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Isandlwana: The Revelation of a Disaster

Lock, Ron
ISBN 978 1 52670 742 0, Pen & Sword

Isandlwana: The Revelation of a DisasterIn 1878, H.M. High Commissioner for Southern Africa and the Lieut. General Commanding H.M. Forces, clandestinely conspired to invade the Zulu Kingdom. Drastically underestimating their foe, within days of entering the Zulu Kingdom the invaders had been vanquished in one of the greatest disasters ever to befall a British army.

The author not only dramatically describes the events leading up to the Battle of Isandlwana , and the battle itself but, with new evidence, disputes many aspects of the campaign long held sacrosanct.

Over a decade ago Ron Lock co-authored Zulu Victory, a book which triggered numerous debates on forums. Now he has released a new book on Isandhlwana, a more relaxed take on both the events and the senior officer in command - Colonel Durnford RE. In this he brings forth more in the way of the Zulu army intelligence network, plus interestingly, 3 people, possibly previously referred to in other books, are given a bit more detail about and how they possibly influenced some decisions and actions by the British High Command. Obviously, Ron follows the path more-or-less of the first book and the thesis he and Peter Quantrill compiled. He covers the discovery of the Zulu army and even how on the main battlefield itself, large numbers of warriors could advance a reasonable distance out of view of the British firing line, to appear right in front of them a short distance away. This helps in the understanding of a similar case faced on the high Nquthu plateau to the north of the camp.

I look upon this new title as almost a companion book to Zulu Victory, illustrating in detail more in the way of the mindset and thought processes of both sides, before, during and after the battle happened.

D.Suter. Nov.2017


“Isandlwana – The Revelation of a Disaster” is the title of Ron Lock’s new book and in many ways the book seems to do just as it says on the jacket questioning “… many aspects of the disaster long held sacrosanct”.

The book describes how Sir Bartle Frere and Sir Theophilus Shepstone, amongst others, and later aided by Lord Chelmsford, contrived to justify a war with the Zulu Kingdom. However, to get down to new perspectives, notions and facts pertaining to the battle, for the battle is what the book is all about, we are treated to a revelation. On the Zulu side it seems that not every Zulu of military age was keen to become a warrior and in order to escape military service, as war drew nearer, many young men declared themselves to be iziNyanga, healers who would be exempt from military duty. King Cetshwayo cleverly formed a new regiment, naming it the Nqweke into which these young iziNyanga were enlisted. It was no different from any other Zulu regiment, differing only in that the discipline was harsher.

New to me is the extent of the Zulu army’s spy network with its agents working and living for a time as far as way as Pondoland. The book suggests that Chelmsford was duped into leaving Isandlwana with half its force, on the basis of information from Fiynn, acting on false information supplied by a Zulu double agent, Gamdana, Sihayo’s brother. All new to me.

So too are Lock’s conclusions as to who was in command of the British camp; who was to blame for its defenceless state; who was singled out to be the scapegoat; who was in command of the firing line at the moment of contact between the two armies. Also I was surprised to learn that only two months after the Battle of Ulundi and the conclusion of the war, Ntshingwayo ka Mahole, the commander of the Zulu army at the Battle of Isandlwana, met with Sir Garnet Wolseley (a meeting not recorded in Wolseley’s memoirs) and was given to rule a large portion of the old Zulu Kingdom. A map shows the distribution of the Chiefdoms.

The book contains a number of black and white photographs, some new but mostly seen before. There are six maps: Map 5 reveals a depression from which the attackers emerged to overwhelm the guns. Map 6 from 1880, depicts the scattered graves around the battlefield and along the Fugitives’ Trail. One typo constantly wrong was the word fugitive’s rather than fugitives’.
However, I found it to be a good read and wonder if there will be much reaction to any of its conclusions as there is still much which is open to debate on this part of history.

Alan Critchley, November 2017.