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



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 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.