On 19th November 1878, HMS Active landed a Naval Brigade once more, under the command of Commander (Acting Captain) Henry Campbell. This time, their job was to garrison Fort Pearson near the Tegula River and prevent any incursions into the British colony from Zululand. The force consisted of 174 bluejackets, 42 marines and 14 West African kroomen. They were equipped with two 12-pounder field guns, one gatling gun and two 24-pounder rocket tubes.
On 20th December 1878, HMS Tenedos, under the command of Captain Edward Adeane, moored at Durban. On New Year's Day 1879, she landed a force of 3 officers and 58 men, led by Lieutenant Anthony Kingscote. They marched to the mouth of the Tegula River and joined the contingent from HMS Active. The men from Tenedos crossed the river and, along with men from 'The Buffs' and the Royal Engineers, built Fort Tenedos on the Zululand side. It was from this position that they joined Colonel Pearson's (of 'The Buffs' - the 3rd Regiment of Foot) No.1 Column in the Zulu War in January 1879. The column, a force of around 4,000 men included a Naval Brigade made up of 270 seamen and marines from HMS Active and HMS Tenedos equipped with two gatling guns and two 24-pounder rocket tubes.
On the 12th January, they started labouriously transporting men, carts and animals across the river on a raft built by the Royal Engineers and operated by the naval contingent. By 18th January, the force had crossed the Tegula river and were marching towards the town of Eshowe.
On the same day as the British defeat at Isandhlwana, this column of around 4,000 British and Native troops was attacked by approximately 5,000 Zulus in the Battle of Nyezane.
The only Royal Navy casualty at Isandhlwana was Signalman William Aynsley (from HMS Active) who was attached to an officer on Lord Milne's (the Naval Aide-de-camp of Lord Chelmsford) staff. Witnesses said he was seen fighting with his cutlass bayonet and his back to a wagon. Finally a Zulu crept under the wagon and stabbed Ansley through the spokes of the wheel.
The day after Nyezane, the column arrived at Eshowe and news reached them of the disaster at Isandhlwana. Colonel Pearson sent his mounted troops back and proceeded to fortify the place. The Siege of Eshowe started on 29th January and lasted until 3rd April. During this period, the men of HMS Active were part of the garrison of Eshowe.
Later, the men of HMS Tenedos who had returned to Fort Tenedos were joined by a large contingent from HMS Shah. She had called in at St. Helena whilst returning from the Pacific. There her crew learnt of the defeat at Isandhlwana and taking on 200 troops provided by the island's Governor, HMS Shah sailed for the Cape Colony. On 7th March 1879, she disembarked 16 officers and 378 men at Durban, led by Commander John Brackenbury.
On 18th March 1879, the Naval Brigade with the force heading to relieve Eshowe was joined by 10 officers and 218 seamen from HMS Boadicea, led by Commander Francis Romilly. Their landing had been delayed by an outbreak of smallpox onboard their ship as she lay off Durban.
They fought at the Battle of Gingindhlovo on 2nd April where the Royal Navy and their guns held the corners of the British square.
On 20th April, two officers from HMS Flora, the guardship at Simonstown, joined the Brigade at the front.
The only naval man present at the battle of Ulundi was Lieutenant A.B. Milne (on Lord Chelmsford's staff) who was wounded in the fighting.
After the relief of Eshowe on 4th April, Commander (Acting Captain) Campbell was placed in command of the whole Naval Brigade numbering over 800 officers, seamen and marines. With much of the fighting already over, the detachment from HMS Tenedos re-embarked on 8th May. HMS Active's and HMS Shah's contingents re-embarked on 21st July. The men of the Boadicea were the last company of the Naval Brigade to return to their ship, doing so on 31st July 1879.
During the whole campaign, the discipline, courage and cheerfulness of the men of the Naval Brigade was noted by their officers and those of the Army units they fought alongside. Commander Campbell noted, with some surprise, that the only serious defaulter in the eight months ashore was a stoker who took a bottle of brandy that was stowed in a stores wagon.
As well as taking part in the fighting, the men of the Royal Navy played an important role in landing much needed supplies for the forces near to the coast of Zululand. On 24th April, HMS Forester was sounding for landing places for stores, near Port Durnford, when her boats were fired on by Zulus on the shore. Her boats withdrew returning fire and HMS Forester shelled the beach and surrounding bush killing some cattle and probably some of the attackers.
In addition to the regular Royal Navy men who fought in this campaign, two men of the Royal Naval Artillery Volunteers joined the detachment from HMS Active (at their own expense) and more joined other commands. A battalion of Royal Marines sent out from England when the war started arrived too late to take part in any actions.
Source: Naval Brigades in the Zulu War