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DateOriginal Topic
23rd March 2002Disease at Eshowe
By Gary S. Edinger
The engineers seemed to put considerable thought into the construction of the fort at Eshowe. Surely they knew about the risk of disease during a siege. Any thoughts at to why they didn't create better accomodations for the troops to avoid the various endemic fevers?
23rd March 2002John Young

Captain Warren Wynne, Royal Engineers, Colonel Pearson's senior Engineer was none too impressed with the position of the Mission Station at Eshowe, due to it raised position and the distance from the water supply, but on his arrival on 23rd January 1879 he set about the task of fortifying it. At that time it should be remembered that No.1 Column were unaware of the events at Isandlwana.

Wynne set about the task of preparing a fort which would be one of many in a chain to cover the further advance of the column into KwaZulu. The fort he conceived should have held a garrison of 400 and two cannon.

When No.1 Column received the news about Isandlwana on 28th January, 1879, it was Warren Wynne who advocated Eshowe being defended rather than retiring back to the Natal border. A decision which ultimately would cost Wynne his life.

That parts of Wynne's defences are still visible is a testimony to his skill as a Royal Engineer. Equally, that one was one man - Private Kent of the 99th was killed by enemy action during the course of siege, proves how effective the defences were.

That only that twenty-three men died from illness and disease during a siege which lasted until 3rd April, was testimony to the medical skills of those present. I have excluded the poor man who took his own life from this figure.

Disease would exact a further toll on the Eshowe garrison, including Wynne, himself.

Pearson would speak of him in glowing terms; "I have been given credit for my skill in rendering our fort at Eshowe impregnable, but it was made so by Captain Wynne, my Commanding Engineer, and his brother officers, under whose directions we all worked. Captain Wynne died of an illness brought on by exposure, and by unflinching remaining at his duty when almost incapable of performing it."

Wynne's services were posthumously acknowledged in 'The London Gazette' of 5th May, 1880:-
'Captain Warren Richard Colvin Wynne, Royal Engineers, to be Major, in recognition of his distinguished services during the Zulu campaign of 1878-1879. Dated 2nd April, 1879. Since deceased.'

It is my humble opinion that Wynne could have done no more than he actually did.

John Young,
Anglo-Zulu War Research Society.
23rd March 2002John Young
Faux pas:

The line above - 'Equally, that one was one man...'
Should read; Equally, that only one man...