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15th April 2004Anyone heard of the Kennedys?
By Sheldon Hall
Reading through John Prebble's personal files, which includes correspondence from people writing in response to the original release of ZULU, I came across a letter from a Mr John R. Milford, who claims to have had two relatives who were among the defenders at Rorke's Drift. Both were civilians and do not appear on any of the rolls or in any of the histories that I've read. Milford also has some pretty extraordinary claims about his family's relationship to King Cetshwayo. These are the relevant passages (the letter is dated 17 Feb. 1964):

"At the time [of the War] my maternal grandparents, Mr and Mrs Andrew Brown Kennedy, had a sugar plantation at Seacow Lake, near the mouth of the Umgeni River, north of Durban, and there is a strong family tradition that they 'sheltered the fugitives from Rorke's Drift'. [Milford may mean Isandlwana.]

"My cousin also tells me that two of her (and my) uncles were present at Rorke's Drift as civilian helpers, namely George Brown Kennedy and Charles Kennedy, who would have been 19 and 17 1/2 at the time; the latter, aged 76, rode 50 miles on horseback to meet my mother when she went out to Natal and Basutoland in 1936.

"My grandparents were noted for treating the 'Caffres' very well, my grandmother in particular giving them much medical treatment, the medicine having always to be unpleasant to be considered effective. Cetewayo, the Zulu chieftain, was reputed to be a great friend of the family, and, as he lay dying, ordered his food bowl and other relics to be sent to 'Missie Mary', my Aunt Mary, a splendid old lady who died only seven years ago at the age of 94.

"Many of these relics used to be kept here [Chedworth, Cheltenham, Glos.], but some years ago Aunt Mary asked to have them, and apparently gave them to a museum in Oxford, with the exception of Cetewayo's food bowl, which has now been handed over to me by my cousin Florence, 'Missie Mary's' daughter. It is about 6" high, on its four stumpy legs, and about 6" diameter, but the opening only 4 1/2", while there is a handle, of flattened "U" shape, also about 6" long, and the whole thing is carved of some hard, dark wood.

"In a book by my great-aunt, Eliza Whigham Feilden, who spent five years (1852/7) in Natal, 'My African Home', there is much about her young brother Andrew, my grandfather, coming out to Natal, buying his farm and getting married, as well as many interesting details about 'the Caffres'."

Can anyone shed any light on any of these claims or personalities? Prebble's reply mentions that Chard's nominal roll lists only one civilian, a ferryman, who I believe is now known to be a Mr Daniells. Does anyone know anything about the food bowl or the other relics supposedly donated to a museum? Is this information a significant find, or does it just add to the mythology?
15th April 2004Peter Ewart

With the exception of the doubtful likelihood of these two Kennedy boys being present at the defence of Rorke's Drift (which I'll leave to those who've spent their lives researching and correcting the roll to pronounce upon) there seems to be little in the letter you quote which appears open to obvious doubt.

One might suspect that if the two farming sons were involved in any active AZW service, it would have been more likely in the ranks of the Durham Mounted Rifles, Stanger MR or Victoria MR than in any unit involved at Rorke's Drift or Isandlwana, many miles from their patch.

I don't have a complete roll of these but have perused the various lists which appeared from time to time in the Natal press of 1879 without seeing the surname in the DMR, although more than a cursory glance might produce results.

The sheltering of the fugitives strikes true in a different context, one easily garbled by the passing of time. The panic which ensued after Isandlwana was just as strong in the coastal communities, especially those between Durban and the Zulu border. A general flight of all white civilians and many natives southwards meant that every square foot of space in places like Stanger was occupied within hours, and every bit of accommodation - such as the Kennedys' farm north of Durban, for instance - was inundated. These "coastal" fugitives included many Scandinavian missionaries and their large families who had already fled Zululand in 1878 but had, up until then, camped only four or five miles inside Natal.

The discrepancy/confusion over Rorke's Drift for the general panic after Isandlwana is not uncommon; one missionary's child, caught up in flight on the coastal route, recalled 30 years later the "British defeat at Inyezane" (a place she knew well but now confused with the action at Isandlwana on the same day).

The medical treatment also rings true. Medical missionaries found very early on that the Zulu, if accepting western medicine, insisted on its tasting vile - the worse the taste, the better it would cure him! If the medicine didn't taste nasty enough, missionaries or doctors added something horrible to convince the patient of the efficacy of the cure!

With regard to Cetshwayo's personal effects, I suppose it all depends on which whites can be proved to have known him or been in his company shortly before his death, which is fairly widely chronicled although still laced with mystery. The belief that he was poisoned does make his foodbowl a rather appropriate item to concoct a story around, however!

The book quoted in the letter is, coincidentally, one I've been considering buying recently. I think it was republished in a limited edition about 30 years ago & the first edition goes for up to about £100.

As usual it comes down probably to the gradual corrupting or garbling of a family tale down the generations, quite innocently - at least with the location of Rorke's Drift & the royal foodbowl, etc. The family background seems perfectly authentic and, if descendants remain in KZN, should be fairly easily traceable I'd think. Someone with some complete colonial rolls or with current Durban connections may be able to help?

15th April 2004Peter Ewart
In para 2, for Durham read Durban!

16th April 2004James Garland
There have been numerous claims made by families related to Zulu War participants that their relatives served at Rorke's Drift. They are then dissappointed to find they're not on the roll of defenders. I think this is because we always assume they mean that they served there during the battle. Thousands of troops in the Zulu War can rightly claim to have been at Rorke's Drift., but only a handful can rightly claim to have served there during the battle. I imagine that as soon as descendants learn that their ancestor served at Rorke's Drift they assume it was during the battle.
16th April 2004Edward Garcia

I just checked my copy of Goetzsche’s “Rough but Ready: The Official Natal Mounted Rifles History and it lists a Trooper Kennedy mustering with the Durban Mounted Rifles in November of 1878. No other information is given but this could be one of your men.
16th April 2004Peter Ewart
And a Trooper Kennedy (presumably the same one?) appears among those who attended the public luncheon in honour of the Durban Mounted Rifles, as reported in one of the Natal papers on 11 August 1879 (Lock & Quantrill, "The Red Book").

Without an initial one can't get any nearer from this source alone and the 1964 letter did, of course, infer civilian status for the two men.