 5 Coys.  1/24th, 1 Coy. 2/24th, 2 Coys. 1/3rd N.N.C., 2 Coys. 2/3rd N.N.C., and 10 Native Pioneers.

Before leaving, Lord Chelmsford sent orders to Colonel Durnford at Rorkes Drift to bring all his mounted men and rocket battery to  Isandhlwana, and assume command of the camp. Until his arrival, Colonel Pulleine was to be in command. Pulleine's orders, in writing, were to keep the vedettes far advanced; but the line of outposts was to be drawn in closer,  and, if attacked, to remain on the defensive.

22nd Jan. 6 a.m. Lieut. Smith-Dorrien arrived at Rorkes Drift and delivered Lord Chelmsford's order to Colonel Durnford to move to Isandhlwana. Colonel Durnford left Rorkes Drift  with 5 troops mounted Basutos, a rocket battery2 Coys. 1/1 N.N.C. and 10 wagons;

8.00 a.m. Vedettes on. Hill "A" reported body of enemy in sight approaching from north-east. All troops were got. Under  arms and drawn up in front of camp. A mounted messenger was sent with brief despatch to acquaint Lord Chelmsford (see later).

9.00 a.m. No Zulus were visible from the camp until 9 a.m., when a small number were seen on Hill  "B" It would appear the vedettes on this hill had been withdrawn. Enemy almost immediately withdrew, and vedettes on Hill "A" reported enemy in 3 columns, of which 2 were returning and the third had passed  out of sight, moving northwest.

10 a.m. Colonel Durnford arrived in camp, where he found the troops still drawn up under arms. He took over from Colonel Pulleine and sent back one troop of his Basutos to guard his wagons,  which were still on the. Road. He also sent 2 troops (1 Lieut. Raw, 2 Capt. Barton) of Basutos to the heights on the left flank of the camp to reconnoiter. Durnford then advanced into the plain in front of the camp with 2  troops Basutos, the Rocket Battery. And 1 Coy; 1/1 N.N.C. His object was to prevent the enemy, reported to be in retreat, from joining the force believed to be engaged with Lord Chelmsford. He wanted to take 2 Coys. of the  24th, but Colonel Pulleine strongly represented that it would be contrary to Lord Chelmsford's orders. Durnford insisted, however, that one Coy. 24th should be sent to the heights 1,500 yards north of the camp, so Lieut.  Cavaye's Coy. Of 1/24th was moved accordingly. The remainder of the troops was then dismissed.

12 Noon The Mounted Police, Volunteers and M.1., except those on vedette -duty, remained in camp.

The troop of Lieut. Raw's  Basutos, sent to reconnoiter north of the camp, after advancing 3 miles observed the Zulu army a mile off advancing in line and extending to the west, i.e., to their left. Capt. Shepstone, Political Officer, and a Mr. Hamer,  who had accompanied Raw, returned to camp with this information. The Basutos fell back before the enemy, whose right wing was rapidly extending. They soon came under the fire of Lieut. Cavaye's Coy. but did not turn aside to  attack it streamed past in loose formation about 800 yards distant.

Capt. Mostyn's Coy. 1/24th was now ordered out to support Cavaye. On reaching the heights. Mostyn extended his men along the crest between the main portions  of Cavaye's Coy. And a section commanded by Lieut. Dyson. On Cavaye's right was a Coy. Of 2/3 N.N.C. while still farther right the Basutos were descending from the range.

12.10 p.m. The 2 guns RA. Came into action about 400  yards of the left flank at a range of 3,400 yards. The enemy were reported to be on the right flank of the camp, so one gun was sent to that flank, but very soon returned.

12.20 p.m. Orders given for Cavaye and Mostyn to  retire from the heights and a fresh line facing north was formed about 400 yards from the heights. Dyson rejoined Cavaye and a third Coy. 1/24th (Capt. Younghusband) was drawn up on Mostyn's left. All were in extended order.  The Native Coy. Fell back in accordance with this move and was joined by the other Native Coy. (1/3rd N.N.C).

12.25 p.m. The remaining 2 Coys. 1/24th were moved to the left front of the camp and formed up in extended order,  facing east, near the guns. The Coy. 2/24th (Lieut. Pope) was also formed up in extended order facing east. The right of this Coy. Was near the road. One of the Coys. Near the guns was now moved and extended until it touched  Pope's left,

11.30 p.m. - The Zulu advance on the right front was held by the M.I., Police and Volunteers, but on the left the pressure was great and the 3 Coys. On that face were forced to make a further withdrawal. They  lined up in a fresh position about 300 yards from the camp.

12.45 p.m. Colonel Durnford , who outstripped the rocket battery and Native infantry escort, and had advanced some 4 miles to the front, was informed by 2 Carbineers  that a large force of the enemy was trying to surround him. He immediately commenced to retire and carried on a running fight.. The Rocket Battery had in the meantime got 3 miles from camp when. a Carbineer met them and offered  to point out a. short cut whereby they could get into action and help the returning Basutos. This turned out to be a trap; the battery was cutoff and they were nearly all killed. The arrival of Colonel Durnford saved the  survivors. Durnford continued to fall back, closely pursued, until they came under covering fire from the M.I., Police and Volunteers, with whom the remnants of his force now merged.

1 p.m. The position was now as follows: 3  coy s. 1/24th. 300 yards from camp facing north, 2 Coys. 1/24th, 1 Coy. 2/24th and 2 guns R.A. facing east. -The infantry were lining a watercourse. Colonel Durnford,. with the mounted men on the right front, slightly in  advance, where pressure was up to now slight as compared with the left. The 2 Coys. N.N.C.- occupied the north-east salient, where 1 Coy. faced north and the other east.

The camp was in no respect prepared for defence, The  tents were standing and the camp was occupied by servants, bandsmen, clerks and non-combatants who, at this hour, were entirely unconscious of danger. The 50 wagons due to return to Rorkes Drift were still drawn up in three  lines on the neck between the road and the south end of Isandhlwana Hill. The remainder of the transport was in rear of the tents. The oxen were collected when the enemy were first seen near the camp and. owing to a mistake on  the part of the drivers, were inspanned instead of being tethered to the trek chains.

Meanwhile the; advance of the Zulus continued steadily and the attack had greatly developed on the left and left front. Moving from the  north-east, their left horn was directed towards the British right, whilst the right horn was sweeping down the valley at the back (west) of the Isandhlwana Hill. The enormous strength of the enemy could now be realised by the  troops, who were extended some 2,000 yards, and they saw themselves hopelessly outnumbered. They were, however Inflicting heavy losses on the enemy.

1.30 p.m. The Zulus were within 200 yards of the salient when the N.N.C.  broke and fled. A gap in the line was thus caused into which a mass of Zulus poured. Mostyn's and Cavaye's Coys., which were extended, had time to rally, or even fix bayonets, the Zulus were among them and they were slaughtered  to a man. Younghusband's Coy., on the left of the north face, succeeded in retreating and eventually gained a terrace on the southern side of the Isandhlwana Hill.

The two guns, after discharging a few rounds of grape into  the dense mass of the enemy, limbered up and returned towards the camp. The camp was now In the hands of the enemy and before it was traversed nearly every gunner was assegied. The road to Rorkes Drift was blocked by the enemy,  so an attempt was made to take the guns to the southward, where there was yet a space unoccupied. by the enemy. This was the route all fugitives were taking, but the great majority were overtaken and killed. it was not even a  track and men on foot- had no chance whatever of escape. The guns did not get far. About 800 yards from the neck a deep watercourse was reached which proved impassable for vehicles and here the drivers and horses were assegied.  Two officers and a sergeant alone escaped, but one of the officers was killed at the Buffalo.

For a short time after the defensive line was broken, men fought hand-to-hand among the tents. The only infantry which made any  organised resistance were Capt. Younghusband's Coy., which maintained itself for a while on the. South side of the hill, and the 2 Coys. on the extreme right (1 1/24th, 1 2/24th), which held together in. front of the 1/24th  camp. When their ammunition gave out they were overpowered and died where they stood.

Colonel Durnford and the mounted men were holding a watercourse on the extreme right before the rest of the defensive line broke, but the  enemy made no impression on them by frontal attacks. The Zulus, however, extended farther to there left and, crossing the watercourse lower down, took the troopers in flank. Colonel Durnford ordered the "Retire" to be  sounded. The troopers, whose horses were in the donga under cover, rode back 1,500 yards and took up a fresh position on the eastern slope of the neck which connects Isandhlwana Hill with the kopje to the south. Whilst this  movement was being carried out the Zulus effected their break through on the left of the camp. The stony kopjie to the south of Isandhlwana hill was now in the hands of the enemy and their right horn was closing in to unite  with the left horn. Here, Colonel Durnford and his men and a few of the 24th who had joined them, made their final stand. They were attacked on all sides and like the infantry; were overwhelmed only when the last cartridge had  been fired.

1.30 p.m. The last European survivor to escape from the camp was Capt. Essex, 75th Regt., S.O. for Transport duties. He stated it was 1.30 p.m. when he left the camp, and all resistance had by them practically  ceased. Commandant Lonsdale arrived at the camp from Matyana's stronghold at .2 p.m.; all firing had then ceased and the Zulus were looting the camp. Lonsdale turned about and galloped off to warn Lord Chelmsford.

Fifty-two  officers, 866 European N.C.O.'s and men, and between 200 and 300 Native infantry were killed. In addition, there were a large number of camp followers killed. The entire transport of the 3rd Column, tents, stores and equipment,  800 M.H. rifles, 400,000 cartridges, 2 seven-pounders R.A. the records of R.Q. and both battalions, and both Colours of the 2/24th Regt. were lost. During the battle the Queen's Colour of the 1/24th Regt. was carried off by  Capt. and Adjt. Melvill, assisted by Lieut. Coghill. Both officers were killed after crossing the Buffalo, but the Colour was subsequently recovered. Melvill's watch was found to have stopped at 2.10 p.m., presumably when he  entered the river. The "Regimental " Colour of the 1/24th had been left at Helpmekaar.

The Zulu's army was commanded by Tshingwayo, and Dabulamanzi was second in command. Their 1osses were estimated to be not less  than 1,000 killed. The Zulus had a plentiful supply of M.H. rifles purchased from gun-runners, but ammunition was scarce. . This deficiency was' remedied by the capture of 400,000 rounds at Isandhlwana.

Operations Near Matyana's Stronghold

22nd Jan. Lord Chelmsford and Staff joined Major Dartnell, having pushed on ahead of the troops. Colonel

6 a.m. Russell was sent with the M.I. in the direction of the Isipesi Hill.  The Police, Volunteers and N.N.C. were sent to carry out a movement against the enemy at "gg" The 6 Coys. 2/24th and the artillery under Colonel Glynn were still on the march from Isandhlwana.

7.30 a.m. The track  was so rough after leaving the Qudeni road and progress so slow, that Glynn left the guns with an escort of 2 Coys, whilst he went on ahead with the other 4 Coys.

9 a.m.Far in advance, the Police and Volunteers under  Dartnell and the Native regiments under Lonsdale had carried out a series of operations which resulted in a few skirmishes. The country traversed was exceedingly rough and the enemy plainly showed he had no intention of being  brought to a decisive action.

9.30 a.m.Whilst Lord Chelmsford and Staff halted on Ridge d" for. breakfast, a messenger arrived from the camp with a note which read as follows: "Staff Officer - Report just  come in that Zulus are advancing in force from left front of camp. (Sgt.) H. B. Pulleine, Lieut,-Colonel. 8 a.m. Regd. 9.30 a.m. (Sgd.) H.P." (Initials of Capt. H. P., S.O.)

Lord Chelmsford received this note from Major  Clery and sent Lieut. Milne, R.N.. to a hill from which the camp was visible with orders to examine it with a telescope and report.

1.10 a.m. Milne was unable to detect any signs of Zulus advancing on the camp, but noticed  that the cattle had been driven in close to the tents. He notified Lord Chelmsford by flag signal. After remaining 1½ hours on the hill, Milne descended, having nothing further to report.

Orders were now sent to Colonel  Harness, who was still some way off with the guns, that he was to advance no farther, but make his way to the Mangeni Valley, where it was intended to fix a new camp.

The 1/3rd N.N.C. (Commandant Browne) now arrived from  Dartnell's advanced position and was ordered to proceed to Isandhlwana and search en route the dongas intersecting the plain in front of that camp.

10.30 a.m. Capt. Alan Gardner and some other officers left for Isandhlwana  Camp. Gardner carried an order for the requisite tents, etc., to. Be sent to the new camp site. Note: On reaching Isandh1wana Camp, Gardner sent the following note addressed to Major Clery: Heavy firing near left of camp.  Shepstone has come. in for reinforcements and reports Basutos are falling back; the whole force at camp turned out and fighting about 1 mile to left flank. (Sgd.) Alan Gardner, Capt., S.O.)." (This note did not reach Major  Clery, but. appears to have been received by Major Gosset about 3 p.m.) Colonel Pulleine also replied to the order: Staff -Officer - Heavy firing to the left of our camp; cannot move camp at present. (Sgd.) H. B. Pulleine,  Lieut., Colonel." (This note appears to have been delivered to Lord Chelmsford, probably about the same time as the former.)

11.45 p.m. Lord Chelmsford and Staff proceeded to place where Major Dartnell had been in  action, and at 12.30 p.m. left for the Mangeni Valley, taking the Volunteers with him.

12.30 p.m. Shortly after leaving Lord Chelmsford, Commandant Browne, N.N.C., captured a Zulu scout from whom it was ascertained an attack  on Isandhlwana Camp was contemplated. Browne sent back an officer to inform Lord Chelmsford. He then moved forward and at 12 noon could see that the attack on the camp had commenced. A large number of the enemy were seen in  front, so he retired to his left rear.

12.45 pan. Browne dispatched Capt. Develin with the following message to give to any Staff Officer he should meet:

"For God's sake come back; the camp is surrounded and will be taken unless helped,"

1.15 p.m. Develin was seen by the Artillery and escort, who were at the time on some high ground, and the message was  intercepted. Major Gossett, who was with Colonel Harness, rode back to acquaint Lord Chelmsford whilst Harness decided to move towards Isandhlwana and take up a position where he could with his guns help the defenders of the  camp.

Lord Chelmsford had reached the new camp site at 1 p.m. When he received Gossett's message he and his Staff galloped to the top of a hill and scanned the Isandhlwana Camp through field glasses. They could see the tents  standing -and -no untoward movement;-everything was apparently quiet. They concluded that this and the previous report were unfounded Native rumours. At the same time, Lord Chelmsford issued instructions for Harness to adhere  to his previous instructions and move to the new camp and-not towards Isandhlwana.

In the meantime, Colonel Russell, with the M.I. had retired from the Isipezi hill, which he found occupied in force by the enemy. Between 12  noon and 1 p.m,. his party was off saddled near the Isandhlwana Qudeni road. At 1.15 p.m. a mounted European of Browne's Native regiment rode in and informed Russell that he had been sent to tell the General that the camp was  attacked. The guns at Isandhlwana could now be heard. Lord Chelmsford's whereabouts were unknown

1.45 p.m. to Russell. A second European bearing a similar message now arrived from Browne. Colonel Russell moved his men on to  the road and, leaving them there, went off to look for the General. He first found Harness and shortly afterwards met Lord Chelmsford with the Volunteers proceeding leisurely toward Isandhlwana.

2.10 p.m. Lord Chelmsford, on  receiving the reports, still felt no uneasiness as he was convinced by his last view of the camp at l.15 p.m. that nothing untoward had occurred. He issued no fresh orders, but, on coming up with the. M.I., he ordered them to  join up with him.

2.30 p.m.Lord Chelmsford came up with Browne's battalion halted in front. They were now ordered to advance,

3.30 p.m. the mounted men leading the way. About 5 miles from Isandhlwana they met a  solitary horseman who proved to be Commandant Lonsdale. Lonsdale had met with an accident earlier in the day, so had returned to camp to make arrangements about his men's rations. He had reached camp at 2 p.m. and found it  entirely in the hands of-the enemy. He was fired on and had a very narrow escape. Orders were immediately given for the troops which were at the new camp- under Colonel Glynn and Major Dartnell, to join up without delay.  Similar orders were sent to Harness, who was still on the road.

4.05 pm. Colonel Glynn received the order at 4.05 p.m. andgot his men started off without delay. At 6.10 pm. He caught up with Lord Chelmsford about two  and a half miles from Isandhlwana.

6.30 pan. The advance was resumed "The mounted men were sent in front; the rest of the face marched in the following order: Guns in the centre with 3 Coys. 2/24th on either flank; the  native battalions were on the extreme right and left, respectively

7 p.m.When the sun set at 7 p.m. the force was 2 miles distant from the camp. At 7.45 p.m. it was almost dark and they were about half a mile from the  camp. Parties of Zulus could be seen against the skyline to the north. The column halted and the. Guns opened up with shrapnel on that part of road which crosses the neck. As there was no reply an advance was made to within 300  yards of the neck and the guns again opened fire. Three Coys. 2/24th under Major Black were sent to seize the kopje south of-the Isandhlwana Hill.

8.30 p.m. This was done without opposition so the column again moved forward.  The troops halted and bivouacked on the neck. Black's party remained on the kopje.

Rorkes Drift and Helpmekaar

22nd Jan. When the 3rd Column crossed into Zululand on 11th January, Major Spalding D.A.M.G., was left in  charge of Rorkes Drift and Helpmekaar. There 1 C. 2/24 Regt. At Rorkesdrift and 2 Coys. 1/24th Regt atHelpmekaar. Orders bad been issued for one of the companies at Helpmekaar to reinforce the Rorkes  drift garrison; the. move was to take place on 20th January. As this Coy. had not arrived by 2 p.m. on the 22nd January, Major. Spalding left Rorkes Drift and rode off to Helpmekaar. He arrived at the latter place at 3.l5 p.m.  After receiving the situation at Helpmekaar, he decided to move both Coys. 1/24th and shortly afterwards - they left for Rorkes Drift under Major Upcher: Major. Spalding rode on ahead. By sunset Spalding was 3 miles from the  drift when he met a number of Native fugitives.. and also found his way barred by bodies of the enemy.; From this point the Mission House was seen to be on fire and the fugitives assertion that Rorkes Drift bad been captured  appeared to be true. Realising that Helpmekaar must be saved, he counter-marched the infantry and returned to Helpmekaar. The troops arrived at 9 p.m. and were set to work to strengthen the defences of that place.


And so the battle ended and the battlefield became a centre for the Church in Archdeacon. Johnson's early days under Bishop McKenzie. In 1883, the St. Vincent Memorial Church was built in memory of those who  fell on the Battlefield of Isandhlwana on January 22, 1879. Four windows were placed in the Church—one to Lieut. Jameson, one to Colonel Durnford, one to "Those of The Native Contingent" and one to the Natal Mounted  Police (Nonqayi).

Later the Church was enlarged. two wings being added and a mausoleum to provide a resting place for the bones gathered from the dongas at various times, heavy storms having washed away the shallow graves.

In 1950 an article was published in "The Zululand Times" concerning the short memories of people in regard to the heroes of January 22. This coincided with our being transferred to the Station to re-open the  Catechists Training School. After years of absence of a European, the Station had got very much under the weather. It was a colossal task that we faced, but in the 12 months of continual labour the Catechists gave their spare  time to the task.

We have renovated the Church and one wing, and the stained glass windows have been repaired and refitted. After the 72 years they had begun disintegrating.

With regard to relics from the battlefield,  badges and assegais, a rifle and a carbine are safely housed, as well as the Memorial Plate of the Natal Mounted Police and one found in the void to a Lieut Pope of the 24th.

The mausoleum now has a tomb over which is the  Free Stone Altar with its light at the head of the tomb (made out of a spent shell used as a lamp) - The Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers of Isandhlwana. The epitaph reads: "Beneath this Altar lie the bones gathered from the  Dongas and re-interred under this Chapel"

And so ends the "Forgotten" phase.

As the daily services we have their visual memory with us and "we remember them." There is an all-weather road to the  battlefield and direction sign to the Warriors' Chapel.