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DateOriginal Topic
23rd August 2003Population and Fighting Strength.
By John Lewis
Does anyone have an idea of the population of King Cetshwayo's Zululand and the numbers of his fighting men in 1879 prior to Isandlwhana ?
24th August 2003Peter Ewart

A quick glance at what I thought would be the most promising works hasn't revealed much in the way of population figures but I'm sure they're there somewhere. Someone will come up here with the numbers, I'm sure.

As for the size of the Zulu army pre-Isandlwana, John Laband says in his lengthy introduction to "Lord Chelmsford's Zululand Campaign, 1878-79" (Army Records Soc, 1994) that Cetshwayo could put no more than 29,000 people into the field when fully mobilised. He quotes his own "Kingdom in Crisis" for the source (p57) but I don't have that book so can't pin it down further. I suppose one could add the Nyezane force to the Isandlwana army, plus odds and ends, and 29,000 wouldn't be far out anyway.

D.R. Morris writes "almost 50,000 men in Zululand were under arms" although he estimated that around 10,000 of those were over 60. Unfortunately, as you may know, he didn't provide precise footnotes, nor detailed sources.

Unless I've missed it, Ian Knight doesn't give a figure in his "Anatomy of the Zulu Army." (Seems unlikely, so I probably HAVE missed it!)

Can't see population total estimates in any of the works of CT Binns, nor in Jeff Guy's "The Destruction of the Zulu Kingdom" (Longman, 1979) - again, surprisingly. I do know that the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) estimated there were over 100,000 Zulus in Natal alone at around that time, whereas other sources have suggested 300,000. These figures would presumably include refugees from both Shaka & Cetshwayo as well as other migrants and almost certainly must be "contaminated" by vagaries such as 2nd & 3rd generation inhabitants of Natal, even including the amaHlubi, etc.

I'm sure there are estimates of the 1879 population of inside Zululand itself somewhere, however - which doesn't really help you, but might prompt someone else to look it up if they can find it!

24th August 2003Keith Smith
There is an interesting discussion of the Zulu population in A.T. Bryant, ' Olden Times in Zululand and Natal', pp. 80ff. He calculates that there were some 12,000 warriors in Zululand in 1824, and using 1 in 8 as a proportion of fighting men to population, comes up with a population of 96,000. He goes on to compute the population as 105,000 in 1840 and 210,000 in 1885. He also quotes a Government figure of 196,500 in 1898.

In the work 'Precis of Information concerning the Zulu Country', issued by the military in 1879, the writer estimates the population as anywhere between 150,000 and 300,000, and the army consisting of between 30 and 40,000 men, but also quotes another report which might be thought a little high, as 60,000.
Taking Bryant's figure of 1 to 8, then at 40,000 men, one might expect a population of 320,000.
24th August 2003Julian Whybra
I did some research and produced an article for SOTQ back in 1988 on contemporary sources and the size of the Zulu army (which both Knight and Laband quote). I'll check the figures for you and let you know but broadly speaking a northern army of 20000, a western army of 20-25000, a southern army of 10000 and an Ulundi home guard of 6000 plus odds and ends (Mbilini, abaQulusi, etc) of perhaps 2000 you might come up with a total of 58000-63000.
25th August 2003John Lewis
Thanks to everyone who took the trouble to help me out.