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5th May 2005Durnford and his relationship with Chelmsford
By Colum O'Rourke
What were the main reasons for the dislike between these officers? The film 'Zulu Dawn' uses the fact of the secretive Durnford-Anne Colenso love relationship and how Chelmsford disliked a married man engaging with a young woman. Is this the real story?
5th May 2005Peter Ewart

No! It is codswallop, like the rest of that film.

"Main reasons for the dislike?" What dislike? I'd like to see any evidence of a dislike of Durnford by Chelmsford (or vice versa). Chelmsford planned very carefully the positions and movements of Durnford's column during the preparation for invasion and also relied on Durnford's map until an alternative was available. He openly acknowledged in correspondence during the planning stage that he had "fought" with Durnford on certain matters (supplies, arms, logistics) but there is every indication that he respected Durnford's local knowledge and ability to raise and train his men, even if the numbers (and shortage of time) gave rise for concern - but then the shortage of time and consequent logistical problems gave Chelmsford problems on almost all matters.

Then came Durnford's slip-up & Chelmsford blew his top - perfectly understandably I would have imagined - on the 14th. His language on that occasion could be described as curt but then again it was "correct", albeit straight to the point. I'm not aware of any evidence of a dislike by Chelmsford of Durnford (who came into the campaign with a high reputation as an RE officer notwithstanding 1873 and all that). There seems little doubt that Durnford's work at Rorke's Drift in 1878 when he and his two colleagues came up with the "wrong answer" had annoyed Frere and that he had conveyed his disappointment to Chelmsford, but Chelmsford's reputation as a highly honourable and also personable man doesn't suggest that he harboured - or would have harboured - a dislike for Durnford.

On the other hand, his rebuke of the 14th was for urgent military reasons and any doubt he had about Durnford's abilities or actions after that moment (and inevitably there must have been some after that) would also have been for purely military reasons. His actions after Isandlwana may have been dishonourable (the truncated Court of Inquiry, his partial blame of Durnford, his dropping of the Duke of Cambridge in the soup and his later speech in the Lords) or they may all have simply reflected his genuine belief that he was in the right. Who knows?

As for Chelmsford's disapproval of the "secretive love relationship" with one of Colenso's daughters, where is the evidence that this friendship - or relationship if you like - was so frowned upon in Maritzburg? It may have been there but I suspect that this particular supposed disapproval (as opposed to the Colonists' disapproval of his pro-Pedi position, the residual stink over his criticism of the Carbineers and his alliance with Bishop Colenso) has been over-stated. Colenso and Durnford had immense respect for each other and - especially after Colenso finally saw through Shepstone - were two of a very small number who swam against the tide in Natal. In many ways they must have been soulmates and certainly saw a lot of each other - as did Durnford of the daughters, too.
There were officers in the invasion force, however, who had bigger personal and social skeletons in their cupboard than had Durnford.

Colum, in my humble opinion, if you took the very worst of the books ever published on the AZW - including some of the recent material lambasted on this forum - even the most dire and factually unreliable of them would be incomparably superior to the drivel provided by "Zulu Dawn", in which it is difficult to think of a single scene which was based on fact. It would be a shame if you wasted your research efforts on such "source material."

Were I not of such a naturally restrained disposition, I might have told you what I really thought of it!

6th May 2005Keith Smith

Peter has, as usual, said almost everything that needs to be said about this matter. However, you should note that Durnford had been married for many years by 1879 and although estranged from his wife, who remained in England, divorce for an officer, especially one of field rank, was unthinkable.
During his many visits to the Bishop of Natal, he did become very close to his daughter Frances Ellen, who was to become one of his avid supporters after his death at Isandlwana. (The other was his brother Edward.) It may well have been that there was even a physical relationship between them but I have seen no evidence for this myself. (Prof. Jeff Guy, who wrote 'The Heretic', may have some views on this.) The feelings she herself felt for Durnford come through very strongly in her story of the 1873 incident which she wrote under the nom-de-plume of Atherton Wylde, called 'My Chief and I'.

Just to finish off Peter's contribution, there is firm evidence that Durnford held Chelmsford in very high regard. There is also, to my knowledge, no general criticism of Durnford by Chelmsford, unlike his successor, Sir Garnet Wolseley.
6th May 2005Colum
Very interesting information. Thanks
7th May 2005Mike Snook

Important to remember how few regular officers of Lt Col rank and above there were in SA when Lord C was making his plan. Few had as much experience of SA as Durnford. Not least he had actually been to Ulundi and knew the way!. The GOC had no choice but to use Durnford in various ways - notably to raise the NNC. But I believe that relations between the two were going into steep decline throughout Jan 79. This was nothing to do with social matters - it was purely military. It seems to me that Durnford was a fully paid up member of the awkward squad. The letter threatening dismissal is VERY VERY serious in its tone. It is sometimes called a rebuke - but it is far more than that. My books will suggest that Durnford had a deep psychological flaw - but the evidence can only ever be circumstantial and others will object to my interpretaton.

The Colensos and brother Edward made sure that it became unacceptable to directly criticize Anthony in the late Victorian era, (Lord C behaved with relative dignity and never let go with both barrels) and nobody has really thought about it too much since then (R.W.F. Droogleever excepted). It is my view that, in military terms, Durnford has been allowed to get away with a lamentable performance for far too long.

8th May 2005Julian Whybra
I do admire Peter's thouroughness. He always leaves very little of any import, relevance, or interest for others to say. I'm just glad he gets there first!
8th May 2005Peter Ewart
Or perhaps I'm just long-winded. (One of the temptations brought about by being able to type faster in these word-processing days is to say more than one otherwise would!)

8th May 2005Coll

I'm very interested in what you were saying above about Col. Durnford, with regards to having a 'deep psychological flaw'.

Obviously, you know by now, that I am a great admirer of the man, but I would imagine there is still a lot that I don't know about him.

However, I'm aware you can't reveal more at the moment, but I look forward to reading your books, especially after reading your reply above.

9th May 2005Keith Smith

If you want to know more about Durnford, you should read R.W.F. Drooglever, 'The Road to Isandlwana'. I have recently acquired a copy of the doctoral thesis on which this is based and am looking forward to reading it.

9th May 2005Coll

I managed to obtain a copy of that book a while ago, along with another 'My Chief and I' by Atherton Wylde. (Frances Colenso).

Both books are definitely worthy of a read.

However, other titles that cover other aspects of Durnford's character, etc., are always of great interest.

9th May 2005Sheldon Hall

You might be interested to hear the comments of one of the producers of ZULU DAWN (now a university professor in the US) about the differences of approach between that film and ZULU: '‘We went out of our way, more so than Cy had in Zulu, to be as historically accurate as we could – even down to having things like wagons and ammunition boxes constructed in the way they would have been at the time, without nails. Cy was more interested in the legend than in historical fact – like the old John Ford line, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”'

9th May 2005Peter Ewart

Interesting! I suppose a film producer's idea of "historical accuracy" is somewhat removed from what yours or mine would be.

One expects all sorts of technical things to be wrong & one shouldn't carp over little matters of artistic licence in the script. Some things have to be altered and change will be forced on producers/directors. But the script is, of course, the root of it all as the plot is revealed by the script - and this plot bears as much resemblance to what actually happened at Isandlwana as does Alice in Wonderland.

It still baffles me why they produced a largely fictional story with many fictional scenes when the real story with real scenes would have been just as easy, just as interesting to the cinema-goer and much more satisfying to those expecting the real thing. After all, which battle could be more worth making a film about than Isandlwana? Warped is probably the word I'm looking for.

To me (I've now seen the whole thing once - and it will be once!) it smacked of a sort of corny, amateurish adventure film for children. Lots of action and spectacular scenery, as in Davey Crockett or Zorro, but the sort of film (like those two) that you'd grow out of by the time you were 13 or 14. Up to that age, it wouldn't seem corny. I don't think one has to look far to work out why ZULU was a box-office success and Zulu Dawn flopped.

I take it the university professor in the US is a professor of something other than history!

13th May 2005Mike McCabe
In truth, we know little of substance about the actual relationship between Durnford and his wife. Had there been the prospect of a divorce, for whatever reason, the conventional social expectation would have been for Durnford to offer himself as a 'guilty party', unless he felt strongly that he should seek other, admissable, grounds for divorce by, perhaps, citing the conduct of his wife, a case (in civil law) requiring proof beyond reasonable doubt of some major defect of conduct on her part. Regardless, the formal expectation would have been that Durnford resigned his commission - or demonstrate why he should not be expected to do so - once committed to divorce proceedings. This would have raised major concerns over family reputation, the Durnford family already being in its ninth generation of commissioned military service. Also, it would appear that Durnford was largely reliant on his military salary as a primary income. There is, very possibly, a more innocuous explanation for Durnford's separated service. Concern that service in South Africa might hazard the health of his wife and surviving duaghter - and - that Durnford might be able to earn and save significant amounts of money in his apppointment as Colonial Engineer for Natal, the salary for which would have been additional to his service pay as a substantive Maj (then Lt Col).