THE saddest day in the history of the Natal Police occurred in the Zulu War of 1879 ; and yet it was the day on which the corps acquitted itself with more glory than ever it has had the opportunity of doing before or since. That was at the last tragic stand at Isandhlwana.
The corps has been involved in more fighting than any other police force in the British Empire, andjyet even in its records there is no instance of gallantry that approaches the way in which the men faced slaughter and fought to the finish under the shadow of that gloomy hill.
The great struggle of '79 was threatened for many months before it actually came about. Cetewayo, who had been the king of the Zulus since 1872, is said to have excelled in dissimulation, fraud, and cunning, which have been characteristic qualities of practically every Zulu ruler. His vast army was well organized, and it became a standing menace to both Natal and the Transvaal. After a barbarous murder of women a remonstrance was sent to the king, whose reply to the Natal Government was intensely insolent. The beginning of the end came when the High Commissioner, Sir Bartle Frere, sent an ultimatum to Cetewayo, couched in very drastic terms.
The surrender of certain Zulu offenders was asked for, the disbandment of certain Zulu regiments was insisted upon, and Cetewayo was informed that there must be a British Resident. This step was taken in December 1878, and the warning was uttered that if the requests were not complied with, forcible measures would be adopted.
Zulu regiments were moving about on unusual and special errands, several of them organizing royal hunts on a great scale in parts of the country where little game was to be expected and where the obvious object was to guard their border against attack by the white men. The hunters were said according to a report by the High Commissioner to the Imperial Government to have received orders to follow any game across the border, which was, according to Zulu custom, a recognized mode of provoking or declaring war.
Unusual bodies of armed natives were reported to be watching all drifts and roads leading to Zululand ; these guards occasionally warned off Natal natives from entering Zulu territory, accompanying the warning with the intimation that orders had been given to kill all Natalians who trespassed across the border. Zulu subjects went hastily into Natal to reclaim cattle which they had sent out to graze, and very alarming rumours of coming trouble increased the excitement and agitation on both sides of the border.
" The Government has done its best to avoid war by every means consistent with honour, and now feels bound to use the power with which it has been entrusted to secure peace and safety'." Thus wrote Sir Bartle Frere at this critical juncture. There are people to-day who say that the war was an unjust war, and that Cetewayo was little worse than an injured innocent ; but the High Commissioner considered it necessary, in the interests of self-preservation and self-defence, that an army should enter Zululand.
There was much delight amongst the ranks of the Natal Police at Estcourt when the welcome news arrived that, with the exception of the Harding detachment, they were all to be placed under the orders of the military authorities, and had to go straight to the Zululand border. Their horses were in a shocking condition, for there was not a blade of grass within miles of the camp, and neither mealies nor forage could be procured excepting at exorbitant rates. Free forage, however, was sent by the authorities, and in a few days the animals were fit to trek. The men from Pietermaritzburg received orders to go to Helpmakaar, picking up the Greytown troopers en route, while the Estcourt men, consisting of 2 officers, and 64 non-commissioned officers and men, were ordered to join the rest of the force via Ladysmith and Dundee.
The Estcourt detachment had a couple of transport wagons allowed to them on condition that they provided their own drivers. There were many adventures with those wagons before the destination was reached, partly because the oxen were untrained ; and so were the drivers Corporal Jordan and a trooper.
The main body started off in a cheerful frame of mind and off-saddled at midday at the Blauw Krantz River at noon. Night came along, but the wagons did not, and then came the news that one of them was in difficulties in the Little Bushman's River. The men were getting painfully hungry, so some of them were sent back in the dark for food, and at midnight they all went on foot to Moord Spruit, where the wagon was found capsized in a donga, 1 its unhappy driver being unable to move it without assistance.
At Colenso there was no bridge over the Tugela River, and most of the day was spent in the tiresome task of pulling the wagons through the water. The oxen managed to cover eighteen miles next day, reaching Ladysmith late at night. The men had to bivouac on the market square. The next morning there was a grand hunt for fresh oxen, which were as wild as buck. The whole detachment went out on horseback and the new teams were driven into a kraal and lassoed.
The drivers found their troubles were only just beginning when the performance of in-spanning started . Spirited mules require quite careful handling before they become a harnessed team, but very fresh oxen are considerably worse ; and the drivers found they had many advisers and few helpers. At last the detachment started, reaching Sunday's River in the afternoon, but the wagons were toiling along far behind, and did not catch the men up until after dark, in pouring rain which made the preparation of anything but a most primitive meal impossible. The night was a wretched one, but the sun shone the next morning, and the wagons were hauled across the water at Sunday's River Drift. From there the roads were so heavy that only eight miles were covered that day ; but, being full of enthusiasm, the men got up sports at Meran and had a great time. After this interlude they pushed on in the rain through the black soil in the thorns of the Washbank Valley. Transport was ever associated with heartbreaking difficulties, and many detachments have had similar experiences, but the police had a rough time before they reached Dundee. The rain came down in torrents, and the oxen wallowed in black, sticky mud. Time after time they came to a dead stop, the wagons sunk to the axles. There was very little occasion for jesting as the men dismounted, sinking up to their knees in the ooze and pulling and tugging at the unruly team. It was hard work, and there was plenty of it ; and the only alternatives were to pull or stop there in the wilderness of slime.
At the foot of the Biggarsberg every package had to be taken off the vehicles and carried to the top of the hill. Hungry for they had no food with them sweating and tired, the men toiled up with the kits, ammunition, and bales of fodder, and then pulled the wagons to the summit of the hill.
Disappointment awaited them at Dundee, which in those days consisted of a solitary store. It had been expected that rations would be sent there for them by the authorities, but something had gone wrong, and there was nothing to eat at the store. One man named Hifferman went out with his carbine and returned triumphantly with two geese and a leg of a calf which he had found dead on the veldt. He tried to make everybody believe that the calf's leg was the leg of a buck that he had shot, but they refused to touch it, and the detachment of sixty odd men dined more or less sumptuously off two geese.
Breakfast was naturally out of the question next morning, when an early start was made. The men were ravenous by the time they reached Peter's farm, and they were served with boiled dumplings made entirely of flour and water, and so hard that the memory of them still remains with everybody who joined in the feast. Partly refreshed, they hurried on through heavy rain to Helpmakaar, where; to their joy, they found bell tents had already been pitched for them by the men from headquarters and Greytown. The total strength of the police was 1 10.
An unfortunate incident occurred on the following morning. After being tethered in the cold all night, 120 horses were turned out to graze, without being knee-haltered. Exercise was just what they wanted, so the whole lot began to gallop about, and in a few minutes were out of sight. The task of recovering the animals was not made any simpler by the fact that the troopers were on foot, but everybody turned out, expressing their view of the situation in very warm language, and during the morning forty of the truants had been taken back to camp. The rest had scattered far and wide. A number of men were selected to scour the country for them, but it was more than a fortnight before they were all recovered. As soon as they got their horses the men were put through special drills in preparation for warfare with the natives.
The police who were at Helpmakaar have good reason to remember their Christmas Day. They had decided to celebrate it with a sort of banquet, and ordered a wagon-load of all manner of luxuries from Pietermaritzburg. The wagon got as far as Keate's Drift, but the river was in flood, and carried the vehicle with the Christmas dinner away. Six oxen were drowned, and Quarter-Master Sergeant Hobson had a narrow escape of losing his life. A few of the stores were subsequently saved, but the remnants of the banquet did not arrive until the 8th January. Such things as plum puddings, sausages; and jam had not been spoilt in the Mooi River, and the troopers were thankful to get such luxuries, even though they were late and had been rather roughly handled in their adventures.
The ultimatum to Cetewayo expired on the nth January 1879, and as no communication was received from him the invasion of Zululand was started. Four columns were formed, the third being the headquarters column. This was the one at Helpmakaar, to which the police were attached. Commanded by Colonel Glyn, it was exceptionally strong, consisting of :
132 Royal Artillery, with six 7-pounder guns,
320 Cavalry, 1275 Infantry, and
2566 Native Levies,
Lord Chelmsford, the General Commanding, arrived at Helpmakaar before the advance was made. Addressing the police after Church Parade he said that during the short time they had been under his command he had every reason to be satisfied with their conduct and appearance. He added that it would give him great pleasure to take them with him into Zululand, where they must expect to meet a foe outnumbering the British forces by twenty to one. He spoke of the many hardships they had in store, with days and nights of constant watching and some severe fighting. " But," he concluded, " I feel sure you will give a good account of yourselves and sustain the high reputation which has always attached to your corps." That such proved to be the case is a matter of history.
Some dissatisfaction was caused by Major Dartnell having been superseded in his command of the police and volunteers by the appointment of Major Russell, of the 1 2th Lancers, to the command of the cavalry, with the local rank of Lieut .-Colonel. Major Dartnell's men expressed their disinclination to cross the border excepting under their own officer's command, and they offered to resign in a body. It was only upon Major Dartnell's strong remonstrance that they agreed to serve under Major Russell, and the former officer was placed on the General's Staff as the only way out of the difficulty. Inspector Mansel took charge of the police.
At Rorke's Drift all superfluous stores were disposed of, and the baggage was cut down to the lowest possible limit, the incessant rains having made the roads very bad. The task of crossing the Buffalo was a dangerous and difficult one, the river being swollen, but the column got over without mishap. A strong escort of police and volunteers was chosen to accompany Lord Chelmsford to Itelezi Hill, where he held a consultation with Colonel Evelyn Wood, who was in command of another column. The escort paraded at 2 a.m. and marched to the punt on the Buffalo, where the men deposited their arms, haversacks, and belts, it being feared that they might, if unduly hampered, be carried down the river. The infantry, who also crossed before dawn, had to undergo being searched, each man's haversack and water-bottle being examined, the former for cigars and the latter for alcohol. A Grey town man had arrived in camp the previous day with two wagons laden with liquor, and this had been looted by the men of the 24th Regiment during the night. The number of empty bottles left lying about indicated that a good many of them had taken part in the affair. The Grey town man was rewarded with a message from the General that unless he cleared off at once his wagons would be pitched into the river.
The infantry crossed first in the punt, to cover the unarmed advance of the cavalry, and the native contingent crossed next, doing so hand in hand, some of them being washed off their feet. Men were stationed at the point below the drift to help any one who was swept away, but only one of the police met with such a mishap, although the water was high up the saddle flaps and the current rapid. Everybody had got over safely by 4 a.m. The infantry and natives were left to guard the drift, and Lord Chelmsford set off to Itelezi Hill, the police forming the advance and flank guards. The route lay over an open, undulating country, but a dense mist overhung the ground. The men could only see each other in a dim way, and two of the police, who were flank skirmishers, lost touch with the party altogether. They had a trying time, and did not reach camp again until late at night. During the forenoon the fog cleared, and a number of the Frontier Light Horse, under Colonel Redvers Buller, were met. After the conference the police formed the advance-guard for the return journey, and incidentally seized a group of Zulu cattle, taking them into camp. Several kraals were passed, and Lord Chelmsford informed the occupants of one that he was making war against Cetewayo and not against the people, but if they wished to retain their arms and cattle they must go into the British lines.
A violent storm knocked many of the tents down at the camp during the night, and at 3.30 a.m. the whole force was ordered out to reconnoitre the road. Part of the force went on to attack the stronghold of Sirayo, at the head of the Bashee Valley, and the volunteers and police went to the right to cut off the retreat of the enemy, who could be seen on the top of a mountain near a nek over which they had to pass. The thorn bush was thick, and progress consequently slow, and the natives had plenty of time to assemble for an attack. No opposition was shown at the nek, and the volunteers, who were ahead, had just passed out of sight round the bend, when the police were attacked as they were crossing a deep donga.
At a range of a couple of hundred yards the Zulus, who were posted under cover of a hill, began to let off their old blunderbusses with a noise like the discharge of field-guns. Their aim, like their firearms, was bad, and before they had time to reload, the police had dismounted.
While one-half of them looked after the horses, the other half advanced in skirmishing order, firing as they rushed up the steep slope, but the Zulus retired precipitately with their antique weapons. At the top of the hill the flying forms of the natives could be seen, and the police had a few moments' shooting before the enemy all disappeared. The Zulus had about ten men killed, one of them being a son of Sirayo.
In the meantime the infantry had destroyed Sirayo 's kraal in the valley, and captured a large herd of cattle, which were sold to the butchers at 305. each and bought back by the contractor at 18 each to feed the troops. This low price for the captured cattle was a sore point amongst the men, because though they made many large hauls some of them did not get a sovereign as their share at the end of the campaign.
The country into which the British force had moved was one in which the hills were pitted with deep dongas and ravines, where the undergrowth of prickly cactus, aloe, and euphorbia formed vast natural defences for the natives. In small bands the Zulus loved to lie in wait on such ground, but this method was not employed by the large impis 1 in the open field, where they relied upon victory by advancing in a solid body, and by sheer weight of numbers crushed the enemy by stabbing them at close quarters, utterly regardless of their own losses.
The road through the Bashee Valley was so sodden with the rain that a strong force of men had to be sent to repair it, otherwise the wagons would never have been able to get through. On the morning after the attack on Sirayo 's kraal the troops were turned out again at 3.30, and were kept out on the hills all day watching the country towards Ulundi, from which direction an attack was regarded as probable. After a tiring day they returned to camp to find another patrol was ordered for 3.30 a.m. On this occasion a reconnaissance was made to the Isipezi Mountain, passing over the nek of Isandhlwana. Wagon tracks were carefully examined and 1 Zulu armies. the country sketched, for this was to be the column's route to the interior of Zululand. About forty miles were covered this day the i4th January.
Patrols and vedette duties were continuous from early morning until dark, sometimes in a heavy downpour of rain, and a few of the men began to think that there was very little romance about active service. There was a good deal of justifiable grumbling concerning the issue of bully beef in two-pound tins. One half-section had to carry the beef and another the biscuits. This worked very satisfactorily when the men were able to find one another, but they generally got separated, and there was many an unhappy mortal on out-post duty who had to dine off plain biscuits or plain bully beef, according to his luck. As they left camp long before the fragrant odour of coffee was in the air, and did not get back until " lights out " had been sounded, the man who had only had biscuits felt he had fairly good grounds for complaint.
Taking fifteen days' supplies on ox wagons, the column moved on to Isandhlwana on the 20th January. A month's supplies were left behind at Rorke's Drift, where a number of sick and wounded remained in hospital. The men paraded at 4 a.m. and the police acted as advance-guard. Some of them had to scout the country, keeping at least a mile from the road. They climbed up and down stony hills for miles, coming out on the plain where the Isandhlwana church now stands, the troops being halted on the nek below Isandhlwana Hill. The police had had a hard task, and were anticipating rest and food for themselves and their beasts when a Staff officer rode up and ordered Inspector Mansel to place out-posts on all the commanding hills on the east. Colonel Clarke recalls the fact that his troop was sent to an outlying ridge, and it was left there until long after dark, when a non-commissioned officer rode out and explained apologetically to the ravenous men that they had been forgotten by the Staff officer. It was then 8 p.m., and they did not reach camp until an hour later, when dinner (which consisted of biscuits and bully beef) was over.
At 9.30 " Fall in for orders " was sounded, and the police were informed that they had to parade at 3 a.m. with the volunteers to reconnoitre in the direction of Matyana's stronghold. The news that Major Dartnell was to be in command was received with cheers. The police, having only a few hours in which to rest, did not trouble to find their kits, and they never saw them again. All but thirty-four members of the police went off before dawn. They took no rations, being informed that they would be back at noon, when a hot meal would be provided for them. There was many a man wished, sorrowfully, afterwards, that he had put something to eat in his pocket.
They covered a considerable extent of the country during the morning without getting a glimpse of the enemy, and after midday met the Native Contingent, under Colonel Lonsdale. The troopers offsaddled for a while, and then received sudden orders to move in an easterly direction, away from the main camp, where small bodies of the enemy had been reported. On a ridge near the Isipezi Mountain a few Zulus were seen, whereupon the force dismounted, while Inspector Mansel, with a small number of police, Sergeant-Major Royston, and a few of the Carbineers, galloped out to reconnoitre. It was soon seen that the enemy were there in large numbers, for they opened out until they covered the whole ridge, and dashed down the hill in an attempt to surround Inspector Mansel's party, who, however, wheeled back and escaped the impi. A trooper named Parsons, in attempting to load his revolver, accidentally discharged the weapon. His horse shied and he fell off. As a reward he was sent back to camp in disgrace, the incident causing a good deal of merriment. Parsons was killed during the attack on the camp the next day.
The impi returned to the ridge when the reconnoitring party escaped from them, and Major Dartnell decided not to make an attack with mounted men alone, the Native Contingent being reported by Colonel Lonsdale to be too tired and hungry to be relied upon. It was afterwards discovered that the enemy had contemplated rushing down on the British force, but hesitated to do so because they thought the Native Contingent, most of whom wore red coats, were Europeans.
In order not to lose touch with the Zulus, Major Dartnell decided to bivouac with the police, volunteers, and Native Contingent on the ground he had taken up, and two Staff officers, Major Gosset and Captain Buller, returned to the main camp to report the presence of the enemy and ask approval of the bivouac. In many accounts of the Zulu war it is stated that he appealed for reinforcements, but this is incorrect. He had decided to attack the impi at dawn, adding that a company or two of the 24th Regiment might instil confidence in the Native Contingent, but whether they came or not the attack would be made at 6 a.m.
The promised hot dinner having long gone cold, far away, the men had a cheerless prospect. They were without blankets, and the night was bitterly cold. Moreover, there was the ever-constant dread of a surprise attack. The troopers hitched up their belts, and bids up to ten shillings were made for a single biscuit ; but nobody had any to sell. The horses were linked, one man in each section of fours being left on guard over them, and the Native Contingent provided outlying pickets.
In several ways it was a night never to be forgotten. Captain Davy, adjutant of volunteers, had gone back to the camp, and it was anxiously hoped that he would return with some food. He returned late at night with a very inadequate supply of provisions, which quickly disappeared.
Quietness reigned during the early hours of the night, but just before the 'witching hour a shot was fired by one of the outlying pickets. Instantly there was terrible confusion. The whole Native Contingent, consisting of 1600 men, stampeded into the bivouac, rattling their shields and assegais. The sudden awakening from sleep, the din, the hoarse cries of the natives, the knowledge that a large body of the enemy was in the vicinity, the difficulty of distinguishing friend from foe in the darkness, and the confusion that invariably follows a stampede, would have been sufficient to startle the best troops in the world. The natives crouched down near the white men for protection, and for a time nobody knew what had caused the panic. The wonder is that many of the native soldiers were not shot by the white troopers. The discipline of colonial troops has rarely been put to a more severe test. The small body of police and volunteers, miles away from support, fell in quietly and quickly, and remained perfectly steady.
Some of the natives declared that an impi had passed close to the bivouac, and was going to make an attack. The troopers were ordered out to the brow of the hill to feel for the enemy. Suddenly shots began to ring out, and bullets whizzed past the white men. The scared Native Contingent, blundering again, had opened fire on the troopers, who were not sorry to get the order to retire. It was so dark that the force would have been practically helpless had a large impi rushed down on them, and the majority of them never expected to see daylight again; but the Zulus did not come, and tlie natives were with difficulty driven to their own bivouac.
A couple of hours afterwards the weary troopers were awakened by another similar panic, and again shots were sent flying by the natives, who almost got beyond control. Their officers and their European non-commissioned officers were so disgusted that they spent the rest of the night with the police.
The experience was a striking proof of the unreliability of undisciplined native troops in the hour of danger. It is a wonder that the whole force was not exterminated, for from what Mehlogazulu, a son of Sirayo, afterwards told General Wood, it appeared that the chiefs of the neighbouring impi decided to postpone such an easy task until they had first " eaten up " the main camp.
There were many pale, haggard faces when daylight broke on the morning of the eventful 22nd January. The colonial troops were not destined to fight a battle on their own account, for at 6 a.m. Lord Chelmsford joined them with Mounted Infantry, four guns of the Royal Artillery, and six companies of the 24th Regiment.
The Zulus had retired from the ridge before dawn, so the British force moved into the valley in search of the impi. Small parties were seen about four miles away, and several hours were spent in chasing them. There was some skirmishing, and about sixty Zulus, who took refuge in caves and amongst the boulders on a hill, were surrounded and killed. The dongas running down from the hills offered a very serious obstacle to the passage of guns and ambulances, and greatly retarded the men's movements, so a halt was called at midday, when a rumour was circulated that fighting was going on at the Isandhlwana camp. The firing of heavy guns could be heard, and the General decided to return with the Mounted Infantry and volunteers, leaving the police and men of the 24th Regiment to bivouac with part of the Native Contingent a prospect which was not at all appreciated after the experience of the previous night.
The General had promised to send out rations, and firewood was being collected from a deserted kraal when a Staff officer galloped up with instructions that the whole force had to return to camp instantly.
The disastrous battle of Isandhlwana was in progress, and a man on a spent horse had come out with the following thrilling message :
" For God's sake come, with all your men ; the camp is surrounded and will be taken unless helped."
Still worse was a report from Colonel Lonsdale. He had unsuspectingly ridden close to the camp, and was within a few yards of the tents, when he was fired at. He then recognized that all the Zulus near were wearing soldier's clothing, and that the camp was entirely in the enemy's hands. He turned back quickly and escaped the bullets.
The smoke of the infantry fire had been seen, and the occasional boom of the 7-pounder field-guns was heard. Thousands of the enemy could be seen in the distance, retiring from the camp to the hill which they had occupied previously. It was late in the afternoon when Lord Chelmsford briefly addressed the force under him, prior to the dash back to the camp, at a spruit l about two miles from the tents. The situation was as bad as it could be, he said, but they must retake the camp. He expressed his confidence in them to avenge the death of their comrades and uphold the honour of the British flag.
The column gave three cheers, and then advanced in the deepening gloom upon what appeared to be a most desperate venture. Ammunition was scarce, there was no food, the greater part of the men had marched for two days and had passed a sleepless night, while over and above these material disadvantages there was the depressing knowledge that the enemy which could annihilate one-half of the force in the daylight might, favoured by night, with equal certainty demolish the other half.
Much has been written about the ghastly massacre at Isandhlwana in which Cetewayo's overwhelming army of about 20,000 men killed 689 officers and men of the Imperial troops and 133 officers and men of colonial volunteers, Natal Police, and Native Contingents ; and scarcely any one has denied that the colossal tragedy was due to blundering. It was the intention of Cetewayo to drive the third column back to Natal, but he never contemplated an attack on the 22nd January until he found his enemy had split up, spreading itself over a great area and practically delivered itself into his hands. The state of the moon was not propitious, according to Zulu tradition, and the inevitable sprinkling of medicine before a battle had not taken place, but when the king saw an obvious opportunity staring him in the face he made his attack and won.
The Zulus were not seen from the camp until 9 a.m., when a small number were observed on the crests of the hills. An hour later Colonel Durnford arrived from Rorke's Drift, and went out with a body of mounted natives. Every one was utterly ignorant of the fact that such a huge impi was near, and forces were sent out in several directions. A large body of Zulus attacked Colonel Durnford, who retired to a donga, disputing every yard of the way. When reinforced by twoscore mounted men he made a stand, every shot appearing to take effect amongst the solid mass of black some hundreds of yards away.
The natives employed their usual well-organized method of attack, being formed into a figure roughly resembling that of a beast, with horns, chest, and loins. A feint is generally made with one horn while the other, under cover of a hill, or bush, sweeps round to encircle the enemy. The vast chest then advances and crushes the foe. The loins are left a little distance behind, ready to join in pursuit where necessary. It was the left horn of Cetewayo's army that was held in check by Colonel Durnford. The chest, or main body, became engaged with the force at the camp, and the right horn was swinging round the hills to the rear of Isandhlwana. The Zulus were fast surrounding the camp, when the Native Contingent and camp followers fled in all directions, seized by panic. Steadily, remorselessly, the impi closed in, a hungry sea of Zulus of overwhelming strength. Then followed the ghastly butchery. With short stabbing assegais the naked savages rushed straight on, treading under foot those in their own ranks who were shot. Mercy was neither expected nor granted during that brief scene of slaughter.
Fighting like demons, a party of the 24th men, the Natal Police, and volunteers rallied round Colonel Durnford and held their ground gallantly, attacked on all sides by a shrieking mass of blacks, until their last cartridge was fired. Then they were stabbed to death. Twenty-five of the police were amongst the victims, and of these a score were afterwards found lying round the body of Colonel Durnford. They had fallen where they fought, and died fighting. Practically nothing is known of what happened in that awful few minutes at the finish, for the Zulus were not very communicative on the subject for many years afterwards.
While in prison Mehlogazulu, who had been in command of one portion of the impi, made the following statement :
" We were fired on first by the mounted men, who checked our advance for some little time. The rest of the Zulu regiments became engaged with the soldiers, who were in skirmishing order. When we pressed on, the mounted men retired to a donga, where they stopped us, and we lost heavily from their fire. As we could not drive them out we extended our horn to the bottom of the donga, the lower part crossing and advancing on to the camp in a semicircle.
" When the mounted men saw this they galloped out of the donga to the camp. The main body of the Zulus then closed in. The soldiers were massing together. All this time the mounted men kept up a steady fire, and kept going farther into the camp. The soldiers, when they got together, fired at a fearful rate, but all of a sudden stopped, divided, and some started to run. We did not take any notice of those who ran, thinking that the end of our horn would catch them, but pressed on to those who remained. They got into and under the wagons and fired, but we killed them all at that part of the camp. When we closed in we came on to a mixed party of mounted men and infantry, who had evidently been stopped by the horn. They numbered about a hundred, and made a desperate resistance, some firing with pistols and others using swords. I repeatedly heard the command ' fire,' but we proved too many for them, and killed them all where they stood.
" When all was over I had a look at these men, and saw an officer with his arm in a sling, and with a big moustache, surrounded by carbineers, soldiers, and other men I did not know. We ransacked the camp and took away everything we could, including some ammunition which we got out of boxes. "
Before the living ling finally closed round the doomed men, a rush was made by those who could escape in the direction of the Buffalo River. These were followed by a section of the enemy, who hacked the fugitives as they ran. Of the 34 members of the Natal Police who had been left at the camp by Major Dartnell, only 9 escaped. The bodies of three were found a couple of hundred yards away, and one was lying in Fugitives' Drift.
The members of the force who were killed at Isandhlwana were : Corporal Lally, Lance-Corporal Campbell, and Troopers Banger, Berry, Blakeman, Capps, J. Clarke, Daniells, Dorey, Eason, Fletcher, Lloyd, McRae, Meares, Niel, Pearse, Parsons; Pollard, Pleydell, F. Secretan, Siddall, Stimson, Thicke, C. White, and Winkle.
The men who escaped were : Lance-Corporal Eaton, Trumpeter Stevens, and Troopers Collier, Doig, Dorehill, W. Hayes (died of fever at Helpmakaar), Kincade, Shannon, and Sparks.
So sharp and terrible had been the onslaught that the police who survived were unable to say much about the last scenes. They had been sent out with all the mounted men to hold the main Zulu army in check, which they did until their ammunition was exhausted. Messengers galloped back frantically for more cartridges, but did not return, so the whole body retired. It was then learnt that the messengers had found the cartridges, tightly screwed up in boxes, and it was impossible to get at them. The practice of screwing down the lids was abolished when the news of this incident reached England.
At the moment the mounted men fell back to the camp the right horn of the impi appeared on the nek, closing the road to Rorke's Drift. Even then, had the troops been concentrated, and ammunition available, it is possible that the position might have been held, but the infantry were split up, and it was too late to move away.
As the final rush came, Colonel Durnford clearly saw that death was inevitable for nearly every one.
' ' Get away as best you can , " he shouted to the police and volunteers near, but very few heard or obeyed him.
To escape along the Rorke's Drift road was impossible, and those who left could only make a dash over terribly rocky ground where even horsemen had the greatest difficulty in avoiding the pursuing natives. Scarcely a single person on foot reached the Buffalo River alive. The river was in flood, but the Zulus pressed hard behind, and there was no time to look for a ford. Each man dashed into the stream as he reached it. Trumpeter Stevens, of the police, was washed off his horse, which swam across. The trumpeter owed his life to a native constable, who caught the animal and bravely took it back, enabling Stevens to cross the river before the Zulus attacked him.
While the historic tragedy was in progress the force under Lord Chelmsford was approaching. They did not get close to the camp until it was dark, and merely the black outline of the hills could be seen. Shrapnel shells were sent bursting over the camp, but not a sign came from the desolate place, and the force advanced cautiously up the slope. When within three hundred yards of the nek they opened fire again, and a detachment was sent to take a kopje on the south.
Not a Zulu was seen, and the force moved up to the place where dead men only were encamped. Stumbling over the bodies of white men and natives in the darkness, they made their way, awestricken, to the nek. Every man was knocked up with continual marching and lack of food, and they lay down; weary and almost broken-hearted amidst the debris of the plundered camp and the mangled corpses of men and horses. It was a night of horror. The men who lived through it do not care to recall the memory. Bright fires were seen in the distance, so the horses were not unsaddled but were ringed, and stood uneasily all night with the bodies of dead men lying round them.
" I had charge of thirty of the horses during part of the night," writes Colonel Clarke in his diary. ' There were the corpses of four men of the 24th Regiment in the ring, and others under the horses* legs, which caused the animals to surge to and fro so that it was almost impossible to control them. At one time we were on top of the adjoining ring, which brought curses on my head. I was not sorry to be relieved.
' There were several false alarms, with some firing. In the middle of the night some one found a commissariat wagon and called out ' Roll up for biscuits/ but there was no response so far as we were concerned.
" The night seemed endless, but at break of dawn we were able to realize the horrors of our situation. Mutilated bodies were lying everywhere, some naked, some only in shirts; and nearly all without boots. The Zulus had done their plundering very thoroughly."
Most of the fallen men were mutilated, but with few exceptions the members of the police had been killed with one or two stabs. Everything in the camp was broken ; sacks of mealies and oats were ripped open, tins of bully beef were stabbed, bottles were broken and tents destroyed. Even the wagons had been overturned into dongas in the mad carnival of wrecking.
In the numerous descriptions of the battlefield very little mention is made of the fact that the police shared with an equal number of volunteers the honour of having made the last stand on the nek of the hill. At the crest where the dead men were lying thick, a large proportion of them were in the uniform of the Natal Mounted Police. In a patch of long grass, near the right flank of the camp, lay Colonel Durnford's body, a central figure of a knot of brave men who had fought it out around their chief to the bitter end.
Around him lay 14 carbineers and 21 of the police. Clearly they had rallied round the Colonel in a last despairing attempt to cover the flank of the camp, and had stood fast from choice when they might have essayed to fly for their horses, which were close by at the picket line.
On the 30th June 1879 the Natal Mercury contained the following :
" There is one branch of the army that is now spreading itself over our frontiers, and over Zululand, to which scant justice has been done in the records of this campaign. It is a force which, to us in Natal, ought to, and we believe does, possess particular interest, for it represents the future army of Natal, and the contribution of Natal in some approaching time, to the future army of South Africa. We refer to the Natal Mounted Police.
" That body occupies a peculiar position. It is not Imperial in any sense of the term, although the Government which has created it owns the supremacy of the Queen. It has played an effective and very honourable part in an Imperial campaign. It consists in the main of men recruited in England, and although there are amongst its ranks several colonists, its ranks are from time to time filled up by men who have enrolled themselves at home. Only the other day over sixty such additions came to fill up the gap left by the cruel losses at Isandhlwana.
" We have always felt it both a pleasure and a duty to uphold the reputation of Major Dartnell's force, and we do so the more heartily now because it has, during the eventful and trying times of the last six months, earned every right to be regarded with respect and admiration. That the men played the part of true soldiers at Isandhlwana, the bodies of their slain comrades grouped round the last rallying point sadly testify. The records of the campaign show that whenever their services have been called into action they have behaved with gallantry and distinction.
" This is no more than we might have expected of any corps led by Major Dartnell, than whom, we believe, a more devoted, daring, and yet discreet leader will not be found in South Africa. The trumpet of fame has not sounded their praises, but that is due to circumstances rather than to intention. Whatever the Natal Mounted Police have had to do they have done well ; and the fine young fellows who have come out to join its ranks may take just pride to themselves in thinking that they belong to a force that enjoys, in an especial degree, the appreciation of the community they serve. The corps must and will be our chief defence force of the future. What we want in Natal is a mobile, effective body of men ready on short notice to operate at any point where insurrectionary tendencies display themselves, and such a body we have in the police."