All place names in bold and capital letters are areas
within our region (see the areamap
to see the region we cover - this opens in a new page).
Early Military Engagements
At the beginning of the 19th Century, the Zulu people were one of many
small tribes in the area today known as Zululand. When Shaka became king he began a systematic programme
of building up the size and power ofthe Zulu nation. This involved a number of skirmishes and battles with
other tribes. The ripple effects of warfare and the scattering of groups is known as the Mfecane. By the
mid I 820s, the Zulus had defeated all others and emerged as the most powerful nation.
The GreatTrek - 1836-1852
The introduction of British rule in the Cape Colony after 1806 resulted
in wide spread dissatisfaction among the fiercely independent Afrikaners and led to the major exodus of Voortrekkers
to destinations in the hinterland. They wished to govern themselves and maintain their cultural
identity and language.
Piet Retief's group arrived in Natal, land of the Zulu nation, in 1837.
He negotiated with the Zulu king,
Dingane, for land on which he and his followers could settle. Piet Retief
and 101 of his fellow trekkers were killed on orders from King Dingane while on a mission to finalise an
agreement with him. Other groups of Voortrekkers were virtually annihilated. There were a series of battles,
particularly in the region of present day Estcourt, which was where the trekker groups had camped to graze their
cattle.The Voortrekkers regrouped and marched inland to seek
retribution for the death of their people. At Wasbank on 9 December 1838 the Voortrekker party made a vow that should God
grant them victory over the Zulus, they would forever remember the day and would build a church in thanksgiving.
At the subsequent battle of Blood River on 16 December 1838 (the river was known to the Zulus as
Ncome - the peaceful one) the Zulu army was defeated and King Dingane forced to flee. He was later assassinated
by a Nyawo tribesman in the Gwaliweni forest on the Swaziland border.
The Anglo Zulu War 1879
King Mpande succeeded King Dingane in 1840 and maintained cordial relations
with the Voortrekkers and theBritish colonists, who were established south of the Thukela River.
King Cetshwayo succeeded his father King Mpande, in 1872. He immediately set about building up the Zulu
kingdom, which the colonists of Natal felt to be a threat. An ultimatum was presented to the Zulus and on
its expiry British troops invaded Zululand.
The British troops moved into Zululand, in three columns, along the
coast, inland from Rorke's Drift and southfrom Balte Spruit near Utrecht, heading for Ulundi. The first Zulu attack
was on the coastal force at Nyezane inthe early hours of the morning of 22 January, followed by the 10 week
siege at Eshowe. The major battles of the war were fought at Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift on 22 and 23 January
1879. Further battles and skirmishes were to take place at Gingindlovu, Ntombe Drift, Hlobane and Kambula,
with the final battle taking place at Ulundi. It was at this battle on 4 July 1879 that the Zulu army suffered
their final defeat. King Cetshwayo was removed, imprisoned and later reinstated as King of Zululand. He died
in Eshowe in 1884.
Prince Louis Napoleon, great nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte,
an observer with the British forces, was killed in a skirmish with the Zulus while on patrol on I June 1879, and with
him died the hopes of a Napoleonic dynasty. Utrecht played a prominent role in the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879,
when for several weeks it was the headquarters of the British army under the command of Lord Chelmsford,
as well as the headquarters of Col. Evelyn Woods' famous flying column.
The First War of Independence - 1880-1881
When the peaceful attempts by the leaders of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek
(Transvaal) failed to regain their independence, after the annexation of their territory by Shepstone
in 1877, war was declared. The British forces in South Africa were marched from Durban to Newcastle, close
to the border crossing into the Transvaal. The British and Boer forces clashed at Laing's Nek, Schuinshoogte
and finally at Majuba. In this latter engagement the British commander, General Colley was fatally
The armistice was signed in March 1881 at O'Neil's cottage
at the base of Majuba. The peace treaty was later signed at Hilldrop House, Newcastle. The Pretoria Convention signed
in October that year was never wholly acceptable to the Boers and contained the seeds of further disputes,
which led to the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War in 1899.
Anglo-Boer War - 1899-1902
War between Britain and the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (Transvaal),
supported by the Orange Free State, broke out on 11 October 1899. The northern triangle of Natal, which
bordered on both Boer Republics, was an especially vulnerable region. The Boers invaded Newcastle on 15 October
1899 and five days later the first battle of the war was fought at Talana, two kilometres from Dundee.
The British managed to drive the Boers off Talana Hill but suffered heavy losses and their commanding officer,
General Penn Symons, was mortally wounded in the engagement. The following day, 21 October 1899, the British
defeated the Boer forces at Elandslaagte to open the retreat route for the British forces from Dundee.
The large build-up of British troops had centred on LADYSMITH and it was here that the Boers laid
siege to the town, which lasted for 118 days and put Ladysmith on the world map.
Repeated attempts were made by Sir Redvers Buller to
relieve Ladysmith. At COLENSO, VAALKRANS and SPIOENKOP he was unable to break through Boer defences. Finally,
at the end of February 1900, he achieved his objectives in a series of battles that have become known
as TUGELA HEIGHTS.
The struggle in Natal continued. The battle of Helpmekaar
on 13 May 1900 relieved Dundee and, thereafter, the war was focused on the northern parts of Natal, the Cape Colony
and the Boer Republics. The second invasion by Louis Botha during September and October 1901saw
a number of engagements in the Vryheid area.
By the end of the war in 1902, large numbers of British
and colonial troops, as well as volunteers in support of the Boers from as far afield as Russia, Germany, the USA and France,
had been drawn into the conflict in a variety of capacities. Many South Africans were displaced from their
homes, thousands were dead and there was severe disruption to the economy.
Bambatha Rebellion - 1906
Bambatha, a chief of the Zondi tribe living just north of Greytown,
had been suspended from his chieftainship early in 1906. It is alleged that Dinuzulu encouraged him to resist
the authorities. In 1906 a poll tax, instead of the prevailing hut tax, was imposed on the local Zulus. These and other
incidents caused Bambatha to rebel and a number of other chiefs followed suit. A column of police was dispatched
to collect three settler women and a child at Mpanza and Keates Drift and bring them to safety. On
their return journey on 4April 1906, four policemen, Trooper Aston and his dog were killed at Ambush Rock, on
the Dundee road outside Greytown.
Colonial forces were called up, the barefoot Nongqaye
(Zulu Police) from Eshowe formed a border guard for Zululand, and Eshowe was evacuated and entrenched. Bambatha and his
men were finally trapped and killed in the Mome Gorge .This engagement virtually ended the rebellion, which
had lead to the death of approximately three and a half thousand people. Bambatha is considered
to be one of the forerunners of the Freedom Struggle in South Africa.