Upon mention of 'the Zulu War', most students of
military history tend to associate this dramatic event
with such famous battles as Rorke's Drift, Isandlwana,
and Ulundi, as well as the skirmish on the iJojosi
(Ityotyosi) River in which Eugene Louis Jean Joseph,
Prince Imperial of France and Son of Napoleon III and
the Empress Eugenie of France, met his untimely death.
Very little, indeed, hardly any, mention is made of two important actions of this War, one of which actually took place on the same day as Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift; daily, hundreds of people drive past the Wombane and Kia Ora with hardly a glance at the granite cross that marks the site of the battle of in indlovu. This can undoubtedly be attributed to the fact that the two sites lie in the heart of Natal's sugar belt and much of the battlefield has therefore been ploughed under.
Nevertheless, both are very easy to locate and are situated within 10 km of one another. Travelling from Durban to Eshowe, Gingindlovu is reached before Inyezane but in view of the fact that this battle was fought before Gingindlovu it is necessary to deal with the battle of Inyezane first. With this brief background, therefore, attention is focused upon the activities of the 1st or Coastal Column under the command of Colonel Charles Knight Pearson, that had invaded Zululand upon the expiry of the ultimatum, at the Lower Drift across the Tugela on Sunday, 12th January, 1879.
A large earth-walled fort was constructed on the Zulu side of the Tugela, opposite Fort Pearson, and named Fort Tenedos, after the British warship, from the crew of which part of the Naval Brigade was formed. The Fort was built under the supervision of Capt W.R.C. Wynne, R.E., and was large enough to give shelter to the entire Column in the event that it was attacked.
The Column consisted of the 2nd Battalion of the East Kent Regt (the 'Buffs'), the 99th Regt (the Duke of Edinburgh's Lanarkshire Regt), the Naval Brigade from H.M.S. Active, and H.M.S. Tenedos (the latter anchored off the mouth of the Tugela), 2 guns from the Royal Artillery, 2 seven-pounder guns with the Naval Brigade, a Gatling gun, various local Imperial Units consisting of the Natal Hussars, the Durban Mounted Rifles, Alexandra Mounted Rifles, Stanger Mounted Rifles and the Victoria Mounted Rifles. There were also some 2 200-odd Natal Natives formed into two battalions of the 2nd Regt., Natal Native Contingent and a company of Durnford's Natal Native Pioneer Corps.
The Battle of Inyezane - 22nd January, 1879, and the Siege of Eshowe
On the 18th January, Col Pearson set out from Fort Tenedos, en route to Ulundi via Eshowe. He spent that night encamped on the banks of the Inyoni River, having made slow progress from the Tugela due to the fact that the rivers and streams were in flood, and it was only possible for one wagon at a time to cross. On the 19th, the Umsundusi was crossed, and on the 20th, the advance party of the column reached the Amatikulu River, the largest since the crossing of the Tugela. Pearson decided to camp there to allow the rest of the column to catch up (some of the wagons were still crossing the Inyoni) and in view of the difficult drift, he ordered Capt Wynne and his Royal Engineers to improve the approaches, and spent the entire day in camp. The column crossed the Amatikulu on the 21st, Pearson making certain that the route ahead was thoroughly scouted. The advance parties reached Gingindlovu*, a military kraal established by Cetshwayo after his victory over Mbulazi at the Battle of Ndondakusuka, in 1856 and so named in commemoration thereof. The kraal was deserted and the soldiers set fire to it. A camp was established nearby, some four miles from the Inyezane River, which was crossed on the 22nd. The Mounted troops under the command of Major P.H.S. Barrow, 19th Hussars, reconnoitred the area across the Inyezane River and informed Pearson that they had found a reasonably flat area where the Column could halt until the wagons had been brought across. The men were given breakfast at this position, below Wombane Hill which formed the right spur of a high ridge that is in the shape of a letter E. These are the foothills of the high range of hills upon which Eshowe is situated. Whilst the troops were resting and the first of the wagons were crossing the Inyezane, some Zulus were observed on the summit of the centre spur and Pearson ordered Lt Reginald Hart, R.E., to take his Company of the Natal Native Contingent up this ridge in pursuit of them. The force set off, the N.N.C. being armed with only ten rifles, half of them obsolete, and the remainder of the troops carrying assegais. Worse still, there was a serious communication gap between the officers and their men, for none of them was able to converse in the other's language.
[*Gingindlovu - 'The place of he who swallowed the elephant' (Mbulazi). The soldiers, unable to master the Zulu language, called it 'gin, gin, I love you!']
Hart's men ascended the hill by way of the track to
Eshowe but before they had reached the top, the Zulus
dropped off the centre spur, moving through a ravine
separating the flanking spurs and reappeared some
distance away on Wombane, the right spur*. Hart left
the track and sent his men crashing through the thick
bush into the ravine, to ascend the right spur, where
they regrouped. At this point, a large Zulu impi
appeared, and Hart's ill-equipped men fled back into
the ravine, scrambling for the centre spur and then the
[*Also known as "Majia's kop".]
It was clear that the Zulus intended attacking the bivouac from the flanks and then overrunning the wagons. They ran headlong into the white officers, and some of the black NCOs still left on the right spur, killing Lts J.L. Raines, G. Platterer and six NCOs, and wounding Lt Webb and one NCO. By the time that the first warriors had reached the foot of the right spur, the rear were still spread out along the crest, and these became the targets of the infantry and the men of the Naval Brigade, the latter under the command of Commander Campbell. Maj Barrow's Mounted Troops now turned their fire upon the head of the impi which had swung right at the bottom of the spur and was closing in on the rest of the Column. They were joined by Capt Wynne and his engineers who, it will be recalled, had been working on the drift. Even before this took place, the guns, under the command of Lt Lloyd were brought into action and poured a devastating fire onto Zulus still on the spur; similarly, the Gatling gun, manned by some sailors under Midshipman L.C. Coker - a 19-year-old with some six years of naval service - was brought into action and sprayed its lethal load over the now hesitant Zulus. Meanwhile, another impi had taken possession of a kraal further up the track on the centre spur, and Commander Campbell, supported by Lt Hart's white survivors, directed his attention to these Zulus, with supporting fire from Lt Lloyd's guns which had ceased firing on the impi on the right spur. This bombardment resulted in the kraal being set alight and in the resulting confusion, the Naval Brigade and one company of 'the Buffs' had little difficulty in occupying the kraal.
The Zulus began to lose heart and, together with those warriors retreating up the right spur, took to their heels, disappearing into the hilly countryside. They had consisted of five regiments, the veteran iziNgulube, the iQhwa, the umxhapho, izinGwegwe, and the inSukamgeni, and totalled some 6 000. They had been commanded by the aged uMatyiya (Majia) and had evidently intended ambushing the column as it crossed the Inyezane drift, using the three spurs of Wombane in a 3-pronged attack. It had been as a result of Lt Hart's foray that the trap had been sprung prematurely, the loins and left horn had been checked, and the right horn on the left spur had not had the opportunity to make itself ready. The Zulus had lost some 350 in the attack, but the impi retreated in good order and was not too badly mauled.
Col Pearson's column halted briefly for the 10 men killed in the battle to be buried (16 were wounded) and continued up the tortuous track, making one more bivouac stop near the summit of the range to allow the forces, which were strung out over a distance of 5 miles (8 km) to regroup. They reached Eshowe on the morning of the 23rd and Pearson chose the Rev. Martin Oftebrow's deserted mission station as a camp site. By the 25th, earthworks had been started according to a plan made by Capt Wynne, and these were completed some days later. The fort was oblong in shape, 200 metres long, 50 metres wide, with 2-metre-high earth walls and surrounded by a ditch over 2 metres deep. The buildings of the mission station were incorporated into the defences.
On the morning of the 25th January, two companies of 'the Buffs' and the 99th Regt escorted 48 wagons out of the fort to collect additional supplies from Fort Pearson. Shortly after they had left, Pearson learnt of the massacre which had taken place at Isandlwana and the death of Durnford who, when Pearson had last heard, was at Middle Drift. This gave Pearson the impression that the Second Column at Jamieson's Drift (some 90 km upstream from Fort Pearson) had been attacked with disastrous consequences, and the realisation that a reportedly massive Zulu force lay between him and Kranskop, together with the thought that there was nothing to stop this impi from invading Natal, suddenly dawned on him. It was only on the 28th that a message was received from Lord Chelmsford in Pietermaritzburg giving details of the disaster that had befallen the Central Column, and advising Pearson to prepare himself for an attack by the entire Zulu army, to strike his tents, and to use the wagons for shelter, if, indeed, he decided to stay at Eshowe at all. In the light of this development, Pearson called a council-of-war and the officers elected to withdraw. However, even while the meeting was in progress, Pearson received a message to the effect that wagon-loads of supplies were close by and that he would then have sufficient stores and ammunition to withstand a major attack or a prolonged siege.
Throughout this period, an increasing number of
Zulus appeared in the vicinity. Pearson began to send
certain unnecessary impedimenta back to Fort Pearson
and on the 29th January, Maj Barrow returned to that
place with all the mounted men and the 2nd Regt,
N.N.C. The countryside was swarming with loose
pockets of Zulus who followed this force back, but made
no attempt to attack. Then, due to lack of grazing within
the confines of the fort, Pearson decided to send back
the more than 1200 oxen (so laboriously acquired by
Chelmsford) and of these, 900 were captured by the
Zulus within an hour of their having left the camp.
Thereafter, in the days that followed, Pearson became
aware that fewer messengers were arriving from Fort
Tenedos and Fort Pearson; but he was still able on the
odd occasion to heliograph back to Fort Pearson from
Mbomboshana, a prominent hill south of his fort at Kwa
Mondi. At this stage he had only some 1300 white
combatants and 400 black drivers and conductors; he
accordingly sent a message to Lord Chelmsford
advising him of his predicament and requesting seven
additional companies of infantry. After a week,
Chelmsford replied that he had no reinforcements
available and that Pearson should withdraw from
Eshowe. From the messages arriving via his runners,
Pearson was fully aware that it would be impossible to
do this in one stage and he requested permission to
withdraw the bulk of his force in stages, leaving a group
small enough to guard the fort and exist on the rations
available. However, this message never reached
Chelmsford, for the Zulus had effectively sealed off all
access and egress to and from Fort Eshowe. For the first
and only time during the Zulu War, the Zulus were able
to pin down a force armed with rifles, guns, and even a
Gatling gun: Eshowe was actually in a state of siege by an
army of warriors, armed for the most part with assegais.
The siege was destined to last for another 2 months, before Pearson was to be relieved by Lord Chelmsford and Maj Gen Henry Hope Crealock on the 3rd April. Details of this period, however, will be described later in this article.
During the long months of siege, many of the garrison died of dysentery, enteric, and other fevers. There was the occasional skirmish, perhaps the most notable being one that took place on the 13th February, when the Zulu attacking force was pursued as far as the military kraal at Entamedi (Entumeni?). The fort can still be seen, and a large cemetery nearby contains the graves of most of those who died during the siege. The area of Fort Eshowe (also known as Fort Ekowe and Kwa Mondi) is badly overgrown and the graves within the walls have almost disappeared. After the relief, the buildings of the mission station were burnt by the Zulus but were subsequently rebuilt on the adjoining ridge.
The little cemetery at the foot of Wombane is also very badly overgrown but the S.A. War Graves Board has erected a granite cross with the names of those who were killed inscribed thereon, and reburied the dead in a mass grave. To visit this site, turn off to the left of the Gingindlovu / Eshowe road at the foot of the mountain pass, on the farm Morgenster, the owner being listed on the board as Mr Peter Lovell-Shippey. The cemetery is on the right of the old track as it begins to ascend the hill.
Further along the road past Kwa Mondi on Mpondweni Hill is a monument to Macamusela Knyile who was one of the first Christian converts to be shot on the orders of Cetshwayo. The deed was carried out by Nyamalala Zondo on the 3rd March 1877, and the monument is referred to as the Martyr's Cross.
The Battle of Gingindlovu and the Relief of Eshowe 2/3 April 1879
Following the disaster at Isandlwana, plans were
gradually evolved for a second invasion of Zululand
from the lower drift of the Tugela River. Colonial units
were reorganized and in some cases revived. With much
difficulty, oxen and wagons were gradually obtained to
replace those lost up to that date and Lord Chelmsford
even managed to secure the alliance of John Dunn, the
famous trader often referred to in this period of our
history. His official title in his new role was to be Chief of
Several weeks passed while Lord Chelmsford prepared for the second invasion; and during this period he set about his task of preparing for this with ruthless precision, hampered by an obstinate and reluctant Natal Government, whose European subjects viewed his policy of re-arming the Natal Natives, their ranks reinforced by men of the Natal Native Contingent, with total disapproval. Meanwhile, Col Pearson, whom it will be recalled was besieged in Eshowe, patiently awaited the advance of the relief column, keeping his men occupied by strengthening the fortifications which surrounded the Mission Station at Kwa Mondi and executing the occasional raid on nearby kraals. It was not long before dysentery began to take its toll on the men within the confines of the fort and by the end of March, the food position had become critical and the draft oxen had begun to replace the slaughter cattle as a primary source of food. However, by this time the relief Column had already crossed the Tugela and was nearing Wombane ridge, and it is at this point that it is necessary to return to the activities of Lord Chelmsford.
By mid-March, Lord Chelmsford's preparations for the proposed relief of Eshowe had virtually been completed and he took personal command of this column which once again made Fort Pearson its base. By the 28th March all the troops and impedimenta had been transferred across the flooded Tugela River where Fort Tenedos was similarly used as a headquarters whilst the men were encamped in the area north of the precincts of the fort.
At this stage it is necessary to consider the make-up of this formidable force which consisted of two Divisions, an Advance and a Rear Division. The former was commanded by Lt Col T.A. Law of the Royal Artillery and consisted of two companies of 'the Buffs', five companies of the 99th Regt, and the entire 91st Regt, and, in addition, 350 men of the Naval Brigade.
The Rear Division was commanded by Lt Col W.L.
Pemberton of the 3rd Battalion, 60th Rifles. Under him
were the 57th Regt, six companies of his own 3rd/6Oth
Rifles (commanded by Lt Col F.V. Northey, about
whom more will be related later in this account) 190
sailors, and a company of the Royal Marine Light
Infantry. In addition, the remnants of the Natal Native
Contingent had been regrouped and posted to what was
now referred to as the 4th and 5th Battalions, N.N.C.
The Artillery for the invasion consisted of two 9-pr
guns, two 24-pound rocket tubes, and two Gatling guns.
Finally, Maj Percy Barrow commanded some 70
Mounted Infantry (which included a newly established
Unit called the Natal Volunteer Guides, commanded by
Capt Friend Addison) 130 Natal Natives, and 150 blacks
supplied by John Dunn.
Chelmsford's new force totalled over 3300 whites and almost 2300 blacks. In view of the lessons learnt at Isandlwana, stringent measures were taken to ensure that such a debacle did not re-occur; ammunition was more evenly distributed throughout the column and strict laagering instructions were given for implementation when the column halted on overnight stops, with both out- and inlying pickets posted in strength around the camp.
With Chelmsford was an unbelievably long convoy of wagons and animals which stretched out his column to well over five kilometres! However, on the march this occasionally became more than 16 km, usually as a result of the column becoming held up at the numerous drifts which it encountered en route. This situation alone could have presented serious problems for Chelmsford had his adversaries been more tactically minded, for one need only observe the old drifts over the Inyoni and Amatikulu Rivers to appreciate the problems that were encountered when, in most cases, only one wagon at a time could cross the flooded rivers.
The march began at 06h00 on 29th March and the column made slow and steady progress, encountering the problems referred to.
The Amatikulu River was crossed by the Advance Division which then proceeded for approximately 2,5 km past the drift (which can still be seenjust to the left of the present bridge over the Amatikulu) and established a camp, to await the arrival of the Rear Division. The crossing had taken the column almost an entire day to complete and the distance between bivouacs was only approximately 3,5 km.
On the 1st April, Capt W.C.F. Molyneaux rode out of the camp, accompanied by John Dunn, to select a laager site for that night. They chose one on a slight rise near the south bank of the Inyezane River and close by the burnt out Gingindlovu military kraal. A certain amount of uncertainty about the exact locality of the site of this kraal has existed for many years but a great deal of recent research has established almost without doubt that it is situated on the farm Kia-Ora, belonging to Mr M. Kramer. The laager site has been almost bisected by the present road from Gingindhlovu to Eshowe and was a few metres east of the small military cemetery. Towards evening, the wagons had completed the laager and the men settled down to a wet, miserable night.
Maj. Barrow's scouts had reported the presence of Zulus in the vicinity of the Umisa ridge, a long feature which stretches in the shape of a half moon from the Amatikulu River in the West, to Umisa Hill, which is at beacon 153, above Overdene Estates. In addition, Col Pearson heliographed Chelmsford from Eshowe advising him that he could clearly observe a Zulu Impi approaching the Inyezane Valley. On the night of the 1st, Dunn and Capt Molyneaux rode out in the direction of the Inyezane River to check the presence of any Zulus across the stream and they later reported that a large number of Zulu camp fires were burning, indicating the presence of a large impi. It was generally expected that the Zulus would attack the following day.
Even as the camp stood to at first light on the 2nd April, the outlying pickets galloped in to announce an imminent attack by the Zulus. A heavy mist shrouded the surrounding countryside making visibility difficult. However, it was not even necessary to position the men, for they had all been primed for the attack and had taken up their posts as follows:
North (front) face- 60th Rifles
Right flank face - 57th Regiment
Left flank face - 99th Regiment and 'the Buffs'
Rear face - 91st Regiment
Each angle was manned by the Naval Brigade,
Bluejackets from HMS Boadicea and Marines. The
Gatling from Boadicea was mounted in the
North-eastern corner and the two rocket tubes under Lt
Kerr were positioned on the North-west corner,
whereas the two 9-pr guns under Lt Kingscote covered
the South-west. The second Gatling and two more
rocket tubes covered the South-eastern approach and
these were under Commander Brackenbury.
At 05h45, the outlying pickets of the 60th and 99th Regiment galloped in to herald the arrival of the Zulus. By 06h00, the attack had commenced on the north front where the Zulus had first been observed. They were commanded by Somapo and Dabulamanzi, who had been given strict instructions by Cetshwayo to prevent the relief column from linking up with Col Pearson in Eshowe. They were about to discover to their cost the effect of their disregard of these orders!
The Impi was first observed as the mist began to lift. Even before the impi crossed the Inyezane River, it had begun to split up into the traditional Zulu horn-formation, with the two horns running ahead of the chest or loins. As the impi drew opposite the laager, it entered the water and splashed across, the right wing and loins split up again and trotted over the Umisa Hill to the west. Having split up, it became clear that the column was facing no less than six Zulu Regiments, as well as a reserve, the former totalling over 10 000 and the reserve in excess of 2000. Most were warriors who had fought at Isandlwana, the regiments being the Uve, in Gobamakhosi, umCijo, umHlanga, uMbonambi, and the head-ringed uThulwana. The Gatling from HMS Boadicea rattled off the first shots at a range of 1000 metres, and the Zulus dropped into the long grass and reappeared some 300 metres from the shelter trench, at which range fire was brought to bear on them in volleys. This checked their advance to some extent, and prompted Lord Chelmsford to order Maj Barrow to make a somewhat premature charge with his mounted infantry, in an attempt to check the advance of the Zulu left horn. The Zulus were quick to realize that Barrow was uncomfortably far from the laager and threatened to cut him off in the rear. Chelmsford ordered him back to the safety of the laager but the men had to fight their way in.
Despite fearless determination, the Zulus were unable to advance to within more than 20 metres of the laager and this only by launching wave after wave of attacks. Despite the fact that the British were so well entrenched, they suffered some serious casualties. Lt Col Northey being hit in the shoulder, and although the naval surgeon managed to extract the bullet, at the time it was not realized that the slug had severed an artery, putting him out of the fight and resulting in his death some days later. Capt Barrow and Lt Col Crealock were also slightly wounded and Lt Courtenay and Capt Molyneux had their horses shot from under them.
Once the Zulus had realized that the Gatling had checked any further advance from the North, they turned their attention to the West (left face) of the laager and it was during this attack that Lt G.C.J. Johnson of the 99th Regt was killed. At the same time another attack developed from the direction of Umisa Hill, in the rear. Throughout the attack, the Zulus kept up a withering fire from behind the cover of bushes or long grass.
At this stage, Chelmsford ordered Maj Barrow to attack once again with his mounted infantry. They had been engaged in clearing the front face of the laager from the outside and accordingly redirected their attention to the impi's right flank. It was probably this manoeuvre that finally broke the Zulus' determination, coupled with the fact that they realized that they were unable to penetrate the laager from the rear, which they had thought poorly defended. On the appearance of Barrow's men, the Zulus broke and started their retreat, hotly pursued by the Mounted Infantry and the Natal Native Contingent.
The pursuit was continued for several kilometres, resulting in the flight becoming a rout. The reserve impi on Umisa Hill joined the general exodus and by 07h30 the Zulus had all but disappeared. Many of the fleeing warriors were sabred by the Mounted Infantry and whilst Chelmsford claims that they were highly successful, D.R. Morris mentions in 'The Washing of the Spears' that many of the blows were successfully parried by the warriors' rawhide shields.
The Zulus lost heavily. Over 470 bodies were buried initially and more than 200 were subsequently found. The Gatling gun and artillery in particular took a heavy toll; in addition, scores were wounded, many to die in solitude later. Hundreds of Martini Henry rifles were recovered, most of which bore the stamp of the 24th Regiment on their butts; grim reminders of the disaster at Isandlwana some nine weeks earlier. The British lost two officers and 11 other ranks killed and about 50 wounded, and the dead were buried close to the laager where they lie to this day.
Those still besieged in Eshowe who had not fallen ill with fever, including Col Pearson, observed much of the battle of Gingindlovu from vantage points overlooking the coastal plain below. Most of the Zulus who had participated in the siege had joined the impis engaged in action. Once it had become clear that the Zulus had been routed, Pearson flashed his congratulations to Chelmsford by heliograph, the latter politely acknowledging and informing Pearson that he anticipated arriving in Eshowe the following day.
Early on the 3rd, a flying column left the camp at Gingindlovu and proceeded along the track to Eshowe, leaving the rest of the invasion force to prepare to advance along a route closer to the coast. Col Pearson rode out to meet them and the column trickled in to the fort at Kwa Mondi, the first regiment to enter being the 91st Highlanders and the last man arriving at about midnight: Eshowe had finally been relieved after a siege that had lasted some 10 weeks. The Eshowe garrison left the fort and proceeded to Fort Pearson, by which time an additional two officers and two other ranks had died of fever.
Lord Chelmsford followed Pearson out of Eshowe some 24 hours later and reached Gingindlovu on the 7th April. Here, the command of the column was handed to Col Pemberton who established a new advance base approximately 8 km from Gingindlovu, overlooking the Inyezane River, which was named Fort Chelmsford.
Of the battlefield today, little remains. Mr Kramer has excavated numerous relics, and apart from the small military cemetery, there is very little evidence of the trenches or their whereabouts apart from the occasional cartridge case which is exposed by the elements. A small granite cross alongside the road at the turnoff to Kia Ora is the sole reminder of this short, sharp, but important battle.
Return to Journal Index OR Society's Home pageSouth African Military History Society / firstname.lastname@example.org