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12th May 2004How many Zulus attacked Rorke's Drift on 22/23 Jan 79
By Martin Evevett
Official records suggest that 500 to 600 warriors were sighted at 4.30 pm on 22 Jan. Chard stated 350 Zulu dead after the action which now appears to be an underestimate and was probably nearer 600. There were probably a further 400 Zulu warriors wounded. So total number of attackers could be 4,500 but someone has suggested only 1,500 attackers? Any views or evidence as to a more accurate figure?
12th May 2004Peter Ewart

But surely Dabulamanzi got an induna to compile an official roll, signed and dated it himself and forwarded it to Cetshwayo, so all you need to do is trace the original roll!

Seriously, although most of the earliest reports - official and unofficial - quoted estimates of 3,000, 3,500 and 4,000, the most accurate figures can only come from Zulu sources and/or from a careful breakdown of the Zulu regiments engaged, which I'm sure has been done & published.

In this calculation, allowances have to be made for one or two variables and under-strength regiments and perhaps even the "over-age" element of part of the Zulu force. (For example, did all the old-timers there actually fight?) And because the attacks were mostly piecemeal rather than co-ordinated or massed, and the dispersed raiding forces against outlying Natal farmsteads presumably must be included in the total, as well as the group (how large?) which discouraged or prevented Spalding from returning, there may be a risk of double-counting.

I'm sure there's an account somewhere of an interviewed Zulu being informed that it had been suggested that his force had been about 4,000 and the Zulu (who'd been present at the attack himself) agreeing with the figure, but I can't remember where. I had a notion that it was one of the pair Mitford met on the slopes of Hlobane but I've just checked (Mitford, pp 202-204) & it wasn't that chap after all, although one of those Zulus had been at Rorke's Drift with the Udhloko.

In which case the definitive source must be Jack Hawkins. Doesn't he say "There are 4,000 Zulus about to ..." etc etc., or something?

Or unless there's someone out there who's actually traced the original roll?

12th May 2004Martin Everett
Dear Peter,
I was always brought up to believe, it was 4,000-4,500 warriors. However, someone has questioned this - and quoted 1,500 but in the absence of a roll - this could be the number of extras he saw in the film. Seriously though, it would be nice to have a more informed figure for the number of attackers.
13th May 2004Keith Smith

On a quick search, I found only two sources, both in the 24th, together with Chard:

Hook says that there were 500-600, but that is only in the advance guard when the attack first started. There were almost certainly more behind. Chard uses the same numbers in his report and letter to Queen Victoria.

Hitch was sent on to the roof: "Mr. Bromhead asked me how many there were? I told him that I thought (they) numbered up to four to six thousand."

In his official report, Chard says:" I consider the enemy who attacked us to have numbered about 3,000. We killed about 350." In his letter to the Queen, he said: "I believe the Zulus must have numbered at least 4,000."

I am sure you are both familiar with those statements. I have seen nothing indicating that there only 1,500 Zulu.

13th May 2004Bill Cainan

There are two places to look for a possible answer:

1. Ian Knight's "Nothing Remains But To Fight".
In this book (published in 1993) Ian has taken the figures from Chelmsford's "The Zulu Army" (his pre-invasion information pamphlet) published in November 1878. This gives the following strengths:
uThulwana 1,500 men
iNdlondlo 900 men
iNdluyengwe 1,000 men
uDloko 4,000 men

A total of 7,400 men for the Corps. This is theoretical and may include overestimating (particularly for the uDloko Regiment) and Ian gives a more likely strength of between 5 and 6,000. These are the numbers that crossed the river, but not necessarily the numbers that attacked Rorke's Drift. Ian believes that there is evidence of companies being detached for raiding, and puts the likely figure for the attack at between 3,500 and 4,000. If I remember correctly,someone put forward a theory on this site of one Regiment being detached from the Corps for raiding - perhaps the uDloko (not being properly part of the uNdi Corps ) ? And was it part of this Regiment that Spalding encountered in his attempt to reach Rorke's Drift ?

2. The second reference point is Appendix IV of Jackson's excellent "Hill of the Sphinx" published in 2002. Jackson has drawn on a number of sources to try and establish the strength of the Zulu Regiments at Isandlwana.
Robertson has the uNdi Corps at 10,000, Fynney at 6,400, the uNokhenke desrter at 4,000, and Sihlahla at between 5,600 and 7,000 (depending on whether you take the Company strength at 40 or 50 men). By discounting Robertson (as being too high), the average of the other estimates is 5,850 (using the lower company figure for Sihlahla.
If this is the figure that we assume crossed the river, then by detaching men for raiding (possibly the uDloko at between 1,200 and 1,500 ?) we are back to the Ian's figures for the attack ie 3,500 to 4,000.

Chelmsford reported passing a column of "3 to 4,000" Zulus as he returned from Isandlwana to Rorke's Drift. If we add the known 600 dead to this figure this would give
a strength of 3,600 to 4,600 - again in line with Ian's figures. Presumably the raiding parties would have rejoined the uNdi Corps sometime later in the day, taking the Corps strength back over the 5,000 mark.

However, at Rorke's Drift, there is not the physical space for the Zulus to capitalise on their numbers. Because of the relatively short nature of the north "wall" (the main point for most of the attacks) and the difficulty in approach (the garden, the stone wall, the ledge and the wall of mealie bags, etc), it is unlikely that the Zulus would be able to deploy more than two companies at a time - say 80 to 100 men. The situation would be worse at the west and east ends of the position where it is only posible to deploy a single company to attack each. Only against the south "wall" could the Zulus deploy in any strength and because of the open field of fire here (600 yards), the iNdluyengwe Regiment found to its cost that this was NOT the place to attack !

The attack on Rorke's Drift was in essence a series of Zulu Company attacks, and as each attack was beaten off, a fresh Zulu Company would try in its turn. And this had to be co-ordinated in the dark - good command and control ?

I suppose it all depends on what EXACTLY is meant by the question "How many Zulus were there at Rorke's Drift ?"- how many crossed the river/how many attacked the post/etc/etc.

I would therefore suggest that, apart from the initial attack from the south, at any one time there would not be more than 200 Zulus attacking the position - which is probably why the defence was able to hold out.

And if Jack Hawkins said there were 4,000, he should know, after all he WAS there, wasn't he ? !!!

13th May 2004John Young
The only time I've heard the figure 1,500 suggested was actually as a possible casualty figure for the Zulu force.

I can't remember who the speaker was, but he suggested that if there were 500-600 killed in the action, then at least double that figure would have sustained wounds of some description - giving a total figure of 1,500.

John Y.
13th May 2004Mike McCabe

Intriguing theory.
Anybody know what the Zulu is for: "From the Right, Number!".

Could estimates be based on deductions drawn from Chelmsford's Notes on the Zulu Army, perhaps?

14th May 2004Julian Whybra
Back in 1988 I wrote an article for the SOTQ in which I took each of the contemporary Zulu primary sources for 1879 (ie Zulus who fought in the RD and Isand battles) and compared nos stated as being in ibutho (generally given as a no of amaviyo).
The uThulwane were generally stated as 3000, the Ndhlondhlo as 900, the inDluyengwe as 1000, and the uDhloko as 1500. These figs compare well with Fynney and Knight for example. They give a total of 6,400. Some 500 of the uThulwane fought at Isan not at RD - this gives a max possible total of 5,900 warriors at RD. For reference the article was entitled Contemporary Sources and the Composition of the Main Zulu Impi, Jany 1879 Issue 53 June 1988, pp. 13-16.
14th May 2004Keith Smith
There is evidence that the inDluyengwe became a part of the left horn and took part in the pursuit down to Fugitives' Drift. It seems that some of them crossed the river nearby before going up to Rorke's Drift. It is likely, therefore, that many of that ibutho did not take part in the attack. This would reduce Julian's numbers still further.
14th May 2004Bill Cainan

An interesting point.

Fynney and Chelmsford's pamphlet both have the iNdluyengwe at 1,000 mem. Sihlahla has it at between 1,600 and 2,000 (40 Companies). Yet when they led the first attack at Rorke's Drift at 4.30pm, Chard states that "500 or 600 of the enemy came in sight around the hill.." and "... the main body of the enemy was close behind". The different route taken to RD would explain them arriving in advance of the main body of the uNdi Corps, and the difference in numbers would seem to confirm Keith's point above.

15th May 2004Marc Jung
Could not the Zulus of today tell us how many? They seem to pass down information from their (Uh-oh, not's not get into this!) Great Grand + relatives and such like. Whilst I appreciate even they may have artistic licence which we're all guilty of directly or indirectly, perhaps this has been passed down somewhere?
15th May 2004Julian whybra
I tried to incorpoarte the inDluyengwe's probable reduction in my figure - Sihlahla's being favoured.
Also you can probably reduce the figure by a tenth for failing to attend the 1st fruits ceremnoy, illness, etc. I reckon anout 5,300 would be a good guess.
15th May 2004John Young

I have asked Prince V.A. Shange this question in the past, the figure he was told in the re-telling was 'over four thousand'.

Prince J.M. Zulu, from a different line of descent of Prince Dabulamanzi, also states the figure he was told was 'more than four thousand'.

The only one I haven't asked as yet from the line of Prince Dabulamanzi is Prince T.P. Mhlongo, who I'm hoping will be able to attend the gathering in October.

John Y.
16th May 2004Julian Whybra
John, I have to say that, honest in their opinion though these royal gentlemen may be, they have no special knowledge or insight. Their figures will be based on nothing more than what has been passed down to them which will not have been given in any European sense of numbers but, in all likelihood, in terms of nos of amaviyo. They have no more validity than a figure straight out of Joe Public's head. All one can really do is look at the figures given at the time by Zulus and Britions (with more emphasis on the Zulu versions), do the calculations, and end up with approximates. 'More than 4000...' simply invites the next question...'and less than...?'
16th May 2004Mike McCabe
Zulu Princes (good fellows all) are hardly, a primary source or 'best evidence'.
Bit like asking Mel Gibson how many fought with William Wallace at Falkirk.
Utterly irrrelevant, I agree, but still fun!

16th May 2004John Young
Julian & Mike,

Merely answering Marc's question posed above. Which already mentions 'artistic licence' - but better their recounting of the tale than others with somewhat less knowledge, doing it for mercenary reasons!

John Y.

10th June 2004laura gallo
what does "smack of murder" mean?