Zulu: Queen Victoria’s Most Famous Little War by W.B. Bartlett

I’m reading another book at the moment about Winston Churchill, and the author writes at one point that after 1945 Churchill was harking for the long peace that he knew during the latter years of the Victorian era, in the early years of his life. Which is rather strange, as Churchill himself charged at Omdurman and was a war correspondent in the Boer War.

The ‘golden’ age of the British Empire was hallmarked by a lengthy peace between the European powers (save the Crimean War and the Franco-Prussian War), which is a very British way of seeing things, pulling up the draw bridge an’ all that. But at the same time, the British Empire brought about a plethora of small wars on virtually every continent. I’m always amazed by the huge range of wars that redcoats and native contingents found themselves fighting, particularly on the North West Frontier and in Africa.

Perhaps the most famous of these ‘little wars’ was that fought with the Zulu Empire in South Africa 1879. Here W.B. Bartlett has given this well-known but oft-misunderstood war a measured and scholarly treatment. Firstly, perceptions of the war have inevitably been tinted by the battle fought at Rorkes Drift, as immortalised in the 1946 film Zulu. The Zulu Impi descended on Rorkes Drift after inflicting a humiliting defeat on a British column at Isandlwana, another battle that is well known. But these two battles overshadow the rest of the war to the extent that the final outcome is little known.

The war seems to have begun in a typically British manner – no-one could point out precisely why the British wanted to advance into Zululand. In hindsight, it seems to have been a classic case of what I think of as ‘Empire creep’ – once one realm was captured, eyes instantly turned to that next door, even if there was nothing to capture and it was only a case of securing the frontier of land already held. There was no specific reason for the British to fight the Zulus, making the war somewhat un-necessary in any case.

The British commander was General John Thesiger, who during the campaign inherited the title of Lord Chelmsford. A controversial character, his legacy has been shaped by the humiliation at Isandlwana. The war began with several British columns advancing into Zululand, and in hindsight it appears that they were woefully underprepared and underestimated the Zulus. There was no intelligence to speak of, and the Natal Native Contingent were unreliable. This is a typically British military trait – starting a war with as little resources as possible, unprepared, and trying to get away with using as few British troops as possible. After the debacle at Isandlwana the Army was shaken out of its comfort zone, and eventually defeated the Zulus and captured King Cetshwayo.

The battle at Rorkes Drift is a curious incident in British military history. Undoubtedly a very brave action fought against overwhelming odds, it is important to remember that the South Wales Borderers were armed with Martini-Henry Rifles and were behind improvised but strong fortifications. Whilst it was a brave action, did it warrant such a large number of Victoria Crosses? It has to be said, that Rorkes Drift was probably used as a publicity coup to deflect attention from the terrible news of Isandlwana. Which as a shame, as it was still a brave fight none the less.

Another interesting story to come from the Zulu War is that of the death of the French Prince Imperial. A great-nephew of Napoleon and son of the Exiled French Emperor Louis Napoleon, the Prince Imperial begged to be allowed to go to South Africa to take part in the war in some capacity. That it was not his war in the first place and that he had no conceivable use was of no consequence, somehow he managed to pull enough strings to be allowed to go to a war that was not his. He was killed in the process. Although his death became something of a cause celebre, modern historians mostly agree that he should not have been there in the first place.

This is a balanced and refreshing take on what is a well-known but oft-understood war, two traits that often go hand in hand. By not concentrating overly on Isandlwana and Rorkes Drift, Bartlett reminds us that the war was much wider than we might realise, thanks to Hollywood.

Zulu: Queen Victoria’s Most Famous Little War is published by The History Press



Filed under Army, Book of the Week, Empire History, victoria cross

37 responses to “Zulu: Queen Victoria’s Most Famous Little War by W.B. Bartlett

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Zulu: Queen Victoria’s Most Famous Little War by W.B. Bartlett « Daly History Blog -- Topsy.com

  2. I’ve always found the parallels between the US-Native American “wars” and the British African campaigns interesting. Between the “Hollywood history” of a few select battles, the military unpreparedness, and the overall lack of modern awareness of these numerous engagements and their impact on modern social affairs are eerily similar. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened in Africa had the British military leaders paid attention to our battles with the brave and determined Plains Indians.

    • Oops, hit the wrong button. I meant to finish with “Then again, with the contemporaneous nature of the two campaigns, maybe both our countries were doomed to follow the same path, given our mutual heritage.”. Okay, NOW I’m done!

  3. James Daly

    Thats a very interesting thought John. I studied the Indian Wars at school when I was 15-16, and the parallels are striking. Initially unprepared and underestimating the ‘savage’ enemy, after some disturbing reverses the white man finally got his act together in the end. Its a common trait in British military history that we let ourselves become complacent to the point where a shock is needed to get us to sourt ourselves out.

  4. Please let me know if you’re looking for a author for your blog.
    You have some really great articles and I feel I would be a
    good asset. If you ever want to take some of the load off,
    I’d absolutely love to write some articles for your blog in
    exchange for a link back to mine. Please blast me an e-mail if interested.

  5. In a keynote speech this past 7 days Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs has
    announced the launch of a new item, making significant chatter throughout the technologies community.
    The internet is buzzing with critiques and opinions on Apples new iPad
    which is merely explained as an oversized iTouch or Iphone.

    The iPad attributes a nine.seven inch backlit LED widescreen touch screen display.
    1024 by 768 pixel resolution, and a capacity ranging from 16 – sixty four gigs.
    The 1GHz Apple A4 processor serves to fill your craving for digital media via various apps and a
    browser. The iPad is chock complete of sensors including an accelerometer, ambient mild sensor, and mood sensor (just kidding,
    maybe next yr).

    The largest information presently in jailbreaking would be the capability to
    flip an iphone four in to a cellular Wi-Fi hotspot.
    Although it does have a cost it has an app called MiWi 4..
    This app allows almost four gadgets to be plugged into Wi-Fi through your
    iphone 4.Jailbreak iphone . Critiques have recognized that obtain speeds had been around
    3300 Kbps and uploads had been about 340 Kbps.

    Don’t you just love how one yr you have the hot new factor and then inside a couple
    of months it’s old and uncool. Apple just enjoys doing
    this to us devoted costumers. With the release of the new iPhone there
    will be some changes to obtaining and using the Iphone; these changes will be stated here.

    While businesses and governments keep obtaining better at discovering these that obtain illegal software
    and media information, some Apple iphone obtain sites exist
    that will provide you everything you need and are
    authorized at the exact same time. Beneath are a couple of
    suggestions on how to find a great Iphone obtain site that is authorized.

    This app requires you through all the pictures featured on the
    top style and styling blogs. Chicfeed is what
    a fashionista needs when she’s searching for inspiration or throughout those rare moments of question.

    Consider your time as you browse through endless images
    that allows you perfect your look for function or

    It’s believed the reduce cost iPad two will have only 8GB of storage.
    DigiTimes also said that the cost is expected to be about
    $349 to $399. The price cut is developed to make the iPad two compete much better with
    gadgets like Amazon.com’s $199 Android-powered Kindle Hearth.

    When Apple released iOS six, it came with a host of new attributes.
    1 of these features was its own maps app, which it conveniently replaced with Google Maps.
    Apple Maps was supposed to be amazing with its flip-by-turn navigation, and Siri integration.
    Unfortunately, the experimentation unsuccessful terribly.

    I grew up as Invoice and Steve started changing the world just a few years powering them in
    age. They were my heroes, my inspiration to devour each piece of technologies I could get my hands on.
    Envision my shock to see that row of Apple IIs in the classroom / newly converted computer lab in the last yr of junior higher.
    Already a individual computer (Atari 800XL) proprietor at that age,
    I spent many an hour in that lab, programming, and gaming.
    Swapping many a floppy, if you will. I grew a informal attachment to a couple of new GSs late
    in the yr. I left for higher college with the desires of capitalizing upon my experiences.

    I wouldn’t expect an provide like this to be
    around for too much lengthier. I presume that when the iPad
    buzz settles down this provide will be yanked, so get yours whilst it’s nonetheless reside.

  6. The downloads are very fast with no limitations. It is pretty simple to Jailbreak iphones for tmobile.
    Apple has launched its initial Apple iphone with four, 8
    and sixteen GB internal memory.

  7. Just want to say your article is as amazing.
    The clearness on your put up is just nice and that i could suppose you’re a professional on this subject.
    Fine along with your permission let me to snatch your RSS feed to keep up to date with drawing close post.
    Thanks 1,000,000 and please keep up the rewarding work.

  8. The serial progresses using a number of events, including Santo getting married.
    Make sure to download shows to iPod, if you want to essentially
    have some fun. The movie has an outstanding plot and premise.

  9. The iPad 2 is just a 3G product, whether it is on Verizon or AT&T.

    Service staff 24 / 7 within Great Britain and the United States.
    You can also grade photographs that other people post, too.

  10. I was the first one to launch the jailbreak for iOS 5.1 untethered on iPhone 4S
    and iPad2. Phase two: Load iTunes and make certain it sees your phone.
    Most of the individuals believe that its not a large deal to jailbreak iPod.

  11. Nicely, KIK is not bad either but whatsapp is much more secured.
    I am counting on WhatsApp to maintain its supremacy in the IM marketplace.
    This website has been produced as an online repository of totally free and paid out

  12. Ostensibly, this may seem like a glorified iTouch. There is some threat involved when you
    try and place an interior modchip. It displays exactly how many points you’ve remaining
    for that day, also.

  13. Like you are continuously seeking approaches to make your business better and bigger,
    a business manager. For washing the one-hung sash, just the
    part might be cleaned and the mounted part would-be left untouched.

  14. This is a serious privateness issue, although many may disagree.
    So, here are at minimum some of the applications
    you need for a while. I don’t thoughts losing those who are not on WeChat.

  15. I have fun with, result in I found exactly what I was looking for.
    You’ve ended my 4 day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have a nice day.

  16. Hello! I could have sworn I’ve been to this blog before
    but after going through many of the posts I realized it’s
    new to me. Anyways, I’m certainly delighted I stumbled upon it and I’ll be bookmarking it and
    checking back often!

  17. Hi there just wanted to give you a brief heads up and let you know a few
    of the pictures aren’t loading correctly. I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue.
    I’ve tried it in two different internet browsers and both
    show the same outcome.

  18. Have you ever considered about including a little bit more than just your articles?
    I mean, what you say is valuable and everything. But imagine if you
    added some great images or videos to give your
    posts more, “pop”! Your content is excellent
    but with pics and video clips, this blog could certainly be one of the very best in its field.

    Terrific blog!

  19. Magnificent goods from you, man. I’ve understand your stuff
    previous to and you’re just extremely excellent.

    I really like what you’ve acquired here, really like what you’re stating and the way in which you say it.
    You make it enjoyable and you still take care of to
    keep it sensible. I can not wait to read far more from you.
    This is really a wonderful website.

  20. Spot on with this write-up, I actually believe this website needs a great deal more attention. I’ll probably be returning to read through more, thanks
    for the advice!

  21. Hey there would you mind letting me know which web host you’re using?
    I’ve loaded your blog in 3 completely different internet browsers and
    I must say this blog loads a lot faster then most. Can you recommend a good internet hosting provider at a fair price?
    Many thanks, I appreciate it!

  22. And most of the altered manager and user account accounts
    since the last backup was created. I regulate my environments
    to allow for my needs, by understanding my body and head.

  23. As an example, you will find the limitations to make a slide show.

  24. There are two Hd sport that has been examined in Z10, the Asphalt seven and NOVA 3.
    Rather, make investments in a good registry scanner and cleaner and
    download it from the web.

  25. Why users still make use of to read news papers
    when in this technological world all is available on net?

  26. I am seeking some excellent business sites to enhance my google reader which can be useful pursuing on a continuing basis.

    Can you recommendations and make? I’ve Seth Godin.
    Thanks!. . If you explained you liked these blogs.
    it’d also be useful

  27. I’m looking for sites which have really good advice on what the
    best makeup is. and what is in style

  28. Great items from you, man. I’ve take into account your stuff prior
    to and you’re simply too great. I really like what you’ve obtained here, certainly like
    what you are stating and the way through which you say it.
    You make it entertaining and you still care for to
    stay it smart. I can not wait to learn much more from you.

    This is actually a wonderful web site.

  29. This newest device is considered as the ultimate alternatives for PS3 games.

    BlackBerry is down to 22 % of the marketplace. Then you
    go to your admin web page, then ‘Plugins’ and select your concept and then activate it.

  30. I think this is one of the most vital information for me.
    And i am glad reading your article. But should remark
    on some general things, The web site style is great, the articles is really excellent :
    D. Good job, cheers

  31. You can neither add nor consider absent from your wager
    for the next spin. They have been restored to new but
    can’t be offered as new. In addition, it provides useful tips and
    hints with reference to the iPhone 5.

  32. Hey there! I’m at work browsing your blog from my new iphone 4!
    Just wanted to say I love reading through your blog and look forward to all your posts!
    Carry on the fantastic work!

  33. Get notes, and think of tips on how to make your lover page better, because this may help build brand recognition. It lets you send and receive txt messages for free.
    No-One knows their company a lot better than you.

  34. Currently you will make use of the Owner account
    that the system had developed by the machine.
    People learn about others by what’s stated,
    not by a person’s appearance.

  35. You will be able to use your iPhone four unlock the way you want and have access to all its attributes.
    It’s functionality that’s looooooong lasting. Furthermore you can include ring-tones
    for your phone calls and messages.

  36. Hey There. I found your blog using msn. This is an extremely well written article.

    I’ll be sure to bookmark it and come back to
    read more of your useful information. Thanks for the post.

    I will certainly comeback.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s