Lieutenant John Chard Officer in charge of Rorkes Drift acquired these photos, sometime after the Anglo-Zulu war.

Graham Charles Lear
15 min readJan 25, 2023

The photographs belonged to Lieutenant John Chard, who won a Victoria Cross for leading the valiant defence of the garrison

Lieutenant John Chard VC came into possession of these photos sometime after the battle took place, they show what it was like after the British held out against 4,000 on the afternoon and night of 22/23 January 1879

The storehouse: Taken in the aftermath of the Battle of Rorke’s Drift. This picture shows part of the mission station which saw ferocious fighting between a 150-strong British garrison and some 4,000 Zulu warriors. It's the Storehouse, however, during the battle, the stone wall with the loopholes was not there. Chard and his me would have built a rampart of Mealie bags and biscuit boxes

. The roof of every building was thatched. The hospital building's thatched roof was set alight by the Zulus, which was a big mistake as during the night it lit up the Zulus trying to get inside the defences and made them easy targets for the defenders. They did try to set alight to this building's roof but two well-placed defenders managed to pick them off before they could throw their, lighted throwing spears. In the weeks after the battle the Drift became a very miserable place to be. It rained for days and the place became a quagmire for the hundreds of soldiers of Chelmsford's collum who had no choice but to billet in the grounds and surrounding area. Men would go to bed out in the open or in their tents wet and get up wet, many became ill from those conditions and Chard himself would become ill before he recovered and was moved on to fight in other parts of Zulu land in the coming months.

From this photo, you can see the Natal landscape from which the native warriors would have appeared, storming the colonial garrison only hours after a British debacle at nearby Isandlwana which saw hundreds of soldiers killed. While some of the Zulu warriors were armed with muskets and rifles, many of them confronted the British colonial forces with only shields and spears

Crossing the river. A pontoon over the Mzinyathi River — also known as the Buffalo River — beneath Signal Hill, close to the British mission station at Rorke’s Drift which came under attack in the famous battle. British forces had established a depot here before advancing into the Zulu kingdom following their January 1879 invasion. This position is where Chard was when Gert Wilhelm Adendorff of the Natal Native Contingent rode in with another soldier named Vane at around 3.15 pm, they arrived on the Zulu side of the river and shouted to be taken across into Natal. Chard knew by the way they were waving and shouting knew something was amiss.

He recalls in his army report of the battle.

My attention was called to two horsemen galloping towards us from the direction of Isandlwana. From their gesticulations and their shouts, when they were near enough to be heard, we saw that something was the matter, and on taking them over the river, one of them, Lieut Adendorff of Lonsdale’s Regiment, Natal Native Contingent, he asked if I was an officer, as he jumped off his horse, took me on one side, and told me the camp was in the hands of the Zulus and the army destroyed; that scarcely a man had got away to tell the tale, and that probably Lord Chelmsford and the rest of the column had shared the same fate. His companion, a Carbineer, confirmed his story. For those that dont know what a Carbineer was, a Carbineer was a mounted soldier used for scouting. Their rifles differ from the foot soldiers in length. The Westley Richards Monkey Tail Carbine which carbineers fought with was 35.5 inches long, while The Martini-Henry Rifle that the foot soldiers had was 49 inches long

(Photo not in the Chard collection)

What must have gone through Chard's mind at this point is anyone's guess because he had just been told that his commanding officer and his staff could have been wiped out.

In his official report of the Battle of the Drift, Chard stated that Adendorff was the only survivor from Isandlwana who stayed to assist with the defence at Rorke’s Drift, taking up position inside the storehouse and remaining there throughout the battle. Private Henry Hook later stated. One of the horsemen was Lieutenant Adendorff and the other was a Natal Carbineer. The lieutenant stayed behind with us, and the Carbineer, who was in his shirt sleeves, dashed on to Helpmakaar, twelve miles away to take the news there. This would make sense, at that point no one else had arrived from Isandlwana and someone who could ride had to warn Helpmakaar that everything had gone wrong, and Natal now could expect to be invaded by King Cetshwayo.

At this point, no one knew that King Cetshwayo had taken the moral high ground and had forbidden any invasion of Natal.

Battlefield.

A view of Rorke’s Drift with the river in the background.

This photo gives the reader a good glimpse of what the terrain would have looked like. This is a photo taken weeks after the battle, You can see four army camps. However what's perturbing is the fact that I can't see any defensive positions, at least in the one that we can see clearly. It's clear to my eye that the British had not learned the lesson that the only reason that the Zulus had not overrun the Drift, is that Chard had built a defence of Mealie bags and Army biscuit box and fought behind them. This was something the British would not do for some time until it clicked out in the open they had to build a defensive perimeter and lagger the waggons

This is Dabulamanzi kaMpande half brother to King Cetshwayo. In this photo, he is with a British man named John Dunn. Dunn had become the seconed most powerful man in Zulu land after King Cetshwayo. The Zulu king trusted Dunn.

After Cetshwayo overthrew King Mpande, what Dunn had tried to do to prevent bloodshed became the catalyst for mutual respect, and a strong friendship developed between the two equally ambitious and far-sighted men. Recognizing John’s extraordinary talents, Cetshwayo invited him to become his secretary and diplomatic advisor.

Prince Dabulamanzi kaMpande was the Zulu commander who brought 4,000 warriors to attack Rorke Drift. He deliberately disobeyed his Kings orders, because his mixture of older warriors and younger ones who were part of the Left Horn attack on Isandlwana had not washed their spears in blood or ransacked the camp, all some of them had done was chase, and kill survivors trying to escape. It was not enough, he knew that when they went back to Ullundi they would be laughed at, so he chose to cross over the river and attack the Drift, he knew that it was an easy target or so he thought, full of food, ammunition and guarded by less than 400 men with quite a few sick, he would be regarded as a hero when he arrived back to the Zulu capital with the spoils of war.

What he did not count on were two things, first, the younger Zulus soon outpaced the older ones, they had been running and walking since early that morning and had not eaten, in fact, they had not eaten any breakfast so the older ones well into their 50s began to flag a little. The younger ones were fired up for glory and were eager to wash their spears in blood.

And second, he did not count on the defenders to put up barricades and that's what they did.

They very nearly did not put up any barricades, they nearly legged it to Helpmakaaka, ten miles away. The two officers and a man named Dalton had a conflab, Chard and Bromhead were for getting out and going to Helpmakaaka. Dalton told them that the Zulus if they were coming would catch them in open ground and they would stand no chance. He also said that the ones in the hospital would slow them down. They would either have to leave them to the Zulus or make a stand at the Drift. Chard then made the decision to form a defensive perimeter and build it with Mealie bags. and boxes.

The Mealie bags were not small nor were the boxes the bags weighed 200lbs all full of grain, the boxes also were large heavy and full of hard army biscuits you can see what they were like in this photo below. and they made a forty-yard perimeter linking some of the buildings, they had just two hours to plan it and implement the plan. Chard thought he had at least 500 men when they built it enough men to defend it. However, when the soldiers on horseback who had fled Islandlwana refused to stay preferring to flee to Helpmakaar all the Native contingent decided they would do that as well and they fled in the direction of Helpmakaar, among them were a few white soldiers who decided to do the same. Chard had to shrink the perimeter.

This is where it becomes a bit murky as shots rang out and Corporal W. Anderson. one of the men fleeing fell dead shot in the back. No one has actualy gotten to back off what happened. Anderson was clearly deserting his post, which clearly upset more than one soldier, he was definitely shot by someone before the battle, yet he is buried with all the other soldiers and is mentioned on the memorial at the Drift. So in my mind, there has been a cover-up, it was murder yet nothing was said or done about it.

They built the defence barricade 5ft high and when the Zulus eventually breached that one, Bromhead led a contingent of men and kept up a steady wall of fire along with bayonet charges, while others built an even bigger one 9ft tall and dragged any wounded behind it and then they fought behind that one.

By the time daylight came on 23 January 1879 both sides were spent force The garrison was down to their last few rounds, such was the firepower of the garrison they had fired over 20,000 rounds from their single-shot Martini-Henry rifles

That is some going when you know that there were only 180 defenders.

Prince Dabulamanzi kaMpande and his men were too exhausted to make one more final attack as the sun rose, and in any event, they had seen reinforcements coming from the battlefield of Isandlwana, which was Lord Chelmsford and the rest of his column who had arrived at the scene of carnage. So the Zulus retreated pretty quickly. making their way back to Ulundi a broken force hungry and exhausted knowing when they got home Cetshwayo would not be pleased that his orders had been ignored and all for nothing. Both forces even passed each other three or four miles apart and both sides kept a careful watch on each other. Both sides were exhausted. Lord Chelmsford and his men had not eaten since lunchtime the day before, they had force marched their way to Isandlwana arriving in the dark and many had not had a wink of sleep preferring to stay awake among the corpses of both their friends and the Zulus, at daybreak they had then formed up and they began to march the ten miles to Rorkes Drift again not knowing what they would find. Every man be they on the Zulu side or on the British side was in no shape to fight another battle. So like ships in the night, they slowly passed each other eyeing each other up.

There might have been 4,000 Zulus attacking the Drift but as I mentioned the younger ones arrived first and instead of waiting for the main force to arrive decided to attack first within minutes of arriving and they were cut to pieces by Bromheads volley fire at 500 yards, the prime of Prince Dabulamanzi kaMpande warriors were cut down in seconds many killed many more were badly wounded. When Prince Dabulamanzi kaMpande finally arrived order was restored and those with rifles took up positions on the hill behind the Drift. From there they began to fire into the compound. It's interesting that most of the deaths at the drift were rifle deaths. The only deaths of British soldiers from spear thrusts were in the hospital, so the barricade worked, although many if not all were wounded by spears none died from them.

I often wonder how the Zulus would have fared if those young warriors had not thrown their lives away needlessly, and it also surprises me that when they got to the wall of mealie bags or sacks not one of them thought to slash the bags open, if they had done that then what was inside them would have spilt out pretty rapid, and they could have used their iKiwa which is a short stabbing spear to do it opposed to their other spear the isiJula the throwing spear

The iKiwa was razor sharp because as well as stabbing they would use it for slashing as you would a sword. Two make sure their foe was dead they would also slash the throat, and then again with the iKiwa, they would slash open the belly or stomach of their foe. This was a ritual they did to let out the spirit of their fallen foe to set it free.

Below are more photos

These are Zulu warriors, however, the photo is not as it seems. If this was in colour you would notice a red band on their heads. These are Zulus opposed to King Cetshwayo who had joined the British.

Again these are Zulus who were fighting for the British, they fought with their traditional weapons and dress, then progressed to rifles and uniforms as the war went on.

This photo is like looking at ghosts. This is H company of the 1st/24th Foot, photographed at the beginning of the campaign. All would be killed at Isandlwana, not a month later days later.

Prince Dabulamanzi kaMapande
The photo was taken after the war and his ill-conceived “invasion” of Natal and his disastrous attack on the mission station at Rorke’s Drift. A curious fashion image emerged after the war. It seems that Prince Dabulamanzi kaMapande liked to dress in Western clothes and was comfortable dressing in suits, he only dressed in his native clothes while he was at his kraal. I find Dabulamanzi kaMapande quite puzzling, while an intelligent man, he acted like an idiot at Rorkes Drift. There was no need to attack the drift. There were other battles in which his young men could have washed their spears in blood. The Zulus won an outstanding victory at Islandlwana, it was marred by Mapande’s reckless attack on the Drift. When Cetshwayo found out he was not best pleased, He already had a feeling that after their victory there would be repercussions. King Cetshwayo was heard to say
An assegai has been thrust into the belly of the nation”. That's because the Zulu victory had come at a high price of Zulu bodies and he knew the British would win in the end.

Footnote

In Zulu society at the time, it was their custom for men not to marry or have sex until they had washed their spears in the blood of their enemies. The Zulus were ferocious warriors always at war with either their enemies bordering Zululand or with themselves. Brothers and cousins fought each other because one would side with a King or Prince for dominance. This meant that civil war was frequent.

Washing the Spears with blood meant killing with their spears, preferably with the smaller stabbing spear, up close and personal showing how brave they were. When firearms came to the Zulu nation, they thought it was cowardly to kill an enemy with one, although, by the time of the Anglo-Zulu war, Cetshwayo was wise enough to know they had to have guns and rifles to stand any chance of survival. He had begun to buy many firearms from traders although many of them were no better than muskets.

By the time of Islandlwana, and Rorkes Drift a whole generation had grown up not going to war, this meant that this young generation could not marry or have sex.

Now you know why those young Zulus were so rash at the drift.

Ntshingwayo kaMahole inKhosi of the Main Impi and family.
The photo was taken after the war.

Ntshingwayo was one of two commanders at the battle of Isandlwana.

A debonnaire Cetshwayoin Britain after the war. Apparently, the British public fell in love with him for his charm and grace. He cuts quite a dashing fellow in this photo. He never wanted to go to war with Britain, he wanted a diplomatic solution to it all. It was because he wanted a diplomatic solution that he ordered that the Zulu Impi should not cross the Buffalo river into British Natal. He was actualy at a loss to know what he had done to deserve such treatment from the British. The Zulu people had lived peacefully with the British for generations, unlike the Boers who they were always having a beef with. It's why he wanted to keep the moral high ground by not invading Natal, he wanted to be seen in diplomatic circles as a king defending his kingdom, not an aggressor.

This is the man who started it all, Sir Henry Bartle Frere
High Commissioner for Southern Africa

He gave the king an ultimatum that he knew he could not accept and he did it behind the Governments back

This is the tree that Sir Henry Bartle Frere gave the King the British ultimatum, even then Frere could not be bothered to turn up and neither did the King. They both sent diplomats. The king was not about to obey the presumptuous summons of some foreign, colonial bureaucrat. Cetshwayo sent a delegation of some of his most trusted, older izinduna. and Frere sent, John Wesley Shepstone, (younger brother of the venerable and pro-Zulu statesman, Sir Theophilus Shepstone) and four “friendly” (i.e. anti-Zulu) Natal chiefs to the Tugela River for the meeting.

Shepstone, promptly read out a list of demands. These demands would effectively turn Cetshwayo into a compliant puppet, just as Frere had treated the maharajahs during his experience in India. The ultimatum laid out that Zululand was to become a British protectorate under British laws and Crown authority.

The Zulu army was to be disbanded.

Summary executions of Zulus without a proper trial were to stop.

Zulus were to no longer need the king’s or anyone’s permission to marry.

The King could issue no directives or orders without the co-approval of a British Resident assigned to Zululand.

He also threw in a “fine” of 600 cattle to add insult to injury

Cetshwayo had until 11 January (one month) to accept this ultimatum or hostilities would commence. There was no negotiation.

Non-plussed, the izinduna attending the Tugela meeting claimed, diplomatically, that they themselves had no authority to accede to the ultimatum but would carry the document back to their monarch. When they got back to Cetshwayo’s royal kraal at Ulundi, the king was greatly upset not just by the completely unacceptable ultimatum, but by this sudden aggressive attitude on the part of the British, with whom his people had been amicable neighbours for generations.

The rest is history as they say

Rorkes Drift still stands, it's now a peaceful spot, The buildings are still there and where the hospital stands they have turned it into a museum

And to give you some idea of the distance between Rorkes Drift and Islandlwana

This map diagram shows you how far away the Anglo-Zulu battlefield were and as you can see the Rorkes Drift and Islandlwana.

I hope you have enjoyed this article as much as I have enjoyed researching and writing it.

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Graham Charles Lear

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