Mervyn Mitton

ZULU HISTORY AND WEAPONRY FROM 1879

286 posts in this topic

This is an amazing thread! Thank you for showing these! I have never seen so many original weapons like this.

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Sorry for the delay in finishing the weapons carried by officers'. (They say as you get older 'time passes faster' - they're right !)

The pattern of sword carried by officers' was the 1845 - but, modified in 1854 when the folding guard was made as one piece. It was a single edged weapon, with a fullered (shaped areas on either side of the blade to lighten the weight) blade. Basically - with it's sharp point it was a thrusting weapon and the edge was not sharpened - although with force it could be dangerous.

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Officers' at this time commonly carried a stick for authority - and no doubt to help on rough ground. Most had a sword concealed inside for quick defence. Sometimes the blade used was from an old Levee sword - these are dress swords to be worn in the presence of the King - or, his representitive and have a thin blade. The alternative was to use a blade from an earlier sword - and then , of course, it was a heavier weapon - capable of doing more damage.

The sword stick illustrated here is from about 1810 and has the lighter blade. You can still buy them in specialised shops - however, their use is prohibited in most Countries.

Summing-up - an officer at this time carried a pistol - wore a sword - and, may have also carried a sword stick. When the fighting was really bad, most officers would make use of a rifle as well.

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Hi,

what would the police spears set you back if you wanted to buy one?

Best

Chris

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Chris - if you saw one in Capetown and it was under Rands 3000 (stg300) - then snap it up. The two above are army and game guards. The Police ones had an angled thumb groove to ensure all were at the same height and angle when marching.

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ID: 81   Posted (edited)

Most people who have an interest in the Zulu War of 1879, will know that we suffered our worst reverse at Isandlwana, then in any other colonial war that we had fought. The majority of troops killed belonged to the 24th Regiment - the First Battalion and an enhanced Company from the 2nd. Battalion.

Just what did such a major loss of life mean to the area that they were recruited from ? At that time Regiments recruited from set areas laid down by the Ministry for War. The 24th. covered quite a large area and included some parts of Wales - this accounts for the high number of Welsh names, but for the majority they were of English stock. This was particularly so with the officers - most of whom came from a Country gentleman's background. The 24 th. were not a highly regarded regiment - one where the young officers' would be picked for political and aristocratic influence.

Rather they were typical of the times for a County regiment that had close ties to the community.

Imagine then, the distress when virtually every family in the community had members killed - or, had links to a family that did. With the officers - with so many killed at one time - again nearly every estate would have been in mourning.

I would like to give some idea of the impact these deaths made in Britain and am showing just the recorded deaths from one issue of the Illustrated News. They continued on for quite a few weeks. Amongst these pictures are the two young officers who saved the Colours at Isandlawans - but who both died at Fugitive's Drift. Lts. Melville and Coghill. Also shown is Lt.Godwin-Austen - whose family member later climbed the World's 2nd highest mountain after Mt. Everest and which is named after him.

War is not always the 'glorious' thing it is shown to be in films. All of these men died horrible deaths from stabbing - alone in a Country thousands of mles from home.

Edited by Mervyn Mitton

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Now that we are completing this short section on the British Forces and their weaponry, I thought I would show a few pictures from The Illustrated London News of that time. They clearly show the British way of life and how transport was achieved - even under the most difficult circumstances.

I will comment where necessary. After this we will return to Zulu weaponry and also their battle tactics against the British.

This is from the period following the defeat of the Zulus at Ulundi. We had to search for some time before King Cetwayo was found and taken into custody. The cavalry are, of course, the 17th Lancers, who had previously charged at Ulundi. Note that they always had Zulu guides in attendence.

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This picture has a great deal of interesting detail - and shows the accuracy of the artist. The travelling artist would make quick sketches - noting colours etc.. The full drawing would then either be completed by him - or, be sent back to the UK to be completed by other artists following the original sketch and using the notes.

Basically, this is showing a Regiment on the march - cased colours being carried at the front. A prisoner has been brought in by scouts and the Colonel - on horseback is interviewing him through colonial troops and scouts.

To the left of the picture, are the Colonel's hunting dogs, his gun bearers - both hunting guns and heavier ones for fighting. At the rear of the column would be the waggons, mess tents and an after guard.

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This is in early January 1879 when our troops were being brought into position. This was the 3rd. column that was to attack the right flank of Zululand but, ended up being besieged in a small town called Eshowe. They were there for 4 months - but, it tied-up 20,000 Zulu men and possibly, saved us from a worse disaster.

General Chelmsford is shown here (centre) making an inspection. Fort Pearson - named after the Colonel commanding the column - is shown back left. Across the river - The Tugela - is Fort Tenedos. HMS Tenedos was the guard ship at the mouth of the river and her signallers and seamen were a great help. Tenedos was just a fortified area where supplies could be brought and stored. The barge - or, punt - was manned by the seamen and was pulled across on two ropes, by oxen. She carried fifty men at a time - a half company. To the left of Chelmsford men can be seen removing their boots in order to wade out.

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Something a little different. This shows the embarkation of the 17th Lancers from London Docks. These transports for cavalry had special stalls in the hold to safely transport the horses. The men - of course - looked after them. The officers' would have had their own cabins and a proper mess and kitchens.

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"This picture has a great deal of interesting detail - a Regiment on the march - cased colours being carried at the front."

Interesting to see the drummers on the RHS of the infantry column. Strange, but I had never thought of drums being used on colonial campaigns at this date- at least to the degree of them being humped on the backs of soldiers on the march. Were bugles AND drums both essential to infantry operations in this context. Would drums have been used for command and control at Isandlwhana or Ulundi, say?

There is of course that immortal moment with the drummer at the climax of 'Zulu'- "Spit, man! Spit!" but-

JF

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ID: 94   Posted (edited)

This final picture shows farm buildings that had been taken over by the Army. Note the sacks of mealies (sweetcorn kernels) and boxes of tinned meat - even in 1879.

Edited by Mervyn Mitton

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JF - that is a very good question. Bugles - we know - controlled most battle manoevres and barrack activities. Drums - I've never given much thought to. Perhaps someone can give us an expert opinion ? Might they have been a 'throwback' to the days when we marched in ranks at our enemy -they would have given cadence ?

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Might they have been a 'throwback' to the days when we marched in ranks at our enemy -they would have given cadence ?

I'm sure somebody will indeed be able to supply a fuller and more expert answer but my understanding from reading in forums relating to 18th century warfare, is that even in the age of Frederick the Great, certainly in the British army, infantry in the field did not march or manoeuvre in strict cadence to a drumbeat. The function of the drums, and later bugles via the Light Infantry, was principally to relay commands but not to regulate movement.

The squares at Ulundi and Omdurman, and in the earlier Sudan campaign as well, were hangovers from the muzzle-loading era useful for concentrating fire against mass attack from non-European adversaries. Perhaps drums were used for controlling volley fire and co-ordinating manoeuvres within brigades.

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Mervyn, thanks for starting this thread, Fascinating stuff. I've just read 'The washing of the spears' by Donald R Morris. A lot of detail, but a very good read, particularly for somebody like me, who knew very little about the Zulus or the Anglo-Zulu wars.

Patrick

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Patrick - I knew Morris in the 1950's when he was researching 'The Washing of the Spears'. He was coming back a few years ago to write an up-date, but unfortunately died. I have read most of the current crop of books on this period and am still firmly of the belief that this is the best one. The detail and politics that you mention, are what makes it so accurate and you must remember that in the '50's there were still Zulus alive who fought at Isandlawana - not many. From the Boer War nearly all Afrikaaners had someone still alive.

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Patrick - I knew Morris in the 1950's when he was researching 'The Washing of the Spears'. He was coming back a few years ago to write an up-date, but unfortunately died. I have read most of the current crop of books on this period and am still firmly of the belief that this is the best one. The detail and politics that you mention, are what makes it so accurate and you must remember that in the '50's there were still Zulus alive who fought at Isandlawana - not many. From the Boer War nearly all Afrikaaners had someone still alive.

Thanks Mervyn. I really enjoyed the book, but, as a recent (very mature) history post-graduate, I wondered if his interpretations were still seen as accurate and valid nowadays. Given the breadth of your reading and knowledge , it sounds as though they are. It takes some doing to write a book with so much information and interpretation in it, yet keep the narrative flowing in such an entertaining and exciting way.

I recently did a Battlefield Archaeology Masters with Tony Pollard , who did some of the archaeology at both Isandhlwana and Eshowe. He was at a reconstruction of the battle, and said the Zulus got so caught up in it , that they terrified the guys playing the British soldiers, when they charged.

Patrick

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A friend of mine - Pat Rundgren - acts as the Sgt. Major for the Dundee Diehards. They always take part in the Jan 22nd. events and wear the correct uniforms. They do have to be very careful as the Zulus get 'very excited' in battle scenes - they are a little like Millwall football supporters ! Some years ago I remember talking to one of the staff of the film 'ZULU' - because of their tendency to get out of control, all of their spears and weaponry were silver painted rubber. Even so - he said on the first charge against the British rampart wall , our actors turned tail and ran for their lives - very closely followed by the victorious Zulus. The problem was that they didn't understand they were supposed to 'die gracefully' on British bayonets. I believe that there were some injuries.

History is always open to different interpretations - and as we know poor Baden-Powell and J.M.Barrie both suffered that fate. However - history is also immutable - and if there is evidence to support your view then that is probably what happened. The Natal archives are very extensive and in my humble opinion Morris had 'the feeling' for what was in the 50's, the not so distant past.

I would like to invite Brett Hendey to give us his opinion on Morris. Brett comes from an old Natal family and I greatly respect his opinions. He may not like me mentioning this but he holds his Doctorate and before he retired was the Director of our Science Museum.

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