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
4th November 2003Timewatch documentary
By Ron Lock
I have read with much frustration the many comments on the Timewatch programme. Although Peter Quantrill and I provided information and advice on several occasions to the Timewatch team - and have the distinct feeling that a copy of our book "Zulu Victory" was never far from Dr David's distorting hand, we have as yet to receive a copy of the programme. Perhaps the postal strike can be blamed?
On the 19 August I received the following email from the BBC.

I am wondering whether you may also be able to help me with a query that relates to one of your articles on which we are using in our programme. Would it be correct to say that 800 captive Zulus were massacred by the defenders of Rorke's Drift? Ian Knight, one of our historical consultants feels that the number that we are quoting is not sustainable.

I replied on 20 August.

Your query re Rorke's Drift Zulu dead: in mentioning "800 captive Zulus" massacred by the defenders of Rorke's Drift, I think you are referring to one of the sensationalist newspaper articles prompted by pages 231/2 of "Zulu Victory". It would, of course, be impossible for the +-100 man garrison of R.D. to capture 800 Zulus and then massacre them!

On pages 231/2 those concerned state or imply:
1. That SOME wounded were thrown into the grave (Trooper Clarke).
2. Lt Col Crealock states that there were 500 Zulus wounded and leaves us to speculate their fate.
3. Pte Samuel Pitts recounts that "the books" were short of Zulu dead by about 3/475.

In a nutshell we don’t know, and never will know, the number of Zulu wounded that may have been killed without mercy following the stark brutality of Zulu total warfare at Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift. It was a reaction of the redcoat soldiers that can only be judged in the context of the time and place.

Two weeks later I received a thank you and was advised the commentary that had already been recorded had been revised. Well saved!

So, not having seen the programme as yet, it is difficult to comment, but to answer Ed Coen's query of the 25 Oct as to whether or not Lord Chelmsford was lured from the camp.
Captain H Halam Parr, 13 L.I., a staff officer to Colonel Glyn wrote:

"The morning was spent in endeavouring to get to close quarters with an enemy who could, and did, avoid us at [his] pleasure."

The Natal Witness reported:

"Although they showed themselves in very considerable form all along the hill tops [ten miles from the camp], they keep retiring, according to what, as after events taught us, must have been their preconceived plan. The General, however, did not, of course, at this time, imagine that the Zulus were carrying out a concerted scheme, but thought they were probably falling back on their supports."

Charles Norris Newman, the correspondent of the London Standard, who accompanied Lord Chelmsford, wrote:

"The idea did not seem to have occurred to anyone that the enemy were carrying out a pre-constructed plan."

The Rev. Owen Watkins of the Edendale Mission wrote:

"The General himself with his chief officers, taking many troops, was lured away from the camp by a common Zulu ruse, known to most of the Natal colonists, and described in the book of the Intelligence Dept!"

Lt B. Milne R.N., Chelmsford's naval staff officer, who, with his powerful telescope, was sent to observe the camp ten miles away, wrote:

"The main body of the enemy who had been in our front all morning were now assembled at the foot of Isipesi Hill, watching the movements of the mounted infantry ..." adding later, "No doubt the force we were after on Wednesday [22 Jan] was a blind as we could never get near them, they kept edging away and away, drawing us further from the camp."

Lt H. Mainwaring, 2/24th who was with Chelmsford’s column, later wrote:

"The Mounted Infantry reported the Zulus to be retiring from hilltop to hilltop, and it must have been their plan to draw us away from the camp." and Capt W Penn Symons who accompanied Lt Milne RN that morning wrote :

"We then saw the enemy in scattered bodies, ten to 500, dispersing and retreating in front of us in all directions. We followed them. It was hunting a shadow, or worse than a shadow, as men who will knew the Zulus and their tactics declared at the time that the cattle that had been seen and the retreating bodies of men, were simply decoys to entice us away from the camp."

I think the events of the day also speak for themselves.

4th November 2003Julian Whybra
Ron, for your information (1) the Timewatch programme had 500 wounded Zulus being murdered and (2) the postal strike ended yesterday. Re the notion of a Zulu 'feint' the trouble is that all the persons quoted above are speaking post eventum with the benefit of hindsight. They are also speaking from the Eurocentric point of view of perceiving method in others' madness. To European (military) eyes they read into the events of the 22nd what would have been a logical predetermined wonderfully-timed series of events (a battle plan even) by the Zulus. The Zulus in contemporary accounts tell a different story and do not claim the attributes accorded them in the Natal Witness and the like. The contemporary historical evidence is just not there and the biased opinions of Britons either present or not present at the Malakathas (but both looking for excuses for their actions or looking to point a finger at Chelmsford) provide insufficent historical proof for a predetermined Zulu plan.