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DateOriginal Topic
18th February 2004Isandhlwana & Rorke's Drift
By Steven Etchells
For those people fortunate enough to have visited Isandhlwana & Rorke's Drift do you get a sense of what happened there, or have they become overdeveloped tourist traps?
18th February 2004John Young

Both the sites are off-of-the beaten track. I'll never forget the moment when I dropped down off of the Biggarsberg, and you can see both Shiyane & Isandlwana in the same line of sight.

Back then there was no Museum at Rorke's Drift, and the exhibition at St. Vincent's was confined to a small room.

For me I got more a sense of presence at Isandlwana, than Rorke's Drift. Each to own, I know - but Isandlwana is haunting, simply that haunting. Some places evoke the past like the battlefield of Gettysburg - Isandlwana is one of those.

John Y.
18th February 2004Steven Etchells

Thanks for your reply. Has Isandlwana changed much since you first went there, has it become more touristy?It is funny how people start out being interested in Rorke's Drift and then become fascinated with Isandlwana. Maybe it is because people can forever speculate on what went wrong for the British.
18th February 2004John Young

It is no theme park. When I first went there in 1991, George Chadwick's "crashed hang-glider", which housed his 3-D terrain map was still on Black's Kopje. As was a building with a Cola advert' on the side, alongside the car park. By 1999, they had both gone. Other things suchas wire fences intrude, as does to my mind the car park, a view shared by others on the site. I suppose some would say the Isandlwana Lodge is the most 'touristy' thing there, but it blends in with its surroundings.

Isandlwana is still a mystery and that's part of the mystique of it.

18th February 2004L.J.Knight
dear steven, is it my imagination or do you use every available opportunity to bash us brits, just asking out of idle curiosity, certainly no offence intended...regards
18th February 2004Keith Smith

Having visited very many battle sites, particularly in the UK, I found Isandlwana the most evocative of all. I have been there six times now and still find it as intriguing as the first time I went there.

The site is very much as it was, with the exception of the car park, but even this does not entirely spoil things. The old road across the nek, where the car park sits, is long gone and the Rorke's Drift road passes over the wider, northern nek instead.

I initially did not like the Lodge being placed where it is, but it blends in with the escarpment very well and is partially hidden by trees. It is really very sympathetic to the area.

19th February 2004Martin Heyes
I too have been to both sites - admittedly over 10 years ago now, so my comments may be a little out of date.
I generally concur with the foregoing. I must say, however, that at the time I visited RD the missionaries had "re-taken" the place. They were decidedly unhappy about having all these military history enthusiasts, or even professional military historians, (I am in the former category), running about the place.
The general feeling was that they would rather NOT have anyone there - especially those with an interest in matters military.
Isandlwana WAS haunting - but I found the large numbers of Zulu kids running around trying to sell "souvenirs" of the battle, e.g. ammunition etc, somewhat off-putting. They were decidedly surly.
19th February 2004Alan Critchley
It ought to be pointed out that there is a fence around the general site of Isandhlwana and a gate through which visitors go. A ticket has to be obtained at the visitor centre near to St. Vincents Church. This stops the locals doing what Martin said happened. The ticket man was called 'Chelmsford'. Locals do use the road leading to the car park but they use it as a through road. Personally, I'd prefer it if the car park were outside these gates, then the locals could possibly have their chance to benefit from visitors. We'd have to do a bit of walking but at least we wouldn't be forced to run with a Matini-Henry.
I personally feel embarassed the times I go there because no matter what, I still think that we are intruding both on the locals, and i can't imagine what they must think of us, and on the memory of the participants of the battle. I don't see how we can reconcile that with furthering our wish to show respect and visit a site of such pathos.
You're right about the lodge. Now that it has weathered, it blends in quite well with the surroundings.
Perhaps technology is the answer. We could wear one of those head thingies and relive a virtual visit there or maybe even take part in the battle. Then we could all stay at home and let the place alone..

19th February 2004Steven Etchells
Dear LJ Knight
No it isn't your imagination.
Are there anymore T.V programmes about the Anglo-Zulu war in the pipeline, isn't it time they did one on the Prince Imperial?
19th February 2004neil Aspinshaw
My camera is still warm from our trip in Jan for the anniversary. This is the second time in two years we have been back, you know the place never seems to loose any of its mystique.
If I may I would like to give you my personal overriding feelings of the places.
Rorkes Drift.
What a lovely place, so well looked after, grass mown, not a spot of litter, the nearby school the sound of children laughing makes the place almost "welcoming", the fluttering union jack, alongside the republic of south africa flag a testiment to the respect. The small visitor centre has a huge zulu lady on the reception who never stops smiling.
We walked to the top of the Oskerberg,what a view!. The simple cemetary and obelisk is the real only visible memorial to the action. A talk (ours was David Rattray) left experts (me?.. or so I thought!) and novice alike, struggling to hold back tears.
But Isandlwana, the mood is totally different, the overiding feeling is a rank inevitability about the place that how badly things went wrong here. The whitewashed cairns give away the battle in few words.
The crag of the mountain takes so many different shapes as you walk around it, from smooth lines at is northern end to an brooding scowl of its summit which looms over you as you walk the fugitives trail. If you get to a pile of cairns, the tip seems to follow you, watching you all the time!, weird!.
Martins comment about the locals trying to sell artefacts now has seemed to dry up, artefacts are few and far between, I did pick up some pottery, C19th biscuit glazed. obviously contempory to the battle. I actually gave it to David Rattray, who has an amazing collection.
I wandered the firing line, my god it seems lonely out there, it is true about the whispering grass at Isandlwana, as you walk about the coarse grass rustles, like someone whispering.
I enclose a small peice I wrote for a local history journal about my experience of 12.30pm 22nd Jan 2004 at Isandlwana, I hope it says enough.
Picture the scene, when we took this photograph it was 12.35 pm on Jan
22nd 2004, we stood atop of Malhabamkhosi (Blacks Koppie), if only you
could wind your mind back, its 12.35pm on Wed 22nd January 1879, groups
of men are making the last stands on this spot, up on the saddle
Younghusband is shouting orders, trying to keep his company together, To
the left of this image Anstey's company is falling back over the Nek,
being joined by a trickle of men who see this as thier last chance to
escape. The dust is just starting to settle... the guns had just
thundered past the groups of men desperately trying to clear an opening.
hundreds of Zulus are racing into the void created by the guns,cutting
the defences in half.
A horseman can be seen galloping toward Astey.. its Teignmouth Melville,
carrying the colours. Is he leaving the field or is he looking for a
rally point? Ansteys group is fighting a classic rear gaurd, in the dust
and confusion he looses sight of Anstey, when he does again catch sight
he see's he is surrounded. Nothing he can do now, but to try and save
some kind of honour.
Its now 22nd Jan 2004, at 12.35pm, the clouds are hanging like a sullen
blanket over the fated field,a bugler is standing on the 24th memorial,
suddenly the echo of voices from excited visitors dies away as a the
bugler lifts the instrument to his mouth, the last post echoes out
across the lonely expanse that is Isandlwana. I am standing with Jonesy
and Dave Woolford, he is RSM to 5 batallion RE. 6ft 5 tall and built
like a brick outhouse! We all have tears tricking down our faces.
People ask me why I am so into the zulu wars, I'll show them this picture
and tell them whathapenned here.... poetry? or Tragedy?.

Finally If anyone is interested I am compiling a CD photo library of the two battlefields, with lover 150 of images i.e from the top of Isandlwana
and Oskerberg, fort Northampton and fugitives trail that just do not appear in books, they will be available soon for a small fee.

19th February 2004Steven Etchells
Thanks for your description of the battlefields.Can you let us know when the CD is available.
20th February 2004Tony Livesey
Just to continue the thread, has anyone on the site visited the battlefields at Hlobane and Kambula? Do the authorities allow access in the same way as they do at Rorke`s Drift and Isandhlwana?
20th February 2004Keith Smith

Khambula is accessible, but not after heavy rain! It is entirely untouched and the remains of the small redoubt can still be seen on the ridge, where the modern marker stands. The tiny cemetery is also nearby.

Hlobane is not very accessible now for the same reasons as 1879. There is really only one way up, past the graves of Campbell and Lloyd, and that is on foot, by pony or 4 W.D. Once on top, the views are magnificent and it too is pretty well untouched, except for some subsidence from the disused coal mines which now honeycomb the mountain. The Devil's Pass is still very daunting, even to walk down on foot.
20th February 2004Melvin Hunt
I visited Devils Pass with John Turner of Babanango Lodge using his 4WD. You should get permission from the Coal Mining Co. to use their track.
If you intend to walk up its an all day job. Don't try it without a guide.
It's mind boggling to stand at the top of the pass and wonder how Buller got down it with horses. If you want any photos please feel free to e mail me.
22nd February 2004Tony Livesey
Keith, Melvin
Thanks for the reply.As you say it must have been a bit hairy for Buller and Co. to say the least.
22nd February 2004Ian
Isandhlawana has got to be the most atmospheric battlefield I have ever been on. Something about the place draws you back time & time again.
Hlobane is quite a walk & the weather can close in fast so it is easy to lose track, we had a local guide with us, we managed to get him down in the end! As we walked onto the Devil's pass there was a loud clap of thunder which really added to the feel of the place! How they managed to force horses over the sangers at the top is beyond me, they must have been in complete panic.
Kambula is an interesting place you can see the layout of the battle by the relief, & can picture how the battle went. You must go & see it! You will not be disapointed.
27th February 2004Tony Livesey
Hi Ian
Thanks for your reply. It was interesting that you mention hearing a loud clap of thunder whilst you were on Devil`s Pass, because didn`t a thunderstorm break over the heads of Buller and Coy. as they ascended the mountain? Must have been very eerie indeed.