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Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

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Ref. H 5/3/2

Rorke's Drift - Successful defence of -

Pietermaritzburg. Natal

12th February 1879

Inspector General of Fortifications
War Office
London. S .W.

[end of cover page]

Ref. H 5/3/2

Official Report of the Defence of Rorke's Drift

Rorke's Drift
25th Jan: 1879


I have the honor to report that on the 22 Inst: I was left in command at Rorke's Drift by Major Spalding who went to Helpmakaar to hurry on the Co. 24th Regt. ordered to protect the ponts.

About 3.15 p.m. on that day, I was at the ponts when two men came riding from Zululand at a gallop, and shouted to be taken across the river - I was informed by one of the, Lieut Adendorff of Lonsdale's Regt. (who remained to assist in the defence) of the disaster at Isandhlwana camp, and that the Zulus were advancing on Rorke's Drift. The other a carbineer rode off to take the news to Helpmakaar.

Almost immediately I received a message from Lieut. Bromhead, Commg. the company 24th Regt. at the Camp near the Commt. Stores, asking me to come up at once.

I gave the order to inspan, strike tents, put all stores & c into the waggon and at once rode up to the Commt. Store and found that a note had been received from the third Column to state that the enemy were advancing in force against our post, which we were to strengthen and hold at all costs.

Lieut. Bromhead was most actively engaged in loopholing and barricading the store building and hospital and connecting the defence of the two buildings by walls of mealie bags and two waggons that were on the grond.

I held a hurried consultation with him and with Mr. Dalton of the Commt. (who was actively superintending the work of defence, and whom I cannot sufficiently thank for his most valuable services), entirely approving of the arrangements made. I went round the position and then rode down to the Ponts and brought up the guard of 1 sergt. and 6 men, waggon &c.

I desire here to mention the offer of the punt man Daniells and Sergt. Milne 3rd Buffs, to moor the ponts in the middle of the stream and defend them from their decks with a few men. We arrived at the post about 3.30 p.m. Shortly after an officer of Durnfords Horse arrived and asked for orders; I requested him to send a detachment to observe the drifts and ponts, to throw out outposts in the direction of the enemy, and check his advance as much as possible, falling back upon the post when forced to retire and assisting in its defence.

I requested Lieut. Bromhead to post his men, and having seen his and every man at his post, the work once more went on.

About 4.20 p.m. the sound of firing was heard behind the hill to our south. The officer of Durnford's returned, reporting the enemy close upon us, and that his men would not obey his orders, but were going off to Helpmakaar, and I saw them, apparently about 100 in number, going off in that direction.

About the same time Capt. Stephenson's detachment of Natal Native contingent left us, as did that officer himself.

I saw that our line of defence was too extended for the small number of men now left us, and at once commenced a retrenchment of biscuit boxes.

We had not completed a wall two boxes high when about 4.30 p.m. 500 or 600 of the enemy came in sight around the hill to our south and advanced at a run against our south wall. They were met by a well sustained fire, but notwithstanding their heavy loss continued the advance to within 50 yards of the wall, when they met with such a heavy fire from the wall, and cross fire from the store, that they were checked, but taking advantage of the cover afforded by the cook house, ovens &c kept up a heavy fire. The greater number however without stopping, moved to the left around the hospital and made a rush at our N.W. wall of mealie bags, but after a short but desperate struggle were driven back with heavy loss into the bush around the work.

The main body of the enemy were close behind and had lined the ledge of rock and caves overlooking us about 400 yards to our south from where they kept up a constant fire, and advancing somewhat more to their left than the first attack, occupied the garden, hollow road and bush in great force.

Taking advantage of the bush which we had not time to cut down, the enemy were able to advance under cover close to our wall, and in this part soon held one side of the wall, while we held the other, a series of desperate assaults were made extending from the hospital along the wall as far as the bush reached, but each was most splendidly met and repulsed by our men with the bayonet, Corpl. Schiess N.N.O. greatly distinguishing himself by his conspicuous gallantry.

The fire from the rocks behind us, though badly directed, took us completely in reverse and was so heavy that we suffered very severely, and about 6 p.m. were forced to retire behind the retrenchment of biscuit boxes.

All this time the enemy had been attempting to force the hospital and shortly after set fire to its roof.

The garrison of the hospital defended it room by room, bringing out all the sick who could be moved before they retired, Privates Williams, Hook, R. Jones and W. Jones 24th Regt. being the last men to leave, holding the doorway with the bayonet their own ammunition being expended.

From the want of interior communication and the burning of the house it was impossible to save all - With most heartfelt sorrow I regret we could not save these poor fellows from their terrible fate.

Seeing the hospital burning and the desperate attempts of the enemy to fire the roof of the stores, we converted two mealie bag heaps, into a sort of redoubt which gave a second line of fire all round; Asst. Comy. Dunne working hard at this though much exposed, and rendering valuable assistance.

As darkness came on we were completely surrounded and after several attempts had been gallantly repulsed, were eventually forced to retire to the middle and then inner wall of the kraal on our east. The position we then had we retained throughout.

A desultory fire was kept up all night, and several assaults were attempted and repulsed; our men firing with the greatest coolness did not waste a single shot; the light afforded by the burning hospital being of great help to us.

About 4 a.m. 23rd Inst: the firing ceased and at daybreak the enemy were out of sight over the hill to the South West.

We patrolled the grounds collecting the arms of the dead Zulus, and strengthened our defences as much as possible.

We were removing the thatch from the roof of the stores when about 7 a.m. a large body of the enemy appeared on the hills to the South West.

I sent a friendly Kafir, who had come in shortly before with a note to the Officer commanding at Helpmakaar asking for help.

About 8 a.m. the third column appeared in sight, the enemy who had been gradually advancing, falling back as they approached. I consider the enemy who attacked us to have numbered about 3,000 (three thousand).

We killed about 350 (three hundred and fifty).

Of the steadiness and gallant behaviour of the whole garrison I cannot speak too highly.

I wish especially to bring to your notice the conduct of Lieut. Bromhead 2/24th Regt. and the splendid behaviour of his company B 2/24th.

Surgeon Reynolds A.M.D. in his constant attention to the wounded under fire where they fell.

Act. Commt. Officer Dalton, to whose energy much of our defences were due, and who was severely wounded while gallantly assisting in the defence.

Asst. Commy. Dunne
Acting Storekeeper Byrne (killed)
Col. Sergt. Bourne 2/24th
Sergt. Williams 2/24th (wounded dangerously)
Sergt. Windridge 2/24th
Corpl. Schiess 2/3 Natal Native Contingent (wounded)
1395 Private Williams 2/24th
593 Private Jones 2/24th
Private McMahon A.H.C.
Pte Beckett, 1/24th Regt.
making a total killed of 17
*List already forwarded by Medical Officer.

Herewith is appended a plan of the buildings showing our lines of defence the points of the compass referred to in this report are as shown in sketch approximately magnetic.

To Col. Glynn C. C/o Commt. 3rd Column

I have the honour to be your obedient servant
Jno R.M. Chard
(John) Lieut. R.E.

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