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DateOriginal Topic
10th December 2003Encircling of the British camp at Isandlwana
By Adrian Wright
Q. Having ridden up onto the Tahelane Ridge and witnessing the thousands of Zulus of the right horn making their way round the Isandlwana crag to fall upon the rear of the camp, did Edward Essex ever warn Lt. Col. Pulleine of this threat ?
Thankyou if you can help
10th December 2003l.j.knight
lucky Essex of the 95th had as transport officer in effect a roving brief on the day of the 22nd, he's movements are amongst the best documented.i,m sure there will be a long queue to answer this of the only five imperial officers to survive Isandhlwana.
10th December 2003l.j.knight
sorry i of course meant the 75th regiment.
10th December 2003l.j.knight
the following from Couplands battlepiece Isandhlwana, page 136...Essex to the court of inquiry into the loss of the camp, at the same time that col Durnford left the camp, a company of the 1-24 under lieut,Cavaye was sent out on picket to a hill to the north of the camp about two thousand yards distant. this was done at col,Durnfords order. this places Essex with pulliene as the attack was fully developing,not answering your question i know Adrian but it all helps.regards
10th December 2003Mike McCabe
Only if you believe Coupland.
10th December 2003Peter Ewart
In fact, on p126 Coupland quotes the statement verbatim but, at the end of the appendix, distances himself from the conclusion that the decision was Durnford's. Earlier, between pp115-117, he explains why - and also argues strongly against one or two other claims that Durnford's actions were to blame.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since Coupland's time and a number of additional primary sources have come to light and been examined, but it is still worth remembering that Coupland was one of the few trained historians who have tackled the matter.

Unlike some others, I haven't examined all the primary sources, so must sit on the fence, but I do enjoy the informed discussions!

10th December 2003l.j.knight
Mike whats not to believe! its not that unclear,Coupland resists the theory from the outset that Durnford should carry the burden for other peoples folly, hindsight is such a lux'ury ,its an old story,Chelmsford divided his force, left it in charge of an administration officer,left only [second hand] vague order to draw in piquets and defend the camp,i feel so sorry for Pulliene, to send company after company in to the wild blue yonder, never to return, he knew the camp was to be attacked by masses of zulu;s,estimated to be 20,000-25,000 strong, why was there not a more concerted effort to draw in the troops earlier? much real estate to defend. Col,Durnford is very much a hero of mine, and seems in my opinion to be one of the few senior officers who knew precisely what they were trying to do on that fateful for Chelmsford his actions on the day,but especially the days immediatly after are to viewed with an everlasting sense of shame. and only in the very recent past has col,Durnfords name been completly vindicated, i believe that officer carried out his duty with skill and bravery second to none on the day that the british were out generaled,out fought, and dare i say it own opinion.regards
10th December 2003Peter Ewart
"Pulleine knew the camp was to be attacked by masses of Zulus?" Are you sure?

Surely Pulleine deployed his forces to face an indeterminately sized (but assumed to be very limited) enemy, according to standing instructions and exactly according to recent experience of the 24th against African warriors? By the time the size of the force against him was apparent, his options were limited (partly because of Durnford's position) and it was too late.

Chelmsford acted in the way he thought was right at the time. He moved off in the direction he had expected to move off to in a day or so anyway, to oppose an enemy who appeared to be exactly where he expected it to be, and left the remainder of a temporary encampment way behind him and supposedly safely to the rear. But he was wrong and didn't have the advantage of our hindsight and repeated analysis.

He made mistakes - so did his enemy. His officers made mistakes. Name a battle where mistakes weren't made. It hasn't occurred yet. Each and every one did what they thought was correct at the time, given what they knew (or thought they knew) of the situation, which was changing rapidly anyway. There was considerable over confidence during January (on the part of some, not all) but perhaps no more than at the beginning of other imperial conflicts. Chelmsford had planned very carefully indeed, but suffered from huge logistical & transport problems, which influenced almost every decision of the war.

Even Grenfell, on the staff, admitted that the staff work was poor during the war. But Chelmsford chose his staff & I suppose must be held responsible for that?

If we want to "if only" a battle or campaign, we could start with Gallipoli and the Dardanelles.

11th December 2003l.j.knight
here i go Peter..Pulliene i dont think was equiped to deal with the inteligence he was recieving that day,fannin had found the main impi for them and it was suposed to number 20,000-25,000 warriors, it the meantime his lordship was off on his[unknown at the time] wild goose chase round abouts the Mangeni fall;s. now.with Pulliene's orders to defend the camp, i wonderif it crossed his mind what would happen if the Zulu was'nt where his lordship supposed, but came right over the ridge straight at them, if he did'nt i'm sure the likes of adjutant Melvill would be very quick to aquaint him to the possibility, taking into account his and Dunbars grevious misgivings of the camp's woeful defensive positions,to cut it short..they did, it was us who got the for Chelmsford i cant believe that any body can still defend that man. to say his was bad luck is an insult to all those able men who were almost certainly slaughtered through his incompetence, arrogance, and ultimate cowardice, ie the shameful cover up in the imediate aftermath and subsequent months and year's, protected by her majesty and his peers, dont they just stick an o/r it makes me sick to think he is still getting away with it. as a relative newcomer to this subject am i missing something! that was my personal the way was,nt Winston blamed for the Dardanelles fiasco.regards
11th December 2003Graham Alexander
To return to Adrian's original question, there is no evidence that Captain Essex did send back any report to Lieutenant-Colonel Pulleine about the situation that he saw developing from his position on the Tehelane spur. However, by the time that he had arrived, the whole camp would have been aware that Zulus, in their thousands, were pouring down from the plateau and spreading around both sides of Isandlwana. Essex, as a staff officer, would have had the experience not to send an unnecessary report which would only be stating the obvious. Although Pulleine could not see the Zulus behind Isandlwana, he was not unaware of the fact that they were certainly there.
Essex was certainly not with Pulleine at the beginning of the action, as he states that he was in his own tent, and seems to have ridden off to Cavaye's position to find out exactly what was going on. He was apparently not acting under any orders but as the senior officer present, supported and assisted the line officers on his arrival.
The evidence which he gave at the court of enquiry about Cavaye being sent out by Durnford, was not obtained by his proximity to Pulleine, but more than likely came from his later association with Lieutenant Cochrane, during their evening defence of Helpmekaar
11th December 2003Adrian Wright
Thankyou Graham
It does seem quite incredible that no British or Native lookouts were positioned on the nek, even though the Zulus were seen up on the ridge carrying out their well known encircling tactic.
11th December 2003Julian Whybra
To answer the original question,while Essex was bringing down the left of the line, Melvill was bringing down the right from the top of the spur. Melvill would of course have witnessed much the same as Essex and would have reported back as adjutant to Pulleine. The question, i suppose is what exactly and how many did Essex see.
11th December 2003Adrian Wright
Another question should be why were a substantial number of NNC left in front of the tents (east) and not moved to act as a rear guard on or near the nek if Pulleine was made aware of the Zulu movements on the ridge ?
11th December 2003l.j.knight
according to Adrian Greaves, Pulliene could'nt see because the tents were in the way,with the threat of iminent action, why was they not struck!did he even try to carry out the order brought from Gardiner.
13th December 2003Julian Whybra
The tents were not struck because of the danger of committing men to that act when he might urgently need them if the situation called for it. I see no reason why the tents should have obscured Pulleine's view, given the location of the HQ tent.
24th January 2004David Gardner
I don't see how Chelmsford can be blamed.He let the camp with an adequate force to defend it.Durnford, whose bavery is unquestionable weakened the camp consiserably based on a totally erroneous idea of how many
24th January 2004David Gardner
I don't see how Chelmsford can be blamed.He let the camp with an adequate force to defend it.Durnford, whose bavery is unquestionable weakened the camp consiserably based on a totally erroneous idea of how many
24th January 2004David Gardner
sorry finger trouble.

zulus he faced.Nothing else can explain why he took the actions he took.My own opinion is that both Durnford and Pulleine were at faul.Durnford was a maverick and surely must share a lot of the blame.Pulleine's timescale for decision making was critical, with events and the Zulus moving at high speed.The camp could have been saved, but Pulleine did not have ability to react quickly to events.
Later battles showed the bravery of the Zulus was not enough to overcome concentrated mass rifle fire