A Review of The South African Campaign of 1879

A Review of The South African Campaign of 1879


  • Author: Adrian Greaves & Ian Knight
  • Publisher: azwhs.com
  • Price: UK 20.00 Overseas 25.00

Review By : Elizabeth Hogan

First published in 1880, The South African Campaign 1879 was not so much a history of the Anglo-Zulu War as a eulogy for the British officers who died during the operations. While it included a brief summary of the campaign, the bulk of the contents consisted of biographical notes on every regular officer who died – in action or of disease, during the war. Inevitably, the book reflected the attitudes of those layers of Victorian Society – the middle and upper class – which had produced the officers themselves, and which comprised its potential readership. As a result it was uncritical of the British Policy in southern Africa, the conduct of the war, and the individuals concerned. In particular, while it relied heavily on the descriptions of fellow combatants as sources, those aspects of the book that dealt with the deaths in action where heavily influenced by Victorian conventions of duty and heroism. In retrospect, these often had little in common with the violent realities of a particularly brutal colonial war, and some of heroic vignettes described in the text are unsupportable in the light of modern research. Nevertheless, The South African Campaign 1879 included a great deal of biographical information which is not readily available elsewhere – much of it gathered from family sources – and the object of the present editors was to update Mackinnon and Shadbolt’s approach.  A new Introduction has been added,  which sets the Anglo-Zulu War within the wider contexts of the British intervention in southern Africa and the history of the Zulu kingdom, but have followed the authors’ original concept with regard to biographical detail.

We have retained the original style but have amended the content where subsequent research has shown the original entries to be inaccurate or incomplete. Where the original edition merely listed entries by regimental precedence, we have re-arranged them according to the chronology of the war. We have also added details on several casualties who died after the war from the effects of disease incurred during the hostilities but who were not included in the original volume. We have, however, retained the original edition’s anomalies, which were so much a part of its character; as a role of honour of British officer dead, that it did not include officers of Colonial units who died during the war. One exception was the Hon. William Vereker, who held a command in the Natal Native Contingent, but whose aristocratic background presumably qualified him for inclusion according to the compilers’ social criteria. After careful consideration, we have decided to follow the original choice; we have neither discarded Vereker nor added other Colonial subjects. Similarly, we have retained Captain Walter Glyn Lawrell, despite the fact that he died not in the Anglo Zulu War, but in the subsequent expedition against King Sekhukhune as the BaPedi people, in what was then the north-eastern Transvaal. The Prince Imperial is included, as he was half-British.

The original edition, of course, included no details of ordinary soldiers who died in the war. According to official records, a total of 76 officers and 1,007 British and Colonial troops were killed in action, and 37 officers and 206 men wounded. At least 604 African auxiliaries were killed fighting for the British – a figure that is probably significantly under-estimated. A further 17 officers and 330 men died from disease during the war, and throughout 1879 a total of 99 officers and 1,286 men where invalided ‘from the command for causes to the campaign.’ Zulu losses throughout the war are estimated to be in excess of 8000 men.

Monday 22nd of May 2006 02:35:05 PM