Mervyn Mitton

ZULU HISTORY AND WEAPONRY FROM 1879

286 posts in this topic

Still waiting for the descriptions Keith...

This is a very unusual spear that I am showing. The head has undoubtedly been dug-up - whether from a battle site or, a grave, we will never know - particularly as it would have been done by a Zulu. Going into graves is common in Sth. Africa and basically they are looking for valuables and weapons. He hit 'pay dirt' with this spear head - 19 inches long - from the binding to the tip. ( 47cm). This makes it an important Iklwa and probably carried originally by a Chief. I mentioned earlier that long spearheads could be identified in battle and were used to move the Impis around. Age wise - perhaps up to 150 years old .

The original wooden shaft would have perished and the new owner has used a short length of rounded wood to make another Iklwa. The overall measurement is 32 inches (81.5cm)

One of the most unusual changes from it's original appearance is the binding. There can be three types - copper and brass wire; Ilala Palm stalk, plaited; and, the tail of a cow - rolled down. However, none of these have been used - instead different coloured lengths of covered wire have been woven to act as a binding. These wires are actually detonating wire from the gold and diamond mines and many Zulus worked at the mines in the Transvaal and came home only at Christmas, when the mines closed. This was the time that old fueds were revived and was possibly the reason the spear head was dug-up and re-made. There is one fued on record that started in 1892 at the Howick Falls in the Natal Midlands. The dispute started over right of way crossing a ford and a number of chickens were killed. Every year the fued starts up again in December and to the present, the death toll is well over one hundred lives.....

This binding is 8 inches (20cm)

So, an unusual spear - with a history . I would judge the re-mounting to have been in the 1920's or, 1930's. Perhaps the wire could tell us ?

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Still waiting for the descriptions Keith...

Hi Mervyn ....I havent done anything more about getting the history of my spears documented - it requires a special trip from Johannesburg to Cape Town for that. Will do after April 2010 due to the priority of finishing my manuscript first on the Viscount disasters. Cheers....Keith

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An interesting spear and impressive bindings.

Thanks for the history as well, it certianly makes this post a source for research.

Regards

Brian

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Strictly speaking, these two rare items should be under our General Zulu heading. However, because of their double use as a stabbing weapon I am including them under spears.

During the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, there were a number of occasions when the British Infantry fixed bayonets and charged. This caused great consternation with the Zulu warriors - they were used to fighting with spears, but, this was the first time they had encountered bayonets in battle. Remeber this was the Martini Henry single shot rifle - which is a long weapon - and the bayonet is triangular shaped and also long. The effect therefore, was to give a reach of some 9 feet ( 270 cm) when the arms are extended. Accounts of the time show that the Zulu warriors were really 'nervous'.

I have explained previously that all metal working by the Zulus was from 'guilds' or, 'clans'. Chiefs who had encountered bayonets had the smiths change some of their axes into an elongated form - similar to a bayonet. Axes were not carried by the warriors - only chiefs and royalty - they were a status symbol and very expensive. Axes are rare - bayonet axes even more so. These are a matched pair and almost certainly came from the man who owned the Royal spear with the long blade shown earlier. They all came-in at the same time. They probably date from around 1900 and most probably part of his regalia. One in the right hand and the other behind the shield with a knobkerrie (Iwisa) and an Iklwa.

Although they look similar, there are clear differences in the blades and also on the carved handles.

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What is the generally accepted opinion as to the source of the word 'assegai'? Forgive me if this has been covered already here, but I have read that Moorish light cavalry in the Iberian penninsula used a spear known which the Christians wrote as 'azegaya'. It occurred to me this loan word could have travelled south to the East coast of Africa with the Portuguese? Then again, I suppose it could have could it have come directly from Zanzibar. I should be interested to know.

JF

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Hi Mervyn,

Where except on the GMIC and especially from you could one expect to see such rare items as the bayonet/axes?

These are absolutely fasinating. The history as to why they have been made in the first place makes perfect sense.

Once again thank you for posting such rare and historicaly significant specimens.

Regards

Brian

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I usually keep the two Zulu posts well separate - however, with the World attention on Sth. Africa with the soccer , this seems an appropriate time to show these two rare spears.

People tend to think that ethnic weaponry is always made by the warriors for fighting and hunting - not so. Back in the 1920's the Government needed weaponry for the Army,Police,and other African men engaged on Govt. duties. This weaponry would have to be uniform in appearance and durability and suitable to be carried by uniformed bodies of men. Having conducted tests, a contract was given to the U.K. firm of Vickers - perhaps better known for their tanks.

The reason for requiring a quality, alternative form of weaponry, was quite simply that at that period of time, firearms were not issued to the African soldiers or, police.

Vicker's produced a number of spears (umkhontos) in different sizes and shapes - they were heavy stainless steel and had wooden shafts of quality wood. I think they continued supplying until the outbreak of WW2 in 1939 and then Sth. African companies took over.

For the police, the African constables - two of whom usually accompanied each white police officer on his patrols - carried a heavy Iwisa (knobkerry) of a standard pattern. However, in times of serious trouble they were issued with a large spear - similar to the one shown - this had a thumb indentation cut into the lower part of the shaft - and always at the same place and angle. They were carried as a rifle would be and were 'sloped' on the left shoulder - with the thumb in the rest, all spears were at the same height and angle - very imposing.

When I was living in Durban in the 1950's we had severe rioting in '58 and I actually witnessed 3 platoons of police (100 men) drop their spears from the shoulder to the Present - and then charge 5000 violent people. Who didn't stay to see if the points were sharp....

The Police, Prison Warders and Game Guards all used the longer pattern shown here - each was different only in the shape of the end of the handle - but, all had a butt cap in s/s. They were 4 feet 6 1/2 inches overall(138cm). This was the Game Guards pattern.

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Same picture - sideways to give a betterperspective of shape.

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I mentioned that the Army also had spears for their sentries and other African troops who needed a personal defence weapon. The pattern for this was based entirely on the Zulu Iklwa or, short stabbing spear created by King Shaka back in the 1820's. Vicker's used the same construction and also incorporated the swelling end to the shaft - this was to give grip when pulling it from a body and your hand was probably, covered in blood. The overall length of 4 feet 7 inches is also in accord with the sizes of most iklwas. Why the Army chose this different shape is unknown - perhaps it was thought that a sentry on night patrol would find the shorter version easier to use ?

The one I am showing here is the Army version - however, it was chromed and given as a presentation to a retiring General of the Railway Police - back in the 1940's.

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Yet another amazing and interesting post Mervyn.

Thanks very much for sharing it with us.

Regards

Brian

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ID: 70   Posted (edited)

One of the questions that frequently comes-up when I am discussing Zulu history and the Battles of 1879 is, what weaponry did the British have ?

I think it therefore, right that we should include this topic under the generic of Zulu Iklwas. Peter Suciu has just written an interesting short overall history of the development of the Martini Henry rifle, it is on this sub-forum and I suggest you read it to have greater depth on it's development. I will cover it's history as far as the Zulu War is concerned.

The name is derived from Von Martini and A. Henry and it superceded the Enfield of the 1850's as the main rifle of the British Army in 1871. There were many variations over the years and it had a long life . However, we are only concerned with what was in use in 1879. Range wise - it could cover a distance of 14/1500 yards - in effect it was normally fired in the 500 - 700 yards range. (450- 640mtrs). When the opportunity was present the Sgt's used to carry range markers out and hammer them into the ground every 100 yards. Skilled troops could fire at 10 rounds per minute - however, this could cause problems. The barrel would overheat and this could cause the ejector to stick. Many troops carried a piece of damp rawhide to protect their hands. Troops carried 70 round in ready packs - this was heavy as the early ammo. had thin brass cartidge cases. These were later made of waxed cardboard. With a high rate of fire the ammunition was soon exhausted.

There were two patterns of bayonet - the type with the downward pointing tip was originally the .577 - and later when .45 was used the end of the bayonet was straight. The blade was 17 inches long (43cm) and triangular in shape. We see mostly the downward tip and at one time they were so common that people lined their garden paths. Nowdays they are quite rare and very sought after.

The last Battle of the War was at Ulundi - the King's Kraal. We had 5000 men - including the first battery of Pom Poms used by the British Artillery and also some 260 cavalry of the 17th Lancers. We formed the traditional British Square and the Zulus surrounded and attacked. They nearly broke through in several places - and fought strongly and bravely - however, fire power won and at this time, when the King fled, the Zulu nation ceased to be a fighting power.

This .577 cartridge and slug or, bullet, was recovered during the 1940's. The chap who found it placed it on a plastic base and poured liquid plastic over. I think you could buy kits in the 1950's and 60's ? I suppose it has kept them together and preserved them. After 1960 it became an offence to pick-up anything from a Battle site. I can remember visiting Ulundi in the 1950's and the exact layout of the Square could be picked out by the cartridge case trodden into the mud in 1879. Now they are all gone.

Officers carried private purchase weapons - the 1845 pattern sword and either the Tranter or, Adams 5 shot percussion cap revolvers. I will cover those in the next post.

Edited by Mervyn Mitton

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Bayonet and Martini Henry picture courtesy of the Armourer.

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ID: 73   Posted (edited)

DEALING NOW WITH WEAPONRY CARRIED BY OFFICERS'.

It must be remembered that in this period an officer was usually responsible for kitting himself out - at his cost. However, dress and weaponry regulations had to be followed.

There were two main percussion revolvers available - the TRANTER and the ADAMS. Both were designed by Tranter. They fired a large slug - about .45 and had to be handloaded into the five chambers. The revolver had a special loading tool built-in one side. Detonation was by a percussion cap - and all five nipples required one as the gun fired each shot separately - unlike the older pepperbox. Loading was quite a long task and probably carried out by his servant (or, Batman). This meant that in battle you couldn't re-load very quickly.

The officer would also carry the 1845 pattern Infantry officers' sword. Additionally, many officer's liked to carry a sword stick - this was ready for very quick action. I will deal with the swords in the next post.

post-6209-042496100 1289136834_thumb.jpg

Edited by Mervyn Mitton

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