South African Military 
History Society


March 2009

Contact: Mike Laing 031-205-1951
Bill Brady 031-561-5542

The DDH was presented by fellow member Captain Brian Hoffman entitled The Immortal Memory - Admiral Nelson. Brian opened by saying that the talk could easily be called The Nelson Legend, considering how the spirit of Nelson has survived two centuries and why it is as strong as ever. The death of Nelson came as a great shock to the nation, reduced brave men to tears and set in motion a rash of tributes, many bizarre, rarely seen before or since. The opening words in Admiral Collingwood's first official dispatch were not about a great victory but about the ever-to-be - lamented death of Nelson. The King was so shocked he remained speechless for 5 minutes before pronouncing that "England's loss far exceeds the fruits of a great victory"

Thus was born the Nelson Legend, when he became someone larger than life and an inspiration to each passing generation of Britons, when he ceased to be a person of his own times but a hero of all ages. The association of the word immortal is enshrined in the famous toast on Trafalgar Night - "The Immortal Memory" Its exact origins hard to trace, which may have evolved gradually rather than at a precise place and time. The first recorded use of the current wording of the toast is in a letter from Lady Hamilton, dated 31 Jul 1813, to an old friend, Thomas Lewis, inviting him to join her on the anniversary of the Battle of the Nile at 12 Temple Place, where she was living 'within rules' of the Kings bench (otherwise a debtors' prison). She promised "If you come we will drink to his Immortal Memory". The Immortal Memory is not a unique toast as Shakespeareans drink to the Immortal memory on 23 Apr and Scots to Burns Night on 25 Jan.

By the middle of the 19th century there was renewed interest in Nelson. In 1844, Queen Victoria was en route to Portsmouth Harbour after a stay at Osborne on the Isle of Wight. She noticed Victory was decked with laurel wreaths and flags, when being reminded that it was Trafalgar Day she went on board was given a tour of the ship, and was taken to the spot where Nelson died. There was a simple wreath on the spot; she paused in silence for a few moments before bending down to pluck a leaf from the wreath as a memento. As to be expected there have been innumerable ships named Nelson that served with great distinction. Figureheads, Statues, Columns, Arches, and Plaques are everywhere. Many works of art depict from the 18th century depict Nelson in almost a religious context, often to resemble the Ascension of Christ into heaven and surrounded by mythological figures.

During WWII Winston Churchill found Nelson a source of inspiration and encouraged an aggressive naval spirit. The dash and courage of captains in the face of daunting odds, Capt Fogarty Fagan, armed merchant cruiser against the much superior armed Hipper,

Much has been written about the Nelson touch but perhaps one can encapsulate it as follows - "Nelson was a highly effective leader, able to sympathize with the needs of his men. He based his command on love, rather than authority, inspiring all with his considerable courage, commitment and charisma. He was very experienced in combat and a shrewd judge of his opponents, able to identify and exploit their weaknesses".

In 2002 a BBC survey of the 100 greatest Britons of all times, voted Nelson into 9th place on the list (8th place was John Lennon) Hundreds of people still flock to the village of his birth, Burnham Thorpe, well off the main tourist routes, to stand where he once stood. Two of many comments written in the church visitors book are "Nelson's spirit lives on" (a seaman from HMS FEARLESS and "Thank you Nelson" , written in large round school boy's hand, are perhaps the key to the Nelson Legend. His spirit certainly lives on and people clearly remain thankful for the inspiration he brings.

The Main Talk was delivered by fellow member David Fox that he named "The History of Fort Nottingham."

By 1848 many of the Boer Voortrekkers who had earlier settled in the Natal Midlands had either abandoned their farms or sold them to British settlers as they moved north away from the British authorities of the Crown Colony of Natal. One such settler was Duncan McKenzie who acquired the farm Leeuw Bosch from Johannes Maritz, either a brother or very close relative to the Voortrekker leader Gert Maritz. This farm was the most westerly farm occupied at the time between civilization and the Drakensberg Mountains and was to prove to be the eastern boundary of Fort Nottingham. The country was very different from what it looks like today. The main difference being that there were no trees or fences. Apart from a few peach trees planted by the Voortrekkers around their "sod dwellings" the only trees were the natural forests on the southern slopes of some of the hills. These forests, which are still in existence today, were the only source of building wood for miles around. At the time, the forests on Lions Bush and the Fort were full of giant yellowwood trees, many of which were used in the construction of local houses.

At a later date sawn yellowwood timber was transported as far as the Orange Free State where the timber was exchanged for cattle and sheep. To the South and East of Lions Bush, farms were quickly occupied by the influx of British settlers. These farmers soon found out however that they had the same problems as their predecessors, namely that of stock theft by raiding natives. There are no records of the raids on Voortrekker farms, but between 1845 and 1872 there were sixty two recorded raids, some of which penetrated as far south as Elandskop and farms in the Karkloof area.

During these raids large numbers of cattle and horses were stolen. In one of the largest raids, 300 head of cattle were stolen. In all, a total of 2,287 cattle and 400 horses were recorded as stolen. On the 30th July 1847, Mr. Pretorius of the farm Edenvale wrote to the Natal Witness saying that Bushmen had raided his farm and stolen 40 oxen and 16 horses. His nephew and six members of the Cape Mounted Rifles followed the raiders, and though they recovered some of the stock, those recovered were either maimed or "over driven". They came across a number that had been wantonly killed and their carcases left to rot.

The raiders entered Natal by coming around the southern slopes of the Drakensberg, crossing the Umzimkulu river high up through Chief Faku's Territory, then into the Drakensberg and down through Giant's Castle and so into Natal. The raiding parties consisted of as few as 4 to as many as 14. Some were mounted and a few had firearms in addition to their poisoned arrows. Although Chief Faku had entered into an agreement with the Cape Government on 7th of October 1844 not to allow the raiders access through his territory, (this agreement was later ratified by the Natal Government on the 28th of November 1855), and the Chief gave the raiders support and allowed them access through his territory. It was even thought that he had set aside an enclave in his area where they could rest.

On the 25th March 1856 the Acting Lt. Governor Colonel H. Cooper wrote to His Excellency Sir G. Grey the High Commissioner, that: "Faku has a retreat for raiders whence these scourges of the South African farmers will be able to make with impunity their destructive visits to all parts of the district."

By the 1850's the Government of the Colony was constantly being requested by the settlers to solve the problem of the raids. The Government decided that the best way to protect the farmers would be to create a buffer zone west of Lions Bush towards the Drakensberg. They suggested that a military outpost and a "pensioners village" with 13 000 acres of commonage be established. Presumably it was expected that either the military garrison would be able to protect the cattle of the villagers, or that the raiders would not have so far to walk and would find the cattle of the pensioners on the village commonage easier prey than those on the established farms to the south and east.

At the end of March 1856 the Acting Governor of the Colony of Natal sent a small detachment of the 45th Foot, the Sherwood Foresters, a Regiment from Nottingham in England to establish an outpost. The detachment set up a tented camp on a site about half a mile west of the present village. Until recently, the site was marked by a small caim and a brass plaque that read : "On this site in 1856 the 45* Regiment (1st Sherwood Foresters) was stationed to protect the settlers from marauding raiders, those "children of the mist" known to the Zulu as Abatwa." Unfortunately, the local Africans believed that money was buried under the caim and it was destroyed on several occasions and the brass plaque stolen. On one occasion a swarm of bees that had taken up residence in the caim may have led to its destruction in search of honey. A replica of the plaque was made, but the cairn was never rebuilt after the last assault on it.

Both talks were followed by a most lively question and answer session.

Lt. Col. Graeme Fuller thanked both speakers for two very professional and well researched talks that included a variety of illustrations.

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THIRD THURSDAY - 12 MARCH 2009 19.00 for 19.30

Usual Venue: Murray Theatre, Civil Engineering Building, Howard College Campus, UKZN
The DDH will be presented by Ian Sutherland who will talk on the First World War scuttling of the German High Seas fleet at Scapa Flow and subsequent salvage operations.
The Main Talk will be presented by Charles Whiteing who will talk on First World War Flying Aces.

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