British slaughter Zulu wounded and burn down the city of Ulundi

Wood engraving of the ‘Battle of Ulundi.’ The usual glorification of British heroism in the foreground contrasts with an almost hidden Gatling gun reaping devastation in the background (upper right). – CC License – Welcome Images – Wikimedia.

4 July 1879

On 4 July 1879, British infantry used their overwhelming fire power to decisively defeat the Zulu nation at the battle of Ulundi. The battle itself, in which fifty Zulus were killed for every Redcoat, is occasionally recalled, but the even less glorious aftermath, in which the victorious troops immediately set about slaughtering hundreds of the wounded Zulu warriors, is almost never mentioned. The Honourable William Drummond, an intelligence officer, tried to dissuade some of the men from their murderous butchery, but he was immediately reprimanded by a cavalry officer. Meanwhile other soldiers stormed into the Zulu city of Ulundi, burning it to the ground. Corporal William Roe of the 58th Regiment was awestruck.

‘In a very short time the whole of the king’s city, Ulundi, was in flames. This was a fearful sight to see. You would think the whole world was on fire when there was a dense mass of flames seven miles in length. There were 4075 kraals burned to the ground.’1

So, what was the verdict of the press ?  Typically, The Cornish Telegraph declared that there was a ‘feeling of satisfaction that Lord Chelmsford (the British commander) has at last done something, that in a fairly-fought field in the open the English have had the best of it is all but universal.’2  The newspaper did not question whether any battle fought between highly trained soldiers equipped with Gatling guns and the latest Martini Henri rifles against part time warriors, armed mostly with spears and cow-hide shields, could ever be ‘fairly fought’, even disregarding the mass slaughter of the wounded that followed the battle.

The Times was equally exuberant, trumpeting that ‘our superiority to savage warriors is what it was always supposed to be,’ while The London Standard declared that ‘the victorious ending of the campaign is not the less welcome because it has enabled Lord Chelmsford to redeem his character in the eyes of his countrymen.  There will be no disposition to stint the praise to which he is justly entitled’3  It is difficult to find any British newspapers in which the slightest objection was raised to Chelmsford’s strategy of taking no prisoners and burning Zulu homes.

This enlargement of the image above reveals a Gatling gun ( see the red arrow ), smoke and carnage, more like a massacre than a battle
CC License – Welcome Images – Wikimedia


  1. Cited in Saul David, Zulu: The Heroism and Tragedy of the Zulu War of 1879, Penguin Books, London, 2005, p. 351.
  2. The Cornish Telegraph, 29 July 1879, p. 4.
  3. The Times and The London Standard cited in “The London Press on the Victory,” The Cornish Telegraph, 29 July 1879 p. 6.

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© 2020 Alisdare Hickson All rights reserved

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