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
1st February 2004Isandlwana cairn markers - opinions ?
By sally
A recent guest to the Isandlwana battlefield would like to donate money to create something rather more suitable to the lump of yellow and black concrete on which is inscribed 'Captain Young Husband's last stand' on the southern shoulder of Isandlwana mountain.

A suggestion was to get a stone mason to inscribe the exact same wording currently on that slab, onto the large rock 20 yards to the west of that concrete slab - nothing more or less.

Before approaching AMAFA or the RRW on this subject, I thought it important to get other people's views.

I anticipate that some people may respond with the answer that this would set a precident and similar plaques should be positioned for Durnford and Anstey etc.
I would agree.
But one has to start somewhere.

The real question is whether the concept is approved or not.

Would be grateful for your comments.
1st February 2004Peter Ewart

I can only speak for myself but I am horrified by any such suggestion. Quite apart from the fact that so much about Younghusband's last stand remains shrouded in uncertainty - which is why so many myths have sprung up - I'm rather disappointed to learn that something purports to mark the spot already.

As you quite rightly say, Sally, this may well lead to suggestions that other significant spots on the battlefield site are marked. I think that is virtually certain, as witness the Western Front during the last 20 years.

In the case of Isandlwana, I'd say there was quite a sufficient number of memorials already - far too many, in fact. It is probably too late to do anything about the Colonial and 24th memorials, and I suppose they have a historical aspect to themselves now, and it is also true that the battlefield site is vast and some of the memorials are mere pinpricks on the landscape. But any increase in the number of markers there already would be unwelcome, in my opinion.

It is clear that for some years yet the number of visitors will continue to increase, and somehow this will have to be dealt with sympathically as far as the landscape is concerned. But look at the worn pathway(s) up onto the shoulder from the south or SE already, which will only get worse, reminding one of Catbells or any other well-used track in, say, the Lake District. I think huge efforts will be necessary in the future to protect the site from this sort of increasing litter (because that, after all, is what it is) as well as fitting in sensitively with the inevitable needs of the local Isandlwana community.

We can't have it all ways. First and foremost will come the needs of the local community, and one must hope that Amafa and the need for the future tourist trade can be handled successfully without endangering the site too much. It is not, of course, for residents in Britain to dictate what should happen, although they would presumably prefer the site to be altered as little as possible commensurate with necessary local development. Once bits and pieces are added here and there, where will it stop?

Personally (although I know many would disagree with me) I'm almost of the view that all the memorials should be removed - or perhaps leaving one from each side (but which?) - and allowing the remaining St Vincent building(s) to serve this pupose, as originally intended. This would include doing away with all the cairns, painted or otherwise, which no longer serve any useful purpose, it having been established that any link between them and the last resting places of participants in the batle is tenuous to say the least.

What a shame it was not decided many years ago that, besides St Vincent's and the cross set up in 1879, the only real memorial required - and by far the best - is the perfectly appropriate brooding outcrop, known as Isandlwana, and for many years afterwards referred to by locals as the "Lion Rock."

What is preferred? A battlefield site which continues to move all visitors, or something resembling a theme park?

1st February 2004James Garland
I have never visited the battlefield of Isandhlwana but I am told that it is a haunting place. My personal view is that the memorials erected by the Victorian soldiers i.e. the cairns should stay. A Christian burial was very important to many Victorians and if marking the graves gave them some comfort it is okay with me.
I'm not so sure we should be adding further memorials on the battlefield now. Why not erect memorials just off the site.
If I had the spare cash I would rather donate it to local good causes. If the local Zulus benefit through tourism from the presence of the battlefield then they will continue to respect the site as they generally have over the past century or so.
2nd February 2004Alan Critchley
Any additional memorials would not be appropriate. The cairns should definitely stay as they are, whether they mark any spot or not, they are contemporary poignant reminders.
If anything remotely useful were to be done I think it could be to make repairs to St. Vincents church with at most a discrete plaque insite the church. This would at least be useful.
Since starting this site, I've become more and more aware of the commercialisation of the events and the need for people to feel that they are a part of it by perhaps leaving some legacy of their own.
We all want to go to view the site as it was but must settle for as it is. Every visitor is already changing it, albeit minutely. We have to stop now.

2nd February 2004Neil Aspinshaw
I assume by your e-mail that you have not actually been to Isandlwana.
Apart from the last if not overdue memorial to the zulu's who fought there,The site has few modern additions. Here and there the site has a couple of fixed orientation points but thats all. Talking to David Rattray he is against any new memorials, but replacing rather 1970's concrete "blocks" with something lest jarring to the eye might actually do some good. The plaque adjacent to Younghusbands reported last position, (the huge cairn) is unsympathetic and could do with taking away. The "P.M. old boys" memorial is a little to modern for my own liking, but this is South African land, and who are we to decide?.
I spent a whole day wandering about the field on the 22nd Jan, we climbed to the top of Isandlwana, I can assure visitors to this site that the Battlefield is as mystical as it ever has been, Ok the car park could do with being re-sited as it sits in the centre of the saddle, but thats about all. If visitors stop going to the site it would dissapear forever at a far more alarming rate.
Recent tidying up of the cairns has suceeded in its purpose, Water errosion washed away quite as few cairns, however the site authorities have built abbutments to try an offset this further. Bear this in mind, the cairns are not there for decoration, they are mens graves, and whilst these men will always remain unknown, they do deserve a marker to their resting place, we owe it to them to upkeep them. I found several bones in a washed out watercourse, is that what they deserve? to wash away in the rain?.
I disagree with your claim that the site is resembling a theme park. The silence and solitude is still something to experience, even when there are plenty of visitors about. On the 22nd jan at 12.25pm a bugler sounded the last post,, it echoed out across the plain. ... no other sound could be heard. If the trample of feet upon the ground is all that there is to worry about, I dread to think what trail bike or buggies could do.

The majority of the re-enactments take place away from the main focus of the last stands, us europeans may see that the brightly coloured tents and portable toilets are a bit cheesy, but this was the zulus victory, and if they chose to celebrate this, there own special day in the way that they feel , on land that they fought for, then let them fill their boots.
In respect to litter, I did not see much at all, take a walk across you local park, then you will see litter!!. In a society that has so very little ,the local populance have a respect to the site that we can only aspire to.
Isandlwana is not unique, Spion Kop has many, many similarities. That being that the obelisks are there to remember comrades, not to create another ornemental garden.

We took alot of good digital images, especially from the top of Isandlwana and The oskerberg, if you want to make your own mind up, e-mail me and I will forward some to you.


3rd February 2004Peter Ewart

Yes, I've stood where you describe the concrete marker but must have missed it or have forgotten it. I've wandered around the whole site, including the heights, the Ngwebeni, the plain, Durnford's donga, conical koppie, the "trail" etc., and have to agree with everyone that is is the most awe-inspiring landscape, especially because everything matches to the tinest detail what one has seen already studied in maps and photos, both old and new. And all the more so if one has pored over these things for 36 years before seeing it all for the first time. One doesn't easily forget returning from Mangeni across the plain at dusk with the sun setting behind the dark silhouette of Isandlwana, which, from so far out to the SE, resembles the lion or sphinx more perfectly than from any other angle, and from which direction the beautiful curves of the spur and the saddle link Isandlwana to the Nqutu and the Stony Koppie. This is where one can put oneself into the shoes of Chelmsford or the 24th, even if in a 4WD instead of after a sweltering day of marching and fruitless skirmishing!

I digress! I think all or most of the memorials are in the fenced-off area (although can't remember if the PMB school one is) which is large enough to accomodate them all. Incidentally, isn't the above of marble or alabaster, giving it the pristine or modern appearance you mention? (Or perhaps that's th adjacent one, I don't have any pics with me. When I visited, the 24th memorial was scruffy, in need of maintenance and perhaps constructed of the wrong material? Although it is, of course, in a very exposed position and is nearly a century old.

Obviously the memorial and cairns are there for good - my own purely personal feeling is that they don't necessarily enhance the site and I do think the addition of more memorials, however discreet, will lead to applications for more and more. I can also see that a more discreet and aesthetically appropriate marker for Younghusband's stand, as mooted by Sally, would probably be an improvement, but would prefer removal altogether as the potential for additional markers for significant points in the battle is limitless and is likely to be stimulated by such a move. These are what I menat when I referred to litter.

Yes, the cairns were originally grave markers of a sort, but have been altered and re-constructed so many times as to be almost meaningless. Bones which have been found in or near them during excavations and repairs have proved to be - or have included - animal bones. I suspect that any structural improvements will prove to be temporary, in view of the effect of nature on the site in the past.

I agree about the car park. This was one of the two disappointments for me at the site. The saddle can hardly be the right place even thiough the saddle is huge, but perhaps other alternatives have been considered and found unsuitable. The other shock was the worn track up the southern slope to the shoulder - even though I then used it myself! This will become more marked as years pass - should access be limited to the occasional, perhaps?

My reference to a theme park appearance was not of the present, but my fears for the future. I agree with you, as I said before, it is all a matter for the local authorities, and it is reassuring that there is legal protection of the site nowadays. This obviously means that the village won't encroach further in that direction, I suppose - there was nothing there before Charles Johnson built his little hut in Dec 79/Jan 1880, but look what he started! I think the nearest imizi/kraal was the one on the SE margins of the battlefield which received the attention of the RA.

I also strongly agree with Alan that any future memorials or even donations might best be directed at the St Vincent building(s) and community. I am making a detailed study of the first 50 years or so of this collection of buildings, it uses and its community and it is an amazing story.

I don't have him to hand at the moment but I think MItford encapsulated what I really feel about the crag itself being not only the best but also the only necessary memorial to all who fell on both sides that day.

5th February 2004neil Aspinshaw
I could be wrong but I the ther PMB old boys memorial is about 1979?, block built and is totally out of context.
I wonder if anyone has actually taken a detail study of the cairns. I believe there were 293 originally, one wonders how many there are now, certainly alot of those on the fugitives trail have become lost in time and by erosion.

The bones we found did look human "that chalk white relic of mortality", however I understand the burial parties simply bundled up bones of all horses, men etc and buried them. Interestingly one of the cairns on the Manzimyama bank (Ansteys position) has been waterwashed and bones are clearly visible throught the cairn. We did not dwell as the aggesive ants the size of cats were craw line all over us!.
As time goes on, and our understanding of the events of the 22nd Jan are debated, I suppose the reality is, that the battlefield is vast, We explored the northern side of Isandlwana, we had difficulty in locating shepstones grave in the bush, perhaps the guides would take thier responsibiliites in finding other ways/ tracks to achieve a good vantage point rather than the established trails. That is causing the short term problem of scarring the saddle and Nek.


5th February 2004John Young

Following your comment above from the 3rd February - I've just been typing up a piece which I found, written in 1893 by a combatant of the campaign. Your words appear to echo his.
'... A few hundred yards to the right front of the field there rises a most remarkable pyramid of rubble stones. It stands on the plain detached, and looks more like manís work than natureís, did not its height contest this assertion. Its name, the Lich-Kop, will to many act as a talisman, and bring to mind those friends who sleep at its base. The Rock and the Kop will ever remain natureís monuments to the brave fellows who there met a soldierís death. ...'

John Y.
5th February 2004Peter Ewart

You're right, the PMB High School monument does look reasonably modern. Just dug out my photos and I see it is a bulky (not quite Maltese) cross surmounted on an obelisk, the lettering superior (not just newer) than most other AZW memorials. Interesting school badge - a rifle crossed with something else and a motto I can't quite read. Not an unattractive memorial in itself, though.

Yes, I'm sure at least one modern survey/ inventory of the cairns has been accomplished and a report published by the relevant authorities. I think I have a copy somewhere & I'll dig it out when I get a moment, unless someone else wants to!


Now that's interesting. I have come across that myself somewhere, because I recognise the expression lich-kop, which simply didn't make sense to me. I am fairly sure that we have a mis-transcription here of someone's handwriting. Surely the "c" has been mistaken for an "o" and the "h" for an "n", both understandable errors, and that we have lion-kop? Although we are all familiar with the regimental similarity to the sphinx, it is more readily associated with the "lion couchant" and was certainly referred to as the Lion Rock by many (whites) who lived locally from the 1880s onwards. What is the source you are typing up? I know I've read it & thought it a mis-transcription at the time.

How about this? Mitford, p43/44. Refers to Shepstone's grave, mentioned by Neil above, and to Mitford's obervations on his perambulations of (I think Feb) 1882:

"A few tombstones have been erected, mostly just below the neck, rather as memorials than as marking actual graves; for, by the time the first burying parties visited the place, the bodies, with very few exceptions, were past recognition. One of these exceptions was Capt George Shepstone, of the Natal Native Horse, whose grave is on the slope beneath the western precipice - a pretty sculptured cross enclosed by a low stone wall. A grass fire had blackened and laid bare the whole slope, but the flames had left untouched the grass inside the enclosure, which stood out, a green spot, with its white cross in the centre, against the surrounding blackness.

But one monument is shared alike by all. Towering above the sad and fatal field, the lion-shaped Isandhlwana rears its rugged crest to the sky; and, looking on that stern defiant frontlet keeping its silent watch for ever over our fallen countrymen, I could not but realise how grand a monumental stone Nature had provided, as though to shame the puny efforts of Art."

Well, was he right or was he right?


P.S. There then follows his 17-line verse about the "monument" which he had published in the Natal Mercury on 22nd Jan 1882. Not at all bad - should really be read while standing on the field itself.
6th February 2004sally
Thanks chaps for your welcome comments, which have been passed on to the visitor who was interested, together with some other suggestions which may intreest him and which may benefit the local community.

Just to update some of the things which visitors have contributed to recently - painting the local church and school, books for the school, and now someone is organising astro turf to be shipped from the UK to be laid so that the local soccer team have a suitable ground on which to play ! Visitors have and still do take a great interest in the local communities, which is wonderful.
6th February 2004Peter Ewart

That's very heartening to learn of the kindness of visitors bringing benefits to the local community.

I'm delighted that local soccer will benefit - perhaps that news will compensate a little for Bafana Bafana's sad exit this week, or even spur on the local lads to rectify things themselves in time! Having once seen Shiyane/Rorke's Drift FC perform in stylish new (sponsored?) shirts but on an impossible pitch and with crooked tree branches lashed together for goalposts, I'm sure the assistance will be appreciated. And when you become hosts at last for the 2010 World Cup - well, who knows?

Soccer at Isandlwana has an honourable history, my researches indicating that it was first played there in late 1897, when it was taught for an hour daily by a young Zulu who had learnt the game in England and become an accomplished goal-scoring centre-forward in Sussex and Kent, before returning to his Isandlwana home after a six-year exile. Unfortunately, there were no local clubs to play against and, in any case, I'm not sure how long the games survived him when he left Isandlwana in 1903.

But he was an even better cricketer ...

17th February 2004sally
Fascinating - will try and find out more about the soccer/cricketer.
Will advise when the astro turf is in place.

By the way, one of the other sponsorship ideas is for the half marathon between RD and Isandwana run annually.

Rob Gerrard sponsors a local Zulu who came 4th this year, and he is again being sponsored for the Comrades, in which he won a bronze last year.

So, lots of sports happening, even with little equipment/money of facilities. Goes to show what sheer determination can achieve !
18th February 2004Peter Ewart

Very encouraging (but don't let them lay the astro-turf too near the battlefield!!!)

Shouldn't think there are too many reminders these days of my favourite Zulu soccer/cricketer at Isandlwana, as he's been gone from that district for over a century. He had several children (I'm hoping to trace descendants) but not until a few years later, and that was in other districts of Zululand, by then part of Natal. He had been baptised at St Vincent and was also confirmed there in 1887 at the age of 11, leaving for England in 1891 and returning in 1897 right in the middle of the rinderpest, when he began work as the teacher at the new McKenzie Memorial Training College for boys and young men at Isandlwana.

The Boer occupation of the Nqutu Magistracy in Jan 1900 clipped his wings a bit at Isandlwana (& also of those at St Augustine's) for a few months but he managed to hold on to his treasured photos showing him in English soccer & cricketing teams & perhaps his copies are still somewhere in RSA in the care of his grandchildren - who knows? The church registers and college logbook from his time left Isandlwana long ago & are today deposited in Jo'burg.

He was also the first ever Zulu to pass the (Cambridge) university examination of candidates for Holy Orders although is much less well remembered than his compatriots, the Rev Titus Mtembu & the Rev Philip Mkize, both of whom studied & worked in your district more than a century ago before moving on (Mkize also via England first).

Gregory Ngcobo (that was his name) was ordained up in Lebombo in 1906 before coming back eventually to Zululand. I drive daily past a building which contains a little memorial to him and a mile or so from that is a recreation park where, a few weeks before sailing for South Africa, he once scored a brilliant century against a London side in a match in which he was the finest batsman and bowler on either side.

And this remarkable young man, who grew up within sight of the Nqutu plateau, the Malakata & Hlazakhazi ranges, Isipezi & Silutshane as well as a certain well known outcrop, spent all his teenage school holidays in the Cotswolds!

Truth is stranger than fiction!


P.S. Oh, and he wasn't a bad long jumper and hurdler either, so might have done well in your local events, although at first found English school sports days a bit chilly!
19th February 2004Peter Ewart
Further to the above, to be strictly accurate, Bishop Carter - reporting from Isandlwana in 1897 - also mentioned the regular football there & it is just possible that his report antedates one of Gregory's letters which first described the practices, although the latter did claim "this is my doing."

The Rev WE Smyth, certainly no games player despite being an Old Etonian, and the Rev RB Davies, a rather largish and older man from Nottingham, who both preached and taught at Isandlwana in the 90s, are not likely to have introduced the game, although quite a few other young missionaries came and went for short periods.

Gregory had been born near PMB & it is not at all impossible that he had watched the many Methodist Zulus who played cricket at Edendale in the 1870s. In the same district, but long before he'd been born, the sons of Zulu chiefs (including Cetshwayo's brothers) had been impressing their white teachers with their cricketing prowess at Ekukanyeni/Bishopstowe in the 1850s.