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DateOriginal Topic
14th March 2004The 7-Pounders at Isandlwana
By David Alan Gardner
Does anyone know how many rounds were fired?-I assume since Curling survived, there must be an answer.
Were they really so ineffective, or was it just sheer force of numbers on the day??
The fact that they were muzzle loaders must have reduced the rate of fire.

I suppose the accounts of the Zulus watching the gunners and diving as they fired increased their survival too?
15th March 2004Mike McCabe
Well, kicking off. They combined fairly low muzzle velocity with (by today's standards) very poor fragmentation of the shell. So, the lethality of these fairly small projectiles was very low. Also, they were effectively being used in the direct fire role - that is, you fired at what you could see from the gun position itself, and had very limited range. Even two guns, at Isandlwana, being used in support of each other would not have enabled much concentration of fire, and there are indications of fire having to be split fairly early, in an attempt to provide some support to Durnford's left flank - or to try to impose casulaties on any Zulus moving towards Pope. The number of rounds is difficult to pin down. Curling is not especially detailed on the subject, and there are various reports from those with Reynolds who heard firing whilst on top of the Oskarberg. The reports of the guns being heard many miles away, by Wood/Buller, are interesting in themselves - suggesting that their may have been an 'inversion' in the cloud pattern, enabling sound to travel so far. That, and the local shape of the ground, might also have generated an 'echo' effect giving the observers on the Oskarberg the impression that more rounds were being fired than was truly the case. There is also the interesting issue of what the proportions of ammunition natures in the gun limbers might have been, by which I mean the proportion of common shell/shrapnel versus that of case shot. Intriguingly, by the time the Zulus were sufficiently close enough for case shot to be fired effectively, they were probably too close and advancing too rapidly for many shots to be fired in succession before the guns had to be taken out of action. It's also interesting to ponder over what targets the guns might best have engaged at any stage of the battle. And, fuse setting of the shells for the right range was a problem in itself, requiring cool judgement of distance and exactly the right combination of holes to be pricked in a wooden cone. Being well forward of the battery wagon lines, the tendency would have been to conserve ammunition in the limbers. Unlike larger guns later, for example at Colenso, the wagons were not double limbers, and (one assumes) the reserves of ammunition would have been in closed boxes. It may have been the heavy weight of unfired ammunition that caused difficulty in getting the guns away. The guns without the ammunition load are actually surprisingly light, as can be seen from a pristine example of one in the South African Military History museum. And finally, the rate of loading would have been fairly brisk, even as a muzzle loader - projectile being light, the barrel short, and swabbing out/quenching would have been quick and reliable for the first few rounds.

15th March 2004David Alan Gardner
Hi Mike
What a very detailed answer, very interesting-I had no idea of those reports at a great distance.
When you start talking in terms of "lethality", I know you know what you're talking about!
Just one small point-as I am partially trained in the weather as part of my job, when you speak of an inveraion, we are talking of the temperature instead of falling off with altitude, it actually begins to increase.This would help create a reflective surface off which sound waves could reflect-but it doen't actually invlove cumulus type cloud-in fact with inversions there isn't any cloud, but it is seen as a sort of stratus, flat haze in the sky-now I've no idea what the weather was on the day, although I've seen reports that it was sunny with a light breeze-maybe I'll start a seperate thread on this to get some answers.

I can well imagine the auditorium effect of battlefield with the hill itself reflecting much of the noise, and with the valley running east, it must have been quite easy for Chelmsford to have heard the guns.What is puzzling of course is the Inspector Mansel report of hearing the guns long after they must have been out of action

Finally, I wonder if they had been 9 pounders, whether it would have made much difference?

It was interesting to see how the fuse was set in the shells, and that the guns could manage a high rate of fire was still possible
15th March 2004Peter Ewart

With regard to the fire from the 7-pounders being heard many miles to the north by Wood's column, I had understood that this was not from the guns fired during the battle at around lunchtime but from those fired by Harness onto the wagon park at the nek at dusk on the return of Chelmsford to the mountain.

As sound tends to travel further at night (or simply appears to do so) this might explain the great distance over which the noise was apparently heard.

In passing, if anyone knows the original source for this claim, I'd be interested. Morris doesn't provide a footnote, of course; Ron Lock (... Painted Mountain) provides a chapter end-note but doesn't reveal the source; Ian Knight doesn't mention it in "The Sun Turned Black", nor Jackson that I can see and Noggs describes it but obviously wouldn't know of its reception far to the north. (He gives four rounds followed by a later burst, incidentally). Coupland clearly says Wood's party heard the noise while sitting round the camp fire - which he estimates at 20 miles away (further, surely?)

But where did Coupland get it from? Wood's memoirs, perhaps? Will any one of you who has the old midshipman's memories please throw some light on this? Thanks.

15th March 2004John Young

Page 351 of the bumper 1907 edition of 'From Midshipman to Field Marshal'.

'We heard the guns (1) fired at Isandwhlana, 50 miles off, that evening as we sat round a camp fire. ...'

'1 These were fired by Lord Chelmsford's troops returning from Sirayo's district to the wrecked camp. Our Senior officers asked my opinion, what was the probable cause, and I said guns fired after dark indicated, I apprehended, an unfavourable situation.'

(Original spellings used throughout, JY)
15th March 2004Keith Smith

This is a pretty interesting thread. According to Penn Symons, the guns fired forty rounds each, the last two rounds being case. I presume that he was given this information by Lt. Curling or one of the surviving RA men.

Given that they first engaged the Zulu at 3400 yards and only stopped when the British line broke, the time to fire those rounds would tell us roughly the times of those two events. Anyone care to hazard a guess for firing forty rounds from a muzzle loader? Two minutes per round?

15th March 2004Peter Ewart
Thanks, John. Thought it would be! A tome I've yet to lash out on.

16th March 2004David Alan Gardner
Thanks for those figures Keith
19th March 2004Tony Livesey
I was very interested in that last piece of info. you gave because I read somewhere that James A Brickhill interpreter for the Centre Column stated that he thought the artillery fired about 25 shots during the battle. Now I`m no expert but I thought that estimate to be a poor rate of fire for 2 guns in approx. 2~ 2 1/2 hrs of fighting.
By the way who was Penn Symons?
20th March 2004Tony Livesey
I`ve tried to answer my own question here and the only info. I can find is a brief mention of a Captain Penn Symonds (sic) in D.R. Morris` T.W.O.T.S. There is no mention of which regiment he was in. Was it the 24th? Can anyone help?
20th March 2004John Young

Captain William Penn Symons, commander of 'D' Company, 2nd Battalion, 24th (2nd Warwickshire) Regiment. Symons was out with Chelmsford on 22nd January, 1879. He left an account of the campaign.

He was mortally wounded in the first major engagement of the 2nd Anglo-Boer War at Talana Hill, Natal.

John Y.
20th March 2004Keith Smith

Your'e right, Brickhill did say that, in his version given in Alan F. Hattersley, (ed.), 'The Later Annals of Natal'. Frankly, it is always difficult to determine who was right in these cases but I think I would go with Penn Symons here; he almost certainly got his info. from Curling.
21st March 2004Peter Ewart

The demise of Penn Symons was marked by one of the more unusual epitaphs of military (or even nautical!) history, albeit only fleetingly.

About the 28th October 1899, the "Australasian", a day or so out of Cape Town & heading north, passed the "Dunottar Castle", fifteen days
out of Southampton. On the latter vessel were Buller and his entire Staff, who deemed it unseemly to request any alteration in speed or direction of their ship in order to ascertain the latest news on whether the war had yet started, despite having been cut off from the world for a fortnight.

The pressure from the newspaper reporters on board, however, led to an exchange of signals and the two ships passed more closely. Through his field glasses, Buller saw the blackboard hung over the side of the "Australasian", bearing the scribbled message:




I always think of this blackboard when Talana & Penn Symons are mentioned, but also recall the frustration of once visiting the church in Dundee without realising until later that I'd missed the chance of visiting his grave. (No KLH then!)

Not a bad cricketer, either.

21st March 2004Tony Livesey
Thanks to you all for your replies.
By the way Peter, was Penn Symons a batter or a bowler?
21st March 2004Peter Ewart

All things considered, more of a batsman than a bowler I should think.

When three officers of the 2/24 turned out for the garrison itself during their Dover posting in 1876 against a civilian side, he went in 3rd wicket down and top-scored with 33. "Gonny" Bromhead, also a keen practitioner of our national game, opened the batting but didn't trouble the scorer overmuch with his contribution of 4; Charlie Pope, at No 10, was left high and dry without scoring when his partner, a bombardier, was clean bowled for a duck.

WPS took no wickets (may not have bowled) but did snaffle an opponent off Bromhead's bowling, the latter picking up two wickets. I only have one full scorecard showing Penn Symons playing and that's not exactly a large sample(!) but on this day, at least, he was used as a batsman rather than as a bowler.

One wonders if their opponents remembered Bromhead, Penn Symons and Pope when the news from S Africa filtered in two and a half years later. It is remarkable to note that each of the three, although in the same battalion, were to find themselves in differing roles in the three separate theatres that day.

21st March 2004Tony Livesey
Apologies to everyone if this thread has gone a little off line but that must have been some cricket match! Imagine having Gonville Bromhead as your opening bat. A sort of early Geoff Boycott, same initials as well!

21st March 2004Peter Ewart

Yes, slightly off-thread by now (like most threads at this stage) but, in discussing the off-duty activities of such an important AZW figure as Penn Symons (let alone Bromhead & Pope) still definitely on-topic.

Of the two GBs you refer to, "Sir G" might well be the one I'd want to bat for me to save my life, but I know which one I'd choose to watch my back in a tight spot - and it definitely wouldn't be the Tyke!!!