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Langalibelele,BRP & "Don't Shoot" Durnford
Michael Boyle


Joined: 12 Dec 2005
Posts: 595
Location: Bucks County,PA,US
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[When one front bogs down, attempt to regain the initiative by diverting to another! Although this may be a tall order.]

As, through my reading, there seems to be much speculation that the events at Bushman's River Pass can percievably explain subsequent actions at Isandlwana by Col. Durnford I was hoping that I could ellicit some input concerning that speculation.

It's ironic that T. Shepstone didn't concur with the operation in the first place as he felt sure that the BaSotho would give him up anyway, which of course was the eventual outcome, and that Pine would end up back-peddling and insinuate that AWD should have used his own initiative in the circumstances. This after providing conflicting expectations of either a major military confrontation or a simple civil unrest situation ("Don't shoot first" being typical orders with anticipated civil unrest even today.) As it was the action started with all the earmarks of civil unrest and I can't help but think that had AWD's men been well disciplined 'regulars' , rather than well meaning amateurs whose training seemed to rest solely on the parade ground, the situation could have remained so as their quarry (Langalibelele and most of his men) had already abscounded.

Of course the Carbineers, after receiving training the hard way, went on to honourably distinguish themselves, I do wonder if this was in no small part due to BRP.

I'm still relatively new to the "Langalibelele Affair" but so far it looks as if the scapegoat here is Ridley, the editor of the Natal Witness, who not only (in effect) 'fired the first shot' by publishing 'heat of battle' rumours that could well have subsided in a short time but in doggedly pursuing the matter to the point of forcing a C. of I.

Keeping in mind that Maj. Durnford's anticipated role at BRP was to act in support of Allison and finding himself the sole force present, has history perhaps been overly hard on him there only because of subsequent events at Isandlwana? (Again, my take is that in 1879 BRP was no longer much of an issue.)

Best

Michael
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Dawn


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 610
Location: Auckland, New Zealand
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Michael

For all the good intentions, you must admit that the whole BRP was a bit farcical. Wrong directions, illusive enemy in his own territory, a commander who would not give up even when suffering terrible injuries.

If nothing else, I admire Durnford for his tenacity. He would keep pushing on no matter what, something that was evident in his retreat on Isandlwana plain, determined to hold back the advancing impi. (I still don't think it had much bearing on the survivors - but that debate has sheered off again)

It's a pity both ended so tragically. And I think that the incident at BRP determined Durnford's behaviour on that day in 1879. BRP was still an issue.

We are shaped by the events through which we have passed.

Dawn
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Rich
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Boy I just don't know about this idea of how past behavior governs an individual's response in future events. Regarding the speculation that BRP affected the Colonel's behavior at Isandhlwana, I just don't see how that can be an angle of examination. For that you'd have to understand and know intimately the Colonel's entire psychological makeup. I'm afraid I just don't see how anybody can enter that sphere without getting into alot of trouble over what drives human motivation and behavior. Frankly, I think the only guy who "knows" the Colonel is the Colonel himself.
John Young


Joined: 30 Aug 2005
Posts: 982
Location: Lower Sheering, Essex
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Michael,

Just a quick question, apart from Mike Snook's book, do you have another reference for the expression 'Don't Shoot Durnford' that you've used?

I can only find the expression "Don't fire Durnford", and that was used by Henry Rider Haggard, '...who knew Colonel Durnford well, and has the greatest of respect for the memory of that good officer, and honourable gentleman... (Should throw that one into another post!)

Haggard states '...[Durnford] was designated by the ungenerous nickname of 'Don't fire Durnford.' It is alleged, none can know with what amount of truth, that it was the memory of this undeserved insult which caused Colonel Durnford to insist upon advancing the troops under his command to engage the Zulus in the open, instead of withdrawing them to await attack in the the comparative safety of a 'laager.' ...

Henry Rider Haggard, The Tale of Isandhlwana and Rorke's Drift from Andrew Lang's edited work The True Story Book published 1893, London.

John Y.
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Keith Smith


Joined: 30 Aug 2005
Posts: 540
Location: Northern NSW, Australia
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Michael B.

There is an interesting series of letters sent by John Sanderson, editor of the Natal Colonist, to J.N. Crealock concerning Sanderson's defence of his criticism of Lord C. over the latter's attaching blame for Isandlwana to AWD. In one of these dated 4 March 1879 he said the following:

'I do not intend to trouble you with a long letter, but as you have referred to the feeling in the Colony against Durnford and to ‘personal questions of a Colonial nature’ – which you seem at a loss to understand – I may just say that the very unjust censures passed upon him in connection with the Bushman’s Pass affair, [illegible] to charges of cowardise, [sic], and the vindictive way in which the partisans of Sir B. Pine sought to make a scapegoat of him, made me perhaps more ready to take up the cudgels on his behalf when I saw a renewal of the old hostility and injustice to him, or to his memory rather, in connection with the Isandhlwana disaster. Personally, I know little of Colonel Durnford; had only seen him half a dozen times, the last time to lend him a dozen MS maps to help him in preparing his map of Zululand, of which, by the by, I have never been able to get a copy – and I could not therefore claim any intimacy or friendship for him; so, though I admired him it was not personal regard for him, but indignation at what seemed to me a very cowardly and unjust attack that made me take the matter up – with perhaps a little more warmth than I might otherwise have done; though, of course, in passing my judgement on public events I should have expressed exactly the same views. At the Bushman’s Pass he was placed in a false position by being put in command of armed men, yet his duties were purely civil, and he was on no account to fire. I am aware that he felt this keenly, yet, with me, he was so rational and so little inclined to defend himself or blame others, that the only time I ever ventured to speak to him on the subject, his reply was that he had nothing to say but that if the thing was to be done over again, he should do exactly as he had done.' (National Army Museum, Chelmsford Papers, 6807/386-23-24)

KIS
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Michael Boyle


Joined: 12 Dec 2005
Posts: 595
Location: Bucks County,PA,US
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Dawn,

I'm not so sure (except for elements of farce). I agree that we're all shaped by our experiences, but to what degree and in what context should that be applied? The Natal Witness (sans Ridley) had this to say upon AWD's being posted 'Out of Africa' in 1876:

"The Colonel was a brave, sensitive and high-principled man, and of blameless life. He was a thorough-going soldier and had a quick eye to what was wanted, but possessed in a remarkable degree the power of encouraging and seeing to all the wants of his subordinates. He was moreover one with whom one could not converse with ten minutes without learning something, and that is a very special merit in a place like this."

From this I take that by 1876 bygones had become bygones to a large degree.

Rich,

You've hit on precicely my point. Every book I've thus far read that contains any reference to Col. Durnford seems to make the grandest leaps through psychological assumption in trying to explain his actions in accordance with whatever position is being presented. This is of course quite natural due the pausity of information left us through the deaths of all the principals. (At Isandlwana, not BRP.) In lieu of an auto-biography or assisted biography we are left with forcing deductions. However, I question some of these deductions and would hope for more illuminating explanations for arriving at them.

John,

Sorry, I have no new reference there, my 'Americanization' of the phrase was but a feeble attempt at a play on words. Should have used semi-quotes. (Curious how humourous thoughts in mind turn out to be less so when allowed to escape their confines!) Thanks for providing the the origin of the real quote as I'm sure many of us hadn't realized it reached print through Haggard who was definiteley in a position to comment on it and I think the quote fits quite nicely here as well.. ( I found the photo you provided for "The Road to Isandhlwana" showing Haggard reclined with Sir T. and staff to be quite conducive to allowing myself to credit some of his works with more relevance.) [I should also credit the aforementioned work with the NW quote above as my only source, as yet, to contemporary news accounts is limited to Ron and Peter's "Red Book" and their compilation of the ILN. By the way the best method I've found of attempting a contemporary perspective.I'm very glad they took the trouble!]

Keith,

Thanks for that! It seems to support that the BRP affair was dregded back up after Isandlwana in a rather cynical fashion and thus became part the the historical casus belli ever since. Athough Droogleever's assertion that Durnford's censure for following orders at BRP led directly to his subsequent actions is still giving me trouble. (You wouldn't happen to be thinking of compiling the Blue Books and the Chelmsford papers in a single volumn would you?)

I do think that the entire BRP affair has been overblown. Shortly after the debacle when Capt. Boyes was thought to be in some danger, AWD (still bruised and bloodied) led out a group of volunteers from Meshlynn's farm to the cheers of the men remaining in camp to,in effect, head him off before the pass. Col. Milles who instead of rebuking him for taking out so large a force to find Boyes (...!) instead commended him on his 'courage and coolness'. Some thought he deserved the V.C. (this according to R.W.F. without particular reference) and was in fact recommended for the CMG by the Secretary of State for War although Lord Carnarvon turned it down due the operation being a failure. Although eventually convinced (or forced?) by his father to register for a wounds pension it was found after his death that 'he had never drawn a penny of it'. Even his brother it seems attributed this to spite rather than to his refusing to credit an incapacity. (He didn't after all let it slow him down much!)

Anthony William Durnford seems an extraordinarily complex man, with a ton of 'emotional baggage' perhaps, and I'm finding it difficult to cut through the post-mordem psychological assessments as applied to the facts of his actions.

(Pity we don't seem have a qualified forensic psychologist amongst us so I suppose we'll have to make do with arguably logical deductions!)

Best

Michael
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mike snook 2


Joined: 04 Jan 2006
Posts: 920
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Michael

It's unfair to dismiss a part-time volunteer unit like the NC as civilians. They seem to have been a perfectly serivcable unit in the best volunteer tradition. The amaHlubi should in any case have been a walkover.

You're going to have to find somebody esle to argue with now, as I've grown bored with it and you remain completely stalwart!! But before I go, I believe in order to understand the psychology, (have I spelt that wretched word wrong - I always have to look it up?!!) you have to pitch Durnford's life and career against the army of which he was a part. This was a fighting army. And this was a 48 year old Colonel who, (not for want of trying), had seen nothing of the excitement. Are you seriously telling me that heading a military fiasco at your one fleeting moment of glory, and then as a consequence stirring up a political storm, which sees you so thoroughly despised that you have your dog poisoned and have to abandon your private house, that all this will have no effect on your mindset or your future conduct?

And let us contemplate too - would the good citizens of Pietermaritzburg have been stirred to such fury if what Durnford said at the Inquiry was essentially fair. It was precisely because they were unfair that things turned nasty. I return to an earlier point - Durnford was in command - it was a fiasco. Tell me on the basis of your own service, when a military fiasco occurs, minor or major, who is to blame?

Please don't say the men!!

Regards

Mike
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John Young


Joined: 30 Aug 2005
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Location: Lower Sheering, Essex
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Mike,

Same question as I posed Michael, do you have a source for the expression 'Don't Shoot Durnford'?

I did endeavour to contact you via the 'Private Messages' link in order to resolve it, but I fear I didn't send it to Mark II version!

Thanks in anticipation,

John Y.
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Michael Boyle


Joined: 12 Dec 2005
Posts: 595
Location: Bucks County,PA,US
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Mike,

I'm not trying to be unfair, the Carbineers were no worse, nor better than countless other citizen-soldier organizations then in existence. I do trust that you would however agree that the backbone of any good military unit is it's unquestioned discipline which ensures self confidence and that discipline can only be developed by hard and continuing training which was not seriously attempted by the civilian authorities who controlled the militias. This is I believe key to their understanding. Militias were not military organizations responsible to a central government military arm, they were civilian organizations responsible to an elected local government head (outside of Britain perhaps). (To this day the modern US militia- the National Guard- answers only to it's State Governor unless released by him to the US Army. The reason the National Guard is originally trained and follows US Army doctrine and protocol today is due to their previous spotty performance and lack of discipline in bygone years.) For this reason I think it unfair that AWD should be blamed for the troops unsteadiness at BRP. The fact remains however that on the Carbineers subsequent call-ups they performed much more creditably and I was wondering if this perhaps was due to the events at BRP. It seems no one came away from that feeling good about themselves. I do believe that had he been in command of 'regular' troops that events would have transpired differently.

I'm not defending the way AWD handled the situation ( if for no other reason than I have much more reading to do on it) but I am disputing that he should have come down in history with sole responsibility for the whole bolluxed affair. There's no denying the nastiness that ensued from all sides and that he 'got his Irish up' but by the following year tempers seem to have cooled and by the the time he left SA in 1876 there do not have appeared to have been many hard feelings. I believe the whole unfortunate police action is only now remembered because it was brought back to life as a red herring (much as with the 'tent-striking') after Isandlwana when everyone was doing their best to distance themselve's from that disaster and played no real part in events of that day.

[I am as ever open to rebuttal but quite understand that popular opinion may feel I'm doing this to death!]

[By the way Mike, lest there be any misunderstanding, had I been with the forum during the HCMDB marathon I would have been firmly in your corner on all but a couple of small issues! So thanks for your thought-provoking input and I'm looking forward to eating some of my words when Vol.II comes out. (Though I haven't exactly made a dinner reservation yet!)]

Best

Michael
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Peter Quantrill
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John,
There is a source for 'Don't Fire.'
Sir Garnet Wolseley's South African Diaries 1875 edited by Prof Adrian Preston, 16 July entry, page 218 reads:
' Lt.Col. Durnford arrived [ Greytown] from a tour of duty round the Tugela border. As soon as it was known that he was in the village, some fellow, most probably one of the Volunteers that was the first to run away at the unfortunate Bushman's Pass affair sent a Kaffir round with a large plackard, announcing " Don't Fire is in town." This trait is a very example of what a nest of ill-conditioned people there are in this neighbourhood. I refer only to the English speaking part of the community, ....'
Sir Garnet certainly seems to endorse Durnford's views on the episode.
mike snook 2


Joined: 04 Jan 2006
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John

Bear with me - I live and work and keep my library and notes in different places. So its difficult for me to immediately go back and check in that sort of detail.

It is possible I may just have written in that particular expression off the top of my head - and have misquoted the original source. Personally I would not regard 'Don't Shoot Durnford' and 'Don't Fire Durnford' as materially different, but I know you hard core researcher buffs would regard that as heresy!! Please don't burn me at the stake. Laughing

Regards as ever

Mike
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Rich
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Mike S:
Boy oh boy you sure appear to be how should I say it a psychological determinist there with the Colonel ,eh?? I don't find a problem with the argument that the past has an influence on the future but again human behavior when you come down to it is extremely complicated and there can be no sure thing when surmising the state of a human's mind.
Now in HCMDB ,and please correct me if I'm off there was a reference that Durnford "despised" himself. Now I'd suggest that you probably see a powerful argument for it based on Durnford's past but in the end that can't be proved. The evidence I'd say used in the ref appars to be circumstantial but cannot in the last resort be definitve. I don't know if the Colonel kept a diary but that would be an interesting piece to examine since that of all possible pieces of evidence would give clues as to his psychological disposition when commenting on an event. I don't know. For a guy like the Colonel and his service I guess I just don't see him despising himself. And if we want to go that way we might as well as add that appellation to Chelmsford as well after he got the news that his camp and most of his men were completely annihilated when he was in command. Now as far as human behavior, we get no record of him from anyone saying that "upon hearing the news of the calamity Chelmsford slowly drew away and vomited profusely in the grass". But we don't have that showing that human behavior and personality is complicated and can go in many ways. What you might expect you don't get.
Michael Boyle


Joined: 12 Dec 2005
Posts: 595
Location: Bucks County,PA,US
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Rich,

I'm unaware of any journal or diary that the Col. may have kept but he does seem to have been a voluminous corresponder and his letter's to his mother seem in particular to be the next best thing to a journal. However like so many of us ( much to the chagrine of the ladies in our live's!) seems to have played his inner-most feelings very close to the vest. Unfortunately much of his personal correspondence seems to have gone up in a house fire. I'd love to find a book that compiled whatever has survived though!

Best

Michael
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In the old forum I had suggested having a 'psychological profile' done of Durnford, by a professional 'profiler'.

However, with the possibility that some information outwith what we already know about him, not ever being available, it would be an uneven or unfair way to get an idea of his mindset at Isandlwana.

This so-called profiler would preferably have no prior knowledge of Durnford, or the two incidents he is connected with militarily, so as to give an outsider's opinion, without them having a chance previously to make up their own mind, which would make the assessment more uneven.

Yes. I know a fair bit of guesswork would be involved, but isn't that what is being discussed already, although a person in this sort of profession may be able to supply something new, not necessarily considered before.

The only time that I've seen this technique used, was for Ney (?) and his mindset during the battle at Waterloo.

Not exactly accurate, but then, as with now, it did make fascinating viewing.

Michael

I'm always hoping such journals/diaries do appear at some stage, even though the chances of such are not very encouraging.

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Mike Snook


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
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Rich

'For a long time [post BRP] Anthony Durnford unwittingly despised himself', which is not quite the same thing. What I mean to suggest by that is that BRP preyed on his mind, and that he lived only for the opportunity to slay the psyhcological dragon. I tried to encapsulate in a sentence or two, a subject that in its full form might actualy require 3000 words - space which no popular history can afford.

One of the problems with this issue is that those who have never served as a career soldier will genrally struggle to grapple with the psychology involved. And don't get me wrong - I do not mean to patronize by that remark. I seek only to explain. It is for example a common phenomenon that men who have been subjected to the ultimate trial of battle, will feel themselves personally fulfilled and will feel no incentive therafter to soldier on. After the Falklands for example many men left the service in the 2 or 3 years afterwards - peacetime soldiering held no attraction for them. Take Harry Hook as another example - he bought himself out pretty quickly.

Strange though it may seem all professional soldiers are drawn to the need to test themsleves in battle. Durnford tried very hard to get into action in his early life. But things generally went wrong for him. He was for example taken ill on his way to one campaign and had to turn back. And it is on the basis of their performance on operations that the reputations of soldiers are made or broken. So by the age of 48, the only bit of action in D's past is the disastrous BRP episode.

I also know instinctively, in reading of BRP, that the Carbineers broke because they were exhausted, driven too hard by a man in whom they had no particular confidence, who took them directly into a close range confrontation with the well armed amaHlubi, having given what were tantamount to suicidal orders. We're going to ride straight over to those amaHlubi johnnies, chaps, and by the way whatever happens don't shoot first. It's insane. And it's no wonder that it all went horribly wrong. Durnford had to be able to challenge the amaHlubi (from a position of advantage - that is to say from well selected fire posiitons in good cover) so that he could tell them to surrender or face the consequences. In this way, he would have met the spirit of his 'don't fire first' orders. Even if he had to follow them for another day to achieve this, then that is what he should have done. Or if going into Basutoland was politically beyond the pale (unlikely) then it was already too late - and he should have made a balanced decision - because we got lost earlier on, it is now too late to interdict the amauHlubi in any tactically prudent fashion. I shall have to turn back and present Langilibalele and his clan back to the civil authorities as a political problem.

But he didn't do this. He went in like a bull in a china shop. The reason he did so is because this by was far the most exciting moment in his career. This was his opportunity. He could not bear the idea of it slipping away - to have to go back home and admit to having got lost in the hills. So, as was his wont, he gambled - and with the odds stacked against him - he lost. It was the wrong thing to do. He took the gamble. The responsibility for what then ensued is his - and his alone. But no, he decided it was the fault of the men. By the way, as a military commander, you have to take the quaility and condition of your troops into account, in all your operational decisions. Every aspect of a confrontation is what soldiers label a 'factor' and all factors must be considered by a commander before he arrives at his decision. The process can take from fifteen seconds to 8 hours depending on the complexity of the problem and the pressing urgency of the need to make a decision. But once made, the responsibility for a decision rests with the commander, and with the commander alone.

Durnford must have known that he was himself in large part ot blame. But he had side-stepped the blame. And that was what made the Carbineers and wider Natal angry at him. It is simply not possible for him to have quietly forgotten all about BRP. It would have haunted him. And he would have burned with anxiety for some further opportunity to prove to the rest of the world that the Durnford of public perception, was not the real Durnford. Every aspect of his conduct in 1879 points to that.

No more from me on this. Everybody is at liberty to make up their own mind.

Regards to all

Mike
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Langalibelele,BRP & "Don't Shoot" Durnford
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