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 Race, Respect and Revenge; British Attitudes to the Zulu in the Conflict of 1879. Introduction to Part 1. By Daniel Dodman  

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PostSubject: Race, Respect and Revenge; British Attitudes to the Zulu in the Conflict of 1879. Introduction to Part 1. By Daniel Dodman      Race, Respect and Revenge; British Attitudes to the Zulu in the Conflict of 1879. Introduction to Part 1. By Daniel Dodman    EmptyTue Jul 30, 2013 5:44 am

"By Daniel Dodman
 
________________________________________________________________________
 
The powerful imagery of the Anglo-Zulu War has resounded since 1879.  The dramatic vision of the savage attacking a picturesque, but militarily advanced, British army has been commemorated in television and film.  Perhaps more romantically it was a war fought by personalities; most of the officers involved were larger than life individuals who personified the Victorian gentleman and lent a certain gentility to a war which was, at times, exceptionally brutal.  The military side of the conflict has been exhausted by enthusiasts for over one hundred years and many of the major battles have become household names; Isandlwana, Rorke’s Drift and Ulundi in particular are known to a large number of people.[1]  Other battles have been well studied by military historians.  Although featuring far less in the public imagination the struggles at Kambula, Gingindlovu and Hlobane were no less dramatic.[2]  The latter was a flying battle conducted by mounted British troops down a steep sided mountain in a thunder storm. 
Similarly the debate over why the war occurred has continued almost since news of its initiation arrived in England during January of 1879.  There has been much revisionist work on this subject and there continue to be a number of arguments about the issue.  However, it seems clear that the High Commissioner to South Africa, Sir Bartle Frere engineered the war by issuing the Zulu King, Cetshwayo with an ultimatum that was impossible to fulfil. [3] His motives were his commitment to the confederation of South Africa and the need to placate the Boers after a land settlement commission found against them and supported the claims of the Zulu people.
Perhaps then the crucial reason for revisiting and reopening study of the Anglo-Zulu War is the unique nature of the conflict.  The battle of Isandlwana is one of the only times in the late Victorian era where a fully armed and equipped European army was destroyed by a native foe.  Comparisons to the much better known battle of The Little Big Horn reveal a huge discrepancy in the scale of the disasters.  General Custer lost 210 men at the last stand; Lord Chelmsford in comparison had half of his column wiped out in a little over an hour, a sum of perhaps 650 regular imperial troops, 150 colonials and a large unknown number of Native troops (probably somewhere in the region of 800).  More British officers died in the battle of Isandlwana than at Waterloo. [4] The number of British soldiers who fell that day had unexpected repercussions, catapulting the Zulu people into the domestic press and altering and sensationalising journal entries.  Perhaps most importantly the Zulu successes forced the British army to avoid wallowing in its defeat and instead praise the heroism of those that died fighting such a worthy opponent in open combat.[5]
The historiographical debate over race and the Victorians has been continuing for some time.  A transition occurred between the early 19th century, with its evangelically motivated belief that all humans were equal regardless of race, and the end of the century’s more explicitly racist emphasis.  When and why this change occurred is a subject of great debate. Ronald Hyam is not alone in assuming that “there is no doubting the deterioration which occurred in British racial attitudes in the 1860s.”[6]  Different historians emphasise different factors when examining the motivation behind this shift. Catherine Hall, for example, has identified what she considers to be a defining moment in the shift of racism.  During the 1830s and 1840s racism was based on culture.  ‘Am I not a man and a brother’ was still the dominant philosophy and ‘negroes’ were still considered to be physically equal.  It was their culture that was at fault for their lower technological and moral position in the world and it was therefore potentially possible to raise these backward races from childlike nature to adulthood.  The levels of missionary work conducted in areas such as Jamaica reflected this belief.  However, the British public reaction in 1865 after the Morant Bay rebellion not only demonstrated that racial attitudes had changed irreparably before this period, but also aided their crystallisation in those who had yet to identify a definite position about race.  The ‘massacres’ prompted a massive backlash and discourse in domestic Britain.[7]  Thomas Carlyle and his conservative coalition successfully defended Governor John Eyre from Mill’s attempted censure.  The success of this action seemed to suggest a change of attitude in the British public.  However, what is more important is Carlyle’s insistence that blacks were an inferior race.  Hall argues that the middle classes’ choice between the Jamaican Committee and the Eyre Defence Committee was a choice of the nature of Britishness in the future.  By allowing the Carlyle coalition’s defence of Eyre to succeed the middle class had rejected radical liberalism and the idea of free market ideals spreading benevolence, civilisation and happiness. Instead they embraced a mindset which would increasingly rely on explicitly biological racism to justify the Empire. 
The reason for this shift in attitudes has been explored in great depth by a number of other scholars, not least Ronald Hyam.  For him the public reaction to the Morant Bay Rebellion was the culmination of a long process which was multi-layered.  The Industrial Revolution helped to increase the difference between the technological capacity of Britain and other peoples, particularly those of India and China.  Simultaneously the philosophy of utilitarianism formed a united understanding with evangelical Christianity to condemn entire nations’ spiritual and secular arrangements as wasteful and decadent.  Perhaps equally as crucial were the experiences of the Indian Mutiny which helped to silence peace societies and the Aboriginal Protection Society and led the British, Hyam argues, to the conclusion that “the world was increasingly realised not to be so simple a place as had once been believed”.[8]  Certainly a number of Parliamentary Acts, including the Floggings Act of 1863, the Prisons Act of 1865 and the Habitual Criminals Act of 1869, represented a hardening of British society.
            However, a view which places the emphasis on a change in racial attitudes in the 1860s does have fundamental problems. Douglas Lorimer agrees with Hall’s general assumptions about the changing nature of racism in the latter half of the nineteenth century.  However, he places far more attention on the erosion of ethnocentric principles due to the growth of biological definitions and the rationalisation of racism through Darwinism.[9] Despite assumptions that these scientifically racist motivations began to be felt in the 1850s and 1860s Lorimer makes the point that the physical attributes of Africans were obviously unchanged across this period.  The fundamental change in British opinions therefore occurred in the context of the observer.  The importance of this statement is particularly relevant for this dissertation as is the subsequent assumption that, “The Victorian language of race may well be ubiquitous within the culture, but its power flowed from its flexibility rather than its rigidity.”[10] It should therefore be considered that race was not a constant ideology in this period but rather varied as the situation or time demanded.
Peter Mandler has highlighted the persistence of enlightenment themes of socio-evolutionary liberalism.[11]  Nationalism was perceived as a negative force which might threaten national institutions which defended civilisation.  The convention remained that the ‘natural’ progression from primitive civilisations to advanced civilisations (the ‘civilisational’ approach) was the path of human progress.  These ideas reinforced the notion that England was at the centre of a multi-cultural Empire and that British civilisation was a product of its institutions not of nationalism or racial superiority.  Eventually however, this position would shift with the arrival of popular social Darwinism near the end of the century. The now familiar picture of the tree and branches of race overrode the ladder of civilisation which all could climb.  Mandler states that this development occurred slowly however and in the face of a Victorian culture based on a long liberal tradition of moderation. 
It is one of the aims of this dissertation to examine how the Zulu is described in the light of this historiographical debate.  Are the Zulus treated in a biologically racist way or is their representation more sympathetic? As well as considering this factor, it is also my intention to investigate how domestic politics affected the treatment of the Zulu in the popular press and art. Was the Anglo-Zulu War viewed in the context of political debates at home? More fundamentally were the Zulus themselves central to the debate surrounding them or were they an illustration to be ignored as the problem passed and more pressing issues arose elsewhere in the Empire?
With these aims in mind each of my three chapters has a very specific purpose.  The first attempts to document how soldiers and officers perceived the Zulus they were fighting against and with whom they had a great deal of contact.  Many of the journals produced at the time seem to suggest that there were distinct differences between the attitude of British troops fighting in Zululand and the British public at home.  The second chapter attempts to examine the way in which the British press talked about the Zulu. This is particularly relevant with regards to the way in which the slow and periodic flow of information gave newspapers the opportunity to adapt and change their perspectives depending on the events in South Africa.  The final chapter is a greater exploration into the wider motives behind contemporary considerations of the war. Its aim is to explore the idea of ‘Britishness’ and the concept that much of which was written about the conflict was dictated by British culture and politics rather than race or the Zulu.
The majority of this dissertation will be based on three separate types of sources.  The first chapter will be mainly concerned with the published and unpublished journals of the British officers who fought in the conflict and the letters which were sent home by these officers and their men.  These sources, when taken as a collection of a number of different individual perspectives of the war, are enlightening.  Although some were intended for publication, and therefore are altered to portray the situation in a certain light, as a complete body they help to demonstrate the ways in which officers rationalised defeat at the hands of the Zulu.  It is also worth noting that many of these journals are free of any political motivations which were important at the time.[12] Colonel Evelyn Wood’s account, for example, represents a perspective of the war from retirement and therefore is largely free of these kinds of partisan motives. 
The second chapter is based mainly on newspapers.  The golden age of the British political press provides a unique opportunity for the historian.  The political dividing lines between liberal newspapers and Tory newspapers heavily affected the way in which the war was reported.  In addition many of the ‘apolitical’ papers, for example The Graphic or Illustrated London News, add a completely new perspective to the problem.  The reading public for which these papers catered was interested in the visual depiction of the Zulu and the Zulu War.  The papers themselves often failed to publish their own editorials instead relying on the correspondents of other papers to describe events in Zululand.  However, the written word can often be substituted in these situations by the more illustrative line drawings reproduced in the papers.  It is this type of source along with the more formal military artwork of the age which forms the majority of material for the final chapter.  The analysis of these sources is not intended to be indicative of an entire society.  It is impossible to reconstruct what the ‘average’ Victorian thought by looking solely at artwork or individual perspectives and recollections.  Instead it is perhaps wiser to use these documents to examine how the Zulu was presented to the British population.
The sources reveal an omission in historical knowledge which may throw light on two issues which have been discussed by historians of the Victorian period, firstly that of race and secondly that of ‘Britishness’, identity and politics.  It is hoped that by studying the Anglo-Zulu War it is possible to gain a snapshot of opinion and therefore an insight into the standard Victorian response to the ‘other’.
Despite the necessity for such a study there are limitations to its usefulness. Firstly the Anglo-Zulu War’s unique nature also makes it difficult to extrapolate across the range of Victorian thought.  The Zulus received a huge amount of interest after the battle of Isandlwana and were subsequently idealised by the Victorian public.  Eventually even King Cetshwayo would visit London and became, briefly, part of high society.  This fact makes it difficult to judge how representative the Victorian treatment of the Zulu was when compared with their perception of indigenous peoples generally.  Despite the large amount of source material and the relative importance with which the war was treated in the year of 1879 it should be remembered that the interest in the war passed quickly.  The British obsession with the Zulu would, however, endure until the modern day.  Therefore it is possible to view this dissertation in one of two ways.  Either as an interesting case study into an unusual conflict or as a demonstration of how historiography, by attempting to paint a wider historical picture, is in danger of simplifying a potentially complicated situation.  The British defeat at Isandlwana brought to the fore a range of complex, interlocking themes which shaped the way the British people understood the Zulu.  It is hoped that by examining the sources it is possible to gain a greater understanding of these themes that arose from the Anglo-Zulu War"


Sources:
[1] Military Historians particularly focus on the battle of Isandlwana and the reason for the British defeat there.  There is a superabundance of material concerning this topic little of which reaches a consensus.  Potential factors include the deployment of British troops, Zulu deception, ammunition failures and even the suggestion that the British were too engaged in packing up camp and preparing a change of camp site to effectively give battle to the Zulu.  It seems likely, however, that there was no simple reason for the defeat but rather a combination of British failure to appreciate Zulu tactics and a number of small incidents that accumulated to create a catastrophic collapse.
[2] One issue of difficulty for the historian is that of the spelling of Zulu words and places. Three solutions exist, firstly British contemporary spelling (which often varied), Zulu contemporary spellings which were often transferred orally and therefore varied and finally modern day Zulu spelling.  For the sake of clarity I have attempted to use the latter throughout the whole body of this dissertation.
[3] C. de B. Webb, “The Origins of the War: Problems of Interpretation”, in The Anglo-Zulu War: New Perspectives. Ed.  A. Duminy, C. Ballard (Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press, 1981)
[4] 52 Officers were killed at Isandlwana, whilst only 48 officers were killed in the three battles of Ligny, Quatre Bras and Waterloo.
[5] See Chapter 3
[6] Ronald Hyam, Britain’s Imperial Century, 1815-1914: a study of Empire and Expansion (Basingstoke:  MacMillain, 1993), p.155
[7] Catherine Hall, Civilising Subjects: Metropole and Colony in the English Imagination, 1836-1867 (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2002)
[8] Hyam, Britain’s Imperial Century, p.161
[9] Douglas A. Lorimer, Colour, Class and the Victorians: English Attitudes to the Negro in the mid-Nineteenth Century (Leicester University Press, New York: Holmes Meier, 1978)
[10] Douglas A. Lorimer, “Race, Science and Culture: Historical Continuities and Discontinuities 1850-1914”, in The Victorians and Race Ed. Shearer West (Aldershot Scholar Press, 1996), p. 32
[11] Peter Mandler, “Race and Nation in Victorian Thinking”, in History Religion and Culture: British Intellectual History, 1750-1950 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000)
[12] In particular many journals published during 1879 and 1880 were used to defend General Chelmsford’s actions during the campaign or to apportion blame for Isandlwana.  Similarly some accounts of the war were published with the intention of demonstrating the validity of the conflict and confirming a Tory ‘causus belli’. 
[13] Binden Blood’s account quoted in Ian Knight, By the Orders of the Great White Queen (London: Greenhill, 1992) p.212
[14] Charles L. Norris-Newman In Zululand with the British Throughout the War of 1879 (London: W.H, Allen, 1880), p.62
[15] John Maxwell, Reminiscences of the Zulu War by John Maxwell, Ed. Leonie Twentyman Jones (Cape Town: University of Cape Town Libraries), p.6
[16] For example Harford treats the Zulus with little ill-feeling.
[17] Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Harness, R.A to Caroline Margaret Harness 25th January 1879, Mr H.F Oppenheimer’s library, Little Brenthurst, Parktown, Johannesburg,
[18] Arthur Howard’s account, quoted in Ian Knight, Invasion of Zululand (Johannesburg: Brenthurst Press,1979)  p.82
[19] Norris-Newman, In Zululand p.62
[20] Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Harness, R.A to Caroline Margaret Harness 6th July 1879, Mr H.F Oppenheimer’s library, Little Brenthurst, Parktown, Johannesburg,
[21] See Frank Emery, The Red Soldier: Letters from the Zulu War, 1879 (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1977), pp.15-20 for a discussion of the respective education of soldiers and officers.         
[22] Sergeant W.E Warren, printed by The Bristol Observer, 29th March 1879.
[23] Private Farrell, printed by The South Wales Daily Telegram, 27th March 1879.
[24] Private William Meredith, printed by The South Wales Daily Telegram, 24th March.
[25] To accept that it is true we have to imagine that the Zulus in the final stage of the battle were prudent enough to take a captive alive (highly unlikely) and then preserve something to hang the boy up on. Since almost all the evidence points to the fact that the Zulus began plundering tents and destroying almost everything in the camp such an accusation would have required more organisation than the very last confused stages of the battle contained.
[26] See Michael Lieven, “The British Soldier and the Ideology of Empire”, in Anglo-Zulu War Historical Society Journal, 12 (December 2002) for a detailed discussion of this and the level of education of a typical British soldier.
[27] Maxwell, Reminiscences of the Zulu War, p.6
[28] Henry Harford, The Zulu War Journal of Colonel Henry Harford C.B, Ed. Daphne Child (Pietermaritzburg: Shuter and Shooter, 1978), p.24
[29] Ibid,  p.34
[30] Hamilton-Browne, A lost legionary in South Africa by G.A Hamilton-Brown “Maori Browne” (London: Laurie, 1912), p.103
[31] Hamilton-Browne, A lost legionary, p.103  
[32] Ibid, p.126
[33] Harcourt Bengough, Memories of a Soldier’s Life (London: E.Arnold, 1913), p. 125
[34] W.C.F Molyneux, Campaigning in South Africa and Egypt (London: Macmillan & Co., 1896), p.139.  Emphasis added.
[35] Catherine Hall, White Male and Middle Class: Explorations in Feminism and History (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1992)
[36] Henry Harford, Zulu War Journal, p. 47
[37] Hamilton-Browne, A lost legionary, p.108
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