Chard’s report to Queen Victoria.
Kindly supplied by Victorian Voices Under Crown Copyright.
There were two large ponts at the river, one of which only was in working order, and my sappers were during this time working at the other, which was nearly finished, to get it also in working order. Late in the evening of the 21st January I received an order from the 3rd Column to say that the men of the R.E., who had lately arrived were to proceed to the camp at Isandhlwana at once. I had received no orders concerning myself.
I reported this to Major Spalding, who was now in command at Rorke’s Drift, and also pointed out to him that the sappers leaving there was no means at my disposal for putting the pontoons in working order, or keeping them so. Major Spalding had also received no orders respecting me, except that I was to select a suitable position protecting the ponts, for Captain Rainsforth’s Company 1/24th to entrench itself. I consequently asked and obtained permission from Major Spalding, to go to the camp at Isandhlwana and see the orders.
On the morning of the 22nd January, I put the corporal and three sappers in the empty wagon, with their field kits, etc., to take them to the camp of the 3rd Column; and also rode out myself. The road was very heavy in some places, and the wagons went slowly; so I rode on in advance, we arrived at the Isandhlwana Camp, went to the Head- Quarters Tent, and got a copy of the orders as affecting me, and found that I was to keep the ponts in working order, and also the road between Helpmakaar and Rorke’s Drift and the orders also particularly stated that my duties lay on the right bank of the River Buffalo.
Early in January 1879, shortly after the arrival of the 5th Company, Royal Engineers, at Durban, an order came from Lord Chelmsford directing that an officer and a few good men of the R.E., with mining implements, etc., should join the third column as soon as possible. I was consequently sent on in advance of the company, with a light mule wagon containing the necessary tools etc., and in which the men could also ride on level ground; with a Corporal, three Sappers and one Driver, my batman, who rode one and looked after my horses. The wagon was driven by a Cape black man, with a Natal Kaffir lad as voorlooper. The roads were so bad that in spite of all our exertions, our progress was slow, and although we got a fresh team at Pietermaritzberg, we did not reach Rorke’s Drift until the morning of the 19th January 1879. The 3rd Column was encamped on the other side (left bank) of the River Buffalo and the wagons were still crossing on the ponts. I pitched my two tents on the right (Natal) bank of the river, near the ponts, and close to the store accommodation there for keeping them in repair. On the 20th January, the 3rd Column broke up its camp on the Buffalo river and marched to Isandhlwana, where it encamped, and the same evening, or following morning, Colonel Durnford’s force arrived and took up its camp near where the 3rd Column had been.
An N.C.O. of the 24th Regiment lent me a field glass, which was a very good one, and I also looked with my own, and could see the enemy moving on the distant hills, and apparently in great force. Large numbers of them moving to my left, until the lion hill of Isandhlwana, on my left as I looked at them, hid them from my view. The idea struck me that they might be moving in the direction between the camp and Rorke’s Drift and prevent my getting back, and also they might be going to make a dash at the pontoons.
Seeing what my duties were, I left the camp, and a quarter of a mile, or less out of it met with Colonel Durnford R.E., riding at the head of his mounted men. I told him what I had seen, and took some orders, and a message all along his line at his request. At the foot of the hill I met my men in the wagon and made them get out and walk up the hill with Durnford’s men. I brought the wagon back with me to Rorke’s Drift, where on arrival I found the following order had been issued. The copy below was given me, and preserved from the fact of its being in my pocket during the fight:
Camp Rorke’s Drift
Camp Morning Orders
22nd January 1879
1. The force under Lt. Col. Durnford R.E., having departed, a Guard of 6 Privates and 1 N.C.O. will be furnished by the detachment 2/24th Regiment on the ponts.
A Guard of 50 armed natives will likewise be furnished by Capt. Stevenson’s detachment at the same spot. The pontoons will be invariably drawn over to the Natal side at night. This duty will cease on the arrival of Capt. Rainforth’s Company 1/24th Regiment.
2. In accordance with para. 19 Regulations for Field Forces in South Africa, Capt. Rainforth’s Company, 1/24th Regiment, will entrench itself on the spot assigned to it by Column Orders para.-dated-.
H. Spalding, Major
The Guard as detailed was over the ponts. Captain Rainforth’s Company had not arrived. I went at once to Major Spalding on arrival, told him what I had seen, and pointed out to him that in the event of an attack on the pontoons it would be impossible with 7 men (not counting the natives) to make an effective defence. (According to the orders, Capt. Rainforth’s Company should have been already at Rorke’s Drift.
Major Spalding told me he was going over to Helpmakaar, and would see about getting it down at once. Just as I was about to ride away he said to me ‘Which of you is senior, you or Bromhead?” I said ” I don’t know” – he went back to his tent, looked at the Army List, and coming back, said “I see you are senior, so you will be in charge, although of course, nothing will happen, and I shall be back again this evening early.”
I then went down to my tent by the river, had some lunch comfortably, and was writing a letter home when my attention was called to two horsemen galloping towards us from the direction of Isandhlwana. From their gesticulation 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, Lieutenant Adendorff of Lonsdale’s Regiment, Natal Native Contingent, asking if I was an officer, jumped off his horse, took me on one side, and told me that 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. He was naturally very excited and I am afraid I did not, at first, quite believe him, and intimated that he probably had not remained to see what did occur. I had the saddle put on my horse, and while I was talking to Lieutenant Adendorff, a messenger arrived from Lieutenant Bromhead, who was with his company at his little camp near the commissariat stores, to ask me to come up at once.
I gave the order to inspan the wagon and put all the stores, tents, etc., they could into it. I posted the seargeant and six men on the high ground over the Pont, behind a natural wall of rocks, forming a strong position from which there was a good view over the river and ground in front, with orders to wait until I came or sent for them. The guard of natives had left some time before and had not been relieved. I galloped up at once to the commissariat stores and found that a pencil note had been sent from the 3rd Column by Captain Allan Gardner to state that the enemy were advancing in force against our post. Lieutenant Bromhead had, with the assistance of Mr Dalton, Dr Reynolds and the other officers present, commenced barricading and loopholing the store building and the missionary’s house, which was used as a hospital, and connecting the defence of the two buildings by walls of mealie bags, and two wagons that were on the ground. The Native Contingent, under their officer, Captain Stephenson, were working hard at this with our own men, and the walls were rapidly progressing. A letter describing what had happened had been sent by Bromhead by two men of the Mounted Infantry, who had arrived fugitives from Isandhlwana, to the officer commanding at Helpmakaar. These two men crossed the river at Fugitives Drift, with some others, and as they have since reported to me, came to give notice of what had happened, to us at Rorke’s Drift, of their own accord and without orders from anyone.
I held a consultation with Lieutenant Bromhead, and with Mr. Dalton, whose energy, intelligence and gallantry were of the greatest service to us, and whom, as I said in my report at the time, and I am sure Bromhead would unite with me in saying again now, I cannot sufficiently thank for his services. I went round the position with them and then rode down to the ponts where I found everything ready for a start, ponts in midstream, hawsers and cables sunk, etc. It was at this time that the Pontman Daniells, and Sergeant Milne, 3rd Buffs, who had been employed for some time in getting the pontoons in order, and working them under Lieutenant MacDowell, R.E., (Killed at Isandhlwana), offered to defend the ponts, moored in the middle of the river, from their decks with a few men. Sergeant Williams 24th and his little guard were quite ready to join them.
We arrived at the commissariat store about 3.30 p.m. Shortly afterwards an officer of Durnford’s Horse reported his arrival from Isandhlwana, and I requested him to observe the movements, and check the advance, of the enemy as much as possible until forced to fall back. I saw each man at his post, and then the work went on again.
Several fugitives from the camp arrived, and tried to impress upon us the madness of an attempt to defend the place. Who they were I do not know, but it is scarcely necessary for me to say that there were no officers of HM Army among them. They stopped the work very much, it being impossible to prevent the men getting around them in little groups to hear their story. They proved the truth of their belief in what they said by leaving us to our fate, and in the state of mind they were in , I think our little garrison was as well without them. As far as I know, but one of the fugitives remained with us – Lieutenant Adendorff, whom I have before mentioned. He remained to assist in the defence, and from a loophole in the store building, flanking the wall and hospital, his rifle did good service.
There were several casks of rum in the store building and I gave strict orders to Sergeant Windridge, 24th Regiment, who was in charge (acting as issuer of commissariat stores to the troops), that the spirit was not to be touched, the man posted nearest it was to be considered on guard over it, and after giving fair warning was to shoot without altercation anyone who attempted to force his post, and Sergeant Windridge being there was to see this carried out. Sergeant Windridge showed great intelligence and energy in arranging the stores of the defence of the commissariat store, forming loopholes etc.
The Reverend George Smith, vicar of Estcourt, Natal, and acting Army chaplain, went for a walk (before the news of
the disaster reached us) to the top of the Oscarberg, the hill behind Rorke’s Drift. Mr. Witt, the missionary, went with him, or met him there. They went to see what could be seen in the direction of the Isandhlwana camp. He saw the force of the enemy which attacked us at Rorke’s Drift, cross the river in three bodies, and after snuff taking, and other ceremonies, advance in our direction. He had been watching them for a long time with interest, and thought they were our own Native Contingent. There were two mounted men leading them, and he did not realise they were the enemy until they were near enough for him to see that these two men also had black faces. He came running down the hill and was agreeably surprised to find that we were getting ready for the enemy. Mr. Witt, whose wife and family were in a lonely house not very far off, rode off, taking with him a sick officer, who was very ill in hospital and only just able to ride. Mr. Smith however, although he might well have left, elected to remain with us, and during the attack did good service in supplying the men with ammunition.
About 4.20 p.m. the sound of firing was heard behind the Oscarberg. The officer of Durnford’s returned, reporting the enemy close upon us, and that his men would not obey his orders but were going off to Helpmakaar, and I saw them, about 100 in number, going off in that direction. I have seen these same men behave so well since that I have spoken with several of their conduct – and they all said, as their excuse, that Durnford was killed, and that it was no use. About the same time Captain Stephenson’s detachment of Natal Native Contingent left us – probably most fortunately for us. I am sorry to say that their officer, who had been doing good service in getting his men to work, also deserted us. We seemed very few now all these people had gone, and I saw that our line of defence was too extended, and at once commenced a retrenchment of biscuit boxes, so as to get a place we could fall back upon if we could not hold the whole.
Private Hitch, 24th, was on top of the thatch roof of the commissariat store keeping a look-out. He was severely wounded early in the evening, but notwithstanding, with Corporal Allen, 24th, who was also wounded, continued to do good service, and they both when incapacitated by their wounds from using their rifles, still continued under fire serving their comrades with ammunition. We had not completed a wall two boxes high when, about 4.30 p.m., Hitch cried out that the enemy was in sight, and he saw them, apparently 500 or 600 in number, came around the hill to our south (the Oscarberg) and advance at a run against our south wall.
We opened fire on them, between five and six hundred yards, at first a little wild, but only for a short time, a chief on horseback was dropped by Private Dunbar, 24th. The men were quite steady, and the Zulus began to fall very thick. However, it did not seem to stop them at all, although they took advantage of the cover and ran stooping with their faces near the ground. It seemed as if nothing would stop them, and they rushed on in spite of their heavy loss to within 50 yards of the wall, when they were taken in flank by the fire from the end wall of the store building, and met with such a heavy direct fire from the mealie wall, and the hospital at the same time, that they were checked as if by magic.
They occupied the cook house ovens, banks and other cover, but the greater number, without stopping, moved to their left around the hospital, and made a rush at the end of the hospital, and at our north-west line of mealie bags. There was a short but desperate struggle during which Mr. Dalton shot a Zulu who was in the act of assegaing a corporal of the Army Hospital Corps, the muzzle of whose rifle he had seized, and with Lieutenant Bromhead and many of the men behaved with great gallantry. The Zulus forced us back from that part of the wall immediately in front of the hospital, but after suffering very severely in the struggle were driven back into the bush around our position.
The main body of the enemy were close behind the first force which appeared, and had lined the ledge of rocks and caves in the Oscarberg overlooking us, and about three or four hundred yards to our south, from where they kept up a constant fire. Advancing somewhat more to their left than the first attack, they occupied the garden, hollow road, and bush in great force. The bush grew close to our wall and we had not had time to cut it down. The enemy were thus able to advance under cover close to our wall, and in this part soon held one side of the wall, while we held the other.
A series of desperate assaults were made, on the hospital, and extending from the hospital, as far as the bush reached; but each was most splendidly met and repulsed by our men, with the bayonet. Each time as the attack was repulsed by us, the Zulus close to us seemed to vanish in the bush, those some little distance off keeping up a fire all the time. Then, as if moved by a single impulse, they rose up in the bush as thick as possible rushing madly up to the wall (some of them being already close to it), seizing, where they could, the muzzles of our men’s rifles, or their bayonets, and attempting to use their assegais and to get over the wall. A rapid rattle of fire from our rifles, stabs with the bayonet, and in a few moments the Zulus were driven back, disappearing in the bush as before, and keeping up their fire. A brief interval and the attack would be again made, and repulsed in the same manner. Over and over again this happened, our men behaving with the greatest coolness and gallantry. It is impossible for one individual to see all, but I particularly myself noticed the behaviour of Colour Sergeant Bourne 24tth, Private McMahon, AHC, Privates Roy, Deacon, Bush, Cole, Jenkins 24th, and many others.
Our fire at the time of these rushes of the Zulus was very rapid. Mr. Dalton dropping a man each time he fired his rifle, while Bromhead and myself used our revolvers. The fire from the rocks and caves on the hill behind us was kept up all this time and took us completely in reverse, and although very badly directed, many shots came among us and caused us some loss, and at about 6.00 p.m. the enemy extending their attack further to their left, I feared seriously would get it over our wall behind the biscuit boxes. I ran back with two or three men to this part of the wall and was
immediately joined by Bromhead with two or three more. The enemy stuck to this assault most tenaciously, and on their repulse, and retiring into the bush, I called all the men inside our retrenchment and the eneny immediately occupied the wall we had abandoned and used it as a breastwork to fire over.
Mr Byr acting Commissariat Officer, and who had behaved with great coolness and gallantry, was killed instantaneously shortly before this by a bullet through the head, just after he had given a drink of water to a wounded man of the NNC.
All this time the enemy had been attempting to fire the hospital and had at length set fire to its roof and got in at the far end. I had tried to impress upon the men in the hospital the necessity for making a communication right through the building – unfortunately this was not done. Probably at the time the men could not see the necessity, and doubtless also there was no time to do it. Without in the least detracting from the gallant fellows who defended the hospital, and I hope I shall not be misunderstood in saying so, I have always regretted, as I did then, the absence of my four poor sappers, who had only left that morning for Isandhlwana and arrived there just to be killed.
The garrison of the hospital defended it with the greatest gallantry, room by room, bringing out all the sick that could be moved, and breaking through some of the partitions while the Zulus were in the building with them. Private Williams, Hook, R Jones and W Jones being the last to leave and holding the doorway with the bayonet, their ammunition being expended. Private Williams’s bayonet was wrenched off his rifle by a Zulu, but with the other men he still managed with the muzzle of his rifle to keep the enemy at bay. Surgeon Reynolds carried his arms full of ammunition to the hospital, a bullet striking his helmet as he did so. But we were too busily engaged outside to be able to do much, and with the hospital on fire, and no free communication, nothing could have saved it. Sergeant Maxfield 24th might have been saved, but he was delirious with fever, refused to move and resisted the attempts to move him. He was assegaid before our men’s eyes.
Seeing the hospital burning, and the attempts of the enemy to fire the roof of the store (one man was shot, I believe by Lt. Adendorff who had a light almost touching the thatch), we converted two large heaps of mealie bags into a sort of redoubt which gave a second line of fire all around, in case the store building had to be abandoned, or the enemy broke through elsewhere. Assistant Commissary Dunne worked hard at this, and from his height, being a tall man, he was much exposed, in addition to the fact that the heaps were high above our walls, and that most of the Zulu bullets went high.
Trooper Hunter, Natal Mounted Police, escaping from the hospital, stood still for a moment, hesitating which way to go, dazed by the glare of the burning hospital, and the firing that was going on all around. He was assegaid before our eyes, the Zulu who killed him immediately afterwards falling. While firing from behind the biscuit boxes, Dalton, who had been using his rifle with deadly effect, and by his quickness and coolness had been the means of saving many men’s lives, was shot through the body. I was standing near him at the time, and he handed me his rifle so coolly that I had no idea until afterwards of how severely he was wounded. He waited quite quietly for me to take the cartridges he had left out of his pockets. We put him inside our mealie sack redoubt, building it up around him. About this time I noticed Private Dunbar 24th make some splendid shooting, seven or eight Zulus falling on the ledge of rocks in the Oscarberg to as many consecutive shots by him. I saw Corporal Lyons hit by a bullet which lodged in his spine, and fall between an opening we had left in the wall of biscuit boxes. I thought he was killed, but looking up he said, “Oh, Sir! You are not going to leave me here like a dog?” We pulled him in and laid him down behind the boxes where he was immediately looked to by Reynolds. Corporal Scamle (Scammell) of the Natal Native Contingent, who was badly wounded through the shoulder, staggered out under fire again, from the store building where he had been put, and gave me all his cartridges, which in his wounded state he could not use. While I was intently watching to get a fair shot at a Zulu who appeared to be firing rather well, Private Jenkins 24th, saying “Look out, Sir,” gave my head a duck down just as a bullet whizzed over it. He had noticed a Zulu who was quite near in another direction taking a deliberate aim at me. For all the man could have known,the shot might have been directed at himself. I mention these facts to show how well the men behaved and how loyally worked together.
Corporal Scheiss, Natal Native Contingent, who was a patient in the hospital with a wound in the foot, which caused him great pain, behaved with the greatest coolness and gallantry throughout the attack, and at this time creeping out a short distance along the wall we had abandoned, and slowly raising himself, to get a shot at some of the enemy who had been particularly annoying, his hat was blown off by a shot from a zulu the other side of the wall. He immediately jumped up, bayoneted the Zulu and shot a second, and bayoneted a third who came to their assistance, and then returned to his place.
As darkness came on we were completely surrounded. The Zulus wrecking the camp of the Company 24th and my wagon which had been left outside, in spite of the efforts of my batman, Driver Robson (the only man of the Royal Engineers with us), who had directed his particular attention to keeping the Zulus off this wagon in which we were, as he described it, “Our things”.
They also attacked the east end of our position, and after being several times repulsed, eventually got into the kraal, which was strongly built with high walls, and drove us to the middle, and then to the inner wall of the kraal – the enemy occupying the middle wall as we abandoned it. This wall was too high for them to use it effectively to fire over, and a
Zulu no sooner showed his head over it than he was dropped, being so close that it was almost impossible to miss him. Shortly before this, some of the men said they saw the red-coats coming on the Helpmakaar road. The rumour passed quickly round. I could see nothing of the sort myself, but some men said they could. A cheer was raised, and the enemy seemed to pause, to know what it meant, but there was no answer to it, and darkness came. It is very strange that this report should have arisen amongst us, for the two companies 24th from Helpmakaar did come to the foot of the hill, but not, I believe, in sight of us. They marched back to Helpmakaar on the report of Rorke’s Drift having fallen.
After the first onslaught, the most formidable of the enemy’s attacks was just before we retired behind our line of biscuit boxes, and for a short time after it, when they had gained great confidence by their success on the hospital. Although they kept their positions behind the walls we had abandoned, and kept up a heavy fire from all sides until about 12 0’clock, they did not actually charge up in a body to get over our wall after about 9 or 10 o’clock. After this time it became very dark, although the hospital roof was still burning – it was impossible from below to see what was going on, and Bromhead and myself getting up on the mealy sack redoubt, kept an anxious watch on all sides.
The enemy were now in strong force all around us, and every now and then a confused shout of “Usutu” from many voices seemed to show that they were going to attack from one side and immediately the same thing would happen on the other, leaving us in doubt as to where they meant to attack. About midnight or a little after the fire slackened and after that, although they kept us constantly on the alert, by feigning, as before, to come on at different points, the fire was of a desultory character. Our men were careful, and only fired when they could see a fair chance. The flame of the burning hospital was now getting low, and as pieces of the roof fell, or hitherto unburnt parts of the thatch ignited, the flames would blaze up illuminating our helmets and faces. A few shots from the Zulus, replied to by our men – again silence, broken only by the same thing repeatedly happening. This sort of thing went on until about 4 a.m. and we were anxiously waiting for daybreak and the renewal of the attack, which their comparative, and at length complete silence, led us to expect. But at daybreak the enemy were out of sight, over the hill to our south west. One Zulu had remained in the kraal and fired a shot among us (without doing any damage) as we stood on the walls, and ran off in the direction of the river – although many shots were fired at him as he ran. I am glad to say the plucky fellow got off.
Taking care not to be surprised by any ruse of the enemy, we patrolled the ground around the place, collecting the arms, and ammunition, of the dead Zulus.
Some of the bullet wounds were very curious. One man’s head was split open, exactly as if done with an axe. Another had been hit just between the eyes, the bullet carrying away the whole of the back of his head, leaving his face perfect, as though it were a mask, only disfigured by the small hole made by the bullet passing through. One of the wretches we found, one hand grasping a bench that had been dragged from the hospital, and sustained thus in the position we found him in, while in the other hand he still clutched the knife with which he had mutilated one of our poor fellows, over whom he was still leaning.
We increased the strength of our defences as much as possible, strengthening and raising our walls, putting sacks on the biscuit boxes, etc., and were removing the thatch from the roof of the commissariat store, to avoid being burnt out in case of another attack, when at about 7 a.m. a large body of the enemy ( I believe the same who had attacked us) appeared on the hills to the south west. I thought at the time that they were going to attack us, but from what I now know from the Zulus, and also of the number we put hors de combat, I do not think so. I think that they came up on the high ground to observe Lord Chelmsford’s advance; from there they could see the column long before it came in sight of us.
A frightened and fugitive (auxiliary) came in shortly before and I sent for Daniells the pontman, who could speak Zulu a little, to interview him. Daniells had armed himself with Spalding’s sword, which he flourished in so wild and eccentric a manner that the poor wretch thought his last hour had come. He professed to be friendly and to have escaped from Isandhlwana, and I sent him with a note to the officer commanding at Helpmakaar, explaining our situation, and asking for help: for now, although the men were in excellent spirits, and each man had a good supply of ammunition in his pouches, we had only about a box and a half left besides, and at this time we had no definite knowledge of what had happened, and I myself did not know that the part of the Column with Lord Chelmsford had taken any part in the action at Isandhlwana, or whether on the camp being taken he had fallen back on Helpmakaar.
The enemy remained on the hill, and still more of them appeared, when about 8 a.m. the column came in sight, and the enemy disappeared again. There were a great many of our Native Levies with the column, and the number of redcoats seemed so few that at first we had grave doubts that the force approaching was the enemy. We improvised a flag, and our signals were soon replied to from the column. The mounted men crossed the drift and galloped up to us, headed by Major Cecil Russell and Lieutenant Walsh, and were received by us with a hearty cheer. Lord Chelmsford, with his staff, shortly after rode up and thanked us all with much emotion for the defence we had made. The column arrived, crossing by the ponts, and we then had a busy time in making a strong position for the night.
I was glad to seize an opportunity to wash my face in a muddy puddle, in company with Private Bush 24th, whose face was covered with blood from a wound in the nose caused by the bullet which had passed through and killed Private
Cole 24th. With the politeness of a soldier, he lent me his towel, or, rather, a very dirty half of one, before using it himself, and I was very glad to accept it.
In wrecking the stores in my wagon, the Zulus had brought to light a forgotten bottle of beer, and Bromhead and I drank it with mutual congratulations on having come safely out of so much danger.
My wagon driver, a Cape (coloured) man, lost his courage on hearing the first firing around the hill. He let loose his mules and retreated, concealing himself in one of the caves of the Oscarberg. He saw the Zulus run by him and, to his horror, some of them entered the cave he was in, and lying down commenced firing at us. The poor wretch was crouching in the darkness, in the far depths of the cave, afraid to speak or move, and our bullets came into the cave killing one of the Zulus. He did not know from whom he was in the most danger, friends or foes, and came down in the morning looking more dead than alive. The mules we recovered; they were quietly grazing by the riverside.
On my journey homewards, on arriving at the railway station, Durban, I asked a porter to get me some Kaffirs to carry my bags to the hotel. He sent several, and the first to come running up was my voorlooper boy who had taken me up to Rorke’s Drift. He stopped short and looked very frightened, and I believe at first though he saw my ghost. I seized him to prevent his running away, and when he saw that I was flesh and blood he became reassured. He said he thought I had been killed, and upon my asking him how he thought I got away, he said (the solution of the mystery just striking him), “I know you rode away on the other horse.” As far as I could learn and according to his own story, the boy had taken the horse I rode up from the river to the commissariat store, and wild with terror, had ridden it to Pietermaritzburg without stopping, where he gave it to the Transport people, but having no certificate to say who he was, they took the horse from him but would not give him any employment.
During the fight there were some very narrow escapes from the burning hospital. Private Waters, 24th Regiment, told me that he had secreted himself in a cupboard in the room he was defending, and from it shot several Zulus inside the hospital. He was wounded in the arm, and he remained in the cupboard until the heat and smoke were so great that they threatened to suffocate him. Wrapping himself in a cloak, or skirt of a dress he found in the cupboard, he rushed out into the darkness and made his way into the cookhouse. The Zulus were occupying this, and firing at us from the wall nearest us. It was too late to retreat, so he crept softly to the fireplace and, standing up in the chimney, blacked his face and hands with the soot. He remained there until the Zulus left. He was very nearly shot in coming out, one of our men at the wall raising his rifle to do so at the sight of his black face and strange costume, but Waters cried out just in time to save himself. He produced the bullet that wounded him, with pardonable pride, and was very amusing in his admiring description of Dr. Reynold’s skill in extracting it.
Gunner Howard, R.A., ran out of the burning hospital, through the enemy, and lay down on the upper side of the wall in front of our N parapet. The bodies of several horses that were killed early in the evening were lying here, and concealed by these and by Zulu bodies and the low grass and bushes, he remained unseen with the Zulus all around him until they left in the morning.
Private Becket, 24th Regiment, escaped from the hospital in the same direction, he was badly wounded with assegais in running through the enemy. He managed to get away and conceal himself in the ditch of the garden, where we found him the next morning. The poor fellow was so weak from loss of blood that he could not walk, and he died shortly afterwards.
Our mealie – bag walls were afterwards replaced by loopholed walls of stone, the work making rapid progress upon the arrival of half the 5th Company R.E. with Lieutenant Porter. As soon as the Sappers arrived we put a fence around, and a rough wood cross over, the graves of our poor men who were killed. This was afterwards replaced by a neat stone monument and inscription by the 24th, who remained to garrison the place.
I have already in my report, said how gallantly all behaved, from Lieutenant Bromhead downwards, and I also mentioned those whom I had particularly noticed to have distinguished themselves.
On the day following, we buried 351 bodies of the enemy in graves not far from the Comissarriat Buildings – many bodies were since discovered and buried, and when I was sick at Ladysmith one of our Sergeants, who came down there invalided from Rorke’s Drift, where he had been employed in the construction of Fort Melvill, told me that many Zulu bodies were found in the caves and among the rocks, a long distance from the Mission house, when getting stone for that fort. As in my report, I underestimated the number we killed, so I believe I also underestimated the number of the enemy that attacked us, and from what I have since learned I believe the Zulus must have numbered at least 4,000.
As the Reverand George Smith said in a short account he wrote to a Natal paper – “Whatever signs of approval may be conferred upon the defenders of Rorke’s Drift, from the high quarters, they will never cease to remember the kind and heartfelt expressions of gratitude which have fallen both from the columns of the Colonial Press and from so many of the Natal Colonists themselves.”
And to this may I add that they will ever remember with heartfelt gratitude the signs of approval that have been conferred upon them by their Sovereign and by the People and the Press of England.
John R.M. Chard,
Captain and Bt. Major, R.E.