Rorke's Drift

The battle at Rorke's Drift during the afternoon of 22 January 1879, is among the most famous in the history of the British Army. Approximately 4000 Zulus, under the command of Prince Dabulamanzi kaMpande, King Cetshwayo's half-brother, were opposed by 95 effectives of Company B of the 2d Battalion, 24th Warwickshire Regiment, commanded by Lt. Gonville Bromhead. Commissary troops, medical personnel, and hospital patients, brought the total number to 139 men.
Cetshwayo specifically forbade any incursion into Natal. Dabulamanzi, however, because his troops were part of the "loins" in the Zulu battle formation at Isandlwana and were not involved in the battle, wanted to give his men the opportunity to "wash their spears," and so disobeyed Cetshwayo's order.

The battle began at 4:30 PM and continued for twelve hours. The British were armed with .45 calibre Martini-Henry breechloading rifles, while the Zulus were armed with throwing spears (assegais), short, stabbing spears (iKlawa), oxhide shields (isiHlangu), war clubs (iWisa), and many rifles in various calibres. Just prior to the battle, Lt. John Chard (5th Field Company, Royal Engineers), who ranked Bromhead, took overall command. The British beat off repeated charges as the Zulus bravely pressed the attack. In fact, the Zulus were not fearful of the rifle fire, but were of the bayonet. The defenders were driven from the hospital/house and rallied aroung the storehouse/chapel. Fifteen defenders were killed, and two died later of their wounds. It is estimated that the Zulus lost 600 men. Eleven of Rorke's Drift's defenders were awarded the Victoria Cross, more than for any other single battle in history. Cpl. Friederich Schiess, a Swiss, belonging to the Natal Native Contingent (NNC), was awarded the first Victoria Cross given to a non-regular soldier.

The house at Rorke's Drift, built by James Rorke, an Irish hunter and trader, was known to the Zulus as kwaJimu (Jim's Place). Rorke's widow sold the land, in 1870, to a Swedish missionary society and, at the time of the British invasion of Zululand, Rev. Otto Witt occupied the house and put his chapel in the adjacent store. Lord Chelmsford, 'requisitioned' the property during his crossing at Rorke's Drift, and used the house as a hospital and the chapel as a storehouse--during the battle it was used as a surgery. Company B was left to guard the stores. During the battle, the original, thatched roof was set ablaze and the house destroyed. The photograph above was taken in January 2000. The structure is virtually identical to the original with the exception of the roof.

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Created 20 FEB 2000; Modified 07 SEP 2001