ZULU KING WHO DEFEATED A BRITISH ARMY AND KILLED
THE PRINCE NAPOLEON (d. 1884)
CETEWAYO, King of the Zulus, was the hero of the
greatest little war that England ever had.
Armed only with spears and knives, his men inflicted on the British
the most crushing defeat that England experienced at the hands of
any portion of a dark race in modern times.
His victory at Isandlhwana was marked by one of the most terrifying
slaughters in the annals of warfare.
In one skirmish he defeated and killed Prince Napoleon, heir to the
French throne. It took England over $100,000,000 and her ablest general
to cope with this Negro king.
Cetewayo had an amazing people as his subjects. Of all peoples, they
possessed, and still possess, the finest and most perfect physiques.
A white American woman visiting Zululand while out walking met a Zulu.
So great was the physical force he radiated that when he passed she
said she felt as if she had been overthrown by "a wave of power."
Once a missionary, in trying to frighten Cetewayo into accepting Christianity,
told him of hell fire.
"Hell fire!" Cetewayo laughed scornfully. "Do you frighten
me with hell fire? My soldiers would put it out. See!" He pointed
to a grass fire, which was burning over a considerable tract of land,
and calling to the officer commanding a regiment, he ordered, "Before
you look at me again, eat up that fire." In an instant thousands,
shouting their war cry, bounded toward the fire, leaping into it barefooted,
and the fire was soon "eaten up" without regard to those
who were maimed and permanently injured.
A warrior's outfit consisted of a shield of dried hide, two or three
spears, and a short blade for stabbing. As to clothing, he wore only
Discipline was most rigid. There was only one penalty for disobedience
or neglect of duty: death. A warrior knew he must conquer or die,
for certain death awaited a beaten army. He who ran or showed a trace
of fear in battle was instantly cut down by the man behind him.
According to Colonel Browne, who saw service against the Zulus, a
Zulu warrior could march thirty miles a day, and if need be, fifty,
and give battle at the end of the day.
The Bible and Greek mythology tell of giants whose tread shook the
earth. When Cetewayo's army of 35,000 marched, the earth literally
Not since the days of ancient Sparta had the world seen a body of
fighting men comparable in physique. And Cetewayo needed this army
to protect his kingdom--the kingdom he had inherited from his granduncle,
Chaka, himself a great conqueror and the founder of the Zulu nation.
The Boers, or Dutch settlers, were treacherously encroaching on his
territory. Years before, to escape British persecution further south,
they had migrated into his land and had been welcomed by his uncle,
Dingaan. Later, they became so grasping that Dingaan was incited to
British colonial politics did not view Cetewayo and his soldiers with
a friendly eye. But as British policy was always to divide and conquer,
he was allowed to keep his army--it could be used to frighten their
rivals, the Boers.
Besides, the British thought they could easily handle Cetewayo. They
felt sure that when the time came all that would be necessary would
be to march into his territory with a few fieldpieces and machine
guns, press a button or two, and presto! his army would disappear.
But they took care to see that shotguns were kept out of his reach.
In time, the Boers surrendered their republic, leaving the British
a free hand in South Africa except for Cetewayo, whose presence now
took on a different aspect. From being a tool of British foreign policy,
he was now a menace. The Boers, now British subjects, must be protected!
Cetewayo must go!
Having no love for the British, but deciding to use them against Cetewayo,
the Boers laid claim to a part of Cetewayo's territory and began to
settle on it. Cetewayo drove them away. The British, called in as
arbiters, decided in favor of Cetewayo, but seized the opportunity
to scold him about affairs in his own kingdom.
For instance, he had banished the missionaries because they had been
plotting against him and meddling in his national affairs. One of
them had written a letter to the governor of Cape Colony, declaring
that "only the utter destruction of the Zulus can secure peaex
in South Africa."
The British also made several demands, among them: that Zulu warriors
be permitted to marry; that Cetewayo permit a British resident-a sort
of official spyBto live in his capital; and, to crown all, that he
disband his army.
Cetewayo was astounded at this ultimatum. It was as if a judge, alter
deciding in favor of the plaintiff, had proceeded to lecture him on
his personal affairs-affairs that had not come before the court. Miss
Sarah Frances Colenso, Cetewayo's defender among the whites, said
that he was treated as if he were a child instead of the head of a
There was but one alternative for Cetewayo. Rising from his throne
to his magnificent six feet four of brawn, he flung his defiance at
the white envoys: "Go back and tell the white men this mid let
them hear it well. Myself and every one of my men will die tlrst.
I give you until sunset to get out of my territory."
Early in January, 1879, the British, 12,000 strong, under Lord Chelmsford,
invaded Zululand at three different points. On the a2nd, one of these
columns, composed of 1000 whites and 2000 blacks, under Colonel Durnfold,
fell in with a Zulu army of 10,000.
The Zulus, as was their custom, began by chanting their war song--a
song without words. It was wonderfully impressive and stirring as
the waves of sound majestically rose and fell, then rose again in
a weird, mournful strain, yet warlike in the extreme. This ended,
the order to march was given, and the long black line swept steadily
and terribly forward to encircle the foe. In the front were the young
warriors, behind them, the veterans. The British, entrenching themselves
behind their wagons, opened fire with their artillery and machine
guns. The Zulus, armed only with spears, came rushing on, shouting
their battle cry, while the guns mowed them down in rows like wheat
in the path of a reaper.
But charging madly home to death or victory, the gallant black warriors
pressed grimly on until they reached the barricade. Then, leaping
over, they gave the enemy a taste of what fighting at close quarters
and with equal weapons meant.
Next morning when Colonel Browne, one of the scouts, wandered on the
scene, he beheld a sight such as few human beings have ever witnessed.
A vast silent field of dead! Six thousand five hundred warriors lay
there! There were no wounded. The Zulus had killed the entire British
force, all but forty-two, who escaped by swimming their horses down
"In their mad rush," says Browne, "the Zulus had killed
everything, even the horses, dogs, and mules. There were heaps and
heaps of Zulu dead; where the machine guns had mowed them down they
lay in heaps."
In addition the Zulus had captured 40,000 cartridges and the rifles
of the British.
Of the Zulus, 3500 lay dead, not to mention the wounded, who had been
A few days later Cetewayo again defeated the British at Rorke's Drift,
and laid siege to Etshowe. He followed it with another victory at
At the news of this defeat the whites in South Africa were in consternation.
They saw themselves sharing the same awful fate. They cabled to England
for aid, and the same week 15,000 soldiers under Lord Wolseley, with
the latest equipment, left for the Cape. Among the volunteers was
the Prince Napoleon, son and heir of the recently deposed Napoleon
III of France.
In August, 1879, the British, strongly reinforced again, invaded Zululand.
With a force of 15,000, Lord Chelmsford met Cetewayo and his 25,000
warriors at Ulundi. Strongly entrenched behind their ammunition carts
find wagons, the British opened fire at a range of 1000 yards.
The Zulu heroes charged with their usual courage but it was impossible
for them, ill-armed as they were, to pass the belt of fire that protected
their foes. Against the machines, valor and bravery counted for naught.
"A thrill of admiration passed through me," says Browne,
"when I thought of the splendid courage of the savages who could
advance to the charge suffering such awful punishment." Finally
Cetewayo was forced to withdraw, leaving 5000 of his men dead.
A few days later, however, Cetewayo caused another surprise. One of
his detachments defeated and killed Prince Napoleon, causing great
excitement in Europe and extinguishing the hopes of the Napoleonic
party in France.
Soon after this Cetewayo was captured and kept a prisoner for -three
years, during which time his country, missing his strong hand, fell
into anarchy. Many kings arose, and the tribes were broken up.
At last even his enemies began to demand his return, and Cotewayo
was granted his wish to go to England to present his case to Queen
When he arrived in England he was accorded a reception such as few
monarchs have received. The Zulu War had been very unpopular with
the people at home. They felt that Cetewayo had only been protecting
his land as any other patriot would have done.
This opinion was strengthened when they found that Cetewayo not the
man-eating savage his enemies had depicted him as, but a courteous,
amiable, and smiling gentleman. Queen Victoria was so impressed with
him that she personally promised to restore him to power.
In the words of Theal, a white South African:
He was received and treated as if he had been a beneficient and ruler
who had merely done his duty to his people by heroically endeavoring
to protect them against an invading army. Great crowds assembled to
hear him wherever he went, deputations from various societies waited
on him; he was taken to see places of interest, far and near; in short,
he was made the lion of the day, such as no white head of a third-rate
state would have been.
As guest of the British government, he was provided with everything
that could tend to his comfort, and he was fitted out with clothing
in the greatest variety and of the most expensive kind. He appeared
in London dressed as an English gentleman and what is wonderful, really,
he conducted himself as though he had been accustomed all his life
to wear a silk hat and kid gloves. Great as is the power of imitation
of the ordinary African, Cetewayo certainly excelled all his countrymen
in this wise.
Presents of the most incongruous kinds were showered on him, such
as gold lockets and cashmere shawls . . . three wagon loads in all
.... He would have been utterly spoiled if it had not been that his
intense desire to return to Zululand overcame all other feelings and
enabled him to keep his senses.
When questioned by the Prime Minister about his
defeat, Cetewayo said, "Yes, we lost some very fine men. But
what could all our courage do against you English? You stand still
and only by turning around, make the bodies of our warriors fly in
pieces-legs here, arms there, heads, everything. Whew! What could
we do against that?"
Despite the Queen's promises, the home officials, on the demand of
the South Africans, did little. Worse, when Cetewayo returned to Zululand,
he found that his kingdom had been split into three parts, only one
of which was restored to him.
Anxious to rebuild his nation, he made war on one of these chiefs,
Usibepu, but the latter, aided by the whites, defeated him. On February
9, 1844, Cetewayo died, presumably of heart trouble.
Sir T. Shepstone, governor of Natal, one of his foes, speaks in the
highest terms of his personal character and his indomitable courage.
"He was remarkably frank and straightforward," he says,
"with much force of character and a dignified manner."
Miss Colenso says, "Cetewayo's treatment reflected no credit
on the name of England." One might add that the treatment of
this fine and brave people and their continued exploitation in the
mines of South Africa are a blot on white civilization.
It was not until years after Cetewayo's death that the home government
was convinced that a grave injustice had been done him.
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