posting was to Scotland, in December, 1849, where he served at
Edinburgh Castle and Fort George.
His next would be an overseas posting to Ceylon (Sri Lanka)
in October, 1851. The
monotony of this far-flung outpost of the British Empire proved
too much for the young officer, in an effort to relieve the boredom
he took to gambling.
On 17th February, 1854, he was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant.
That same year he married Frances Catherine Tranchell,
the youngest daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel Trancell, formerly
of the Ceylon Rifles, at Saint Stephen's Church, Trincomalee.
By 1855 in addition to his military duties Durnford would
be appointed as Assistant Commissioner of Roads and Civil Engineer
of Ceylon. Elsewhere in the world the British Army was
engaged in less pacific duties - a bitter war was raging in the
Crimea peninsular. British
had allied itself with the French and Sardinian forces in support
of the Turkish authorities, against Russian imperial expansion.
Durnford yearned to play his part in the campaign and applied for
a transfer to the theatre of operations.
Permission was not granted until November, 1855, however
his departure was delayed by a bout of fever.
Eventually he reached the island of Malta in March, 1856.
On the 31st of March, a peace treaty was concluded between the
warring countries, by the end of April the war was officially
over. There would be no chance of glory for Durnford,
who had to content himself with the position of adjutant to his
father, who commanded the Royal Engineers on Malta.
Whilst he serving in the Malta garrison, Frances Durnford gave
birth to a son, sadly the child died in infancy. Durnford was devastated by the loss. In 1857, that loss was softened by the birth of a daughter, Frances.
Durnford returned to Britain in February, 1858. On the 18th of March, 1858, he was promoted
to the rank of second captain.
He served in Aldershot and at the Corps's Headquarters
at Chatham. Whilst at Chatham he made the acquaintance
of Captain Gharles George Gordon, who had recently returned from
serving on the Turco-Russian Boundary Commission, in the wake
of the Crimean War. Gordon was destined for martyrdom at Khartoum
In 1860, a second child - a daughter would die in infancy. Distort with anger and self-guilt, Durnford
and his wife parted company.
In an effort to apparently lose himself in his work, Durnford
accepted the command of 27th(Field) Company, Royal Engineers,
which was stationed in Gibraltar.
On 5th January, 1864, he was promoted to the rank of first captain.
In August of that year he returned again to Britain.
By now Charles Gordon had achieved an international reputation
at the head of his "Ever-Victorious Army" in China.
Durnford was apparently intent on joining "Chinese"
Gordon, and in the latter part of 1864 he sailed for the Orient.
Wicked fate again intervened with Durnford's plans, he
was taken ill with heat exhaustion and had to be disembarked at
Ceylon. So severe was
the complaint he remained hospitalised for three months. Durnford's biographer, his brother Edward,
alleges that Gordon nursed Anthony back to health.
By January, 1865, he was considered fit enough to travel, and
he was invalided back to Britain, where he spent the next five
years on home postings. During
this time that Durnford's father was promoted to the rank of Major-General,
with effect from 6th March, 1868.
In 1871, Anthony Durnford was ordered to Cape Colony, he arrived
at Cape Town on 23rd January, 1872, and from there he boarded
another ship, Syria, for Port Elizabeth on the eastern
seaboard of the colony. On
disembarking he made for King William's Town.
Whilst serving in Cape Colony, Durnford became a keen observer of
the African people who populated the area, paying particular attention
to their habits and culture. On 5th July, 1872, he was promoted
to the rank of major, following a revision of the ranking structure
within the Corps of the Royal Engineers.
In January, 1873, he was ordered to return to Cape Town, and he
was stationed at the Cape Castle.
In May, 1873, he was posted to Fort Napier, Pietermaritzburg. It was in Pietermaritzburg, that Durnford made
the acquaintance of The Right Reverend John William Colenso, D.D.,
the Bishop of Natal. Colenso
was an indefatigable, if somewhat controversial Christian.
The Zulus knew of him, they called him Sobantu - the father of the people. Durnford and Colenso appear to form a firm
friendship. But the gossips
of day inferred that a closer relationship was formed between
Durnford and the Bishop's daughter, Frances.
In August, 1873, Durnford accompanied Theophilus Shepstone,
the Secretary for Native Affairs, into KwaZulu.
He was present as the senior British officer at the "coronation"
of the new Zulu monarch, King Cetshwayo kaMpande, on 1st September,
Scarcely had Durnford returned KwaZulu when he was ordered to
report to Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Milles, of the 75th (Stirlingshire)
Regiment of Foot, the senior officer at Fort Napier. A potentially dangerous situation was developing in the foothills
of the Drakensberg Mountains.
A local chieftain, Langalibalele, of the amaHlubi, had
refused to register a number of firearms, which his people had
acquired whilst working in the Diamond Fields, to the local magistrate.
The magistrate duly informed the Lieutenant-Governor of
Natal, Sir Benjamin Pine of the matter, and Pine issued a summons
for Langalibalele to report to Pietermaritzburg.
This too went unheeded.
Pine was now left with a military option to bring to heel
this recalcitrant upstart, who had dared to challenge him.
The forces placed at Milles's disposal were:- two companies of
the 75th; some one hundred and fifty European local volunteers
and at least two thousand 'pressed' African levies. Durnford was appointed Chief of Staff. The whole force moved off to the vicinity of the amaHlubi reserve.
Milles, now with the rank of Colonel, planned to block the mountain
passes with two mobile forces to prevent Langalibalele escaping
into BaSotholand, thus turning the amaHlubi back towards Natal
and into the main body of the troops.
The conspect of the plan was sound, however knowledge of
the terrain on which it was to enacted was somewhat flawed.
One of the mobile forces consisted of five hundred of the
African levies. Durnford was given command of the other.
Durnford's unit was comprised of fifty-five Natal volunteers
armed with breech-loading carbines, and twenty-five mounted Africans
of baTlokwa people - of whom seventeen men carried a firearm of
sorts, whilst the rest were armed with more traditional weapons. To enable Durnford to communicate with the
African troops an interpreter was provided, his name was Elijah
Kambule, a mission educated African.
At last Durnford had a field command, but it was a command
marred by incompetence from the outset.
Durnford had ordered the senior volunteer officer, Captain
Charles Barter, of the Natal Carbineers, to ensure each of the
Natal volunteers carried rations for three days and forty rounds
of ammunition. Barter
however had taken it upon himself to have the rations and the
ammunition placed on packhorses.
During the night of 2nd/3rd November, 1873, the baggage
animals strayed off. Durnford sent off a search party to recover
the lost animals, which in turn became detached from the command.
In the morning the baTlokwa were forced to share their rations
with the white troops. Durnford
pressed on towards his objective of the Giant's Castle Pass. The rugged terrain began to exact its toll on the men, some of who
fell out with exhaustion.
Durnford's horse, 'Chieftain', lost its footing sending Durnford
tumbling from the saddle, and onto the rocks. Over and over he fell for some fifty yards,
until he landed heavily against a tree limb.
His injuries were severe - a dislocated shoulder, two cracked
ribs and a badly gashed head.
Although racked with pain he was determined to fulfil his
mission, to prove his worth, and so he pressed onwards and upwards.
As the force halted that night Durnford despatched six of the
baTlokwa, to go on ahead to scout for the whereabouts of the amaHlubi.
In the early hours of 4th November, Durnford roused his men, their
numbers were now depleted to some thirty-odd volunteers and some
fifteen of the baTlokwa, they pressed onto the Bushman's River
Pass, where they discovered a large body of the fugitive amaHlubi
tending their cattle, Durnford recounted what happened next shortly
after the event: -
reached the Bushman's Pass at 6.30 a.m., on the 4th November,
with one officer, one sergeant, and thirty-three rank and file
of the Carbineers, and a few Basutos, I at once formed them across
the mouth of the pass, the natives in charge of cattle already
in the mountain flying in every direction. Possibly there may have been one hundred at
the outside, about half of whom were armed with shooting weapons. Having posted my party, I went with my interpreter
to reassure the natives. Calling
for the chief man, I told him to assemble his people, and say
that Government required their Chief, Langalibalele, to answer
certain charges; that his people who submitted to Government should
be safe, with their wives, children, and cattle; that all loyal
people should go to Estcourt, where Mr. Shepstone, Minister for
Native Affairs, was, and make submission, and they should be safe.
My interpreter was recognised as one of Mr. Shepstone's
attendants, and the Induna thanked me in the name of the people,
saying they would all go down and tell my words to the tribe,
who were not aware of the good intentions of Government and were
I told them to take their cattle and go down. The Chief said they would, but begged me to
leave them, as he could not answer for the young men, who were
excited, and might injure me.
I left him exerting himself, so far as I could judge, in
carrying out my wishes.
that the natives were getting behind stones commanding the mouth
of the pass, I turned their position by sending my small party
of Basutos on the one side, I taking half the Carbineers to the
other - the other half guarding the mouth of the pass.
All were then in such position, that had a shot been fired,
I could have swept the natives down the pass. Their gestures were menacing, but no open act
of hostility was committed.
About this time I was informed that many men were coming up the
pass, and, on reaching the spot, found it was the case. On ordering them back, they obeyed sullenly.
Matters now looked serious, and I was informed by the senior
officer of volunteers present that the Carbineers, many of whom
were young men, could not be depended upon. They said they were surrounded, and would be
massacred. I have reason
to believe that this panic was created by their drill instructor,
an old soldier of the late Cape Corps, up to whom they naturally
looked. Upon this, as the only chance of safety, and in hopes of saving
men's lives, although perfectly aware that it was a fatal line
of policy, I drew in my outlaying party, and gave the order to
retire. There was nothing else to be done. I had no support. As I was about to retire by alternate divisions, the first shot
was fired by the natives, followed by two or three, when, seized
with panic, the Carbineers fled, followed by the Basutos.
My interpreter and three Volunteers were killed. There were probably two hundred natives present
at the time the first
shot was fired. The firing
was never heavy, and their ammunition soon became exhausted.
The orders I received were "not to fire the first
shot." I obeyed.
During the course of the skirmish a spear had pierced Durnford's
already injured left arm at the elbow severing the nerve, and
a bullet had grazed his cheek.
His baptism of fire was hardly an auspicious event, although
he had attempted, in vain, to save the life of Elijah Kambule,
and had shot two amaHlubi, his command had quit the field in disarray.
Nearly a fortnight after the skirmish Durnford led a burial detail
to the Bushman's River Pass.
The bodies were recovered and buried, the committal service
being conducted by the Reverend George Smith, the Vicar of Estcourt
and Honorary Chaplain of the Weenen Yeomanry, who would find lasting
fame for his part in the Defence of Rorke's Drift.
Meanwhile resentment was growing in Pietermaritzburg, Durnford
had criticized the mettle of the Carbineers who had been present
in the action. He acquired
the sobriquet of "Don't Fire" Durnford, and with the
hindsight of the events of 1879, the colonial press would refer
to the skirmish at Bushman's River Pass as "Durnford's First
Rough justice was meted out on Langalibalele's adherents, and also
exacted on the amaPutini, the indigenous people of the area. Shepstone had falsely accused them of supporting
an act of treason. Two
hundred amaHlubi were killed, five hundred prisoners were taken
and pressed in forced labour for the local European farmers.
Langalibalele was betrayed and captured by elements of a Cape Colony
force. He was led back
to Pietermaritzburg in chains.
In January, 1874, he was charged with murder, treason and
armed insurrection. The trial turned into a farce and a travesty
of justice, the outcome was a forgone conclusion - he was guilty
no matter what! John Colenso
voiced his concerns but justice as well as being blind, had also
become conveniently deaf. Langalibalele was sentenced to life imprisonment
on Robben Island.
In addition to his military duties Durnford had been given the
post of Acting Colonial Engineer, with effect from 1st November,
1873. On 11th December, 1873 he was promoted to the
rank of lieutenant-colonel.
The year 1874 would see the implementation of the Confederation
Policy, by the Earl of Carnarvon, the Secretary of State of the
Colonies. It was a policy of unification of the whole
region of southern Africa, which was then composed of fragmented
tribal kingdoms and chieftainships, two Boer Republics and the
British territories, together under the Union Flag.
It was a policy, which would be met with resistance, by
both black and ultimately white people.
Durnford was in the meantime tasked with blocking the Drakensberg
passes, in order to prohibit in order preventing a repetition
of the amaHlubi incident, and any possible incursion from the
BaSothos on the other side of the mountains.
He had an available labour force in the amaPutini men who
had unjustly been accused of conspiracy with the amaHlubi.
Durnford bargained for the rights of these tribespeople,
urging the Colonial Administration to repatriate to their dispossessed
lands. Having successfully completed the task of blocking
the mountain passes, the amaPutini set to road work, and the reputation
of the work gang grow, so much so that Africans were actually
volunteering to work for Durnford.
Throughout 1874 they tolled.
Early in 1875 Sir Benjamin Pine was replaced by Major-General Sir
Garnet Wolseley, that "Very model of a Modern Major-General",
as he would later be personified by Gilbert and Sullivan.
Wolseley was in Natal to ring the changes and hasten the
implementation of the confederation plans.
His attitudes and bigotry would soon rankle Bishop Colenso;
this in turn would have an effect on Durnford, because of his
affinity with the bishop, and his alleged liaison with the bishop's
daughter, Frances. Wolseley
personally reprimanded him for siding with the liberal cleric.
He added in a veiled threat unless Durnford conformed he
would place his position of Acting Colonial Engineer in jeopardy.
Wolseley's machinations were coupled with a media inspired feeling
of resentment still held against Durnford over the Bushman's River
Pass affair. Neither did
little to enhance his career or his prospects.
In September of 1875 Wolseley was replaced by Sir Henry
Bulwer as Lieutenant-Governor of Natal, but the die was already
cast for Durnford to be ousted.
On 10th October, 1875 he was officially relieved of his
civil appointment by Captain Albert Henry Hime, of the Royal Engineers.
Durnford was acutely embarrassed at being relieved by a
junior officer of his own corps, especially by one who had only
been a captain for eighteen months.
In May 1876 he was replaced as Commanding Royal Engineer,
Natal, by Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Thomas Brooke, another
subordinate. On 27th May he embarked for Britain, it was
his intention to seek specialist opinion on his disabled arm. On advice he "took the waters" at
a spa in the Black Forest, Germany, but he found the regime tedious,
and hastened to return to army life.
His next posting was uninspiring he was tasked with maintaining
the three forts, which commanded Queenstown harbour, Ireland. The cold and the frequent Atlantic storms did
little to relieve his physical suffering, to, which was added
mental torment, as he grow more and more morose.
It all proved to be too much and he collapsed with exhaustion. On medical advice he left Ireland.
Apparently with the help of the intercession of his old
friend, Charles Gordon, he was re-appointed as the C.R.E., Natal. He departed from Southampton on 8th February, 1877 onboard the Danube,
the same ship which two years later, almost to the day, the Prince
Imperial of France would embark on to meet his destiny in KwaZulu.
When Durnford arrived in Pietermaritzburg on 23rd March,
1877, he found the colony in a state of excitement; the now ennobled
Sir Theophilus Shepstone had left Natal in late January for Pretoria,
the capital of the Boer Republic of the Transvaal.
Accompanying him was a small escort of twenty Natal Mounted
Police. Shepstone was
acting with the full authority of the recently appointed Governor
General of the Cape, and High Commissioner for southern Africa,
Sir Henry Bartle Edward Frere, who had been directed to advance
the Confederation Policy.
The Republic was financially weakened and attempt to suppress the
warlike ambitions of the baPedi chieftain, Sekhukhune, had ended
in defeat for a Boer commando.
The day after Durnford's arrival in Pietermaritzburg, five
companies of the 1st Battalion, 13th (1st Somersetshire) Prince
Albert's Light Infantry arrived at the town of Newcastle, close
to the Transvaal border, and twenty-five men of the Natal Mounted
Durnford together with Colonel Charles Knight Pearson, of the 2nd
Battalion, 3rd (East Kent - "The Buffs") Regiment of
Foot, arrived in Newcastle, on 10th April.
It was apparent to all those present that Shepstone intended
to annex the Transvaal, under the manifesto of the Confederation
On the following day, fearful for Shepstone's safety, Durnford
entered the Boer republic covertly, in the guise of a property
speculator. Durnford arrived in Pretoria on 15th April,
only to discover that Shepstone had claimed the Transvaal as a
British colony on 12th April.
Shepstone asked Durnford to have the troops move on Pretoria,
for although there had been no show of resistance from the Boers,
he was uncomfortable that something might happen.
Durnford rode back towards Newcastle, and was met by Pearson
who was moving the forces at his disposal on towards the border.
Durnford marshalled the remaining forces and supplies at
Newcastle, before returning back into the Transvaal.
Having assured himself all was going well Durnford returned
to Pietermaritzburg on 26th April, 1877.
With the annexation of the Transvaal the British inherited
a dispute over a strip of border territory between the Transvaal
and the independent Kingdom of KwaZulu.
Late in 1877 Frere launched an unprecedented propaganda
campaign against King Cetshwayo. He labelled the king 'a despot', and his army
were branded as 'man-slaying gladiators', Frere was attempting
to draw the amaZulu into a war, but it was not the time as the
British forces were already embroiled in the Ninth Cape Frontier
War, against the amaXhosa in the Transkei.
In February, 1878, a boundary commission was formed to unravel the
complexities of the claims and counter-claims of the Transvaal/Zulu
dispute. Durnford was
selected to serve as a member of the commission, together with
John Wesley Shepstone, the acting Secretary for Native Affairs
and the Natal Attorney-General Michael Gallwey.
The first meeting to consider evidence from the respective parties
was convened to take place on the Natal side of the Buffalo River,
at a former trading post, known to the Zulus as KwaJim, close
to a river crossing called Rorke's Drift in early March of 1878.
The commission heard the evidence from the respective claimants - Zulu and Boer.
The meeting at Rorke's Drift coincided with another event, the arrival
in southern Africa of the newly appointed General Officer Commanding
Her Majesty's Forces in southern Africa. Lieutenant-General (Local
Rank) the Honourable Frederic Augustus Thesiger, replaced Lieutenant-General
Arthur Cunynghame, who had been replaced as a consequence of political
For weeks the three commissioners heard and reviewed evidence
from both parties, the submissions were finally concluded on 11th
April, 1878. Despite differences
of opinion between the members of the commission, they completed
their report on 20th June, 1878.
They found in favour of the Zulu claim of title to the
land. Their conclusion was sent via Bulwer to Frere
for approval. Frere conveniently
shuffled the papers to the bottom of the pile; the findings did
not quite gel with his own intentions towards the amaZulu.
There had been a change in Whitehall; Sir Michael Hicks Beach had
replaced Lord Carnarvon as Colonial Secretary.
Despite the change, or maybe because of it, Frere stepped-up
his propaganda campaign against the Zulu.
In July, 1878, an event occurred that added credence to
Frere's crusade. One of
the wives of the border chieftain, Sihayo kaXongo, who lived on
the Zulu side of the Buffalo River at Rorke's Drift, became pregnant
by a lover. The unfaithful
woman and her lover fled into Natal. Shortly afterwards another unfaithful wife,
also expectant, followed. The
first wife took up residence in the kraal of a border guard, Mswaglele. The subsequent incursion into Natal by Methlokazulu
kaSihayo and his followers, and the killing of the two women gave
Frere the excuse he was looking for.
The Natal Government sought reparation for the raid, and
the surrender of the ringleaders.
Sihayo offered to pay a fine of cattle, which his own monarch,
King Cetshwayo, had levied on him, but this was dismissed as too
lenient a penalty.
Durnford was tasked with completing a feasibility study
of bridging the Tugela River, should the prospect conflict with
the amaZulu become a reality.
Durnford also recommended the formation of an African pioneer
corps. Bulwer however
had other opinions, and began to frustrate the designs of Durnford
and the General Officer Commanding.
Bulwer had been instilled with a sense of distrust of armed,
organized bodies of Africans by colonists who still harboured
a sense of hatred after the Langalibalele affair.
Thesiger had no option but to complain to Frere over Bulwer's
lack of co-operation. The raising of two companies of Natal Native Pioneers was eventually
permitted with the full knowledge of the Commander-in-Chief of
the British Army, the Duke of Cambridge.
By October, 1878, Bulwer was still reticent to permit the general
conscription of the African populace.
Frere was aware that Thesiger, (who that same month become
the 2nd Baron, Lord Chelmsford) desperately needed the additional
manpower. These men were to be deployed as light skirmishers
and scouts, as proposed by Durnford. Their local knowledge would be an asset or so it was thought.
Eventually after much debate and argument Bulwer permitted
the raising of three regiments of a force which would be designated
the Natal Native Contingent.
Durnford was assigned to the overall command of the three
battalions, which would compose the 1st Regiment.
It is not the purpose of this article to assess the worth
of the N.N.C., merely the role of Durnford in their organisation.
I believe it was the man's charisma, which caused many
to flock to follow him. Hundreds
of amaPutini came, as did the baTlokwa, even Langalibalele's amaHlubi
came. Drawn to this man who unlike many did not appear to resent the colour
of their skin.
A booklet was published for those Europeans who would be
entrusted with the command of the N.N.C. and published as GENERAL
INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE MANAGEMENT OF NATIVES, FOR THE GUIDANCE OF
OFFICERS APPOINTED TO THE NATAL NATIVE CONTINGENT, AND OTHERS
WHO MAY HAVE NATIVES PLACED UNDER THEM.
of these instructions are worthy of note:-
The Natal Zulu may be looked upon as an intelligent, precocious
boy, with the physical strength of a man. ...
Insist on unquestioning obedience, and be careful that your order
is carried out. Avoid, however, unreasonable, contradictory
and when possible, unnecessary harassing orders....
Never use epithets of contempt such as niggers, Kafirs, &c.
Call them "abantu"(people), "amadoda"
(men), or "amabuti" (soldiers). ...
When drilling Zulus avoid all nagging - many of them are often
stupid and inattentive, and much practise is required to teach
Esprit de corps is well understood by Zulus, and every use should
be made of it. Each battalion should be given a native name,
which, no doubt, the men themselves will soon select. ...
Sadly some of those tasked with the position of command
were hardly worthy of such office.
Some were drawn from the lower echelons of colonial manhood,
and were no respecters of human life, black or white.
In addition to the N.N.C. and the Native Pioneers, mounted well-armed
African volunteers were formed into troops of the Natal Native
Horse. Numbered amongst
these men, were those who had been present at the Bushman's River
Pass, and their descendants.
Langalibalele's own brother, John Zulu, rode at the head
of the troop from the Edendale Mission Station.
Such was the personal loyalty and affection to Durnford.
On 11th December, 1878, under the branches of a wild fig tree
on the Natal side of the Lower Tugela River, an indaba had been
called, King Cetshwayo sent his own emissaries to finally receive
the findings of the boundary commission.
The Zulus listened attentively as the result in their favour
was announced. After this followed Frere's haughty ultimatum
which was filled with great rhetoric which could only lead to
Durnford did his utmost to shape his regiment into a cohesive
fighting force in the short time he had left.
His force started to assemble at Greytown. Dalmaine's Farm, a short distance from Greytown was selected as
his headquarters. From
this position Durnford's force, now designated as Number 2 Column,
could command the Middle Drift of the Tugela.
On 1st January, 1879, Durnford received orders from Lord
Chelmsford ordering him to remain at the Middle Drift until the
invasion, scheduled for the 11th January, was under way.
When Durnford would be expected to co-operate between Pearson's
Number 1 Column, which was to cross at the Lower Drift, and Colonel
Richard Thomas Glyn's Number 3 Column, which was to ford the Buffalo
River at Rorke's Drift.
On the afternoon of 11th January, Durnford paid a visit
on Lord Chelmsford, who had now attached his headquarters to Glyn's
force. He acquainted the General with some intelligence
gleaned from messengers loyal to the Lutheran Bishop Hans Schreuder,
before returning to his designated position.
At this time rumours and counter-rumours as to the Zulu
dispositions were rife. Schreuder
wrote to Durnford warning him of a threat of a Zulu incursion
over the Middle Drift. Durnford received the message on 13th January.
He hastily wrote a dispatch to Chelmsford apprising him
of the supposed threat, and that he intended to meet the enemy
on the Zulu side of the Middle Drift.
At 2 a.m. on 14th January, Durnford roused his men, and
readied them for a forced march at 4 a.m.
As Durnford was on the summit of Kranz Kop preparing to
descend into the valley leading towards the drift a galloper from
Lord Chelmsford met him.
The dispatch from Chelmsford was forthright and to the
you carry out the instructions I give you, it will be my unpleasant
duty to remove you from your command, and to substitute another
officer for officer for the commander of No. 2 Column. When a column is acting SEPARATELY in an enemy's
country I am quite ready to give its commander every latitude,
and would certainly expect him to disobey any orders he might
receive from me, if information which he obtained showed that
it would be injurious to the interests of the column under his
command. Your neglecting
to obey my instructions in the present instance has no excuse.
You have simply received information in a letter from Bishop
Schroeder[sic], which may or may not be true and which you have
no means of verifying. If
movements ordered are to be delayed because report hints at a
chance of an invasion of Natal, it will be impossible for me to
carry out my plan of campaign.
I trust you will understand this plain speaking and not
give me any further occasion to write in a style which is distasteful
The following day Durnford was ordered to the vicinity
of Rorke's Drift, with a few companies of his N.N.C., five troops
of the N.N.H., and a rocket battery under the command of Brevet
Major Francis Broadfoot Russell.
On 19th, Durnford received further orders to relocate the force under
his immediate command to the Zulu bank of Rorke's Drift. On the 20th Number 3 Column reached Isandlwana.
On 21st, Lord Chelmsford sent out a two-pronged reconnaissance
to ascertain the whereabouts of any Zulu forces.
Elements of the reconnaissance came into contact with Zulu
forces late in the afternoon.
Messages were passed back to Chelmsford at Isandlwana requesting
In the early hours of the morning of Wednesday, 22nd January, 1879, Chelmsford made the decision to divide
Number 3 Column, leaving one half at Isandlwana, whilst marching
out with the other to meet the Zulu threat.
At 3 a.m., Lieutenant Horace Lockwood Smith-Dorrien, of the 95th
(Derbyshire) Regiment of Foot, a special service officer detailed
to transport duties, was ordered to return to Rorke's Drift. He carried orders for Durnford, instructing him to reinforce the
camp at Isandlwana with the forces at his disposal.
Durnford received the orders at about 7 a.m. Durnford moved on towards Isandlwana with his mounted troops, having
given orders for his infantrymen to follow on.
About a quarter of a mile from the camp at Isandlwana, he encountered
a fellow Engineer officer moving in the opposite direction, his
name was John Rouse Merriott Chard, a lieutenant from 5th (Field)
Company. Chard informed Durnford that Zulus had been
seen on the hills to the north of the camp.
Durnford instructed Chard to inform the two N.N.C. companies
to hurry on to Isandlwana.
Shortly after 10 a.m. Durnford arrived in the camp. He had with him some two hundred and fifty
N.N.H., 'D' Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Regiment, followed on
behind escorting Russell's rocket battery.
Bringing up the rear was Captain Walter Stafford and his
'E' Company, 1st/1st N.N.C. acting as the baggage guard.
An obvious problem was presented with Durnford's arrival,
who was in command? Durnford
was a substantive Lieutenant-Colonel; it is feasible that he may
not have been informed of his brevet promotion to the rank of
colonel on 31st December, 1878. Lord Chelmsford had left behind in command
of the encampment Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Pulleine of
the 1st Battalion, 24th (2nd Warwickshire) Regiment of Foot. Pulleine had distinct orders to defend the camp.
Reports were coming in from outlaying piquets and vedettes
of increasing Zulu activity.
On e report stated that a Zulu column was moving off in
the direction that Lord Chelmsford had taken his half column.
Fearful that the General's force might be attacked on two
fronts Durnford took matters into his own hands.
He informed Pulleine that he intended to sweep the area
thus drawing out the Zulus. He asked Pulleine for some of his imperial
infantry to assist him in the task.
Pulleine objected to the request, again stating his task
was to defend the camp. Durnford
then asked for support should his force encounter difficulties
to which acquiesced.
Durnford sent two troops of his N.N.H. off on to the Nquthu
plateau, under the command of Captain W. Barton.
Whilst he himself went out with two troops of N.N.H. along
the track the General's half column had taken.
Following in the wake of the horsemen came Major Russell
and his rocket battery, supported by 'D' Company, 1st/1st N.N.C.
under Captain C. Nourse. Durnford had had the foresight to order Lieutenant
Richard Wyatt Vause and his No.3 Troop of Sikali's Horse to reinforce
the baggage guard.
It is not the purpose of this article to discuss the finer points
of Isandlwana, and so what follows is only a synopsis of events.
Charles Raw commanding No.1 Troop, Sikali's Horse, chanced upon
the concealed Zulu impi of some 25,000 warriors in Ngwebeni valley,
thereby pre-empting the attack of the Zulus planned for the following
day. Battle had commenced.
Durnford waged a fighting retreat in an
effort to turn the Zulu left horn.
He and his men took up a position in a donga on the right
front of Isandlwana. Here
he was seen exalting his men, and standing on the lip of the donga
in total disregard for his personal safety.
Lieutenant Alfred Henderson of Hlubi's Troop, N.N.H., was
drawn to the conclusion that he had lost his head.
Others would recall how Durnford would deftly free the
fouled breeches of his men's carbines, with his one good hand.
Durnford's men were reinforced by detachments of the Natal
Mounted Police, the Newcastle Mounted Rifles, the Buffalo Border
Guard and the Natal Carbineers.
At this moment in time, members of the corps who in the
past had included Durnford's bitterest critics were at his side.
Desperately short of ammunition Durnford and his mounted
men were compelled to abandon their position, just as Lieutenant
Charles Pope, commanding 'G' Company, 2nd/24th, was endeavouring
to reinforce him. The left horn crashed into the lines of red
soldiers and they were soon swallowed up.
Durnford rallied his mounted men in one last desperate
stand, but the sheer weight of Zulu numbers told and he died surrounded
by the enemy.
Initially his body was interred on the battlefield. However, on 12th October 1879, at the behest
of the Colenso family his body was re-buried with full military
honours at the military cemetery at Fort Napier.
In death he is as much an enigma, as in life he was a conundrum. Like his close friend Charles Gordon, he received
a martyr's death, facing enemies with whom he had a marked affinity.
Many have spoken since Isandlwana both in praise and to
the detriment of Durnford. I will not sit in judgement of Anthony William
Durnford. However close
to where he died is the memorial to the Natal Carbineers who perished
that day, and if I may misquote it - neither praise nor blame
add to his epitaph.