South African Military History Society

News-sheet No. 75. DURBAN BRANCH July 1979


Mr. Charles Ballard, senior lecturer in history at the University of Natal, was guest speaker at our July meeting. An American by birth, Mr. Ballard has lived in South Africa for a number of years, anyway, sufficiently long to have developed a taste for South African, and particularly Natal History. As a result he was deeply involved in the Anglo-Zulu War Conference organised by the University of Natal in February, at which he also presented one of the papers. On the occasion of our monthly meeting Mr. Ballard chose as his subject the life of "John Dunn", the great white chief of Zululand and progenitor of the Dunn tribe.

John Robert Dunn was born at Port Alfred in 1833 and in his boyhood moved with his parents to Durban. His mother was Ann Biggar, second daughter of Alexander Harvey Biggar, a name well known in Natal history. He lost both his parents while still in his late teens. An orphan and a minor he was left to fend for himself. He married young, his bride being Catherine Pierce (of Malay descent, whose father was white), hunted and became a transport-rider.

In 1853 Dunn set out on his first hunting trip to Zululand and three years later became embroiled in the Zulu "civil war" which ended with the Battle of the Princes at Ndondakusuka in 1856. Although he had supported the loser, Mbulazi, by dint of his ability and personality he came to terms with the victorious Cetshwayo who accepted Dunn as his adviser in his dealings with the Natal Government. Dunn became established as a Zulu chief, in his own territory on the coastal plain just north of the Tugela.

He rendered outstanding service to Cetshwayo who consulted him on all matters of importance, and between them developed a sound friendship which was to last until the Zulu War in 1879. At this stage Dunn forsook his friend and took sides with the British.

During the pre-war years Dunn was a powerful influence in Zululand and contributed considerably to opening up the country and its development. While agricultural development and cattle rearing were positive aspects, his hunting expeditions with wholesale slaughter of game and his surreptitious importation of thousands of firearms into Zululand appear on the negative side.

His youthful marriage to a non-white made inevitable his difficult social and cultural situation, and his position in this regard was aggravated as he married more and more Zulu wives, about forty-eight in all. He died at his kraal Emoyeni (windy place) on 5th August 1895.

Mr. Ballard presented his subject with much insight and understanding, illustrated by a selection of transparencies. After a lively "question-time" he was thanked on behalf of the audience by Robin Drooglever.


The theme of this enthralling book is the Siege, which lasted from October 1899 to early March, 1900, and the story of the battles to bring about Ladysmith's eventual relief. Ladysmith Stationers has offered this Society a 10% discount Retail Price R14,00 + 56c GST, less 10% = R12,60 + 50c GST. Will any interested members please place orders with the undersigned.



The latest news-letter of the above Society (to which this Branch is affiliated) is attached. So far some six members of this branch have indicated their intention to participate. The guest-speaker after the A.G.M. at the Royal Hotel Buttery on the Friday nicjht will be our own Chairman, 'SB', who will be talking on "The Zulu War of 1879 as viewed by the public at the time".

8 p.m.
Fellow-member DARRELL HALL (assisted by Ken Johnson and Ken Gillings) will present a programme entitled "THE ESCAPE OF THE 'SCHARNHORST' AND THE 'GNEISENAU'"
September 20th (Please note that this is the third Thursday in the Month.) A T.V. documentary film entitled "Black as Hell, Thick as Grass", produced by Messrs. Casdagrove Ltd (Zulu War Centenary Merchandising) will be shown by Mr. Peter Walton of that firm. The film was made by Mr. Kenneth Griffith, Author of the book "Thank God We Kept the Flag Flying"), and is about Rorke's Drift. (Chairman 'SB' has, on behalf of the members of this Branch, extended an invitation to the members of the S.A. National Society (Historical) to attend the viewing of this most entertaining film.
October 18th (Please note that this is the third Thursday in the Month.) Major D. Mack of Natal Command will give a talk on the Angolan War(in which he was personally involved) entitled "Operation Savannah".
November 8thLt Col N.S.E. Martin will give a talk on "The History of NATO".
December 13thFellow-member Dr. Ian Copley will show some films on the war in Rhodesia on behalf of SARA (South Africa/Rhodesia Association). Included in these films will be one on the Rhodesian army's first raid into Zambia.

The venue for all meetings will be the Lecture Room of the Port Natal Administration Board, 'SB' BOURQUIN BUILDING, on the corner of Jan Smuts Highway and Buro Crescent, Mayville, on the second Thursday of each month, unless otherwise announced, commencing at 8 p.m. Glasses and ice will be supplied so please bring your own canned or bottled refreshments. Friends and interested persons are welcome to come along.

NOTE Prior to the announced programme for the next meeting (9th August) Darrell will be putting on a short slide show which gives a light-hearted look at members of the Society who enjoyed the recent trip to Zululand for the Zulu War Centenary commemoration programme. In his last newsletter the Johannesburg Branch's 'scribe' refers to "character assassinations" and "libel" so don't say you have had rio warning!

(Mrs) Tania van der Watt,
Secretary: Durban Branch, S.A.M.H.S.,
Pte Bag X54310, Durban, 4000.

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