Tag Archives: Natal

Shaka Zulu (3)

Last time, I finished by mentioning how the regiments of the Zulu army were distinguished by differently coloured shields and the number of marks on them. Shields might be brown, white or black and might have black spots, brown spots, white spots or no spots at all. Here’s a display in a South African museum:

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It occurred quite frequently that the Zulus would use the captured shields of their enemies as a ruse, causing confusion or even panic among the ranks of their adversaries. Chaka actually owned his own army’s warshields, the isihlangu, and they were handed out only in times of war. Men were punished for losing them.

Years later, when the Zulus were fighting the Boers,  Bongoza, a General in the Zulu army of King Dingane, even showed his men how to hide behind their shields and pretend to be grazing cattle.

Funnily enough, that was actually the only innovative idea that I came across that did not come from Chaka, the most brilliant military thinker ever in  sub-Saharan Africa. I found this coloured version of what is usually a black and white illustration of him on the internet:

Chaka was the one, for example, who changed his men’s diet, having them consume a fairly constant mixture of beef and cereal porridge. The existence of a new, fitter, stronger, army, would, of course, ultimately create more wars, but at the same time it would allow free access to further supplies of beef and cereals from the territories of the conquered tribes.

I don’t know if this dietary régime really did keep the Zulus leaner, fitter and more able to march long distances but that was the widely held belief among non-Zulus in Natal and Zululand in the 19th century. The problem, of course, was that the Zulus themselves left no written accounts and that all we have to go on are the accounts of one or two white traders such as Francis Farewell and Henry Fynn. And any books written by men who merely want to make money, of course, tend to exaggerate, just to make even more money.

For that reason, we shall never know for certain just how bloodthirsty and crazy Chaka was after his mother, Nandi, died on October 10th 1827. Did he really order every Zulu mother-to-be to be executed? Did he really seek out more than 7,000 people who were not sufficiently grief stricken and have them all killed? And even more crazily, did he really have every cow with a calf to be killed so that their offspring would all know exactly what it felt like when your mother died?

Only written records from an unbiased source can tell us such things. We are, for the same reason, still unsure about how far a Zulu regiment, an impi, could  run in a day. In 1879 the whites firmly believed that the answer to that question was FIFTY miles. It is even quoted in the film “Zulu”.

South African historian, John Laband, however, thought the idea was ridiculous. He gave 12 miles per day as the absolute maximum with only nine miles per day as the normal distance.
A very similar example would be the use of sandals by Zulu warriors. In the absence of written records, it has been handed down over the years that in order to toughen his warriors’ feet, Chaka had them stop wearing sandals and then any who refused were executed. Nowadays, we just don’t know if that is true or false.

Modern Zulus, especially the politicians, wear spotless, bright, white trainers. Their followers  frequently wear very brightly coloured jeans and carry golf umbrellas :

Some other aspects of bygone Zulu life we do know about through photographs. Across the world, many kings wear crowns. Zulu kings were slightly different and we have photographs from the nineteenth century to prove it. Here is King Cetshwayo:

He is wearing an “isiCoco”, an emblem of rank in pre-colonial days, meaning variously “the king”, “married man” or “warrior”, depending on the person wearing it. It was originally made from a mixture of beeswax, charcoal and snake skin, the latter being a symbol of African royalty and kingship. Warriors would wear leopard skin, because that was the animal they usually hunted. Nowadays, the isiCoco is made more easily, perhaps, by twisting a fibre ring into the hair. The ring has been covered in charcoal and gum and then polished with beeswax.

One final Zulu speciality weapon was the “knobkerrie”, a type of club with a large knob at one end. It can be thrown at the enemy like a javelin, or at animals while out hunting, or it can be used to club an enemy at close quarters. Sometimes it was used in stick fights as young boys practiced their combat techniques. In the Zulu language, it is called an “iwisa” and nowadays is not considered a weapon.

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I have always been fascinated by the Zulus. As a little boy, I was an avid reader of books by H Rider Haggard. It began when “Allan Quartermain” was given to me as a Christmas present, and then I bought “King Solomon’s Mines” and “She” with my pocket money. I was entranced by the heroic Zulu warrior, Umslopogaas, who appears in “Allan Quartermain” and in its sequel “Nada the Lily” a book unique in the nineteenth century in that all of its characters are black. Absolutely remarkable for that era.

I even tried to learn some Zulu phrases, but I never really had the chance to use the phrase “Kill the white wizards” so I soon forgot it. In actual fact, the only one I do still remember is “Amba gachlé ” which means “Go in peace”. Not a bad phrase to be the only one you know.

Here’s Umslopogaas :

 

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Filed under Africa, History, Humour, Literature, military, Politics

They win. Zu Lus (2)

As well as the Egyptian quarter, a number of streets in New Basford in Nottingham are named after the Zulu War of 1879.  As far as I can tell, in this area, there are seven of them, namely Chard Street, Chelmsford Road, Durnford Street, Ekowe Street, Isandula Road, Zulu Road and perhaps Eland Street.

What is most amazing about these streets is that they represent, as far as I can tell, a kind of salute to the Zulus, who were, as I mentioned previously, one of the finest and most valiant of all the opponents of the British Army. The Battle of Isandlwana, or Isandula, for example, was the greatest defeat ever suffered by British soldiers against a native force armed with their traditional weapons.

And the Zulus were trustworthy, too. King Cetshwayo tried as best he could to avoid war and told his men not to kill anybody who was not dressed in a red coat and therefore could not be identified with any certainty as a British soldier. He told them not to cross the border into Natal in pursuit of Chelmsford’s defeated forces. The Zulus stuck to both of these promises they had made to their king. Men in dark blue or green uniforms, such as in the Hale rocket battery, were allowed to walk away in peace, and not a single Zulu pursued the remnants of the defeated British army into Natal. If they had done, as Prince Ndanbuko urged them to, there would have been every chance of another stunning victory over the British Empire. Here’s Isandula Road:

So when we walk down Isandula Road, we can all remember that this Victorian street is a memorial to the Empire’s greatest ever native opponents.  Had Isandlwana been an easier word to pronounce, of course, the street would have been called Isandlwana Road.

And I really do stick by the idea that this road was a monument to the Zulu warriors. There is only one Isandula Road in the whole of England so it must have been very important name to whoever made the decision to have a road dedicated to the British Empire’s gallant opponents. The same can be said of Zulu Road. There is only one of those in the whole country too :

I kept my eyes open for a Zulu or Tu, but I saw nothing. Here’s a modern Zulu, dressed up for the tourists, with all his friends:

He’s parked his car on the road in the background, which is quite a long way away. No wonder he’s had to keep his best trainers on.

By 1880, people in England were well aware of whose fault the calamitous defeat at Isandlwana was. It was Lord Chelmsford’s, so a road named after him must have served as much as a reminder of his failures and his shortcomings as a monument to his military genius. I would think that nowadays Chelmsford would be more famous as the uncle of Ernest Thesiger, the actor (left) who worked with James Whale in the latter’s Frankenstein films :

Here is Chelmsford Road, with Lord Chelmsford making good his escape from Isandlwana on his trusty bicycle:

Chelmsford Road may not look as if it is 140 years old, but it does have one feature that is straight from the 1880s. That is the arrangement of four, or perhaps six, houses, in a short row, all of them typical small working class “two up, two down” terraced houses. These four/six houses are opposite  an identical set of houses, with, in this case, a concrete courtyard between the two rows. The more usual pattern was to have the outside lavatories situated in the middle of that courtyard, equidistant from each set of houses. In the golden days of the earth closet, this must have given life a very distinctive flavour, particularly in the summer.

This particular set of houses is called “Chelmsford Terrace” in honour of the great man.  This particular section of Chelmsford Road has other sets of houses like these, one called “Rene Terrace”, and another, “Iris Terrace”:

Here is Durnford Street, all of it:

Anthony Durnford was one of the two subordinate commanders killed at Isandlwana (the other was Henry Pulleine). Chelmsford was quick to blame Durnford for disobeying his superior’s orders to set up a proper defensible camp, although there is actually no hard evidence whatsoever that Chelmsford ever issued such an order. Nevertheless, Durnford can be regarded as a rather unsuccessful soldier, just like Chelmsford. He was also Irish, so, by the racist attitudes of the time, he was an easy man to blame. He was also dead, so he couldn’t argue with any of Chelmsford’s lies.

Chard Street is not always marked on street maps for some reason. It runs at right angles to Isandula Road, Chelmsford Road and Zulu Road. It is marked by the Orange Arrow’s “New Friend”, the Red Hot Air Balloon:

Here is Chard Street. It certainly has a Zululand feel about it:

John Chard is really the only heroic figure in this war to have a street named after him. He was the commander at Rorke’s Drift. He was played by Stanley Baker :

Chard’s second-in-command was Gonville Bromhead, now better known as Sir Michael Caine. Sadly, there was no street named after him. Bromhead was, in actual fact, an Old Boy of Magnus Grammar School in Newark-on-Trent:

There is also an Eland Street fairly close by.  This street probably fits in with all of these other South African links. An Eland is a large antelope which would surely have provided food for members of both armies.

Here is the map for Eland Street, which has an Orange Assegai at its northern end.

Ekowe Street is named after another incident in the Zulu War of 1879…….

On the very same day as the defeat at Isandlwana,  6,570 British soldiers armed with rifles, rockets and field guns managed to defeat a Zulu army of around 10,000 men armed with assegais and cowhide shields. They occupied Ekowe, where they were then besieged by the Zulus for ten weeks before a British army of 5,670 men came to the rescue with their two 9-pounder guns, four 24-pounder Congreve rocket tubes and two Gatling guns. You can see a rocket being fired in this picture:

Incidentally, I cannot find any connection for Liddington Street, Monsall Street or Pearson Street.

Just look though, what rich roots many English street names have.

Just look at the map above. “Ford Street North” where one of Henry Ford’s brothers was probably born. “Camelot Avenue” where Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot first fell in love. “Langtry Grove”, probably the  birthplace of Lily Langtry, the mistress of the future King Edward VII and the woman who had a saloon named after her by Judge Roy Bean, “The Only Law West of the Pecos”. Here’s the judge, and the saloon. You can just see the bottom of the letters of “JERSEY LILLY” at the very top of the picture:

And last, but certainly not least, Springfield Street, where Homer Simpson used to live before he left for his new life in television.

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Filed under Film & TV, History, Humour, Nottingham, Wildlife and Nature

“A long forgotten war, wasted young lives” (1)

The Second Boer War (1899 – 1902) was fought between the British Empire and the two independent Boer (Dutch) states, the Republic of Transvaal and the Orange Free State, over the British Empire’s influence in South Africa. The British Empire owned Cape Colony and the Bechuanaland Protectorate.

The catalyst for the war was the discovery of diamonds and gold in the Boer states.

Alexander Frederic Wallis was born on January 18th 1867. Nottingham had seen its worst floods for fifteen years on January 9th. Two feet of water washed over the railway tracks at the station. On the 14th, a recently constructed factory on Carlton-road (sic) had caught fire. On March 14th, the Mechanics Hall was completely destroyed by fire. On March 20th an enormous fire destroyed the premises of William Smith, a “chenille and gimp manufacturer”. On April 2nd, the council agreed to order a steam fire engine, at a cost of £650. This type of thing. A combined fire engine and smoke screen generator:

Alexander Frederic Wallis’ father was Alexander Bruce Wallis, the Captain and Adjutant of the Robin Hood Rifles. In 1879 the family’s address was 1 Goodwin Street, near All Saints’ Church in the area to the west of Waverley Street, more or less directly opposite the bandstand in the Arboretum Park. Goodwin Street is very, very striking, with its tall tenement houses like you might find in Edinburgh or Glasgow. They all have four floors including one for the servants.Here it is. Look for the orange fire engine arrow.

The “education facility” in the middle at the top is the High School. Raleigh Street (west of the Arboretum Lake, and south of the orange arrow) was where the history of Raleigh bicycles started in 1885. That is why the brand was called “Raleigh”.

In the same year, Captain Wallis had moved to nearby No 3 Burns Street, a magnificent Victorian house with that eccentric, almost random architecture of the wilder Victorian architects of the period, including huge gables, oriel windows, patterns made with darker bricks and a pointed archway to the front door. Here is the house today:

By 1894, now Major Wallis rather than Captain, he and his family were living at 50 Forest Road West, extremely close to the High School. On the map above,  Forest Road West is to the west of the small lemon yellow coloured circle which represents the High School’s tram stop. Four years later in 1898-1899, Major Wallis and his family had moved to Neville Terrace at 15 Wellington Square, directly off Derby Road just after Canning Circus. This must have been much more convenient for the Robin Hood Rifles’ Orderly Room in Castle Yard. The family were still there in 1904, but after that, I was unable to trace them.

Their son, Alexander Frederic Wallis entered the High School on September 12th 1879 as Boy No 583. He was 12 years old. His career remains a blank because the majority of the School Lists have not survived and the rest are just lists of boys’ surnames with no distinguishing initials. The School played soccer then but Alexander does not figure in the reports we still have, nor indeed, in the records of the cricket team. He left the High School at the end of the Christmas Term in 1882. Here is the High School during that era, captured in a high quality albumen print:

At this time the Headmaster was Dr Robert Dixon, nicknamed “Dido” and the staff would have included Mr Bray or “Donkey”, Mr Seymour or “Donkeys”, Mr Jennings or “Jigger”, Mr Corner or “Sammy” and his younger brother, Mr J Corner or “Jig”, Mr Townson or “Benjy” , the Reverend Easton or “Jiggerty” and Mr William Edward Ryles or “Jumbo” and Mr Wilfrid Tyson Ryles or “Nipper”.

Nicknameless staff included Herr Altorfer, Monsieur Brunner, Monsieur Durand, Mr Jackson, Mr Small and Sergeant-Major Vickers the Drill Sergeant. There was also Mr Leopold Compline Wilkes or “Demi”, who went to South Africa in 1893 to be Headmaster of Kimberley Public School, only to die of typhoid, or enteric fever, on May 16th 1899, aged only 37. Here they all are. Still shocked by the recent death of General Custer:

Like poor “Demi”,  young Alexander Wallis, now 33 years of age, was also destined to die in South Africa, but as a soldier during the Second Boer War. He was just one of the 23,000 who paid the ultimate price of other men’s greed. Here is his epitaph taken from “The Forester” as the first School Magazine was called :

“Captain Alexander Frederic Wallis, killed in action near Arundel, near Colesberg, in Cape Colony, on February 24th 1900, was the second son of Major AB Wallis, formerly of the 33rd Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment and late adjutant of the Robin Hood Rifles. He entered the High School on September 12th 1879 and left at Christmas, 1882, being afterwards educated at Derby and Sandhurst. Captain Wallis entered the 2nd Battalion Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment as a second- lieutenant and obtained his lieutenancy in 1889 and his captaincy in 1896. He served in Bermuda, Halifax, Jamaica, St Helena, Natal and Zululand. On the outbreak of the Matabele war in 1896 he proceeded to Mafeking where he served at the base and on lines of communication. At the finish of the war he went to Malta and was then quartered with the regiment at Dover in Kent. The regiment then went out to South Africa, Captain Wallis being in command of the Mounted Infantry Company. On his arrival in Cape Town he joined Major-General Clements’s (sic) Brigade at Arundel. He had just celebrated his 33rd birthday, and had 13 years’ army service. In Nottingham much sympathy is felt for Major Wallis in his bereavement.”

The village of Colesberg saw many battles and skirmishes during the Second Boer War. They brought into opposition the British and the Boers of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. This is the view looking towards the village:

A day-by-day timeline of the war listed the day of Alexander’s death as an “engagement” rather than a skirmish or a battle.

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Filed under Africa, History, military, Nottingham, Politics, The High School