ADMIRAL SIR F. W. RICHARDS
Richards Bay is named after Sir Frederick William Richards, R.N.
He was born on 30 November 1833 in County Wexford, Ireland. He joined the Royal Navy at the age of 15 and underwent training at the Naval School, New Cross. In 1878 Richards was appointed Commodore of the West Coast of Africa.
On his arrival at the Cape he heard of the defeat of the British force at the hands of the Zulu at Isandlwana on 22 January 1879. Richards landed at Point Durnford with 250 men, mules and war materials to offer relief.
One of the ships under his command, HMS Forester, surveyed the area including the Mhlathuze lagoon. This ship also fired explosive shells at Zulu iMpi on the beach near today’s eSikhawnini Town on 25 April 1879.
On 13 July 1879 Commodore Richards named the Mhlathuze lagoon after himself i.e. “Richards Bay.”
On 22 January 1879, at the Battle of Isandlwana, some 20 000 warriors of King Cetshwayo kaMpande encircled 1774 British invaders and killed 1329 of them within two hours. (471 of the dead were Blacks who sided with the British).
Most of the British dead was disemboweled. The Zulu lost at least 1000 men. Some 60 British soldiers on horseback survived.
In the mean time Col. Charles Knight Pearson and his 1200 men had established a supply depot in the deserted Norwegian Mission Station kwaMondi near eShowe.
On 28 January 1879 Pearson received a telegram by runner from Lord Chelmsford at Fort Pearson, Lower Drift, that he must act in any manner to protect his men and be prepared for a major Zulu attack.
On 1 February 1879 runners arrived with the crushing news of the British defeat at Isandlwana. Chelmsford wrote:
“You must be prepared to have the whole Zulu force of (20 000) down upon you.”
The garrison was trapped inside a make shift “Fort” for 72 days. Conditions inside the fort were terrible.
28 Men died during the 72-day siege.
It was clear that England had to send thousands of additional troops plus supplies, horses, Gatling guns rocket tubes and war ships to engage the brave Zulu warriors in battle again.
10 418 Additional troops and 1900 additional horses arrived.
During early March 1879 Commodore Richards arrived in Durban on board his flagship HMS Boadicea. The other ships were HMS Forester, HMS Tenedos and HMS Shah. There were 863 marines under his command including Black sailors from Liberia in West Africa. They spoke English.
HMS Boadicea was a 26- gun screw-corvette under steam and sail. She displaced 4140 tons, had a beam of 45 feet and a draught of 24 feet. She had a compliment of 426 sailors.
One strategic objective was to find safe anchorage along the coast of Zululand to offload men, horses food, medicine and equipment in order to follow a shorter route to the Zulu Capital, Ulundi.
It was eventually decided to anchor in the mud south of Point Durnford where the surf was less turbulent. This area became known as Port Durnford.
Preparations for a second invasion of Zululand took two months. By the end of March 1879 Lord Chelmsford had at least 18 000 troops available for a new invasion.
On 1 April 1879 Lord Chelmsford and 5 500 fighting men formed a “laager” at Gingindlovu. The next day some 12 000 Zulu attacked the “laager” with rifles and spears. However, the deadly accurate Martini-Henry rifle fire and the destructive Gatling machine guns of the Naval Brigade massacred the attackers. More than 1 200 Zulu were killed and many more died later from their horrible wounds.
Commodore Richards and his Naval Brigade played a major role in this battle with their fearsome Gatling machine guns and long distance shell firing rockets.
On 3 April 1879 the emaciated British soldiers at kwaMondi fort were relieved.
The British force defeated the Zulu nation at the battle of uLundi on 4 July 1879.
On 13 July 1879 Commodore Richards was on board HMS Boadicea anchored at Point Durnfort. He wrote the following to the Admiralty:
“I enclose herewith a tracing of a survey made by Officers of the HMS Forester.”
The letter included a map illustrating the Zululand coastline and describes how to recognise Point Durnford from the sea. The map also gives directions of anchorage and marks locations such as Tenedos Reef, Port Durnford, Point Durnford and the Mhlathuze lagoon and for the first time the map records
Sadly, King Cetshwayo was captured on 28 August 1879 and transported in an ambulance to Point Durnford, where he embarked on the ship SS Natal on his way to captivity in Cape Town.
At Simon’s Town the King was presented to Commodore Richards. Richards treated the King with great respect. Before his departure for Cape Town, the Commodore presented the King with a new suit of clothes.
The King made a great impact on the British public when he visited Queen Victoria in London during August 1882.
Lucy, the wife of the Commodore, died in Admiralty House in Simon’s Town on 14 June 1880. She is buried in the Simon’s Town graveyard. Her death remains a mystery. She was buried in the middle of the night. Next to her grave is the tiny grave of a baby.
In 1881 Richards was back in Natal to fight the Boers with his Naval Brigade and his fearful Gatling machine guns and shell-firing rocket guns.
On 28 January 1881 Sir George Pomeroy-Colley and Commodore Richards moved their columns towards Laings Nek. Richards’ Naval gunners led the columns with two deadly Gatling guns.
However, the British had lost the battle that same evening. They lost 68 men killed. The Boers lost 16 men killed. The Boers finally defeated the British on Majuba on 17 February 1881. A few days before the British defeat, Commodore Richards left the battlefield for the safety of his ship, HMS Boadicea in Durban harbour.
Richards never returned to fight in South Africa again.
Commodore Richards made rapid progress in the Royal Navy. He was knighted in 1881. He left the Cape with the rank of Rear Admiral in 1882. In 1883 he became the First Naval Lord and Admiral of the Fleet in 1898. In 1904, on the nomination of Lord Goshen, as Chancellor of the University of Oxford, the honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Law was bestowed on the Admiral.
Sir Frederick William Richards died at Horton Court, Glouchestershire on 28 September 1912.
A memorial plaque in rose marble, commemorating his lifelong devotion to the Royal Navy, stands in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral, London.
Next to his plaque is the sarcophagus that contains the last remains of Horatio Viscount Nelson.
Close by are the plaques of Sir Garnet Wolseley and Sir Bartle Frere.
The wording on Richards’ plaque reads:
“Vigilant and resolute with singleness of heart and purpose he devoted his life to the Navy and to the Empire.”
Admiral Sir Frederick William Richards – the man after whom Richards Bay was named in 1879.
van der Walt JC, “Zululand true Stories 1780-1978” Third Edition 2007