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A Survivor of Isandlawana - Zulu War 1879

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Mervyn Mitton

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INTRODUCTION

The Battle of Isandlawana in 1879 was the worst defeat inflicted on Britain in a Colonial War. For that reason
alone, this old newspaper report is a valuable document. However, it is far more then that - the details given
make it a valuable historical document, and it for this reason that I am posting it on the BLOG section. This
will allow it to be read by nonMembers who can access it from Google.

Basically it is the story of Mr. W.M. Adams - who died in December 1916 at the age of 96. The report of his
death and a short history of his life appeared in the Pietermaritzburg (Capital of Natal) "Natal Witness" of Dec.8th
1916. The story was written by a close friend of his and is therefore accurate - making it a rare historical
document from an earlier time.

Mr. Adams was born in England in 1820 - 7 months after the death of King George 3rd. He came to Durban at
at 22 years of age in 1842 - which makes him one of Natal's earliest pioneers


------------------------------------------------------http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_08_2012/blogentry-6209-0-38958400-1344782858.jpgclick to enlarge---------------------------------------


..................................................................THE LATE MR.W.M. ADAMS........................................................

.....................................REMINISCENCES OF ISANDLAWANA................................


Mr. William Adams Snr., whose photograph appears in this issue ,so well known in the Northern Districts as one of
the old pioneers, passed away on November 28th at the ripe age of 96.

I had known him intimately for some years and it is difficult to believe that the genial old gentleman, who strongly
held his own for half a century, and who so succesfully faced the hardships and perils of those early days, has at last
relinquisheed the struggle and answered the call to his long rest.

Mr. Adams landed at the Port of Durban in 1842, arriving in the 'King William' which accomplished the journey from
England in 3 1/2 months. He was then 22 years of age. Durban hardly existed in those days and ' McDonald's
Hotel ' where Mr. Adams took refuge was built of sods ! The young man became a trader and hunter and in the
course of his wanderings for 30 years he visited almost every part of South Africa, at one time venturing as far North
as the Zambesi.

.....................................................A HUNTER'S PARADISE......................................


Natal was then a hunters paradise and lions and elephants often fell to Mr. Adam's gun . Once an elephant
attacked him with such suddeness that he could only fall flat on the ground to avoid the charge. The animal's
feet actually missed by inches, but luckily the impetus carried the elephant sufficiently ahead to enable Mr. Adams
to recover his gun and as the animal returned to the attack he shot it dead.

Another time, Mr. Adams was being carried across the Tugela River by a native and just as they reached the bank,
the unfortunate native was seized by a crocodile and killed - Mr. Adams barely reached the bank.

In 1853 he married Maria Elizabeth Strydom. It was a happy union. She cheerfully with him the perils and the
privations of those early days accompanying him in his journeys proving herself a true helpmate and a good
mother to his children. She has survived him and is now 82 years of age.

Lattererly they have lived in a small cottage near the Helpmekaar Magistracy, with one of their Grandsaughters
as a companion. The home was not an elaborate one but it was spotlessly clean, and the old couple seemed as
contented with one another's society as they must have been when first married.

Their honeymoon took the novel form of a hunting trip to Zululand, in which they had an exciting experience.
One day a couple of lions stalked out of the shrubs ahead and barred the path. Their manes bristled and they
showed every indication of an attack upon the frightened oxen. Mr. Adams and two of his natives rushed
ahead, covering the lions with their guns - and shot them dead.

The young trader was well acquainted with the famous Dick King, and he often related the story of how one
winter's night he and Mr. King rode from Durban to Botha's Hill, the latter told him of his stirring ride to the Cape'for reinforcements. It was a wonderful story and Mr. Adams always spoke of Dick King as a ' fine fellow'.

One of Mr. Adam's earliest ventures was the establishment of a trading station at what is now Bond's Drift.
Here he met the veteran Dutch pioneer, Piet Hogg , and they had an exciting experience with the warlike Zulus.
It was just about the time that Cetywayo and Umbulazi were disputing for the headship of the Zulu Nation. One
day an armed party of Zulus swept down upon the traders , carried off the oxen and left the owners and their
families stranded. The plucky traders went off in hot pursuit, caught up the marauders and at great personal
risk demanded the return of the oxen. They were succesful and wisely decided to immediately trek South until
matters became more settled.

A year or two later found Mr. Adams and his family settled about four miles from Rorke's Drift. The country was
then a native location, there being only four white families in the district. One of those was Mr. Rorke, whose name
will live forever in history, on account of the famous drift named after him.

When Cetywayo finally became King it was apparent to Mr. Adams - living as he did on the border - that serious
trouble was brewing. He joined the Border Mounted Rifles, and at the outbreak of war held the rank of
Quarter Master Sergeant.


.........................................................http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_08_2012/blogentry-6209-0-38958400-1344782858.jpgclick to enlarge...........................................


There was no adventure which he told so freely as those which befell him in the Zulu War. He and his son were
present at the fatal battle of Isandlawana. He was one of the first to realise the danger on that disastrous day.

The small British force was scattered, and as the mighty Zulu Impi, half moon in shape sprang out of their hidden
dongas and began advancing on to the doomed band, Mr Adams pleaded with the Imperial Officers to concentrate
and form a laager. His advice was unheeded. He fired to the last and as the 'horns' were closing round, he and
others , seeing that all was lost, dashed through the opening and made for Fugitives Drift. He was pusued most of
the way and just managed to reach the Buffalo River in safety. A few days later he had the joy of meeting his son
whom he had given up as lost and who had escaped at a drift lower down. ' How did you manage to escape ' I
more then once asked him and the old gentleman - with a twinkle in his eye - woulkd reply ' Funk and a good horse'.

Mr. Adams also took part in the first Boer War, this time in the Transport Service. At the close he returned to
Rorke's Drift, where he remained until the outbreak of the second Boer War. He was taken prisoner by the Boers,
sent to Pretoria, but subsequently released and he ultimately arrived via Delgoa Bay. Later he was joined by his wife who
though 60 years of age, evaded the Boers and in a small waggon crossed Zululand and entered Natal through
Bond's Drift.

He was fond of telling of the changes that had taken place in Durban since he first saw it. Then it was a collection
od sand dunes and thick bush and these had now given place to an up-to-date and prosperous seaport , with trams,
macadamised streets and all those things which mark the advance of a 20th. Century civilisation.

He returned to Rorke's Drift, but in 1910 after a residence there of 54 years he sold out and purchased a small home at
Helpmekaar, where the old couple spent their declining years. He took a keen interest in the present European War
and enjoyed good health to the last. We all hoped and believed he would reach his Century.

He was born 7 months after the death of George 3rd. of England and so lived during the reign of 5 Sovereigns.

On the morning of the 24th November he looked ill. Mrs Adams sent for the Doctor who pronounced the illness
to be of a serious nature. He never rallied but passed peacefully on the 28th ultimoo and was buried in
Helpmekaar the following day.

In addition to his widow, he leaves 6 children (living) , 36 grand children and 10 great granchildren.


I hoped you enjoyed reading of this early pioneer - of people such as this the British Empire was set-up.

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Excellent reading! What an incredible gentleman with an incredible life!

Thank you for sharing! Passages like this, IMHO, are the very best parts of history.

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Excellent! William Adams was one of the five Buffalo Border Guard to escape the disaster at Isandhlwana, they reached Helpmakaar where:-

'The Defence of Helpmekaar by Graham Alexander'

Quartermaster D. MacPhail later wrote: -
Captain Essex who was in command, gave such a foolish order that it cleared a lot of us out and we left him to fight the Zulus himself

As darkness fell, five members of the Buffalo Border Guard mounted their horses and silently slipped away from the garrison in the gathering twilight


(The survivors of the Natal Carbineers and Newcastle Mounted Rifles had already left)

What with one son escaping Isandhlwana with him, his 16 year old son at Fort Pine, and (I think!) another son in the Buffalo Border Guard, maybe with Chelmsford Column, who can blame them for getting out of a poorly defended place after what they had just witnessed a couple of hours before.

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Mervyn, I am so glad to see you are back writing in the Blog section.
Thank you for posting this in the Blog section where as many as possible will read this most interesting history.
Would it be possible to also post this in the regular section of the GMIC as it needs to be preserved so those researching the forum will find it at a later date.
As always, well done Mervyn.
Regards
Brian

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