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DateOriginal Topic
18th June 2005Guns and Rockets
By Mike McCabe
I have just been taken on a wild goose chase by my browser, and merrily contributed to a piece on the guns at Isandlwana which I now see was dated 2001.
Readers, not already aware, might like to look at:

This article by the late Maj Darryl Hall RA, draws interesting conclusions on the very limited lethality of the 7Pdr RML ammunition natures, and also indicates that the Rocket Battery in Durnford's column was most probably improvised by aggregating rocket troughs from the first line holdings of gun batteries. We also know that at least one other such rocket battery was left with the local Volunteer units still conducting 'mopping up' operations after the 9th Frontier (or Kaffir) War.
19th June 2005Michael Boyle

I'm actually rather hoping that it's not a wild goose chase!

I read the article that you cite during my recent research and it did answer one of the questions I'd had about artillery implementation in the AZW. If they went to trouble of mounting the 7 pdrs. on 9 pdr. carriages why didn't they just use 9 pdrs. in the first place? - The extra 2 pounds of projectile equals an extra 600 lbs. of barrel weight (if I understand cwt. correctly). Not to mention the extra weight of shells and powder in that logistically-challenged campaign. (A good example of "bang for the buck" but the "bucks" weren't forthcoming.)

I've always felt that the artillery and rockets they brought were more for show than for go.



19th June 2005Mike McCabe
The 7 Pdr (as a gun barrel, with matched ammunition) was primarily intended to be either a mountain gun, or one easily landed in support of RN ship's detachments. Use of the 9Pdr carriage (spares of which would have been held in South Africa for the 9Pdr batteries) was merely intended to improve stability, and hence road speed, and also allowed bigger axle boxes to be used. One aso assumes that 9Pdr limbers were used, enabling at least some gun numbers to ride on them. Whatever 9Pdrs were in South Africa were deployed, there being no more at the time of the first invasion. The volumetric effect of going from 7 to 9Pdr ammunition is inevitably reflected in increased size and weight per round, less choice of ammunition natures on the gun line, and fewer rounds per gun in the wagon line unless deliberately compensated for by increased stocks being held forward. An intriguing, and now unanswerable, question is what ammunition natures were taken forward with the four guns accompanying Chelmsford - and, so, what ones were left with Curling. If standard loads were held on limbers then he would have held ammunition natures in whatever proportions that delivered. However, if Maj Smith had cross-loaded extra case rounds - leaving Curling with fewer - that in itself might give us a clue as to why Curling actually appeared to take his guns out of action on the 'firing line' so early.
He never did have the slightest chance of 'saving the guns' and there remains the possibility that he was pulling them back towards the south col of Isandlwana as the fastest way of bringining them within reach of replacement ammunition. Curling is curiously silent on the technical issues faced by the gunners at Isandlwana, and there is more than a suspicion that he did not tell the full story on the employment of his two guns - atleast not 'on the record'
20th June 2005mark
I have asked this once before but never got a reply .... at the JHB War Museum there is an
artillery piece marked "an Isandlwana Gun"

Is there are serial number that i can confirm if it was one of the two pieces?

20th June 2005Mike McCabe
As I recall, the Saxonwold Museum labels the exhibited gun as being of the type lost at Isandlwana.
They are a very professional organisation, why don't you contact them directly and ask them?
21st June 2005mark
hmmmm , a subtle change of words can make a big difference

so i need to go back, take a photo , and confirm the wording !

will keep you posted
21st June 2005Mike McCabe
Well, not really, you are in the same country, why not phone and ask.
21st June 2005Zane Palmer
The inscription on the plate at JHB war museum does not say isandlwana gun. It gives the official name and made in Great Britain and the date of 1877. It then goes on to say where and when similar guns were used in SA and then a list of the Range , Ammunition etc.
21st June 2005Zane Palmer
The inscription on the plate at JHB war museum does not say isandlwana gun. It gives the official name and made in Great Britain and the date of 1877. It then goes on to say where and when similar guns were used in SA and then a list of the Range , Ammunition etc. I have a photo of the inscription.

The reason for it being put onto a 9 Pdr carriage is to increase mobility and stability as the 3 foot wheels of the original carriage is totally unsuitable for a mobile war as the zulu war was. It also increased the height of the barrel which could be essential in the conditions as the grass in Natal can be as tall as cattle and at times a shorter gun would be at a serious disadvantage.

Does anybody know or have heard of the "Randal manufacturing firm " in King Williams Town, Eastern Cape?

As to the effectiveness of the gun? Where they were positioned at Isandlwana there was a large area of dead ground infront of the cannons which gave the guns a range of 300 yards or so beyond which the Zulu's were hidden? This I got off a documentary video. This would have meant that only case shot would have been used with effect. It must be remembered that it is a 7Pdr Shell gun but would fire the equivilant case to a 3Pdr muzzle loader of day gone by. This is rather under powered for the task that was at hand.
I would not like to be infront of it though.
21st June 2005Zane Palmer
The gun at the Museum is not one of the Isandlwana guns as the serial numbers are wrong . The 2 guns were returned to england and never returned to SA. One I believe is in the USA.
21st June 2005Zane Palmer
These are the serial numbers for the guns which appears on the right trunions, 362 and 373 and the carriages were numbers 24 and 28 . These guns and carriages were repaired and re-issued but to where is a mystery. It could be looked up possible at woolwhich.

I also have the nature of the damages to each gun and carriage if anyone is interested.

21st June 2005Zane Palmer
There is a guy by the name of mike who owns the "Bradock Mountain Armoury" in MD USA phone 301 3715591 or [email protected] who I believe sold one of the cannons after it was bought in the Uk. I have e-mailled him but he will not answer any e-mails after I asked him about this. He may be worth a try. I would like to be informed if anyone has any luck finding any information.
22nd June 2005Michael Boyle

Thanks for the new information, I live only an hour or so from MD and will try calling him in the morning. Yes I for one would be interested as to the nature of the damage (and any tell-tale repair work that may be evident).

Could you expand on the part about the equlivancy, do you mean shell as opposed to the old ball round?


22nd June 2005Zane Palmer
Case shot or grape shot for the 7Pdr RML is equivalent to a case shot of the 3Pdr smooth bore cannon as the diameter would be the same and would contain a similar number of bullets. A RML would be better at longer ranges than that at which it was used. In the Xhosa Wars just prior to the zulu war the 7Pdr Gun was used quite effectively against the enemy because they were more reluctant to get up close and would rather keep to the mountainous areas of Kafferia. Then these guns were suitable. Taking this experience with them the British would have been rather surprised to find themselves face to face with a cannon that was not suitable to deal with masses up close.

The nature of the damage was as follows
"Nos362 and 373, Mark iv, are serviceable, with the exception of requiring new sights, bruises in the interior removed, and rebrowning. Both have had something of the nature of a steel nipple screwed in the vent.

Director of Artillery , 4.2.80 directs that they be made serviceable and returned into store.

No 24 carriage. Trail eye worn about half through by friction with limber; it is also worn on the top side, and handspike ring and the plate damaged, the carriage having apparently been drawn upside down over rough ground.
No 28. The axletree arms are each bent in two directionsbeyond the set of the arms, viz,, the right or near arm downwards about 1/2 an inch, and 3/8 of an inch towards the trail, the left or off hand downwards 1 inch, and 1/2 an inch towards the trail. The metal bracket for wadhook worm is broken off. In other respects the carriages are in good condition."

Tese damages would be difficult to find now as they would be repaired. It also shows how roughly they were handled. i wonder if this was in the battle or later?
22nd June 2005Mike McCabe
Thank you for making this very interesting information available. Have you, through your research, been able to draw firm conclusions on:
- The number of rounds fired at Isandlwana.
- The ammunition natures used.
- The implications of terrain on the application of fire and the method of use of the guns (beyond the points that you have made above). They were ultimately being used as direct fire weapons, with observation and range estimation being conducted at the gun line.
And, is it reasonable to assume that the 7 Pdr limbers were still being towed, coupled to the 9 Pdr carriages. Might that have led to limbers toppling at speeds that the carriages could still handle. Also, were seats on the gun axle trees improvised at the expense of the axle boxes.
On visits to Saxonwold, I've always been impressed by the excellent condition of the exhibits which probably betters equivalent exhibits in the great majority of UK museums.
22nd June 2005Michael Boyle

Thanks for the clarification, the 2.5 inch bore of the 7-pdr RML always souned more like an ack-ack or anti-tank gun to me (anachronistically of course) and now I can visualize the difference between the weight of the shell in the 7 pdr RML versus the size of ball in the old 3 pdr smooth bore. (Deck gun?)

It would seem to be yet another case of a lack of appreciation of Zulu tactics. I wonder why they thought the Zulus would fight them any differently than they fought the Boers?

It sounds like the damage was incurred in the attempt to save them from the field. I imagine the Zulus (ten days after the battle) may have actually pulled them more gently back to Ondini.


23rd June 2005Zane Palmer
The 7Pdr is also a 3 inch gun. I am busy restoring 2 of them that I own. One is identical to the saxonwold gun and the other is a little bit different. I have a friend Prof Pat Irwin who is also restoring 2 that belong to the Grahamstown Museum.
As to what shells they had it is difficult to say. I know what was standard issue for the limber which was a 9 Pdr limber but what they actually used is impossible to say.

As to the damage, if the axle are bent towards the trail then the damage occured with the gun going forward and not being pulled so it would be more likely to have happened when being removed by the Zulu's.

The axleboxes in my one gun still has the woodwork to hold its shells. I would have thought that these would have been for case shot to defend the gun should it be surprised but the woodwork shows that it is for a shell with studs, ie shrapnel or common shell. There were 3 in each side.
23rd June 2005Zane Palmer
Is there anyone who is an expert on wheels and could ID the wheels that i have?
28th June 2005Michael [email protected]

I've talked to a gentleman who purchased two 7-pdr RMLs from the grandson of an admiral who had them displayed at his estate in Portsmouth. They were on naval carriages and he was told that the guns had once been used in a "famous land battle". The firing mechanisms had both been torn off at some point and there is still minor visible damage even after they were replaced (as well as some minor damage to the bores). He has sold one but still has the other and I will be going to see it sometime after the upcoming holiday.

I had hoped for kaffrarian carriages but if they were put back in service from Britain that would have been unlikely I suppose.
28th June 2005Mike McCabe
You will recall the description of damage, and the Director of Artillery's instruction that the guns be returned to service. It would have been more likely that the 'Kaffrarian' carriages - a local modification, after all - were simply committed to base repair and reconstituted as part of a serving 9 Pdr (or as spares for 9 Pdrs). The 7Pdr RML barrels would similarly have been returned to service in some way as an asset to meet the 7Pdr 'liability'. There would have been no 'technical' reason to keep the guns and (hybrid) carriages together. Any internal damage to the bores would have limited the whole life of the gun barrels to firing fewer 'full charges'. These were guns lost in action, and with no special heroism attached. They would have been restored to use as soon as possible, or just refurbished and stored against future need.
29th June 2005Michael Boyle

I take your point, might have just been the barrels returned. After reading the Graphic article though they seem to have been identified upon return and the reporter (perhaps on his own) seemed to think that they were destined for memorial use but they were instead returned to service for at least a while.

Not so sure about no heroism attached though. At the time the popular press still seemed to think that Russel had died while spiking them, perhaps based on speculation after seeing their firing mechanisms had been removed. I tend to look at the attempt at saving the guns as heroic though as many of the RA could have saved themselves if they had cut loose the horses and simply abandoned the guns.

They seem to me, after all, the second most famous guns of the era.


29th June 2005John Young

I think you have got your artillery officers confused, it was Stuart Smith rather than Francis Russell, that the period press muted as having spiked the guns.

Horses? There is some speculation that N/5 used mules to pull the limbers which towed the guns. A point which Ian Bennett and I raised with Dr. Tony Pollard after he gave a lecture on the his finds at Isandlwana during a survey.

John Y.
30th June 2005Michael Boyle

Thanks again, proves I shouldn't yet venture too far from my notes when posting!

I remember the thread where you were discussing the mules/horses idea, but I don't remember a consensus. There are of course accounts of finding decaying horses in their traces after the battle but could they have been mules? I for one wouldn't know the difference unless they were alive, perhaps it was a case of mistaken identity.

By the way can anyone reccomend a good reference work on the Victorian era RA and RHA , something along the lines of Anglesey's "History of the British Cavalry"? I checked Alibris but there's not much there and Amazon lists many though mostly "not currently available".


30th June 2005Zane Palmer
Hi Mike

Good luck with get one. I hope you do.

The firing mechanism was nothing but a touch hole into which was placed a friction tube to which a lanyard was conected. On the 7 Pdr sea service gun they used the same but with a metal pin and a loop through which the lanyard was passed to give a constant direction of pull. Other than this there is only a hole.
1st July 2005Michael Boyle
Hi Zane,

I'd need more than luck to actually acquire one, it would necessitate a goodly amount of help from the state lottery! However I'd be happy just to see them identified.

It would seem the firing mechanisms had changed little from the 1860s, wasn't sure. Would the first step in spiking a gun entail removing the friction tube? I'd thought that the hole was where they would drive the spike. Was a spike a regular part of the gun kit?(I'd certainly hate to be forced to cast about for one if the situation arose!)

I'm tending to think that Smith or one of the other RA may have removed the friction tubes to make spiking quicker if the attempt to save them failed. (Though in the event of course that proved impossible anyway.) The fact that the Zulus "carefully" screwed on a percussion cap may show that they had no idea how they operated but did show they were thinking.


Michael (Deferring again to the senior ranking Mikes!)