Captain David Moriarty an Officer Responsible for one of the many foolhardy mishaps of the ZuluWar.

Graham Charles Lear
15 min readFeb 2, 2022

The more I look at the Anglo Zulu war of 1879 the more I am convinced that the British had some of the most incompetent imbeciles this country has ever produced in its long history.

Captain David Moriarty was one such officer, he commanded H Company of the 80th Staffordshire Regiment

The Battle of Intombe, (also Intombi or Intombi River Drift) was a small action fought on 12 March 1879, between Zulu forces and British soldiers defending a supply convoy.

The village of Lüneberg, situated in the disputed territories to the north of Zululand, had been laagered by its white settlers ever since the Anglo Zulu had begun. The Zulus posed a serious threat to the area (as indicated by a vicious night attack on the area on the night of 10th/11 February). Fearing a repeat of the attack, the British dispatched four companies of the 80th Regiment under Major Charles Tucker to garrison Lüneberg.

In late February 1879, a convoy of eighteen wagons carrying 90,000 rounds of ammunition and other supplies was sent from Lydenburg to re-supply the garrison, and from the Transvaal border was escorted by a single company. By 5 March, the convoy was still 8 miles from Lüneberg, having been hampered by rains which caused the rivers to swell and the ground to soften. Fearing a Zulu attack, Major Tucker sent an order for the company commander to reach Lüneberg that night ‘at any cost’. The company commander took this literally and abandoned the wagons and proceeded on.

The escort had succeeded in having six wagons reach the opposite bank of the Intombe, four miles from Lüneberg. Six other wagons were three miles further back.

On 6 March, a party dispatched by Tucker only succeeded in pulling free a wagon that was trapped in a drift, returning to the town that night.

On 7 March, Tucker dispatched Captain David Moriarty with a hundred men to gather together all the wagons and laager them on the bank of the Intombe, and then gave orders for them to wait until the river went down.

Now Captain David Moriarty was by all accounts an experienced officer however he was known to be a little laid back, an officer who would order his men to do something and then inspect what they had done and say, oh that will do men when any other officer would say what hell is that, get it done properly.

This lazy daisy way of working might made him a popular officer with the men under his command, however, it would have tragic repercussions for himself and his men at the Intombe Drift.

On 11 March, Tucker rode down from Lüneberg which was just four miles away and inspected the laager at the river but found it to be poorly constructed, not being impressed with the inverted ‘V’ shape in that the wagons were arranged, with the base at the river. The river, however, had gone down and there was a gap of several yards between the base and the river. Other flaws in the arrangement were viewed by Tucker as affording no ‘protection whatever in the event of the Zulus attacking in numbers’. Furthermore, the garrison was weakened by being divided by a river with thirty of its number laagered on the other bank. What he might have said to Moriarty is not recorded, however, I cant see that he would have not told Moriarty to sort it out, the reason being that Tucker and even Moriarty for that matter would have known about what happened at Isandlwana where wagons had not been laagered properly, in other words, made into a defensive position perhaps forming a square or a circle and all chained together were at night the men could be inside sleeping safely and by day they could come inside to repel any attack.

It looks like Moriarty with his lazy daisy attitude must have thought, we will do that tomorrow. If he did, then that mistake would cost him, dear.

One more mistake was that he let a man Mbilini waMswati brazenly walk in among his men to trade and talk to the soldiers, Mbilini waMswati was not a Zulu but a Swazi prince who had aligned himself with the Zulu he was quite an accomplished General in his own right. Mbilini was undoubtedly the most daring guerrilla leader to emerge on the Zulu side during the war, and here he was walking, talking laughing with the soldiers. You really have to give him the greatest respect, because he was actually spying and making plans to attack them.

Before we go any further we must look at this Prince, sometimes I find that we dont know enough about the enemy and its leaders and it's a shame as they have a story to tell as well. It's always nice to put a face to these characters when at all possible.

Mbilini waMswati is the slightly built man on the right of the photo

As I mentioned, Prince Mbilini waMswati Dlamini was in fact not a Zulu — he was a member of the Swazi royal house. He was born about 1843, the son of King Mswati and his first wife laMakhasiso Dvuba. Mbilini was apparently King Mswati’s favourite son and when the king died in 1865 Prince Mbilini declared himself a contender for the succession. As the son of his father’s first wife, however, he was technically ineligible and, after a failed power struggle with his brothers, he was ousted and fled Swaziland. He first took refuge in the Transvaal but the Transvaal Boers were wary of being caught up in a Swazi succession dispute and in 1867 he moved south to Zululand. Here he was given refuge by Prince Cetshwayo who had secured his own claim to the Zulu succession in 1856 and was building up allies and supporters against the influence of his ageing father, King Mpande. When the Anglo-Zulu War broke out on 11 January 1879 Mbilini committed himself to the Zulu cause; the British considered him such a threat that a garrison was established at Luneburg to protect it.

So he was well known to the British and here he was in among them at the Intombi Drift on the 11 March talking and laughing with the soldiers or was he laughing at them? It recorded that Moriarty was told that Prince Mbilini waMswati was in the camp. As usual true to form he did nothing.

That night as sunset the soldiers made their way back to the waggons and their tents cooked their meals then after a while went to bed, they should have been safe, however as the waggons had not been secured properly it was a death trap. Furthermore true to form Moriarty had not posted enough soldiers to guard them all. Just two sentries were posted 20 yards from the laager, however, their vision range was only 50 yards due to a rise to their front. At 3.30 am on 12 March, a shot was heard close to the camp, however, the men returned to their beds after Moriarty decided that it was nothing.

What's going on in this man's head?

He has not laagered the camp properly, he knows that Prince Mbilini waMswati has been in his camp. He has only posted two sentries and now after a shot is heard he sends his men back to bed. The man is a walking disaster.

He also has pitched his tent outside the poorly laagered camp. Well away from his men, he was sharing his tent with a civilian doctor Surgeon Cobbings

An hour and a half later after that shot, a sentry on the far bank saw to his horror, through a clearing in the mist, a huge mass of Zulus advancing silently on the camp. ‘He at once fired his rifle and gave the alarm,’ Tucker recorded. ‘The sentries on the other side did the same. Of course, the men were up in a moment, some men sleeping under the wagons and some in the tents; but before the men were in their positions the Zulus had fired a volley, thrown down their guns… and were around the wagons and on top of them, and even inside with the cattle, almost instantly. So quickly did they come, there was really no defence on the part of our men; it was simply each man fighting for his life, and in a few minutes all was over, our men being simply slaughtered.’ in fact, survivors told of the soldiers not even getting out of their tents as the enemy rushed into them assegais flashing.

Moriarty was one of the first to die as he rushed out of the Tent as was Cobbins within minutes the camp was overrun.

However, as in all situations like this, there are heroes and villains

Step forward Colour-Sergeant Anthony Clarke Booth

The hero

He rallied around fifty men and knowing all was lost he quickly knew that he had to save what was left of the soldiers. He knew that he had to get them out of the predicament they were in.

It seems that it was Sergeant Anthony Clarke Booth who spotted and recognised Mbilini waMswati in the camp and it was him who went to Moriarty and told him of his concerns. In an interview when back in England Booth said I spotted Mbilini entering the camp to sell mealies with several local natives. When asked by the interviewer why Mblini had come into the camp, Booth replied, I suppose he came to the camp to see how he was going to attack us in the morning. I could have collared this man when he was in camp. Captain Moriarty assured me a second time that all the people around were friendly and he jocularly remarked to me,

You are as bad as your pals said of you. You would shoot your own brother”. Booth was not reassured and was under no illusion that Mblini was there to spy out the defences

It may have been this foresight of Booths that saved him and fifty other men

He had told Captain Moriarty twice his thoughts, it's not recorded if he told the villain of what happened next, Lieutenant Henry Harward, but it would surprise me if he hadn't because Lieutenant Henry Harward managed to escape the massacre but in the most cowardly fashion. However, we will come to that later.

After that first shot had wakened the camp and the soldiers were told to go back to sleep, Booth felt very uneasy and decided to get dressed, he put on his uniform buckled on his ammunition pouch and went and sat on one of the waggons to smoke a cigarette, unknown to him at this point Mblini
and about 800 warriors were closing in on the laager
through the early morning mist. They were all naked and all of them were carrying their stabbing spears and a knobkerrie which is a long club for braining their enemy, quite a useful weapon as that knobkerrie could be used for swiping aside a rifle with a bayonet leaving the soldier open for a spear thrust. None of them carried their shields. A few though were carrying captured Martinie Henry rifles.

Booth said another shot rang out close by. Booth jumped from the wagon to see the Zulus emerge from the mist and fire a volley into Moriarty’s tent before rushing in with a chilling cry of “Usutho!” In seconds they overwhelmed the sleeping camp. Moriarty dashed from his tent firing his revolver before an assegai was plunged into his back and he was shot in the chest. As naked and partially clothed soldiers struggled from their tents, they were clubbed and stabbed to death in the hellish melee of frightened cattle and terrified men. Some men plunged into the river but few reached the safety of the far bank. Those that did took shelter behind the flimsy barrier of the two wagons

Booth and his comrades scrambled beneath the wagons and started firing at the mass of Zulus. In jostling to take cover, Booth had his helmet knocked off, which rolled towards the river. He put his arm on the rear wheel to steady his aim and fired as fast as he could. He noticed that he was next to Lt.Harward’s pony, which was tied to the wagon. Harward emerged from his tent and saw that the Zulus, attracted by the fire from Booth and his men, were crossing the river further upstream. Maybe gripped by a vision of another Isandlwana, Harward blurted out, “Fire away, lads. I’ll be ready in a minute”. He then pulled himself onto his unsaddled pony and rode off up the track to Luneburg, followed by most of his men and a few escapees.

Booth says that was shocked by this behaviour. ..leaving his command at the moment of extreme peril, an act positively incredible in a British officer.

Booth later wrote that there were only eight of his company who remained. They were joined by some of the men who crossed the river, donned whatever clothing was available and armed themselves. Seeing his position was hopeless, Sergeant Booth, assisted by Lance Corporal Burgess, formed the remaining men into a square and began to retire towards Luneburg. For three miles, the Zulus pursued the group of around fifty survivors. Whenever they drew closer, several of the bolder troops, along with Booth stopped to deliver a volley, which dispersed their pursuers. Four men who split up from the group were killed. The others made it to Raby’s Farm, around two miles from Lüneberg where the Zulus broke off pursuit.

While Sergeant Booth was calmly extricating his men from almost certain death, Lt. Harward, had galloped to Luneburg, arriving at 6–30 a.m. He roused Major Tucker with the words, “The camp is in the hands of the enemy; they are all slaughtered and I have galloped in for my life”.

According to Tucker, Harward then fell on the bed in a dead faint. After being revived, Harward told to story of the attack on the camp.

Tucker ordered 150 men to march to the drift. About a mile from the scene we were on high ground and could see from there and from miles away to our right, dense masses of Zulus extending for at least two miles under the hills, and the last Zulus were then leaving the laager for the hills eastward. Tucker wrote a long and detailed letter to his father, including the fact that they found one survivor in the river. Inexplicably, he made no mention of Sergeant Booth’s commendable exploit even though he came upon the group at the farmhouse. Booth volunteered to accompany Tucker’s command, but was told that he had done enough.

The Villian

Lt. Harward

In the aftermath of the disaster, there was a considerable amount of covering up of what was an embarrassing episode for the Regiment. Backed by Major Tucker, Lieutenant Harward’s report stated that: The enemy was now assegaing our men in the water, and also ascending the banks of the river close to us. for fear, therefore, of my men being stabbed under the wagons, and to enable them to retire before their ammunition should be exhausted, I ordered them to retire steadily, and only just in time to avoid a rush of Zulus to our late position. The Zulus came on in dense masses and fell upon our men, who being already broken, gave way, and a hand to hand fight ensued. I endeavoured to rally my men, but they were too much scattered, and finding re-formation impossible, I mounted my horse and galloped into Luneburg at utmost speed, and reported all that had taken place.

Inaccurate as his account was, Harward did have the good grace to acknowledge his sergeant’s sterling behaviour. In his report, Major Tucker made no mention that he felt that the camp had been inadequately laargered. Furthermore, he praised Harward’s efforts in giving covering fire to enable some men to escape across the river. These two reports were the basis of Lord Chelmsford’s report to the War Office, which was not received in London until 21 April. As reports from NCOs were not required, the truth would appear to have been contained within the Regiment.

As Colour Sergeant Fredericks had perished in the camp, Booth was again promoted to Colour Sergeant on 13 March. Over the following weeks, the Regiment moved to Utrecht and joined Wood’s Flying Column in its advance on the Zulu capital at Ulundi.

Significantly, Lt. Harward was left behind.

The 80th formed part of the massive square that finally broke the Zulu fighting machine. The regiment sustained two dead and five wounded. Sergeant Booth, himself, was slightly wounded in a freakish way. While instructing a soldier building an entrenchment, a bullet struck his mess tin and he received some metal splinters to his face, his only wound in a long military career.

With the Zulus defeated, the 80th were involved in the mopping-up operations under the new commander in chief, General Sir Garnet Wolseley. In November, they took part in the attack on Sekhukune’s stronghold and were the first troops to reach the summit, gaining high praise from Wolseley. Indeed, the 80th had been closely associated with the Commander since his arrival, as they supplied his personal escort. By the middle of December, the Regiment was concentrated at Pretoria and it was here that months of resentment and shame came to the boil.

Three survivors of the Intombi River massacre wrote to Wolseley on 20 December 1879 to set the record straight and ‘to be of good service to Colour Sergeant Booth’. This was followed by a belated recommendation from the newly-promoted LieutenantColonel Tucker for the Distinguished Conduct Medal to be awarded to Booth. As this was the result of Wolseley’s enquiry in response to the three survivor’s testimony, Tucker was asked why he had not previously recommended his sergeant for a medal. Tucker was then forced to explain that to do so would have brought to light the ‘far different conduct of Lieutenant Harward’.

On 26 December, the whole regiment was paraded prior to leaving for England. Sir Garnet Wolseley took the salute and, in a most unusual ceremony, presented Colour Sergeant Booth with a revolver, holster, belt and a knife, which were donated by European settlers.

On the same day, Wolseley forwarded his personal recommendation that Booth should be awarded the Victoria Cross. On 14 February 1880, as a result of Wolseley’s investigations, Lieutenant Harward was arrested and taken to Pietermaritzburg where he was charged with misbehaviour before the enemy.

Much to Wolseley’s disgust, the court-martial accepted Harward’s version of events and he was acquitted and allowed to return to his regiment. Wolseley could not alter the verdict of the Court but he did add his own trenchant view.

When the finding and Wolseley’s comments reached London, the Duke of Cambridge, the Commander in Chief of the Army, instructed them to be read out as a General Order to every regiment.

With his army career in tatters, Harward had little option but to resign his commission. Colour Sergeant Anthony Booth was summoned from his station in Ireland to Windsor Castle, where Queen Victoria presented him with the Victoria Cross on 26 June 1880. His citation reads:

For his gallant conduct on 12th March 1879, during the Zulu attack on the Intombi River, in having when considerably outnumbered by the enemy, rallied a few men on the south bank of the river, and covered the retreat of fifty soldiers and others for a distance of three miles. The officer commanding the 80th Regiment reports that, had it not been for the coolness displayed by this non-commissioned officer, not one man would have escaped.

Curiously, Booth reverted to Sergeant on 19 October 1880 and was again elevated to Colour Sergeant on 15 March 1884. On 1 October 1883, he gave notice of his desire to continue in service. By 1885, he had served over 23 years. His health was also reflecting his age and from 1885 to 1888 he suffered from pneumonia, dyspepsia and bronchitis. He and his wife Lucy produced eight children in sixteen years and their places of birth trace the many postings in which Booth served; Dorset, Fleetwood, Belfast, Hong Kong, Natal, Dublin and Tralee. On 7 May 1888, Anthony Booth was posted to 1st Volunteer Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment as Sergeant Instructor until his retirement on 30 April 1898. His total service was an astonishing 33 years and 182 days. Sadly his retirement did not last long for he died eighteen months later on 8 December 1899. He was given a full military funeral and many thousands lined the route to his final resting place at St Michael’s Church, Brierly Hill — a truly great and gallant soldier.

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Graham Charles Lear

What is life without a little controversy in it? Quite boring and sterile would be my answer.