The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 5 No 1 - June 1980


10.1.80 Dr Philip Gon — The Last Frontier War

14.2.80 Professor Marcus Arkin — All at Sea - John Company’s Adventures in South African Waters

13.3.80 Capt J G Orford — Methuen - Man of the West (Battles of Ysterspruit and Tweebosch)

10.4.80 AGM and Film Evening

8.5.80 Comdt Deon Fourie — Angolan Adventure 1975/76

12.6.80 Mr F. Pretorius — Life on Commando during the Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902

Rescue Action at Fort kwaMondi, Eshowe

by Cmdt S Bourquin, DWD, Chairman, Durban Branch SA Military History Society

Following a battlefields tour over the week-end 14/15 January, 1978, members of the Durban Branch, SAMHS, dismayed at the overgrown and neglected condition of Fort kwaMondi at Eshowe and the nearby military cemetery, decided on some physical and material action to remedy the position. The object was to establish a semblance of respectability in time for the centenary of the siege of this fort during the Zulu War of 1879. This matter was taken up with the Natal representative of the National Monuments Council, Mr G.A. Chadwick, who replied: ‘Your kind offer of help has encouraged our Regional Committee to make an attempt to organise a work day in the near future’ and he suggested that the aim should be to repair the fence, improve access and parking facilities, eradicate exotic vegetation and lantana, and clear rubbish from the site. To this list our Society added the restoration of soldiers’ graves and their re-identification.

Saturday May 13th, 1978, saw a gallant band of military historians launch an attack, albeit somewhat after 'first light’, on thornscrub, hackea, and lantana. Notwithstanding much publicity, not as many members as had been hoped for answered the roll-call, however, their numbers were reinforced by some 39 Boy Scouts and school children accompanied, amongst others, by Mr Chadwick, Mrs Garside the curator of the Zululand Museum, and Miss Gericke the indefatigable Eshowe High School history teacher. Other members had made good their inability to attend in person by monetary donations. The Manager of Lasher Tools (Pty) Ltd had made a gift of slashers, shovels, and digging forks.

Tackling the south-western corner of the fort this task force laid bare to view for the first time in very many years the entrance to the fort and the gun emplacement guarding it, together with a portion of the main trench at the bottom of which the remains of a contemporary gin bottle were found. The friendliness and camaraderie of having completed a worthwhile day’s work were adequate compensation for the scratches, blisters, and stiff muscles sustained in this ‘battle of the bushes’.

Special mention must also be made of the generous assistance received from Mr Brian Pennefather, a farmer in the district, who, on repeated occasions, made his labour available for clearing the central area of the fort.

It was gratifying to note that the SA War Graves Board and the KwaZulu authorities had responded magnificently by having undertaken the clearing of the military cemetery of all saplings and scrub. Since then the whole fence around the cemetery has been replaced and a new gate fitted. All crosses have been repainted and new name plates have been prepared. Much individual credit in this regard must be given to Mr R.M. (Dick) Carter of the Toc H organisation.

The cash donations received have enabled the Durban Branch to sponsor the manufacture of a plaque commemorating the names of all soldiers buried in this cemetery whose graves can no longer be identified individually. The background research to link names with grave sites was undertaken by the Department of History, Edgewood College of Education, Pinetown.

On Saturday, 24 November, 1979, representatives of the SA Military History Society (Durban Branch), Edgewood College of Education, and the Natal sub-committee of the British Forces Committee, SA War Graves Board, met at Eshowe for the purpose of marking the identified graves by affixing newly prepared non-corrosive name plates and repacking the brick surrounds to some of the graves. During the morning heavy rain set in which permitted only the completion of the first mentioned task. The repacking of the brick surrounds will have to wait for a later occasion.

At 11h00 the Mayor and Mayoress of Eshowe, Councillor and Mrs Louis Stead, Mr Arthur Ashby (MOTH), Mr and Mrs Dick Carter (Toc H) joined the working party in pouring rain. To the welcome and introductory remarks by Mr George Chadwick (British Forces Committee of SA War Graves Board), the Chairman of the Durban Branch, SA Military History Society, replied briefly and then proceeded to unveil the granite slab supplied by the SA War Graves Board, and the plaque sponsored by members of the SA Military History Society.

Background information

At the commencement of the Zulu War of 1879, Col Pearson’s No 1 Column fought an action against the Zulus at Inyezane on 22 January 1879 and then moved to the site of the Norwegian Mission where a fortified position which became known as Fort Eshowe (kwaMondi) was constructed round the existing buildings. After sending back the mounted men and the Natal Native Contingent to Fort Pearson at the Tugela mouth the garrison, which consisted of the 3rd Foot (Buffs), 99th Foot, Naval Brigade, a few N.N.C., and a number of non-combatants, remained in the fort until relieved by Lord Chelmsford on 2 April 1879.

The conditions in the fort were unhealthy and a number of men died of disease. They were buried in this cemetery. After the Zulu War the British withdrew from Zululand and the cemetery was abandoned. However, disturbances caused Eshowe to be re-occupied and a fortified position known as Fort Curtis was established. This was on the knoll to the north east of the present rugby fields. The men who died during this occupation were buried in the original cemetery which accounts for the number of graves dating from the 1880s and 1890s. When the present Town Cemetery was established the military cemetery fell into disuse.

Just after the turn of the century when the Norwegian Mission (rebuilt at a new site), was active, the missionaries cared for the graves, and between the two World Wars ex-servicemen’s organisations took an active interest, supplying a number of name plates. During the 1950s and early 1960s the Natal Provincial Administration cared for the site but during the last 15 years it had become increasingly difficult to obtain labour for maintenance and the condition of the fort and the nearby cemetery began to deteriorate until the recent 'rescue operation’ was launched.

The following list of graves is compiled from
(a) Personal observation of Mrs R.M. Wilkins, Department of History, Edgewood College of Education, on 1.2.1977.
(b) Diary of Rev.C. Oftebro (only Feb - March 1879 burials).
(c) Record Book of Graves. Loyal Women’s Guild (Mr G. Chadwick’s Collection).
(d) Military graves in Natal (Mr G. Chadwick’s Collection).
(e) Hilton College Records.
(f) Norris-Newman, C.L. 'In Zululand with the British, 1879’.

Names of those whose graves cannot be identified

  1. Midshipman J. Mannie, HMS Active, d. 8.2.1879
  2. John Moore, HMS Active, d. 11.2.1879
  3. Pte W. Knee, 99th Regt, d. 21.2.1879
  4. Pte W. Barber, ASC, d. 8.3.1879
  5. Pte William Stagg, RMLIAB, HMS Active, d. 12.3.1879
  6. Pte W. Kent, 99th Regt, d. 16.3.1879
  7. Pte T. Venn, 99th Regt, d. 17.3.1879
  8. Pte W. Tubb, 99th Regt, d. 19.3.1879
  9. Pte. C. Coombes, 99th Regt, d. 21.3.1879
  10. Pte P. Roden, 99th Regt, d. 26.3.1879
  11. AB Alfred Smith, HMS Active, d. 2.4.1879
  12. Pte Austin, 2nd 5. Lancs, d. 20.1.1885
  13. Pte Connelly, Royal Scots, d. 31.8.1889
  14. A.M. Staff Surgeon W.G. Lecky, d. 6.4.1890

Military Graves in Fort Eshowe

Graves have been numbered in accordance with the site plan originally drawn up by pupils of Hilton College.

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