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4th December 2003Drummer Boys - the myth becomes reality.
By John Young
Rather than have this lost by posting it in the discussion of last month relating to drummer boys, I thought it best to start a new post on it.

I know some of you may have seen the text before, as I have previously posted it in an effort to bring it to the attention of those believe this was a 'myth'.

Trooper Thomas Henry Makin, 1st (King's) Dragoon Guards, left a journal of the events he witnessed in the course of the campaign. Hopefully his eyewitness comments relating to the drummer boys will be accepted as the truth, rather than modern authors attempting to mislead their readers that the story is untrue.

'...23rd [May] Left camp before it was light and crossed the Buffalo River into Zululand, our orders were to advance on the scene of the massacre of the 24th Foot on the ill fated 22nd of January 1879. After we passed through the Bashee Valley we stationed the remnant of the 24th Foot at Fugitives Drift, so that we should not be cut off in rear. We also posted vedettes on all the commanding heights, the guard against a surprise. After marching about 3 hours, we saw the mountain illuming in the distance. But before we arrived near, we could see signs of the fearful havoc they had played with our poor soldiers, for there were tents, waggons and all the items incidental to a scene of which we were to be the specators. The first we saw was a little drummer boy, his drum broken in, his head cut off and placed on his chest, his hands inserted between his ribs. We then came across the poor fellows laid in groups of 5 and 6, every one of which had been mulilated by those savages and all were laid naked, every article of clothing having been torn off them. We came across a large wooden structure like a double scaffold, where two other boys had been hung up by their hands to the hooks and as they had decomposed, their bodies had fallen to the ground where they lay, with no friendly hand to give them a decent burial. ...'

An extract from 'A Short Account of my Life' by T. H. Makin, published in 'The Journal of the Anglo-Zulu War Research Society' Vol. 5/2, 1997.

John Y.
4th December 2003Julian Whybra
Then of course there's 2/24th Pvte. Sweeney's letter in the Oldham Weekly Chronicle, which names names.
4th December 2003Peter Weedon
Could you list the names mentioned in the Chronicle please?


4th December 2003Keith Smith
This is a matter which has interested me for quite a while, sufficiently to gather some evidence about it. I began as a sceptic but the more I look, the more evidence I find that something did indeed happen to one or two boys. Consider my lates find:
"The poor little band boys were assegaied and hung up to the butcher's wagon by their chins and all their clothes torn off. " This is a letter from an unnamed sergeant in the 2/24th who was out with Chelmsford (as most 'eye-witnesses' were), and published in the Chatham and Rochester Observer, 5th April, 1879. My problem is that the reports each seem to vary considerably as to the treatment of these boys, so the inconsistency still causes me to waver. Your evidence by Pte Sweeney would be interesting, if you could send me a copy, Julian.

4th December 2003Martin Everett
The phrase 'drummer boy' was used widely in the army of those days, mainly because this was the role those joining at age 14 years were normally used, as well as the band. The word 'boys' has always been used in the army even when referring to adult soldiers. What is not clear is how many 'boys', i.e. those aged between 14 and 18 year were actually killed at Isandhlwana.

We should be aware some reports may say 'drummer boys', when in fact they were adults. An example is Drummer John Orlopp 1/24th who was born on 14 April 1879 and joined as a boy. He would have certainly, I am sure, been known as 'boy' Orlopp.

Needless to say there were probably Zulu boys also killed in the battle as well.
5th December 2003James Garland
I would be amazed if the Zulus had not committed atrocities. They were on the whole used to fighting battles using close quarter weapons. A whole different ball game to using firearms. The sheer savagery that any warriors using these weapons would have to use to be effective would not just fade away once he had killed his foe.It is little wonder that they went on to mutilate the dead. Viking warriors and others were the same by all accounts.
5th December 2003Martin Everett
Dear All,
Nothing beats old fashioned research, I have to say - better than discussing generalities:

1st Battalion 24th Regiment


Adams, WH, 1-24/2003, age 20 years
Andrews, C, 25B/267, age 24 years
Dibden, G, 1-24/1786, age c22 years
Orlopp, JF, 2, age 19 years
Osmond, C, 1-24/1226, age 32 years
Perkins, T, 1-24/1, age c37 years
Reardon, T, 25B/318, age 18 years
Stansfield, M, 25B/114, age 18 years
Thompson, J, 1-24/1787, age c22 years
Trottman, D, 1-24/1237, age 30 years
Wolfendale, A, 1-24/2004, age 19 years
Wolfendale, J, 1-24/1399, age c27 years


Harrington, T
Richards, R, 25B/265

2nd Battalion 24th Regiment

Anderson, J, 2-24/2161, age 23 years
Holmes, J, 2-24/2153, age at least 24 years


Gordon, D, 25B/1491, age 17 years
McEwan, JS, 25B/1387, age 16 years

So it would appear that Harrington, Richards, Gordon and McEwan were the only ‘boys’ (i.e. under 18 years ) killed on 22 January 1879. None of these held the appointment of 'drummer'.
5th December 2003l.j.knight
i think we as a whole society are to hung up on political correctness which obviously is reflected on this forum. is it not the truth that the nineteenth century Zulu was indeed an ignorant savage, unsophisticated, tought from birth, so that the concept of mercy was an anathema to them. at the beginning of the war,it is known that the british tried to conduct themselfs in a manner which breeding,class,and the sense of fair play instilled in that particular generation from birth, well i fear that all flew out of the window after Isandhlwana. what a wake up.every experiance of warfare they had ever encounted had not prepared them for what some of them saw on the after math of that battle.fair play ,breeding,class,was instantly put aside to be replaced by revenge, i say again the Zulu of that time were casual about atrocity in my opinion, and carried over in to the 20th century thier are more examples ie.the Mau-Mau, and even more recently the practice of placing petrol soaked tyres around victims heads. of course south africa is still feeling the effects of inperialism to this day, and are still how many steps behind our so called civillized society,sorry what a disorganized ramble that was. oh well,
5th December 2003Julian Whybra
26.4.1879 Oldham Weekly Chronicle 2/24 1939 Drummer W. Sweeney, letter home, publ. locally, viewable at the Newspaper Library, Colindale:
"...Two drummers, Anderson and Holmes, and five little boys of the band about fourteen years of age. They bitchered most awfully indeed. One little chap named M'Every [sic, for McEwan], they hung up on the chin to a hook."
Sweeney was out with Chelmsford's reconnaissance and returned to Isandhlwana on the evening of the 22nd.
McEwan enlisted on 20.4.1877 aged 14, there's no trace of a birth date so he may well have still been 15 on 22.1.79.
Gordon enlisted 6.12.75 aged 13 and so was still 16 on 22.1.79
Richards and Harrington may well have been 13/14 having recently enlisted.
Stansfield was 23 on 22.1.79 having enlisted on 6.4.74 aged 18 years 11 months.
5th December 2003Julian Whybra
On the subject of political correctness, one could equally well say that South Africa is still feeling the effects of tribalism, as of imperialism. The British Empire need not be the whipping boy for every ill that ails every former colony.
5th December 2003Steven Sass
The author Robert Ruark was much maligned for his frank predictions regarding what would happen to the African colonies after the British withdrew. Those who envisioned an idealistic renaissance, free of the corrupting influence of the West, hissed at his suggestions of impending corruption, genocide, rape of natural resources, poaching and innumerable human rights violations. Unfortunately, he was spot on.

5th December 2003Mike McCabe
I vaguely recall reading somewhere that '1 Boy' of the Army Hospital Corps (or whatever) had also been killed at Isandlwana. Was runlisted in an appendix to Norris Newman perhaps?
5th December 2003l.j.knight
i am in totai total agreement with you mr whybra regarding your point on tribalism you only have to look at recent examples, serbia,iraq, and of course the former soviet union, when an agressor [espcialy a foreign one] is displaced the indigenous factions tend to settle old scores, which can sometimes take many generations, i also feel that these isles of ours left a benificial and worthwhile legacy to most of our former colonys. ie, democracy, [at any rate the concept ] i apologise to know one for my countrys past, any way if we had.nt done what we did the alternative was the germans or god forbid..the french. i have just stated a personal opinion.regards
5th December 2003Keith Smith
I have also done some research on the ages of "Drummers" and mine differ from yours in some cases, according to Holme; perhaps you have not taken into account the date of birth and 22/2/1879. With regard to the Boys:
Boy Thomas J. Harrington, 1/24th, was attested only three months before Isandlwana and could, therefore, have been as young as fourteen years. His service number is not known, so that cannot assist us. We know nothing of Boy Robert Richards, 1/24th, because his name does not even appear on the South African Medal Roll, but he is shown on the Pay List of his battalion as being killed at Isandlwana. His regimental number has the brigade prefix and he too, therefore, may have been as young as fourteen years.
6th December 2003Martin Everett
Just to help you on the enlistment date of the Robert Richards.

Richards, R, 25B/265 - number issued in June 1874. So he must have been at least 17 years. Number 25B/264 was issued to Haley, J 1/24th who enlisted on 9 June 1974.

6th December 2003Peter Quantrill
Could it have been Gordon or McEwan referred to by by Penn Symonds who wrote,
" Most of the bodies were more or less stripped,one little band boy of the 2/24th,a mere child,was hung by the heels to the tail of an ox wagon,and his throat cut."
7th December 2003Julian Whybra
Mike, "1 boy Army Hospital Corps" was in fact "Boy" Green, servant to Surgeon Maj. Shepherd. He was not in the army but was the son of a waiter at Shepherd's club. He promised the father to take him with him to SA and make a man of him. I only know the surname and have for some time been trawling the records of Victorian clubs trying to find the employment of a waiter named Green to then check birth records, etc. So far, no success. Can anyone out there help?
8th December 2003Mike McCabe
Assuming it was a military club, there were at the time of the war:
- The Army and Navy Club ('The Rag')
- The United Services Club ('The Senior')
-The Naval and Military Club ('The In and Out')
- The Junior United Services Club
- The Junior Army and Navy Club
- The Guards Club
Surgeon Shephard is not listed amongst Army & Navy Club members as being killed in the war, which might narrow things down. Only the Army and Navy Club and Naval and Military Club survive. The Cavarly Club did not yet exist. Cavalry officers generally joined the Army and Navy Club, or a non-military club. The Guards Club was subsumed into the Cavalry and Guards about 30 years ago, as members frequently using this site will know. It's possible that it was a non-military club, few of Surgeon Maj Shephard's profesdsional background or rank became members of military clubs at the time.

Interestingly, Lt Col Redvers Buller went on to become Chairman of the Naval and Military Club just after he returned from South Africa, holding the appointment for about a year.
8th December 2003Julian Whybra
Thank you Mike, this has helped to narrow it down, though like you, I think it was a non-military club (The Drones perhaps?). It's Shepherd by the way no Shephard.
10th December 2003Peter Weedon

Thanks for the Chronicle details.

10th December 2003Mike McCabe
Time for a non sequitur. The following members of the Army and Navy Club were killed in the Zulu War:
- Capt WE Mostyn, 24th Foot
- Capt Weatherley, late 6th Dragoons
- Lt Col Northey, 60th Rifles