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Padre George Smith's
account from his diary
About three o'clock p.m. or shortly after, several mounted men arrived from Isandhlwana and reported the terrible disaster which had occurred.
Lieutenant Bromhead, commanding the company (B) of the 2nd/24th Regiment, at once struck his camp and sent down for Lieutenant Chard, R.E. (who was engaged with some half dozen men at the ponts on the river) to come up and direct the preparations for defence, as in the absence of Major Spalding the command of the post devolved upon him.
The windows and doors of the hospital were blocked up with mattresses, etc., and loopholes made through the walls both of the hospital and the storehouse. A wall of mealies and other grain bags was made, enclosing the front of the hospital and running along the ledge of the rocky terrace to the stone wall of the kraal, which has been described as coming from the far end of the storehouse at right angles to the front of that building, down to the edge of these rocks.
A praiseworthy effort was made to remove the worst cases in hospital to a place of safety. Two wagons were brought up after some delay, and the patients were being brought out when it was feared that the Zulus were so close upon us that any attempt to take them away would only result in their falling into enemy hands.
So the two wagons were at once utilised to form part of the defensive wall connecting the right hand front corner of the storehouse with the left hand back corner of the hospital, also used as barricades underneath and upon the wagons. A barricade filling up the small space between the left front corner of the storehouse and the stone wall of the kraal before referred to. And the blocking up of the gates of the kraal itself, made the outer defence works complete. The men worked with a will and were much encouraged by the unremitting exertions of both the military officers, the Medical Officer and Assistant Commissary Dalton, all of whom not merely directed but engaged most energetically in the construction of the barricades.
The water cart in the meantime, had been hastily filled and brought within the enclosure.
The pontmen Daniells and Sergeant Milne (3rd Buffs) offered to moor the ponts in the middle of the stream and defend them from their decks with a few men. But our defensive force was too small for any to be spared, and these men subsequently did good service within the fort.
About 4.30 p.m. the Zulus came in sight round the right hand end of the large hill in our rear. Only about twenty at first appeared advancing in open order. Their numbers were speedily augmented and their line extended quite across the neck of land from hill to hill. A great number of Dongas in their line of approach, a stream with steep banks, the garden with all its trees and surroundings, gave them great facilities for getting near to us unseen. The garden must have been occupied, for one unfortunate Contingent Corporal, whose heart must have failed him when he saw the enemy and heard the firing, got over the parapet and tried to make his escape on foot, but a bullet from the garden struck him, and he fell dead within a hundred and fifty yards of our front wall.
An officer of the same Corps, who had charge of the three hundred and fifty natives before referred to, was more fortunate; being mounted, he made good his escape and "lives to fight another day".
But the enemy are upon us now and are pouring over the right shoulder of the hill in a dense mass, and on they come, making straight for the connecting wall between the storehouse and the hospital, and then make a desperate attempt to scale the barricade in front of that building, but here too, they are repulsed, and they disperse and find cover amongst the bushes and behind the stone wall below the terrace. The others have found shelter amongst numerous banks, ditches and bushes, and behind a square Kaffir house and large brick ovens, all at the rear of our storehouse. One of the mounted chiefs was shot by private Dunbar (2nd/24th), who also killed eight of the enemy with as many consecutive shots as they came round the ledge of the hill. As fresh bodies of Zulus arrive, they take possession of the elevated ledge of rocks overlooking our buildings and barricades at the back, and all the caves and crevices are quickly filled, and from these the enemy pour down a continuous fire upon us.
A whisper passes around amongst the men: "Poor old King Cole is killed!" He was at the front wall: a bullet passed through his head, and then struck the next man upon the bridge of the nose, but the latter was not seriously hurt. Mr. Dalton who is a tall man, was continually going along the barricades, fearlessly exposing himself and cheering the men, and using his own rifle most effectively. A Zulu ran up near the barricade. Mr. Dalton called out "Pot that fellow" and himself aimed over the parapet at another, when his rifle dropped and he turned round, quite pale, and said that he had been shot. The doctor was by his side at once, and found that a bullet had passed quite through above the right shoulder. Unable any longer to use his rifle (although he did not cease to direct the fire of the men who were near him) he handed it to Mr. Byrne, who used it as well.
Presently, Corporal C. Scammel (Natal Native Contingent), who was near Mr. Byrne, was shot through the shoulder and back. He crawled a short distance and handed the remainder of his cartridges to Lieutenant Chard, and then expressed the desire for a drink of water. Byrne at once fetched it, but whilst giving it to him, he was shot through the head and fell dead instantly.
The garden and the road - having the stone wall and thick belt of bush as a screen from the fire of our defences - were now occupied by a large force of the enemy, they rushed up to the front barricade, and soon occupied one side, whilst we held the other; they seized hold of the bayonets of our men and in two instances succeeded in wresting them off the rifles, but the two bold perpetrators were instantly shot. One fellow fired at Corporal Schiess of the Natal Native Contingent (a Swiss by birth and a hospital patient), the charge blowing his hat off. He instantly jumped upon the parapet and bayoneted the man, regained his place, and shot another, and then, repeating his former exploit, climbed upon the sacks and bayoneted a third. A bullet struck him on the instep early in the fight, but he would not allow that his wound was sufficient reason for leaving his post, yet he has suffered most acutely from it since.
Our men at the front wall had the enemy hand-to-hand and were besides being fired upon very heavily from the sacks and caves above us in our rear. Five of our men were here shot dead in a very short space of time, so at 6 p.m. the order was given for them to retire to our entrenchment of biscuit boxes, from which such a heavy fire was sent along the front of the hospital that, although scores of Zulus jumped over the mealie bags to get into the building, nearly every man perished in that fatal leap; but they rushed to their death like demons, yelling out their war cry of "Usuto! Usuto!" Shortly after, they succeeded in setting the roof of the hospital on fire at its further end. As long as we held the front wall, the Zulus failed in their repeated attempts to get into the far end room of the hospital, Lieutenant Bromhead having several times driven them back with a bayonet charge.
When we had retired to the entrenchment and the hospital had been set on fire, a terrible struggle awaited the brave fellows who were defending it from within. Private Joseph Williams fired from a small window at the far end of the hospital. Next morning fourteen warriors were found dead beneath it, besides others along his line of fire. When their ammunition was expended, he and his companions kept the door with their bayonets, but an entrance was subsequently forced and, he, poor fellow was seized by the hands, dragged out and killed before the eyes of the others. His surviving companions were Private John Williams and two patients. Whilst the Zulus were dragging out their late brave comrade, they succeeded in making a hole in the partition with an axe and got into another room, where they were joined by Private Henry Hooke, and he and Williams- turn about, one keeping off the enemy, the other working - succeeded in cutting holes into the next adjoining rooms. One poor fellow (Jenkins), venturing through one of these was also seized and dragged away, but the others escaped through the window looking into the enclosure towards the storehouse and running the gauntlet of the enemy's fire, most of them got safely within the retrenchment. Trooper Hunter (Natal Native Contingent) a very tall young man who was a patient in the hospital, was not so fortunate, but fell before he could reach the goal.
In another ward, Privates W.Jones and R. Jones defended their post until six of the seven patients in it had been removed. The seventh Sergeant Maxfield, who was ill with fever and delirious. Private R. Jones went back to try to carry him out, but the room was full of Zulus and the poor fellow was dead. The native of Umlunga's tribe, who had been shot through the thigh at Sihayo's kraal, was lying unable to move. He said that he was not afraid of the Zulus but wanted a gun. When the end room in which he lay was forced, Private Hooke heard the Zulus talking with him; next day his charred remains were found amongst the ruins.
Corporal Mayer (Natal Native Contingent), who had been wounded under the knee with an assegai at Sihayo's kraal, Bombadier Lewis (R.A.), whose leg and thigh were much swollen from a wagon accident, and trooper R.S. Green (N.M.P.) also a patient, all got out of the little end window within the enclosure. The window being high up, and the Zulus already within the room behind them, each man had a fall in escaping and then had to crawl (for none of them could walk) through the enemy's fire inside the entrenchment. Whilst doing this, Green was struck in the thigh with a spent bullet. Some escaped from the front of the hospital and ran round to the right to the retrenchment, but two of the three were assegaid as they attempted it.
Whilst the hospital was being thus gallantly defended, Lieutenant Chard and Assistant Commissary Dalton, with two or three men, succeeded in converting the two large pyramids of sacks of mealies into an oblong and lofty redoubt, and, under heavy fire, blocking up the intervening space between the two with sacks from the top of each, leaving a hollow in the centre for the security of the wounded and giving another admirable and elevated line of fire all round. About this time the men were obliged to fall back from the outer middle, and then to the inner wall of the kraal forming our left defence.
The Zulus do not appear to have thrown their assegais at all, using them solely for stabbing purposes.
Corporal Allen and Private Hitch both behaved splendidly. They were badly wounded early in the morning but, incapacitated from firing themselves, never ceased going round and serving out ammunition from the reserve to the fighting men.
At last daylight dawned, and the enemy retired round the shoulder of the hill by which they had approached. Whilst some remained at their posts others of our men were sent out to patrol and returned with about one hundred rifles and guns and some four hundred assegais left by the enemy on the field, and round our walls, and especially in front of the hospital, the dead Zulus lay piled up in heaps. About three hundred and fifty were subsequently buried by us. They must have carried off nearly all their wounded with them.
Whilst all behaved so gallantly, it is hardly possible to notice other exceptional instances, although all their comrades bore testimony to such in the conduct of Colour Sergeant Bourne (2nd/24th Regiment), Sergeant Williams (2nd/24th), and Privates McMahon (A.H.C.) and Roy(1st/24th).
It was certainly of
the utmost strategical importance that this place should not be taken.
Perhaps the safety of the remainder of the column, and of this part of
the Colony, depended on it.