[ 4 July 1879 ]

On this day in 1879 British troops, part of a massive invasion force intended to subjugate the Zulu nation, slaughtered many hundreds of wounded warriors after the battle of Ulundi.  The Honourable William Drummond, an intelligence officer, tried to dissuade the men from their murderous butchery, but he was immediately reprimanded by a cavalry officer: And while some soldiers stayed on the battlefield to execute the wounded, others stormed into the vast 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 British press ?  According to The Cornish Telegraph, “The 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.”  It might be questioned 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 declared “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]  Meaning that there could be no objection to Chelmsford’s campaign with its emphasis on taking no prisoners and burning Zulu homes.


  1. Quoted in Saul David (2005), “Zulu: The Heroism and Tragedy of the Zulu War of 1879,” Penguin Books, London, p351
  2. The Cornish Telegraph, 29 July 1879, p4
  3. The Times and The London Standard quoted in “The London Press on the Victory,” The Cornish Telegraph, 29 July 1879 p6.


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