Battlefields Of Rorks Drift And Islandwana

The Anglo Zulu War of 1879 is famous for the great battles of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift.

Survivors from Isandlwana crossed the Buffalo River at a place forever after named “The Fugitives’ Drift” and this spectacular property, a Natural Heritage Site, overlooking the “sphinx” of Isandlwana and the Oskarberg at Rorke’s Drift, includes the site where Lieutenant Melvill and Lieutenant Coghill lost their lives saving the Queen’s Colour of the 24th Regiment.

The late David Rattray and his wife Nicky, pioneers of Heritage Tourism in South Africa, have created an award winning lodge for visitors to savour this extraordinary saga.
Fugitives’ Drift is renowned for its battlefield tours to all the Zulu War and Anglo-Boer War battle sites in the region. Our flagship tours to Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift are led by registered tour guides who are superb storytellers, making the history of that day come alive, and long, family associations with the area and its people allow us to offer you some unique, Zulu perspectives. Learn in gripping detail of the bravery and mobility of the Zulu army that defeated the British, on the Day of the Dead Moon. Listen at sunset to the famous story of Rorke’s Drift, where 100 British soldiers were attacked by 4,000 Zulu warriors, winning more Victoria Crosses than in any other battle in history.

No.3 or Centre Column began crossing the Buffalo in thick mist and drizzling rain at 4.30am on the 11th January. The advance was led by the mounted troops and the N.N.C., some of whom drowned in the river, which came upto their necks. The less expendable battalions of the 24th crossed on flat-bottomed ponts, operated by the Royal Engineers. They were covered by Lieutenant-Colonel Harness’ battery of N/5 Royal Artillery.

A bridgehead was established without opposition and the whole day was spent getting the column across while Chelmsford rode north to confer with Colonel Evelyn Wood of the left column, his last opportunity.

Before the column could advance, a Zulu kraal commanding the track had to be captured to allow the Natal Pioneers to reinforce the track. The task fell to the 1/3rd NNC commanded by George Hamilton-Browne. He had contempt for his command, save for three of his companies which were formed from renegade Zulus. Encouraged by the bayonets of four supporting companies of 1/24th, the 1/3rd NNC attacked Sihayo’s kraal on 12th January. The Zulu companies showed themselves proud and the position was taken along with a quantity of sheep and cattle captured.

The next few days were taken up with improving the track and moving the transport forward. The mounted troops scouted ahead towards Isipezi Hill. No Zulus were seen and an intermediate campsite was found with good fuel and water. From here a further advance could be made to Ispezi which lay beneath Isandhlwana hill some 10 miles along the track. Chelmsford decided to form an advanced base there so that the wagons could be offloaded and sent back to Rorke’s Drift for fresh supplies. At noon on the 20th January, the wagons were left behind as the column reached Isandhlwana and began setting up camp.

The hill at Isandhlwana runs north for about 400 yards from its highest point just north of the track leading up from the Buffalo, until it drops sharply. The ground rises again for about 1,500 yards along a spur up to the Nqutu plateau. The plateau stretches north and east towards Isipezi Hill 10 miles away, forming the northern boundary of the plain, which is some 4 miles away. The track to Ulundi runs across the plateau to the east of Isandhlwana. South of the track and forming the southern boundary of the plain lie the Malakata, Inhlazatye and Nkandhla hills. The southern edge of the plateau forms an escarpment, broken at various places down which streams flow and the track spur runs down to Isandhlwana. The streams flow to join in wide ditches known as ‘dongas’ and cross the plain in a north-south direction.

The east of the plateau is wide open with no cover except among the boulders and dongas, the force had a fine field of fire with its back to Isandhlwana, observation reaching out to the escarpment and a conical hill to the east of Isandhlwana and the Malakatas. Only where the northern spur joined the plateau was there an opportunity for an enemy to get round and strike in close to the hill.

The column did not put the standing orders of entrenchment into effect, probably because of the stony ground, but no breastworks were built or obstacles placed to slow an enemy attack. Several of the experienced officers of the 24th expressed concern.

On the morning of the 22nd January, Chelmsford divided the force, sending out mounted troops and sixteen companies of the 3rd NNC to scout the south-east for the Zulu army and sent other patrols out in other directions, The main patrol, under Dartnell, encountered 1,500-2,000 Zulus some 10 miles from camp who withdrew after a skirmish. Dartnell decided to bivouac for the night as it was getting dark and asked for reinforcements. Chelmsford decided to move out to support Dartnell assuming the Zulu force was a portion of a much larger Zulu force in the area.

A must for the history buffs! The Anglo Zulu War of 1879 is famous for the great battles of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift for your Holidays to South Africa.