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DateOriginal Topic
24th August 2005Pulleine's grave
By Rich
As I was reading a bit on Isandhlwana, I came across a note by Mr. Knight that Pulleine's resting place isn't known. Now is it likely then that Pulleine is still at Isandhlwana
or perhaps he was exhumed like Durnford and buried somewhere else?
24th August 2005Peter Ewart

Still there, like all the rest - with very few exceptions, such as Durnford and Anstey. I presume IK means it isn't known exactly where on the field itself (or under which cairn) his remains lie - which, again, is the same with virtually all of them, both officers and men. Very many of them have been moved around the site at least once since their original discovery and interment.

The approximate place in which they fell, or were thought to have been recognised on the night of the 22nd, or in May and June, is known (or, should we say, believed) for only a very few individuals.

In Pulleine's case, there was more than one account (or at least mention) of his death provided by survivors, but certainly no reliable first hand description. An author here and there has also added the odd fanciful tale, or embellished a Zulu account.

Similarly, one (or two?) descriptions of his body being recognised early on the morning of the 23rd do not conclusively pinpoint a position, even though at least one is approximately suggested. The supposed or claimed position of his body was aired on the forum a couple of years ago but I can't recall under what heading.

In reality, he died somehow, somewhere on that day with all the others, and is buried somewhere on the field - and it is just possible he still lies roughly where he fell.

25th August 2005Graham Alexander
In the small churchyard of Kirby Whiske, North Yorkshire is a memorial gravestone erected to the memory of Henry Pulleine and indicating that he fell with the greater part of his regiment at Isandhlwana, South Africa. Very close to this gravestone are the graves of his mother Susan and his father Robert, who was the vicar of this small parish.
25th August 2005Rai England
The above memorial is on
25th August 2005Rich
Thanks. In passing, I'd think archaeological investigation has alot to say about the battle and the participants. I don't know if it will occur but perhaps possible future exhumations of burial sites together with new techniques in genetics and forensics would probably give new insights of what happened on that day.
25th August 2005Peter Ewart

As you probably know, fairly recent archaeological work has been done at both Isandlwana and R/Drift (probably much more at the latter) although I'm not sure if any radical historical conclusions have been made as a result. That's not to say that useful work hasn't been accomplished, which I think has been mentioned before on the forum. Detailed surveys have also been done on some or all of the cairns in modern times, with accompanying official reports, although I believe these were primarily to do with the condition and necessary future protection of the cairns.

The thing to remember, I believe, is that exhumations would be very unlikely to provide any conclusive results. All over the field, bodies were gathered together in groups for burial or covering. The constant exposure of remains by weather and animals through the 1880s, as well as the result of inadequate original interments, led to at least one - or was it two? - major reburial operations, and on each occasion "consolidation" occurred, with groups of remains being amalgamated into larger groups, as well as bones being re-buried on more "diggable" ground in a different position. Add to this the constant discovery of more remains further out and the transfer of these towards the camp area for burial, and the regular pulling up of bones by dogs during the 1880s and 1890s (missionary reports mention these incidents) meant constant reburials of remains away from where they were originally buried, and these are believed to have included Zulu remains.

The uses of the site and the work that has gone on locally since, as well as the increased visiting and scavenging in recent decades is also a reminder that not much is likely to be in the same place, unless very deep. And this excludes the effect of 126 years of rain and erosion from powerful surges of water, which have washed bones and artefacts away.

I shouldn't think anyone would agree to the exhumation of human remains on mere scientific or historic grounds, would they? At least, I hope not. It seems a bit too early to me, although I realise some high-profile exhumations on (spurious?) "historical" grounds have been made in the US.

Personally, I'd be horrified if any deliberate exhumations were even suggested simply on the grounds that it might be thought by some that the battle might possibly be better understood. However, there have been so many subsequent movements of the original bones - as well as of the battlefield debris - that I can't think of anything conclusive that could be established by such a project.

25th August 2005Rich
You make a number of excellent points and I want you you to know that I understand completely the situation with exhumations.
And while it's true we may not get "radical" conclusions of the battle, nevertheless, one
additional discovery on the field can, in fact, change a view. Archaeology and history is rife with that. Also, Isandhlwana has eroded and will continue to erode and perhaps in some distant future a descendant is adamant of moving his or her relation to another ground. Question is would exhumations then go on or would the bones just be allowed to sit in the hot sun?
25th August 2005Peter Ewart

I see your point with the continuous erosion problems, which have so far been countered with reburials and cairn maintenance but no doubt some "material" does disappear when the donga walls continue to give way and the contents of cairns are washed away.

With regard to any descendants of the casualties having a say in future arrangements, I'm at a loss see how that would come about. I'm not sure any descendant of a deceased British soldier who lies there would have the slightest authority or jurisdiction (or even sway) over the administration of the site, let alone the right to decide that a relative's remains should be removed. I don't suppose a S African descendant of a colonist casualty would, either.

More to the point, if someone in the future did wish for the removal of the remains of, say, their great-great-grandfather "Pte Thos Atkins" of the 24th to somewhere they believed more suitable, how on earth would that be managed? No-one (or virtually no-one) has a marked grave, the whereabouts of the individual being simply unknown, not even to the nearest half-mile or mile in most cases (given that even the actual company in which any particular 1st Bn "other rank" served is mostly unknown).

In very basic language, a site which extends over dozens of acres - or more - contains a mass of bones which once belonged to around a couple of thousand skeletons. Many of these were completely mixed up even before the first burial, and many more after the second and third burials (including with animal bones) quite apart from the subsequent "ad hoc" re-interments of odd bones over the next century or so.

I imagine - and hope - that the field will always be a sacred site (the new RSA government will presumably now always ensure its significance remains important, but as a result of African rather than colonial heritage) and that the cairns will remain as a focal point of the dead who lie in the vicinity, but in a symbolic rather than in any serious way of marking the burials accurately, especially as some cairns have gone altogether or are no longer visible.

26th August 2005Rich
Points taken..Now is it true that even if one could identify compeletly remains that were of one's great great great grandfather that they couldn't move the remains somewhere else if they wish? IIs that South African law?
26th August 2005Peter Ewart

Well, although it is all hypothetical, I can't see AMAFA or any other body responsible for memorials and/or heritage sites in KZN allowing an individual from overseas interfering with the remains buried there. It might be that they would possibly liaise with overseas official bodies on some matters of mutual interest - a government perhaps, a regiment or even, in the earliest years, the Church of Engand, given its own interest and close connection with the site from Dec 1879.

However, an mere individual who popped up and said "I am a direct descendant through four or five (or more) generations of Pte Thos Atkins, 1/24, whose grave is known and whose remains I'd like removed please" is unlikely, I would have thought, to impress anyone.

The most obvious answer might be: "If you are descended from Pte Atkins through one of his children, the likelihood is that there are today several hundred similar direct descendants, each with an identical kinship to the deceased as your own. Have you traced ALL these people and checked what their own wishes are, please? After all, we don't want to move him and then receive a few hundred complaints."

If, as you originally suggested, Rich, this request might come from a descendant in some future time, then one might substitute "thousands" for "hundreds" and there seems no reason why any one of them might be in a position to assume some "ownership" or "rights" over a distant relative buried overseas in a long gone century unless there is some very pressing reason.

29th August 2005Rich
Whoa..Peter..the permutations get're right..that's a horse that may just not ride!! In any case, I hope the battlefield will be looked after in perpetuity for those who died there....
29th August 2005Mike McCabe
There has already been a succession of burials and reburials at Isandlwana, resulting in a broad spread of graves and grave cairns in different stages of completeness and preservation - several in 1879, the Alfred Boast burials, and the efforts of successive farmers, NMC/Amafa and others to slow down any deterioration. Some of these efforts have very unfortunately damaged graves, and at one stage resulted in cairns having to be rebuilt using the available photography to reconstitute and relovcate them.
Throughout, the local Anglican Parish (St Vincent's) has taken into its care the various human remains that emerge from time to time.
It would also appear that human remains at the surface would have been worried by the remaining feral camp dogs found there in 1879, until these dogs were destroyed.
We have also had (as seen on television) selective attempts to explore the general archaeology of the site.
Having seen some aggregated human bones found after a rainwash in the 1980s, what was interesting was the very varied condition of similar bone fragments. Some were still sharp, hard and angular, whilst others were soft and crumbly if touched firmly. Clearly, without some form of forensic testing there could not be certainty of the ethnicity of each item.
It seems to me that:
- There has been so much disturbance, and even loss of some sites, so as to suggest that not much might actually be learned from even a comprehensive dig.
- The conclusions formed from recent archaeology appear slight and highly arguable.
- The bones of all involved should be allowed to rest in peace, which would respect white and Zulu sentiments, and not messed about with for some trifling reason.
- Funds meeting the costs of any comprehensive dig (as still gets proposed from time to time) would be better spent improving the lot of the local community.
- If bones are washed clear of graves by erosion, well so be it and they can be taken into care as they always have been at the small ossuary near the church. Or, they could be burid again under another cairn.
- The 'lost cairns' are likely to increase in number. Unless, by rare occurrence, there might be identifiable (by which I mean 'named')items in the graves then these graves will simply and unfortunately remain anonymous as they now are. The incidence of items surviving in graves now apears slight, as even the grave robbers commissioned by south African and overseas collectors have (I hear) discovered.

So, let them rest and keep out those who might wish to buy the privilege of disturbing them
30th August 2005Keith Smith

The matter of the remains around Isandlwana is a vexed question. One should consider that the area has been settled by Africans for a long while and was heavily populated in 1879, as it is now. There are a number of African graves, of varying age, to be found there, including several which I found on the north slope of the Nyoni ridge on the plateau. One cannot, therefore, simply assume that any human bones found in the vicinity date from 1879. They may be much older, or much younger, and of African origin.