Dr Edmund Yorke's Rorke's Drift

Dr Edmund Yorke's Rorke's Drift

  • Author: Dr Edmund Yorke
  • Publisher: Tempus Books
  • Publish Date: 10/09/2005
  • Price: £12.99

Review By : Dr Adrian Greaves

At first sight an impressive looking book written by a senior lecturer at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. Ed has already written one book on the subject and my hopes were high for this new project as Dr York is probably the best placed researcher to write on the subject. Unfortunately, in the words of his publisher, it is basically a re-print of his original work, but now dated by five years. Apart from a new title, Dr York has not taken the opportunity of up-dating this edition, and for a Sandhurst man to refer to Rorke’s Drift as a ‘siege’ is curious because the mission station was attacked, not besieged in the military sense of the word. Once his description of the battle commences his distances are hopelessly exaggerated and he has the 24th defenders opening fire on the advancing Zulus at a range of 600 yards, which does not fit the topography of the location, which he repeatedly mis-spells. He also challenges Prof. John Laband’s detailed research, backed up by many sources, including accounts from those present (including Lord Chelmsford), that the Zulus spread out after crossing into Natal. Without quoting his sources, Dr York maintains the Zulu force specifically focused on attacking the mission station, for which there is no evidence. Lieutenant Chard’s account also suggests otherwise; …in parties of fifteen to twenty, they repeatedly attacked the end room of the hospital. They made these attacks in the most deliberate manner, advancing after the manner of their dancing, with a prancing step and high action; they cared nothing for slaughter, but endeavoured in the most persistent manner to get over the barricade and into the hospital. Many times, seven or eight at least, Lieutenant Bromhead, collecting a few men together, had to drive them off with a bayonet charge.

 Had Dr York’s version been correct, the first Zulu attack on Rorke’s Drift would certainly have overwhelmed the tiny garrison. Later, his account of the marching column from Helpmekaar on the 22 January is misleading; he appears to have confused this column with Chelmsford’s surviving column that arrived at RD the following day. Apart from the publication of the official archaeological project at RD, much fresh material has been unearthed and is readily available- most of which is ignored by this book. Overall, I was disappointed by this publication. Zulu War enthusiasts are a well-informed and well-read group who won’t be impressed with an out-of-date publication which repeats its earlier mistakes. It may well be popular with his Sandhurst students and, judging by his use of military jargon in the latter part of the book, I presume this captive group is his intended audience. Like every Zulu War enthusiast, I genuinely look forward to any new book on the subject. Contrary to belief, there is still so much that we don’t know about Rorke’s Drift but Dr York’s book has not advanced the cause; the subject remains ‘wide-open’ to any serious author. We all wait with anticipation for such a definitive work, perhaps from Ian Knight? In September 2005 I invited Dr York to comment on my above questions, I still await his response.

Thursday 12th of January 2006 08:16:30 PM