you are currently viewing: Discussion Forum


The Rorke's Drift VC Discussion Forum
(View Discussion Rules)


PLEASE NOTE: This forum is now inactive and is provided for reference purposes only. The live forum is available at

(Back To Topic List)

DateOriginal Topic
30th July 2003Gerrard talk
By Alan Critchley
A week ago, Peter and I attended a talk by by Rob Gerrard, of Isandlwana lodge. We enjoyed the talk very much and heard a few things which were new slants on the subject. We were very much underdressed as the large audience at the Mansion House in London, including the Lord Mayor, were quite formally dressed.

In his talk, Rob restated the story about Capt. Younghusband shaking hands with his men before the final Zulu onslaught. Apparantly this was confirmed through word of mouth passed down by the Zulus. I'd love this to be true.

Another point raised was that Durnford's sergeant (Mabula?) went with two hundred or so of the NNC along the Fugitives' Trail and provided covering fire for the rest of the fugitves at the drift. Of course they only had one rifle to every five men, and ten rounds of ammunition (at the start of the battle. I'd never heard this before.

It was also said that the partial eclipse occured at 1.05p.m. Yes?

30th July 2003Martin Everett
Dear Alan,
Remember Rob Gerrard is there to entertain his audience and those who he guides around the AZW battlefields. This he does very well, but inevitably some folklore does creep in to maintain the continued interest of his audience. Rob does tell the story about Magqubu Ntombela's visit to Brecon with Ian Player in September 1987. Magqubu's father fought at Isandhlwana. Rob story relating to this visit is inaccurate, which we have tried to correct, but the romantic version continues to be told. This unfortunately is always going to be the case - Rob Gerrard is a good battlefield guide, and has a sound military background - but has he time to be a historian as well?

30th July 2003Julian whybra
There were regrettably many errors in Rob Gerrard's lecture. The Sergeant-Major, Simeon Kambula, led a group of NNH (not NNC) and gave covering fire for a while but they had a rifle each (not one between five and not just 10 rounds each).
As for the time of the eclipse i suggest you look on this website ay the 6th July entry where all the details are given.
31st July 2003Keith Smith
Hi Alan

I stayed at Isandlwana Lodge a couple of months ago and enjoyed dinner and a chat at the bar with Rob. The matter of the eclipse came up and he mentioned the time as you stated. I then put the time to him as 2.29pm, as is shown in the Natal Almanac of the day, and 2.49, as given to me by Dr Steve Bell from HM Nautical Almanac Office at Didcot; he refused to discuss it further.

I subsequently sent him a paper I had written about it and his response was "Very interesting." It seems that he still persists in giving the incorrect time for the event, and probably played up the effect of it on the battle (there was none).

31st July 2003Rob Gerrard


Firstly I have never claimed to be an Historian.
Secondly, I do not mention in my talks that Sgt Kambula led a group of NNC. In fact I refer generally to Durnford's men as 'Durnford's Basutos'

As far as the eclipse is concerned, I state it starts at 1308 hrs.

As far as the NNC are concerned, I state that it is 'likely' that one in every ten had rifles and ten rounds of ammunition.

Since my visist to RRW in Brecon, I relate the story of Ntombela's visit to Wales in the exact format in Ian Player's book. Therefore it is accurate. And I tell the story with Ian Player's permission.
If I wanted to be 100% accurate in all that I say, I doubt, even I were an historian, that it would be possible. There will always be aspects of this battle, and any other battle, that will remain questionable, rather like an umpire trying to make a LBW decision.
My object is to relate a story that is as accurate as possible, but keep it as simple as possible, and as alive as possible. Nothing more.
The indepth details one must leave to those who ARE historians.

31st July 2003Julian whybra
I really do suggest you look at the information i gave (supplied by the RSA observatory which runs an eclipse website) for the query on 6th July. A lot of the confusion can be resolved by looking at local times as opposed to GMT. I think Durnford et al would have used local time, don't you, and a max. eclipse at 2.29 seems on the cards.
31st July 2003Mike McCabe
Was the current, modern time differential between Greenwich and local time already in use in 1879 colonial Natal. Anybody know for sure?
31st July 2003Dave Nolan

Don't you think Durnford et al would have adopted SOP and used Zulu time? ;)

1st August 2003Keith Smith
The present time time difference between Universal Time (that is, GMT without Summer Tiem etc.) and local time in SA is two hours. This only came about as a result of the establishment of International Time Zones, with the Greenwich Prime Meridian, by the International Meridian Conference in Washington D.C. in 1884.

Prior to that date, local time was established by each major town in overseas countries independently. For example, the time difference between London and Cape Town was 1 hour and 14 minutes, while Pietermaritzbug was 2 hours 14 minutes!. (Natal Almanac, 1879, p. 5).

Hardly surprising then, that times given by witnesses could vary by up to an hour for the same event.
1st August 2003Julian Whybra
Well done, Keith! Fine, local it is, then!
4th August 2003Mike McCabe
Interesting. It raises the possibility that there might also have been a standardised military time system - perhaps established at the Durban port of disembarkation. However, maybe not. It was only the advances in railways and global sea navigation that compelled the great standardisation effort of 1884. In the days before aircraft, and with little real effective cooperation between offshore naval gunfire and forces ashore, there would not have been much pressing need for one time system - except inside each column. If they had not imposed a universal time system in No 2 and No 3 Columns, then assembling a chronology at Isandlwana would become even more complex. It might even explain (other than through failed memory) why Smith-Dorrien in his Four Score Years and Ten, sets Durnford's arrival time at Isandlwana at 8 in the morning.
5th August 2003Keith Smith

The point you raise is a valid one and I have done a little research on this very problem, without coming to any firm conclusions, largely because firm evidence is scant.

I know that time measurement was a problem in the columns. During the siege of Eshowe, Captain MacGegor, one of Pearson's Staff Officers, wrote " I am making a sundial now, as we often get out of our time reckoning." (Letter to Col. Home, cited in Sonia Clarke, Zululand at War, p. 148.) Another useful reference is that of Captain Molyneux, one of Chelmsford's ADCs, describing his duties during the 2nd Invasion: "... I had to find the variation of my compass, rate my watch, fix the latitude and draw maps." (W.C.F. Molyneux, Campaigning in South Africa and Egypt.) One wonders why Lt. Berkeley Milne R.N., did not do those things, perhaps being more qualified!