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27th January 2005History A2 level essay on the events of Rorkes Drift.
By Invader
Well hallo thar intarweb.

I'm currently studying History A level in England and have to write a Personal Study (3000 words long, making 40% of my overall grade).
I currently own a copy of The washing of the Spears and Zulu heroism and tragady however I'm very much in need of more (hopefully free, student life!) sources.

My choosen essay title is "To what extent was the battle of rorkes Drift a victory". I plan to talk about the Tactical implications, obviously it was in military terms a victory.

Strategic implications (very little, although perhaps could argue that it gave an excuse for Chelm' to attack again/stopped Cetshwaya's men leaving Zululand).

Then obviously the propoganda victory, awarding 11 VCs, saving face after Isa', impearialistic ideals.... etc..

If anyone can help but providing contempary primary sourses such as newspaper clippings (scanned) or even a critical evaluation of my ideas please do help. I'll be sure to post my final report for everyone to read.
30th January 2005Julian whybra
Use nothing remains but to fight by Ian Knight.
Do not use Morris.
30th January 2005Julian whybra
I produced an Archive collection for British Archives in 1991 called The Defence of Rorke's Drift. It contained several papers - British and Natalian - containing reports of RD. This is probably available through a library. Alternatively have a day out at Colindale Newspaper library.
30th January 2005Martin Everett
I agree with Julian.
You may find the larger reference libraries and archives have access to 'The Times' on-line (FREE!) which has a reasonable search engine. Youn will get extra marks if you have been seen to have done some active research. Your problem is going to be limiting your paper to 3,000 words - keep the your aims simple - at the moment you seem to have a too wide objective for the size of your paper.
30th January 2005Invader
Thank you for your advice. I'd like to investigate the full extent of the politics surrounding the defeat/how RD was used to deflect the issue. (If only for personal interest!)
I'll go to the bookshop tomorrow and get Ian Knights book too.
Does anyone have a good argument or point about Rorkes Drift being a true "victory"? It'd be nice to include other peoples views (fully credited) in my essay.
Also it appears from the role call that there was a full Gunnary crew at the drift from the N/5. Was there also a cannon preasent at the defence? I've found no mention of it but with a crew at the drift it is a little confusing.
30th January 2005Paul Cubbin
Couple of tasty, highly relevant quotes for you.

"Victory in war does not depend entirely upon numbers or mere courage; only skill and discipline will insure it." - Vegetus, 'The Military Institutions of the Romans, 378AD.

"Gaining military victory is not in itself equivalent to gaining the object of war" - B.H. Liddell Hart, 'Thoughts on War', 1944.

Personally, I feel that in the same way that Gettysburg was a victory for the Confederates - in that they were left with possession of the field of battle and the enemy were severely mauled physically and mentally - Rorkes drift was an important victory. Without it, the Zulus would have thought themselves unbeatable and the British may have agreed. If Isandlwhana was a sword thrust to the guts of the British Imperial Army, Rorkes Drift was a lightning reposte that opened a cut on the Zulu Nation's face. It showed that they were not the only ones with teeth.

30th January 2005Paul Cubbin
I've just read what I posted God, but I have the soul of a poet....or maybe I'm just pretentious.
I'd settle for a pretentious poet......
30th January 2005Keith Smith

You may have the soul of a poet but your spelling is none too hot! If our young man is to adopt your quotes, then I suggest he spell the Roman's name as "Vegetius", full name Flavius Vegetius Renatus, whose work was called Epitoma Rei Militaris, which loosely translates as Summary of Military Matters. It was probably written between 383 and 395 A.D., according to my Oxford Classical Dictionary.
He might also spell "insure" as "ensure". The French "reposte" is spelled "riposte". Or perhaps these are just poetic licence? :-)
31st January 2005Invader
Gosh, those are some great quotes Paul. If anyone has things as relavent as these they can mention then please do.
I spent today writing an introduction and am awaiting an e-mail with additional information.
Oh and don't feel bad about spelling, I have to run everything I write through a word processor (inc. this post!).
I’m unsure of the etiquette for when a post reaches the second page on this forum if it is still an active topic, would a re-post be considered spam?
(Also if anyone can answer my rather naive question in my last post about the use of N/5 guns it would be very appreciated).
31st January 2005Paul Cubbin
No, no artillery at RD, just gunners with no gun - no doubt one of the more widely read can explain why they were there. A Gatling would have been very handy, but none of them either.

And Keith.......really, just let it'll feel better......
31st January 2005Simon Copley
You could mention something about history being written from the point of view of the victors. Where is the Zulu histoirical perspective?

All the best
31st January 2005Julian Whybra
To answer 'Invader's' question of the 30th re the nature of the victory and to be a little controversial, I would say that RD was most definitely an important victory and an event that merited the acclaim it received at the time. I realise it's fashionable to belittle its importance strategically - Ian Knight will have none of the 'it-forestalled-an-invasion-of-Natal' argument on the grounds that Cetshwayo had instructed his warriors not to cross the border therefore there was no threat. I beg to differ. First, the warriors HAD crossed the border to get to RD; secondly, Zulus continued to raid across the border in the days that followed; thirdly, that on 22nd January, B coy had NO idea what the Zulus' intentions were and were certainly not aware of Cetshwayo's valediction to his warriors. Bromhead could have retreated or dispersed his men - but he chose to stay where he was to block the path into Natal (a point admirably made in the film Zulu by Bourne to the question 'Why us?'
'Because we're 'ere; there's no-one else, just us"). If you read the Natal newspapers of late January, the colonists had no doubt in their minds that an invasion had been prevented and a great danger averted. Whether an invasion was really intended or not, is not the question, the acclaim arose from Chard/Bromhead believing that they were all that stood between colonial families and bloodthirsty savages and choosing to remain in situ. Who knows what the Zulus would have done if they'd won at RD or if they'd found the garrison gone? Would they have moved on to Helpmekaar/Umsinga/Sand Spruit/Newcastle? Lastly, it gave the Zulus a bloody nose after Isandhlwana and a salutary lesson in the prowess of British arms and fortitude when faced with overwhelming numbers. Combined with the manner in which the Zulus said the 24th met their deaths at Isandhlwana, it made the Zulus and Cetshwayo realise that it would not be easy to beat their enemy as they first thought. We've all seen the Punch cartoon showing John Bull being taught a lesson by a Zulu about not underestimating your enemy. Cetshwayo might easily have viewed the same cartoon with roles reversed in the 1879 edition of 'Zulu Punch' if it had existed. So, gauntlet thrown down..are we on for a marathon?
31st January 2005Julian whybra
I almost forgot...the 3 gunners at RD were in the hospital as patients.
31st January 2005Invader
Gosh Julian, that arguement is a perfect base to a good balence of the two views on the victory. I'll be sure to give you credit in my bibliography. Thanks. Keep it up people.

I'm finding out new (to me) information every day, this is actully very exciting! (I'm 18 and getting excited over History... something must be wrong!)
31st January 2005Melvin Hunt
OK. I'm sucked in. I always thought that Bromhead stayed because "nothing remains but to fight".
Anyway, if I was in charge of an invading Impi I would have just walked (slightly out of MH range) past RD.
Mind you, the sleeve notes on the Ember LP of the "Zulu" soundtrack do say " 4000 Zulu were sent to RD to remove this last obstacle between the Zulu Army and the rear of Lord Chelmsfords remaining columns. Finish this off and the British would be out of Southern Africa".
Seriously, I've always wondered what Chelmsford would have done if the Impi had made no attempt to engage the British but instead had conducted a series of raids into Natal. Surely the Impi was so mobile that he would have been powerless to stop them and his invasion would have had to be curtailed to protect the border?
31st January 2005Michael Boyle
Just have to jump in here!


Gettysburg was in no way a Confederate victory, they were in fact driven from the field and Meade [the Union General Commanding] has often been criticized for not following up and finishing off Lee's Army of Northern Virginia in much the same way some have criticized Cetshwayo for not following up Isandhlwana (without realizing either of their logistical encumbrances).After Gettysburg Lee never again held the strategic initiative (although he would continue to seize the tactical initiative on occaison quite sucessfully).For this reason the battle is credited with being the turning point of the war.

Interestingly Lee's invasion of the north was aimed primarily at achieving yet another victory (he had not yet been defeated) on Yankee ground in order to embolden the northern peace movement and perhaps reach a negotiated peace.Similar to Cetshwayo's hopes after Isandhlwana. While some have held that Lee's defeat was the result the of lack of cavalry (Stuart had gone missing until the end of the battle) and some have attributed the loss at Isandhlwana to the same cause.

Casualties for Gettysburg - Federal @23,000 (easily replaced), Confederate @ 20-28,000 (irreplacable).


31st January 2005Peter Ewart

Keith's comments were followed by a little smiley symbol and I'm sure (hope!) you intended to respond in like manner. :) There, (that's mine!)


I have to agree with Keith. Correct spelling is not an option, but essential if you are even remotely going to impress or satisfy your teacher or examiner. Spell-checkers? Have done with them - and have done with them now, while, at 18, it's not too late! They won't improve your spelling, Invader, (do you have a name, by the way? A forename would do). They will simply retard your efforts for the rest of your life. If your work is littered with poor spelling it simply will not be taken seriously. You mention having to use a word processor (spell checker?) for everything you write, including these posts. Well - and don't take this too hard, I mean it well - you have clearly forgotten to do so for each of your posts, or else your spell checker simply doesn't work, as each one of your posts is littered with mis-spellings and punctuation errors. This is probably due to "typos" as a result of your excitement (we're all just as bad) & you no doubt overlooked the spell checker. However, don't, whatever you do, turn in an essay without going over it for glaring spelling and punctuation errors, or it'll look like a "dog's dinner" and you'll lose a lot of that 40% of the marks you're after - or certainly should do. Don't follow the standards of spelling in many of the postings on this site, either - we're mostly two-fingered typists with fat fingers who once thought typing skills would never be needed by us, but hopefully we do try to remember to cast a glance over our hurried offerings before clicking "add reply."

Good luck with your essay. With the enthusiastic approach you have you deserve to do well. The advice you receive from the AZW experts and enthusiasts on this forum will hopefully nurture your interest in history. The two books you mention are propably not the best ones on which to base your opinions, as has already been hinted above. The first you mention is better on RD than it is on Isandlwana, however, although the second appears to be not at all highly regarded for either battle. Keep an open mind on the so-called propaganda and politics behind the VC awards, which you appear to have settled on. The citations alone indicate their merit and there is perhaps an argument that more awards could easily have been made.

Prof Laband has emphasised how the forays into Natal after Isandlwana by the Zulu parties only gradually developed into a concerted attack on RD, as more and more Zulus, intent only on rapid raids, were sucked into a battle which eventually caused so many casualties. Your work may benefit from reading his "Rope of Sand", his work on Chelmsford's 1878/9 correspondence and his "Kingdom in Crisis." The politics and divisions on the other side will prove to be just as interesting as the claimed politics and propaganda on the British side.

Why on earth would something be wrong if you were excited about history? Treat this as the first week of the rest of your life!!! With the willing approach you have shown, you'll understand more and produce some excellent work, I'm sure. Good luck.

1st February 2005Julian whybra
If you are serious about the acknowledgement it should be to "me, unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Birkbeck college, Univ. of London".
I would echo Peter's comments on spelling and being taken seriously. A level markers expect a good standard of spelling in history papers and university lecturers DEMAND it.
1st February 2005Julian whybra
Melvin, you are quite right about 'nothing remains but to fight' - exactly in keeping with Bromhead's decision.
Re your idea that invading Zulus would ignore RD and continue into Natal - no invader
by-passes an enemy and leaves them in their rear. If they'd done this, they would have had Bromhead and chelmsford in their rear. As I said earlier, the point is not whether the Zulus were an invading army or not (with hindsight we know of course they were'nt) but what Chard/Bromhead believed - and they didn't know and couldn't take the risk of abandoning their position, thus nothing remained but to fight. Their decision, taken with the knowledge that the Central Column had been massacred and that in all likelihood they same fate was in store for them, meant they felt that they might at least buy some time for those further back in Natal - a heroic decision which fully deserves the acclaim it received (in my opinion).
1st February 2005Paul Cubbin
Wha? Stop ganging up on me! That's it, come on, one at a time...I'll take ya.

Michael - my original post above was past my bedtime and looking back, I was already half in the land of Nod. Not Gettysburg, I meant 1st Bull Run, sorry. It also explains the typos.

Peter - everything I write is with a smiley symbol (life has left me with cruelly withered brevity gland), but I have a stubborn streak that will not allow me to use "text speak"; regrettably that includes the use of such symbols.
I heartily agree with you with reference to the spell checker. So many words have similar spelling but different meanings (not to mention the problem with grammar) that it is entirely possible to produce a work of beautifully spelled nonsense by relying on this infernal machine too much (or should that be 'two mulch'). Invader (not 'Space', I hope), take heed, Peter is wise beyond measure. My own typos were not due to fat fingers (I have beautiful, artist's fingers I'll have you know), but rather a fat head.

As for the dusty old argument about Dabulamanzi's intentions I have always felt that the answer lies in simplicity (although that could be a side effect of being an enthusiast rather than an expert). The prince and his Impi were simply over-excited and wanted to kill something. They disobeyed standing orders - not the last time Ceteswayo's commanders did this - in order to 'wash their spears' as they no doubt felt a little left out at Isandlwhana. What would have happened later? I think that had they simply overrun Rorke's Drift they would have carried on until they found something to get stuck into further along the road - Helpmakaar perhaps? There was plenty of food at the Drift for them to eat before carrying on. Had they taken Rorke's Drift after a stiff fight I think they would have considered themselves 'blooded' and returned home for their purification ceremonies. I don't believe there was any strategic consideration in Dabulamanzi's head at all, they were just 'up for it'.
1st February 2005Invader
I'm of the same agreement as Paul at the moment, the idea of the Zulu right horn wanting to just wash their spears and raid some booty seems quite likely, I must thank the rest of you for giving such a great counter opinion to this. One of the easiest ways of getting good marks (aside from spllenig correctly) is to be able to see both sides of an argument and make a good case for both sides (with sources).
Since today is my day off school I expect to get a good 500~1000 words done. If I run into more troubles I'll be sure to post.
Keep up the great discussion; perhaps someone has information about the political pressures (Such as Gladstone/Disraeli's opinions or the relevance of the Afgan' war).
1st February 2005Julian whybra
I agree. Hindsight is wonderful. Unfortunately, B coy weren't so fortunate.
Dizzy's eyes were certainly focused on Afghanistan rather than South Africa (plus ca change) - one of Brasher's books is excellent and giving the pros and cons, whys and wherefores of Dizzy's foreign policy (and Gladstone's, Peel's and Palmerston's - I remember the Dizzy chapter was called 'Ginger Beer or Champagne?'
1st February 2005Paul Cubbin
The Afghan War (and generalised unrest along the Northwest Frontier) was just one, albeit a major one, area of conflict that the British Empire was struggling to deal with. It was a constant drain of money and resources (not to mention human lives) but was deemed necessary to stem Russian aspirations towards 'the jewel of the British crown', India (look on a map at how Afghanistan and modern day Pakistan are a neat route to India). Also, it must be said, colonial warfare was a good way for soldiers to build up experience of action outside of a disastrous European conflict. Disraeli, with good reason, was actually trying to reduce the size of the Empire as the cost of maintaining it was huge. However, Victorian society had a great sense of responsibility (just look at the amount of charitable institutions and social reforms founded in the nineteenth century) and colonial responsibilities could not just be abandoned and left to their own devices; thus Britain was sounding out ways to gently remove itself from countries who, in turn, desired autonomy. This situation can clearly be seen today in modern Iraq - you can't just step away without making sure a nation can support itself in your absence.
This also ties in with the official government line as regards the war.....they didn't know about it! Sir Henry Bartle Frere was the High Commissioner who, it appears almost single handedly, decided that war with the Zulus was inevitable (not a wholly unreasonable assumption given the size of the Zulu army and its utterly different doctrines) and so planned one to happen at his convenience and not King Ceteswayo's. There have obviously been various opinions as to the morality of his actions ranging from ruthless statesmanship to utter criminality. One thing does seem clear, though; Sir Michael Hicks Beach (The Colonial Secretary) and Benjamin Disraeli (both of whom were in London) quite clearly forbade military action and instructed Bartle Frere (a convenient 3 month communication time away in Southern Africa) to find a peaceful solution to his problems. By the time they found out what had happened, Britain was already invloved in a war it didn't want and could not afford to pull out of - especially after Isandlwhana! Bartle Frere, fully aware of his instructions from london, nevertheless concocted some tissue thin excuses to bully Zululand towards war and left Lieutenant General Frederick Thesiger (Lord Chelmsford) to prosecute it.
As an aside, both Sir Henry Bartle Frere and Lord Chelmsford made great efforts to highlight the action at Rorke's Drift (probably to divert attention from their own mistakes) and praise the men involved. Strangely, however, Chelmsford (or was it Wolseley - help me experts) has been accused of later belittling the defenders and questioned the number of medals awarded. A case of sour grapes methinks.
1st February 2005Melvin Hunt
Ok. I'm still sucked in. Why do you state that part of the decision process for staying was to buy time for those back in Natal?
The phrase "nothing remains but to fight" is attributed to Harry Lugg. This was based on the opinions of his and other participants such as James Dalton who felt that it was not feasable to evacuate the sick from the hospital and flee as the Zulu would easily overtake them on route.
The defenders had no option but to remain and fight in the best defensive position that they could construct in the time available. Buying time had nothing to do with the decision to stay.
Having said that I know that you are now going to come up with a primary source to back up your statement. :-) (That's a smiley thing by the way!!)
2nd February 2005Graham Alexander
Although the defenders of Rorke's Drift may have had no other option but to hold their ground and fight, the survivors of Isandlwana did have the option to continue their retirement from the battlefield. However, many decided to halt their retreat at Helpmekaar and defend that vital position. Although lacking in firearms they decided that the base had to be defended. They had seen their opposition in action, could easily have continued their retreat but still stood firm, unaware that Spalding's two companies, marching between R.D. and Helpmekaar would later join them. Was this also buying time, plain tiredness or a determination to retreat no further ?
3rd February 2005Julian Whybra
Just seen your posting - Chard's report is of course strictly unemotional about the apparent hopelessness of their situation and he doesn't refer to his reasons for remaining at RD other than the fact that an order had arrived from no 3 Column to hold their position and that's what he did. Apart from 2 or 3 men's private opinions, the only other clue from an officer comes from Dunne who wrote that their chances of escape seemed slight at the time. No-one used the phrase 'buying time' - one which I used to best describe the situation as I saw it.
No-one has mentioned yet Dabulamanzi's post-war interview in which he stated that if he'd won at RD he WOULD have taken his impi into Natal. Knight hints that this was mere bravado but one cannot ignore the fact that these were the words of a Prince of the Zulu royal house, and the commander of the Zulu army at RD and should not be taken lightly.
3rd February 2005Invader
Wow, Julian could you source that comment about Dabulamanzi's comments? That would (bravado or not) support an argument over the validity of a real Zulu threat to Natal.
3rd February 2005Invader
Oh, also I have managed to track down a copy of Nothing Left but to Fight. (It is out of print now however, incase anyone wondered).
You'll have to excuse my English today, little sleep plus 2 hours of Law! Yikes.
4th February 2005Julian whybra
The interview was conducted by Stafford and included in his 1939 (I think) account. I'll check its whereabouts and e-mail you direct.
4th February 2005Melvin Hunt
Slightly puzzled here. What was the guauntlet you were throwing down on 31st Jan?
Total respect for anyone who can stand behind a defence structure such as RD or Helpmekaar. Double total respect for anyone who can do that after seeing the destruction at Isandlwana. (If Adendorff really did stay to fight at RD then his bravery and courage must be unmeasurable.) I don't know why some of the fugitives stayed to defend Helpmekaar. Maybe they were too exhausted to flee any further. I don't think that I would have stopped until I had reached Durban!!
In response to Julians comment about the "heroic decision", I was just saying that I really don't think that the thought of buying time for those further back in Natal played any significant part in the thought process for staging any defence at RD although this was obviously a biproduct of the decision. I have certainly never read any defender making any such comments about buying time and I presumed that Julian had found a new source.
In comparison, I believe that the Legend of the Alamo was based around exactly that. ie, the defenders, could easily have fled prior to the Mexican army arriving becase they had the time, but chose to stay to buy Sam Huston more time to build his Army.
4th February 2005Keith Smith


The refereence for which you are looking for Dabulamanzi's remarks about invading Natal is "Statement made by Capt. Walter H. Stafford to C.M. Ethridge, Solicitor, Harding, undated but thought to be about 1938/9. Talana Museum, Dundee".
5th February 2005Julian Whybra
It's been written and it's often stated in lectures that RD was unimportant from a tactical and strategic point of view to diminish its importance as a resounding victory; it's also stated that its importance has been deliberately increased in order to counter the Isandhlwana loss in the public eye. My gauntlet was to make a case for its being tactically and strategically important, a victory of the first order, and fully deserving the acclaim it received at the time.
Thanks, yes, I had found the ref and e-mailed Invader directly.
5th February 2005Melvin Hunt
Yes, I'm certainly not a military tactician but, in response to your 1st Feb posting, an enemy such as an extremely mobile Impi intent on invasion, could simply have bypassed RD. What could the defenders have done to prevent the invasion? The last thing they would have wanted to do was leave their comparitive safety behind the defence structure. They were certainly no threat to the Impi.
5th February 2005Invader
Thanks again for the e-mail Julian.
The source I was sent does seem to imply that perhaps as well as the Zulu impi wanting to 'blood their spears' that they wanted to mount a full raid on Natal, against the word of Cetshwayo.
If the zulu impi had reached Helpmekaar I wonder what would have happened.
5th February 2005Paul Cubbin
I can't help but think about the remnants of Chelmsford's column. Sure, they passed Dabulamanzi's defeated corps without a fight, but would they have continued so passively for another day or so? Would they have 'screwed their courage to the sticking post' and attacked this insolent raiding force in its rear? Had the Zulus at Rorkes Drift won, they would undoubtably have spent some time resting and feeding on the supplies therein. What state would they have been in when the rest of the central column turned up? Would they still be there? Would they be attacking Helpmakaar? I think their destruction (the Zulus') is the most likely outcome, but it is by no means a clear cut thing. It is entirely possible that the tired, dispirited British forces would have made all speed for Durban and the nearest ship back to Blighty!
5th February 2005Keith Smith

There is little doubt that had the Zulu won the battle of Rorke's Drift, they would have done as they did at Isandlwana - looted it and then gone home. Dabulamanzi's claim to have wanted to attack further into Natal is either a post-war claim that was his own invention, or an invention of the the author of the story, Walter Stafford, many years after the event. There is evidence that other farms on the Natal side were attacked by small marauding parties of Zulu on 22nd January, but there was never a threat of a wholesale invasion.
6th February 2005Michael Boyle

To expand on the above,

Fear of Natal counter-invasion may seem quaint given our modern knowledge but it was certainly taken seriously then. Reading through the 'Red Book' makes this emminently clear (part of the fear being that a Zulu victory would entice the Natal natives to rise). I believe the fear even surpassed Natal as after Isandhlwana towns as far away as Durban were mobilized for defence due to a thorough misunderstanding of the Zulu culture (The old saw 'a little knowledge is a dangerous thing' bearing fruit often from the very conception of the campaign.) (And quite possibly with this post.)

Lord Chelmsford's initial invasion was undertaken with three parallel columns to advance (much maligned by Wolesley) and one left in Natal, intended to preclude the impis from slipping past and counter-invading.(Although he somewhat altered this after becoming even more convinced that the Zulus would not dare attack.) So the thought seems to have occurred.

Of the three amabutho involved at Rorke's Drift, the uDloko and uThulwana were older and married (thus no matrimonial need to 'wash their spears') leaving just the younger inDluyengwe with dreams of marital bliss.However I believe that the whole concept of attributing Zulu martial motivation to the desire of hearing 'wedding bells' is an over-worked Euro-centric theme and quite demeaning to the Zulu martial spirit.

In fact it could be argued that Sir Bartle-Frere's oft quoted 'celibate man-slaying gladiators' could more aptly apply to the Imperial troops whose love lives were often impeded by social more', official discouragement of marriage for lower ranks (both officers and ORs), diminished by low pay and social position (among the ranks) and precluded, for some, by active service.Of course there were always visits to those practicing the 'second oldest profession' (I prefer to attribute soldiering as the oldest) but even this was nearly impossible while campaigning.(Although judging by the Victorian army venereal infection rates their dismal love lives can't be attributed to lack of effort!)

On the other hand Zulu youths were encouraged to practice sex (ukuhlobonga,i.e.- non-coitally) at any time from puberty right up to marriage. I can't recall any references to Zulu women practicing the 'second oldest profession' within Zululand at the time, which would seem to make the Zulu a very rare culture indeed who had no need of it.

In essence Tommy Atkins wasn't 'gettin' much' and the Zulu lads got as much as they wanted.

The reason for delaying marriage for Zulus seems to have been more of an economic concern. The Zulu were a 'primitive' agrarian culture (no modern crop science although their animal husbandry was quite good) so were forced to move their imizi (farmsteads) about. Zululand was a finite territory and if young men were permitted to marry at will and begin their own families the land would soon be unable to support the population (as evidenced by the continual Boer expansion and indeed the 18th and 19th century history of the U.S.) Since Shaka's time Zululand had been mostly shrinking due to Boer expansion and rebuffed attempts to expand into Swazi lands so it is unlikely that 'washed spears' would have immediately resulted in marriage anyway.

The Zulus were a warrior nation thus I feel they went to war in 1879 not for the opportunity of wedded bliss but for the defence of their homeland and more importantly for personal and regimental glory. It's hard for us to fathom now, after a century where machines have become the primary purveyors of death and destruction, what it was like when victory rode only on a strong human arm. Victorian officers clung to this ideal (although Victorian ORs seemed mostly ambivalent) as did all Zulu warriors. For the Zulu personal and regimental glory were the only route to power - the prospect of more cattle, more land ,more wives(eventually) and the King's favour.(Not unlike the 'fast track' to commisioned success.)

In fact there is an account that Dubalamanzi only agreed to attack Rorke's Drift with his amabutho as the result of a challenge by the inDluyengwe (who had already forded the Tugela river) to join them on the romp through the Drift.(Sort of a Zulu 'double-dog dare'.) Since none of the three amabutho were able to directly participate in the glory of the Isandhlwana victory the idea of finding their own glory must have seemed compelling.(This referenced to Mitford's "Through the Zulu Country", from a book I am hesitant to cite, can't be verified until I recieve a recently ordered copy.) So off they went with no thought of the enemy's ability to resist and no scouting to determine the enemy's disposition. (Sound familiar?)

As Julian stated above neither the defenders of Rorke's Drift nor the European population of South Africa had any idea that Cetshwayo had forbidden a foray into Natal, and as that foray had in fact already occurred would not have credited it anyway. Their only point of reference was of course Euro-centric, where a conquering army didn't stop until it had invested it's enemy's territory. Most of them had no more than the most simplistic view of Zulu pre-battle 'doctoring' and none of post-battle ablutions. The threat to them was very real.

Although the first thought of those at Rorke's Drift may have been abandoning the station it was not with the idea of abandoning the field. All they knew was all hell had broken loose (if not frozen over). The camp at Isandhlwana had been over-run and for all they knew so had Chelmsford's demi-column, by tens of thousands of Zulu warriors who, they had on good authority, were headed their way.(They also had no way of knowing it was 'only' three amabutho.) Most of those who escaped Isandhlwana seem to have taken for granted that Rorke's Drift could not survive and headed straight for Helpmakaar where they seem to have immediately begun to aid in strengthening it's defenses for the anticipated attack. Those who thought to warn the station may have done so with the thought of encouraging their escape as well. (I've often pictured the Edendale Horse, after retiring before the impi (yet again) from the positions decreed by Lt.Chard and seeing the garrison still in place, riding off thinking " a bunch of daft Welshmen they are".) Even if the garrison had the ability to withdraw it would have only been to better defencive positions at Helpmakaar in order to continue the fight.

Thus although they surely fought primarily for their own and their mates fate they must have been aware that they were all that stood between 'civilization' and the 'savage horde'. (Lord Chelmsford having adroitly positioned his forces for a credible defence of Zululand.) Which to my mind (and most then- contemporary minds) makes Rorke's Drift a great victory indeed.

As to the V.C. controversey, I have yet to arrive at an opinion, the acts rewarded are certainly worthy and had any 'officers commanding' survived Isandhlwana that battle would surely have generated more (after 1907 perhaps) but what of the British victory concluded only hours before Isandhlwana? (Maybe timing is everything.)


Your scenario for Rorke's Drift is most pertinent. Although 'the heat of battle'(and challenge) may have precluded Dubalamanzi from thinking that far ahead (even had he been known for that ability) that seems to have been the strategy for Khambula. The idea seemed to be to surround the camp and place a sizeable impi between Wood and the border in the hope of drawing him out of his fortifications.Of course Wood was quick to seize the opportunity to entice the more rapidly moving 'horn' into attacking his position thus drawing in the rest of the the Zulu force and scrubbing their battle plan.

Zulu battle discipline was unsurpassed, but their pre-battle discipline was often found wanting.( But that's for another topic.)

(Sure hope Mitford holds some reliability.)



6th February 2005Julian Whybra
Don't forget that the Zulus had invaded Natal once before and 'eaten it up' very successfully - I'm sure the colonists' memories were longer than some of our contributors - and once bitten, twice shy!
That said, I do agree with Keith. I'm sure that if the Zulus had won at RD they would have looted it, ravaged the countryside, and gone home to celebrate, but as I said initially, the 24th at RD didn't know that and couldn't take the risk of assuming there was no 'invasion' and the colonists certainly were taking no chances (witness their actions from the speed with which Witt went off to ensure the safety of his family up to the alacrity with which defences were hastily thrown around colonial townships and the townsmen 'mobilized'.
6th February 2005Graham Alexander
A very well presented and thought provoking scenario of the situation immediately after Isandlwana. You suggested that the garrison at Rorke's drift might have fell back to Helpmekaar for a better defensive position. Looking at the photograph of Helpmekaar with its scattering of tents on a very open and rain drenched plateau, I wonder if it would have been a better position. Captain Essex wrote
" I found I was the senior officer present, so I took command and caused some waggons to be drawn up at a short distance all around the storehouse, a zinc building, quite indefensible. I had sacks of oats placed under the waggons and now had a barrier "
He continued that his garrison consisted of 48 men,of whom only 28 had rifles. It did not sound a very promising situation. Even the arrival of D and G companies under Major Spalding would only have swelled the ranks by about another 150 men. It is most probable that this very exposed and badly protected group of defenders would have quickly fell to a determined Zulu onslaught. The defenders at Rorke's drift certainly had a better defensive position, as they proved by their stubborn resistance, from behind exactly the same sort of barricades that was being put up at Helpmekaar.
6th February 2005Paul Cubbin
Michael - I don't know about you, mate (and I'm too squeamish to ask) but non-coital sex doesn't quite do it for me. I'm not so sure the Zulu youngsters were happy to go without - though I agree it probably didn't figure too much during battle. One of the 'favourite' reasons for execution at Zulu court appears to be infidelity and general naughtyness with people you shouldn't have. As for the Imperial troops going without - you can put a squaddie in the middle of the desert, surrounded by nothing but cacti and scorpions for hundreds of miles in each direction, and he'll find a way to get drunk and laid (not necessarily in that order). I would assume the same could be said for 126 years ago. Of course, in the case of the Household & Guards Cavalry they're quite happy to go without women....buts that's another story.
6th February 2005Michael Boyle

Good point about Helpmakaar.(BTW- is there a consensus on preferred spelling?) It's only defencive advantage would seem to more level terrain with a wider unobstructed field of fire. Of course the lads of 'B' Coy. would probably have welcomed the comfort of joining their mates there.(They must have felt sorely alone that night as events transpired.)


Without putting to fine a point on it , it would seem that Zulu discipline was often found lacking with regard to ukuhlobonga (as might be expected among teen-agers everywhere in that circumstance) and although Zulu girls were occaisionally 'checked' for virginity they had ways to 'simulate' it.(As well as ways to avoid pregnancy.)

A good soldier does of course make do with the opportunities available, but they must be tough men indeed to make do with cacti and scorpions!


6th February 2005Keith Smith

Michael B.

I thought your long piece above was excellent - just one very minor criticism. The Zulu reserve consisted of four regiments, not three. The uNdi brigade consisted of the uThulwana, inDlondlo and iNdluyengwe regiments but the uDloko regiment, while not a part of that brigade, was a part of the reserve. The ages of the regiments in 1879 were, roughly, uThulwana, 44; inDlondlo, 41; uDloko, 40 and iNdluyengwe, 32.. :-)

7th February 2005Invader
Wow, that's alot of great food for thought Michael, thanks!
When I do finish writing my project I'll feel quite a dunce by everyone on here's standards, I'll post it before I hand it in although I am worried I'll sound like I'm just repeating exactly what you've all spoken about. It's been great writing and getting help with such an interesting topic. I'll have a first draft by the end of the week (I hope!!).
7th February 2005Michael Boyle

Thanks, I am still a bit fuzzy on the Zulu dispositions that day having recently read that that one iButho may have contented themselves with sacking the camp rather than continue on (wouldn't have blamed them, it had been a long day) and thought perhaps that may have been the the inDlondlo. I will be reading Laband's "Rise and Fall of the Zulu Nation"(aka "Rope of Sand") next with hopes of clearing up some of my Zulu fuzziness. (Tall order,that!)


Give no thought to appearing a dunce, we here will be only too happy to help you screw up your spelling,punctuation, and paragraph breaks! Seriously though, you have been offered some terrific advise on the logistics of essay composition and that coupled with what you already know, the ideas you've been exposed to and your further research will no doubt stand you in good stead.


Keeping in mind that my AZW bicycle still rests on training wheels,I shall attempt to pick up at least a finger of your guantlet if it perhaps includes your post of 1 Feb. where you state "no invader by-passes an enemy and leaves them in their rear".

Although rare in western civilization's military history that tactic had been used to good effect (primarily by challengers). More to the point, the garrison at Rorke's Drift even coupled with Chelmsford's remains of the central column would not have posed a threat to Zulu supply lines for the simple reason that the Zulus didn't maintain supply lines.They lived off the land and the the land in question held more than enough sustainence for what was in effect a cavalry force that didn't need to feed horses,mules or oxen. Their only impediment seems to have been the requirements of pre- and post- battle religious ministrations.

The best Zulu strategy would have been to keep on the move and force the invaders to fight on their terms.

I had planned a more inclusive defence of my position but I have to get back on the road in a few hours and need some sleep.

(If on the other hand your guantlet only included the premise of Rorke's Drift's importance then I add my guantlet (er...perhaps cottillion glove) to yours!)




7th February 2005Paul Cubbin
Michael - there's an 'Airbourne' song about a man being stripped and tied facing a cactus in the desert, then being found by a traveller who takes advantage of the situation. I can't for the life of me remember it, can anyone out there help? Its very, very filthy.
Did the Zulus live off the land? I thought they lived off milk and grain (with a little meat) and that supplies were usually carried by boys - who did not accompany Dabulamanzi's troops. Having said that, Hannibal did fairly well in Italy with no supply train!
7th February 2005Julian Whybra
I agree. Michael's piece was well done. It's interesting that although 48 was given as the initial number of Isandhlwana survivors on the posting at Helpmekaar, the actual list contains 49 names - you see confusion even then about the numbers!
That's Helpmekaar by the way. I concede that history shows many examples of invaders by-passing the enemy - but it's a risky thing to do. History also shows examples of by-passings that haven't worked (the A130 round Chelmsford for a start [joke]) - I was writing in general terms re Rorke's Drift - the outset of a campaign - a small force of 4,500-5,500 Zulus - etc - etc.
9th February 2005Derek C
For what it's worth, Helpmekaar, in Afrikaans translates to "help each other". I don't know much about history, but I'm pretty fluent in Afrikaans. And yes, 2 e's and 2a's is correct.
9th February 2005Paul Cubbin
Wasn't it named thus because early settlers cooperated in order to build an easier river crossing?