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DateOriginal Topic
10th June 2005The Removal and Reburial of Col. Durnford's body
By Coll
Col. Durnford was initially buried on the Isandlwana battlefield, but later exhumed and reburied in Pietermaritzburg cemetery.

Are there any accounts giving full details about the individuals involved in the task of exhuming his body, their journey to and from the battlefield, and did any newspapers cover the reburial ceremony, including photographs or illustrations ?

Basically, any information from when the decision was made to collect his body from the battlefield to the point that it was reburied.


13th June 2005Andrew Garton
I was wondering do you plan to write any on Col.Durnford?Just thought Id ask.
13th June 2005Coll

I would have liked to write an article about Col. Durnford, giving my own opinion of him and his role in the battle at Isandlwana.

However, what would be a fantastic breakthrough, is if a lineal descendant of Durnford contacted me with information regarding the discovery of letters, diaries, etc., belonging to him, that could allow me to at least have something to back up my views on certain aspects of his life and career.

As I am still very much a learner concerning the AZW, any article I wrote wouldn't stand up in a lengthy debate, mainly because of my lack of knowledge and nothing new to assist me, which would leave people unconvinced.

Hopefully, such an event will occur, being a descendant becoming aware of this forum and understanding my intentions of updating information already known about Durnford, that would show him in a more favourable light, but only if it was felt that I was worthy of representing him in this matter.

This topic is basically my last concerning Col. Durnford, as I think I have asked all I can at the moment, until such time as something new arises connected to him.

Anyway, I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that such a discovery is made.

15th June 2005Mike McCabe
There are indeed 'modern' Durnfords, though none (as far as I'm aware) in the Regular serving military. It would seem likely that Edward Durnford marshalled all of the 'family' justifying arguments that could be publicly disclosed in favour of his brother's reputation and conduct that could be mustered. That said, it's (of course) perfectly possible that there are other private papers in family hands - though (with the possible exception of any other letters that Durnford might have written in early 1879) it would be unlikely that any might be materially relevant to plumbing a deeper understanding of Durnford's conduct on 22 January.
Better, perhaps, if writers moderated their bias in favour of, or against, Durnford - so many appearing to feel the need to adopt either stance. In doing so, I wonder how many realise what a test of informed objectivity they set for themselves - and how much their other judgements and assessments might be evaluated accordingly.

15th June 2005Coll
Mike McCabe

Do you feel that although some authors present their works as a overall study of the AZW as it 'really happened', their personal opinions of participants or events may have filtered in, which would slightly alter their assessment by using a certain way of thinking regarding these particular points ?

This would possibly give the reader a wrong impression, which, could leave readers believing something not exactly based on fact, but more to do with someone's personal opinion.

Obviously, Col. Durnford being an already controversial individual does not help 'his case' very much, but I do feel his name or actions he took, seem to be used to 'knit together' certain aspects, especially in the battle at Isandlwana, to 'tidy up' details that are unclear when everything was starting to go badly wrong, leading eventually to the british defeat.

However, although it is thought that Durnford was being used as a scapegoat for the disaster, it does appear (to me anyway) there is still a strong opinion by some, that he wasn't a scapegoat at all, but actually was to blame for a great deal of what went wrong.

This is where I am at a loss, because there is no way to argue the case, apart from writers approaching the subject more objectively, trying very hard to not let personal views cloud the issues being covered.

16th June 2005Peter Ewart

I'm sure the more accomplished of modern historians and writers have approached the matter objectively and assessed the sources as fairly as they can. But when (or if) they feel there is a need to pronounce judgment, then they will presumably come down on one side or the other, although not necessarily in an extreme way. This is where the personal opinion comes in, but if it is an opinion based on sound research and is fairly and cogently argued according to the findings, it is acceptable, just as another historian may come down on the other side of the fence, once again as a result of adequately researched work. For example, Mike Snook's eagerly awaited work will apparently differ with a number of "judgments" of recent years and that is going to be interesting. When you mention "personal opinions", the ones we don't welcome are the attempts to get the "findings" to fit the prior agenda - the opposite of what a good historian aims for. This may pull the wool over the less discerning reader's eyes but should not do so for others.

With regard to your original question, I believe you have a copy of Drooglever's work, so you are presumably asking about more information than that given on pp247-50? You'll see that RWFD quotes from the Times of Natal but you can be sure that the Witness, Mercury and Colonist also covered the events in detail. (Back files of these papers are available at Colindale as well as in RSA. If you can't get there, you should be able to order copies of the reports given that you know the date of the event).

Edward Durnford's book may also cover it?

Incidentally, although Drooglever gives the re-interment as 12th October 1879, at least one other account I have gives 12th Oct 1880. Even if it is 1879, unfortunately the Red Book concludes in September, so I can't confirm the date. Someone else will, I'm sure, and as it was a Sunday a quick calculation or reference to a perpertual calendar will solve that little problem.

It would appear that Jabez Molife was involved with the actual removing of the body from Isandlwana to Ft Napier cemetery, which I presume is slightly different to the Pietemaritzburg (municipal?) cemetery you mention above, but I wouldn't know for certain. The service, of course, was in the garrison church. The clergyman who took the service, Ritchie, was the same chap who covered the re-burials of the many Isandlwana graves & cairns later on. He's buried here in Canterbury.

16th June 2005Keith Smith


I have sent you off-site a copy of a report of the Durnford funeral from the Natal Witness, dated 14th October 1879.


16th June 2005Coll

Thanks for your very detailed reply.

Yes. I do understand the point you make about some aspects needing a kind of judgment, but not, as you say, in an extreme way.

However, I feel that there seems to be more books criticising Durnford, not always directly, although you can't help but sense the finger of blame is pointing in his direction.

I know books can't be published in such a way that there would be an equal amount of both opinions, to keep the views 'level', but I'm sure most people can make up their own minds, no matter the number of books 'for' or 'against' him.

As you can tell, I'm still tripping and stumbling my way through a discussion, but I think you will know what it is I'm trying to say, even though I don't word it well. (I hope !)

Yes. I am very much looking forward to reading Mike Snook's book, as well as the book by Edward Durnford, which I have ordered and am now waiting on it's arrival in a couple of weeks time due to being not in stock at present. Also, Ron Lock and Peter Quantrill's book is out in September, I think, which should be interesting.

I was hoping to obtain images of Col. Durnford's burial ceremony, to get a better idea of what it was like on the actual day, which I hoped had been included in newspapers that covered the event, using either illustrations or photographs.

Thanks again


PS. I'm sure Fort Napier cemetery is right.
17th June 2005Coll

We must have been posting our replies at the same time.

Thankyou very much for sending me the report.

17th June 2005Peter Quantrill
The funeral was indeed held on Sunday afternoon, 12 October 1879, attended by well over 1,500 military personnel, together with a great number of the PMB civilian population.
In early October 1879, Jabez Molife, (although his signature reflects Mulipe) was sent to the battlefield, possibly by Bishop Colenso, to bring the body of the gallant Colonel back to Pietermaritzburg. This he did by ambulance, arriving in PMB on Thursday 9 Octobert. Lt. Scott's two brothers, on a similar mission at Isandlwana, assisted Jabez in the exhumation of Durnford's body.When the ambulance reached Greytown, Jabez wrote to the Bishop in a letter dated 7 October..An extract ran:
" He [Durnford} said, ' Jabez, if it gets worse here in Natal, so that I die, it will be well that Hlubi's people and the Edendale men should be there when I am buried.' But we were just speaking jestingly, though I remember his words today; for I could see that his heart did not think of mr as a black man; but that was his way with all natives."
About 60 of the Hlubi and Edendale troop who were with Durnford at Isandlwana were present at the funeral.
As an aside, RL and I visit the gravesite anually.
17th June 2005Coll
Peter Quantrill

It really is an emotional subject isn't it ?

The more I read about Col. Durnford, not only about his life, but also the events after his death, such as this topic, it very much makes you aware of his bravery and the admiration of those who knew him well.

The inclusion in your reply of Lt. Scott's two brothers assisting in the exhumation, really does hit home the tragedy, but at the same time the respect for all those who fell on the Isandlwana battlefield.

I'm pleased that you both visit his grave every year, hopefully, at some stage, I'll manage to visit it personally.

Although I did give a reply to the topic about the restoration of Col. Durnford's grave and may be repeating myself, but I would just like to say again, well done to all those involved, it was great to read about what had been done.

18th June 2005Martin Everett
Dear Coll,
I visited the military cemetery at Fort Napier in November 2004 - there are a number of 24th soldiers buried there - who died before the AZW. I can report that Durnford's grave and headstone is in good order - my friend Steve Watt (who has visited every cemetery in RSA relating to AZW and ABW) took a photograph - which I have sent on Friday to Alan Critchley but it is spoilt by the inclusion of my image! I cannot find any images from my previous visits to this cemetery.

Be warned if you are intending to visit - the cemetery gates may be locked - but Steve would be able to help when you are ready to go - although he recently from PMB to Howick.
18th June 2005Coll

Thankyou for the update on the condition of Col. Durnford's grave.

I think, especially since the restoration, it will be kept maintained to this high standard for people, now and in the future, to visit the last resting place of a very heroic individual.

Thanks again

13th July 2005Mike McCabe
If only that were true, or likely. The restored state of the grave is manly due to the efforts of Peter Quantrill and Ron Lock, who also paid most (all?) of the restoration costs. It was last repaired before that by the Natal Provincial authorities just before the 1979 Centenary Commemorations - many of which were based upon PMB, sponsored by the Natal Carbineers.
The longer term prospects for this site are not particularly promising. The CWGC only maintains the WW2 graves, and the grounds contract for the general area utside the prison and mental hospital are still funded. However, the gravestones receive no special care.
13th July 2005Coll
Mike McCabe

As the restoration was a significant improvement on Col. Durnford's grave, I had been wondering if there was a facility which would allow myself and others who are interested in keeping the grave maintained, to possibly pay for the annual upkeep ?

Obviously, a lot depends on the cost, how it would be organised and also who would oversee this general upkeep.

However, as people do visit it, the condition can be reported back, much like what Martin has done in his posting above.

As ever, this is just a suggestion I wish to put forward, but whether it is a good idea, I don't know.

13th July 2005Keith Smith

The military cemetary in Pietermaritzburg, wherein lies Colonel Durnford's grave, is normally locked and the key is held by Mr Steve Watt, a local resident. Steve has systematically restored many of the graves and supervises the maintenance of the grounds. I have not heard of Ron or Peter's involvement, although they might well have made a financial contribution.

Coll, if you are visiting PMB during your forthcoming trip, and you might find it a useful base from which to operate, I can give you Steve's phone number and email address for contact.

13th July 2005Coll

Ron Lock, Peter Quantrill and Alan Critchley restored Col. Durnford's grave (in 2002 ?) , which was mentioned in a topic from then.

Unfortunately, when I wrote about visiting the grave 'at some stage', didn't mean I have a trip planned. It'll be a very long time before I could ever manage over to Africa to visit the battlefields and the cemetery, but that doesn't mean to say I never will.

14th July 2005Alan Critchley
Coll, for the record, this was the posting.

5th September 2002
Colonel Durnford's grave
By Peter Quantrill
Alan Critchley,Ron lock and I have now completed the restoration of the grave of Colonel Anthony Durnford,Royal Engineers,located at the military cemetery,Fort Napier,Pietermaritzburg.
The rust has been removed from the steel perimeter railing,and primed and painted.The stonework has been cleaned and the jointing damage between the stone joints repaired.The stone on the grave has been replaced with 13 mm grey stone laid on the concrete slab.
Photographs of "before" and "after" are being sent to Alan for viewing.
For those passing through Pietermaritzburg, Fort Napier military cemetery is worth a visit.
The upkeep is an endless struggle.

14th July 2005Coll
Thankyou Alan.

May I ask if it is known whether the cemetery did/does have a sort of Visitors Book from the time of Col. Durnford's reburial, that might contain the actual signatures and/or messages from those who knew him well, written when they visited his grave ?

17th July 2005Mike McCabe
The British garrison withdrew, as it turned out for good, from Fort Napier in August 1914 on its mobilisation for WW1. It's last surving member was 'Dorando' a Galapagos turtle - the pet of children of a British Infantry Officer - presented to the Victoria Club in Pietermaritzburg. Dorando was still alive in 2004, and lives quietly in retirement having become a father in 2003!
The South African Defence Force assumed responsibility for the Fort Napier site, and the garrison church and cemetery. During WW1 and WW2 it was a hospital for Allied wounded, many of which are buried in a part of the cemetery still maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. However, the greater part of the cemetery contains the routine burials from the garrison, including the graves of Durnford and Lt J Clarke RE who were both casualties of the Zulu War. As garrison activity reduced, buildings were designated for other purposes and the Garrison Church no longer conducted regular services nor maintained an overwatch of the military cemetery. After the 1899-1902 Boer War, a Lych Gate built by Royal Engineers in Boer captivity (who had refused to give their parole that they would not fight again if released) was dismantled at its site in the Transvaal and re-erected at the entrance to the Fort Napier military cemetery. Asfar as I am aware, there has never been a visitors book at the 'Garrison' military cemetery, though there certainly is one in that part of the cemetery maintained by the CWGC (as is normal). The Garrison Church opens infrequently, and the main complex has been redeveloped at various stages as a sanatorium, sanitorium, and prison.
Though the cemetery is generally well maintained, and the CWGC part superbly looked after, the older part and Lych Gate are not so well cared for and the Lych Gate has badly deteriorated. On my last visit, the Zulu groundsmen were making tea and warming themselves on a bonfire actually burning under the centre of the Lych Gate roof. Local volunteers keep an eye on the site, and the basic 'grounds' are reasonably well cared for. The older graves are not actively maintained, and are occasionally vandalised. The site is now normally kept locked, though for a period the gate key could be signed out from the nearby Prison gate post, about 200 yards away.
17th July 2005Coll
Mike McCabe

Thankyou for your detailed reply.

The idea of a Visitors Book at the time of Col. Durnford's funeral did make me ask out of curiosity.

The question about maintaining the grave by paying the annual upkeep, maybe organised through the forum ( for example ) would at least make sure that Col. Durnford's grave is always kept in good condition.

This is just a suggestion.

17th July 2005Mike McCabe
Sorry, Dorando is (of course) a Galapagos tortoise.

26th July 2005Coll
Sorry to be a nuisance guys, but are the 'before' and 'after' images of Durnford's grave (mentioned above) featured somewhere on the site ?

I've had a look around, but have a feeling that I may have overlooked the section they are in.


26th July 2005Mike McCabe
The Keynsham Light Horse site includes a photograph, though probably taken before the 2003 repair and refurbishment. Durnford's grave is near that of Lt Clarke RE.
27th July 2005Coll

Yes. I had a look at the site, but I think it was a 'partial' photograph of the grave showing the headstone.

There is an excellent photograph of the whole grave in ' The Zulu War : Then and Now ', but it is in black-and-white and from quite a few years back.


Many thanks for your e-mail.

Much appreciated.