SHORTLY after dawn on the morning following the disaster of Isandhlwana, January 23, 1879, Lord Chelmsford's force received orders to march, the police being given the rear-guard. The column had cleared the spruit below the nek, and the police were moving after it, when a violent fusillade was started in front of them. Unable to tell for a few seconds what was happening, the police " closed up," and then they saw the Native Contingent charging valiantly up a hill, where they cut to pieces a solitary Zulu who had had the temerity to open fire on the column. Some hundreds of shots were fired at him.
Another shock followed a little later. A number of natives were seen on the left, and an attack was feared, but orders were passed round to save ammunition as much as possible, because it was feared the Zulus had captured the depot at Rorke's Drift. The natives came very close to the rear-guard, where the police were, and shouted, but they did not attack. It was afterwards found that there had been fighting at Rorke's Drift, where a gallant stand was made by the British force, and these Zulus were the men who had been repulsed.
The column marched straight on to Rorke's Drift. Figures were seen moving about, and as the hospital had been burnt down it was feared there had been a fresh disaster. It was impossible to see whether the men at the depot were Europeans or natives, but at last one of them sprang on to the wall. The garrison had held the place. The column under Lord Chelmsford became so excited that ranks were broken by men, heedless of commands, and they rushed up the slopes anyhow to congratulate everybody there.
Some tinned beef and bread were found, and the column ate the first decent meal they had had for several days. The police and the rest of the men were thoroughly knocked up, some of them having been without food for sixty hours and sixty very strenuous hours. To the joy of every one, rum was issued to each man who merely passed with his can. This was an opportunity far too good to be missed, for the troopers had almost forgotten what a canteen looked like, so a number of them changed their names several times that morning. Blessings were showered on the lance-corporal who served out the rum. Perhaps he saw what was happening and closed one eye to it : at any rate, according to the list more than 6000 Europeans had returned with the General. The actual number was nearer 1000. The deficiency in rum was possibly " written off."
The battle at Rorke's Drift had been a bitter one, the bodies of the Zulus' dead round the building numbering 375. Fatigue parties were employed all day burying them. Three members of the Natal Police had taken part in the defence, the total force there not numbering over fourscore. The police there were Trooper Hunter, who was killed ; Trooper Green, who was slightly wounded ; and Trooper Lugg, who afterwards became Lieut .-Colonel and magistrate at Umsinga.
All three had been left in the hospital when their comrades moved off to Isandhlwana, but they were able to take a very active part in the defence. The Zulus made straight for the hospital, swarming on to the verandah. The soldiers barricaded the doors as firmly as possible, and then knocked holes in the walls, from room to room, passing the sick men through to the adjacent store. Each aperture was defended by soldiers while this was going on, and one or two Victoria Crosses were won in this way.
When the last room was reached and nearly all the invalids had been removed, a dash had to be made across the open space to the store, a few yards away.
Here Hunter lost his life. He had almost reached shelter when a Zulu lunged at him with an assegai. He was badly wounded, but he had strength to kill his assailant before he fell. Their bodies were found close together afterwards.
Some of the sick men had to be left in hospital as the enemy set fire to the thatched roof and were crowding round. One invalid was burnt to death; others were carried by the natives over a ridge, out of range of bullets, and were dreadfully mutilated.
It is a favourite method of warfare with Zulus to burn any building they attack. One native raised a bundle of burning forage to the thatched roof of the store. Had he set it alight, probably nobody in the British force would have been left alive, but a bullet bored its way through his brain while he was in the act, and the enemy were eventually beaten off under a hail of lead.
When the column to which the police were attached arrived they found the bodies of natives lying all round the hospital and store. There were many wounded Zulus, but none recovered, and several who tried to escape were shot. One actually got back across Rorke's Drift, although dozens of shots were fired at him, but he was followed by a mounted infantryman and killed.
Great preparations were made in readiness for another attack. The defences were strengthened, the parapets were raised, and four field-guns were dragged into the laager. Scouts were sent out to look for signs of the enemy, but they reported that there were no Zulus anywhere near.
In the evening the police and volunteers were told off to occupy an old cattle kraal. They threw in a lot of loose forage to make the place more comfortable, and for a while had a good rest.
The Native Contingent, which supplied the outlying picket, also supplied their usual false alarms. Shortly after midnight the word was passed round that an impi was coming on in immense numbers. The European officers with the out-posts followed up the report promptly by joining those inside the walls, and remained there without troubling to verify the statement. As soon as the natives with the British force heard the rumour, however, they disappeared in twos and threes ; and most of them were never heard of again. But the impi never arrived, and after a while the men turned in again.
They were called early the following morning, and one of the police, in searching for part of his kit, turned over the forage in the kraal. Under it he discovered the body of a dead Zulu. A further examination showed that one group had slept comfortably on seven of the enemy's dead.
At dawn on the 24th January, the sergeant-major selected a party of twenty of the police to act as escort to Lord Chelmsford,who was going to Pietermaritzburg for reinforcements, Major Dartnell accompanying him. The best horses were picked for the journey, and there was keen rivalry amongst the men to be included in the escort, which, however, had a rough experience. The animals were exhausted after the hard work they had done, and an attempt to reach Ladysmith ended in one horse falling dead, while two others collapsed, and one had to be left on the road. To make matters worse, when night came the party missed the road, finally arriving at the post-cart stable at Modder Spruit, where men and beasts rested for a few hours. Ladysmith was reached the next day, and the police remained there awaiting the return of Major Dartnell, who went on to arrange about further supplies of clothing and equipment to be forwarded to Helpmakaar.
Ten men of the police had meanwhile remained at Rorke's Drift for patrol duty, and the rest went direct to Helpmakaar, where most of the survivors from Isandhlwana were found. One of them, Trooper Sparks, of the Natal Police, had conveyed the General's dispatches to Pietermaritzburg, being about the first person to arrive there with news of the disaster.
Amongst the party left at Rorke's Drift was the present Chief Commissioner, Colonel Clarke, who recalls that they had a terribly hard time. Food was not too plentiful, and they had neither tents, blankets, nor a change of clothing . Few of them had any eating utensils,whichisnot surprising considering their movements for several days before, and most of them had to draw their rations in empty bully beef tins. They had to " sleep rough," and carried nearly as much mud as kit about with them.
Every morning at three o'clock the police were called out, and while the other troops stood to arms inside the laager they were sent away into the surrounding country to make certain there was no impi within five miles before this morning parade was dismissed. There was a mealie field through which they often had to ride in the darkness, always with the prospect of being assegaied ; and the dongas in the district were possible death-traps, for it was never known when the Zulus would return.
Midnight scares were frequent, and whatever the hour, the police were ordered out " to feel for the enemy."
Two of the colours of the 24th Regiment had been lost at Isandhlwana, and ten days after the fight the police accompanied a party which left the laager at Rorke's Drift to search for them. They made a quick ride and no natives were seen, until the famous hill was reached. There a few Zulu sentinels were observed standing on the heights. The party hunted for a couple of hours amongst the bodies of the men near the place where the guard tent had stood, but no colours were found, and as the natives on the surrounding hills increased in numbers, Major Black, who commanded the party, deemed it prudent to retire. It was decided not to go back by the same road, as an ambush was feared.
Two troopers of the police had an unpleasant experience when the return journey was started. They had been left on the nek with orders to stay there until Major Black fired a shot from the point of a hill in the direction of Fugitives' Drift. The force disappeared, and the isolated troopers remained at their post by no means free from danger, until they realized that they were being left behind. No sound of a shot reached their ears. They waited for a time, and at last, deciding to take the bull by the horns, galloped off to the main party. They afterwards heard that the Major had been afraid to fire the promised shot because there were many of the enemy near, and they might have taken it as the signal for an attack.
The route taken was the same as that followed by those who took part in the wild rush from Isandhlwana to the Buffalo River, and everybody had a very trying experience. The descent from a ridge, along which they rode, to the water was almost like riding down a precipice, and as the river was unfordable at this point, they had to swim as the fugitives had done. Once in Natal, they had no fear of being attacked, and while the bank of the river was being examined one of the missing colours was discovered. A messenger was sent on ahead to announce the good news, and there was a moving scene when the little party returned with the tattered, stained colour. The troops turned out and presented arms, and old soldiers with tears in their eyes kissed the flag.
The police at Helpmakaar at this time did not find life a bed of roses. A wagon laager was at first formed round the hartebeeste sheds in which the stores were kept. This was converted into an earthwork, surrounded by a moat, in which stagnant water gathered, the conditions being most unhealthy. The troops were shut up there every night, and marched out an hour after daylight each morning, the police providing thirty men every day to scour the surrounding hills.
Clothing was painfully scarce, and blankets were badly needed by the police, this occasioning great hardships. When the kits of all the infantry who had been killed at Isandhlwana were sold by auction they fetched astonishing prices. The police were permitted to wear the blue infantry trousers, but although their own tunics were falling into a sad state of disrepair, they were not allowed to wear the red jackets.
So great was the demand for eating utensils that dust-heaps were dug up in search of empty tins. These, carefully polished, served many a trooper as plates for a long time. The unhealthy conditions soon began to tell on the men. There was no shelter from the sun during the daytime, and the troopers were in little better than a sea of mud each night, rotting oats and mealies in the store adding to the general unpleasantness. As might have been anticipated, fever broke out, carrying off many of the regulars and half a dozen of the police. These were Corporal Chaddock, and Troopers Bennett, W. Hayes, Ingram, Nagle, and H. Smith.
Prior to the arrival of the 4th Regiment from Pietermaritzburg, one man of each section of fours had been on sentry at nighttime, and one or two false alarms occurred. Once a tame baboon, with a steel chain attached to its neck, escaped from its box and, climbing on to the iron roof of the store, made a terrific din, which sounded as though the Zulus were looting the place. Everybody sprang up. The horse lines were close to the laager, and orders had been given that in case of alarm the animals were to be released by the guard. On the occasion of the baboon's antics the horses were unfastened. It was soon found that the enemy were not making an attack, but all the horses had disappeared by morning.
There was another false alarm near the laager, caused by a stray ox. It is stated that one regiment of infantry fired away 10,000 rounds of ammunition without doing any damage, even to the ox.
While the men were at this time undergoing various hardships, the residents of Ladysmith sent up a wagon-load of useful articles clothes, food, and luxuries of all kinds for the police and volunteers. These came as a perfect godsend, and the men eagerly drew lots for them. It was not until the middle of February that tents and blankets for the police arrived from Pietermaritzburg, the road through the Greytown thorns being practically closed. Transport riders, even at exorbitant figures, refused to perform the journey so near to the borders of Zululand. When the wagons did arrive the tents were pitched in the daytime, but the poles were pulled down at nightfall, the men entering the laager.
A nimble-witted lance-corporal of the i3th Regiment made a small fortune by forming a sort of market near the laager. Natives brought milk, mealies, and pumpkins for sale. These he retailed at his own price, while he paid the natives less than theirs. Milk soon became more plentiful than water, which was supplied by one spring. There were 1600 men in camp, and as the spring began to run dry sentries had to be placed near it to see that water was only drawn for drinking purposes. Men had to do without washing excepting on the occasion of the weekly bathing parade, when they all marched down to the stream. Half of them entered the water at a time to enjoy all the delights of badly needed ablutions, while the other half, fully armed, remained on the bank.
While the police were experiencing the joys of life at the Helpmakaar camp, an attempt was made at Pietermaritzburg to secure recruits for the force by Lieut .-Colonel Mitchell, who had been appointed Acting Commandant in the absence of Major Dartnell. Advertisements were inserted in the local papers asking for men willing to join for six months under Natal Police Regulations, pay being offered at the rate of six shillings a day, with free rations and forage, uniform and equipment being supplied by the Government. Either the prospect was not tempting enough, or the colony had been drained of men by the raising of so many corps of volunteers, for there were no suitable applicants.
On the 20th February, Major Dartnell left Helpmakaar with an escort of police, for Ladysmith, the route taken being via the Waschbank Valley. The first night was spent at a farm where there was a garrison of Carbutt's Horse, otherwise known as the " Blind Owls/' who lived on rum and dampers. On reaching Ladysmith the following day, the police were quartered in the commissariat store, where they had to sleep on wet sacks of mealies. This made every man in the escort ill, and caused the death of Trooper Laughnan, who was buried in Ladysmith. The hotel-keepers were reaping a harvest, charging 253. a cwt. for forage and 45. 6d. a bottle for beer. Another night was spent with the hospitable " Blind Owls " on the return journey. At Helpmakaar they found a great deal of sickness. There were no bedsteads, and the patients, most of them in a raging fever, were lying in tents on a wagon-cover spread on the ground. Milk became scarce, and the sick men for a time could only get rice and arrowroot, without sugar or milk, and an occasional supply of beef-tea. Brandy and port wine was doled out sparingly, but these generally disappeared while the sick men were asleep. Every trooper in the police at Helpmakaar passed through the hospital there, and as the fever patients became convalescent they were removed to Ladysmith. Some went into the hospital, which stood where the magistrate's court now is, and others went into a separate hospital reserved for police and volunteers.
On the arrival of reinforcements from England, a company of the 24th Regiment was left to garrison Helpmakaar, and the police were ordered to join the column under General Newdigate at Dundee, arriving there on the i8th April.
As Lord Chelmsford advanced to the relief of Eshowe, he gave orders for raiding parties to cross the border into Zululand simultaneously. On the appointed day the police and volunteers entered the Bashee Valley, where they burnt several kraals and destroyed some crops. This did no good whatever, and caused resentment and retaliation. The police escorted Lord Chelmsford to Baiter Spruit at the end of the month, and then with the volunteers relieved the infantry at Helpmakaar.
There was great disappointment when the news came that the police were not to join the column that was to advance on Ulundi. There Cetewayo's great army of over 20,000 warriors was defeated on the open plain by a force of about 5000 white men.
On relinquishing his command of the cavalry column, Lieut .-Colonel Russell wrote to Major Dartnell:
" As the Natal Mounted Police have now passed from under my command, and I may not come across them officially again, I wish to thank them all for the cordial manner in which they have supported me in every way and on every occasion since the beginning of the campaign. I most sincerely wish you all, individually and as a corps, every good fortune in the future."
The ranks of the police having been considerably thinned by sickness and fighting, the arrival of sixty recruits from England on the ist June was opportune. Forty more men joined in the colony, and this brought the corps up to its full strength once more. As quickly as possible a score of these troopers were fitted out, drilled, and sent up to Helpmakaar, where the men were chafing badly under the monotony of inaction other than routine work.
Prince Louis Napoleon, who joined the headquarters Staff of Lord Chelmsford, met his death a few miles from Nqutu. He was with a small force when fifty Zulus made a sudden rush The prince was dismounted, and his horse, which was sixteen hands high, was always difficult to mount. On this occasion it became frightened by the sudden rush, and pranced in such a manner that the prince had the greatest difficulty in keeping it under control. The holster partly gave way, and he fell, being trodden on by the excited animal. He was now alone, with a dozen natives close upon him, but he regained his feet and, revolver in hand, faced the blacks and death. The fight was hopeless, and the prince died as he had lived, a brave soldier.
After the body was recovered and conveyed to Pietermaritzburg, the police were ordered to furnish an escort for it to Durban, the coffin being taken by road and placed on a warship which took it to England .
The bodies of those who were killed at Isandhlwana having lain where they fell for five months, a force was sent out towards the end of June to perform the sad task of burial. It was joined at Rorke's Drift by sixty of the police under Major Dartnell.
Nature had softened the scene when they arrived ; the dead were there, but in nearly every case they were hidden by the grass and corn that had grown everywhere. It was a heartbreaking task, but all the bodies of the police were identified and buried, their names being written in pencil on wood or a stone near them.
The only victims left untouched were those of the 24th Regiment. These were not moved, at the express desire of Colonel Glyn and other officers, who hoped to be able to inter them themselves at a later date.
The officer commanding was anxious, for more reasons than one, not to prolong the stay on that grim battlefield, and the return journey was started at noon. The English horses' powers of endurance were severely tested on the journey. Several of the Lancers' animals were knocked up on the return trip. The police not only had had the extra distance from Helpmakaar to Rorke's Drift to cover in the morning, but were kept on vedette duty all day, and then marched back to Helpmakaar in the evening.
When Sir Garnet Wolseley arrived in the colony to take command of the troops, he was escorted to the front by a detachment of police under Sub Inspector Phillips. He travelled via Pietermaritzburg and Helpmakaar, arriving at Ulundi six days after the battle. A detachment of the police went out and found the two /-pounder guns taken by the natives from the camp at Isandhlwana.
The Zulu king, Cetewayo, had at this time fled, and immediate steps were taken to secure him. The police left in search of the king, putting in some very hard marching without transport and without rations other than those which each man could carry for himself. They covered fifty miles on horseback the first day, and reached the kraal of one of Mpanda's wives the second day, learning that Cetewayo had spent the night there. On the 1sth August a number of the force joined the party under Lord Giiford, who was also hunting for Cetewayo. He had as guide a Dutchman named Vijn, who had lived with Cetewayo during the war.
Sub-Inspector Phillips discovered the king's pet herd of cattle in the valley of the Umona River, and asked permission to take the police with him and seize them. This was given, and the beasts were taken into Ulundi, where they had to be disposed of at 503. a head, although the commissariat officers were paying 15 to 18 each for cattle. Again the police went out after Cetewayo, and the party to which they were attached got on to his trail. They would have had the honour of taking him, had not a column under Major Marter been a trifle quicker. By making an early morning move into the Ngome Forest the Major ran the Zulu king to earth, and this important capture had the immediate effect of pacifying the whole country.
A difference of opinion existed from the first as to the necessity for the Zulu War, and concerning the character of Cetewayo. This became much more pronounced after the disaster at Isandhlwana. There was one section of the public in England who had never even seen a Zulu, but voiced their incorrect opinions loudly. The leader in South Africa of the party who denounced the war was Dr. Colenso, Bishop of Natal. He argued in an able manner in favour of the blacks, but experience has shown time after time that the native leader cannot be dealt with as a white man in the matter of treaties. It had become absolutely necessary that Cetewayo should cease to reign, and that the enormous military power of the nation should be broken.
Writing officially on the subject at the time, Sir Bartle Frere said :
" Having lived now for many weeks within a couple of Zulu marches of the Zulu border, amongst sensible Englishmen, many of them men of great sagacity, coolness, and determination, and reasonably just and upright in all their dealings, who never went to sleep without their arms within reach, and were always prepared to take refuge with wives and families at a minute's warning within a fortified post ; having talked to voortrekkers and their children who had witnessed the massacres at Weenen and Blauw Krantz, and who could thus testify that the present peculiarities of Zulu warfare are no recent innovation, I may be allowed to doubt the possibility of making life within reach of a Zulu impi permanently tolerable to ordinary Englishmen and Dutchmen.
" They make no prisoners, save occasionally young women and half-grown children. They show no quarter, and give no chance to the wounded or disabled, disembowelling them at once.
" The events of the last few months have rendered it unnecessary to prove by argument that the Zulus have been made into a great military power ; that they can destroy an English regiment with artillery to support it, or shut up or defeat a brigade six times as strong as the ordinary garrison of Natal unless our troops are very carefully posted and very well handled. The open declarations of their king, no less than the fundamental laws of their organization, proclaim foreign conquest, and bloodshed a necessity of their existence.
“ They are practically surrounded by British territory. Except that of the Portuguese, there is now no foreign territory they can reach for purposes of bloodshed without passing through British territory. They are separated from Natal by a river easily fordable for the greater part of the year, and not too wide to talk across at any time.
" I submit that in the interests of the Zulus themselves we have no right to leave them to their fate. The present system of Cetewayo is no real choice of the nation. It is simply a reign of terror, such as has before now been imposed on some of the most civilized nations of the world. The people themselves are everything that could be desired as the unimproved material of a very fine race. They seem to have all the capacities for forming a really happy and civilized community where law, order, and right shall prevail, instead of the present despotism of a ruthless savage.
" They might, by living alongside a civilized community, gradually imbibe civilized ideas and habits. But for this purpose it is necessary that their neighbours should be able to live in security, which, as I have already said, seems to me hopeless unless the military organization and power of Cetewayo be broken down.
" There are the means of improvement which may follow conquest and the breaking down ol Cetewayo's military system ; and this seems to me the only reasonable mode of doing our duty by these people. In the cases of Abyssinia and Ashantee we were compelled by circumstances to retire after conquest and wash our hands of any further responsibility for the future of those counties, but there is no necessity in the case of Zululand there is nothing to prevent our taking up and carrying the burden of the duty laid upon us to protect and civilize it."
There are still many people who declare that the war on Cetewayo was wicked and unjust, but in the years that have passed since the power of the Zulu was crushed finally at Ulundi it has been seen by those who are in a position to judge how much better off the native now is, and how much more secure is the white settler. True, there were some severe tussles in the rebellion of 1906, but the fighting methods organized by Chaka were practically ended in 1879, and the Zulu is gradually becoming civilized. He is by nature exceedingly happy and easy-going ; and takes kindly enough to British rule. Occasional unrest prevails amongst an isolated section of the natives, but it soon blows over, and one can rarely meet a Zulu who does not welcome the presence of the white man in his territory.
If you ask a Zulu why he likes the white men to live amongst them he will smile, roll his brown eyes almost coquettishly, and say : " He gives me leekle bit money." But this ignoble reason does not stand alone ; he looks up to the white man, and, in towns especially, imitates him to a degree which is at times positively ludicrous. It is an infinite pity that some of the white men with whom he comes in contact are not worthy of being imitated by the despised black, who unfortunately follows an example, be it good or bad, without much discrimination.