The Zulu War Then & Now

The Zulu War Then & Now

  • Author: Ian Knight and Ian Castle
  • Publisher: After the Battle Publications
  • ISBN: 0-900913-75-4
  • Price: 24.95

Review By : Elizabeth Hogan

This is undoubtedly one of the most encyclopaedic books on the Anglo-Zulu War yet published. ‘After the Battle’ specialise in publications comparing old and new views of historical sites, as they were at the time, and as they are now. This is a format which is particularly suited to World Wars 1 and 2, where there exist a huge quantity of contemporary illustrative material, and where the evidence of conflict can so often be seen on the same ground today. Indeed, the success of this approach has roughly coincided with the increase in tourism to the modern battlefields of Europe, and ‘After the Battle’s earliest titles were hugely influential in this regard, and undoubtedly shaped the beginnings of the battlefield tourist movement.

Their ‘Zulu War; Then & Now’ title was something of a departure, for the scope with nineteenth-century conflicts is obviously more problematic. Certainly, before the 1850s, few battlefields around the world were extensively photographed, and instead the modern researcher must face the challenges posed by sketches and paintings, many of which were drawn from memory and contained topographical errors, some of which were produced with popular impact rather than historical authenticity in mind, and others of which were just plain wrong. The Anglo-Zulu War was, of course, on the cusp of modern war reporting, and despite the cumbersome nature of photographic apparatus in 1879, the difficult nature of the terrain and the dangers involved, it was covered by several civilian photographers from Natal, who recognised the ready commercial appeal of the subject. The war was, moreover, the subject of countless drawings and sketches, not only from professional war-artists like Melton Prior or Charles Fripp – whose sketches, drawn in the field, were worked up into engravings and published by the ‘Illustrated London News’ and ‘The Graphic’, as well as several down-market imitators – but by amateur artists including dozens of officers, for whom field sketching was a military requirement. In the early 1990s, authors Knight and Castle followed the route of the invading British Army with files of these illustrations in hand, tracking down wherever possible the exact viewpoints and recording the same views.

 The result is a book that, it is probably fair to say, has played its own small part in opening up the historic sites of Zululand to travellers and tourists alike. It includes over 500 illustrations, recording not only the well-known battlefields, but many of the tracks, drifts and campsites which marked the progress of the war. And perhaps the most striking thing to emerge from the comparison is how accurate many of those contemporary sketches were; excepting the wilder interpretations of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift, published when the news first broke and which reflected a combination of intense public interest and paucity of reliable information, the similarity between old and new views is quite remarkable. In many cases, even the most mundane camp sketches accurately reflect the topography around them. There is more, of course, to the ‘Then & Now’ approach than just pictures, and the text provides a detailed history of the war, while there is material, too, on modern museum collections, and upon linked memorials in the UK. There is also a rather poignant chapter on the ‘lonely graves of Zululand’ – with the stories behind the men who lie there – and another looking at cinematic interpretations of Zulu history.

 It might surprise some readers to know that the first film made about the 1879 War was a silent epic shot as early as 1917 (‘Symbol of Sacrifice’), and that the most recent was a charming South African ‘family viewing’ television series, ‘John Ross’, made in 1987 and concerning the adventures of the first white traders who made their way to King Shaka’s court. All in all this is an original and impressive book which repays endless browsing by potential tourists and arm-chair travellers alike.

Thursday 12th of January 2006 08:03:43 PM