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Photographs of the battlefield from 1879; a spent Martini Henry cartridge; the battlefield after the burial parties; Ulundi.

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The Escape ◄ ● ► After the Police

The conclusion of the war

As foreseen by Richard Walford, there was “an awful row at home about this” which erupted when Chelmsford’s telegram to the Secretary of State for War reached London on 11 February. Massive reinforcements were ordered. British honour demanded that the disaster at Isandlwana be avenged.

By the end of March, these reinforcements allowed Chelmsford to reinvigorate his invasion. His northern column under Wood had consolidated back to Khambula when news of Isandlwana reached him. The southern column under Pearson had crossed the Thukela and secured Eshowe but, with the defeat of the central column, had been besieged there. Chelmsford needed to relieve them before he could advance into Zululand.

Cetshwayo, at the same time, had grown concerned at the continued presence of British troops on his land and the obvious build-up of forces taking place. He assembled his main army to attack Wood. On 28 March, as the royal impi approached Wood’s base, they stumbled on a British diversionary foray in progress on Hlobane mountain. The surprise arrival of the superior Zulu force saw the British driven off the mountain with heavy losses. The over-confident impi then attacked Wood’s entrenched positions at Khambula the following day. This was not another Isandlwana. It was a large-scale repeat of Rorke’s Drift. The Zulus were driven off with heavy losses and hunted down mercilessly by mounted troops as they withdrew. The Zulus were also heavily defeated on 2 April when their forces at Eshowe attacked Chelmsford’s advancing, but laagered, column at kwaGingindlovu. Eshowe was relieved. The tide of the war had changed.

Chelmsford then developed his second invasion of Zululand around Wood’s column in the north. By the time he crossed into Zululand on 1 June, he was aware that he was to be replaced by Sir Garnett Wolseley and was keen to finish the war before Wolseley arrived. He nonetheless moved carefully, and it was only on 4 July, that he crossed the Mfolozi river onto the plains at oNdini/Ulundi with 5,000 troops including artillery, Lancers and two naval Gatling guns. They formed a hollow rectangle with the cavalry in the centre behind four ranks of infantry and guns in the angles. The battle lasted about an hour. The Zulu attacks could not penetrate the curtain of fire and when they faltered, Chelmsford released the cavalry. The 17th Lancers, who had last charged an enemy down the “valley of death” at Balaklava, drove through the retiring amabutho and cut them down. The colonials, including Durnford’s Native Horse, followed behind shooting survivors and stragglers. They then burnt the royal households.

The war was over.



The NMP did not take part in any of these actions. The Imperial troop reinforcements meant that Chelmsford did not need them for military actions – much to their disappointment. They were, however, employed in a number of support activities, some of which must have included Richard Walford.

There were a number of forays from Rorke’s Drift to investigate the battlefield at Isandlwana. The first was a small patrol on 27 March under Major Black of the 2/24th that included ten Mounted Police under Major Dartnell. They only went as far as the nek at Isandlwana and returned when they were fired on by Zulu scouts.

On 9 April, Dartnell himself led a force of nearly 2,300 auxiliaries, Carbineers and Mounted Police into the Batshe valley where they destroyed abandoned homesteads. They returned without reaching Isandlwana because of rumours of a large Zulu force gathering there. (Knight 2010, 574)

Major Black led another patrol to Isandlwana on 15 May. They spent a short time on the battlefield and then followed the fugitives’ track to the river. They were fired on by a group of Zulus, but all managed to cross the drift. (Knight 2010, 575)

Then on 21 May a large force under General Marshall was sent to Isandlwana to bury the dead and recover wagons for the impending invasion. This “Cavalry Brigade” included Mounted Police, two cavalry units, colonial Volunteers, artillery, two companies of the 24th and a battalion of the Natal Native Contingent. Durnford’s body was found and buried. The Police , Volunteers and Artillery roughly covered their dead comrades with stones, but the corpses of the 24th were left alone at the request of their senior officers. Once this was done, some forty wagons were collected and everyone was back across the river by early afternoon. (Knight 2010, 576)

Sketch by Melton Prior 21 May 1879
Illustrated London News July 1879

Dartnell and 60 members of the Mounted Police also accompanied Major Black when he eventually led a party to Isandlwana on 20 June to bury the 24th dead. Philip Robinson of the Daily Telegraph wrote:

At about 10.30 the men commenced the work, beginning at the neck and keeping firstly to the right of the road. They soon came upon the remains of many of their gallant comrades who had fallen on the fatal day. Owing to the long grass, which in many places far overtopped the men’s heads, it was difficult to see the bodies till quite close upon them. It was clear a great stand had been made just in the rear of the 1-24th camp. …

A little to the left of the groups above mentioned, but to the right of the road was a group of Natal Carbineers, nearly all of whom were recognised, and close to them was Colonel Durnford’s body, which had been covered by stones on May 21. [This is the position of the large group of white cairns today.] …

Not far from the Carbineers, on the left of the road, [ie more or less where the mounted mens’ camp was] were found over twenty men of the Natal Mounted Police. These men were nearly all identified and were buried by their own comrades. 17  

Holt tells that the names of these NMP men were written in pencil on pieces of wood or stones placed on the bodies. They returned to Rorke’s Drift in the evening and the police continued on to Helmekaar. Major Black had to return on 23 and 26 June to complete the burials. (Knight 2010, 592) (Holt 1913, 78)

There is no record as to which Police were part of these actions. It seems unlikely that Richard Walford was part of the first patrol in March as only ten Mounted Police took part and there were a number of them stationed at Rorke’s Drift. He may have taken part in the forays in May and June, especially the large action on 20 June as the Mounted Police contingent came from Helpmekaar. The description of the events in the British newspapers show that these would have been traumatic occasions – especially for someone who had escaped the battle. Archibald Forbes’ description of the events of 21 May, in the Western Times of 21 June 1879, can be found here and Philip Robinson’s coverage of the June burials, in the Daily Telegraph of 18 August 1879, can be found here with the relevant sections highlighted.

Sir Garnett Wolseley arrived at Durban on 28 June, but failed to reach Chelmsford’s column prior to the final battle. He eventually reached Ulundi on 10 July having travelled via Pietermaritzburg and Helpmekaar and was escorted to the front by a detachment of Mounted Police, which did not include Richard Walford. This seems a pity given Wolseley’s letter of introduction. Maybe there were other opportunities to renew their acquaintance prior to Wolseley’s return to London in May 1880? (Holt 1913, 79)

Wolseley delegated a number of parties to hunt for the fugitive King Cetshwayo. One of these, led by then Captain Baron Gifford, Richard Walford’s “friend” and Wolseley’s aide-de-camp, included a group of Mounted Police. (Holt 1913, 79). They were unsuccessful in this task, but after another party had captured King Cetshwayo, a detachment of Mounted Police escorted him to the coast and placed him on a ship for Cape Town. Again, there is no record of who these Mounted Police were, but it is tantalising to speculate whether Richard Walford and Edric Gifford renewed their friendship either then or later?

After the war

After the war, newspaper reports show Richard Walford representing the NMP in sporting events. He played cricket for the NMP against the Pietermaritzburg Country Club in the first match of the season on 13 September 1879 18  and then again on 13 December 1879. 19   The police won the first match with Richard Walford taking four wickets and making the second highest police score of 12 which included a four. The police lost the second heavily. Richard Walford made a duck in the police’s first innings and 16 in the second. He also took three wickets in the Club’s first innings, but none in their very short second innings.

Two days earlier, also at Pietermaritzburg, he was one of eight NMP members to shoot against the 3/60th Rifles in a shooting competition. The police were not up to the standard of the soldiers. Richard Walford produced the second lowest score of the competition. 20  

Almost a year later, on 9 November 1880, he again competed against the 3/60th Rifles, but this time playing cricket at Ixopo. He did better this time. The result of the match is unclear as the report only shows the NMP’s first innings. Richard Walford made a meagre four runs, but did better bowling. He took two wickets in the 3/60th‘s first innings and seven in their second. 21  

This cricket match, by being in Ixopo at this time, pretty much confirms that Richard Walford was part of the Mounted Police’s efforts during the so-called Basuto Gun War of late 1880. But, prior to that he was also part of the well-publicised pilgrimage by Empress Eugénie to commemorate the anniversary of her son, Louis Napoleon’s, death in the closing stages of the war. Louis Napoleon had lived in England after his father, Emperor Napoleon III, was deposed and had trained as a British artillery officer. He had been permitted to accompany the reinforcements sent to South Africa, but was barred from combat roles. On 1 June 1879, as Chelmsford’s column moved into Zululand, he had gone out with a patrol which was ambushed while dismounted at a cattle kraal near the Ityotyozi River. He was unable to mount his skittish horse and was overwhelmed.

Mort du Prince Imperial

His death caused a sensation. The NMP escorted his body to Durban from where it was transported to England for burial alongside his father. Unfortunately, there is no record of who was in this detachment, but Richard Walford was definitely part of the NMP escort for Empress Eugénie the following year. He can be seen sitting in the front row on the far right in this photograph ignoring the cameraman. By then he was a Trooper and had traded his revolver for a more respectable Martini Henry carbine.

Natal Mounted Police escort for Empress Eugénie. 22  

The pilgrimage was a major undertaking. The daily routine for the police was for them to have their camp packed up by sunrise each morning so that after breakfast, they could strike the other tents, pack them on the wagons, take them twenty odd miles to the next camp site, and pitch them again. The Empress in the meantime travelled leisurely along on horseback or in General Sir Evelyn Wood’s spider with a couple of police escorts.

The party left Pietermaritzburg on Thursday 29 April 1880, went as far as Albert Falls on the first day, and then spent the weekend at Sevenoaks. Family histories record that the Empress stayed at Thornton House which was owned by Thomas and Mary Cooper. Their daughter, Annie, was married to Sandy Liddell from the farm Clifton outside Clarens, Free State. In his later years, Richard Walford would live amongst the Liddells on his son and daughter-in-law, Sarah Liddell’s, farm at Witsieshoek.

The expedition went via Greytown, Umsinga, Helpmekaar and Dundee, then to the Khambula battlefield and on to Hlobane. Here the Empress came to the rescue of the police. The wagons had become bogged. The police managed to extricate the Empress’s wagons and were able to set her up for the night, but were unable to do the same for themselves. When the Empress chanced upon them hunkering down without food or shelter, she brought them into her drawing-room marquee. There she fed them and gave them blankets, shawls, petticoats and dresses to keep them warm.

The party spent eight days at Ityotyozi where warriors who had participated in the attack on her son provided the Empress with details of his demise. They left on 3 June and returned via Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift, spending a day at each site. The police visited Fugitives’ Drift where they buried remains that had either not been buried by earlier efforts or had been uncovered in the interim. A challenging experience for Richard Walford no doubt.

The Empress provided a small reward for the escort with £100 to be shared by the men and a gold watch for their Sergeant. (Holt 1913, 85)

Soon after completing this task, the police were drawn into the Basuto Gun War in order to protect colonists living near the Drakensberg passes into Lesotho. NMP contingents were despatched from Pietermaritzburg, Estcourt, Greytown and Fort Pine in late July 1880. By 12 August they were camped across the Little Tukhela River having had a tough time getting there in the rain, sleet and mud. They remained there for two months patrolling the Oliviershoek and Bushmans passes.

They broke camp on 8 October and the march out is described as ‘memorable and melancholy’ because of the rain and inclement weather that set in almost immediately. Half the men were left at Estcourt while 65 men (including Richard Walford) under Major Dartnell continued south via Fort Nottingham and Boston to Ixopo. Holt’s chronicle describes a dismal trip with wagons abandoned in the mud, the men having no tents because the pack horses were unable to carry them when wet, food and supplies lost in flooding rivers and mould ravaging what was left. They then had a respite at Ixopo including a cricket match on 9 November. (Holt 1913, 91)

They left Ixopo in mid-November and marched north west to the upper reaches of the Mzimkulu River close against the Drakensberg range in the vicinity of the modern town of Underberg. Once again, the weather closed in almost as soon as they left camp and everyone and everything was drenched yet again. They stayed in this area for six weeks, until early 1881, watching the passes. There was only one incursion from Lesotho which was quickly contained by the police. There is no specific information as to where the police went from here, but they were undoubtedly caught up in supporting British efforts in the First Anglo Boer War that was by then in progress.

The ‘war’ or ‘rebellion’ began in mid-December when British forces were attacked at Potchefstroom in the Transvaal and British garrisons across the Transvaal then besieged. The attempts by Major General Colley, who had replaced Wolseley as Governor and Commander-in-Chief in Natal, to advance into the Transvaal to relieve the besieged troops resulted in three battles in the Drakensberg foothills – Laing’s Nek: 28 January 1881; Schuinshoogte/Ingogo: 8 February; and Majuba Hill: 27 February – that all resulted in humiliating British defeats. Colley was himself shot in the head and killed at the battle of Majuba. The British and Boers then reached a settlement that granted the Zuid-Afrikaanse Republiek self government under British suzerainty.

The NMP had no direct involvement in these battles against the Boers, but did provide scouts, escorts and guards in support of British forces. The police first became involved in the developing conflict in November 1880 when the contingent that had gone back to Estcourt was sent to Newcastle and employed in patrolling along the northern border of Natal watching the passes and roads for Boer activity. The NMP were then part of Colley’s column that left Newcastle on 23 January for Laing’s Nek, and acted as the advance and rear guards at different stages of the trip. Major Dartnell was in command of the police and the column included five companies of the 3/60th which suggests that the police who had been at Ixopo in late 1880 were part of this force.

The police provided wagons and escorts to bring the wounded back from the battle at Ingogo with Dartnell and all available police then being sent to watch Botha’s Pass while reinforcements arrived before returning to Newcastle. They were involved in a number of escort and scouting activities and looked on as British forces took and were then forced off Majuba Hill. They assisted the fugitives from the battle and later escorted President Brand of the Orange Free State to Laing’s Nek to assist with negotiations.

The NMP were discharged from their duties on 30 March 1881. When later thanking them for their contribution, General Sir Evelyn Wood commented that two-thirds of the force had been involved in watching the frontier and other duties. Richard Walford, it would seem, would have been involved in at least some of the many actions. (Holt 1913, 96)

His time with the NMP was, however, coming to an end.

The Escape ◄ ● ► After the Police

©Alun Stevens 2023

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