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Posted on Aug 6, 2008 in War College

Sojourning Sacred Ground: Tips on Visiting Isandhlwana and Rorke’s Drift

By Erich Wagner

South Africa. Petho Cartography.During the first seven months of 1879, the regiments of Britain’s Queen Victoria found themselves ferociously entangled in a struggle in South Africa with the most powerful and feared of all African nations—the Zulus. Crushing the Zulus was seen, accurately or inaccurately, as the solution to the problem of knitting together the European colonies of the region into a workable confederation.

Within the first two weeks following the invasion of Zululand on January 11, 1879, the Zulus had dealt the vaunted British Army its greatest defeat at the hands of "savages" in its history. At Isandhlwana (also spelled Isandlwana) on January 22, an estimated 25,000 Zulus attacked and overran a force of 950 Europeans and 850 Africans in British service. Only about 50 Europeans and 300 of their African allies escaped death.

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That same day at nearby Rorke’s Drift, less than 150 British soldiers repulsed attacks by some 4,500 Zulus. Eleven Victoria Crosses were awarded among the defenders, the most ever bestowed for a single action.

As a result of these legendary events, which inspired the movies Zulu Dawn and Zulu respectively, the Zulu War has become the most celebrated of Queen Victoria’s 65 "little wars."

This article provides travel tips for readers who are interested in visiting the actual sites of these 1879 Zulu War battles. For more reading on Zulus please see the September 2008 Great Warriors article.

Defense of Rorke's Drift, by Adolph Alphonse de Neuville. New South Wales Art Gallery.Recently, a quarter-of-a-century-long lust to visit the battlefields of Isandhlwana and Rorke’s Drift was quenched for this Anglo-Zulu War enthusiast, thanks to a spur of the moment decision to travel to the beautiful land that hosted the war’s conflagrations. In the process, several travel tips were learned that could be useful to other pilgrims in their holiday to these parts. Hopefully this short article will help you in your decision to sojourn to these two meccas of Victorian warfare and aid you in getting the most out of your trip.

The flights for most travelers from Europe or America will likely terminate in Cape Town. From there, several airlines provide reasonably priced fares to Durban. For Zulu historians, Durban has several museums celebrating Bantu culture, and there is a memorial to Lieutenant Francis Farewell of the Royal Navy who founded the city and developed a renowned relationship with Shaka, the “Black Napoleon” of the Zulu Empire. Numerous antique shops in Durban sell items from the Zulu and Boer Wars.

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1 Comment

  1. I have to second the recommendation of the Rattray lodge and materials. I’ve listened to his excellent “Day of the Dead Moon” many, many times and believe you would be hard pressed to find someone more knowledgeable of the geography and history of the Zulu war.

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