Detail Images :
More notes from the artist, Jason Askew
This painting depicts the climax of the Zulu attacks as the sun went down on a day of mixed fortune for both Zulu and British forces. The Zulu Impis managed to successfully destroy the main British invasion column at Isandlwhana, utilising the classic horns-of-the-buffalo manouevre. Lord Chelmsford, the British Commander-in-Chief, had neglected to fortify his camp at Isandlwhana with ditch, parapet, or laager, as he was advised to do by colonial troopers and advisors who had prior experience of the discipline and fighting power of a Zulu Impi. The result was that the camp at Isandlwhana was overrun in little over half an hour-with losses of at least 1000 men. Rorkes Drift, a Swedish mission station, was being used as a British military hospital and storehouse, and was attacked from 4pm onwards ,by three married Impis who, due to their average age of 40 years old, were primarily used as a blocking force to prevent the escape of British fugitives running away from the captured camp at Isandlwhana. Becoming frustrated at not getting a decent piece of the action at Isandlwhana, these three married Impis took it upon themselves to attack Kwa-Jim (Rorkes Drift) against the express orders of Cetewayo, the Zulu king. The reason for this was that Rorkes Drift was on the British/Colonial side of the Tugela river. The Tugela was regarded by both sides as a natural border between Natal colony and Zululand, and Cetewayo was, in political terms, fighting a defensive war. If Zulu soldiers crossed the Tugela into Natal, Cetewayo was apprehensive that the British government would use this as a cynical justification for their invasion of Zululand. Yet the impatience of the three married Zulu Impis got the better of them, and off they all happily trotted, to dig holes in the walls of Kwa-jim. Unfortunately, despite their best efforts, the Zulus were unable to effectively penetrate the mealie bag defenses at Rorkes Drift, even though they succeeded in burning down the hospital, and peppering the storehouse with bullet holes. The confined space available to the British garrison caused a certain degree of physical compression, but this in fact worked against the Zulus, as it drove the defenders closer together with the result being that the volley fire from the defenders was concentrated and subsequently very effective at close range, as opposed to the spread out skirmish line type formation used at Isandlwhana. The Zulu attacks also became uncoordinated, being driven forward by charismatic individuals, but lacking the support of the necessary numbers needed to overwhelm the desperate defenders, who now appreciated that they were literally fighting for their lives. Hunger and thirst, as well as a strong national desire to throw the mulungu (white invaders) out of Zululand, were also great motivators in the attack on the mission station. By midnight, the Zulu Impis at Rorkes Drift had shot their bolt, and lacked the will, and the calories, to attempt any more decent attacks. Psychologically, the close range martini henry fire was particularly devastating, and simply taxed the endurance of brave Zulu soldiers, who were blasted at close range whenever they showed their faces above the wall of mealie bags. Nevertheless, the Zulus made a good effort at Rorkes drift, and did all that any other soldiers might have achieved in similar circumstances, without proper rations. The next morning, the Zulus got fed up and withdrew, leaving their dead and wounded lying like pumpkins around the mission station. In an extraordinary incident, as the Zulus retreated from the unsuccessful attack on Rorke's Drift, they marched straight past Lord Chelmsford and his surviving troops, who were themselves retreating back to Natal after the Isandlwhana defeat. Apparently, the British and Zulu columns passed within 50 feet of each other yet there was no battle - not a knobkerry nor a rifle was raised - the Zulus were too exhausted by their Herculean effort at Rorkes Drift and the British column was so low on ammunition and their morale so shattered by the experience of seeing the eviscerated mess and the destroyed camp at Isandlwhana, that they simply had no stomach for a fight. So ,in a remarkably curious circumstance of war, both sides felt that, for the moment, they had had quite enough of the pleasure of each others company. Although Rorkes Drift was a tactical defeat for the Zulus (unlike Isandlwhana, which was a significant drubbing for the British army) it can be argued that the Zulus achieved a strategic victory at both Isandlwhana and with the pressure they applied at Rorkes Drift. The reason being without the transport wagons, oxen, food, ammunition, boot polish, and troops destroyed at Isandlwhana, and with the Rorkes Drift garrison hanging on by its fingernails, Lord Chelmsford had no choice but to hold his imperialist aspirations in check ,and was obliged to abandon his plans for the invasion of Zululand. His audience with the Queen would simply have to wait. Isandlwhana was the Zulu swansong. The defeat of the first British invasion gave the Zulu nation another six months of freedom - the British defeat at Isandlwhana caused a great deal of embarrassment to both the British army and the British government officials, who coughed and guffawed under their breath, rattled their newspapers in gentlemans clubs across London with ill-disguised irritation, and who simply could not understand or mentally process the fact that their military had been defeated by a medieval. non-white army, composed of people they regarded as savages, armed with spears, sticks, stones and shields. This prejudice towards Africa, combined with a very racist white European world view and superiority complex, meant that the British establishment just simply could not find it within themselves to credit the Zulu army with any tactical skill or expertise. They felt that someone in the British army, or the colonial forces must have made some appalling mistake, and a search for a scapegoat was initiated, as, in their eyes, the Zulus were not capable outwitting a Sandhurst trained, straight backed Grenadier Guards officer of such impressiveness as Lord Chelmsford. The events at Isandlwhana and Rorkes Drift also caused embarrassment for Britain in the eyes of other European Imperialist/Colonial powers, who felt, perhaps, that the British were not quite as formidable as they seemed - obviously - if the Zulus, an African army, using sticks and shields could beat them. This attitude was, sadly, again an example of institutionalised European racism and disdain for Africa - an acute mental block and failure to acknowledge the Zulus as skilled opponents. The result of this was that Britain sent out large numbers of reinforcements to Lord Chelmsford to ensure that he made a proper job of the next British invasion of Zululand, to give the Zulus a jolly good talking to, and to teach them a lesson for presuming too much at Isandlwhana, and also to make sure that British soldiers and diplomats were not laughed at in the salons and cafes of Berlin and Paris. The Zulu army was subsequently scythed down and destroyed by the invading British forces at the battle of Ulundi. The Battle at Ulundi marked the end of the independent Zulu way of life, and also, curiously, marked the beginnings of the economic system of Apartheid in South Africa. Gold was discovered in the Witwatersrand area in 1881. From now on, Zulu men would be transformed from being proud warriors into an army of cheap labour, doing low status jobs ranging from being dustbin collectors, toilet cleaners, miners, to garden boys, stripped of their human dignity, and enduring a life of slavery, living in hostels, away from their families and communuties, working in appalling conditions in British-owned Witwatersrand Gold mines. And all this, to serve the greater glory, ego, greed, and profit required by the idea of a British Empire and driven by the financial needs of the London stock exchange.