Isandlwana There is some controversy about the meaning of Isandlwana*. The spur sits on a gradually rising plain approximately 10 mi (16 km) from Rorke's Drift. Because of poor roads and the unwieldy wagons, it took Lord Chelmsford 10 days to make the passage from Rorke's Drift to the foot of Isandlwana, where he arrived on 20 January 1879. Since Chelmsford's plan was for a quick strike toward the Zulu Royal Kraal at Ulundi, he considered his camp temporary, and did not follow the advice of Paul Kruger and other Boers to form a wagon-laager, a standard Boer tactic when fighting against the Zulus. He also did not follow his own November Field Force Regulations which called for a partial entrenchments.
On 21 January, Chelmsford sent out patrols to try to locate the main Zulu impi. Maj. Charles Dartnell, that afternoon, reported an encounter with a large Zulu force. On 22 January, responding to Dartnell's report, Chelmsford split his main force and accompanied an additional 1600 troops to support those already in the field, leaving approximately 1800 men, including the 24th Warwickshires, to guard the camp. The main Zulu impi, consisting of about 20000 troops divided into three corps under the commands of Ntshingwayo kaMahole, Mavumengwana kaNdlela, and Dabulamanzi kaMpande had left Ulundi on 17 January and, on 20 January were camped about 15 mi (25 km) from Isandlwana. Using Shaka kaSenzangakhona's "horns and chest" maneuver, they attacked the British main camp at about noon on 22 January. The superior firepower of the British Martini-Henry .45 cal breechloading rifles initially checked the Zulus who were armed with throwing spears (assegais), short, stabbing spears (iKlawa), oxhide shields (isiHlangu), war clubs (iWisa), and approximately 15000 assorted rifles in various calibres. Eventually the overwhelming numbers and bravery of the Zulus, coupled with the inability of the British to provide a steady supply of replacement ammunition, turned the tide of battle. By 2:30 PM the Zulus had overrun the camp and, except for a small number of escapees, killed the defenders. Chelmsford, on hearing that the camp had been overrun, is reported to have said, "I can't understand it, I left a thousand men there."

The Battle of Isandlwana was the worst defeat ever inflicted on British troops by native forces. In the end, about 1300 British (800 Imperial troops and 500 irregulars) and between 1500 and 2000 Zulus lay dead. The British dead were buried on the field several weeks later, and the cairns marking their graves are visible today. What Zulu dead who were not carried off, remained unburied on the field. After the battle, the Zulu impi disbanded and returned to their home kraals, awaiting another call by King Cetshwayo kaMpande to sortie against the invaders.


*ISANDHLWANA:  Or Isandlwana, former post office near Dundee and the site of the “Flodden of Natal" - the massacre of British forces at the hands of the Zulus on January 22, 1879. Lugg prefers eSandlwana and says it means the "second stomach of a cow." Tradition has it that the curious hill was given its name by Chief Sihaye Ngohese or one of his predecessors because its shape reminded him of this organ. Sandiwana is the diminutive form of Isandlu, a small elevated hut used for the storage of grain, and such a structure is known as an esandiwana, or  ''second stomach of a cow" which is also used for storage purposes. It has nothing to do with "a small hand," says Lugg - that would be isandlana. [Ref: Stayt, Don. Where on earth? A guide to the place names of Natal and Zululand. Durban: Daily News, 1971.]


Roman Soiko wrote on 23 July 2008 contradicting Lugg's assertion and saying "little hand" was the better translation.


Since my Zulu is non-existent, I chose to amend the first sentence above.


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Thanks to Rob Stayt for the quote from his father's book.

Created 25 FEB 2000; Modified 23 JUL 2008