Ron Lock describes the Zulu Kings Trilogy

Words by Ron Lock, posted by Captain Kirk

For those readers who have seen the films Zulu and Zulu Dawn, two of Britain’s most popular movies, and have devoured the plethora of writing on one of the most colourful and dramatic conflicts in British military history, but are unlikely to fulfill a lifetime ambition to tread the haunting battlefields of kwaZulu-Natal, Penny Howcroft’s trilogy “The Zulu Kings” is likely to be the best bet to transport you to Isandlwana, Rorkes Drift and the rolling hills of Zululand.

Much of the written word on the Anglo-Zulu War, although exciting enough, is trussed to dour historical facts by their authors who fear that a dollop of robust descriptive writing will discredit their work in the eyes of fellow academics.  Not so, Howcroft’s book.  Although meticulously researched, it is to a degree a work of both fact and fiction, giving the author the descriptive freedom of a novelist. Consequently it is a lucid and exciting read without historical accuracy being sacrificed. Such is to be expected from one who has deep roots in Zulu-Natal and can boast of two family members being present at the Battle of Isandlwana.

It is a long read.  Put your feet up and enjoy the kaleidoscope of  Zulu Kings and British generals; bishops and scallywags; courtiers and cowards and, above all, the raw courage and fighting ability of warriors and redcoats who, strangely enough, were each like the other in so many ways.

Ron Lock

Ron Lock is author of Zulu Victory: The Epic of Isandlwana and the Cover-up, as well as Hill of Squandered Valour: The Battle of Spion Kop, 1900, and other works covering South African military conflicts of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Ron Lock’s books are available on and

Penny describes how she started The Zulu Kings

Let me just give you the barest bit of personal background.

In the bright 1960s my home was in White River, a country town near the Kruger National Park, South Africa. In those days, I was a teacher at Uplands Primary School, to which destination my VW ‘Beetle’ racketed every day packed with children, including Andrew, the young son of neighbours Hugh and Dorothy Hall.

In the way kids do, one of mine informed Andrew, “Our Mum is writing a book on the Zulu War.”

“Am not.”

“Are too!”


The next day a stranger strolled over. “I’m Hugh Hall’s brother Darryl,” he introduced himself. “I hear you are writing a book on the Zulu War.”

“I’m just gathering information,” I confessed. “Two of my great uncles fought at Isandlwana, but the facts are confusing.”

“Well, have you got this?” he asked, and held out an old book.

My eyes widened. It was the Narrative of the Field Operations Connected with the Zulu War of 1879, published by the War Office in 1881.

“I have two copies,” he added with unexpected generosity. “Keep it.”

That book, the official military history, set me on a road that had no short cuts. Truth be told, it served me well while I set about gathering the facts. But I still needed to visit Isandlwana to get acquainted with the geography and soak myself in the atmosphere – only I had four children and teaching commitments; it just didn’t seem possible. But when I told headmaster Tom Walmsley of my wish to visit the Natal battlefields, he said something as unprecedented as some conjured genie:

“As it happens, I’ve been invited on a history tour of the battlefields. I can’t go, so you can go in my place. Your children can board here until you get back. I’ll tell Mr Chadwick you’ll meet him in Dundee.”

My first view of Isandlwana was on an afternoon in September 1970 when that grand old man of Natal, Mr George Chadwick, Inspector of Education, took me, a young teacher, to view the battlefield. He was an active member of the Historical Monuments Commission who had been busy assessing all the places where the soldiers had fallen at Isandlwana and along the Fugitives’ Trail and supervising the rebuilding of the little cairns over each spot. He had just finished painting them white so they would show up.

Few people went there in those days and grass grew over buttons, buckles, old cartridges, bent screws, old bottles and little horseshoe-shaped metal pieces off boot heels. Since then, the area has become a popular tourist attraction and people looking for mementos have denuded the battlefield, so these days it is carefully guarded and only archaeologists are permitted to dig.

We stood near the drift where James Rorke used to moor his ferryboat on the far side of the river the Zulus call the Mzinyathi and the colonists translated as the Buffalo. In colonial days, it was the boundary between Natal and Zululand. The water was running low and the afternoon sun gave the grass on the hills a pale golden glow. Isandlwana was clearly visible about seven miles away breaking the line between land and sky like a legend’s illustration.

We got into the car and took the road that climbs towards Chief Sihayo’s old stronghold Sokhexe, dodged the western ramparts of the Nqutu range and turned towards Isandlwana. Mr Chadwick pulled up the brakes and switched off the engine. “You’ll get a good view from here,” he said.

There is something immutable and eternal about Isandlwana. It is at once a thing of silence and solitude, mysterious and furtive. A little taller than it is broad, it looms over the stony plain like the walls of a ruined castle and yet it is no higher than the hills behind it. Thus, it is not a mountain but it is more than a hill; it is nature’s own monument to a tragic event. I was silent, looking beyond my companion and down the side of the hill to the great patch of plain interspersed with dongas where so much of the battle had taken place. Uncannily, I saw like after-images on a closed eyelid the Zulu army advancing, dividing and increasing, flames shooting from the defending line of redcoats, gun-smoke rolling outwards and the irresistible course of the Zulu advance. I could almost count the dead that overflow these hills and valleys, feel them coming back to life, hear their shadows breathe; know what their voices said.

“This place feels haunted,” I said, hushed.

Mr Chadwick took a more measured view. “Nothing can cast a longer shadow than this mountain,” he said, and paused to look out over the battlefield he had come to know so well as if he were gathering it all up in his mind. “We don’t know what makes us so receptive to the memories that flourish around Isandlwana or why it makes the sense of desolation seem so great. Something terrible happened here, but I think perhaps the landscape serves to excite the emotions.”

“Two of my great-uncles fought here,” I told him.

“Oh,” he said, immediately alert with interest. “Who were they? I’m checking all the names of those killed in action.”

“Lieutenants Hayden and Lonsdale Young. One died; the other escaped.”

“Hang on! I’ve got a list here about those who fell in action.”

He unzipped the well-worn leather attaché case he was carrying and fished among his notes. “Aha! Here it is!” He took out a sheaf of papers and flipped over a page, scanning through, holding the pages with one hand and impatiently smoothing the fluttering paper with the other.

“He’s not on my list!” he exclaimed. “What regiment were they in?”

“My father said his uncles came from Edinburgh and had seen service with the Natal garrison. Hayden was twenty-five and Lonsdale was twenty-one when the Zulu War began and they both received commissions in the Natal Native Contingent. Hayden was in the 1st Battalion/3rd Regiment and Lonsdale was in the 2nd Battalion/3rd Regiment.”

Mr Chadwick looked pensive. “Hmm . . . Interesting . . . There were several men with the name Lonsdale at Isandlwana. Perhaps your great-uncle was confused with another. Rupert Lonsdale was the commandant of the Ist Battalion/3rd Regiment NNC and a James Lonsdale is noted on my list as killed in action, but no Lonsdale Young. I’ll check up on this.”

He returned the list to his attaché case and straightened up, the breeze lifting strands of wispy hair.

“Hayden had been wounded at the skirmish against Sihayo’s people on 12th January and he was sent to recuperate at Sand Spruit,” I said. “Lonsdale was with the wagon transport.”

“That fits. Some of the men of the 2nd Battalion NNC had been stationed at Rorke’s Drift to handle transport and other duties. . .”

“. . . But by coincidence on the day of the battle they were both with the wagons at Isandlwana. My grandmother had a newspaper cutting about Lonsdale’s death and Hayden’s escape and she gave it to my father.”

“I’d like a copy of that!” he said eagerly.

But I did not have one.

“I have some notes at home that will interest you. I’ll send them on to you,” he said. “I’ll send you copies of the accounts written by some of the survivors too. And I’ll see that your great-uncle’s name is on the list.”

And from that moment, he fanned my fascination with this place.

Even when we climbed the outcrop and came at last to the very edge, the view of the battlefield created an eerie atmosphere. I stood unable to do anything but stare down. There, spread out below us, were the scattered heaps of white stones marking the final resting-places of many brave men. I was acutely aware of the solitude of faraway battlefields and felt overwhelmed with a sadness that was not my own.

We climbed down the crag and he showed me where the wagons had been parked. I tried to imagine what my great-uncles had felt as they watched the fighting coming ever closer to the wagons.

Then we wandered along the slope. “This is where Colonel Durnford and others died fighting to the last. And over there ⎯ that’s where Captain George Shepstone and his men fell. Come on, I’ll show you.”

“Any search to integrate the past is open to many questions, I suppose,” I said reflectively as we walked.

“Yes,” he said. “Whatever it was these men did in life, their actions here launched a thousand ships of controversy and the storm of debate has never lost its fervour. Anyhow, most accounts were the harrowing experiences of young subalterns who had no way of understanding the sweep of the battle and could only relate what they themselves had experienced. King Cetshwayo was able to provide a survey of the Zulu strategy of the war based on his own orders. Zulu veterans have added new dimensions to the battle. Their reminiscences have a spontaneity and detail that cannot be brushed aside, and they have brought into question the official British military account, Narrative of the Field Operations.”

“Oh, really? I didn’t know that! And how did the press handle it?”

He stopped in his tracks. “Ha! The press was caught napping! The outcome of the sideshow in Zululand seemed so certain that only one London daily newspaper sent out a special correspondent, Charles Norris-Newman, who wrote for the Standard. British reverses had occurred from time to time, but not since the Indian Mutiny had such mortifying losses been reported. To suddenly learn that an intrepid Zulu impi had outflanked Lord Chelmsford, proving that the strategies of barefoot savages could be superior to the world’s most modern military force with its much-vaunted firepower, was simply astounding.”

“I suppose everyone was paralyzed with astonishment?”

“For a moment! Then special correspondents who revelled in imperial wars as a means to further the glory of Britain raced to capitalise on the disaster. Authorities of the period also grabbed attention with outlandish descriptions in the reading material of the day. Famous writers ⎯ who should have known better ⎯ described the Zulu as cruel, thievish, murderous savages addicted to grease, entrails and beastly customs. This turgid mass of inventiveness turned the British public into avid readers and transformed the Zulu into a legend that endures to this day.”

He paused to take breath.

“Go on,” I said.

“Admittedly, a few British newspapers and periodicals didn’t habitually play to the gallery. The Graphic, for example, was moderate and accurate in its descriptions. But facts were scarce. In most newspapers fulsome details were often added because Victorian journalists favoured the heroic and they inserted imaginative particulars intended to stir up the emotions, which is what the public preferred.” He broke off his narrative and looked at me, expecting a reaction.

“I can picture it,” I said.

“Yes, imagine it! The Royal Navy sailing off to guard its sea routes, British regiments taking part in wars that added irresistible images of Empire, maps on classroom walls proudly coloured an imperial pink, and the newspapers full of distant campaigns that didn’t put the people at home in the slightest danger.”

When he had finished describing how the camps had been laid out, we walked down the slope, got into the car and drove up the hill. At the top of the rise, he stopped the car and we walked a little until we had a good view of the battlefield.

Mr Chadwick waved a hand gesturing out at the plain. “To understand why the British were here, some historical background is necessary . . .”

I interrupted. “But people say no thanks, history doesn’t relate to our lives today. It’s nothing but dull stuff about preliminaries, conventions and analyses written down by the winners to the disadvantage of the losers.”

“I understand that. They want murders, assassinations, battles, and lots of blood and pursuit ― they want entertainment.”

“Well, why can’t we just dive straight into the action?”

“We can. We could. But we’re looking for the truth. There’s a build-up to it every bit as important as the action. There were underlying causes and there were immediate causes.” He paused, as if examining the contents of his mind and then went on. “The intrigues of the politicians and the military men who set out to destroy the Zulu kingdom were all part of what we would today call ‘imperialism’, a term that hadn’t even been coined during the colonial wars. Victorians referred to it as the ‘Forward Policy’ and writers termed it the ‘Romance of Empire’. We know it as the terrible irony that is the failure of reality to live up to expectation.”

Lit up in the last rays of the sun, Isandlwana’s gaunt cliffs glowed in reflected shades of salmon and light yellow, until its long shadows joined in darkness and only the distant plain retained the light. We fell silent, reflecting on why these instruments of the Queen had been in this backwater with their icons and their emblems and their regimental colours; thinking about the soldiers and warriors lying at the base of the outcrop where the Union Jack had fluttered and where now only the wind sighed with a paper rustling through the tufted grasses.

Thus prepared, typewriter, books, and the accounts of the fugitives that Mr Chadwick had sent me, this would-be writer set out to transform the foggy areas of the Zulu War into the kind of clarity that would set the record straight.

But the dreary truth was that it was just a collection of notes, short of facts, short of background. Glum and disheartened, I buried it in a cupboard.

That was a long time ago. But the past claws its way out. Twenty-eight years later, I started again, climbing mountains of sources in a story that by its very nature opened into an ever-widening terrain.

I cannot deny that you may have a point in asking, however rhetorically, whether another brick should be added to the already extensive wall of books on the Anglo-Zulu War. And I would have to reply that most of the older books were written in a century that painted the world red and from a point of view that made me uneasy. And I would have to say that uncritical repetition has led to the acceptance of a number of errors and downright lies. And I would have to add that I have never got on with the idea that Cetshwayo was a bloodthirsty savage.

Has theatrical casting been at work here? It begins to look that way.

Unique among military pieces, Isandlwana evokes a column on the move almost like a troupe of street performers with its players along for the show. A strong element of its power is the breadth of its human ensemble, its emblematic tableau. Here are the Zulu multitudes eager to defend their country to the last man. Here is the impulsive hero, keen to rescue the regimental flag. Here is the no-nonsense commandant, peppery and laconic, and the salt-of-the-earth sergeant major getting on with the job, and the drummer boys and the bandsmen, and all the lowly shooters dressed in the colours of their militia who make the ultimate sacrifice.

And here is the uppercrust commander with his snooty officers, gossipy and waspish, desperate to find a scapegoat.

And there he is!

Durnford, the personification of the star-crossed hero, becomes the victim of a tragedy in which the characters are linked by the shared sentiments of hurt, dispossession, and death in all its many forms: the death of childhood, the death of love, the death of honour, the death of a state.

Contrary to what most people believe, Isandlwana is not just about a gathering of redcoats set down in an unforgettably surreal landscape engaged in dramatic confrontations with a terrible fate. It is also about the nature of the colonial and the ill-trained, poorly armed tribesman who fought alongside them. And it is as much about their stalwart endurance as it is about the extraordinary conceit of well-bred British officers whose contemptuous indifference to the opinions of rough-hewn colonials ensured the doom of that ill-fated camp.

It seemed to me essential that the reader should know more about the part that the Natal Native Contingent and Natal Native Horse played against their great adversaries, the Zulu. Few ask why the southern Zulus preferred to serve the British queen so far away, rather than the Zulu king on the other side of the Thukela River. But the Zulu army had decimated the southern Zulu clans and chiefdoms for decades. And so the southern Zulus sided with the British who had brought stability to their lives.

They were men who had few pretensions anyhow, and they soon learned they would get nothing out of it. Though many did outstanding deeds and deserved the highest awards, they were denied that recognition because of the prejudice that reigned at the time.

This crucial snubbing of men of colour and colonials was part of the inevitable Victorian reaction to social values of race and class. Such vanity contrasted with the selflessness of the unknown soldiers who stayed to fight and die is a record of those ideals of noble conduct against which men gauge worth. In confronting them, we confront ourselves.

Isandlwana was a watershed for Chelmsford and for Britain, unprepared for the determination of the Zulu. But wars are fought one battle at a time. There were other important battles: Rorke’s Drift, Gingindhlovu, Hlobane, Khambula, and Ulundi ⎯ a fatal conjunction of events that lifted the veil for an instant on sheer naked terror. How many owed their lives to some individual who coolly assessed the danger and quietly kept faith? How many would labour, suffer and die, being moved like cogs submissively moved by greater cogs, their very being destroyed as inexorably as their nonentity?

All these considerations persuaded me that the ones whom history forgot should not be cast into the limbo of forgotten things. Look on it as an acknowledgment of their need for credit for their actions. See it as an attempt to bring back their spirit to their kith and kin. Hear it as a praise-song to honour them, which in their day would have been a great novelty.

Finally, it is a test of the competence of the critic that mention of the harsh element of King Cetshwayo’s character should entail reference to rest.

The Zulu regarded their sovereign as a man who gave bounteously to his underlings, one who supported with generosity; and there was too an undertone of deep affection for him, which was linked to his qualities of heart, mind, courage and pride.

There is a sense of darkness in the Zulu mood when British forces capture Cetshwayo and bring him back to face exile. But within the confines of Cape Town Castle, there seems to be a pause as he gathers control and becomes stoically philosophical. “Letters are my only assegais,” he says with gravity.

Restored to his shrunken kingdom, he seems to be a Lear in an endless losing battle against the fates: a strong man, a warrior-king who typifies the powerlessness to evade the utter devastation of his kingdom and yet withstands it as he sinks ever deeper into the blood-red waters of civil war. It is by the terms of this hostile arena that he walks the tightrope of power until he slips.

His downfall is as monumental as that of a bull brought down by hounds. In final defeat, he is a wanderer, a forlorn fugitive who speaks out to a succession of empty dawns. He reflects with bewildered anguish on lost days and vanished companions.

The stark sincerity of his personal grief exemplifies every man in isolation and all human loss.

By Penny Howcroft.                          Posted by Captain Kirk

The Ultimatum Tree: No Trace of British Fair-Play.

This historic photograph shows King Cetshwayo’s envoys sitting under a wild fig tree with Her Majesty’s commissioners seated in the shade of a large canvas awning. The figures on the right are watching soldiers.
Zululand is on the far side of the Thukela River.
Campbell Collections, University of KwaZulu-Natal C03-022

The drought had broken and the Thukela was flowing fast. A small party of sailors ferried the unarmed Zulus across the river. The commissioners received them under a white canvas awning spread in the shade of an immense sycamore fig, ever afterwards known as the ‘Ultimatum Tree’. A table and chairs had been placed for the British commissioners; the Zulus squatted on the ground in a semi-circle.

First on the morning’s agenda was the sugar coating: the decision regarding the boundary award on the Boer claim to the land east of the Ncome (Blood) River. John Shepstone announced the results to the Zulu delegation with Fred Fynney carefully translating.

The terms of the award made it clear that King Cetshwayo had title to the territory that he claimed. Visibly relieved that a difficult dispute had reached such a satisfactory conclusion, the Zulu emissaries gathered in the noonday heat to feast on an ox while everybody else adjourned to the marquee for lunch.

The brutal hour had come. On resuming the conference, John Shepstone delivered a rambling harangue against King Cetshwayo. Then, disregarding the boundary report, he announced: “Notwithstanding the recognition of Zulu sovereignty, the Boers who have settled in the region are to be allowed to stay on their lands. Furthermore, I am obliged to present to you the terms of the ultimatum formulated by Sir Bartle Frere, the High Commissioner of South Africa, which must be transmitted to King Cetshwayo. This consists of ten conditions, four of which have to be met by 31st December 1878 and six by 10th January 1879.” He stared fixedly down at his paper, his expression curtained by his walrus moustache as he lugubriously specified the conditions of Frere’s ultimatum.

The first condition dealt with compensation for several border incidents concerning a notorious renegade Swazi prince named Mbilini who while under Cetshwayo’s protection had been pillaging along the northern border of the Disputed Territory. “Mbilini must be handed over for trial and the King must pay a fine of five hundred cattle for not giving up the culprit when requested.”

The second outrage requiring redress involved Chief Sihayo, King Cetshwayo’s best friend. Two of Sihayo’s wives had been caught committing adultery while their husband was away at the Zulu capital. Knowing they had committed an offence for which they would be put to death, the women fled. Sihayo’s son Mehlokazulu, his brother and an uncle followed them on horseback seeking to restore the family honour. They crossed the river, caught one wife, proceeded downstream, caught the other and dragged them both back into Zululand where they put them to death.

“We demand that the sons of Sihayo be handed over for trial on a charge of murder and a fine of five hundred cattle be paid.”

“The killing of those women took place on our soil. According to our law, Mehlokazulu behaved correctly,” protested Muwundula.

“Let us listen quietly,” Vumandaba admonished.

The third outrage concerned some Royal Engineer surveyors who had been in charge of building a road for military purposes that required a ford across the Thukela at Middle Drift near Kranskop. Having completed the approach on the Natal side, they had crossed to the Zululand side without receiving Zulu permission. There, some warriors had manhandled them.

“A fine of one hundred head of cattle is to be paid for molesting the surveyors,” pronounced Misjan.

Then he read out the remaining demands, which were of far greater significance. “The Zulu administration shall be reformed. Accused persons shall have a personal trial. A British resident magistrate shall be stationed at the Zulu capital. The missionaries and native converts who have been expelled shall be readmitted to the mission stations. In future, if a missionary or other European becomes involved in a dispute, the Zulu king shall hear the matter in the presence of the magistrate and any sentence of expulsion from Zululand must receive his approval.”

And there sat the commissioners with legs crossed like pink flamingos poised on one leg, twisting their necks deep into their tight shirts while Misjan’s voice droned on concerning the flawed rule of King Cetshwayo.

But no, oh no, that was not the end. It descended to its final fatal resolution. “Enforced celibacy shall cease,” Misjan intoned. “Every Zulu on achieving manhood shall be allowed to marry without the need to blood a spear in battle, the King’s permission being no longer required. The Zulu army shall be disbanded. The King is to observe the coronation laws of 1873. He has thirty days to comply with the conditions of the terms given, failing which British forces will invade the Zulu kingdom.”

Frere’s decisiveness had neatly transferred itself to his ultimatum and Misjan had ended his long tirade.

And there sat Frere’s agents whose bodies could be seen to fill the spaces of their chairs and whose bewhiskered faces no longer hid their designs. They lounged back languidly and stared out above the heads of the Zulus while the volunteers watched them, alert for any action.

But, if Misjan’s speech was meant to play any part in stirring Zulu emotions, it failed to have the desired effect since, notwithstanding all the allusions to Cetshwayo’s unsoundness as a king, the Zulus remained as still as stones; though at one word of command from Vumandaba, they would have leapt at that forest of bearded white throats.

Vumandaba stood up. “We understand the meaning of what has been explained to us,” he said with dignity. Shortly afterwards, the sailors ferried the Zulus across the river.

An extract from The Zulu Kings: At Bay by Penny Howcroft.  Posted by Captain Kirk

Images of War: The Battle of Isandlwana

The Image:

The Heat of the Battle: Isandlwana

This is detail of an image published in the Illustrated London News, on 7 March, 1879,

The Words:

Soldiers were charging with their bayonets held before them skewering the nearest Zulu through the throat or chest. But, taking up the bodies of their dead comrades, the Zulu warriors were hurling them forward upon the points of British bayonets, bearing their victims down and then deliberately stabbing their way through the dwindling ranks. Tasting excess and consumed with the crazed exhilaration of violent conflict, the Zulus were slashing, smashing, and lunging upward with their stomach-ripping assegais and the harassment of battle was rising as the carnage spread thicker and denser where the slaughter was achieving its most savage concentration. Without doubt, the redcoats were being ‘eaten up’. The sky, the sun, the stars, the very world had ceased to be.

Extract from The Zulu Kings: At Bay by Penny Howcroft.  Posted by Captain Kirk


The nineteenth century history of South Africa was a powerful formative influence upon attitudes to colonialism and racism, and the effects of this are still with us. This is only too visible when the raw pain inside black South Africans surfaces to remind us how deeply they have been affected.

Even so, overcoming the injustices of the past is possible, however slowly and imperfectly. Though colour no longer matters as a legal distinction, in a country teeming with racial divisions, knowing about our different cultures brings understanding and respect for them, and that shift in viewpoint goes a long way towards reconciliation.

By Penny Howcroft.  Posted by Captain Kirk



160 x 240mm. 352 pp. Maps and Photographs. Paperback, 1SBN 978-620-46869-5.


Behind the apparently familiar face of history lies an astonishing story of Zulu kings who influenced the future of Africa. It is the story of three brothers. The resolute Shaka forges the kingdom of the Zulu into the most powerful black state in Africa. He thrives on a reputation for inhumanity and bases his power on fear, strangling any offspring at birth and conquering all who oppose him in a reign of terror.

And yet he protects the first white men who come to hunt and trade in Zululand. Fynn, Farewell and King become his friends, his only friends. Willy-nilly these young adventurers adapt to life in Shaka’s court and they record the Zulu empire at its height.

Dingane, watching jealously from the sidelines, assassinates Shaka and usurps the Zulu kingship. Then he kills his brothers. Curiously, he spares Mpande. Fearing the encroaching whites, Dingane sends his regiments against the Boer trekkers and then turns against the Port Natal traders. The results are harrowing.

With the help of the trekkers, Mpande attacks Dingane who flees north to his terrible death. The trekkers confirm Mpande’s kingship and Zululand settles down to an uneasy peace. Mpande’s eldest son Cetshwayo is anxious to prove that he has the right to be the heir, but Mpande favours another son, Mbuyazi. In 1856, the rivals battle it out and Cetshwayo wins an undisputed victory. But the succession dispute is immediately replaced by the land dispute with the Boers. Hemmed in by white expansion on all sides, Cetshwayo finds it difficult to re-establish a powerful monarchy in Zululand.

Based on well-researched facts, the author powerfully evokes the mood of the times. 


Description of Hard Copy

160 X 240mm. 489 pp. Maps and photographs. Paperback, ISBN 978-0-620-46 869-5

Many books have been written about the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. In this book, Penny Howcroft has taken the research a stage further by focusing on the origins of the conflict. She explores the events leading up to the outbreak of war in the context of Britain’s imperial policy on South Africa, as determined by the actions of the key players in London and the Colony of Natal. In particular, she demonstrates how the determination of the High Commissioner Sir Bartle Frere to wage a war brings about the conflict.

Part of the story covers the worldwide church-science conflict of the 1860s in which Bishop Colenso becomes the focal point of the controversy. The part Major Anthony Durnford plays in the Langalibalele rebellion is spellbinding in its readability. And for those who like romance, there is the burgeoning love affair between the Major and Frances Ellen Colenso. After the Langalibalele rebellion, the friendship between Colenso and Theophilus Shepstone is destroyed in a fierce quarrel about the actions of the colonists. Reviled by the colonists, Colenso, the visionary, stands in the vanguard of a long line of activists in South Africa who have fought against racial injustice. 


Description of printed book:

160 X 240mm. 489 pp. Maps and photographs. Paperback, ISBN 978-0-620-48405-3

Based on meticulous research into the tragic decline of the Zulu kingdom, this is a riveting account about death in all its many forms: the death of childhood, the death of love, the death of honour, the death of a state.

The Zulu way of life is threatened when events suddenly propel Britain into the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. Here are the movements of armies and peoples, and here are the battles of Isandlwana, Rorke’s Drift, Hlobane, Khambula and Ulundi.

Here are the intrigues that make Colonel Anthony Durnford the scapegoat for the defeat of the British at Isandlwana, and here is a portrayal of Frances Ellen Colenso’s personal anguish as she passionately defends her lover.

The capture and exile of King Cetshwayo and his farcical restoration ensures the bitter Zulu civil war. His sudden death leaves many question marks. Who poisoned him? Why?

Harriette Colenso takes the lead on behalf of King Dinuzulu in crusading against colonial injustice and exploitation. But Zululand passes into the hands of its colonial masters and the embattled Zulu royal house faces an uncertain future under the ever more powerful clutches of a racist government.

Penny Howcroft powerfully evokes the mood of the times. There can be no doubt that readers will feel that they know old Zululand and Natal intimately after savouring these pages.


I was reading Chapter 5 of the third book in the Zulu Kings Trilogy, titled The Zulu Kings: At Bay, available for the Kindle from Amazon.   While Penny Howcroft’s descriptions of the terrain were clear and evocative, I found myself without a visual reference.  So I have produced two images, derived from Google Maps.  What I did was I overlaid the historical maps, and identified the key positions and geographic markers.

It wasn’t easy.  The hand drawn maps were created before the space age, and did not benefit from any form of aerial reconnaissance.

So here they are:

The main features mentioned in the descriptions of the Battle of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift. The satellite photo is modern, the labels are old.

And in this next one, I have done the same thing.  I have overlaid the hand drawn maps with an up to date satellite photo.  The steepness of the hills that the Zulus charged down is clearly shown.

The British were accused of spreading their men too thinly, as can be seen in this image. The Zulu Horns and Body formation is clearly evident.