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Lieutenant Colonel Durnford
(Ireland 24 May 1830-Isandlwana 22 January 1879) was a career British Army officer who served in the Anglo-Zulu War. Breveted colonel, Durnford is mainly known for his presence at the defeat of the British army by the Zulu at the Battle of Isandlwana
Durnford was born in to a military family at Manor Hamilton, Ireland. His father was General E.W. Durnford, Colonel Commandant of Royal Engineers. His younger brother, Edward, also served in the British military, as a lieutenant-colonel in the Royal Marine Artillery. During his formative years he lived with his uncle in Dusseldorf, Germany.
Durnford returned to England to enter the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Royal Engineers in 1848. Between 1851 and 1856 he served in Ceylon, stationed at, Trincomalee where he provided distinguished assistance in designing the harbour. In 1853 Durnford was instrumental in saving portions of the harbour defences from destruction by fire.
Durnford volunteered for service in the Crimean War but was not accepted. However, he was transferred in 1856 to Malta as an intermediate posting. However Durnford did not see active service either in the Crimea or in the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. He saw duty in Malta as adjutant until February 1858, when he was posted back to Chatham and Aldershot in England. Between 1861 and 1864 Durnford commanded No. 27 Field Company, Royal Engineers, at Gibraltar. In 1864, promoted to captain, he returned to England in order to take up a posting prepare for a transfer to China, but was invalided back to England while in transit. After his recovery, Durnford spent the next six years at Devonport and Dublin on routine garrison duties. In 1871 he received a posting to South Africa.
On January 23, 1872, he arrived in Cape Town, still never having seen active service.
Of the 16 months following his arrival in the Cape, Durnford spent the greater portion at King William's Town. In a letter to his mother he wrote of the Blacks: . . they are at least honest, chivalrous, and hospitable, true to their salt, although only barbarians. They are fine men, very naked and all that sort of thing, but thoroughly good fellows. He appears to have adhered to his idealistic picture throughout the remaining years of his life.
He was later stationed at Pietermaritzburg, where he was befriended by Bishop Colenso. He saw some action against the Hlubis at Bushman's River Pass, where he showed great courage but received two assegai stabs, one in his side, the other in his elbow; severing a nerve thus paralysing his left under-arm and hand for the rest of his life. Durnford managed to shoot two of his assailants with his revolver and to extricate himself. His Carbineers had abandoned him, but his loyal Basuto troopers stood by him.
He was one of the most experienced officers of the Anglo-Zulu War --"commanding presence, untiring energy and undoubted powers of leadership", he was also apt to be headstrong, and was threatened with loss of command by Lord Chelmsford. Assigned to lead the No. 2 Column of Chelmsford's invasion army, Durnford commanded a mixed force of African troops including the Natal Native Horse and a detachment of the 1st Regiment Natal Native Contingent.
On January 20 Durnford's force was ordered to Rorke's Drift to support Chelmsford's column. On the morning of January 22 Durnford's troops marched to Isandlwana, arriving at mid-morning. A Royal Engineer, Durnford was superior in rank to Brevet Lt-Col Henry Pulleine, who had been left in control of the camp. Durnford was killed during the battle, and was later criticised for taking men out of the camp thus weakening its defence. His policy though, was in effect to ride to the sound of the guns, "and attack the Zulu wherever they appeared", and was well respected by his native Basutos.
Among the causes of the disaster were the ill-defined relationship between Durnford and Pulleine, brought about by failures of Lord Chelmsford's command and control.See Pictorial catalogue of AZW graves