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DateOriginal Topic
8th April 2002Significance of Rorkes Drift
By Jade Bradley
There appears to be a lot of controversy surrounding the Anglo-Zulu war, one of which is the extent to which Rorkes Drift can be seen to have been a significant battle.

Was it consequential by lifting the morale of the British, or did it play little part in the scheme of things when looking at the reaction caused by Isandlwana?

I would be very much interested in any views on this area of contention. Thanks.

8th April 2002Alec Weston
Dear Jade,
Last autumn I heard a lecture about this by Professor John Laband at the Chelsea Army Museum. He was of the firm opinion that the Zulu attack on Rorke's Drift was almost accidental and not planned - which accounts for the slow build-up of Zulus at Rorke's Drift. Had they all arrived there together I suspect they would have easily overwhelmed the 140 or so soldiers. I also seem to remember that Ian Knight in his book'Famous Zulu Victories' echoes this belief.
I believe Lord Chelmsford wrote of Rorke's Drift that "Rorke's Drift was a glimmer of sunshine" to off-set Isandlwana. It all sounds like political 'spin' to turn a disaster into victory - this was how it was reported in the Illustrated London News at the time.
8th April 2002Clive Dickens
I have just returned from Rorkes Drift and the other anglo.zulu war battlefields, and our guide was of exactly the same view and I must say I myself entirely agree I do not think that there was ever 4,000 Zulu warriors at one single time otherwiswe the garrison would have been completely over,run but this does not take away the very brave deed,s of the VC winners that day they definately earned thier awards.
8th April 2002Jade Bradley
If the 4000 Zulus did not arrive together, this would suggest a constant flow of reasonably fresh reserves. Why then did the British manage to stand so firm? Surely the fact that they had no reserves to replace them mean that they should have been defeated due to fatigue?
9th April 2002Julian Whybra
To gain an idea of Rorke's Drift's significance, I think one has to ask the question what would the Zulus have done if they'd won. Would they have made further and deeper incursions in to Natal? Of course, Cetshwayo had forbidden his impis to cross the border but they had disobeyed on 22nd January and attacked the Drift. Would they, flushed with success, have gone on to Helpmekaar and beyond? A repeat of the Mfecane? Certainly the settlers in Natal were in no doubt as the rapid barricading of towns and laagering of farms, etc., bear witness. Ian Knight has always pooh-poohed this idea but I'm not so sure. What do you think?
9th April 2002Alec Weston
Surely Rorke's Drift is significant because the Zulus did not win. There are enough accounts that confirm the Zulus were very tired and hungry - and this may account for their unwillingness to persist with massed attacks during the night of the 22nd. Furthermore, I suspect that Ian Knight was indeed correct; the Zulus were in no condition to mount an attack into Natal and to speculate, as Mr Whybra appears to be doing, ignores their inability to press on into Natal. Had the Zulus won, I suspect they would have then returned to their homes- as they did after Isandlwana and, indeed, other battles.
Alec Weston
9th April 2002Julian Whybra
Perhaps I was just playing devil's advocate here. No, I'm sure many would have returned home and I don't really think they would have invaded deep into Natal but I do think they might have ravaged the local area - outlying farms and so forth. After all they didn't go home after Hlobane and Inyezane but went on to Kambula and the Eshowe area and Mbilini continued to be a nuisance long after Ntombi Drift.
10th April 2002Frank Muscal
I believe part of the significance behind Rorke's Drift was defensive strategy used by defenders. I thought (no expert here) that Col. Wood (?) constructed a laager and induced Zulus into an attack. Pearson fortified as well.
I understand or read about Chelmsford's reasons for not fortifying Isandhlwana but perhaps Chelmsford's campsites and march to Ulundi were influenced by events at Rorke's Drift.