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18th April 2004Orders to invade Natal?
By Ed Coan
I've always understood that the Zulus who crossed into Natal to attack Rorke's Drift were disobeying Cetshwayo's orders - and were subsequently ridiculed for this transgression.

However, upon reading Moodie's Zulu War, he quotes a statement made by a deserter from the Zulu Army (made in Feb 1879), in which the deserter states that the Zulu King told his assembled army before it set off to meet the British:

"I am sending you out against the whites, who have invaded Zululand, and driven away our cattle. You are to go out against the column at Rorke's Drift, and drive it back into Natal, and if the state of the river will allow, follow it up through Natal, right up to the Drakensberg."

I've seen this quoted in other books, but seems to fly in the face of the general view.

19th April 2004Tarkis
Wow, never heard of this one.....don't know the answer myself so I await the responses!
19th April 2004jon causier
as i understand it the zulu force at rorkes drift numbered approximately 4000 ! not sure if that would be enough for an expedition into natal
24th April 2004Ed Coan
Must admit I'm surprised by lack of response to this - seems a crucial element in the whole campaign.

Hope someone else picks it up...

25th April 2004John Yung

I've been looking for my copy of Moodie's book before I responded, wishing to read the statement myself, however I can't find it, so I starting searching for something which contradicts it instead.

This is taken from Colenso notes in 'Cetshwayo's Dutchman' -
'About a week after the Battle of Isandhlwana, four native wagon-drivers, who escaped from the slaughter, stated that, just as they had crossed the Buffalo, a Zulu Induna on horseback on the other side 'shouted with a loud voice' to his men who were about to cross into natal, 'Has he said you were to cross? He is not invading! He is only defending the land of the Zulus! Come back!' This Induna, it appears, was Vumandaba, and his men obeyed and did not cross, whereas his colleague, Dabulamanzi, led the force which attacked Rorke's Drift. ...'
(original spellings retained.)

Without seeing the full statement of 'the deserter', might I venture it was a piece of British propaganda.

John Y.
26th April 2004Peter Ewart

I was also slightly surprised by the lack of response, as the quote comes from a long and very well known Zulu account of the battle which, among other accounts, has been relied upon both then and by later historians.

The whole piece apparently appeared in "The Times" of 22nd March 1879 and was quoted (probably in full) by Frances Colenso when she published her "History of the Zulu War & its Origins" in London the following year. (It appears on pp 407-410 and the author writes that the " 'Statement of a Zulu Deserter regarding the Isan'lwana Battle' was taken by Mr Drummond, head-quarters staff.") I'd be surprised if it didn't first appear in the Natal press but I haven't checked the Red Book.

I can't see that Frances comments on the point you've raised but Lt Col Edward Durnford provided the military contribution to the book anyway. This Zulu had fought in the ranks of the Nokenke regiment and had been one of those who continued on to the Buffalo River, returning to the camp in late afternoon. It is one of the more well known and quoted accounts so whether the bit about following up into Natal was quoted faithfully, or was inserted by an interpreter or officer, who knows? But many of the other statements in the same account are regularly used. There may be more on the source in Julian Whybra's "England's Sons" but I've just lent my copy to my 80th/IMI chap.

26th April 2004Julian Whybra
Yes, Peter, the deserter's statement is in there.
Ed, the quotation in Moodie is a translation, a literal one, perhaps, but, perhaps can be interpreted as reading...
"against the column [now] at Rorke's Drift and drive it back into Natal..."
...designating the particular column it was directed at rather than implying that the impi was allowed to cross into Natal.
You are nevertheless crrect in saying that the impi acted against the king's orders as other Zulus did subsequently on various cross-border raids.
26th April 2004Peter Ewart

I can understand your interpretation that the action was to be taken against the column parked, as it then was, on the Zulu side of the crossing at Rorke's Drift, to force it back into Natal - and even to push it back further, presumably to prevent it re-entering.

But right up to the Drakensberg? When he didn't want his army to invade Natal? Unless, of course, he was simply referring to the Biggarsberg - which would be topographically correct & would fit in with their knowledge of the direction from which that column had come.

I rather think this last explanation gets Cetshwayo & everyone else off the hook!

27th April 2004Julian whybra
Well, possibly, but don't you feel that he may have been speaking metaphorically...a la Churchill...'we'll throw them into the sea!'-type language. A bit of poetic licence to rally the troops as it were?
PS Apologies to all those who've e-mailed me recently - I've been experiencing some pc problems which I think are now solved but i may have lost a few e-mails along the route. Please re-send if you haven't had an answer.
27th April 2004Ed Coan
Great to have got this one going.

Julian - understand your point, but the quote specifically quotes Cetshwayo as referring to the state of the river, so he must have intended them to cross. That's the bit I can't work out.

John - is the piece from Cetshwayo's Dutchman the only bit corroborating the 'don't invade' view?

Peter - do you know if the Colenso/Dunford book has ever been reprinted, or is it a question of trying to track down an original copy?

28th April 2004Julian whybra
The re's no modern reprint of Colenso's book. I don't know where you live but there are copies in the British library, CUL, and unbelievably, in Essex County Library (available through library loan).
28th April 2004Peter Ewart
Ed (& Julian!)

Yes, there is now a modern (very recent) reprint of Frances Colenso's above work, which has been produced in the usual facsimile form by Elibron - you can order it from their website.

I am indebted to Keith Smith in Australia for telling me last month about this reprint, which then arrived from the USA just three days after I had "clicked" my order. I also noticed that Elibron had recently reproduced her father's "Ten Weeks in Natal" which I'd badly wanted for donkeys' years but which was very rare and expensive. I now have both books for a fraction of the market prices of the originals and am a very happy bunny!

Yes, I do think we have to be very careful about all the possibilities of mis-translation or mis-interpretation of the meaning during translation, quite apart from any possible "doctoring" of the story - and that goes for all the Zulu accounts which could hardly be checked afterwards and whose dramatic style of recounting any story is/was very well known. Renowned as they obviously were for their ability to memorise details and pass them on orally, there were all sorts of reasons why what they knew - and even what they said - was not necessarily what would appear in published accounts.

Ed's point about the inclusion of the state of the river does make that slightly difficult, but I do suspect vagueness in translation and/or a bit of exaggeration as perfectly possible.

29th April 2004Ed Coan
Peter - thanks; didn't know of Elibron's existence - have now visited their website; a really treasure trove.

I suppose on the general thread of the general topic, I'd still like to pin down more evidence for the 'thou shalt not invade Natal' overall view. Any further thoughts?