Herwen Hospital was established by the military, toward the beginning of the Zulu War, as a base hospital for the sick of the 1st Division. It was part of a system of 7 base hospitals set up by the Army Medical Department; the others being at Fort Pearson, Newcastle, Ladysmith, Pietermaritzberg, Utrect and Durban. The Herwen Hospital was situated near the town of Stanger, and about 12 miles south of Fort Pearson, between the Nonoti River, to the North and the UmhIutane River, to the South.
The Army Medical Department Report for the Year 1879 describes the hospital as “a commodious building belonging to a coffee planter, was situated on elevated ground not far from the sea, was cool and bracing, commanded a magnificent view on all sides, and with its verandahs enclosed could accommodate 100 sick; supplemented by marquees, this number was increased to 150.”
After the disaster at Isandlwana, however, there was a threat of a raid by the Zulus into the district, and the building was placed in a state of defense from the inside. This greatly curtailed the accommodation, and rendered the wards dark and dismal.
A report arrived that the Zulus had crossed the river and were pouring into the Colony. Herwen base hospital under these circumstances was considered in great danger; and the commandant ordered the immediate evacuation the patients, which were hastily removed at 6 a.m. with as much hospital equipment as the ambulances could carry in addition to them, and brought to Stanger where they were placed in marquees.
In February the hospital had been moved back to Herwen. The war
correspondent Norris-Newman noted that “a building occupied by Surgeon Major Tarrant and his medical staff, as a base Auxiliary Hospital, and situated on a hill a little way out of Stanger on the Tugela road, had also been fortified and was held by a half company of the 88th.”
Tarrant remained at Herwen until he accompanied Chelmsford’s Eshowe Relief Column at the end of March. After Tarrant’s departure, his replacement was Surgeon-Major William Edmondson Dudley.
The Army Medical Report then states “After the Battle of Ginginlovo, and the Relief of Eshowe, the worst cases of the sick and the wounded at Ginginlovo were sent down to Durban in 12 ambulances. An additional 5 officers and 40 men were sent to Herwen hospital.” Surgeon Jephson J. Connell, R.N., HMS Shah, was sent down to assist at Herwen Hospital, after the Relief of Eshowe, and remained there until he accompanied the Naval Brigade to Port Durnford in June, which was around the same time that the hospital was shut down.
In May, Henry Eason, Chief Yeoman of Signals, HMS Shah, was transferred to Herwen. He recorded in his diary that “I remained at Fort Pearson about three days and was then sent with down with others to Herwin Hospital. Here again we were put under canvas. In the same marquee with me are two poor fellows quite out of their minds and they are like skeletons. This was a beastly place and I don’t think I should have ever got well there. We were on very low beds and underfoot was nothing but nasty red dust which covered everything and made the place very uncomfortable. I had the same diet as at the Tugela, but the doctor I cannot say anything good of. He should have been somewhere else instead of in the Army as a doctor. I don’t think he was quite right in his head. I was delighted when he asked me if I thought I was strong enough for the journey down to Durban. I said yes as I was longing to get into better hands… We left Herwin on the 28th of May.”
In June the General Commanding the Division reported that he was unable to defend Herwen Hospital in the event of its being attacked when he made an advance into Zululand. It was therefore evacuated, and the base hospital was transferred to Fort Pearson.
A photograph of the Herwen Hospital can be found on page 160 of “Fearful Hard Times” by Ian Castle and Ian Knight; and the same photograph is on page 31 of Osprey’s “British Infantryman in South Africa 1877-81” by Ian Castle. The hospital is to the right, and to the far left is one of the marquee tents, which unfortunately blends in with the background.
Some of those who died at Herwen Hospital:
2073 Private J. Dixon, 99th Regiment, died at Herwen, 31 March, 1879
Lieutenant Charles E. Mason, 2/3rd Regiment, died of fever at Herwen, 7 April 1879
290 Private J. Gavin, 2/3rd Regiment, died at Herwen, 16 April, 1879
Captain Hugh Rudolph Gough, Coldstream Guards, attached to 5th Natal Native Contingent, died of dysentery, at Herwen, 19 April, 1879
Private T. Perkins, 57th Regiment, died of gun-shot wound of neck, at Herwen, 19 April, 1879
Lieutenant John Thirkill, 88th Regiment, died from the effect of fever, at Herwen, 22 April 1879.
Private Greyton, 57th Regiment, died of dysentery at Herwen, 1 May, 1879
Krooman T. Liverpool, HMS "Active,” died of fever, at Herwen, 3 May, 1879
Sapper J. Holden, 2/3rd Regiment, died of enteric fever, at Herwen, 16 May, 1879
Driver G. Russell, O/6, Royal Artillery, died of fever and diarrhea, at Herwen, 17 May, 1879
Sapper Rodgers, 99th Regiment, died of enteric fever, at Hewen, 18 May, 1879
Arthur Appleton Woods M.D, civil surgeon to the troops in South Africa (Barrow’s Cavalry), died of fever, at Herwen, May, 1879.
Private Patrick O'Brins, RMLI, “HMS Shah,” died of fever, at Herwen Hospital, 7 June 1879.
“Army Medical Department Report for the Year 1879”
“In Zululand with the British throughout the War of 1879” by Charles Norris-Newman
“The Diary of Signal Bosun Henry Eason: The Naval Brigade in the Zulu War, 1879,” The Naval Miscellany, Vol. VII
“The British Medical Journal, Feb 21, 1880”
“The London Gazette, 1879”
Petty Officer Tom