"The Battle at Rorke's Drift" Rorke's Drift by etfromnc

Rorke's Drift Travel Guide: 3 reviews and 13 photos

After not playing much of a role in the battle of Isandhlwana, Prince Dabulamanzi kaMpande commanding a Zulu force of 4,500 men was goaded on by his men, and despite the orders of his brother, King Cetshwayo kaMpande, not to cross the Buffalo River into Natal, he chose to attack the British supply base close to a river crossing known as Rorke's Drift, which the AmaZulu called KwaJimu.

The post was established in a trading store-cum-mission station that consisted of a dwelling house and a chapel, both sturdily built of stone. The house was doing temporary duty as a field hospital, the chapel was full of stores, and there were only 104 men who were fit for combat. The command of the post had passed to a Lieutenant Chard of the Royal Engineers, when Major Henry Spalding of the 104th Regiment left on the morning of 22 January. Commanding a company-strength force was Lieutenant Bromhead of the 24th Regiment of Foot (Infantry in American English terminology). James Langley Dalton, a former Staff Sergeant and now a volunteer serving as an Acting Assistant Commissary, ordered the construction of barricades connecting the two buildings with sacks of corn, and an inner barricade with biscuit boxes.

When the Zulus attacked this barricade, wielding their short stabbing assegais, they were unable to reach the men behind the barricades and they were blasted by rifle fire at point blank range. Most of those who did mount the breastwork were repulsed by the bayonets of the defenders. Some of the Zulus were armed with rifles, purchased from unscrupulous traders, but they were not trained marksmen and the British soldiers were able to pick them off at long range.

After a number of unsuccessful attacks the Zulus set fire to the hospital, burst in, and began to stab the patients with assegais and longer spears. Private Alfred Henry Hook kept them at bay with his bayonet while his friend John Williams hacked holes in the wall separating one room from another and dragged the patients through one by one, the last man had dislocated his knee. Williams had to break the other to get him out of a window and into the yard where the barricades offered some protection.

Fighting went on all night illuminated primarily from the blaze of the nearby hospital as the Zulus made charge after charge on the barricades. Both sides fought with desperate courage. A Swiss adventurer who had the double misfortune to be a patient at the hospital, Christian Ferdnand Schiess, stabbed three Zulus in quick succession after he had clambered over the breastwork. In the yard Surgeon James Henry Reynolds tended to the wounded, oblivious to the life and death struggle going on all around him. Those too badly hurt to shoot propped themselves up as best they could and reloaded the guns, and re-supplied ammunition to those who were still on their feet.

When dawn came at last, the Zulus withdrew leaving at least 351 dead around the barricades. Later Lord Chelmsford arrived on the scene with a column of British Soldiers.

Eleven Victoria Crosses, the highest decoration for valor awarded by the British government and a remarkably high number considering the number of men involved, were given as a result of this battle. The recipients were Lieutenants Chard and Bromhead, privates Alfred Hook, Frederick Hitch, Robert Jones, William Jones, and John Williams, Corporal Allen, and volunteer James Langley Dalton. Surgeon Reynolds got the Cross for tending the wounded under fire, and the Swiss volunteer Christian Schiess also received one, the first to a non-British soldier serving with South Africa forces.

  • Last visit to Rorke's Drift: Jul 2010
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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  • afrette's Profile Photo
    Sep 18, 2010 at 9:45 AM

    Thanks dear Ed - I thoroghly enjoyed reading your account even though I know the story so well! Wasn't it great seeing the movie so shortly before visiting Rorke's Drift?


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