Daily Telegraph 18 August 1879
BURIAL OF THE DEAD AT ISANDHLWANA
[FROM A CORRESPONDENT]
RORKE’S DRIFT, JUNE 21
At Fort Melville, Rorke’s Drift, the force now consists of a squadron King’s Dragoon Guards, three companies 2nd Battalion 24th Regiment, 100 mounted natives and about 400 natives of the Natal levies. Colonel Black, who is in command of the station, lately received instructions from Lord Chelmsford to patrol in the direction of and watch the right flank of the advancing column. Direct communication was established between Rorke’s Drift and the column on June 7. On that day a large patrol consisting of 30 King’s Dragoon Guards and 100 of Tatalaka’s Mounted Natives, under Colonel Black, started before daybreak, and, proceeding in a south-easterly direction, came upon the lagaar [sic] in which the column was encamped at five o’clock in the afternoon. They remained the night, returning to the Drift next morning by Isandhlwana. Neither going nor returning did they meet a single Zulu. Since then several parties have patrolled both ways. On one occasion some of the native levies came upon two Zulus in a cave near Sirayo’s kraal. One of them gave himself up, and the other showed fight and was killed after wounding one man. From all reports the enemy seem almost entirely to have deserted this part of the country. On the morning of the 20th a tolerably large party left Rorke’s Drift for the purpose of burying their comrades who were killed on Jan. 22 at Isandhlwana. It consisted of thirty mounted dragoons under Captain Willan, K.D.G., and Lieutenant Taffe, 16th Lancers; fifty dismounted Dragoons under Lieutenant Burney, 1st Royal Dragoons; sixty of Major Dartnell’s Natal Mounted Police; 140 men of the 2nd Battalion 24th Regiment under Captain Williams; 100 of Tatalaka’s Mounted Natives, and about 1,000 of the native levies, the whole under the command of Colonel Black, 2-24th Regiment. Two mule wagons accompanied the force, carrying picks, shovels, and reserve ammunition, but, owing to the morning being very wet and the roads slippery, they broke down in the Bashee Valley, and caused considerable delay; the picks and shovels had to be unpacked and carried by the natives, so that it was not until ten o’clock that Isandhlwana was reached. Arrangements were at one taken for the protection of the burying parties, and the prevention of surprise. Tatalaka’s men, who had marched by Sirayo’s kraal to as to observe our left flank, took up their position as scouts on the Ingutu range, from whence they could scan the country for many miles to the left flank and left front. Patrols were also sent out several miles to the front and the right flanks, and native scouts were placed all along the ridge leading to the Fugitives’ Drift. At about 10.30 the men commenced to work, beginning at the neck and keeping firstly to the right of the road. They soon came to the remains of many of their gallant comrades who had fallen on the fatal day. Owing to the long frass, which in many places far overtopped the men’s heads, it was difficult to see the bodies till quite close to them. It was evident a great stand had been made just in the rear of the 1-24th camp. In one place over fifty bodies, including those of three officers, were found close together; and not far from them was another group, consisting of from sixty to seventy. Both of these groups consisted of 24th men, many of whom were identified by the names or numbers on their clothing. Considering the five months they had been lying exposed to all kinds of weather, it is wonderful in what good preservation many of the bodies were. Amongst the officers identified were Captain Wardell, 1-24th; Lieutenant Anstey, 1-24th; Lieutenant Dyer 2-24th; and Major White, Paymaster of the 1-24th Regiment. 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. Lieutenant Scott, of the Natal Carbineers, was here buried by his brother, who had obtained permission to accompany the party for that purpose. Not very far from the Carbineers, on the left of the road, were found over twenty men of the Natal Mounted Police. These men were nearly all identified and were buried by their own comrades. [This location would put them in the area of the mounted men’s camp.] In the 2-24th Camp there were also many bodies, but on this occasion there was found to be more than enough work to be done on the right of the road [the 1-24th camp]. The men laboured very had till about one o’clock, when the assembly sounded, and they were marched to the stream that runs about a mile in rear of the camp, where they halted about half an hour to dine, and then marched home, where they arrived at dusk. About 200 bodies were buried on this day. The greater part were found lying on their backs with their arms stretched out. This is easily accounted for, as the Zulus invariably disembowelled their dead enemies.
On June 22 a second visit was made to Isandhlwana, for the purpose of continuing the task of burying. The same force with the exception of Dartnells’s police and Knight’s natives, started at five a.m., and reached the camp about eight, where they at once commenced working. On the right of Isandhlwana itself, some distance up, was found a large group of bodies, one of which was an officer. This was evidently a company which had taken up a position here and held it till they were surrounded and killed. This body of men had not been discovered by any of the parties that had previously visited the ground. Some Zulu bodies were found here too, amongst them a chief, whom they had evidently endeavoured to bury, as he was covered by shields, canvas, and some stones. A great number of bodies were buried down the fugitives’ path, where they were principally in small groups. Round one large tree, nearly a mile from the camp, many bodies were found, and a determined stand seems to have been made here. Nine bodies close to this tree were discovered around a horse wagon, the horses lying assegaied in the traces. Many were identified, amongst others, Sergeant Giles, mess sergeant of the 1-24th, on whom was a watch; Bandmaster Bullard, 2-24th Regiment – in his pocket a watch, two rings, and his will dated Jan. 18, 1879, were found. Several of the regimental police, servants, and bandsmen were identified along the path, showing that many of those who dropped along the road to the fugitives’ drift were men who would not have to fall in with their companies. Altogether a very had day’s work was done, no less than 320 bodies having been buried, making, in the two days, a total of over 500. The party left the camp about one p.m., and reached Rorke’s Drift at 4.30. One day more will be required to finish the work in the camp itself, and probably another to work lower down the fugitives’ path to find out and bury any remains that may be found there.
The forces at Rorke’s Drift, under Colonel Black, 2-24th Regiment, completed the burial of the slain at Isandhlwana on the 26th. On the two previous days that they had worked there – on the 21st and 22nd – they had buried over 500, and succeeded in identifying many of the bodies by the names on their clothing, or by articles found in the pockets, but in the greater number of cases it was impossible to obtain the slightest clue, for the remains had been lying out exposed to all kinds of weather for five months. The burying party consisted, as on the last occasion, of thirty mounted K.D.G., fifty dismounted K.D.G., 140 men of the 2-24th Regiment, and about 100 Tatalaka’s mounted natives. 300 of the native levies left Rorke’s Drift at 5 a.m., and reached Isandhlwana, a distance of eleven miles, by eight a.m. – very good marching considering that a great part of the distance is uphill. The force was at once divided into four different burying parties and was sent under Second-Lieutenant Armitage to the 1-24th camp, to finish the interment of the large numbers that had been found there on the first day. Another party, under Lieutenant Lloyd, proceeded to the Isandhlwana hill to continue burying the brave men who had made their stand under the mountain; a third party of dragoons, under Lieutenant Burney, 1st Royals, were sent to search right round the mountain; and the main body, under Captain Williams, 2-24th Regiment, thoroughly examined the camps of the Mounted Infantry, Artillery, 2-24th, and native contingent. On the hill a much greater number of bodies were found than was expected. Captain Younghusband and three other officers (unidentified) were buried there, and more than one company must have made a final stand there. There were many evidences of fierce hand-to-hand struggles. To give instances:-One 24th man, with a Zulu in front of him, had a Zulu knife buried to the haft in the small of his back. He had evidently been attacked in rear while engaged with the man he killed. Close by a carabineer[sic] lying on top of a Zulu. He was also stabbed in the back, and there were many other signs of terrible struggles; but nearly all the Zulu dead had been removed. The party under Captain Williams buried all the bodies found in the camps they searched, and altogether they did not find more than thirty or forty, most of whom seemed to have been killed converging on the places where the stands had been made. A portion of this party proceeded as far as the Ingutu Mountains, and discovered traces of large numbers of Zulus, many of them partially buried in the dongas. The Zulus themselves say that they lost as many men at Isandhlwana as they did at Kambula and Ginghilovo together. Those who lost relatives on the 22nd will be glad to know that at length they have received a soldier’s burial. Had the 24th been allowed to go to Isandhlwana, as they volunteered to do over and over again immediately after the battle, the work of burial would, of course, have been more satisfactorily done, and the bodies identified, and many relics recovered which would have been dearly valued. The authorities seemed to consider that it entailed too much danger; but who would not incur a little for such an object? Great credit must be given to the men who had this duty to perform; it is [no] light task to have to march twenty-two miles – backwards and forwards – three times in one week, in addition to having to work hard in digging graves for fallen comrades in very rough ground. The Dragoons and 2-24th men who have accomplished so well their sorrowful task did it well and willingly.
©Alun Stevens 2023