THERE is little doubt that trouble had been brewing amongst the natives for a long time before they openly rebelled in 1906. The kafir, always suspicious when something he does not understand is taking place, was puzzled in 1904 when a census of the colony was ordered. It was explained to the various chiefs, in front of gatherings of Zulus, that the Great White King desired to count his people, and that they need not fear that taxation would follow. The census was taken, but on its heels came the poll-tax under which each adult Zulu had to pay £1 a year for the privilege of being allowed to live a very unfair tax which was withdrawn in 1910. It is one of the most striking characteristics of the Zulu that he deeply resents being misled by Briton or Boer, and the imposition of the tax, following on an official assurance that none was to be imposed, stirred still more deeply the existing unrest.
For a considerable period the Ethiopian preachers had been dinning into the heads of the natives their gospel of Africa for the blacks, who were convinced the day was not far distant when the white man would be swept off the land, leaving all his goods and the fruit of his work for his coloured brother.
Dinuzulu professed to remain loyal to the colony, but strange messengers were noticed passing between him and the chiefs in Natal ; and the disaffection gradually increased, the natives actually killing white chickens and white goats in anticipation of the general clearance of the whites. They expected support from Zululand, and were told of " a great flame " which was coming from there to exterminate the white man. They left their work in the towns and returned to their kraals in large numbers. The police stationed in Zululand reported that Dinuzulu was receiving messengers, but for their pains they were laughed at in some quarters, the authorities lulling themselves into a sense of security and peace until it was too late.
When certain well-known natives were reported to have visited the Usutu kraal a prominent official expressed the opinion publicly that if the police could not send correct reports they would be better out of the country. Those reports, which still exist at the police headquarters, form interesting reading in view of after events. A detachment of the corps under Sub-Inspector Ottley spent the greater portion of 1905 and 1906 on the Umsinga mountain, where the Ethiopian preachers were hard at work, and the reports they then sent in were subsequently verified in every particular.
The poll-tax fell due on the ist January 1906, and the first sign of open rebellion followed almost immediately. In some districts the money was paid ; in others the natives refused point blank to submit to this taxation. The latter attitude was adopted at Mapumulo and Umtwalumi ; and at Henley about thirty natives, armed with assegais and spears, threatened to kill the magistrate of the Umgeni division, Mr. T. R, Bennett, who was collecting the money from the people of Chief Mveli. The chief's brothers identified the recalcitrant natives, and warrants were at once issued for their arrest. On the morning of the 8th February a small party of police, consisting of thirteen Europeans and four native constables, with Sub-Inspector Hunt at their head, hastened by train from Pietermaritzburg to the scene of the disturbance. They made their way to Hosking's farm in the Byrne district, near Richmond, a trooper and a native constable being left there in charge of the pack horse. A steady rain was falling and a dense mist covered the hills as the main body of men pushed their way on to Majongo's kraal. This was hastily surrounded and three Zulus were arrested, but one of the troopers noticed that on a ridge above a mass of armed natives were watching the proceedings. Hesitating to cause unnecessary bloodshed, Sub-Inspector Hunt clearly instructed his men that they were to regard their duty as police duty, and not to use firearms excepting to protect their own lives.
Two troopers were left to guard the prisoners at sundown, and the sub-inspector led the rest of his little band straight up the hill towards the assegais. When they were within hearing a halt was called. Indistinctly the natives were seen in a very defiant attitude, and they were advised both by the sub-inspector and Miswakene, the native sergeant, to lay down their arms. This they showed not the slightest inclination to do, and as the darkness was rapidly making the position more difficult, Hunt ordered his men to return to the kraal and await daylight.
Their old fighting spirit roused and long suppressed, the natives took this withdrawal of the police as a signal to vent their fury, and in a few moments the actual fighting in the long rebellion had begun. The Zulus shouted, " If you take the prisoners there will be bloodshed," and suddenly charged.
In the darkness none could discern clearly what was happening, but a shot was fired, presumably by Hunt. The Zulus made a savage attack, and assegais shot through the air. Hunt's voice could not be heard, and Sergeant Stephens rallied all the men round him at a wire fence. They were Troopers Van Aard (the interpreter), Arnold, Hardgreave, M'Clean, Olive, Wood, Clarke, and Norval. The natives soon vanished, and then it was discovered that Sub-Inspector Hunt and Trooper Armstrong had been killed, while Sergeant Stephens had been severely wounded with an assegai. The bodies were recovered early next morning by a party of police under Inspector Lyttle.
This first little tragedy of the rebellion was afterwards reported upon by a board of inquiry as follows : " We regret to say that too much leniency was shown by Sub-Inspector Hunt to the natives after they had threatened his party with their weapons, and this leniency was caused by the fact that the police are in the habit of going amongst large bodies of armed natives and dispersing them, the natives never previously having seriously resisted the European police on such occasions."
On the day following this brief skirmish, martial law was proclaimed by the Governor, Sir Henry M'Callum, and a number of the colony's forces were ordered to mobilize for active service, the troops being augmented by the Natal Police and twenty native constables under Colonel Mansel. These concentrated at Thornville Junction. A patrol had in the meantime been sent in pursuit of the rest of the natives who had taken part in the fight, but nothing was seen of them for a couple of weeks, although the search was kept up continuously.
A combined movement of all the troops mobilized was made, and the rebels' crops and kraals were destroyed. The rebels even eluded an impi got together by the loyal chief, Mveli, but one of the men, one Bunjwana, was caught on the 25th February while the cliffs near the Umlaas River were being searched. The police moved in skirmishing order along the hill until they discovered the remains of food, showing that the rebels had recently been there. Bunjwana, securely handcuffed, was taken to a very steep precipice where he said five of the rebels were hiding. Sergeant Wilkinson, with five of his men, descended a steep slope and gained a narrow ridge along which they crawled for fifty yards. They just had room to pass along, there being a sheer descent of about two hundred feet from the ridge. Bunjwana, still handcuffed, was forced to take the lead, Wilkinson prodding him now and then with the business end of a revolver to remind him that it was an affair to be taken very seriously. Every man on the ledge knew that the natives who were in hiding could shoot them as they crawled. At last they came to a position from which they could see the crevices into which the fugitives had crept.
" Tell them to come to us," said Wilkinson to the prisoner, " and if there is any treachery your brains will be the first I shall blow out."
Bunjwana shouted to his friends that the game was up, but the rebels would not leave their shelter at first, fearing they would be fired on. The sergeant told them they would not be hurt if they threw down their weapons and walked with their hands up. After a while they did this, and so bitter was the feeling against them, that it was with the utmost difficulty that Sergeant Wilkinson prevented his troopers from killing them then and there. The men were secured and conveyed to the top of the precipice, where they were handed over to Sergeant Court. They had had in their possession a Natal Police revolver and a quantity of ammunition taken from the body of Hunt.
Another of the men involved, named Uvela, was caught the same day at Mr. Smith's farm, Fox Hill. For their valuable assistance in helping to trace these men, three farmers, named Howard, Dobson, and Boyd, were thanked by the Government.
A search of the Enon bush had been made by Mveli's impiy who came upon some of the rebels, killing three and capturing a number of others ; and twelve men in all were charged at Richmond on the 1 9th March with murdering Hunt and Armstrong. They were also charged with public violence, having taken up arms against the Government. The trial lasted a week, and all the prisoners were sentenced to be shot, representatives of the surrounding tribes being warned to be present, but a cable was received suspending the execution for the further consideration of the Home Government. The colonial Ministry promptly tendered their resignation, as they felt that the authority of the Government must be upheld at that critical juncture. The interference of the Home Government was deeply resented, and wildly excited meetings were held in the region of Richmond. A proposal to lynch the natives was freely discussed, but ultimately, after several cables had been exchanged, the Home Government recognised that the decision of this grave matter rested in the hands of the Natal Ministers and the Governor. The order suspending the sentences was rescinded, and the Ministry resumed office.
As the murdered men were members of the Natal Police force, it was decided that the police should provide the firing party. At ten o'clock on the morning of the 2nd April the prisoners were marched down to a secluded valley near the village for execution, the ceremony being attended by a number of headmen, European residents, and schoolboys who played truant in order to see the grim performance. The natives accepted their fate with that calm indifference which characterizes them.
“ Do we sit or stand for it ? " some of them asked casually while black bandages were being tied over their eyes a few seconds before their bodies were riddled with bullets. *
There was a man named Bambata a chief, who ended his days in a particularly unpleasant fashion living in the land of thorns in Umvoti County near the Tugela and ruling over a tribe known as the Amazondi, which is the Zulu equivalent of " The Haters." He was an ill-tempered brute with an extraordinary love for kafir beer, and vague ideas on the subject of other people's property, cattle-stealing being amongst his amusements. On account of his peculiarities he was deposed, his younger brother, Funizwe, being placed at the head of the tribe, a trustworthy Induna named Magwababa being appointed Regent. Bambata went to Zululand a trip which he did not undertake for any good purpose and then, recrossing the Tugela, began to prowl about the country in the vicinity of Keate's Drift. While he was skulking there with his men he received instructions by messengers from the Government to appear in Grey town. An impertinent reply was his only answer, and as there were strong reasons for suspecting that he was urging the natives to rebellion, it was decided to arrest him.
Much trouble and the loss of several lives would probably have been avoided had the action of the police not been hampered in the first instance when the warrant was issued. Colonel Clarke had been ordered to leave headquarters with sixty-five of his men for Greytown, to execute the warrant. They were joined by forty men of the Umvoti Mounted Rifles under Lieut. Nuss, and Colonel Clarke decided to surround the kraal where Bambata was known to be at night. The men were encamped a few miles out of Greytown at a point overlooking the thorn country, and the two officers rode out together, so that they might lay their plans with every chance of success. They made a long detour in order to get near the kraal unobserved, and soon found that Bambata was sleeping with one eye open. He had no intention of being surprised if he could help it. Silent Zulu sentinels were posted on the high peaks overlooking the road ready to signal the alarm.
The two officers returned with their plan of attack completely mapped out. Bambata was in the trap and they were ready to capture him. To their disgust they found on their return to the camp that an urgent message awaited them from the authorities, stating that the expedition was to return to headquarters, as it was too dangerous !
A week later, the authorities again changed their minds, and sent Colonel Clarke out with a detachment of seventy-one police to endeavour to fetch Bambata in. On the 8th March a force of 130 police and 40 Umvoti Mounted Rifles entered the thorn district at daybreak, intent on capturing the exchief dead or alive. He had now left the kraal where he had been nearly trapped, and was skulking about in the Impanza Valley, an extensive dip between towering hills, covered with impenetrable bushes of thorns, cactus, and prickly aloes. A road from Greytown runs through the valley to Keate's Drift, and in the centre of this wild and lonely district there was a hotel kept by Mrs. Marshall. The occupants of this hostelry were in a state of alarm, the windows of the establishment having been broken by large stones in the night, and the people there declared emphatically that they feared they would all be murdered unless Bambata were captured.
The force .marched up the right bank of the Impanza Valley over mountainous country. They could only move in single file until they reached the foot of a high, steep precipice at the head of the valley. This had to be negotiated, and the men clambered up as well as they could, finally reaching the kraal of Umfihlo, only to learn that the fugitive had slept there the previous night and had since left. He had evidently bolted in a desperate hurry just before the arrival of the troops, for there was meat still cooking in pots, and clothing was scattered about.
The troops went towards Van Rooyan's farm, and on the way saw three mounted natives dashing across the country in the distance. They took a gap in a stone wall at a flying leap and vanished and a few moments later the police learnt to their chagrin that one of the trio was Bambata, and that he had declared his intention of going straight on to Zululand.
As nothing could be gained by staying there, the force returned to Pietermaritzburg, instructions being telegraphed to the authorities in Zululand to arrest the fugitive there, but the elusive ex-chief could not be traced.
His next move was a bold one, for he descended on Magwababa, the Amazondi Regent, and carried him off from his Natal home. He was followed by the Greytown magistrate, Mr. Cross, together with a number of police, who were fired on at the Impanza Hotel. Taking advantage of the presence of the police, the occupants of the building left it and hurried on to Keate's Drift, being disinclined to face the danger attending the journey on the road to Greytown.
Again the main body of the police were ordered from Pietermaritzburg to the thorn valley, where a force of 180 men arrived, and moved out in the direction of Botha's farm overlooking the Impanza road leading to the hotel. The rebels had cut the telegraph wires from Grey town to Keate's Drift, but a message sent via Umsinga and Pietermaritzburg from Keate's Drift was received by the police appealing for help for some women and a child who were unable to get away owing to a crowd of hostile natives blocking the road.
Colonel Mansel, who was in charge of the police, decided to go to their assistance at once. Ten men were left to look after the tents and wagons, and the rest moved down the steep hill into the valley at a brisk trot. They went cheerfully, in spite of the fact that they were already dog-tired, having been travelling all night and moving continuously ; but for four of them it was the valley of death.
As they approached the Impanza Hotel they surprised two natives on horseback, who abandoned their animals hurriedly and bolted into the dense thorns, the horses being secured by the police. At the hotel there was an amazing scene of wreckage. It had been left unguarded since the occupants made their hasty flight to Keate's Drift, and the natives, discovering it was at their mercy, had broken into the place. How many of them entered it cannot be guessed, but when they left it everything breakable was broken. They discovered the liquor, and one may form an idea of the wildness of the scene when it is stated that they drank whisky and other intoxicants to the value of nearly a hundred pounds. There was an ostrich farm adjoining the hotel, and the natives had ruthlessly stripped the tails of as many birds as they could catch, feathers being left strewn on the ground. An ox had been slaughtered the Zulu develops a craving for meat when under the influence of alcohol and its remains were scattered about.
Armed natives were seen on the ridges in the distance, and it was clear that the police would have been attacked on the road had their manoeuvre not been sudden and unexpected. Before nightfall they pushed on to Keate's Drift, where it was found that Sub-Inspector Ottley and his detachment had made a very rapid march from Umsinga and barricaded the hotel. There were three ladies there, Mrs. Marshall, Mrs. Hunter, and Mrs Borham, together with a European child. Colonel Mansel desired to convey them back to the camp at the other side of the Impanza Valley, and for a while there was difficulty in persuading them to leave shelter, but at last a carriage was procured and they got into it.
Darkness was now falling, and the return journey had to be made through the snake-infested valley along the tortuous track overhung on one side by mountainous slopes covered with boulders, and sloping away on the other side into the lower part of the valley. Before they started on their ride they knew there was a horde of natives hanging about, many of them under the influence of liquor, and all of them only waiting a suitable opportunity to plunge their assegais into the body of a white man. An ancient native not in sympathy with Bambata's doings, warned the police that they would be attacked in the Impanza Valley, and that as the track was narrow and the men would not be able to turn easily, the rebels would rush at the rear-guard.
Every possible precaution was taken against a surprise, but the nature of the country prevented flankers from being thrown out. Dense bushes of prickly thorn skirted the track in places, and orders were given that whenever these thick clumps were approached the men were to dismount and fix bayonets.
A more trying situation for the nerves of the men would be difficult to imagine. The first part of the ride, as far as the dismantled hotel, was accomplished in safety, and there Mrs. Marshall desired to search for a number of her wedding presents, including some which she treasured highly. As the place had been turned upside down by the Zulus this occupied about half an hour. Just prior to the halt one or two natives had been seen hurrying along in the half light shed by the moon.
A few of the wedding presents having been recovered, the force left the hotel and mounted the hill leading to the camp. There were four men ahead acting as scouts. Fifty yards behind them came the advance guard under the command of Inspector Dimmick, and another 150 or 200 yards in the rear was the main body with Colonel Mansel in charge, the carriage containing the ladies and child being in their midst. The little procession had gone a few hundred yards and arrived at a bend in the road with a towering hill at one side, when suddenly a dense mass of kafirs rushed out of the thorns at the foot of the hill.
The natives, who had been lying in wait, went straight for the rear of the advance guard and at a close range fired a volley. Nearly every one of them seemed to be armed, and a hail of badly aimed bullets whizzed past. Several horses crumpled up in a few seconds, and one man was hit. The police, being mounted, with their reins in one hand and a rifle in the other, were at a disadvantage.
The first volley was followed by a wild dash on the part of the natives, who got to close quarters with their assegais. Half maddened with drink looted at the hotel, and wholly savage, they stabbed and threw their weapons with considerable effect.
It must be recorded to the credit of the white men that though the attack came with dramatic suddenness after a long ride, during which they were held in constant suspense, they acted as calmly as though they had been on the parade ground. Riderless and wounded horses began to plunge about in the dark, but there was not the least suggestion of confusion amongst the men.
The advance guard turned immediately the attack was made, and as the Zulus rushed in they clubbed them with the butt-end of their rifles. Steadily they fought their way back towards the main body, which had quickly dismounted and begun to shoot at the black, moving mass. The kafirs, between two fires, were checked to some extent, and the advance guard pushed their way through them, and then in a temporary lull of hostilities formed up awaiting orders.
Some of the men who had been dismounted were picked up, and Trumpeter Milton, who had been badly stabbed in the back, was placed on a horse. Their rifles were hastily slung alongside the saddles, and drawing their revolvers, they made a quick rush to the main body.
After their first check the natives worked round the bush and attacked both flanks, sometimes getting within a few yards of the column, but the thorns were so thick at that point that they could rarely be seen.
It was a very hot corner for some time, and to this day nobody knows how long the skirmish lasted. There was neither time nor opportunity to look at watches, but apparently the firing lasted about half an hour. The Zulus had chosen an excellent position for their attack, the bush and darkness giving them such an advantage that they might have been able to wipe out the whole column had their heads been cooler and their aim more accurate. Gradually they retired farther into the thorns, where it was practically impossible to follow them. The troopers took the attack so lightly that an attempt was made to induce the natives to charge again, but without avail. The Zulu war-cry was heard at first, and later deep voices were heard shouting Ngene (which meant " Come along into the bush "), but they did not venture into the roadway again.
After a considerable pause, it being still uncertain what the natives' next move would be, the officers discussed the situation, and the sad task of picking up the dead and wounded was performed. Each of the dead men had between twenty and thirty assegai wounds, the natives having stood over their bodies as soon as they fell and stabbed them time after time. It was found that the casualties were :
Killed. Lance-Sergeant Harrison and Troopers Ashton and Greenwood.
Wounded. Major Dimmick, Troopers Dove, Braull, and Emanuel, and Trumpeter Milton.
Missing. Sergeant Brown.
Eventually the advance was resumed, although, had the ladies not been present, the force would undoubtedly have remained there until daylight and raided Bambata's location. The ladies had displayed remarkable coolness during the attack, and when the march was resumed they got out of their carriage, which was utilized for conveying the dead and wounded. For some distance the natives followed, dodging from bush to bush, firing occasionally, though without effect, and hurling abuse ; but after a while they disappeared altogether. The ladies covered the rest of the journey about eight miles out of the Impanza Valley on horseback, and camp was reached at 2 a.m., the troopers being thoroughly exhausted.
In his official report to the Minister of Defence after the skirmish Colonel Mansel wrote : "I would bring to your favourable notice the excellent behaviour of the men, who were cool and quiet, and obeyed every order with the greatest alacrity ; and also the behaviour of the advance guard in fighting their way back to help the main body. In the doing of this most of the casualties occurred. I would also bring to your notice the gallantry of Major Dimmick and Trooper Folker and others who brought in Trumpeter Milton who was severely wounded, Folker carrying him in front of his saddle. The gallantry of Major Dimmick and Trooper Folker in bringing this man in under most desperate circumstances is deserving of the V.C."
One of the bravest actions performed that night stands to the credit of Trooper Guest. The moment the first attack was made some of the horses in the advance guard bolted straight ahead in the direction of Greytown. Amongst these was a terrible brute ridden by Guest, who could not pull up for a considerable distance. When he stopped he could distinctly hear the noise of the fighting, so he wheeled round and galloped back in the darkness.
Trooper Emanuel's horse had been stabbed, and collapsed. Emanuel fell, and received the blow of a heavy knobkerry in the centre of his forehead, which almost crashed his skull in. He had just fallen and would soon have been finished off, as he was quite alone, when Guest galloped up, making his way through the blacks to the advance guard. His unruly horse was terribly excited, but when he saw Emanuel he pulled up, and got the fallen trooper on to the back of his animal, carrying the wounded man through to his comrades. This was done by Guest at the risk of his own life, and he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, the same honour being bestowed on Trooper Folker for carrying Trumpeter Milton.
The night's troubles were not over even on arrival at the camp. The voices of the natives were heard near by, and another attack was feared. Although this was their second night without sleep, the men were called out again for picket duty. They stood to arms until dawn, hearing mysterious calls and the barking of dogs in the distance, but nothing exciting occurred.
Sergeant Brown's body had not been discovered in the darkness, and it was not known for certain until the roll-call in the morning that he had not returned with the little force. Two days later his mutilated remains were found in the bush alongside the path where the fighting had taken place. He had been one of the most popular members of the force, and as his body was badly hacked with assegais it was with a feeling of relief that his comrades realized that his end had been sudden. He had been dragged into the thorns and quickly killed.
To-day there stands a lonely grave at the head of the Impanza Valley, opposite the place where the main camp had been pitched. It is within a few yards of the roadway, miles from any habitation other than widely scattered native kraals. At its head stands a monument erected by the comrades of the four men who died righting bravely in one of those little British fights that never come before the British public.