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DateOriginal Topic
14th February 2005Col. Durnford's revolver - an American Colt ?.
By Coll
In a previous topic covering Durnford's uniform and weaponry, this was suggested as his personal choice of make.

Could it be possible that he did prefer this type of firearm ?.

If so, it was unfortunate never to have been discovered on the battlefield or later in the war, being the actual weapon he used in his last stand.

16th February 2005Michael Boyle

I still haven't found a reference to Col. Durnford's side-arm,but I did come across this rather interesting defence of his actions at Isandhlwana in a very obscure corner of the internet:

Knowing we share a great respect for the Col. I thought you might consider it interesting as well. (Ignore the first 4/5s of the page, the discourse on Durnford is the last one,at the bottom.)


16th February 2005Coll

I viewed the site that you mentioned.

As time goes by, it is becoming more and more apparent that Col. Durnford really was the scapegoat for the whole disaster at Isandlwana, as evidence starts to clear his name with regards to his actions on that day.

It is truly unfortunate that a man who was killed, along with the others, performing his duties as expected of him, to be blamed for this defeat.

Pieces of paper with writing on (orders) can be just as deadly as any spear or bullet.

Although my suggestion for a statue of Col. Durnford may seem to be an impossibility at the moment, the more people become aware of him and his actions, the chance of it maybe being a reality, I feel, is closer to happening that I would ever have imagined.

19th February 2005Coll
Further to the above. (Col. Durnford statue)

I received a reply from FoREM, in response to my letter about the above subject.

It was most welcome. Although it confirmed the fact that FoREM would not be able to fund an individual memorial, it did say that most of these type of structures were usually paid for by public or private subscription.

They also suggested I write to the Secretary of the Institution of R.E. at Brompton Barracks to enquire about any assistance they may be able to give.

Fortunately, I did write a letter to the museum around the same time as FoREM, so I could still get a reply.

It is encouraging, as the idea wasn't exactly thrown out of the window, as yet.

So I am now placing this letter, which arrived today, inside my project folder regarding this particular matter.

19th February 2005Peter Ewart

Thanks for drawing our attention to that piece. I find Bob Tiernan's argument very well put (perhaps because I find it easy to agree with!) although when this particular discussion gets going, as it has done on this forum a number of times, one can still waver according to the last point made by Julian Whybra, Keith Smith, Peter Quantrill, Ron Lock or Mike Snook, as I have more than once found myself doing!


Although I personally agree with the argument "flagged up" by Michael on that site (as you also do very strongly) it can't possibly be described or considered as new at all. He reiterates many points which have all been publicly aired in just as much detail for very many years. So it's probably not at all accurate to say that "as time goes by, it is becoming more and more apparent" that Durnford was made the scapegoat, nor that "evidence starts to clear his name." These details, and the sources for Mr Tiernan's well argued points (as well as the information from Jackson, whom he has clearly contacted) have all been "in the public domain" (as they say!) for many years.

In 1879 and all through the 1880s, this very argument about Durnford's contested culpability raged and raged in books, pamphlets, debates and speeches. Edward Durnford, Miss Frances Ellen Colenso and - perhaps above all, the chap who risked his very career & had nothing to gain but all to lose - Charles Luard, who took on the most powerful family in the Colony, did everything within their powers to retrieve Durnford's reputation.

Once revived, the argument has never abated since the 1960s, especially since the discovery of the "Durnford papers", although perhaps (only perhaps!) a consensus of historians of the last 30 years would nowadays absolve Durnford from most responsibility, but they are not necessarily unanimous, as the threads on this site show. The actual specific orders given are still argued over and cannot be established 100%; and Durnford's own understanding of his latest orders - just as vital - are also argued over endlessly.

A recent fascinating thread on this forum, conducted by those who had examined the primary sources on just that very question, and who were therefore well equipped to enlighten the rest of us, resulted in a superbly debated marathon which enlightened and entertained us all but probably left the participants exhausted! Sadly, I think it was lost in the recent server crash.

On balance, posterity has long ago dismissed the "Poor Durnford's Disaster" verdict and modern research has seen him "rehabilitated" even more, although, taken as a whole, his career is not considered blemish free.

20th February 2005Paul Cubbin
I for one am not a great fan of Durnford. Sure, he was courageous and enterprising, but I think he shared the malaise of most senior officers of the Angl-Zulu War, that of being criminally lax with military protocol and common sense.

Nowadays we obsess with paperwork, written orders, documentary evidence etc.. - we have to, it's all we have! As a relatively senior officer I think that Durnford (and Pulleine) had a duty to look at the changing circumstances in front of them and react with due responsibilty to the camp and the men therein. Active service is not a clerk's office. An officer is not supposed to be a robotic order-following machine, but a dynamic and intelligent pilot of his men's movements and actions. Everyone involved in the Isandlwana fiasco ignored one the most basic tenets - do not divide your force in the face of an unknown enemy. Simple, no argument or counter-argument can deny or excuse that this happened. Chelmsford may well have ignored his own standing orders as regards defence of camps - no one was in a position to overrule him - but when he left, Pulleine was in charge. He should have made the defence of the camp his priority, to the detriment of all else.

Durnford, if he felt he was in command at his arrival should have done the same; if not in command, his men should have been at Pulleine's disposal. Durnford had plenty of mounted troops who could have performed scouting duties, with relatively little risk to themselves, to ascertain the whereabouts of the enemy. A squadron would have been more than enough. It matters not where various people THOUGHT the Zulus were, it is clear even today that no-one was sure and it is criminal incompetence that no commanding officer thought it worrying that 20,000 enemy soldiers were 'somewhere out there'. Until they were definitely located, the priority should have been consolidation and defence. This is not hindsight, it is basic stuff. Durnford may have had many fine qualities but he was the wrong man for command - he should have led a company, not a brigade. As such I'm afraid he should take his share of the blame along with (Shepstone, Bartle Frere,) Chelmsford and Pulleine.
20th February 2005Coll
Peter and Paul

As I had no real contact with fellow enthusiasts until the beginning of this year, I now realise that I am struggling to keep up with those, like yourselves, that really know a significant amount more than me.

Although my views of Col. Durnford and the battle at Isandlwana may appear a bit naive, I guess, I think having read books on the AZW and watched documentaries, but never really being able to discuss them with others, I kind of 'made up my mind' with my opinion on these subjects.

Once that happens, it really is quite difficult to see them from another viewpoint, but I must admit, I'm torn between my own thoughts and those raised by others on this site.

However, at the moment, a higher percentage does still remain with my original views, to the point I may be becoming a bit of a bore when mentioning details about Durnford and projects concerning him that I have started.

20th February 2005Peter Ewart

Was he not merely obeying his orders to the letter, vague and inadequate that they were? Or trying to, should I say, having to guess what was meant by them? Far from attempting to disregard orders, as was claimed after his death, he is surely unlikely to have been so bold as that, having been given a written hiding by his General only days previously, accompanied by a threat that he wouldn't take part in the invasion at all if it happened again.

If Chelmsford, Clery, Crealock & Gossett between them either gave no thought whatsoever - or poo-pooed to the very possibility - of the Zulus actually doing any of the attacking, then why should Durnford, who arrived long after they had gone? The General had departed without making adequate arrangements for defence in the event of a surprise attack which, it could be argued, Durnford was then required to rectify upon his own initiative. He duly showed the requisite initiative and moved to prevent the General's party being attacked, only to find the General had departed and left the back door open as a result of Staff shortcomings with the scouting, and that it was the camp itself which would come under attack.

Of course, if - as was claimed immediately afterwards - Durnford had been called up from RD to Isandlwana to strengthen the camp against possible attack while the General was away, then he could be blamed for dissipating the necessary forces. But he wasn't. Or, at least, I concur with those who argue that the orders he is KNOWN to have received (as opposed to those it was afterwards claimed were sent) were obeyed to the letter and that when he was faced with the news he received on arrival, he acted in the way he thought the orders which he HAD received made plain the General's plans for him. In fact, I think Mr Tiernan argued this case very well indeed on his own discussion forum.

20th February 2005Peter Ewart

Just seen your posting too. I don't know that much! I'm reasonably well read on some points, but only some, and don't retain much of a technical nature! Being reasonably well read, however, is no substitute for having examined the primary sources and being in a position to evaluate them soundly.

As far as the fighting at Isandlwana is concerned, I have not seen the primary sources, so my knowledge is limited to the way in which the various published authors have treated them. Some of these are good, some not so good. With regard to the experts who argue the Durnford case and the debate about his orders, we depend on the findings of trained historians and/or those with military knowledge, or both, as well as other attributes, and can only hope that they have used the sources honestly & completely, without getting them to "fit an agenda", the temptation of any historian.

Personally (as someone who has worn no other uniform than that of the Wolf Cubs & so whose military knowledge is completely second hand) I feel we are extremely fortunate that several genuine experts on the battle of Isandlwana come to this forum and offer their expertise - as well as all the other facets of the AZW and other military information from so many enthusiastic experts.

When time allows, my own researches - where primary sources and (hopefully) reliable secondary sources are concerned - involves the work & lives of the clergy, particularly the early missionaries, and other civilians in the region, as well as the political and social history of the Zulu whom the missionaries were seeking to convert. One things leads to another & I'm very fortunate that all this overlaps with my interest in the AZW (as it also does, now & again, with my keen interest in 18th & 19th century cricket!)

Keep reading reliable material & don't stop asking the questions - there's a learning curve to climb for all of us!

21st February 2005Peter

Thanks for your reply.

On the subject of Durnford, although most of the evidence is not what you could call new, I feel, only in my opinion, that the defence of Durnford seems to be appearing on a more regular basis than previously, especially in a recent documentary about Isandlwana, although not specifically about Durnford himself, it did cover the issue of blame and it did portray Chelmsford in a bad light with regards to the aftermath of the battle.

Anything that does attempt to clarify Durnford and his actions at Isandlwana definitely catches my attention, however, as you say, his career beforehand wasn't exactly flawless, but if he lived an ordinary life up until his death, would we have found him so interesting ?.

21st February 2005Coll
Sorry Peter, put your name instead of mine.
6th March 2005Peter Ewart

Only just seen your last contribution.

At the risk of appearing dismissive of anything purporting to be a "documentary", especially as I haven't seen it myself and therefore can't comment on the details, I'd still be very surprised indeed if a TV programme could contribute in any meaningful way to an analysis of a battle such as Isandlwana when one considers the constraints of time and the need to make the agenda "exciting" and controversial to boost ratings.

Give me a soundly researched book any day - with every single statement supported by a reference to a primary source & preferably (although not always necessarily) written by a trained historian, hopefully without a "controversial" point to prove.