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18th June 2003The Guns
By Neil Aspinshaw
like many of the participants of this site, I attentended the Zulu lectures at the R.A.M Chelsea. (Feb 2003) held by messrs Knight and Pollard. The subject of the Guns (or Gun) of N5, was discussed. Apparently during detailed archeological work on a cairn RA buttons were found, amongst horse and human remains. This led to a detailed study of the imediate area , ultimately leading to the descovery of the remains of limber traces. The reperscussions of this were quite startling, with respect to the limbers & presumably the guns. (although the football sized boulders along the fugitives trail would have almost certainly meant the guns would have almost cetainly come adrift bouncing wildly over them). as previous History has it the the guns crashed into a deep chasm (donga?).
Has any more information become available on this find yet?. The possibility of the limbers bogging down rather than carreering over a ledge is now quite strong. Jan 1879 was obviously wet , mounted riders did bog down beyond the Manzimyana, also the river was in high flood.
Ok, so here's my starter for ten!, did the guns get that far at all? beyond the wagon park?or even get limbered up from their position on the knoll?.we know they were found later in zululand, were they still on the carriages?, if so why would the zulus have bothered to even attempt to drag them that far back along the fugitives trail . panicking horses and impassible ground would have smashed the carriages to matchwood.
and finally Staurt Smith, loosing the guns would have been like loosing the colours to an RA man!. Smith Dorrien claims he saw him very near the banks of the Buffalo. if he had got that far, before S-D, surely the guns had been lost early doors? or even left?.
over to you guys.. pull lanyard and stand by to fire!.

cheers, Neil
18th June 2003Julian Whybra
1) For the location of one of the gun limbers with the horses rotting in their harnesses, read Maj. Wilsone Black's report on his visit to the stricken field. 2) Curling doesn't seem to agree - are people suggesting his account is fictional? 3) You cannot judge the ground and lie of the land then by its appearance now.
4) The cairns have been rebuilt on several occasions and not always in the same place.
18th June 2003neil aspinshaw
I agree about the cairns being re-built, but essentially the shallow graves only move due to errosion. ( I think this particualr one had been identified by David Rattray as becoming eroded).
my point is that the fugitives trail,beyond the wagon park is near impassable by wheeled vehicles with boulders of all sizes that have been there for millenia. Ok aloe and thorn trees will have grown since, when we walked it, it is difficult not to trip over boulders.But essentially the terrain underfoot on the trail would be not too far removed from today.
Another twist is that is was not unusual to "spike" the guns, and leave them in particualr times of emergency.
What I am opening up as a debate is history has the guns flailing through the tents, gunners holding on for dear life. we know that the guns managed to loose of some cannister shot, bofore the zulus made up the ground. I would like to get everbodys juices flowing on this and their angles. c'mon lads give us your thoughts!.
18th June 2003John Young

I don't know on which day you were at the N.A.M., but on the Saturday, Dr. Pollard didn't take questions or responses from the floor.

Consequently, I had to queue up to raise some points with him. Ahead of me in the queue was Ian Bennett, author of 'Eyewitness in Zululand', who due to his interest in N/5's later career in 1st Anglo-Boer War, actually started to put some of the points I wished to bring, fortunately, Ian sought my confirmation on some of the points so in became something of a joint response.

Dr. Pollard, apparently acting on the guidance of on the spot experts was led to believe that only four horses, rather than six pulled the limbers & cannon.

I've had a certain interest in the Isandlwana cannon, as I have a photograph of them taken in 1879, as well a time-fuse recovered by a relative some twenty years after the event from the field of Isandlwana during the 2nd Anglo-Boer War.

The account of the recovered guns in 'The Graphic' of 1st November, 1879, adds some information which some may not already know.


These two guns, which it will be remembered fell into the hands of the Zulus at Isandlwhana on the day of the fatal surprise which proved so disastrous to our gallant troops, belonged to Colonel Harness's Battery, and where recovered about the middle of August, E.N.E of Ulundi. They are two 7-pound steel guns, mounted on Madras wheels, and weighing each 2 cwt. When discovered by Major M'Calmont, they were dismounted and lying beside the carriages, which were slightly broken and knocked about. In the kraal one of the rammers was found, also one limber-box full of shell, and some live rockets. Into the touchholes of each gun a gun-nipple had been screwed with considerable neatness, showing that Cetewayo had some skilled artizans about him (probably Portuguese). One gun was loaded with a shell, which was discharged in camp. Otherwise the guns are both unimpaired and fit for use.'
(Original spelling and grammar used throughout, J.Y.)

It appears the two cannon were not removed from Isandlwana, until ten days after the action there. Footnote 2, page 30 of 'The Journal of Cetshwayo's Dutchman' - 'Only two cannon were taken to Cetshwayo. They remained on the field a long time - I should think about 10 days - and then were sent for by the King, and brought down in a wagon.'

As to the guns being 'spiked' there is an engraving in D.C.F. Moodie's 'The History of the Battles & Adventures...' which depicts a soldier apparently attempting to spike a cannon, which appears to be somewhat like 'Mons Meg', again we enter the realms of legend and myth here. In MacKinnon & Shadbolt's 'South African Campaign of 1879' 1880 edition, we have the following relating to Brevet-Major Stuart Smith: '...In the disastrous encounter with the enemy which took place at Isandhlwana on the 22nd. he forfeited his life in performing an act of heroism for which, had he lived, he would surely have been decorated with the Victoria Cross, and which his grateful countrymen will be slow to forget. When the troops left in camp were overwhelmed by the countless hordes of the enemy. Major Smith calmly and intrepidly spiked his gun, and in doing so received his death-wound. ...'

Now obviously that doesn't gel with Smith-Dorrien's description of his death, nor with the facts that the guns had not been spiked.

Hope that encourages the debate.

John Y.
18th June 2003Neil Aspinshaw
Thanks John
Yes I was there saturday too. but I didn't get in the melee to talk to Tony Pollard. Hmm.. most interesting. I wonder if then the guns were left on the main battlefield open ground, or even left on the knoll. I have recieved an excellent e-mail on my works computer with some excellent well researched info on N5, what was interesting is that the author states the N5 had mules not horses?. I certainly did not know that. did you? I will ask the sender for permission to extract some of the info.
so here lies the next questions of the debate, with some pretty much written history changing overtures.
a) did the guns actually clear the field?
b) If Staurt Smith stayed to spike these guns, how come he got to overtake Smith Dorrien? and how on earth did he manage to get through the Zulu right horn cutting off the fugitives.bleeding profusely.
c) is the story about gunners and casuals clinging on to limbers careering thorugh the camp actually true? I am not sure anything mule drawn would carreer anywhere!,
Lets get this one going lads, this are hotting up!

19th June 2003Julian Whybra
Mules! In N/5? Not according to Tucker. not according to those men who escaped on artillery horses. Not according to Harness who listed the loss in terms of men animals and equipment to his battery.
Perhaps your source was referring to the Rocket Battery.
19th June 2003John Young
Neil & Julian,

N/5 battery was armed with 7-pounders, these guns were usually mountain guns, or as Kipling has it "Screw Guns". So named as they screwed together. The normal method of transporting "Screw Guns" was by mule, six mules to one cannon & its ammunition. So therefore 7-pounders also gained the nickname "Mule-Guns".

If you look in some descriptions of the action at Khambula some of the 7-pounder guns there are also referred to as belonging to a "Mule-Battery". See Nicolson's page in 'The South African Campaign of 1879' '...enabling them either to be carried on mule-back or drawn on wheels. ...'

Just to cloud the issue further in the article by Major P.E. Abbott, R.A. (ret.), published in the Summer 1978 issue of the Journal for Army Historical Research, he states that the battery's first-line ammunition was carried in mule wagons, and the reserve in ox wagons. So it would appear that N/5 did have some mules at least.

I do have a photograph of a mule-drawn ammunition wagon in my collection.

John Y.
19th June 2003Julian whybra
Yes, John, quite right, mules for ammo waggons, but NOT for pulling the gun limbers and guns at Isandhlwana.
4th July 2003Bill Cainan

I think you'll find the famous "screw gun" is a totally different beast from the 7pdr mountain gun. I am currently doing some research into the differences between the Naval 7pdr and the Field 7pdr. Certainly the Naval 7pdr could be fairly easily stripped down and carried by mule (or in extrreme circumstances, by hand), but this is on a considerably smaller carriage than the field gun issued to N/5 battery. However, I can assure you that neither can bu "unscrewed"r !

Most of the naval (often described as mountain) guns used in the AZW seem to be Armstrong breechloaders, however, it may well be that a few of the 7pdr RMLs found their way ashore. There is one to be found in the museum at Fort Durnford.

Some sea cadet units in the UK still have Naval 7pdr RMLs. There is also one at the Royal Armouries in Fort Nelson. An example of the 7pdr Field gun can be seen at the Army Museum in J'Burg (together with a 9pdr which was the standard Field piece of the time).

The screw gun is really a later development, and of course became famous on the NW frontier.

Julian is quite correct in stating that mules were used to pull the ammo waggons which tended to be the GS wagggon. Mules were faster than oxen and steadier than horses - which made them ideal for pulling the ammo waggons (and they are not so fussy as to what they eat !). However, horses were retained for the limbers because of their ability to manoeuvre at speed. It is interesting that the RA did not seem to use caissons in their colonial campaigns - presumably because the enemy rarely had artillery of their own to fire back, and thus the need for large stocks of ready ammunition was absent.

5th July 2003John Young
Thanks Bill,

If you're doing research I'll forward you an actual photograph of the guns from Isandlwana after their recovery, it comes from the same collection as the N.N.H. photograph, or you can see the image reproduced on page 40 of David Jackson's 'Hill of the Sphinx'. I also have a very telling newspaper letter written by a Colonel Wray on his opinion of the 7- pounder R.M.L.'s by field batteries, which might be of help.

I'm grateful for the correction, I am of course aware of the size variation between the Naval mounting and that of the field gun of N/5.

What I don't follow is D. Hall's conclusion in his article which appeared in 1979 special issue of S.A.M.H.S. journal - that three mules could pull the limber and the 7 pounder mounted on the stripped-down 'Kaffararian Carriage'. I assume this is the source of Adrian Greaves' comment in his 'Isandlwana'.

In Donald Featherstone's 'Weapons & Equipment of the Victorian Soldier', he relates to 'Mountain or Boat guns (2.5-in jointed gun and the 7 pdr)' on page 83. Judging by the length of the barrel in my photograph, I assume it to be the 3ft 2in barrel describes on page 102, when referring to mountain batteries, and there carriage on mules.

Didn't we also 'acquire' at least two Krupps guns with the annexation of the Transvaal, the photograph of one of those shows a low/mountain carriage, I recall.

Again thanks for the correction on 'screw-guns' which I see were introduced in 1880.

5th July 2003Bill Cainan

Thanks for the quick response. I believe I have most of the sources to which you refer - but unfortunately I'm in the process of moving house and my AZW library is some 90 miles away from my computer !! I will check the SAMHS source in due course, but I would find it difficult to believe that three mules (presumably "in line") could pull a 7pdr on a Kaffarian carriage plus the limber. I suspect that confusion has arisen here in that it's probably the naval 7pdr that is being refered to. The Navy (naturally) tended to man-hanfdle their 7pdrs and the limber is configured for this. There is even a quote about a burly stoker carrying the barrel single-handed across a river. Everyone else would (sensibly) use the mules, either individually carriying part of the gun, or in line pulling it assembled.

The naval 7pdrs pop up all over the place - there is one outside the town hall in Georgetown on the Ascension Island. The other week I gave a talk to the Sea Cadet detachment in Swansea about the naval brigades in the AZW and they had one in their drill hall -= which supposedly had seen service in Africa (the rifling in the barrel was pretty worn !).

Once I've completed my move, I'll come back on this subject.

Thanks again.