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DateOriginal Topic
19th February 2005Major Marder KDG
By Michael Boyle
I tried a site search but didn't come up with anything so I thought I'd ask about his account of the burial party at Isandhlwana 21 May 1879.

"On arrival there was the camp, the oxen inspanned in the wagons, the horses at their picket line, the Officers Mess and their baggage, the Quartermaster’s Stores and supplies, and officers and men lying about in their uniforms-dead-but singularly lifelike, as from the state of the climate the bodies had only dried. Many were recognizable. They had not been mutilated. Birds and beasts did not seem to have molested them, and the Zulus had removed nothing but arms and ammunition, and part of the canvas of tents."

(This from :

right above his sketch entitled " Sketch Map of the Battle-Field of Isandhlwana.Drawn by Major Marder KDG As One of the First Men On the Spot After the Massacre of the 24th Foot S.Wales Bord.")

This account seems rather different than most other's I've read, particularly with respect to uniforms and mutilation. Could he have been referring to mutilation 'other' than disembowelment? (My reading thus far leaves me dis-inclined to credit other's accounts of torture and gratuitous mutilation.)

Major Marder's account just seems a bit too 'tidy' somehow.


19th February 2005Adrian Whiting

I think you may find that the gentleman's surname is spelt "Marter". I think this will bring you up hits on the search facilities here.


19th February 2005Paul Cubbin
Perhaps in their desicated skeletal state much of the post mortem wounds inflicted would not be visible? My understanding of the ikwla is that it is a relatively light blade for cutting, not chopping, and is unlikely to leave heavy marks on bone. Since no 'friendlies' were on the field after the battle (at least vertically) we have no accounts written at the time, but surely the aftermath would have been similar to Ulundi's. It was said that the birds and animals were insufficient to cope with the sheer volume of dead. The noise of battle would doubtless drive many of them away of course, and the area must have been fairly clear of large predators as Zulus were so livestock orientated (nothing quite like a leopard to reduce your herd). I'm not too hot on the use of the Isandlwana site pre-battle, but if it was used for grazing then the game would have been driven off to other areas and the predators would doubtless have followed.
I'm with you, Michael, on the whole mutilation thing. Doubtless it occured, but perhaps not to the same scale as advertised in the press of the time. I find it difficult to marry this behaviour with their supernatural dread of corpses and the vengeful spirits contained therein. After all, if you're scared of dogs you don't go round to your neighbour's and flick their Rottweiller's love-spuds with the wet end of a towel. Well, I don't anyway. I for one have always suspected that it would probably take more than one stab wound to bring a man down and this, combined with the Zulu's nervousness as regards British infantry, might explain the multiple wounds inflicted. Much safer to make sure and get your mates to 'put the boot in' a few times as well, rather than risk a vengeful bullet from a wounded foe.
19th February 2005Michael Boyle

Uhh,yes, so it is, thanks.(Must put more work into not transposing more familiar names or perhaps up the diaptor a notch on my reading glasses!) Still, even with the correct spelling I've not gotten any hits,in spite of a dim recollection that his account was mentioned somewhere here.


You may have a point, I still have many questions on iklwas.I have a reproduction iklwa that I have experimented with a bit,(well short of 'washing' it of course!) and have found it does yeoman service for wood destruction both stabbing and cutting.However I'm unsure if the Zulus maintained a keen edge as well as a sharp point on theirs.

As a matter of fact after reading many descriptions and viewing many period photographs I'm not at all sure that there was a 'standard' iklwa. It seems many iklwas were made to order ( many by the Cube,I believe) so there could have been many variations on the theme.

As to torture, the only convincing accounts I've read dealt with the dispatch of 'witches' in a way that would have warmed the heart of Vlad Tepec. Although I've not gotten to books written by any of the missionaries yet, the accounts attributed to them that I have read seem to fall either to one extreme or the other so for now I'll base my opinions on the Zulu psyche more on Mitford's "Through the Zulu Country" where he seems to present a more balanced view.

Maj.Marter's assertion that there was no mutilation thus rings true to me,however his observations that the the bodies remained clothed, horse remains at their pickets,oxen remains still inspanned, officer's mess and baggage,quartermaster's stores and supplies recognizable etc. seem at odds with other's observations (particularly Norris-Newman's).

Therein lies my confusion.



19th February 2005Keith Smith

Major R.J.C. Marter, KDG, is perhaps better known for his role in the capture of Cetshwayo, probably assisted by his published pamphelt on the incident. Having seen the site, and text and map, to which you referred, I would be grateful for any information as to the provenance of this document. Can anyone help?

20th February 2005Michael Boyle

Aye, good hit on the nail head.
20th February 2005Martin Everett
Why not contact Clive Morris at the QDG Museum, this is the only email address I have

[email protected]
20th February 2005Adrian Whiting

If you go to the Home page and use the google search option for this site, the word "Marter" should bring up a few hits - I found nine just now.

Hope this assists,


21st February 2005Derek C
Regarding the mutilation, I think the truth lies somewhere between Forbes's, Maxwell's, Prior's, Marter's & a few lesser authors' views.
Assuming the mutilation was horrific, would a millitary man record it as such, knowing Chelmsford was on a fine wire? Would a journalist be inclined to inflate the story for impact and readership?

Putting aside the disembowling of the victims, which in itself is open to mutlation or "tradition", I believe there were certainly isolated instances of brutality. The little drummer boys I believe, were subjected to a horrific fate (meat hooks, genitals et al). The bearded cheeks of some of the soldiers were supposedly taken back to the King/witch-doctors'.

In the same vane, there are reports of "atrocities" that took place at Rorke's Drift once the smoke had cleared. Anyone who believes that only the bad guys do bad stuff, has never seen active service in a millitary uniform. Cetshwayo didn't want a war with the British. I believe it was forced upon him, courtesy of Shepstone & Frere. Zululand was a sovereign State that was invaded by Natal. Sure, there were a few Zulu's that were peeved beyond reason.
21st February 2005Glenn Wade
Morning All
With regards to 'atrocities' at Rorke's Drift, Smith Dorrien reported that after the battle, he returned to find that a scaffold that he had built for drying out animal skins had been used as an improvised gallows and two married Zulus wearing head rings had been hanged from it.

Other reports, although I can't name my source at present, stated that Pte Joseph Williams had been mutilated and dismembered alive when dragged out of his position in the hospital.

As to atrocities at Isandlwana, I am of the opinion that they did occur. Apart from the usual tale of drummer boys which has been discussed repeatedly on this forum, an account was left by Trooper Symons of the Natal Carbineers. In it he stated that;

'Many, who had their legs tied together with valise straps, must, I fancy, have been tortured to death'

Of course, there is not a scrap of evidence that this was the case but why would they have been bound? I am of the opinion that Symons was not far wrong in thinking that torture had occured. Can anyone else explain this away?
All the best

21st February 2005Greg
Reading some of the zulu accounts of the battle it seems that they found a deep respect for the defenders of the camp in that they didnt run and fought back to back. Maybe experiences and tales from the Northwest frontier tainted the views of troops and correspondents alike and the zulus were painted with the same brush. I dare say things got out of hand in the heat of battle, it must have been similiar to the hand to hand combat seen by the Romans in germany , the Brits at Agincourt. .And yet Its a battle thats modern in historical terms and weve only got snippets of eye witness accounts which is what makes it all the more facininating when trying to fill the gaps.
23rd February 2005Michael Boyle

Thanks, but I got only eight hits on "Marter" and "Major Marter" here and 25 on the web,("Marter" on the web yields over 100,00,most of which are not the Major) all dealing with the capture of Cetshwayo except for one cryptic reference to a "major marter complex" (psych. ref. apparently, which also didn't pan out).

I'll try Martin's suggestion after my current job assignment is over.