1899 - 1902



Anglo Boer War
Home Reasons/Intro Build Up Battles / Sieges Deaths VC's Photographs


According to the opinion of Sir Bartle Frere there was, and for a long time had been, a  growing desire on the part of the great chiefs to make this war into a simultaneous rising of Kaffirdom against white civilisation. A spirit of mutiny had been in the air since the terrible events in India in 1857, and there  was a general conviction among the native tribes that the authority of Great Britain would eventually be overthrown. Now the most powerful of all the native tribes in South Africa were the Zulus, whose military organisation had  long been celebrated, and who had earned a great reputation since the days of Gaika, and more especially in the time that followed when Chaka, who was a born warrior, brought the gigantic army into a state of marvellous  efficiency.

A few words regarding the career of this great chieftain may be found interesting, for to him is accorded the credit of the indubitably warlike and brave disposition of his countrymen. This man, who  'has been at times called the Attila and the Napoleon of South Africa, was born in 1783. He became chief officer to Dingiswayo, a man of remarkable ability, who studied european military systems and modelled on their principle a highly efficient army. Chaka, heir to a  chieftainship of the Amazulu tribe (the Zulus proper), took the fancy of Dingiswayo, who elevated him first to a post of high command, and eventually to the vacant Zulu chieftainship. On the death in battle of Dingiswayo, Chaka  assumed the command of both tribes, to which he gave his name. The already excellent army he proceeded to improve till it became one of the most efficient military organisations ever originated in an uncivil ised country. The  whole kingdom was ordered on a military footing, and expanded so wondrously that the original two tribes at first commanded by Chaka became an hundred, each tribe having been defeated in warfare and incorporated in the Zulu  nationality. His policy, unlike that of Cetchwayo later on, was not to destroy but to subdue, and thus he soon ruled with undisputed sway over a complete empire covering the desolated regions of Natal, Zululand, and the modern  Boer States. His methods of military training were entirely Spartan; his discipline was a discipline of iron. Disobedience was met with the penalty of death. To tread out a roaring bush-fire, or capture alive a wild beast, were  some of the tasks imposed as daily training for his would-be warriors. An order was an order, and this, however dangerous or seemingly impossible, had to be obeyed by individual or regiment on pain of the most horrible forms of death. It may easily be imagined that his stern regime was calculated to create a military following of the most brave and adventurous order. Naturally enough, all the  other Kafir tribes looked to the Zulus as their leaders and champions in the contest. Captain Hamlton Parr tells a tale of an old Galeka warrior who said to a native magistrate, "Yes, you have beaten us-you have beaten us well  ; but there," pointing eastward, "there are the Amazulu warriors. Can you beat them? They say not. Go and try. Don't trouble any more about us, but go and beat themand we shall be quiet enough." This anecdote  serves to describe the general sentiment of disdain for British authority which Sir Bartle Frere detected almost immediatly after his arrival among the natives, and to account in a measure for what has been declared to be his  high-handed policy. He was convinced that we could never expect peace among the chiefs until we had satisfied them who was master. A lesson was necessary to show that the British Government could govern and meant to govern, and  that lesson he felt must be taught sooner or later. Cetchwayo had been instigating rebellion and preparing for war. As may be seen from Lord Carnarvon's letter of the 24th of January 1878 to Sir Bartle Frere, the Government was  fully conscious of the existing necessity to protect the Transvaal and to maintain British prestige in South Africa. The despatch runs "It seems certain that the Zulu king has derived from his messengers the unfortunate idea  that the Kaffirs are able to cope with the Colony on more than equal terms, and this belief has, as was inevitable, produced a very threatening change in his language and conduct towards the Transvaal Government. It is only too  probable that a savage chief such as Cetchwayo, supported by a powerful army already excited by the recent successes of a neighbouring tribe over the late Government of the Transvaal, may now become fired with the idea of victory  over her Majesty's forces, and that a deliberate attempt upon her Majesty's territories may ensue. Should this unfortunately happen, you must understand that at whatever sacrifice it is imperatively necessary that her Majesty's  forces in Natal and the Transvaal must be reinforced by the immediate despatch of the military and naval contingents now operating in the Cape, or such portion of them as may be required. This is necessary not only for the safety  of the Transvaal, for the defence of which her Majesty's Government are  immediately concerned, but also in the interest of the Cape, since a defeat of the Zulu king would act more powerfully than any other means in disheartening the native races of South Africa."

On this subject Sir H. Bulwer wrote: "There has been for the last eight or nine months a danger of collision with the Zulus at any moment. And in November 1878 he said: "The system of government in the  Zulu country is so bad that any improvement seems hopeless. We should, if necessary, be justified in deposing Cetchwayo."

Consequently, Sir Bartle Frere was not surprised when all efforts to reduce Cetchwayo  to yield to British demand failed. As time went by it became clear that enforcement of these demands must be placed in the hands of Lord Chelmsford and the military authorities, and accordingly, on the 10th of January 1879, the Commander-in-Chief of the forces of South Africa crossed the  frontier.

As the frontier extended for some two hundred miles, to assume a purely defensive attitude would have been impossible. Our forces so placed would not have been sufficiently strong to resist an attack made  at their own time and place by a horde of some ten to twenty thousand Zulus. Lord Chelmsford had no alternative, therefore, but to invade Zululand.