This brings to the close the series of stories 43.3.2 specifically compiled for Anthony Durnford.
My only regret is that instead of leaving his story to the last, because of the long held family opinions that had I started researching in the opposite direction. Our three month journey "Walking in our Ancestor's Footsteps, then would have included Chatham, and the Museum and to offer thanks to David and Julian, face to face. But that was not to be.
Interest in the Zulu War, and the rights and wrongs of the time, has followed since 1879, and perhaps as a World event, being among the Top Ten Military Disasters of the World, will continue to do so for many years to come. Lessons to be learnt, attitudes and perceptions may differ, however the result will always remain. Gallant and brave men, stood and faced death, on a battlefield a long way from their homes, and confronted a determined enemy, intent on protecting their lands.
In 1873, the Drakensberg Mountains became known for a Battle known as Bushman's River Pass, but how many realise that the discovery of "Rock Art" on the walls of the caves would have been the result.
Today the discoveries of the men who tackled the climb are enjoyed by many but not on horseback!
|Memorial Bushman's River Pass|
|Written by the men in 1875|
Memorial to Col Anthony Durnford
En route to the caves, one comes across Rock 75 which is a carving into the rock made by the 75th Regiment in 1874 under the leadership of Colonel A.W.Durnford.(Isandlwana fame)
His mission was to prevent stock theft by the Amahlubi tribe hiding out in Lesotho.
The St Andrews Retreat B & B was formerly a sandstone church built by E.A.Thompson to serve the area and the Weenen County College & Weston College.
The Church is beautifully restored with fine stain glass windows and plaques to those who lost their lives in WWI.
The cemetery has graves of some of the early residents of the area, like J.W.Moor (died 1907), one of the first owners of Hertford
The horses were unable to cope with the steep and rocky ground. The men had to walk their horses due to the steepness of the climb, impossible conditions with predictable results.
The first is excerpted from Droogleever, R. W. F. (1992) - The road to Isandhlwana.
Col Anthony Durnford in Natal and Zululand 1873-1879. Pub by Presidio. ISBN 1-85367-118-5. [This is a handy hard-covered modern account of Durnford's calamitous experiences in Natal, the first half (130pp) of which is of interest to the 'Berg. Repackaged from his Doctoral dissertation, but readable.]
The men could not sit upon their mounts but had to pull them by the reins up the steep incline. As the going became more difficult the force began to string out as numbers of the less fit fell back with fatigue. On the climb, at about 10 a.m. [Nov 3] Durnford's horse Chieftain, a grey BaSotho pony, lost its footing, fell down a steep decline dragging Durnford with it.
One of the Carbineers declared that Durnford rolled head over heels like a ball bounding down, for about fifty yards. Possibly the horse rolled over him, for his injuries were many: a dislocated shoulder, two bruised ribs and a bad gash on his head.
His sword scabbard was bent double and the sword, given to him by his father when he left for South Africa, could not be made to fit in it, so he gave the sword to his guide Hlubi to carry for him. The horse was uninjured. Durnford was then helped to his feet, someone made his shoulder as comfortable as possible, and he ordered the advance to continue.
At noon he called another halt to allow the stragglers to catch up. He also sent a party of six Sotho to scout the top of the pass and to find out whether Langalibalele's people were ascending the Bushman's Pass.
Trooper Henry Bucknall of the Karkloof Troop (Natal Carbineers) recalled that everyone was too tired to give more than a passing glance at the stupendous masses of projecting rock above us like a rugged wall, half a mile high. We would scramble up 20 or 30 yards then sit down, scramble another 20, and sit down again, leading our horses, which made it much more tiring than it would have been without them, for in keeping out their way we would slip down at almost every step.
Here Durnford's pain‑racked body got some rest at last. For the next five hours, attended by Elijah Kambule, Shepstone's interpreter, and by Erskine (both of whom got very little respite themselves), the major slept fitfully. He no doubt hoped that, in the interim, Lieutenant E. Parkinson, whom he had left behind on the ascent to pick up the stragglers and the remaining pack horses, would soon be joining him. The rest of the men struggled on to the top of the pass.
At 9 p.m. Durnford was wakened by one of the scouts who had returned to report that men and cattle were moving up towards the Bushman's River Pass. There could be no further delay. At I p.m. Major Durnford prepared himself for the arduous climb to the top.
He was in intense pain notwithstanding the aid given by his guide Hlubi, Kambule, Erskine and Hlubi's brother who each held a corner of a blanket and pulled him up by placing it behind him. They had to halt every two or three steps and lay him down on the ground to let him rest.
It took him three hours to get up an ascent which would have taken him fifteen minutes if he had been fit. At the top of the Hlatimba Pass (9,323 feet above sea level) the men had tried to snatch a few hours' sleep in bitterly cold conditions.
Soon after 2 a.m. [Nov 4] Durnford reached the summit, weary but determined, and ordered the men to saddle up and proceed. A little after 4:30 a.m. the Carbineers and the Sotho were on their way, moving by moonlight slowly across the spongy grass, over the ridges and scattered rocks.
Durnford took the Sotho on ahead until they were about two or three miles from the rest of the troop. After about three hours of riding they reached the crest of a hill overlooking the valleys leading to the Bushman's Pass, and in the early light of dawn watched the Hlubi tribe's cattle being driven toward the pass.
It was not an easy ascent and a number of beasts lost their footing and were killed in the fall on to the rocks below. Jabez Molife, one of the Sotho, was sent back to hasten on the white troopers. An hour after sunrise, about 6:15 a.m. on 4 November 1873, the troopers reached the hill overlooking the pass. On the spur to the left of the pass there were about 300 head of cattle and 30 herdboys….[continues]
Durnford, anxiously contemplating the lost hours and the approach of darkness, decided to tackle the climb without further delay. It was nearly two miles of grim going. 'How we slipped and struggled,' wrote Charles Barter; 'fell to get up and struggle again, or lay panting on the ground, despairing of accomplishing the task, would be tedious to tell.' The last part of the ascent was terrific, 'among boulders of immense size, on sloping ground, offering no hold for anything but a naked foot'.
Sergt. Meredith Fannin was the first man up, shortly after sunset. Barter did not make it until about 8 p.m. Durnford, after a valiant struggle, collapsed a short distance from the summit. It was essential to rest his exhausted and painwracked body. His companions made up a rough bed, packed with dried grass to fill up the uneveness of the ground. There he lay for several hours, sleeping fitfully. Trooper Robert Erskine, son of the Colonial Secretary (Major D. Erskine) elected to stay behind and attend him.
Then shaking off all self‑concern, he applied himself to nursing his commanding officer with unremitting care. Twice, it was reported, did he toil up the pass to fetch brandy and other items to comfort the stricken man. Remembering him later, Durnford said, 'He tended me as my brother might have done.'
Zulu weapons used in the slaughter of British troops at the infamous Battle of Isandlwana set to fetch £100,000 at auction
- Battle of Isandlwana took place in 1879 and killed over 1,000 soldiers
- It was likely used by a young warrior and taken as a souvenir by a soldier
- Over 150 items are for sale including a Zulu club and a necklace of teeth
The war began with a British invasion of Zululand, and ended with almost 8,000 dead, a British victory and Zulu independence.
Now, a Zulu shield from the 1879 war is being put up for auction.
The rare tribal shield which belonged to a young Zulu warrior is believed to have been used in the infamous battle of Isandlwana, a massacre that claimed the lives of over 1,300 British soldiers.
The Zulus charged at the British troops holding shields in front of them and hit their target with it before stabbing them with a long spear.
The primitive shield was made out of dried cow skin and the black colour and dark pattern of the leather suggest it was held by a young warrior and not an experienced fighter, who has lighter coloured shields.
The shield is part of a £100,000 collection of Zulu weapons and artefacts that are being auctioned at Wallis and Wallis auctions in Lewes, East Sussex.
A 4ft long spear with a lethal 9 inch blade is also for auction, and is expected to sell for £900.
It has 'Ulundi 1879' carved into the handle and would have been brought home by a British soldier as a memento of conquering the Zulu kingdom to show to family and friends.
There are over 150 items for sale including a wooden club that was used by an executioner, worth £300, and a necklace made from lion's teeth worth £2,000.
Mr Smith died aged 65 in 2009 and the items are being sold by his partner, Roberta Welham.
Ian Knight, a historian for Wallis and Wallis, said: 'In the 19th century every Zulu man had a shield.
'Smaller examples of the shields were kept for personal use whereas the larger ones would have been used in battle.
As the warriors who fought at Isandlwana on January 22, 1879 were mostly young men, it is highly likely to have been used there.
'The King placed men in regiments when they turned 18, similar to doing national service, and he would give them a herd of cattle with similar colourings and markings.
'The men would then kill the cows and use the hide to make shields with the fur still attached, which became a uniform due to the patterns.
'Darker coloured cows were given to less experienced warriors and lighter colours cows were used for the older and more experienced men.
'Once the British had conquered the Zulu kingdom six months later it is likely that they gathered up items like these to take back home as a souvenir of the war.
'They normally have a shelf life of around five years but it was probably well looked after and this would explain why it has remained in such good condition.
'One of the spears in the sale was taken from the battlefield after the Ulundi war, we know that because a British troop appears to have carved 'Ulundi' and the year on it.
'Other weapons in the sale are a spear called an Iklwa, because of the noise it apparently made when someone was stabbed with it, and an executioners club.
'It is rare to see a collection of this size and I haven't seen anything like it come up for sale during my whole time of collecting Zulu artefacts.'
The auction takes place on January 22.
The British invasion of Zululand began on the 11th of January 1879, with the British objective being an eventual federation in Africa.
The battle of Isandlwana erupted on the 22nd of January 1879, 11 days after the British started their invasion. 20,000 Zulu warriors attacked 1,800 British, colonial and native troops and 400 civilians.
The Zulus, who had more numbers, overwhelmed the British, killing over 1,300 troops, while around 1,000 Zulu soldiers were killed.
The battle of Rorke's drift started almost immediately after, ending on the 23rd, after 150 British and colonial troops were set upon, and ended up successfully defending themselves against an assault by almost 4,000 Zulu warriors.
The Battle of Ulundi on the 4th of July 1879 effectively ended the Zulu-Anglo war, with the defeat of the Zulu forces by the British when over 5,200 British and African soldiers razed the capital of Zululand after defeating the main Zulu army.
The war ultimately ended with a British victory, and Zulu independence.
Henry Buckton Laurence was a King's Own Royal Regiment officer who was also a published artist. It is know that three volumes of his work were published and some of his illustrations of the South African War of 1879 were published in the Illustrated London News.
Accession Number: KO0984/03c
Letter and sketches by Henry Buckton Laurence.
“The Fort looking from the 2/4th Regiments camp”
“Fort near Sanspruit. Colonel Bray CB. With Rorke's Drift and Helpmakaar in the distance.”
Letter talking about the sketches, from about 8 miles as the crow flies from Helpmakaar and some 12 miles from Rorke's Drift and Zulu Land where the terrible massacre took place.
Address to The Editor, Illustrated London News, dated 28th January 1879.
Accession Number: KO0984/03
Henry was born on the 9th September 1842 at Zante, in the Greek Ionian Islands. He was commissioned at he age of 18 years and 9 months and joined the 2nd Battalion of the 4th (King's Own Royal) Regiment of Foot. He was Ensign, with purchase, 18th June, 1861, Lieutenant, with purchase, 30th June 1865, and Captain in 1873. He served in the South African (Zulu) War in 1879. He was promoted Major in 1881
My dear Warneford, Sad news about the 1/24th. (1st Battalion, 24th Foot) 5Cd commanded by Col. Pulleine were cut to pieces and the camp sacked. 20 Officers are missing.
About 1000 of the Kafirs came in here and attacked us on the same day (22nd). We had got about 2 hours notice and fortified the place with trap of grain biscuit boxes &c. They came on most determinedly on all sides. They drove our fellows out of the Hospital, killed the patients and burned the place.
They made several attempts to storm us but the soldiers (B Co of 24th under Bromhead) kept up such a steady killing fire that they were driven back each time. We had only 80 men, the contingent having bolted before a shot was fired. The fight was kept up all night & in the morning the Kafirs retreated leaving 351 dead bodies.
Dalton was wounded in the shoulder and temp clerk Byrne killed & 12 of the men… W A Dunne (over)
Some of the missing are Pulleine, Col. Dunford, Capt. Russell, Hodson (killed), Anstey, Daly, Mostyn, Dyer, Griffith, Pope, Austin, Pulleine (2 Mr.) Shepherd (S… major) Wardell (killed), Younghusband, Degacher, Porteous, Carage Dyson, Atkinson – Coghill is believed to have escaped & also Melvill.
Saturday 15th November 2014 at 10am
Body of British soldier in Zulu war 'identified' by a button
By Stewart Maclean www.dailymail.co.uk
Updated: 01:05 EST, 18 June 2009
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1193666/Remains-British-soldier-died-battle-Zulu-war-identified-130-years--tunic-button.html#ixzz3OOw8fLp2
Remains of British soldier who died in first battle of Zulu war identified after 130 years - by his tunic button
An incident at the Battle of Isandlwana
Photo: WORLD HISTORY ARCHIVE / TOPFOTO
His personal life and that of his family has been subject to a great deal of criticism and perhaps conjecture neither of which have had any bearing on his professional abilities, and after being researched much has been proven to be incorrect.
Anthony William Durnford was born on 24th May, 1830, in Manor Hamilton, County Leitram, Ireland. The eldest son of Second Lieutenant Edward William Durnford, Royal Engineers, and his wife Elizabeth Rebecca, nee Langley.
Initially, Anthony was schooled in Ireland. At the age of twelve he was sent to Germany to pursue his further education.
In September, 1846, at the age of sixteen he entered the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, as a gentleman-cadet. In April, 1847, whilst Anthony was receiving his martial education, his father, who had achieved the rank of captain, was serving as the Executive Engineer in a maritime and land expedition, under the command of Admiral Inglefield and General D'Aguilar, up the Canton River in China. Edward Durnford's skilful assessment of the enemy's fortifications would lead to the capture of eight forts. The Chinese authorities sued for peace after the British force occupied the city of Canton on 25th June, 1847.
On completion of his studies, Anthony was commissioned into the Corps of the Royal Engineers with the rank of second lieutenant on 27th June, 1848. He then attended a course of further instruction at the Corps' Headquarters at Chatham, Kent.
His first 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.
*He was born in Ceylon
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 1885.
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, 1873.
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: -
Having 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 afraid.
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.
Seeing 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.
Major Royal Engineers.
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 Disaster".
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 Police.
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 Policy.
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 pressure.
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.
Some of these instructions are worthy of note:-
1, The Natal Zulu may be looked upon as an intelligent, precocious boy, with the physical strength of a man. ...
4, Insist on unquestioning obedience, and be careful that your order is carried out. Avoid, however, unreasonable, contradictory and when possible, unnecessary harassing orders....
6, Never use epithets of contempt such as niggers, Kafirs, &c. Call them "abantu"(people), "amadoda" (men), or "amabuti" (soldiers). ...
10, When drilling Zulus avoid all nagging - many of them are often stupid and inattentive, and much practise is required to teach them. ...
17, 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 war.
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 point:
Unless 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 to me.
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 reinforcements.
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.
Lieutenant 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.
Of all the articles that have been written about Anthony William Durnford these pieces
provide a rather good account of is life.
incorrect references highlighted.
The South African
Military History Society
Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging
Military History Journal - Vol 6 No 5
*(This is Thomas John Langley)
On his return to England Durnford entered the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich and in 1848 obtained a commission as a second lieutenant in the Royal Engineers. In October 1851, he embarked for Ceylon which was to become his home for the next five years. Stationed at Trincomalee, he gave so much assistance to Admiral Sir F Pellew in regard to the defences of the harbour that his services rendered were brought to the notice of the Master-General of the Ordnance by the Lords of the Admiralty.
Two years after his arrival he was instrumental in saving the harbour defence installations from destruction by fire. In addition to his military duties he was subsequently encumbered with certain civil duties, being appointed Assistant Commissioner of Roads and Civil Engineer to the Colony.
When the Crimean War broke out in September 1854, Durnford volunteered for action but was not accepted. However, when the war dragged on he was eventually transferred to Malta as an intermediate posting in the case of his services being needed in the Crimea. Much to his disappointment, he did not see active service either in the Crimean War or Sepoy Mutiny which broke out in 1857.
Instead, he remained in Malta for two years serving as adjutant before being transferred in February 1858 to England. Two years of home service at Chatham and Aldershot were relieved by a posting to Gibraltar where, for three years, he was in command of the 27th Company. In 1864, with the rank of first captain, he returned to England in order to take up a posting in China.
However, en route to the East he suffered a severe breakdown in his health, as a result of which he was invalided back to England and after his recovery relegated to routine home duties for the next six years at Devonport and Dublin.
Then, in 1871, came an assignment which was to have a vast and profound influence on the remaining course of his career and his life - a posting to South Africa.
On 23 January 1872, 'a tall, spare man, with sturdy, observant eyes, a balding head, and a magnificent moustache which dangled down to his collarbones' stepped ashore at Cape Town. Capt Durnford was now 41 years old and had been a soldier in the Corps of Royal Engineers for more than 22 years, but had not yet seen active service.
This was not through want of trying nor a lack of soldierly qualities since there had been at least two occasions on which he had demonstrated his personal dedication and courage. Once, while stationed in Scotland as a young lieutenant, he had shown great courage in helping rescue the crew of a small craft which had run aground during a heavy storm between Berwick and Holy Island; later, when serving in Ireland, he was involved in a railway accident and nearly lost his life, but notwithstanding his own injuries he persevered in assisting a mortally injured fellow-passenger.
Of the 16 months following his arrival in the Cape Durnford spent the greater portion at King William's Town. In a letter home, he described it as a 'dull station . . . the only redeeming features being the grassy plains, cheap forage and Kafir ponies for UK PND 5 each. These are not much to look at, but they go fifty miles a day for a week, and never require to be fed'
Here he received his promotion to the rank of major, served on a Royal Commission and made his first contact with the indigenous peoples of Southern Africa. He was favourably impressed by them and formed the opinion that they would be invaluable to the country if properly trained.
The most obvious spheres that occurred to him were soldiering and civil works such as road construction. In another letter to his mother he wrote of the Blacks: ' . . they are at least honest, chivalrous, and hospitable, true to their salt, although only barbarians. They are fine men, very naked and all that sort of thing, but thoroughly good fellows'. He appears to have adhered to his idealistic picture throughout the remaining years of his life.
When he returned to Cape Town he had his quarters (five rooms and a kitchen) in the Castle. To complete his domestic establishment he also acquired a dog, 'a magnificent animal of the "kangaroo hound breed"' which he named 'Prince' and which became his constant companion.
In May 1873 Durnford received orders to proceed to Natal, a country already visited by two of his kinsmen and with whose history his own fate would become so closely interwoven. Durnford had to stay over in Durban for a few days. He had great difficulty in finding accommodation.
The hotels were either full or else the hoteliers, while they had accommodation for black servants, were not prepared to accommodate the major's English batman because their hotels did not provide for that class of servant. However, as an officer, Durnford was accepted as an honorary member by the Durban Club and there found accommodation for himself and his batman.
The journey to Pietermaritzburg, the capital, was accomplished in two days. His cape cart, drawn by four horses, made an overnight stop at a somewhat primitive wayside inn.
Durnford was a keen and observant letter-writer. Besides this, throughout his career when ever stationed abroad, he would take the conditions of the country into serious consideration - its resources and capabilities in the event of British military operations and every circumstance of importance in relation to his own professional branch of the service - which could affect the welfare and success of a possible British army.
His observations were always carried out in the most quiet and unobtrusive manner; he never spoke of them except to those who could assist him in the writing thereof.
Pietermaritzburg, his home for some years to come, struck him as being in a condition of 'unmitigated barbarism and not the world-civilisation of the Cape'. In picturesque style he comments on being met at every turn by the sight of white babies, in white robes, in the arms of big, male savages, 'for there are few native women servants and white ones all get married. It looks queer at first, but these men are tender nurses, and the little ones are quite content'.
One of the few exceptions to his critical assessment of the capital's society was the Anglican Bishop of Natal, the Rt Revd John Colenso and his family.
The Colenso family's religious notoriety, its English social standards and its intellectual interests cut it off from much of the social life of the capital; but most new arrivals from England found their way to Bishopstowe, some six miles from the city, and the best of them including many officers from the garrison at Fort Napier, became steady visitors.
Durnford's religious views, his sensitivity and sympathetic attitude towards Blacks soon made him welcome at the Colenso home. Not only did Mrs Colenso evince great motherly fondness towards him, but her second daughter; Frances Ellen (Fanny, or Nell, as she preferred to be called), a frail, beautiful girl, then 24 years old, was infatuated with the impressive Durnford, 19 years her senior.
And he, lonely and inwardly sensitive, responded to her as he had never done to any other woman before - but the tragedy of the situation was that Durnford was already married.
Having so far only considered Durnford's professional and military career; it is perhaps opportune to give some thought to his private and domestic life. Apart from his many excellent qualities, Durnford's main weakness lay in the fact that he tended to be over-enthusiastic or impetuous, and that this rashness often left no room for the consideration of any possible consequences of his actions.
Closely related to this tendency was his inclination, at least during his younger years, to trust to his luck. He became a heavy gambler and was usually a heavy loser but such a personal tendency had - fortunately - not interfered with his work.
Until his arrival in South Africa his professional and military career had been sometimes dully routine but generally successful; his domestic life, however; was beset with misfortunes and ended on an unhappy note.
When he had received his first overseas appointment in 1851 to Ceylon he had held only the rank of lieutenant. This was an age when military professionals married very late in life if they married at all, and low pay, long tours in primitive posts in the remote corners of the Empire, and the lack of pensions all contributed to the aphorism: 'Captains may marry, majors should marry, colonels must marry'.
But Durnford, following the example set by his father, had plunged into marriage. Three years after his arrival in Ceylon, on 15 September 1854, in St Stephen's Church, Trincomalee, he married Frances Catherine Tranchell, the youngest daughter of a retired lieutenant-colonel who had served in the Ceylon Rifles.
For ten years this hastily contracted marriage had been fraught with problems. No doubt there was fault on both sides. Frances had to make ends meet on a lieutenant's modest wages and her husband, seeking to improve his fortunes through gambling, had lost, but had gambled harder aggravating rather than relieving the situation.
Durnford's subsequent transfers overseas must have been trying for a young wife, especially as she had given birth either immediately prior to or after three such moves, and in addition, had had the terrible distress of losing her first and third child within a few months of their being born. An infant son born in Ceylon had died in Malta; a daughter born in Malta in 1857 had survived, but another daughter born in England in 1859 had died the following year.
*(The conditions for wives in Malta were horrendous)
No doubt Durnford had also felt keenly the loss of these children - he referred to the surviving child as his 'one pet lamb'. (Named Frances)
After the Durnfords had returned to England in 1864, his wife had taken a step which finally put an end to the marriage and almost ruined Durnford's military career in the process. * She had abandoned her husband and daughter and had eloped with another man. Durnford never saw her again.
*The scandal had been carefully hushed up and Durnford's family had taken care of the child. The mother's name was never mentioned again. Divorce had been out of the question for not even the aggrieved party could hold a Queen's commission.
* (Not true according to census records, in 1871 she was living with another man, her brother, another Military Officer and his family, and Frances a few streets from where Edward Durnford was living in Portsea, and again in 1881 Frances was living with another sister and her daughter)
Durnford had followed the pattern set by others in similar situations by taking his future postings abroad. It had been on his voyage to China in 1865 that his mental stress, aggravated by heat apoplexy, caused the complete breakdown of his health which necessitated his return to England.
This, then, was the tragic background against which Durnford, now in Pietermaritzburg, found a warm friendship which, after years of loneliness, gave him much joy and comfort throughout the remaining few years of his life, but which could never blossom forth into love and ultimate happiness as long as *Frances Catherine was alive. (She outlived both Durnford and Frances Ellen, who had already symptoms of the tuberculosis which was to cause her premature death in 1887).
(Frances, his daughter married in 1883, his brother Edward was witness at the wedding, Frances his wife died in 1888.)
Durnford and the Colensos were so discreet about this friendship 'that no inkling of it ever leaked out, and there was never a breath of suspicion'. This was just as well in a community as small as Pietermaritzburg, or even Natal, where gossip thrived and such a 'scandal' would have been disastrous to Durnford's military career.
Durnford had barely two months to settle down in Pietermaritzburg when he was directed to accompany Mr Theophilus Shepstone and Capt Boyes, 75th Regiment, on a journey to Zululand to attend the coronation of Cetshwayo. The coronation itself, although open to criticism from a number of points of view, was generally speaking a grand affair and Durnford described the ceremony itself as being altogether 'a scene not to be missed'.
In accordance with his ways, before returning to Natal Durnford took the opportunity of improving his knowledge of the Zulus by visiting the family kraals of the king in the company of Bishop Schreuder who acted as interpreter. He spent a few more days hunting in Zululand and then on 19 September 1873 returned to Pietermaritzburg. Six weeks later he was to lead a punitive expedition against Langalibalele, chief of the Hlubi.
To call the Langalibalele Rebellion of 1873 a rebellion would be to employ what Sir Winston Churchill once called 'a terminological inexactitude; since Langalibalele, rechristened 'Long Belly' by the British who found it impossible to pronounce Zulu names (together with characteristic wit), was a shuffler and muddler in both his political and personal behaviour and quite unlikely a person to lead a rebellion.
By the exaggerating influence of unrelenting colonial prejudice, on the one hand, and the zeal with which Bishop Colenso sprang to the defence, on the other; Langalibalele was transformed into a patriot, hero and martyr in the eyes of some, and a malignant traitor and rebel in the eyes of others - while his real character was insignificant.
Langalibalele and his Hlubi tribe, together with the related amaNgwe clan generally known as the Phuthini, had been ousted from their original homes by King Mpanda of the Zulus. The Natal Government under Theophilus Shepstone had then resettled the two tribes in the foothills of the Drakensberg in the Giant's Castle area. Not only did Shepstone find a home for them, but charged them with holding marauding Bushmen and Basutos at bay - a task which they had performed over a period of some twenty-five years during the course of which they had acquired, and presumably at times also used, firearms.
The Natal Government, at that time, did not forbid the possession of firearms as such. A government ordinance required every holder of a firearm to have it registered, which not only brought in some revenue but gave the rural magistrate a means of indirect control since guns brought in were either retained indefinitely or rendered useless before return.
To the Natives, registration became the equivalent to confiscation and hundreds, if not thousands, of firearms remained unregistered and thus illegally held. The acquisition of guns was a relatively simple matter since on the diamond fields at Kimberley it was regular practice for miners to offer cheap guns in lieu of a season's wages.
Mr McFarlane, the resident magistrate of Estcourt, became alarmed when he learnt through informers of the large number of Hlubis who had worked on the diamond fields and of a correspondingly large increase in the number of unregistered guns in an area which, for a variety of reasons, was regarded as 'sensitive'.
Consequently, the chief was ordered to comply with the ordinance. Dissolute, albeit truculent, Langalibalele, who wanted no trouble with either his own clansmen or the administration, adopted a typically native solution - he temporized. First he pleaded ignorance, then ill-health; finally government messengers were ignored or treated with disdain. To avoid the expected retribution, Langalibalele decided to assemble all able-bodied members of his tribe - men, women and children - with their belongings and most of their cattle, and to follow the example of the Voortrekkers. He would take his people across the Drakensberg into Basutoland.
Shepstone and the Lieutenant-Governor, Sir Benjamin Chilley Pine, were in a cold fury. To them, Langalibalele's conduct was tantamount to rebellion . . . If the treatment of their messengers had been a personal affront and insubordination that verged on rebellion, his flight amounted to secession and was treasonable.
On Wednesday, 29 October 1873, the government called up a number of volunteer units for active service and backed them with some regulars. The force was placed under the command of Lt Col Milles and ordered to intercept the Hlubis. Both Shepstone and Pine accompanied the field force to its headquarters on Meshlynn Farm but, as has happened quite often in history, the interference of politicians in the conduct of military operations was to contribute to the disaster which befell this expedition.
Lt Col Milles knew that Langalibalele was heading for Bushman's River Pass. He therefore decided to position the bulk of his troops, supported by 5 000 native levies, in a wide area around the Hlubi and Phuthini territory so as to stop any movement into Natal proper. A left and right wing were to outflank the Hlubis by scaling the two adjacent mountain passes at the head of the Bushman's River Pass, thereby blocking Langalibalele's escape route.
Capt Allison with 500 native levies was to form the right wing and ascend by the 'Champagne Castle Pass'; Capt Barter was to lead the left wing consisting of 1 officer, 6 NCOs, 47 Carbineers, 25 mounted Basutos and a native interpreter. However, almost at the last moment Col Milles placed Capt Barter and his force under the command of Maj Durnford, who was then taken aside by the lieutenant-governor and given strict personal instructions not to fire the first shot.
But the officer commanding, Col Milles, and his staff had not done their homework. The so-called 'Champagne Castle Pass' was non-existent, and Capt Allison spent his time on a heartbreaking search for a way to the top. The timing of Maj Durnford's route was badly miscalculated and his guides, fortunately, missed the Giant's Castle Pass which, in any case, was not passable for mounted men and they led him instead to the extremely difficult and dangerous, but just passable, Hlatimba Pass.
In the process a substantial number of Carbineers dropped out through fatigue and during the first night the pack-horses were lost. Contrary to orders, the Carbineers had loaded their rations and some ammunition on pack-horses instead of carrying these necessities themselves.
Durnford was compelled to ask the Basutos to share their rations of meat, biscuits and rum with their negligent white comrades - which they readily did. But the loss of the pack-horses was not the only misfortune.
When Durnford's horse, 'Chieftain', which he was leading, slipped, Durnford was pulled over a rock-fall and sustained lacerations, two broken ribs and a dislocated shoulder. In great pain he spent the second, bitterly cold night a couple of hundred metres below the summit which at this point reached 2 777m. But with an iron will and indomitable courage, he insisted on pressing on with only his Basutos and 32 Carbineers out of the original 55.
With a sling made from a blanket, he was assisted to the summit and helped onto his horse which, fortunately, had sustained no injuries. The head of the Bushman's River Pass was reached on Tuesday morning, 4 November, 24 hours behind schedule - and too late to intercept Langalibalele and too late even to stop by peaceful means the remainder of his men and cattle who were in the process of emerging from the pass.
Mindful of his orders not to fire the first shot, Durnford relied on parleying which proved futile: more and more Hlubis were emerging from the pass, some crowding round Durnford's small band and others taking cover behind rocks.
The Carbineers became increasingly nervous, and their own senior officer, Capt Barter, reported to Durnford that he could no longer rely on his men. The apprehension of the Carbineers was aggravated by the vociferous expression of fear for their safety by one of their NCOs, Sergeant Clark.
When Durnford sensed that his men were on the point of breaking, he called out dramatically: 'Will no one stand by me?' - whereupon three troopers rallied to his side. Then he gave the order for a slow withdrawal to higher ground.
As soon as the Carbineers began to move a single shot rang out from the ranks of the concealed Hlubis, followed by a ragged volley. The three troopers by Durnford's side, Erskine, Bond and Potterill, were struck down and the interpreter's horse was shot from under him.
As Durnford stopped to help him double-mount, Elijah Khambule was shot through the head and Durnford himself received two assegai stabs, one in his side, the other in his elbow; severing a nerve thus paralysing his left under-arm and hand for the rest of his life. Durnford managed to shoot two of his assailants with his revolver and to extricate himself.
The Carbineers had panicked and were galloping back the way they had come. The young chief who was leading the mounted Basutos managed to rally his men and Durnford used them to cover the headlong retreat of the Carbineers and to check the pursuit by the amaHlubi when they got too close.
When he eventually caught up with his errant Carbineers he was almost weeping with rage and frustration as he berated them, holding up the Basuto troopers as examples of proper soldiers. However, at the sight of the first pursuing Hlubis the Carbineers broke again and scrambling down the pass they did not stop until they reached camp. They were in a state of utter exhaustion having spent 41 hours out of 53 in the saddle, with hardly anything to eat or drink. The strayed pack-horses with their rations and ammunition were found too late to be of any use.
Durnford followed, escorted by his loyal Basutos, and reached his base only after midnight. Learning that a party had been sent to his aid, he waited only long enough to have his shoulder set and his wounds bandaged before setting out again to find this party and head it off from a possible Hlubi ambush.
Notwithstanding his wounds, his broken ribs and the injury to his left arm, Durnford did not report sick once. Two days after his return he accepted the task of fortifying Pietermaritzburg against a possible escalation of hostilities.
A fortnight later, on 17 November 1873, Durnford was put in command of a force of 60 men of the 75th Regiment, 30 Basutos and 400 Natal Natives in order to attend to the burial of the dead at Giant's Castle. He ascended the Bushman's River Pass which he reached on the 18th.
On the next day a service was conducted by the Rev George Smith during which the three Carbineers, Elijah Khambule and another loyal native, Katana, killed in the skirmish, were buried with military honours. The two Hlubi whom Durnford had shot were buried some distance away and a cairn of stones laid over their grave.
In a letter home Durnford referred to one of the slain foes: 'I took his weapons, and raised a cairn high above his grave. In future days his friends will see that one Englishman, at least, can respect a brave man, even though he has a black skin'.
Both Governor Pine and Col Milles, whose actions and omissions were no doubt the root-cause for the failure of this expedition, managed to keep a low profile but were honest enough to comment most favourably on Durnford's behaviour in their official reports immediately after the expedition.
The colonists, however, agitated by fears of further hostilities and aggrieved at the loss of three of their sons, cast around for a scapegoat, and angered by Durnford's own report on the Bushman's River Pass affair in which he asserted that the majority of Carbineers had failed to support him, relieved their feelings by thrusting full responsibility on to him.
Being a newcomer to Natal, little known with as yet but few friends, he became an easy target for some severe accusations. Almost all the Natal colonists turned against him and many abusive letters about him appeared in the press.
Vindictiveness reached its peak when Durnford's loyal old friend, his dog 'Prince', was poisoned. This act prompted him to leave the boarding house where he had been staying in Pietermaritzburg and to take up quarters in the garrison at Fort Napier.
Durnford never tried to defend himself publicly, but in a letter home he observed: 'I am at present the best hated man in the colony. My crowning fault is that I have branded a portion of their volunteers with cowardice.
Of course, I could have made a glorious despatch, but it would not have been true'.
The only persons who stood by him during this trying time were the Colensos and John Sanderson, the editor of The Natal Colonist. The fact that Durnford's military reputation had emerged unscathed from the unfortunate Bushman's River Pass affair was evinced by his promotion to lieutenant-colonel on 11 December 1873.
It was almost a year later that Governor Pine yielded to the persistent clamour by the colonists to have the name of the Carbineers vindicated. A court of inquiry was constituted in November 1874 to consider the Bushman's River Pass affair.
In the court's judgement 'the Carbineers were guilty of a disorganised and precipitate retreat, with, however, mitigating circumstances'. These mitigating circumstances were, no doubt, found to soften the verdict and placate the feelings of the colonists.
Some of the mitigating circumstances accepted by the court were the Carbineers' youth, the fact that they had no previous experience in battle, that they were tired and hungry, that they were strained having travelled over almost impassable country, and that they had been frightened by Sgt Clark's unbridled expression of fear that they would all be killed. (In regard to the question of age, contemporary photographs show an appreciable number of fully-bearded men and the ages of the troopers who were killed were 22, 23 and 27).
Durnford himself was dissatisfied with the proceedings of the court of inquiry which excluded from the hearing any Imperial officer or soldier on the grounds that the inquiry was 'a pure volunteer (Carbineer) question'.
This did not prevent General Sir A.T. Cunynghame, the GOC British troops in South Africa, stating in his covering report on the court's proceedings: 'It is but fair here to observe upon the steadiness and bravery of Major Durnford, regarding which the volunteers gave ample testimony, and upon whom they appeared to have the utmost reliance. Shaken, indeed almost paralysed, by a fall with his horse over a dangerous precipice, he never shrank from his duty, and, although severely wounded in two places, he used his utmost exertions to rally the retiring troops'.
Durnford was recommended for the CMG but the only recognition he received for his services was in the nature of compensation for his wounds and permanent disablement of his left arm. He was granted a pension of UK PNDS100 per annum, of which, as was discovered at the time of his death some five years later, he never drew one penny. He was a proud man and had once asserted that 'he did not sell his blood'.
*His wife was on an annuiant
The Phuthini (amaNqwe) tribesmen had been neighbours of the amaHlubi and over the years had also frequently intermarried, and prior to Langalibalele's flight from Natal he had left his old people, some women and children and some cattle in the came of the Phuthini.
Immediately following the debacle at the Bushman's River Pass - and possibly also because of resentment at Langalibalele's escape - Shepstone considered this proof of rebellious intentions and collusion with Langalibalele on the part of the Phuthini and decided that the tribe should be 'eaten up' according to native fashion.
The raid which followed was one of the most cynical and cruel actions by White men against Blacks in the history of Natal. Without warning and without obvious reason the Phuthini were attacked, driven from their homes and sealed up in the caves in which they had sought shelter. Their huts were burnt down, their possessions, provisions and crops were destroyed and their cattle confiscated. Over 200 men, women and children were killed, and 500 were taken prisoner and virtually enslaved to White farmers.
Durnford writes in disgust that 'boys from 12 to 14 years were given out to volunteers and others as servants for 7 years at one shilling a month pay for the first three years; no papers. One farmer boasted that he had caused so many to be killed; another boasts that he has done more'.
He was greatly distressed by the unjust and harsh treatment meted out to the Phuthini. He greatly deprecated the atrocities committed by volunteer units and their Native levies, and found but little consolation in the fact that none of the troops under his command had been involved.
Durnford was not alone in his condemnation - the Colensos and a few other right-thinking persons felt the same. Even the British Government became concerned and Earl Carnarvon, then Secretary of State for Colonies, lost no time in making it clear to Governor Pine that the evidence before him did not support the allegation that the Phuthini had been in collusion with Langalibalele and he could find no justification for the ill-treatment imposed on them.
He ordered all possible reparation to be made forthwith. The Natal Government was as recalcitrant and even slower in carrying out the British Government's order than Langalibalele had been in carrying out theirs. It took many months before all the members of the tribe were released from captivity. While the tribe's losses in cattle, land and other possessions amounted to an estimated UK PNDS40 000, the Natal Government granted them compensation to the value of UK PNDS12 000 (realised from the sale of confiscated cattle) - and even spread the payment of this amount over a number of years!
In the meantime Durnford had been appointed Acting Colonial Engineer, a function he had to perform in addition to his military duties. This gave him an opportunity to establish some contact with members of the Phuthini tribe and he subsequently played a meaningful part in regaining for them their freedom and rehabilitation. He drew his labour requirements from the ranks of the Phuthini prisoners who were then trained in the building and maintenance of roads and other works, and paid normal wages.
Throughout at least the first half of 1874 there was still a general scare, even traces of panic, among the white population in and around Estcourt about the possibility of further rebellion. Assaults on a couple of farmers by some scattered Hlubi tribesmen kept the embers of apprehension glowing. The Natal Government therefore decided to give the white community a greater sense of security by blocking all the passes leading out of Natal over the Drakensberg.
Not only would 'hostile natives' be prevented from entering Natal, but any rebels would be stopped from escaping across the mountains.
As Colonial Engineer and senior Engineer Officer, Durnford was entrusted with the task of organising the demolition of the passes. For this purpose he collected a company of the 75th Infantry under Capt Boyes and Lt Trower, some mounted Basutos and a labour force of 90 Phuthini prisoners who were promised their release if they rendered satisfactory service.
Such was the tendency to panic in the colony that, when it was observed that Phutini prisoners, engaged on road works, who had been under the care of a corporal for some months and taught discipline in falling in, shouldering their picks and shovels, etc., Durnford was publicly attacked for imparting military training to 'rebels'. Undaunted by these charges Durnford marched his force to Estcourt at the end of May 1874, and then from there up to the Bushman's River valley.
Writing home, he described his order to march as follows: '. . . an advance of fourteen Basutos, little fellows, dressed in every variety of costume, mounted on hardy little horses and armed with breech-loading carbines, which they regard as the "apple of their eye".
Then twenty men of the tribe of Phutini, dressed in old soldier great-coats, and carrying each a pick and shovel, blankets, mats, etc. These are prisoners to make good the approach down the banks of streams, to fill up mud holes, and so on, for we march across country without roads. Then come pack-horses and pack-oxen, each lead by a wild-looking native with assegais in his hand. Then three waggons, each drawn by sixteen oxen.
. . . After these, seventy men of the working party, then the troops, and after them slaughter cattle, sheep and goats, and milch cows, the whole being closed by a rear guard of six Basutos'.
The expedition encountered bitterly cold weather and heavy snow storms. After two months of heavy work and many hardships the party returned to Pietermaritzburg on 30 July 1874, when Durnford could triumphantly report upon the good behaviour of the Phuthini with no abscondments, notwithstanding the hardships they had had to endure.
The governor eventually granted a pardon to the whole of the Phuthini tribe which was then permitted to return to its former location.
At Fort Napier Durnford occupied a double marquee which he made as homely and comfortable as he could, even to the extent of planting masses of flowers around it. To ensure a supply of fresh milk and butter he kept his own cows. He allowed himself little leisure, working hard and immersing himself almost completely in his duties as colonial and military engineer.
Yet, he found time and opportunity to demonstrate in a quiet but practical way his sympathy and concern for the indigenous population. He arranged for the feeding of the pardoned Phuthini tribe which had been deprived of everything they had possessed; he encouraged the Phuthini to save in order to buy their own land, and found employment for the Phuthini men and the amaHlubi who, after the capture of Langalibalele on 11 December 1873, began to drift back into Natal.
His sentiments and actions towards the indigenous people, so far advanced and ahead of his times, earned him the grateful devotion of these people - and the continued hostility of the colonial society.
The Colensos, whom he often visited on a Sunday, remained his closest and staunchest friends. The unhappiness of a romance which had no future was tempered by the encouragement and comfort which he derived from Nell Colenso's warm and sincere friendship.
(Frances Colenso was known as Nell)
There was no remedy, however, for the pain and disability of his wounded left arm. It was frequently the cause of great discomfort, particularly under conditions of severe cold, such as during the demolition of the passes.
In 1875 Lieutenant-Governor Pine was recalled in consequence of the manner in which he had mishandled matters during the Langalibalele rebellion and had made a mockery of Langalibalele's subsequent trial. Sir Garnet Wolseley was sent out as special commissioner until the new lieutenant-governor arrived. He took up residence in Pietermaritzburg on 2 April 1875, and remained there for five months.
Wolseley strongly disapproved of Durnford's involvement in colonial politics and promptly advised him to that effect. An entry in his diary reads: 'I told him plainly that the way he had mixed himself up with Native affairs here had weakened his usefulness as a public servant in the colony'.
Angered by Wolseley's criticism, Durnford offered to resign his post as Acting Colonial Engineer.
Although Wolseley refused to accept this resignation, his assessment must have had its equal in higher quarters because, in response to an earlier request by Governor Pine to Lord Carnarvon that the post of Colonial Engineer be filled on a permanent basis, Capt A.H. Hime, RE, a junior officer in the same corps as Durnford, was duly assigned to the post.
This appointment, coming early in 1875, was a great disappointment to Durnford and even Wolseley's sense of justice and military decorum was outraged. 'It was most unwise of Carnarvon doing this,' he wrote on 11 July 1875, 'and it is very unjust to Lt-Col Durnford, R.E., who has been for over a year or two acting as Colonial Engineer, that [this] officer is in fact superseded by a junior of his own Corps, as if he had committed some great fault or had shown great incapacity - I have had to find fault with him more than once for mixing himself up in political affairs but I have always found him to be most hard-working'.
On 12 June 1875, Durnford set sail for England where his arm received medical treatment but with little effect. When he was advised to try the thermal springs at Wildbad in Germany, he decided to take with him his 18-year old daughter whom he had last seen when she was still a child.
Although this interlude gave him a welcome opportunity to become reacquainted with his 'one pet lamb', the springs effected no real improvement in his ailment. On his return to England, Durnford was posted to Cork in Ireland
Durnford was particularly unhappy at his new station. The damp climate aggravated his pain and he felt lonely and frustrated. His general health deteriorated to such an extent that doctors recommended service in a warmer climate.
He was duly posted to Mauritius, but Lt Col Brooke, RE, who had replaced him in South Africa, offered to exchange places with him.
By 23 March 1877, Durnford was back in Pietermaritzburg and, upon learning that Shepstone was in Pretoria preparing for the annexation of the Transvaal, immediately set about establishing the rudiments of a permanent cantonment at Newcastle in case Shepstone should need military assistance, and also as a precautionary measure in the light of the unrest which had already prevailed in Zululand for some months.
The cause of Zulu discontent was the failure to reach satisfactory settlement of the dispute concerning the boundary between Zululand, Natal and Transvaal.
Ever since 1861 the Boers had been moving into Zululand, settling in the area between the headwaters of the Buffalo and Pongola Rivers. By 1877 they were occupying a large strip of Zululand which lay beyond the Transvaal border.
Sir Henry Bulwer, who had succeeded Sir Garnet Wolseley and had become lieutenant-governor in 1875, agreed to appoint a commission to investigate and report upon the respective claims to the disputed territory.
When appointed, this commission comprised Michael H. Gallway (Attorney-General of Natal), John Wesley Shepstone (Acting Secretary of Native Affairs in Natal) and Lt Col Durnford. The commission's report, drafted by Durnford, was completed by 24 June 1878, and favoured the Zulus. Bulwer accepted the findings but the High Commissioner, Sir Bartle Frere, was seriously disappointed. Whereas a contrary finding would have provided a pretext for declaring war or the Zulus which he had been planning since December 1877, he now had to cast around for some other casus belli.
In order to gain time Frere delayed the publication of the commission's findings for almost six months. Having by then almost completed his preparations for war, the findings of the commission were presented to the Zulus together with the so-called 'ultimatum' on 11 December 1878.
These preparations included raising a force of some 7 000 Native levies advocated by Lord Chelmsford as eady as August that year and finally approved by the lieutenant-governor in November. The original scheme for the organisation of such a Native contingent had been prepared and carefully worked out by the indefatigable Durnford and was based on his sound knowledge of the Natives.
When laid before Lord Chelmsford it met with unqualified approval; so much so, that his first reaction was to entrust the organisation and chief command of the whole contingent to Durnford, but on the advice of his staff changed his mind and divided the contingent among the various columns.
In the end, Durnford was given command of No. 2 Column comprising the 1st Regiment, Natal Native Contingent (three battalions) and five troops of mounted Natives.
Much to his disappointment he was stationed at Kranskop in a reserve position with the added task of guarding the Middle Drift over the Tugela. Two days after the expiry of the 'ultimatum' he advised Lord Chelmsford by means of a hurried note that he intended invading Zululand on the strength of information he had received that a Zulu impi was heading for Middle Drift below Kranskop.
Without waiting for approval, he set his troops in motion and might have marched straight to Ulundi, had he not received an angry note from the general ordering him back to his base and warning him that he would be relieved of his command if he once again disobeyed instructions. A rather subdued Durnford returned to his camp at Fort Cherry.
A week later Durnford was ordered up to Rorke's Drift with a portion of his force and from there to Isandlwana where he arrived at 10h00 on that fateful 22 January 1879. He found Lt Col Pulleine, 24th Regiment, in charge of the camp, Lord Chelmsford and Col Glyn, the actual commander of No.3 Column, having left early that same morning on a forward movement.
At 08h05 Pulleine had sent a message to Lord Chelmsford reading: 'Report just come in that Zulus are advancing in force from left front of camp'; but by the time Durnford arrived (two hours later) no further developments had taken place.
By virtue of his seniority Durnford was deemed automatically to have taken over command from Pulleine. After an hour's discussion Durnford decided to move out again on a reconnaissance in force, and when he left at 11h00 it would seem natural that the command of the camp would have reverted to Pulleine.
Much argument has ensued over who was actually in command at the critical times - Durnford or Pulleine.The facts of the case are, however, that while Durnford was away the main attack by the Zulus developed and all troop dispositions to meet this attack must have been made by Pulleine.
At no time did Pulleine diminish his own troops in order to assist Durnford. On the contrary, when Durnford became aware of the attack and the left wing of the Zulu army approached his own force, he made an orderly withdrawal to a big donga not far from the camp where he made a stand to hold the encircling left wing of the enemy at bay.
During the main onslaught he was thus back in position to participate in the defence of the camp, but at that stage he had no longer any means of establishing contact with Pulleine or any one else. The time was now 12h20.
As his own force was under pressure and as the British positions were beginning to be overrun by the Zulus, Durnford fought his way back to the neck from where his mounted natives now made good their escape.
He, however, stood fast and rallied around himself a body of men who fought to keep the only escape route open and to cover the retreat of their comrades. Here Anthony Durnford fell, surrounded by some 30 men of the 24th, 26 Natal Police and 14 Natal Cambineers.
It was almost like an act of atonement that the Carbineers rallied around and stood by him in the hour of death, because by their devotion they cleared their name which had been blotted by the desertion of their comrades six years earlier. Zulu warriors testified in later days with great admiration to the incredible valour of these men and their tall officer who carried his left arm in a sling.
The gallant Durnford was dead. The living had to consider their reputations and the prestige of the units they represented. As Durnford was dead, his prestige thus became expendable: as no other Royal Engineer was involved in the battle, the prestige of the Corps was not at stake.
Since he had been in command of the camp at least once that day, it had been assumed from the outset that the responsibility for what happened had been mainly his: the arguments for and against the theory of 'poor Durnford's defeat' have been expounded over many years and are a talking point even today.
Four months later, on 21 May 1879, a party under Gen Marshall visited the scene of battle. A member of this party, Jabez, one of Durnford's loyal servants, found the body of his master. He wrapped it in a part of a wagon sail-cover, placed it in a donga and covered it with stones. A yoke stay and a shovel handle were driven into the ground to mark the spot. His body remained in that simple grave until 12 October, when it was taken to Pietermaritzburg and buried in the military cemetery at Fort Napier.
Anthony Durnford appears in the pages of history as a somewhat eccentric, if not contentious figure. He was praised at times, reviled and criticised at others.
He was rebuked by Wolseley and Chelmsford at different times for acting in excess of his authority, apparently mostly due to over enthusiasm and almost boyish impetuosity, but never due to recalcitrance.
Twice he was made the scapegoat for the shortcomings of others. At the Bushman's River Pass inquiry he was denied the opportunity of presenting his case; military decorum and personal dignity stopped him from seeking redress in public.
At Isandlwana a hero's death had sealed his lips.
Whatever his failings and shortcomings might have been, no one could ever deny his purity of purpose, his sincerity and charity in the cause of the underprivileged, the needy and the poor - nor was there ever any doubt about his high sense of duty and his personal valour.
Sir Henry Bulwer, Lieutenant-Governor of Natal, sketched a true picture of this man when he said:
'Colonel Durnford was a soldier of soldiers, with all his heart in his profession; keen, active-minded, indefatigable, unsparing of himself, and utterly fearless, honourable, loyal, of great kindness and goodness of heart. I speak of him as I knew him, and as all who knew him will speak of him'.
Thanks have been expressed for the writing of this article, to the South African Military Society.
Binns, C.T. The last Zulu king: the life and death of Cetshwayo. London, Longmans, 1963.
Colenso. F.E. (ed). History of the Zulu War and its origin, by F.E. Colenso assisted in those portions of the work which touch upon military matters by Lt-Col E. Durnford. London. Chapman & Hall, 1880.
Durnford. E.C.L. (ed) A soldier's life and work in South Africa, 1872 to 1879: a memoir of the late Col. A.W. Durnford, RE. London, Sampson Low, Marson, Searle & Rivington, 1882.
Frouw, P.A. The career of Colonel A. W. Durnford in South Africa, 1873-1879. University of Natal. unpubl. thesis, 1979.
Morris, D. The washing of the spears. London, Jonathan Cape, 1966.
Pearse, R.O. Barrier of spears: drama of the Drakensberg Cape Town, Howard Timmins. 1973.
Pearse, R.O.Langalibalele and the Natal Carbineers: the story of the Langalibalele Rebellion 1873. Ladysmith Historical Society, 1973.
Preston, A. (ed). Sir Garnet Wolseley's South African diaries, 1875. South African biographical and historical studies, Vol 11, Cape Town, A.A. Balkema, 1971.
Return to Journal Index OR Society's Home page
South African Military History Society / firstname.lastname@example.org
2 February 1879
- 1. North Wales Express, 18 April 1879.
- 1. North Wales Express, 11 April 1879.
19 February 1879
We had a very hard fight for about three hours at a place called Isandhlwana. The Zulus attacked our camp and as soon as we saw them coming, we struck the tents and formed square around the ammunition, and we kept them back for three hours. The General was not with us at the time; he was out somewhere and the colonel that was in command of us (as soon as he saw the Zulus retiring) ordered us to advance after them. We went about 300 yards and they were so many that they came in our rear and took the camp and everything that belonged to us; they came about us so thick that we could not handle our guns and then we knocked them down with the butt of the gun; the Zulus killed about 1841 of our fellows altogether but we ourselves killed some of the volunteers because they were running away and the colonel in command shot himself because he knew he had done wrong. He should not have put us to advance after them and leave the ammunition. However, we killed about 6000 that day. David Davies has been killed....
Chelmsford, third Baron (1868–1933)
After education at Winchester and at Magdalen College, Oxford, he graduated B.A. (first-class honours in law) in 1891 (M.A., 1894), was a fellow of All Souls College in 1892-99 and was called to the Bar of the Inner Temple in 1893. A keen cricketer, he had captained the Oxford XI and played occasionally for Middlesex. On 27 July 1894 he married Frances Charlotte Guest, daughter of Lord Wimborne. He sat on the London School Board in 1904-05, resigning upon succeeding to the barony.
In July 1905 he accepted the surprise appointment as governor of Queensland.
Chelmsford arrived in Brisbane and was sworn in on 20 November. His term was dominated by conflict between the Upper and Lower Houses and the emergence of three evenly divided parties in the Legislative Assembly. In November 1907 he refused the premier William Kidston's request to appoint sufficient legislative councillors to ensure the passage of the wages boards bill. Kidston resigned and (Sir) Robert Philp formed a ministry which was promptly defeated in the assembly.
Chelmsford then blundered by granting Philp a dissolution, though the parliament was only six months old. Supply was denied, and the governor was sharply criticized in the assembly. Kidston was returned to office in the February 1908 election. Though the Colonial Office considered Chelmsford had erred, his acceptance of the financial burden of an Australian governorship, his intellectual ability and attention to the social duties of the office ensured that he retained the British government's confidence.
In May 1909 Chelmsford left Brisbane to become governor of New South Wales. His term in Sydney was distinguished by cordial relations with the State's first Labor government under J. S. T. McGowen; D. R. Hall later commented that 'without attempting to usurp the functions of his advisers, the Governor was their guide philosopher, and friend'. In October 1912, when his intention to resign for the sake of his sons' education was announced, McGowen praised him as 'more than a Governor to me. He has been a friend with his advice'. Ada Holman described him as 'pale, slim, handsome, cultivated'. He played the cello capably and had encouraged chamber music at Government House in Brisbane and Sydney. From 21 December 1909 to 27 January 1910 he had acted as governor-general when Lord Dudley was on leave. He returned to England in March 1913.
Chelmsford was a captain in the 4th Dorset Territorials. Upon the outbreak of war in 1914 he joined his regiment and went with it to India. In January 1916 he was unexpectedly appointed viceroy of India. Though 'more nearly an agent, and less of a policy maker than any viceroy in the last period of British rule', he helped introduce the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms which set India on the path to responsible government. He was criticized for equivocating over an inquiry into General Dyer's actions at Amritsar in April 1919 and was also faced with Gandhi's first non-co-operation campaign. Chelmsford resigned in 1921, returned to England and was raised to the rank of viscount.
Chelmsford was chairman of the Miners' Welfare Committee under the Mining Industry Act of 1920 and of the royal commission on mining subsidence in 1923-24.
From January to November 1924 he was first lord of the Admiralty in Ramsay MacDonald's government, explaining that, detached from politics, he was prepared 'to help carry on the King's Government on a disclosed programme'. The last of Chelmsford's series of surprising appointments was the post of agent general in London for New South Wales, which he accepted in June 1926.
Labor premier J. T. Lang explained to his caucus that 'it was absolutely necessary that the State should be represented by a gentleman who would be in close touch with the London financial market'. The appointment was not renewed when (Sir) Thomas Bavin came to office in October 1927.
Again elected a fellow of All Souls in 1929, Chelmsford became warden in 1932. He died of coronary vascular disease on 1 April 1933, survived by his younger son and four daughters. His eldest son had been killed in action in 1917.
On that note, the Stories of our Isaacson ancestors leave England, and follow the life of our G.G. Grandfather, Montagu John Felton Durnford Youngest son of Andrew Montagu Isaacson Durnford and Mary Hadley.
There are no heroics in his story, it is amazing to think that they even belonged to the same family!
Andrew had 17 children with 3 women. Two he married, making him a bigamist, one he partnered.
Two died in childbirth, and of his children with Mary Hadley, the whereabouts of Sarah Durnford and Caroline from 1851 are unknown.