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DateOriginal Topic
23rd January 2005Capt. Shepstone's last stand
By Coll
Is there more information about Capt. George Shepstone's role in the battle of Isandlwana and his last stand on the west side of the mountain against the Zulu right horn ?.

How many men stood with him and were they NNC or Colonial troops?.

Has there been any archaeology done around this area ?.

What or who made him take up position there, when most of the other camp defenders were only aware of Zulus to the north and east of the mountain ?.

Lastly, are there any Zulu accounts of this officer and the men who fought beside him ?.

A lot of questions I know but details are pretty vague about this particular event.
23rd January 2005Mike Snook

An interesting subject I agree. There are no Zulu sources of relevance on this one. One might infer from the fact that the bodies do not get a mention in Major Black's reports of his June returns to the battlefield, that they are almost certainly NNC men. This woull fit with a scenario in which the NNC infantry break/desert (they were not where most people think they were), and are then confronted by the right horn in the Manzimyama Valley.

I believe there is a strong possibility they were the men of Capt Lonsdale's Zulu company. How Shepstone came to be there will never be solved. In my forthcoming book I suggest that he might have been unhorsed in the Manzimyama Valley. I do not believe these men fought 'under' Shepstone simply that he happened to die there with them. The Shepstones were of course a powerful family and the idea of a gallant last stand under one of the clan has more to do with this than with military reality on the ground.

I am as certain as it is possible to be that whoever they were, they ended up there out of necessity not out of design. In other words it was not an organized attempt to hold the rear. They were driven back up the slope by the onset of the right horn and annihilated where the options for further flight ran out.

That's how I read it anyway - but much flows from how one interprets the battle.

By the way, on the subject of archaeology, to which you make fairly frequent reference, please remember that the cairns at Isandlwana are war graves in exactly the same way as the War Graves Commision ones in Flanders.

To break then open is a crime in South African law, a position which the British units who fought in the battle strongly support.

Hope that's at least some food for thought. Regards

23rd January 2005Coll

Thankyou for your reply.

I agree wholeheartedly about any disturbance of cairns being a crime of the worst kind.

This was not my intention as with this topic of Shepstone's stand I thought archaeology of the surrounding area of the slope might have uncovered cartridge casings, or equipment associated with Colonial troops as NNC did not own many firearms.

Therefore, it would have been known that Captain Shepstone was accompanied by fellow officers, civilians or some Colonial volunteers as well as a substantial amount of NNC men, giving a better insight into what troops were united together in this stand.

Please understand that any mention of archaeology in this or previous topics was meant with the best intentions.

23rd January 2005Julian whybra
Just so you get a second opinion and can experience the fascination of Isandhlwana I would say the indications are that Shepstone was probably sent to the back of the mountain by Durnford probably with the only reserve remaining, Murray's NNC coy which consisted of emigre Zulus. something detained the Zulus at the rear of the mountain and prevented the two horns joining for a considerable time. My own belief is that this may have been initially due to Roberts's NNH troop which was last seen at the top of the spur and subsequently by Shepstone & Co. No European and no Zulu from Murray's coy lived to tell the tale and no-one records their presence and actions on the east side of the mountain. This may account for the lack of praise for this 'unknown last stand'. I could say more but you'll have to wait for the publication of the PhD I'm afraid.
23rd January 2005Mike Smook

Quite so. I had no doubt that is what you meant, but many people froth at the mouth at the idea of all those valuable goodies under the cairns. In truth most of it will have long since washed away or turned to dust.

All leather items exposed to the elements will be long gone and there is little doubt that people have gone over the battlefield with metal detectors for all the usual unscrupulous reasons. So I don't think there is much future in archaeology on the battlefield. We are left regrettably with all those marvellously confused sources and not much else.


Yes. I agree there was a slight delay to the right horn. I don't believe Durnford had much to do with anything after he left the Nyogane however. You will see my version ere too long. I very much look forward to reading yours.

Regards as ever

24th January 2005Coll
Mike and Julian

Thank you.

24th January 2005Derek C
Saul David in his book Zulu, mentions a Zulu account of George Shepstone's last moments.

Apparently they were aware that the son of "Somtseu" (Father of the Nation) was on the battlefield. The account is vauge but he fought bravely and killed his fair share of Zulus'. He was killed (aparently) by warrior Umtweni, who managed to rush in with a spear while Shepstone was reloading.

Shepstone's body was found on the Western slope in a clump of about 30 corpses. Saul David's theory is that he took a reserve company of NNC, possibly Erskines No. 4 company, & 2/3rd NNC around the back of the hill to try to hold the Zulu right horn.
25th January 2005Mike Snook

That book! (Other posts refer). Erskine's Coy was not in fact in reserve. Nor would Erskine have taken it anywhere to do any such thing. It would have been tantamount to suicide and this was not what the NNC was for. His men would not have followed him.

Erskine's company were amongst the first to run. The idea of him taking them anywhere to offer a gallant but futile resistance is nothing short of ludicrous.

Not getting at you, Derek, believe me, but Coll wants to get as close to the truth as he can, (as we all do), and this is not the answer.

25th January 2005Julian Whybra
I'm afraid you cannot give a secondary work as a source of information. This is a coffee table book. Erskine's coy were elsewhere at the time - one of many errors in the book!
Umtweni - where is this account? In which archive? Why don't you write to Saul David's publisher and ask him to source this anecdote? His reply would be interesting.
26th January 2005Peter Quantrill
I think the key to Shepstone's location may lie in Essex's report.
" About five minutes after the arrival of Captain Mostyn's company" [ approx.1215 hrs?] " I was informed by Lieutenant Melvill, Adjutant 1st Battalion 24th Regiment, that a fresh body of the enemy was appearing in force IN OUR REAR."
From this one may conclude that either the men positioned on top of Isandlwana had sighted the right horn, or alternatively, a runner had been sent down from Tahalene Ridge with this information.The former seems more likely.
Pulleine, now aware that the right horn is presnting a threat, orders the withdrawal of Cavaye and Mostyn. ( Essex primary.)
Conjecture. Now, to attempt to secure his hidden flank, he orders Shepstone to move west of Isandlwana to meet the threat presented by the right horn.
The position of Shepstone's body and others suggest an attempt to defend that flank. To get there he would ( conjecture) have been ordered to do so.More likely by Pulleine, as the latter had already given Cavaye and Mostyn instructions to withdraw, based on the discovery of the right horn, although as Julian points out,it could have been Durnford, but where exactly was Durnford at 1215 hrs?
26th January 2005Julian Whybra
Well, yes, but that's assuming Pulleine instructed Shepstone to do that at 1215. We know that Shepstone went back up the ridge to bring the NNH down and afterwards he conversed with Erskine. If he'd been ordered to do something by Pulleine, he wouldn't have done that first. Pulleine may have ordered an NNC coy to the back of the mountain by way of response. By the time Durnford returned, the rear would have needed additional support and that is when I imagine Shepstone (plus...?) was sent there.
27th January 2005Peter Quantrill
You may well be right, however I still favour Pulleine as he was the first to react to the right horn by ordering the withdrawal of Cavaye and Mostyn.It would seem logical that based on that action,he would take steps to protect his rear. Perhaps Shepstone,having returned from the ridge, confirmed the movement of the right horn and was then ordered bu Pulleine to the rear. Durnford, on the other hand, was by time constraints,not the first to hear about the right horn.It seems possible that Pulleine, having ordered the withdrawal, would follow up by doing something to protect his rear. Durnford's movements are a tad hazy. We shall never know.
27th January 2005Julian Whybra
I agree we shall never know. It's just that I can't quite imagine that if there were a danger to the rear, Pulleine would have allowed Shepstone to waste time by going back up the ridge first (true, he could have been sent to confirm what was happening). Vause could have done this equally well.
27th January 2005Coll

I can see from the replies this incident is going to be debated about quite a lot more over time as it truly is one of the unanswered questions about events at Isandlwana.

I look forward immensely to any new books that cover Shepstone's stand in much more detail.