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24th January 2004Accuracy of Washing OF The Spears
By David Gardner
As one who has held an interest in The Zulu Wars all his life (from seeing Zulu age 5 at the cinema when it came out), and had Morris's book for many years I was wondering now I've discovered this discussion forum just how accurate it is.
For example reading on this forum that the main impi was manoevring to attack on the 22nd after all rather than wait for the new moon-seem totally alien to me.Also I'm surprised to read that Lt Raw was quored as seeing the Zulus coming out "from behind a hill to attack", rather than being found in a ravine?
I am a bit disillusioned -what is the truth-can we ever know?
24th January 2004Keith Smith
Morris's book was published in 1965 and was a massive achievemment for a man who was not a historian, worked in the CIA and was based in Berlin. He certainly influenced many of the contributors to this site, and definitely inspired me.

Judging from the material he gathered, he went very carefully through most of the Killie Campbell Library in Durban and many other sources too. It is a pity that he felt too modest to annotate his work.

The point of the discovery of the Zulu impi at Isandlwana has really only been questioned in recent years; virtually every writer since Morris has followed his version, which as you point out, does not square with contemporary source material.

Morris also confuses the names of people like Newnham-Davies (out with Chelmsford) and H.D. Davies (Natal Mounted Contingent, with Durnford). He also confuses the two Bartons in the 3rd Regiment NNC, treating them as if they were one man (another failing of many modern writers who have followed him). Both of these errors were probably caused by Morris following D.C.F. Moodie, who did the same thing. I am working on a series of papers on this subject, which I hope will be published in the near future.

Keep reading!
24th January 2004Peter Ewart

The generally accepted view these days seems to be that although a lot of detailed & superb research since Morris's work first appeared has challenged some of his assertions, he is strongly defended by many (even those authors who differ with his findings) because he is considered to have broken new ground with his attempt to write a complete history of the Zulu story from before Shaka to 1879 and also because many of the later researchers and authors have used his work as a base to build on, to develop and break new ground themselves and because his work introduced perhaps as many to Zulu history as did a certain 1964 film.

It is also recognised that he accomplished much of his research while working as a Cold War spy in Berlin, a slighty different circumstance from most present AZW historians!

However, many readers nowadays wouldn't be quite so charitable as that, citing one or two very controversial points where his views no longer hold sway, especially in connection with Isandlwana, the battle on which most progress has been made in the time since he published. Others will point out the many more minor (to some!) errors of identification with individuals and units.

It was ground-breaking at the time, attracting many readers who were later authors, but has been added to and improved upon by others since - by how much is simply a matter of personal opinion. And some views on Isandlwana still remain controversial and unproven either way anyway. Perhaps, to modern readers and historians, the most frustrating omission is the lack of detailed footnotes to his source material (although he does include these generally in his bibliography), a decision which he rather disarmingly dismisses as unnecessary for a work which doesn't aspire to any academic status! More to the point - compared with today, how many detailed histories carried individual footnotes to source material in the mid-sixties? Have a look - it's comparative very few. Sadly, some of the paperback editions in some countries appeared in a very shoddy format.

I think most readers would continue to admire his masterful method of handling such a huge subject, something which only one or two have attempted since in one volume, and his absolutely superb prose, in my opinion a very important factor.

For some of us, older and wiser now, even the expression "feet of clay" comes to mind. Controversies notwithstanding, however, as American historians on weighty European or British matters go, I wouldn't put him far behind Barbara Tuchman or Robert K. Massie.

25th January 2004Peter Ewart

We must have been posting simultaneously - glad we agree!

25th January 2004l.j.knight
for the sheer awe inspiring scope of this work. how many currant A.Z.W.authors avidly devoured this book and launched thier own careers, so much respect for Donald Morris. how many different generations will be "inspired" by this seminal understated masterpiece. regards to all..
25th January 2004David Gardner
Keith and Peter must thank you for those very detailed replies which put the book in more perspective.You are obviously very well informed, and I have been amazed at the wealth of knowledge research and passion of many of the posters on this forum.

The book was/is fantastic in the sheer detail and organisation going back to the beginnings of the Zulus, to the Captains and Kings depart at the books closure-even the notes on Zulu speech!
I didn't know Morris was a CIA man-he must have been an exceptional person-can anyone say is he still alive?
I have been going through a lot of the old posts trying to find whether or not he is correct about the NNC knot being at the corner of the 2 imperial lines?-I'm sure I heard somehere that they may not. For me the fascination of the Zulu wars has always been Isandhlwana and how and why it could have happened.
25th January 2004Steven Sass
Dear David,

Sadly Donald Morris died on December 5, 2002 at the age of 78. If you visit Ian Knight's Zulu website, listed in the links of this site, he has written an obituary for Mr Morris.

25th January 2004David Gardner
Thamks Steven, will do that
25th January 2004patrick
"Washing of the Spears" is an excellent book, despite its age and any historical inaccuracies that it may contain....

the best thing about the book, as noted by others, is the fact that it presents a long term view of the history and people involved on both sides....

plus, he (the author) presents as much as possible on the entire Anglo-Zulu War, not just the key battles or incidents....

definitely a good starting point for persons interested in this time period....flawed perhaps, but a solid work nevertheless.....

25th January 2004Steven Sass
Dear David,

Sadly Donald Morris died on December 5, 2002 at the age of 78. If you visit Ian Knight's Zulu website, listed in the links of this site, he has written an obituary for Mr Morris.

26th January 2004Julian whybra
It might be interesting for some readers to note that I corresponded with Morris in the 60s and 70s asking him to supply the sources for much of the detailed information in his book which I was unable to find and contradicted with Jackson's articles of 1965. His eight replies were always vague, of a general nature ("from documents in the Killie Campbell"), occasionally non-existent, or "I have finished with Isandhlwana now; all my sources and documentation are bundled up in my attic and I am never going to get them out again." Undoubtedly he was a superb writer but perhaps with too much of the inventive journalist than historian. An awful lot is owed to him but he also had an awful lot to answer for.
26th January 2004Simon Copley
Two things set me off on my Zulu mania neither of which was the film.
One was living in Chislehurst (home of the Prince Imperial) and then Cwmbran (home of John FieldingVC) the other was reading WotS.

Morris' evocative descriptions of Isandlwhana and RD are very powerful in recapturing what must have been the emotional tenor of the battles. So, probably, he used a bit of imagination at times (but many great historians do that in trying to recapture the essence of events, Thucydides and Herodotus being notable egs). His accounts are therfore far more "historical" than some of the latest works which seem to sacrifice emotion for accuracy with their obsession with who stood where at what hour of the clock.
26th January 2004Julian whybra
Well, sacrificing emotion for accuracy is fine if you're writing a novel (and not a history book). And no-one objects to an historian using his imagination at times; invention, though, is another matter. As for obsession with detail, I plead guilty to obsession with factual accuracy in order that blame is attached to the guilty party and not on to the shoulders of the innocent. A correctly-identified image of Bromhead and correctly-dated photos of the Isandhlwana battlefield would have been nice too. And Pip, Bromhead's dog(?) - what's this - included for animal lovers? No-one denies WOTS is a great read, but...
26th January 2004sally
Of course time and interest will unearth new information which MAY change the details of a battle as we have known it.
That cannot deflect from Morris splendid tome which was not I think meant as a deadly factual history book.

As for facts known or changing - here's a thought. I wonder, with the minute by minuute media coverage of wars such as Iraq, Iran etc, whether any of us actually have even 1% of the actual facts of what has is happening there by comparison to the facts we have of Isandlwana , Rorke's Drift etc ???
27th January 2004Steven Sass
Regarding accuracy, I would suggest one keep in mind that today's authors (fantastic as they are) have the advantage of the collective research of the past forty years to reference, question, direct and build from. Donald Morris, as a pioneer in the modern study of the AZW had no such benefit. Just as many on this site have made the valid point of it not being fair to judge history by the sensibilities of today, perhaps 'Washing of the Spears' should also be afforded similar courtesy.
27th January 2004Julian whybra
Sally, the inside cover states that it is a 'remarkable history' and a 'definitive account'. No-one is blaming Morris for not including information not available then (how could one?) but inventing it in the absence of anything better? I wonder what Adendorff would have to say (if he were alive to day) on the subject of his non-existent 'desertion' and 'court martial'.
Steven, you are correct. It is not fair to judge history by the sensibilities of today, and the same is true of history writing. But, histories written in the 1960s weren't poorly-researched tomes - there were some excellent books written which have stood the test of time and are still standards today - Robinson & Gallagher's Africa and the Victorians still can't be bettered; David Jackson's superb 1965 articles (yes, 1965) on Isandhlwana have never really been bettered (except by himself, recently, in Hill of the Sphinx). Strange how an academic mind like David's can come up with a truly definitive account for an historical journal in 1965 (and receive not a penny) and Morris (judging him by the standards of his time) can come up with (having the same primary sources available) a best seller (still, 30 years on). Courtesy, by all means, I've given Morris his due many times (as I've said before, much is owed to him), generosity, fine, within limits, but truth stands above all.
27th January 2004Simon Copley
My point being that detailed facts are not the whole story. The emotional or moral impact/essence of an event can be of equal/more importance. Witness Sally's perceptive comment re the Iraq war. We cannot know eveything and knowing everything doesn't OF ITSELF bring us closer to the TRUTH. Missing some facts doesn't render the meaning of the events inaccessible to us. But I would agree that more facts must mean better understanding. But truth consists of facts plus interpretation of their meaning together, not one without the other. WOTS was a truly great historical work because it went beyond a mere recording of detail. Wow heavy man!!
27th January 2004David Gardner
Hi Julian,
Thanks for those book references.I take it The Hill of the Sphinx is the best book these days on Isandhlwana?
For me the most facinating part of the AZW is Isandhlwan-I will purchase this book
27th January 2004sally
Simon - I agree - absolutely correct. Well said.

Two reports of the same event could so easilly be interpreted totally differently, depending on the education and emotional state of the person etc relating those 'facts'. What I may see as bad behaviour others may not !!!!
27th January 2004Steven Sass
I found this quote attributed to Donald Morris regarding 'Washing of the Spears' on the website. It was in the section in which readers can write a review of the book and have it published as a guide to other customers. I am almost positive that Amazon makes no effort to confirm the identity of the writer as these reviews are submitted online.

Parental Pride, August 31, 1999
Reviewer: drmorris
It is enormously satisfying to find this monster remains in print 34 years after publication (I spent eight years working on it) -- it's appeared in 17 different hard-back and soft-back packages. Despite the changes in South Africa in the last three decades, there's almost nothing in the text I'd change today (the few minor factual errors were corrected in subsequent editions). When I started work, almost no one in America had ever heard of the Zulu War. TWOTS opened the floodgates. The manager of TRADITION in London once told me I'd been responsible for the sale of 24,000 figurines of the 24th Regiment and Zulu warriors -- and six divorces he knew of.

Again, I have no way of confirming these are the actual words of Donald Morris. Nevertheless, in light of the current topic I gathered there would enough interest to justify quoting them here.
28th January 2004Martin Heyes
I was interested in your comment above about Adendorff and his "non-existent 'desertion' and 'court martial.'"
I always understood that contemporary (1879) thinking about Adendorff was that he was a coward who fled Rorke's Drift before the attack, and that the authorities were going to court-martial him for cowardice. The only reason they did not do so was because Chard could not say for certain that Adendorff did not participate in the battle - in other words, he MAY have been present and a court-martial might not have resulted in a conviction.
(I may have gleaned this from Morris; it is such a long time since I have read W of the S).

I realise I may be starting a whole new subject here, but I would be interested in your views on the foregoing.

Many thanks
28th January 2004Simon Copley
Not quite what I meant, Sally! I am not advocating the idea that historical events are open to relative interpretations according to the bias/assumptions of the observers or participants. I think events have an absolute emotional or moral meaning of themselves, which needs to be interpreted from the facts, but also in addition to the facts.
The facts of themselves are not the whole truth. Knowing every fact doesn't necessarily help us access that moral truth. Not knowing every fact does not necessarily hide that truth. This gets heavier and heavier, dudes!! In a nutshell TWOTS remains great despite minor factual errors! Morris really captured what it meant for the British and Colonial soldiers to be caught up in Isandlwhana. But I take your point that we need to see things from a Zulu perspective as well.
28th January 2004John Young

Re-your Adendorff query, have a look on the forum for the following entries 23/2/01; 28/1/03 & 7/3/03, or do a site search from the home page including the words Adendorff & Maxwell.

Hope that helps you.

John Y.
29th January 2004Martin Heyes
John Y
Many thanks for that info. I've checked out all entries and found this to be a most interesting discussion!
29th January 2004Julian Whybra
A final word from me I think lest this become a marathon. No facts aren't everything. Yes, interpretation is valid historically. No-one is denying this. But, distortion of the facts and invention of events has nothing to do with history. It has much to do with fraud. With Jackson and Morris we are not talking about two writers who have interpreted the facts and events differently. We are talking about one writer who has used and quoted evidence to support his version of a series of events and one who has (without evidence or justification) has simply provided a narrative. This isn't just about lack of historical analysis or ability - that is what i meant when I talked about truth being the greater. This all has shades of Gilligan!
29th January 2004l.j.knight
is it very cold in your black and white world, only the facts and nothing but the facts,mmm , hands up all those who were drawn to the A.Z.W. initially because of Donald Morris, and on a slightly cheeky assumption."is it a fact that the longer people study these events the grumpier they become"?.lol..regards
30th January 2004Julian whybra
No it's very warm here thanks but if I want to read fiction I can reach for TH White's Farewell Victoria, based of course on a survivor's account but embellished such that the account becomes more interesting and more exciting than reality. If I'm really lazy I can put on Zulu Dawn and make-believe that Durnford was really a Burt Lancaster lookalike.
It just depends on how easily one's imagination is satisfied.
30th January 2004l.j.knight
30th January 2004David Gardner
I've been seraching for the books you mention.Have now ordered Hill Of The Sphinx, but there were 2 books by Robinson and Gallagher-Africa+THe Victorian-The Official Mind Of Imperialism, and Africa+The Victorian-The Climax Of Imperialism-can u please saywhich should I get on Isandhlwhana?
1st February 2004Julian whybra
Neither relate to Isandhlwana. They are concerned with British colonialism in general and are the standard riposte to the Marxist-Leninist view of imperialism. The standard of research is superb and both have become classics if you read modern British history. They are also very readable, not dry-as-dust history. I'd suggest you get the former from the library to begin with though you can pick up second-hand papermacs in 2nd hand bookshops - there's one in Maldon, essex, now!
2nd February 2004David Gardner
Thanks Julian
2nd February 2004Simon Copley
Hear hear IJ. Julian can't have the last word just because he says he can have the last word. What if Donald Morris had said THAT at the end of TWOTS? We'd never have had this web-site and all those ZW historians would be stacking shelves ar ASDA.
2nd February 2004l.j.knight
3rd February 2004Julian Whybra
I wrote that I would give my final word on this subject lest it become a marathon. I did not write that I wanted THE final word. Please don't impugh my reputation by implying to others a turn of phrase which was not part of my original remark. The twisting of words is best left to popular historians and politicians.
4th February 2004Julian Whybra
Sorry, h is too close to n on the keyboard.
4th February 2004Simon Copley
Ok Julian - my apologies. I see now what you meant. Written words don't catch the entire meaning. Now there's a thought.........!!! I do enjoy this web-site. Keep the entries coming everyone!
4th February 2004LJ.Knight
sorry Julian,certainly no offence intended from this "other" really enjoy your remarks and informed comment..regards
5th February 2004Julian whybra
No offence taken, and none given, I hope, the feeling re the website is mutual. Thanks for the compliment.
7th February 2004Peter Ewart

I think the statements attributed above to the late Donald Morris are probably faithfully reported as most of what you quote also appeared in his 2001 interview with Ian Knight, although not necessarily in exactly the same words. It includes the story of the figurines and the divorces!

He is well known for not having budged an inch on the "ammunition supply difficulty" and as late as 2001 was "not aware" of any important findings which differed with his own. Interestingly, he says he obtained access to the British Library (he refers to the "London Library") through knowing M.M. Kaye, whose death I noticed was reported last week.

He acted as a UN observer at the first democratic RSA elections in 1994 - and found himself monitoring the poll station housed in the Isandlwana school!


8th February 2004Steven Sass

Thank you for the follow up. Regarding the 2001 interview with Ian Knight, can you tell me where it was published. If I recall correctly Ian made some reference to it in "SOTQ" shortly after the death of Donald Morris, but I don't recall seeing the interview itself.

Thank you again,

8th February 2004Peter Ewart

It was published in the June 2001 issue of the Anglo-Zulu War Historical Society journal.

8th February 2004Peter Ewart
P.S. I'd gladly email it to you but my scanner's "up the spout." I'd be very happy to post a copy by airmail if you were interested, unless anyone else beats me to it with an email.

9th February 2004Steven Sass

I'd be greatly appreciative. That issue happens to be the one immediately before my first. I'll contact you off the forum with postal details.

Thank you,

Steven Sass