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5th February 2003Durnford and Pulleine
By Mark Hobson
This posting is really a continuation of an earlier one, but I thought I would write a new message to continue the discussion.

There seems to be some disagreement as to who, Pulleine or Durnford, gave the orders regarding the positioning of the British firing line. To suggest Durnford took control of this aspect of the battle is wrong. Pulleine, as camp commander, decided the way the British defence was set.

Before the war Lord Chelmsford explained the best way to form a defensive line if attacked by large numbers of Zulus. He said to have your artillery in the centre, British regulars to either side and the auxilaries NNC and Mounted units on the flanks, with the flanks bent back in echelon. This is more or less what Pulleine did. Shortly after the Natal Native Horse came into contact on the plateau he sent Cavaye's company, then Mostyn's, to help. He also positioned the artillery on the crest of the rocky knoll with Porteous' company behind. A while after this Younghusband was ordered out to take up a spot at the northern tip of Isandlwana to cover their retreat when they retreated down the spur. Mostyn, Cavaye and the NNH naturally fell into position to their right, and Erskine's NNC joined them. Porteous moved out from behind the guns to the left and Wardell's company took up a spot to the right, amoungst the rocks. Pope's men and Lonsdales NNC completed the line to the east.

This formation is very much as Chelmsford had suggested. Therefore Pulleine was only following these instructions. Durnford had nothing to do with where the British line was positioned, or what its structure was. Questions have been asked as to why the line was so extended, but given the geography together with the "Standing Orders" there was little else Pulleine could do. He did try to form his men into fighting squares later when the line was recalled, but by then it was too late.

So to call Durnford incompetent and criminal is mistaken.
5th February 2003mark Hobson
I meant to add the following info:

The line, as roughly described above, was set along the crest of a slight rise overlooking some dead ground at the foot of the Nqutu plateau. Any officer worth his salt would realize this hollow could be used by an enemy seeking cover, so it was vital that they cover it. When the two 7-pounders of the artillery took up their spot amoungst the rocks there they chose their place wisely. Not only could they cover this dead ground but the distance up to the lip of the Nqutu plateau was approximately 3200 to 3400 yards, their maximum range. They could therefore shell the Zulus as they spilled down from the heights. When the artillery was joined by the infantry the British soldiers found the position ideal. From this crest to the dead ground the distance was about 400 yards - perfect for the Martini-Henry. So, all in all, the position that the British line took was very good.

Pulleine of course would have sought help from his more experienced officers when setting out his defences.

Durnford, out on the plain, had little knowledge that the British infantry were being deployed. He was busy with the Zulu left horn.

As to whether he or Pulleine should have entrenched is irrelevant. Chelmsford did not do so when he set up the camp on Jan 20th. After all, Isandlwana was only ever going to be a temporary camp, prior to the advance resuming on towards Ulundi.
5th February 2003Keith Smith

I believe much of what you say is correct; in fact, Chelmsford adopted precisely the same deployemnt of his force for the march back to Isandlwana. Who knows what might have happened had the Zulu army been able to fight him as well!

As to Durnford. One must remember that he was commanding an independent column and his (imprecise) orders were to move up to Isandwana and no more. He was not directed to take charge of the camp, although his seniority allowed him to do so. He asked Puulleine for two infantry companies, when he might have commandeered them; he also requested permission to make use of Higginson to take a message to his Mounted Horse on the plateau. This is hardly the behaviour of an autocrat. I winder then, what evidence there is to state that he, and not Pulleine, sent Cavaye onto the northern spur?

Finally, as an independent commander, having shrugged off command of the camp, he was free to follow what he thought his orders implied, which was to support Chelmsford, whom he thought was threatened by the Zulu on the escarpment.
11th February 2003j.whybra
Cavaye was sent out to replace Barry's NNC coy which had been picked up by shepstone.
That Cavaye was sent out at Durnford's specific order is specifically stated by Chelmsford in a summary which he made from the Ct of Inquiry evidence. The sentence appears at the end of a paragraph for which he cites Essex as the source.
11th February 2003Julian Whybra
I've received 4 e-mails direct to me asking about my previous comment. Graham's was perhaps the most comprehensive; I'm sure he won't mind if I reproduce his questions and my answers below to save me answering any more e-mails.

Dear Graham
Thanks for your e-mail. I'll try to answer your points in turn.

1)Assuming that Chelmsford was correct, where did Essex get his information from ?

He would either have got his information from Cavaye or more likely from Cochrane who was present during the initial Pulleine-Durnford discussion and with whom Essex fell in with at Helpmekaar.

2) Who actually delivered the order to Cavaye to leave the camp ? I think it very unlikely that Pulleine would have used his own Adjutant to relay any order given by Durnford.

Since we know from Cochrane's evidence that Pulleine, on Durnford's arrival, did hand over command to him, and gave him a state of the troops and his verbal orders, it is more than likely that one of Pulleine's two staff officers - Essex or Coghill - delivered the order to Cavaye.

3) Most sources say that Durnford had already left the camp before Cavaye was dispatched.

This is a persuader statement. Which sources? An analysis of timing will show that Cavaye's departure cannot have been later than Durnford's. Higginson, sent out by Durnford with a message for Shepstone and riding at say 10 miles an hour to catch him up, would have taken about 20 mins to reach Shepstone's men, which he did just as the fighting began. It would have taken Cavaye at least as long as that to get his men into position. He must have done this before the firing started or he would have concentrated his force and not sent Dyson out 500 yards to his left.

4) The only way Chelmsford could have come by the information was therefore a face to face conversation with Essex. The only time that Essex and Chelmsford met after the battle was on the 23rd January when Essex rode to Rorke's Drift to report the defence of Helpmekaar.

You are correct in stating that Essex did not mention Durnford's order re Cavaye in his formal statement of 24th January. You are incorrect in stating that Essex rode to Rorke's Drift on the 23rd to report the defence of Helpmekaar. He went there "to report the events of the previous day to the General" (see Essex's Times letter). It seems most likely that the information about durnford was given informally to Chelmsford then.

5) Most authorative sources confirm that Pulleine gave the orders for the camps defence and have not picked up on the fact that Chelmsford dangled the carrot about Durnford's order to move Imperial companies around.

This is another Persuader Statement. Which 'authoritative' sources? I have no doubt Pulleine was responsible for almost all the other troop movements that day. However, whatever else Chelmsford may have neglected to say, whatever else he covered up, what he durst not do was to print a direct lie and invent a source for that lie. Therefore when he stated specifically in print (in the summary to the Ct of Inquiry evidence) that Durnford ordered Cavaye's move up the spur to replace Barry's picquet and states that the source for this remark was Essex, it would not be an untruth.

I am not an apologist for Chelmsford; I think he has much to answer for. But it is necessary to get at the truth of events. Personally I do not think that sending out a replacement company (Cavaye's) for another company engaged on other duty (Barry's) is anything to 'blame' Durnford (or Pulleine) for. It was a logical move and, interestingly enough, according to Cochrane, is not one which Pulleine tried to disagree with.


Julian Whybra