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11th June 2003Lt. Dyson's last stand
By Mark Nichipor
In most accounts of Isandhlwana when "E" company under Lt. Cavaye are sent out to the ridge, he posts a platoon under 2nd Lt. Dyson off on the "spur" to his left flank. In most early secondary books on the subject it is implied that Dyson rejoined "E" company when they retired back towards the camp.

In more recent books, it is implied that Dyson's platoon was cut off and over run. In reviewing the distances covered and the photographs of the terrain this is possible.

Not being familar with the first person accounts or oral tradidtions on this battle I was wondering what the better read and better informed readers of this site thought about this?

In reading the back postings I have already learned a lot, and spent a lot on new books! I look forward to hearing about this point. Thank you!
12th June 2003Julian Whybra
Dyson took a section, not a platoon, off to the NW. Essex and Melvill were entrusted with bringing back the line from the ridge to the foot of the spur - Melvill the right of the line, Essex the left. Essex makes no mention of anyone being 'left behind' in any of his subsequent letters/reports describing the action. Authors of popular histories (although I don't know which one it is you're referring to) all too often rely on secondary histories and what makes for good reading rather than checking the original sources. There are no primary sources which would imply that Dyson's section was left behind.
12th June 2003mark Hobson
The story of the 'missing companies' at Isandlwana is just one of many myths which surround the battle. The idea that many unburied bodies still lie somewhere on the battlefield has been dragged up on a number of occassions, but it is difficult to substantiate them. Strangely, Lord Chelmsford himself hinted at such when he is quoted as saying:

"one company went off to the extreme left and has never been heard of since."

A famous Zulu participant, Mehlokazulu kaSihayo, also suggested that those men who were sent up the spur may have run into difficulties when he mentioned that "two companies, which went up the hill never returned - they were every one of them killed. They were firing on the wings of the Zulu Army, while the body of the army was pushing on, the wings also suceeded, and before the soldiers knew where they were they were surrounded from the west, attacked by the wings from the right, and the main body from the back. They were all killed, not one escaped"

It's all very intriguing, and the mystery goes on.
12th June 2003mark Hobson
Sorry, I meant to add the following.

Captain Essex, as Julian states above, never hinted that Dyson's section was left behind. Infact he noted quite clearly how he saw Dyson and his men rejoin the British firing line to the front left of the camp. And although Dyson's body was never positively identified that of Mostyn's lieutenant (Mostyn's company was one of those on the spur) Lt Anstey was; it was found several miles away along the Fugitives' Trail by the banks of the Manzinyama stream. This suggests that the two companies therefore did manage to get down from the spur relatively intact.
12th June 2003Mark Nichipor
mark and julian:

Many thanks for taking the time to answer my question. While it is a good story, what I was looking for was first and accounts to back it up. from what mark said of Essex's account, Dyson joined his company and together the two companies fought their way back towards the camp.
12th June 2003Ron Lock
I believe that Mark was referring to "Zulu Victory: The Epic of Isandlwana and the Cover Up' when he mentions tghe possible fate of Lt. Dyson and his men. There are, in fact, a number of original sources that confirm many men of Mostyn and Cavaye's companies were killed on, and coming down from, the ridge and that none made it to the final firing line. These sources are quoted on pages 308/9 of 'Zulu Victory'. We also had Mark's quote from Mehlokazulu. In addition Lt. Charles Raw, an eye witness, stated in his official report "The company of the 24th [Mostyn and Cavaye] then retired towarads the tents, and the enemy following close after cut them up before they could rally, killing them close in to the tents".
In support of the above, the late George Chadwick, Chairman of the S.A. National Monuments Council, wrote a pamphlet, undated but circa 1970, containing the following statement regarding cairns at Isandlwana, Some 40 [more] were found ... they included those on the ridge ... in view of the statements that very few were killed on the ridge it is interesting to note that buttons, boot protectors and bones were found when the cairns were dismantled ...

Ron Lock.
12th June 2003ron lock
Sorry, the last para. starting Some and ending dismantled should have been in inverted commas.
14th June 2003Mark Hobson

The problem about finding first hand accounts concerning key events about Isandlwana is that there were very few witnesses who survived the battle. Those accounts that have come to light often are passed on via several people (a friend of a friend) so it makes it difficult to substantiate anything. The following is an example, which relates to Dyson.
It is quoted from a letter private letter and is taken from "A review of the Soth African Campaign"

"The last person who saw your son and escaped, that I can find, was Captian Essex, 75th Regt, acting transport officer. He tells men that just before the Zulu horns got round our flanks and the last overwhelming rush was made, Dyson was with one section of his company, which was in skirmishing order to the left-front of camp. He gave orders to retire, and I believe, from another witness, that he and all his company rejoined the main body without loss"

Personally I agree with Ron when he says that quite a few men from Cavaye's amd Mostyn's companies must have died on the ridge and whilst retiring down the spur. The land here, when moving down from the ridge, is very steep, rocky and dangerous underfoot. It is also very isolated, with the view of the plain below cut off. Infact, only the very tip of Isandlwana is visible. Essex himself had great difficulty in getting down, and I suppose many more did too, with their ranks becoming broken and men trying to find their own way down individually. Some must have died during the attempt, either cut off by Zulus or inadvertantly losing their way and blundering about until they were caught and killed. And even once they reached the bottom of the spur there was still a way to go before they would have reached the firing line.
Ron mentions the discovery and subsequant misplacement of a number of cairns up on the ridge. If these could be found again and carefully investigated using modern techniques it might clear the mystery up once and for all.
17th June 2003Julian Whybra
The responses to the initial question, I feel, have resulted in a distortion of events and
warrant closer inspection and a proper analysis. This is not to decry the responses
themselves; it is merely to sift the speculation from the history to leave us with, as nearly
as possible, the truth.
Basically we have before us two sets of apparently contradictory testimony.
First, there is Essex, writing the next day, reporting to Chelmsford on the worst disaster
the British Army has ever suffered. He has nothing to gain by inventing falsehoods. He
states that he was ordered to bring down the left of the line by Melvill (who brought down
the right of the line). This would not have been done as a mad rush or melee of
individuals; it would have been done professionally by section and by company and
covering for one another. Other units (the guns, A coy, C coy) were drawn up at the foot
of the spur to assist in covering the withdrawal. Essex states that this was accomplished without loss. A portion of the NNH did not retire directly down the spur; Nyanda states that his portion was a little mixed up with the redcoats by the time it reached the foot of the spur. No officer would have left a man for whom he was responsible behind and no soldier would have left a comrade in the lurch. The withdrawal occurred not because the men on the ridge were being pressed but as the result of an order from Pulleine who desired to consolidate his line of defence closer to camp. There is nothing to suggest that this was a
disorderly withdrawal resulting in heavy casualties.
Elsewhere it is stated that he saw Dyson (who’d been on the extreme left on the ridge) at the foot of the spur.
Secondly, there is Mehlokazulu, relating the story (through an interpreter over a year
later) of what was happening on a part of the battlefield which he was not involved with
and which he himself did not participate in (he was with the left horn). Yes, I grant you
that Zulu oral history is marvellous, and, yes, I grant you that he would have spoken with
those who did participate in it but if one sets Mehlokazulu’s version of events on the ridge
against the stories of those Zulus who were present with the right horn on the ridge, does
one not perceive a Chinese whispers effect in Mehlokazulu’s account? Read Uguku and
the uNokenke deserter’s accounts for yourself. There is no melee. There are no
hand-to-hand fights, there is no section left behind. When the Zulus tried to advance over
the ridge (and were silhouetted against the sky), at 400 yds range, they were fired at with
such effect they forced to withdraw back over the ridge. Who can you believe, Zulus from
different regiments who were there, or Mehlokazulu, who was not?
Raw’s comment (quoted by Ron above) re E and F coys does not relate to the
withdrawal down the spur. It relates to the withdrawal from the firing line to the camp at
the end of the battle and is irrelevant to this question.
Chelmsford’s comment that a company ‘went off and was not heard of again’ was made in
the immediate aftermath of the battle and is easily explained either as a reference to
Barry’s NNC coy or, coming from an officer out with Durnford (Davies / Henderson /
Cochrane perhaps) relating to E coy (the last they would have seen of it was before
Durnford’s departure when that officer ordered it up to the ridge. By the time Durnford
& co. returned, they would merely have seen the Zulus on the ridge and no sign of E coy).
Such a remark made in error could easily have been made to Chelmsford in the day or two that followed and included by Chelmsford almost as an afterthought in one of his reports. Or it was simply an erroneous remark - there is no mention of such an event occurring by the time the Official Narrative is published!
Next there is Chadwick’s note that 40 more cairns were found in bad state of repair (some
of them on the ridge with buttons etc found). The bones of some 20 or so men were found 700 yards to the north-west of the ridge. This is MUCH too far out. Dyson was 500 yards to the west of Cavaye on the ridge. Thus the bones etc. were found in the wrong direction and too far out. A burial party sent out later in 1879 specifically to look for bodies on the ridge failed to find any. Boast in 1880 makes no mention of cairns this far out, nor do they appear on his map (neither does he show any on the spur either!). So what were they (past tense, for there is no sign of these cairns today)? I suggest two alternatives. One, the bones of dead Zulus placed there long after the battle and ‘cairned’ (the burial party would not have known who they were) - one or two odd items of 24th equipment taken, as was the Zulu custom, from the bodies of those they hade killed before being wounded themselves and dying later). Two, the remains of Lieut Roberts and ‘group’ - there was a persisitent rumour that Roberts had been killed by friendly fire on the ridge.
As I originally stated here is no evidence that any of the 24th on the ridge were cut off nor
that the withdrawal was anything other than an orderly well-executed one. The British
would have much to malign themselves about at Isandhlwana, this episode would not be a
part of it.
Ron, in case I have inadvertently caused offence, I was not referring to your book (Zulu
Victory - which I hold to be an excellent read) in my comment on 12th June.