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|Subject: The City Laager 1879 Tue May 01, 2012 11:08 pm|| |
"The City Laager, 1879
18 Mar 2010
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The first Colonial Buildings in Church Street with the shutters loopholed against anticipated Zulu attack
News of the British disaster at lsandlwana reached Pietermaritzburg on the morning of Friday, 24 January 1879. Further information revealed heavy casualties among the Natal Carbineers and heightened the sense of alarm at a possible Zulu invasion. The Maritzburg Rifles (a militia unit), the Natal Rifle Association, and the City Guard (a kind of special constabulary improvised at the beginning of the War) all turned out, but they were too few to protect the City against a Zulu impi. The Colonial Secretary and Commandant of the City, Lieutenant-Colonel C.B.H. Mitchell, RE, decided that the best defence was in laager.
At this time 'laager' meant an enclosure behind which settlers with firearms could repel blackswith spears- it might beformed hastily of wagons drawn round, or constructed deliberately of brick or stone or even earth, with bastions and loopholes. Mitchell selected an area in the centre of Pietermaritzburg, the block bounded by Commercial Road, Church Street, Timber Street and Longmarket Street, and part of the adjacent block as far as Pietermaritz Street. Certain larger buildings were designated as refuges for the town- and country-folk who could be expected to come in - the cannon at Fort Napier was to fire a signal if the enemy were in proximity - and careful instructions were circulated for these people telling what and how much to bring of bedding, food and utensils. Special attention was given to sanitary arrangements, and the people were given to understand thatthe Commandant's orders should be obeyed.
Work on the laager was under way in earnest by Sunday 26 January. Buildings were altered for defence and barricades were erected between them, with passages to be blocked at the last minute. The Colonial Engineer had three wells sunk and checked two 3000-gallon tanks on top of the court-house for a sufficient water supply. The Town Council provided for quantities of mealies, mealie-meal, rice and salt to sustain the inmates, and had dead trees in the park cut and brought in for firewood. On 28
January Mitchell divided the laager into 'wards', and a fortnight later named regular officers to take charge of them, and designated buildings in each as armouries. Thus was Maritzburg prepared to meet an incursion from over the border. None occurred. There was a scare, based on an incorrect report, on the night of 3-4 February, and some people did resort to the laager even though there was no signal, and were duly sent home. Soon it became apparent that the Zulu strategy was defensive, and as
British reinforcements arrived in the Colony a sense of security returned to the City. In July the laager was dismantled. The Natal Witness wondered: 'Could not some portion be left as a monument?' Today the only buildings which were in the enclosure are the old court-house (now housing the Tatham Art Gallery), the old Scottisn Presbyterian church nearby, and the old Native High Court (now tenanted by the district surgeon"