The Anglo-Zulu War was fought in 1879 between the British Empire and the Zulu Kingdom.
Following a campaign by which Lord Carnarvon had successfully brought about federation in Canada, it was thought that similar combined military and political campaigns might succeed with the various African kingdoms, tribal areas and Boer republics in South Africa. In 1874, Sir Henry Bartle Frere was sent to South Africa as High Commissioner for the British Empire to bring the plans into being.
Among the obstacles were the presence of the independent states of the South African Republic and the Kingdom of Zululand and its army. Frere, on his own initiative, without the approval of the British government and with the intent of instigating a war with the Zulu, had presented an ultimatum on 11 December 1878, to the Zulu king Cetshwayo with which the Zulu king could not comply. Cetshwayo did not comply and Bartle Frere sent Lord Chelmsford to invade Zululand.
The war is notable for several particularly bloody battles, including a stunning opening victory by the Zulu at Isandlwana, as well as for being a landmark in the timeline of imperialism in the region. The war eventually resulted in a British victory and the end of the Zulu nation's independence.
By the 1870s the British Empire had colonies in southern Africa bordering on various Boer settlements, native African kingdoms such as the Zulus, and numerous indigenous tribal areas and states. Various interactions with these resulted in an expansionist policy. Cape Colony was formed after the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814 permanently ceded the Dutch colony of Cape Town to Britain, and its territory expanded very substantially through the 1800s. The Colony of Natal was a British colony in south-eastern Africa that had been proclaimed a British colony on May 4, 1843 after the British government had annexed the Boer Republic of Natalia.
The discovery of diamonds in 1867 near the Vaal River, some 550 miles (890 km) northeast of Cape Town, ended the isolation of the Boers in the interior and changed South African history. The discovery triggered a "diamond rush" that attracted people from all over the world turning Kimberley into a town of 50,000 within five years and drawing the attention of British imperial interests. In the 1870s, the British annexed West Griqualand, site of the Kimberley diamond discoveries.
In 1874 Lord Carnarvon, Secretary of State for the Colonies, who had successfully brought about federation in Canada in 1867, thought that a similar scheme might work in South Africa. The South African plan called for a ruling white minority over a subjugated black majority providing a large pool of cheap labor for the Boer farmers and British sugar plantations and mines. Carnarvon, in an attempt to extend British influence in 1875 approached the Boer states of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal Republic and tried to organize a federation of the British and Boer territories but the Boer leaders turned him down.
In 1877, Sir Bartle Frere was made High Commissioner for Southern Africa by Lord Carnarvon. Carnarvon appointed Frere to the position on the understanding that he would work to enforce Carnarvon's confederation plan and, in return, Frere could then become the first British governor of a federated southern African dominion. Frere was sent to South Africa as High Commissioner to bring it about. One of the obstacles to such a scheme was the presence of the independent states of the South African Republic, informally known as the Transvaal Republic, and the Kingdom of Zululand. Bartle Frere wasted no time in putting the scheme forward and manufacturing a casus belli against the Zulu by exaggerating the significance of number of recent incidents
By 1877, Sir Theophilus Shepstone, the British Secretary for Native Affairs in Natal, annexed the Transvaal Republic, for Britain using a special warrant. The Transvaal Boers objected but as long as the Zulu threat remained, found themselves between two threats; they feared that if they took up arms to resist the British annexation actively, King Cetshwayo and the Zulus would take the opportunity to attack.
The successive British annexations, and in particular the annexation of West Griqualand, however caused a climate of simmering unease for the Boer republics.Shepstone, in his capacity as British governor of Natal, had expressed concerns about the Zulu army under King Cetshwayo and the potential threat to Natal especially given the adoption by some of the Zulus of old muskets and other out of date firearms.
In his new role of Administrator of the Transvaal, he was now responsible for protecting the Transvaal and had direct involvement in the Zulu border dispute from the side of the Transvaal.
Persistent Boer representations and Paul Kruger's diplomatic manoeuvrings added to the pressure.
There were incidents involving Zulu paramilitary actions on either side of the Transvaal/Natal border, and Shepstone increasingly began to regard King Cetshwayo, who now found no defender in Natal save Bishop Colenso, as having permitted such "outrages," and to be in a "defiant mood."
Colenso advocated for native Africans in Natal and Zululand who had been unjustly treated by the colonial regime in Natal.
In 1874 he took up the cause of Langalibalele and the Hlubi and Ngwe tribes in representations to the Colonial Secretary, Lord Carnarvon.
Langalibalele had been falsely accused of rebellion in 1873 and, following a charade of a trial, was found guilty and imprisoned on Robben Island.
In taking the side of Langalibalele against the Colonial regime in Natal and Theophilus Shepstone, the Secretary for Native Affairs, Colenso found himself even further estranged from colonial society in Natal.
Bishop Colenso's concern about the misleading information that was being provided to the Colonial Secretary in London by Shepstone and the Governor of Natal prompted him to champion the cause of the Zulus against Boer oppression and official encroachments.
He was a prominent critic of Sir Bartle Frere's efforts to depict the Zulu kingdom as a threat to Natal. Colenso's campaigns revealed the dark, racist foundation underpinning the colonial regime in Natal and made him enemies among the colonists.
The British Prime Minister Disraeli's Tory administration in London did not want a war with the Zulus. "The fact is," wrote Sir Michael Hicks Beach, who would replace Carnarvon as Secretary of State for the Colonies, in November 1878, "that matters in Eastern Europe and India ... were so serious an aspect that we cannot have a Zulu war in addition to other greater and too possible troubles."
However Sir Bartle Frere had already been in to the Cape Colony as governor and high commissioner since 1877 with the brief of creating a Confederation of South Africa from the various British colonies, Boer Republics and native states and his plans were well advanced.
He had concluded that the powerful Zulu kingdom stood in the way of this, and so was receptive to Shepstone's arguments that King Cetshwayo and his Zulu army posed a threat to the peace of the region. Preparations for a British invasion of the Zulu kingdom had been underway for months.
In December 1878, notwithstanding the reluctance of the British government to start yet another colonial war, Frere presented Cetshwayo with an ultimatum that the Zulu army be disbanded and the Zulus accept a British resident. This was unacceptable to the Zulus as it effectively meant that Cetshwayo, had he agreed, would have lost his throne.Shaka, the first Zulu king, had, through war and conquest, built the small Zulu tribe into the Zulu Kingdom which by 1825 encompassed an area of around 11,500 square miles 30,000 km.
In 1828 he was assassinated at Dukuza by one of his iNdunas and two of his half-brothers, one of whom, Dingane kaSenzangakhona, succeeded him as king.
By the 1830s migrating Boers came into conflict with the Zulu Kingdom then ruled by Dingane. Dingane suffered a crushing defeat on 16 December 1838, when he attacked a group of 470 Voortrekker settlers led by Pretorius at the Battle of Blood River.
Dingane's half brother Mpande kaSenzangakhona then defected with some 17,000 followers and allied with the Boers against Dingane. Dingane was assassinated and Mpande became king of the Zulu empire.
In 1839, the Boer Voortrekkers, under Pretorius, formed the Boer Republic of Natalia, south of the Tugela, and west of the British settlement of Port Natal now Durban. Mpande and Pretorius maintained peaceful relations. However, in 1842, war broke out between the British and the Boers, resulting in the British annexation of Natalia. Mpande shifted his allegiance to the British, and remained on good terms with them.
In 1843, Mpande ordered a purge of perceived dissidents within his kingdom. This resulted in numerous deaths, and the fleeing of thousands of refugees into neighbouring areas, including the British-controlled Natal. Many of these refugees fled with cattle, the main measure of Zulu wealth. Mpande began raiding the surrounding areas, culminating in the invasion of Swaziland in 1852.
However, the British pressured him into withdrawing, which he did shortly. At this time, a battle for the succession broke out between two of Mpande's sons, Cetshwayo and Mbuyazi. This culminated in 1856 with the Battle of Ndondakusuka, which left Mbuyazi dead. Cetshwayo then set about usurping his father's authority. When Mpande died of old age in 1872, Cetshwayo took over as ruler.In 1861, Umtonga, a brother of Cetshwayo, and another son of Zulu king Mpande, fled to the Utrecht district, and Cetshwayo assembled an army on that frontier.
According to claims later brought forward by the Boers, Cetshwayo offered the farmers a strip of land along the border if they would surrender his brother.
The Boers complied on the condition that Umtonga's life was spared, and in 1861 Mpande signed a deed transferring this land to the Boers. The south boundary of the land added to Utrecht ran from Rorke's Drift on the Buffalo to a point on the Pongola River.
The boundary was beaconed in 1864, but when in 1865 Umtonga fled from Zululand to Natal, Cetshwayo, seeing that he had lost his part of the bargain for he feared that Umtonga might be used to supplant him, as Mpande had been used to supplant Dingane, caused the beacon to be removed, and also claimed the land ceded by the Swazis to Lydenburg.
The Zulus asserted that the Swazis were their vassals and therefore had no right to part with this territory.
During the year a Boer commando under Paul Kruger and an army under Cetshwayo were posted to defend the newly acquired Utrecht border. The Zulu forces took back their land north of the Pongola. Questions were also raised as to the validity of the documents signed by the Zulus concerning the Utrecht strip; in 1869 the services of the lieutenant-governor of Natal, then Robert William Keate, were accepted by both parties as arbitrator, but the attempt then made to settle disagreements proved unsuccessful.
Cetshwayo permitted European missionaries in Zululand however, the activities of the missionaries were unwelcome to Cetshwayo. Though he did not harm, or persecute, the missionaries themselves, several converts were killed.
The missionaries, for their part, were a source of hostile reports.While numerous Zulus of rival factions fled into Natal and some of the surrounding areas, Cetshwayo continued and maintained the peaceful relations with the Natal colonists that had prevailed for decades. Such was the political background when Cetshwayo became absolute ruler of the Zulus upon his father's death in 1873.
As ruler, Cetshwayo set about reviving the military methods of his uncle Shaka as far as possible, forming new age set regiments and even succeeded in equipping his regiments with a few antiquated muskets and other outdated firearms. Most Zulu warriors were armed with an iklwa ,the Zulu refinement of the assegai thrusting spear, and a shield made of cowhide. The Zulu army drilled in the personal and tactical use and coordination of this weapons system.
While some Zulus also had firearms, their marksmanship training was poor and the quality and supply of powder and shot dreadful.
The Zulu attitude towards firearms was that: "The generality of Zulu warriors, however, would not have firearms the arms of a coward, as they said, for they enable the poltroon to kill the brave without awaiting his attacki.
The pretext for the war had its origins in border disputes between the Zulu leader, Cetshwayo, and the Boers in the Transvaal region.
Following a commission enquiry on the border dispute which reported in favour of the Zulu nation in July 1878, Sir Henry Bartle Frere, acting on his own, added an ultimatum to the commission meeting, much to the surprise of the Zulu representatives who then relayed it to Cetshwayo. Cetshwayo had not responded by the end of the year, so an extension was granted by Bartle Frere until 11 January 1879.
Cetshwayo returned no answer to the preposterous demands of Bartle Frere, and in January 1879 a British force under Lieutenant General Frederick Augustus Thesiger, 2nd Baron Chelmsford invaded Zululand, without authorisation by the British Government.
Lord Chelmsford, the Commander in Chief of British forces during the war, initially planned a five-pronged invasion of Zululand composed of over 15,000 troops in five columns and designed to encircle the Zulu army and force it to fight as he was concerned that the Zulus would avoid battle. In the event, Lord Chelmsford settled on three invading columns with the main center column, now consisting of some 7800 men comprising the previously called No. 3 Column and Durnford's No.2 Column, under his direct command.
He moved his troops from Pietermaritzburg to a forward camp at Helpmekaar, past Greytown. On 9 January 1879 they moved to Rorke's Drift, and early on 11 January commenced crossing the Buffalo River into Zululand.Three columns were to invade Zululand, from the Lower Tugela, Rorke's Drift, and Utrecht respectively, their objective being Ulundi, the royal capital.
While Cetshwayo's army numbered perhaps 35,000 men, it was essentially a militia force which could be called out in time of national danger. It had a very limited logistical capacity and could only stay in the field a few weeks before the troops would be obliged to return to their civilian duties. Zulu warriors were armed primarily with Assegai thrusting spears, known in Zulu as iklwa, clubs, some throwing spears and shields made of cowhide.
The initial entry of all three columns was unopposed. On 22 January the centre column, which had advanced from Rorke's Drift, was encamped near Isandlwana; on the morning of that day Lord Chelmsford split his forces and moved out to support a reconnoitring party, leaving the camp in charge of Colonel Pulleine. The British were outmanoeuvred by the main Zulu army nearly 20,000 strong led by Ntshingwayo kaMahole Khoza.
Chelmsford was lured eastward with much of his centre column by a Zulu diversionary force while the main Impi attacked his camp. Chelmsford's decision not to set up the British camp defensively, contrary to established doctrine, and ignoring information that the Zulus were close at hand were decisions that the British were soon to regret. The ensuing Battle of Isandlwana was the greatest victory that the Zulu kingdom would enjoy during the war.
The British centre column was wrecked and its camp annihilated with heavy casualties as well as the loss of all its supplies, ammunition and transport. The defeat left Chelmsford no choice but to hastily retreat out of Zululand. In the battle's aftermath, a party of some 4,000 Zulu reserves mounted an unauthorised raid on the nearby British army border post of Rorke's Drift and were driven off after 10 hours of ferocious fighting.
While the British central column under Chelmsford's command was thus engaged, the right flank column on the coast, under Colonel Charles Pearson, crossed the Tugela River, skirmished with a Zulu impi that was attempting to set up an ambush at the Inyezane River, and advanced as far as the deserted missionary station of Eshowe, which he set about fortifying.
On learning of the disaster at Isandlwana, Pearson made plans to withdraw back beyond the Tugeala River. However, before he had decided whether of not to put these plans into effect, the Zulu army managed to cut off his supply lines, and the Siege of Eshowe had begun.
Meanwhile the left flank column at Utrecht, under Colonel Evelyn Wood, had originally been charged with occupying the Zulu tribes of north-west Zululand and preventing them from interfering with the British central column's advance on Ulundi. To this end Wood set up camp at Tinta's Kraal, just 10 miles south of Hlobane Mountain, where a force of 4,000 Zulus had been spotted.
He planned to attack them on the 24 January, but on learning of the disaster at Isandlwana, he decided to withdraw back to the Kraal. Thus one month after the British invasion, only their left flank column remained militarily effective, and it was too weak to conduct a campaign alone. The first invasion of Zululand had been a failure.
It had never been Cetshwayo's intention to invade Natal, but to simply fight within the boundaries of the Zulu kingdom. Chelmsford used the next two months to regroup and build a fresh invading force with the initial intention of relieving Pearson at Eshowe. The British government rushed seven regiments of re-inforcements to Natal, along with two artillery batteries.
On 12 March, an armed escort of stores marching to Luneberg, was defeated by about 500 Zulus at the Battle of Intombe, the British force suffered 80 killed and all the stores were lost. The first troops arrived at Durban on 7 March. On the 29th a column, under Lord Chelmsford, consisting of 3,400 British and 2,300 African soldiers, marched to the relief of Eshowe, entrenched camps being formed each night.
Chelmsford ordered Sir Evelyn Wood's troops to attack the abaQulusi Zulu stronghold in Hlobane. Lieutenant Colonel Redvers Buller, led the attack on Hlobane on 28 March. However, as the Zulu main army of 20,000 men approached to help their besieged tribesmen, the British force began a retreat which turned into a rout and were pursued by 1,000 Zulus of the abaQulusi who inflicted some 225 casualties on the British force.
The next day 20,000 Zulu warriors attacked Wood's 2,068 men in a well-fortified camp at Kambula, apparently without Cetshwayo's permission. The British held them off in the Battle of Kambula and after five hours of heavy attacks the Zulus withdrew. British losses amounted to 80, while the Zulus lost approximately 1,000 killed. While Woods was thus engaged, Chelmsford's column was marching on Eshowe.
On 2 April this force was attacked en route at Gingindlovu, the Zulu being repulsed. Their losses were heavy, estimated at 1,200 while the British only suffered two dead and 52 wounded. The next day they relieved Pearson's men. They evacuated Eshowe on 5 April, after which the Zulu forces burned it down.
The new start of the larger, heavily reinforced second invasion was not promising for the British. Despite their successes at Kambula, Gingindlovu and Eshowe, they were right back where they had started from at the beginning of January.
Nevertheless, Chelmsford had a pressing reason to proceed with haste Sir Garnet Wolseley was being sent to replace him, and he wanted to inflict a decisive defeat on Cetshwayo's forces before then. With yet more reinforcements arriving, soon to total 16,000 British and 7,000 Native troops, Chelmsford reorganised his forces and again advanced into Zululand in June, this time with extreme caution building fortified camps all along the way to prevent any repeat of Isandlwana.
One of the early British casualties was the exiled heir to the French throne, Imperial Prince Napoleon Eugene, who had volunteered to serve in the British army and was killed on 1 June while out with a reconnoitering party.
Cetshwayo, knowing that the newly reinforced British would be a formidable opponent, attempted to negotiate a peace treaty. Chelmsford was not open to negotiations, as he wished to restore his reputation before Wolseley relieved him of command, and he proceeded to the royal kraal of Ulundi, intending to defeat the main Zulu army. On 4 July the armies clashed at the Battle of Ulundi, and Cetshwayo's forces were decisively defeated.
After the battle of Ulundi the Zulu army dispersed, most of the leading chiefs tendered their submission, and Cetshwayo became a fugitive. Wolseley, having relieved Chelmsford after Ulundi, took over the final operations. On 28 August the king was captured and sent to Cape Town .
It is said that scouts spotted the watercarriers of the king, distinctive because the water was carried above, not upon, their heads. His deposition was formally announced to the Zulu.
Wolseley wasted no time in discarding Bartle Frere's confederation scheme and drew up a new scheme which divided Zululand into thirteen chiefdoms headed by compliant chiefs which ensured that the Zulus would no longer unite under a single king and made internal divisions and civil wars inevitable.
The dynasty of Shaka was deposed, and the Zulu country portioned among eleven Zulu chiefs, including Usibepu, John Dunn, a white adventurer, and Hlubi, a Basuto chief allied to the British in the war.
Chelmsford received a Knight Grand Cross of Bath, largely because of Ulundi, however, he was severely criticized by the Horse Guards investigation and he would never serve in the field again.Bartle Frere was relegated to a minor post in Cape Town.
Following the conclusion of the Anglo-Zulu War, Bishop Colenso interceded on behalf of Cetshwayo with the British government and succeeded in getting him released from Robben Island and returned to Zululand in 1883.
A Resident Melmoth Osborn was appointed to be the channel of communication between the chiefs and the British government. This arrangement led to much bloodshed and disturbance, and in 1882 the British government determined to restore Cetshwayo to power.