The War Correspondents

The War Correspondents

  • Author: Professor John Laband and Ian Knight
  • Publisher: Alan Sutton Publishing
  • Publish Date: 1996
  • ISBN: 1-85833-732-1

Review By : Elizabeth Hogan

  This book was part of a series published in the 1990s by Alan Sutton which explored the way various nineteenth-century conflicts were reported in contemporary newspapers. The bulk of the book therefore consists of reports written by the witnesses to conflict – both professional and amateur. These have been skilfully woven together into a narrative history by John Laband and Ian Knight, two of the leading historians of the war.

Victorian war correspondents, of course, made no pretence to the impartiality so prized by their modern equivalents; they were very much a part of the Victorian military establishment. They shared the ideals, not only of their readers, but of the officers among whom they lived while on campaign, and indeed many of them – including some of the most famous, like Archibald Forbes – had previously served in the Army.

They saw it their duty to describe the passage of the British Army across the globe in suitably patriotic terms, and they did not flinch from joining in the fighting if the circumstances warranted it. Many, indeed, had built up their own fan-base among readers at home, who followed their despatches not only to discover what the Army had been up to, but the adventures of the correspondents themselves.

Thus Melton Prior, arguably the ‘doyen of ‘special artists’ – who drew the sketches in the field that were worked up at home to the magnificent engravings so well-known today – included in his sketches of the battle of Ulundi an incident in which he himself was chased through the burning homestead of oNdini by Zulu stragglers. Archibald Forbes, whose description of the devastated field of Isandlwana in May 1879 is one of the most eloquent to emerge from the war, worked up his own account of a ride from the front with despatches reporting the victory at Ulundi under the title ‘The Ride of Death’. Indeed, one of the most appealing elements in this book is the way it reveals the character of men whose writings and art have shaped popular understanding of the war, but whose names and personalities are scarcely remembered. It is interesting to read, for example, that Charles Fripp – who painted the famous ‘Last Stand of the 24th at Isandlwana’ painting – covered the war as a special artists for The Graphic; on 3 July he was busy sketching the skirmish at the White Mfolozi when he failed to hear a shouted order to withdraw.

 When Lord William Beresford rode past, soaked in the blood of the injured Sergeant he had just snatched to safety, an altercation broke out which prompted Beresford to dismount and square up to Fripp with his fists! The two had to be dragged apart by Fripp’s fellow correspondents, even as the last Zulu shots spattered the rocks around them. Not, it must be said, that the Victorian war correspondent always towed the official line; indeed, their sympathy for the troops on the ground often meant that they judged the war in ways that were highly critical of the politicians who made it, and the generals who commanded it. Archibald Forbes, indeed, remained one of Lord Chelmsford’s most persistent and effective critics over the conduct of the Isandlwana campaign for years afterwards.

This book provides an unusual mirror on the war which reveals not only the assumptions behind much contemporary writing on the subjct, but also contrasts it with the way modern scholarship views the same incidents today. It also, incidentally, includes a number of illustrations not published elsewhere, including contemporary satirical cartoons, and a number of engravings from more down-market publications, like The Penny Illustrated 


Other reaction to this book;

Switch off the TV, here is the real stuff by real newsmen who were not afraid to think for themselves.
Janice Farquharson, Financial Mail (RSA).


Monday 06th of February 2006 06:58:06 AM