The undoing of Chelmsford revealed

2018-04-06 10:41
The Anglo-Zulu War — Isandlwana The revelation of a Disaster.

The Anglo-Zulu War — Isandlwana The revelation of a Disaster.

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“A little war in Zululand would lead to its consolidation within the British Empire” is the heading author Ron Lock has chosen for the first chapter of a remarkable new book on the famous and destructive battle of Isandlwana in 1879.

Remarkable, because it sheds new light on who it was that systematically plotted the destruction of the Zulu kingdom, and chronicles how Lord Chelmsford, a favourite of Queen Victoria, was outwitted and defeated by Zulu commander Ntshingwayo kaMahole.

Although Lock identifies the author of the chosen quotation as Lord Kimberly, colonial secretary, it is not revealed to whom it was addressed. More about that later.

The “little war in Zululand” started with a bang on January 22, 1879, after the invading British had crossed into Zululand at Rorke’s Drift on January 11.

Battle of Isandlwana on January 22, 1879.

Chelmsford had arrogantly predicted that the invasion of Zululand would be a “walk over”. By mid-afternoon on January 22, Ntshingwayo’s army had overrun the British camp, killed 1 300 invaders and was in possession of a vast amount of equipage.

This included 1 000 breach-loading Martini-Henry rifles, two tons of ammunition, 220 wagons, 1 507 oxen and all the supplies in the camp.

As Lock points out in his preface to the 235-page book titled The Anglo-Zulu War — Isandlwana, The revelation of a Disaster, Chelmsford had unwisely stated: “I am inclined to think that the first experience of the Martini-Henry [rifle], will be such a surprise to the Zulu that they will not be formidable thereafter”.

Well, they certainly “tasted” the Martini-Henry rifle in the opening battle, but it was virtually the entire invading number three column that “tasted” the Zulu iklwa and perished on the battlefield.

The battle of Isandlwana continues to fascinate people the world over. Lock ventures to suggest that more words have been written about the battles of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift during the last half century, than have been devoted to all the other colonial wars put together.

Be that as it may, Lock’s lasting contribution to the historiography of the wicked wars against the kingdom of King Cetshwayo is likely to be his unmasking of the truth about what led to the undoing of Chelmsford’s unprovoked invasion plans.

Key to understanding why Chelmsford’s invasion plan came unstuck are the roles played by the Msinga magistrate, Henry Francis Fynn, and Gamdana kaXongo, a younger brother of Sihayo. Lock reveals that as the column was about to return to Rorke’s Drift before the battle, Gamdana was seen herding a large herd of cattle and he announced that he had already surrendered to the magistrate.

Athough furious, Chelmsford thought he could gain advantage, since he wished to enlist Fynn to his side because of the man’s great knowledge of Zululand and his impeccable command of Zulu.

Lock also reveals that Henry Francis Fynn’s father, also Henry Francis and the first white man to visit King Shaka, was a great friend of King Cetshwayo’s father, King Mpande, so much so that Mpande named his favourite son, Mbuyazi, the name by which Francis Fynn Snr, was known among the Zulu people.

Fynn was clearly well-connected and Lock produces evidence to show that it was Fynn, influenced by Gamdana, who influenced Chelmsford to change his plans of attack.

They persuaded the British general that the main Zulu army was concealed at Mangeni, south of Isandlwana, prompting the general to split his forces and be led on a wild goose chase in search of an imaginary Zulu army.

Ntshingwayo, having managed to split the British force by what appears to have been spies for the Zulu — Fynn and Gamdana — attacked the unfortified Isandlwana camp and literally wiped out the invading force.

In his concluding paragraph, Lock states that he has no doubt that his book won’t be well-received “in certain quarters”. That is probably true, but surely that can only be true in the case of historians who have avoided the facts and have been reluctant to accept that a famous general was outsmarted by the Zulu army.

The unprovoked invasion by the British and the destruction of the Zulu Kingdom “engendered resentment for 150 years of subjugation”, to use Lock’s words in his preface to the book.

In conclusion, it seems appropriate to use a quotation from Jeff Guy’sDestruction of the Zulu Kingdom to emphasise the monstrous injustice committed against the Zulu people by conniving Natal officials, including John Shepstone and Sir Bartle Frere.

This is what Zulu King Cetshwayo wrote in a letter to the colonial secretary, Lord Kimberly, while a prisoner at Oude Moulen in the Cape: “Do you kill me like this because I am a black man? “Who could have been a greater friend to the English than I who remained quiet in my country until I was attacked?”

King of the Zulus, King Cetshwayo kaMpande


Lock produces ample evidence to show that the British government had no part in the plans to invade and conquer Zululand. But it would seem that the colonial secretary, Lord Kimberly, author of the opening quotation at the beginning of the book, was in on the invasion plot — although Lock does not say so, it seems logical to assume that he was addressing the chief plotter against King Cetshwayo’s people — Sir Bartle Frere.

The book has a sensitive forward written by Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

Read more on:    book review

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