With questions being asked about John Dunn, here is a piece I wrote about him some years back, hopefully it might answer some of the questions being asked:
Had he been born on another continent then his achievements would have rivalled those of Davy Crockett, Jim Bridger or Kit Carson. But in southern Africa, he would grow from being a young hunter, to become lord of his own domain. He was John Dunn, African frontiersman.
The story starts in Inverness, Scotland, with the birth of Robert Newton Dunn in 1799, destined to become the father of our subject. In 1820, Robert Dunn immigrated to the eastern Cape Colony, in southern Africa. He soon found employment as a merchant’s clerk to Thomas Maynard. In 1824, Robert married Anne Harold Biggar, the daughter of another merchant Alexander Biggar. Whilst Robert Dunn was living in the eastern Cape, a warrior king was forging a martial nation, several hundred miles to the north, his name was Shaka, King of the amaZulu. Shaka had granted a concession of land to a small party of British adventurers, who had entreated with him to be allowed to trade in ivory from the rich elephant herds that roamed his kingdom. The land grant was an area with natural harbour, and the area was then called Port Natal, as time passed it would be given another name – D’Urban. Shaka was assassinated on 22nd September, 1828, and one of his assassins, his brother Dingane, eventually took power.
A rudimentary settlement grew at Port Natal, Robert Dunn was offered a partnership with another merchant James Collis, if he accompanied him north to Port Natal. Dunn accepted. In 1834, John Robert Dunn was born. The third child of a family of six, two of who would die in infancy. The three remaining children were all girls - Louisa, Agnes and Sarah Mary. Robert Dunn soon established himself in Natal as a hunter, trader and storekeeper. He grew prosperous from his trade in ivory, hides and ‘trade-goods’. With Collis and his father-in-law, Biggar, he quickly established himself in the rough and ready hunter/trader fraternity.
In 1836, James Collis was killed in an explosion of a gunpowder magazine. With Collis’s death, Dunn went into partnership with John MacCabe. They established themselves in a store at the harbour’s entrance. Robert Dunn conducted a brisk trade in ivory, firearms and ammunition with the African population, and with the newly arrived Trek Boers, who had left Cape Colony seeking freedom from what they considered to be an oppressive British regime.
In 1839, Robert Dunn built a substantial dwelling overlooking the bay, which he called “Sea View”. The Zulus corrupted his name, and called him “Misdoni”, and he willingly supplied his African neighbours with plenty of liquor. John Robert Dunn, became known as “Jantoni”, lacking any formal education he listened at the knee of his African nursemaids as they recounted the tales of Africa. With a lack of European company of his own age, he quickly assimilated to the ways of the Africans, learning Zulu as a second tongue as he grew.
Relations with the Zulu were about to change. The fifty-four wagons of displaced Boers had advanced into KwaZulu from over the Drakensberg Mountains, under the leadership of Piet Retief. They were awe-struck with the beauty of the countryside. It was idyllic, which is apt for the word ‘Zulu’ means heaven. Retief sent a letter to the King Dingane, requesting an audience, he wished to negotiate with the king about acquiring some of this beautiful country for his own people. Dingane received the Boer representatives on 5th November, 1837 at Mgungundlovu, his great place. Sham fights and dances were laid on as entertainment for the visitors. Retief spoke of land to Dingane, but the king protested that a recent cattle raid, in which 300 head of cattle had been taken, by mounted men in European clothing had occurred. Retief protested his innocence, and deduced that the culprits were adherents of a chieftain called Sikonyela of baTlokwa, whose lands they had travelled through. Retief pledged to recover the stolen cattle and bring Sikonyela to book.
More and more Boer families began to arrive in KwaZulu, in the hope the Dingane would grant them a place to live, and they laagered their wagons at Blaaukrans and on the Bushman’s River. Zulu intelligence apprised the king of these movements, which he took for signs of a white invasion of his kingdom. Retief found Sikonyela, and hoodwinked him into trying on some new bracelets, the proved to be handcuffs. Retief questioned him and he admitted his crime, rather then take Sikonyela back to face Dingane’s judgement, Retief ransomed him at a price of 700 cattle and a quantity of firearms. Retief sold off the excess cattle and returned to Dingane with the 300 head.
With sixty-nine Boers and a number of African retainers, Retief rode into Mgungundlovu. He had proved his worth and now expected something in return - land. A treaty was allegedly drawn up in English, which ceded a large tract of land, including Port Natal to the Boers, to which Dingane added his mark. On the morning of 6th February, 1838, Dingane invited Retief and his men to a farewell celebration. As Retief and his men watched the regiments of the Zulu army dance before them, Dingane leapt to his feet and yelled, “Bambani abaThakathi!” - Let the wizards be slain. The Zulus rushed forward and seized the Boers, and dragged them to a nearby hill and here they were clubbed to death, Retief forced to watch every execution before he too met his fate. As the Boers were “wizards” their bodies were impaled on sharpened stakes - the wizards’ death. Flushed with success, Dingane’s impis now set out to rid the land of those other Boers in their laagers. Carnage was wrought on men, women and children alike as the Zulu warriors rampaged across the countryside.
The settlers in Port Natal heard of the attacks and organised a force of some 2,000 Africans commanded by John Cane, one of the original settlers, to make a punitive, pre-emptive strike against the Zulu in the Kranz Kop region. Cane’s force returned victorious in April, 1838, bring with it four thousand head of cattle, and over five hundred Zulu women and children, presumably as hostages. Flushed with success Cane’s force renewed its incursion. This time they were attacked by an impi led by Mpande, the king’s brother. Seventeen of the twenty Europeans with the expedition died, as did fifteen hundred of the Africans, in a bloody clash on the banks of the Tugela River. With the loss of one third of Port Natal’s white population a wave of panic swept through the settlement.
On 24th April, 1838, a Zulu impi of twenty thousand warriors appeared on the heights of the Berea. They went on to sack and burn the settlement without pity. The remaining forty or so settlers were taken onboard the brig The Comet, which was anchored in the bay. Robert Dunn and his family looked on helplessly from the deck as the impi wrought havoc amongst the deserted settlement. Dunn’s house disappeared in flames. The Dunn family spent several months in Port Elizabeth on the eastern Cape, until Boer reinforcements rode into Natal to put pay to Zulu supremacy. On 16th December, 1838, the Zulu army was severely defeated by a laagered Boer commando on the banks of a river in central KwaZulu. As the life ebbed from the Zulu casualties, it stained the waters red, and forever more the river would bear the name of Blood River.
Supported in a coup by the Boers Mpande, the sacker of Port Natal, came to power in 1839. Dingane fled into exile where he met his death. The British settlement at Port Natal fell within the domain claimed by the Boer Republic of Natalia, by the land grant that Retief had been give by Dingane. Sir George Napier, Governor-General of the Cape Colony had other plans. He organised the military occupation of Port Natal to prevent the harbour from falling into either Zulu or Boer hands. Tactfully, Napier, reminded all that Shaka had granted this land to the original British settlers.
The Dunn family returned to Port Natal, just as the garrison was departing. Things returned to normal, “Sea View” rose like a phoenix from the ashes. Concern grew for the protection of British interests at Port Natal, and a small garrison returned. The Boers reacted to this in a martial way. They had declared a Republic of Natalia, and now they were determined to force the British military from land which both parties claimed as their own. Robert Dunn warned the garrison commander, Captain J.C. Smith of the 27th (Inniskilling
) Regiment, of the Boers’ superior numbers and firepower. Smith’s command of some 260 men, together with their families, took up residence in the old fort, which was little more than an earthwork breastwork. Boer hostility was more than apparent. On the night of 23rd May, 1842, Smith was determined to do something to break the stalemate. He led a force of British redcoats supported by Cape Mounted Riflemen, towards the Boer camp. The sharp-shooting Boers were ready for them. Within minutes seventeen redcoats were dead, thirty-one wounded and three missing in the brisk action. Smith was compelled to retreat towards “Sea View”, but he soon quit this position finding it to be untenable. Taking a leaf from the Boers’ own book, Smith laagered his wagons to afford better protection of the families sheltering in the old fort. The Dunn family found refuge in this stockade, whilst his former customers looted the various trading posts. The British camp came under artillery fire, and constant sniping played havoc with the nerves of the occupants of this wooden walled laager. Smith was desperately in need of help, but the nearest British garrison was six hundred miles away at Grahamstown. ‘Dick’ King, a twenty-nine year old settler, volunteered to go for reinforcements. King, together with his servant, Ndongeni, slipped out of the laager under cover of darkness. King accomplished the ride in ten days, having been compelled to leave Ndongeni in Pondoland, suffering from saddle sores. Thirty-one days after he had set off a British relief force arrived and raised the siege. No less than six hundred and fifty-one cannon balls had been fired on the British position, despite this Smith’s subsequent casualties had been mercifully slight. British might was restored, and the balance redressed.
The following year, 1843, the British annexed Natal. In 1847, whilst out hunting Robert Dunn was trampled to death by an elephant. With his death the family fortunes declined rapidly. His widow, faced with mounting debts, was forced to sell “Sea View”. Anne Dunn and her daughters returned to the Cape. Not so young John who elected to remain in Natal. John Dunn was seventeen years of age, with little or no formal education, and no trade or calling. His only skill was his proficiency with a rifle and his knowledge of the Natal hinterland learnt at his father’s side. He scraped a living by acting a guide to the British officers of the Port Natal garrison. The income from this was hardly sufficient to sustain him, he accepted a job as a transport rider to deliver material to the Transvaal. On his return he sought payment for the ride, only to find that the unscrupulous businessman who had hired him, now chose to evoke the Roman-Dutch Law, and declined payment. Dunn was in the eyes of that law a minor, and therefore consider ineligible to negotiate a wage.
Dunn Renounces Civilisation
Penniless and downhearted, John turned his back on the European way of life, and left the town which by then bore the name D’Urban. However he would not be alone, he left with Catherine Pierce, the 15-year-old daughter of Frank Pierce; Robert Dunn’s assistant, but outcast because her mother had been a ‘Cape Malay’. The teenage couple lived a semi-nomadic existence, living off of the land, and by the wits. Their nearest neighbours were Zulus, white renegades or army deserters. All shared a common bond in their preference for the Zulu ways and their rejection of European values and society. The couple lived in this way for two years.
One day in the year 1854, John Dunn was out hunting; he now not only assumed the way of the Zulu, but also the attire of the Zulu. He came upon a camp of three white men in the bush on the Matikulu River. He skirted the camp, and hoped that he had not been seen, but he had. The leader of the party was Captain Joshua Walmsley, Border Agent of the Lower Tugela Drift. With great stealth they tracked John, and Walmsley grabbed him. “Who are you, boy?” he demanded, and first John could only reply in Zulu. Again, Walmsley asked, and John stammered back, in halting English, “Jack, sir, Jack Dunn.” One of the other members of the party interjected – “He’s Robert Dunn's boy, John, I’d thought him lost.” Walmsley gave John two options: he could either be sent back to D’Urban; or he could work for him at Nonoti, his border post. Dunn chose the latter alternative. Through Walmsley's patronage Dunn furthered his education and found gainful employment as the Border Agent’s Administrative Assistant. He was given the additional responsibility for training a corps of some forty or so African policemen in the use of firearms and horsemanship. These men were Walmsley’s private police force, for it was he who found their wages and expenses.
The Zulu Civil War, 1856
In late 1856-tension rose in KwaZulu between two rival claimants of King Mpande's throne. Cetshwayo, the leader of the uSuthu faction, and his elder brother Mbuyazi of the Gqoza. Cetshwayo was militarily stronger than Mbuyazi, whose forces he outnumbered by three to one. Rather than face a fight Mbuyazi and his adherents fled southwards towards the Tugela. It was Mbuyazi’s intention to seek sanctuary in Natal, and avoid any conflict at the time. On 29th November, 1856, the Gqoza faction, including their women and children encamped at Ndondakusuka on the Zulu side of the Lower Drift of the Tugela River. Through his intelligence sources Walmsley was well aware of the situation in KwaZulu. It was his duty as the Border Agent to prevent any incursion across the Tugela into Natal. Mbuyazi pleaded with Walmsley to be permitted into Natal with his followers, but Walmsley rejected his pleas fearful of any repercussions such action might have on Natal. As Cetshwayo’s forces moved nearer to the Tugela, a panic spread through the local population, black and white fled in fear. John Dunn persuaded Walmsley to allow him to cross the river and attempt to mediate between the two rival factions. With thirty-five of his Border Police and one hundred retainers, Dunn rode into the Gqoza camp. Shrewdly he surveyed the camp’s disposition and the terrain. He advised Mbuyazi to move his dependants further away from the riverbank, as the river was in flood. Mbuyazi would have none of this, how dare this white man tell him, a Zulu prince what to do, these were his people and they would stay where they were.
On the morning of 2nd December, 1856, the uSuthu faction arrived at Ndonakusuka and advanced towards the Gqoza camp. As the uSuthu formed ranks, Dunn placed his men between the two factions, and rode over in an attempt to parley with Cetshwayo. But the uSuthu charged and Dunn and his men were compelled to fight for their lives, and fired into the oncoming warriors. The battle developed into a general rout as Mbuyazi’s force of seven hundred warriors collapsed before the onslaught of the twenty odd thousand uSuthu warriors. Dunn rode his horse into the river, men and women pleaded with him to save their children, and they holding up their babies as they were butchered in the shallows. Dunn kicked off his boots and shed his equipment and kicked out away from the carnage. He was rescued midstream by some white traders manning a small punt, these men had thrown their lot in with Mbuyazi, and now uSuthu were plundering the wagons they had hastily left behind. Watching the massacre were Walmsley and his French wife, above the row of battle they heard a child crying. They searched for the source of the noise, in the reeds they found a dying Zulu woman, on her back a baby girl. (The Walmsleys would rise the girl as their own.) That afternoon, as the screams could still be heard across the river, Theophilus Shepstone, the Secretary of Native Affairs of the Natal Government arrived. He interviewed Walmsley, Dunn and the white traders as to their opinion of a possible threat of invasion by the victorious uSuthu. Most were of the opinion that this was purely an internal power struggle, and the safety of the colony was not threatened. Shepstone had his own opinions, he argued with Dunn that his actions in the battle might be misinterpreted by Cetshwayo, as the British siding with Mbuyazi. This could have had dire consequences for Natal, but fortunately nothing ill came of it.
The Natal executive on Shepstone’s recommendations ultimately censured both Walmsley and Dunn. Walmsley it was deemed had exceeded his authority by ordering Dunn and his men beyond their legal boundary. Despite this official reprimand there were those who saw Dunn’s part at Ndondakusuka as a pretext to lay a claim for compensation at the door of the Natal Government. The European traders whose stock and merchandise had been plundered submitted a claim for the sum of £3,680 2s.3d. Shepstone was suspicious of the traders’ claim, and made his own enquiries, which revealed that some of these men were not with bias that fateful day. Although this discredited the claim, the Natal Government sought reparation and a fine of 5,000 cattle was levied on King Mpande. Mpande considered the demand to be excessive and offered 1,124 cattle instead. The Natal negotiator, Henry Francis Fynn, a close confidant of Shaka, withdrew from the talks in disgust.
Late in 1857, John Dunn, acting on his own initiative, entered KwaZulu alone. Here he met with King Mpande. They met in the centre of a cattle kraal so that their conversation could not be overheard. Tearfully Mpande thanked Dunn for his attempted intervention at Ndondakusuka, a bloody clash which had left 15,000 amaZulu dead, including six sons of the king. When Dunn broached the question of the cattle, Mpande advised Dunn to go Cetshwayo’s umuzi at Mangweni to seek restitution. Cetshwayo later recounted their first meeting; “One very cold and stormy night I was seated before a large fire in my hut when there was a noise without as if someone was arriving. I asked the cause from my attendants and they told me a white man in a miserable state of destitution had just arrived and claimed my hospitality. I ordered the servants to bring him in, and a tall, splendidly made man appeared. He was dressed in rags, for his clothes had been torn to pieces in fighting through the bush, and he was shivering from fever and ague. I drew my cloak aside and asked him to sit by the fire, and told the servants to bring food and clothing.” Thus began a friendship, which would last for twenty two years, before the horror of war tore it apart. Prince Cetshwayo duly rewarded Dunn’s bravado and he handed over 1,200 head of cattle to settle the levied amount. Dunn returned to Natal with the cattle and the traders were so impressed with the settlement they rewarded him in turn with £250. With this money Dunn purchased trade goods and returned to KwaZulu, he was going to establish himself as the only trader who the Zulus could really trust. On his next meeting with Cetshwayo, the prince implored him to remain in KwaZulu, as he put it he wanted the “white man as a friend to live near him and to advise him.” At first Dunn declined, but Cetshwayo made a further inducement including an offer of a large tract of land. Dunn made up his mind he would accept the offer. When he informed Walmsley of the fact, Walmsley endeavoured to deter him, he in turn offered Dunn land in Natal. Dunn refused for he knew that the land was heavily mortgaged, and so he chose the Zulu option. Dunn took with him into KwaZulu a number of the Border Police, who owed him a personal loyalty. The land, which Cetshwayo had so generously given, was the region depopulated during the Civil War, on southern coastal area of KwaZulu. Dunn struck up a close relationship with Cetshwayo’s brother, Dabulamanzi, who controlled the neighbouring area, also at Cetshwayo’s behest. Cetshwayo was to all intents and purposes now acting as Regent of his father’s Kingdom.
Word of Dunn’s prowess as a hunter spread throughout the Kingdom of KwaZulu, and he again assumed the customs of the amaZulu, even the marital ones, he would eventually marry forty-nine Zulu wives, but Catherine Pierce would remain his chief or ‘great’ wife. The marriages Dunn brokered were essential to his rising status, and he married into eminent clans, thereby establishing new trading links within the kingdom. Dunn was becoming a Zulu chief. His newly acquired status demanded he had his own bodyguard of forty warriors. He ruled his area by Zulu customary law. Invoking a strict discipline over his own people including his wives. Those who transgressed the law could even face death, if Dunn so desired that punishment.
In 1859, Cetshwayo called for Dunn to appear before him. He informed Dunn of his intention of sending the Zulu army against its northern neighbours, the amaSwazi. Dunn advised Cetshwayo against this venture. KwaZulu was still unstable after the Civil War, and there were those who would take advantage of the prince’s absence, and lay their own claim of succession to the Zulu crown, notable among these were Hamu, his half-brother, and Zibhebhu, his cousin. As a viable alternative to any risky military ventures, Dunn advised Cetshwayo to take action against those internal enemies. Dunn suggested that the uSuthu faction should be armed with firearms in addition to their traditional weapons, thus countering any threat by superior force of arms. In a meeting at the Royal Hotel, D’Urban, Dunn duly sought permission from Shepstone to import 150 guns and the necessary ammunition into KwaZulu from Natal. Following this a meeting was arranged with the then Lieutenant-Governor of Natal, Richard Keate. Dunn was fearful his suggestion might be met with an emphatic refusal after Shepstone’s intervention, however he was astonished when Keate granted permission for the export of not 150, but 250 guns. The Natal Government were aligning themselves with what they considered to be the strongest force in KwaZulu. On his return Cetshwayo greeted Dunn warmly and well on the success of his mission.
Sometime in the mid-1860’s, Dunn organised a hunting trip with a friend of he had made from the garrison at D’Urban, Captain Frederic Watson, of the 1st Battalion, 11th (The North Devonshire) Regiment of Foot. Together with a guest of Watson, the Honourable Guy Cuthbert Dawnay, the son of the 7th Viscount Downe, who was visiting the colony. Dunn had with him a number of armed retainers. The trip was basically a trophy shoot, the white men were killing hippos, gazelle and other game, not for the need of it but for the fun of it. Watson rode on ahead of the main party, which had stopped to pitch camp. Through his telescope he perceived a group of what he took to be impala in donga, a ravine. Carefully Watson stalked his game, and closed in for the kill. As he raised his double rifle to aim he realised to his horror, that he staring a pride of twenty lions. One lion charged towards him, he fired and the animal dropped. The remainder made off with Watson firing at them as he followed, he kept firing until he had expended all but two of his cartridges, but no more animals fell to his shots. He loaded his last cartridges and turned back towards his prize. On reaching the spot he only found a pool of blood, with a blood trail leading off into the undergrowth. With a roar the animal sprang from cover. The leaping lion mauled at Watson, and man and beast fell into a pool of water, which in turn was found to be crocodile infested. Clutched in the jaws of the lion, Watson struggled for his life, but the lion could not gain any purchase as the pool was too deep. Eventually using his bare hands Watson struggled free and caught hold of any overhanging branch and hauled himself, half-drowned from certain death. Injured and bloody he crawled back to his horse, and rode back to camp. Dunn dressed his wounds, and then set out to despatch the lion. Dunn found the creature wounded and savage, rising his gun he gave it the coup de grace. Dunn took the lion’s skin and presented it to his wounded friend. Watson’s adventures were not quite over, one day was still recuperating, and he shot a rogue rhinoceros from his sick bed, as the animal was charging the camp.
Dunn’s power was now such that various African people flocked to his territory. Natal Nguni people, who had fled KwaZulu at the time of Shaka; people of the Tsonga tribe from Mozambique; Zulu dissidents who had fled during the Civil War, all felt it safe to come to John Dunn’s domain. He was a pivotal trading link between the amaZulu and their neighbours, black and white. By the early 1870’s his power was such that he was second only to Cetshwayo in the kingdom, and Cetshwayo was de facto leader of the amaZulu. When Mpande finally died in February, 1873, John Dunn played a leading role in the intrigue that followed. Cetshwayo sent him as the leader of a Zulu delegation to Pietermaritzburg. On 1st March, 1873 he presented Theophilus Shepstone with the following request: “The Zulu Nation ask that Somtseu [Shepstone] may prepare himself to Zululand when the winter is near, and establish what is wanting among the Zulu people, for he knows all about it, and occupies the position of father to the King’s children...” In effect Dunn was asking for the Natal Government to recognise Cetshwayo as the rightful claimant to the vacant throne, and he went on to ask the Natal Government to ally itself with the amaZulu with the following words; “...The Zulu Nation wishes to be more one with the Government of Natal; it desires to be covered with the same mantle.” Shepstone incorrectly perceived this to be an opportunity to extend the sphere of British influence over what had hitherto been an independent kingdom. As a gift Dunn purchased a carriage for Cetshwayo. The Zulu heir-apparent was truly pleased with his friend’s present. Drawn by four grey horses, Cetshwayo even practised his hunting skills from the buggy. Dunn even assisted in the design of the tinsel crown that would sit on the head of a British-crowned Zulu king. He was deeply involved in every facet of what was to follow.
The Coronation of Cetshwayo
A date was set for Cetshwayo’s investiture in mid-August. As Dunn was about to set out for the ceremony his eldest son, Robert, was taken gravely ill with malaria. Dunn sent word to Cetshwayo that his departure would be delayed indefinitely, as he thought his son was close to death. Cetshwayo could not proceed without his ablest councillor at his side, desperate for Dunn to be with him, he dispatched two of his finest izinyanga - witchdoctors, to attend to the boy. On arriving at the Dunn residence they commenced their ceremony with the ritual slaughter of two fine black bulls, after this they danced and sang incantations. To everyone’s astonishment Robert rose from his sick bed to see what all the noise was about. With his son relieved of his sufferings, Dunn made off in all haste to the valley of the sacred Intonjanini Mountain. On 18th August, 1873, Cetshwayo and his nine thousand strong entourage arrived. Dunn concluded that the izinduna should swear an oath of fealty to the soon to be crowned king. On the following day, those loyalty was suspect duly regaled Cetshwayo with their praise for him, notably Hamu and Zibhebhu. With much of the Zulu Nation gathered, the elderly prime-minister, Masiphula, pre-empted Shepstone’s ‘coronation’, by hailing Cetshwayo with the Royal Salute – “Bayete!” The wizened old man had apparently thought it “…derogatory to Zulu dignity to call in the assistance of foreigners to install a Zulu king.” That evening Masiphula came to John Dunn, and told him that his work was done, he had served the Zulu Royal House since its inception under Shaka, and now the old ways were being replaced with new ways. He died later that very night. There followed a celebration of national hysteria, with feasting and dancing. Blank charges roared from the muzzles of guns in celebration of King Cetshwayo.
Shepstone and his entourage accompanied a number of colonial militia and two cannon had entered KwaZulu, to officiate at the ceremony, and was now encamped three miles away. Despite the celebrations, Cetshwayo delayed visiting Shepstone on the grounds that he was in mourning for Masiphula. Shepstone grew impatience with the waiting; it was 31st of August, before King Cetshwayo attended the Natal official. Cetshwayo’s and Shepstone praise singers vied with one and other over who was the greatest, a contest that almost came to blows.
Several matters needed to be clarified between the two men. The Zulus for their part had many complaints about Boers encroaching into the territory of KwaZulu. Cetshwayo was fearful of the Christian missionaries who were now spreading the Gospel, he admitted they were good men, but considered that their doctrines were only for the white man. “A Christian Zulu,” he said, “is a Zulu spoiled.” A compromise was reached whereby Cetshwayo consented to allow those missionaries already practising in KwaZulu to remain, but no more would be allowed access.
The relationship between Natal and KwaZulu was discussed, the colony needed more labour, and the amaZulu would have no part in toiling in the white man’s sugar plantations. However, the Tsonga wish to work and so an arrangement was made, with John Dunn at the centre of things and receiving the appointment of Labour Agent to the Tsonga, with a retainer of £300 per annum from the Natal Government. So things were settled or it thought. On Monday, 1st September, 1873, Theophilus Shepstone crowned a man who was already a king, with tinsel and feathered crown, and cloaked him in a scarlet mantle. In the open Shepstone spoke to the assembly. He added some other matters in public, which he had not discussed in private. He proclaimed that there should be no more indiscriminate blood shedding and that there should no longer be condemnation without due and proper trial. Only the king was to have the power of death. Not only was Shepstone denuding the Zulu Nation of rights to act within its own sovereign law, he was endeavouring to impose British law on this independent kingdom. The two cannon of the D’Urban Volunteer Artillery fired a seventeen gun salute, as a militia band struck up a rousing chorus, maybe in an attempt to mask the fact the gunners had not a sufficient enough salute to warrant a king. Shepstone was uneasy with Dunn’s influence on the new king, and before he left he made it abundantly clear that he would never recognise Dunn as an independent power in KwaZulu. Then Shepstone and party left, they had not even left KwaZulu before the first Zulu had been executed without trial. A petty chieftain caught stealing from the coronation gifts that Shepstone had left, he was tried by his peers, and clubbed to death.
Cetshwayo set about establishing his own great place - his capital, at oNdini, or Ulundi, on the gentle slopes of the valley of the White Mfolozi River. Whilst this was happening John Dunn was busy building rest-stations along the coast, to facilitate to movement of the Tsongas into Natal.
Events in London, were determining the future of all southern Africa. The Earl of Carnarvon had determined British imperial policy in that region would best be served by a confederation of states and colonies, similar to the one he had introduced to Canada with little real resistance. The British colonies of the Cape, Griqualand West and Natal would expand and embrace their neighbours into a greater British controlled South Africa; not a thought seems to be given that those neighbours were independent republics or kingdoms. And for the word ‘confederate’ one might easily substitute the word conquest, the end result would be no different. To forward the cause of Confederation a new Governor of Cape Colony and High Commissioner for southern Africa was appointed in October, 1876, his name was Sir Henry Bartle Edward Frere. His confederate in this scheme was to be the newly knighted Sir Theophilus Shepstone.
Shepstone set about the task with vigour, in April, 1877, he formally annexed the Transvaal. With acquisition of the Transvaal the Government inherited a dispute over a strip of border territory between the Boer Republic and KwaZulu, but other matters concerned Her Majesty’s Government and John Dunn. The Earl of Carnarvon received a letter in July of 1877, part of it read as follows; ‘As your Lordship is aware, the Natal government is represented in Zululand by Mr. John Dunn, who receives from the colonial exchequer a stipend of £300 a year. Mr. Dunn is also the king’s chief adviser and agent, and in the latter capacity he has been the means of introducing into Zululand large quantities of arms. When in 1875 a correspondent of ours was at Lourenzo Marques he spoke to a party of natives who informed him that Mr. Dunn had sent them to that place to bring back a parcel of five hundred guns.’ Shortly after this letter, Sir Michael Hicks Beach replaced Carnarvon as Secretary of State for the Colonies. Hicks Beach queried the British Consul at Lourenzo Marques as to Dunn’s activities, he received the following reply: ‘At least three-quarters of the guns imported into Zululand were imported for the account of John Dunn, and the payment for same made in cattle to his agents in Durban, Natal. These are the facts that I can vouch for, and I have from time to time brought same before the colonial press, but nothing has come of it. I do not wish to mention the names of firms who have been engaged principally in this trade, but they are mostly English.’ There were those in high office in Natal, who colluded with this gun-running, for that is what it was. They saw it to their advantage, let Cetshwayo resolve the border dispute with the Boers by feat of arms, and if they were to do so then let them have the weapons.
A Boundary Commission was however formed to investigate the matter by due process. Sir Henry Bartle Edward Frere had other plans, he launched an unprecedented propaganda campaign against Cetshwayo. Characterising the king as a despot and his army as man-slaying gladiators. Frere was doing his utmost to provoke a war with the amaZulu. However the military forces at his command were busy at this time ‘confederating’ the Transkei in the Ninth Cape Frontier War. Frere’s path only had one possible ending - WAR! He now had to justify any subsequent actions by seeking a casus belli. In July of 1878 came just one of the excuses he was looking for. Two wives of the powerful border chieftain, Sihayo kaXongo, had fallen pregnant to lovers. They fled from the husband’s umuzi and sought refuge at a border police post across the Buffalo River in Natal. Metholokazulu, one of the sons of Sihayo, outraged by the women’s behaviour, decided to take action against them, and on 28th July he led a large force of men across the Buffalo and into Natal. Armed Zulus, were now in a British colony. They made for and surrounded the police post, where they demanded the return of the women. Desperately outnumbered, the border police could offer no resistance, and one of the women was dragged out from her place of hiding. Kicking and screaming she was manhandled back across the river into KwaZulu where she was put to death. That same night the incursion was renewed and the second woman met the same fate. The Natal Government sought reparation and demanded the surrender of the ringleaders of the raid, but Sihayo refused to comply with the demand. He merely offered to pay a fine of cattle which Cetshwayo, his king and master had levied on him for the raid, he owed no dues to the Government of Natal. At last Frere had a pretext for war, not one violation of Natal’s border, but two, he must have rubbed his hands with glee.
In mid-September another incident strengthened Frere’s cause. A surveyor of the Colonial Engineer’s Office, Mr. D. Smith, accompanied by a trader named Deighton, was conducting a survey of the road between Greytown and Fort Buckingham. Whilst the two men were standing on a rock near the Middle Drift of the Tugela, they were accosted by a number of Zulus who detained them for about an hour and relieved them of some possessions. What these two men were doing was actually plotting the possible invasion route into KwaZulu. As the British assumed a warlike stance, so did the amaZulu. At this time Dunn’s influence over Cetshwayo seem to diminish. The king viewed Dunn with suspicion, could his trusted adviser have ulterior motives? As his influence waned others came to prominence Sihayo and Rabanina urged the king to defy the whites. Yet another string was added to Frere’s bow, when, Mbilini, a renegade Swazi prince who had sought refuge in KwaZulu and pledged his allegiance to Cetshwayo, effected a raid across the Phongola River and killed several Africans on British territory.
Cetshwayo sent the following message to Sir Henry Bulwer, Lieutenant-Governor of Natal: “Did I ever tell Mr. Shepstone I would not kill? Did he tell the white people I made such an arrangement? Because if he did he has deceived them. I do kill; but do not consider that I have done anything yet in the way of killing. Why do the white people start at nothing? I have not yet begun; I have yet to kill; it is the custom of our nation, and I shall not depart from it. Why does the Governor of Natal speak to me about my laws? Do I go to Natal and dictate to him about his laws? I shall not agree to any laws or rules from Natal, and by doing so throw the large kraal which I govern into the water. My people will not listen unless they are killed; and while wishing to be friends with the English, I do not agree to give my people over to be governed by laws sent to me by them. Have I not asked the English to allow me to wash my spears since the death of my father Mpande, and they have kept playing with me all this time, treating me like a child? Go back and tell the English that I shall now act on my account, and if they wish me to agree to their laws, I shall leave and become a wandered; but before I go it will be seen, as I shall not go without having acted. Go back and tell the white men this, and let them hear it well. The Governor of Natal and I are equal; he is Governor of Natal, and I am Governor here!”
Dunn’s presence at oNdini was now becoming untenable. The king was having his army doctored for war. Prominent izinduna now regarded Dunn as a spy for the British, some even demanded his execution. Dunn went to King Cetshwayo and informed him that he was leaving. Dunn described the events:- “From my camp I could see the gathering, which broke up in an unusual manner, as the soldiers shouted in a excited way, and a great number left their usual course and came in the direction of my camp. My people began to get very uneasy, but I told them no to be alarmed but to remain sitting quietly. The soldiers of the gathering came swarming past, and several went through my tents. On my speaking to them they shouted, “That is past, (meaning my authority) a white man is nothing now in this country; we will stab him with an assegai and disembowel him!” I had hard work to keep my temper, but several of their captains, who had come to me for a drink of water, persuaded me to keep quiet, that same evening I went to bid Cetshwayo farewell. He tried hard to persuade me to remain, saying, “I am not a child; I see the English wish to have my country; but if they come in I will fight.” To which I replied, “Yes, I see, it is no use talking to you anymore, your soldiers are leading you to a precipice over which you will be pushed over headlong.” Dunn left the king’s presence still according the man who he regarded as his monarch with his due salutations.
The Anglo-Zulu War
Three weeks after Dunn had left oNdini he received a message from Cetshwayo, requesting him to attend as his envoy the announcement of the Boundary Commission on 11th December, 1878. Dunn arrived at the spot where the award was to be given, it was on the Natal bank of the Lower Tugela Drift, under the spreading branches of a wild fig tree. He was accompanied by three of the King’s izinduna, eleven chieftains and forty retainers. The British were represented by John Shepstone, brother of Theophilus, and now the acting Secretary of Native Affairs, Charles Brownlee of one Frere’s staff, Henry Francis Fynn Jr., the son of one of the man who Shaka had ceded the land to. Captain & Lieutenant-Colonel Frederick William Edward Forestier Walker, Scots Guards, one of Frere’s aide-de-camps represented the military. The British military presence was reinforced by a landing party from H.M.S. Active, complete with Gatling Gun and cannon, and a number of Colonial volunteers. John Shepstone read aloud the findings of the Boundary Commission, much to the assembled surprise the award was in favour of the Zulu claim. A ripple of excitement went through the Zulu delegation, but it was short-lived. John Shepstone then read out a number of demands that Frere and his brother had engineered:-
1, The ringleaders of the incursion across the Buffalo should be surrendered for trial under British law, and a fine of 500 cattle paid for the violation.
2, A fine of 100 cattle should be paid for the offence committed against Smith and Deighton.
3, Mbilini and his confederates were to be surrendered for trial for their raid across the Phongola.
4, That the Zulu army disband, and that it could only be brought together with the permission of a Great Council of the Zulu nation, which in turn would be under the auspices of the British Government.
5, That Zulus were allowed to marry on reaching maturity without the king’s consent.
6, The Zulu system of justice should be reformed and that any accused persons had the right of personal trial. 7, A British Diplomatic Resident should be received at oNdini.
8, All missionaries and African converts who had fled KwaZulu for fear of persecution should be allowed to return to their mission stations.
9, If any missionary or other European should be involved in a dispute, the matter should be heard by the king and in the presence of the Resident, and that any sentence of expulsion from KwaZulu could not be carried out without the Resident’s approval.
These last six demands spelt the death-knell of Zulu sovereignty. Frere had made these haughty demands without the sanction of the home Government. Dunn could foresee only one outcome - WAR! Prudently Dunn decided not to convey the contents of the ultimatum to Cetshwayo himself, fearful, for his own safety. Instead he sent messengers to convey the word. On receiving the news Cetshwayo informed Dunn he needed a further twenty days to consider the content. John Dunn conveyed this reply to John Shepstone by letter on 18th December. Frere gave the response, “I would express satisfaction at the receipt of his letter but inform Mr. Dunn that the word of the government as already given cannot now be altered.” When Dunn gave this response to Cetshwayo in a letter, the king in turn replied that Dunn might stay where he was and he would respect him as a neutral. This did little for Dunn’s people, who fearful for their own safety started to cross the Tugela into Natal as refugees.
Dunn’s anxiety grew for the safety of his family and followers, and he requested an interview with the man with whom Frere had placed his military option - Lieutenant-General Frederic Augustus Thesiger, 2nd Baron Lord Chelmsford, General Officer commanding Her Majesty’s Forces in southern Africa. At their meeting Dunn informed Chelmsford of his stance as a neutral. Chelmsford stated that his neutrality was unacceptable, Dunn must support the British cause or suffer the consequences. Chelmsford then offered Dunn the opportunity to move his people into Natal, where they would be accommodated at the government’s expense. Dunn recorded what then transpired: ‘Lord Chelmsford said he was afraid that he would not get the Zulus to fight. But, from my experience, I knew that if the fighting die was once cast, Cetshwayo would concentrate his forces and risk everything on one great battle, and fall upon the column that he thought would give him most trouble, so I advised Lord Chelmsford to divide his forces into two strong columns, so that either would be strong enough to cope with the whole Zulu army. Lord Chelmsford laughed at this idea and said, “The only thing I am afraid of is that I won’t get Cetshwayo to fight.” I said, “Well, my Lord, supposing you get to his kraal and he won’t fight, what will you do?” His answer was, “I must drive him into a corner, and make him fight.”...’ Dunn now had no option but to accept Chelmsford’s offer of sanctuary. The sights of Ndondakusuka must have flashed before his eyes, he would not make the same mistake as Mbuyazi.
On 30th and 31st of December, 1878, two thousand of his people were ferried across the Tugela by punts manned by the Royal Navy. Having seen to the disposition, Dunn sought out the Border Agent, Bernard Fynney and volunteered his own, and the services of two hundred of his best warriors to act in the defence of the Natal border. Dunn’s men were all skilled hunters and the local and military observers declared them to be a fine body of men.
On 11th January, 1879, after the ultimatum demands had not been met, Lord Chelmsford’s forces invaded KwaZulu from three directions. On 22nd January disaster struck, half of a British column was wiped out at Isandlwana. Earlier on that same day the coastal column under Colonel Charles Pearson had defeated a Zulu impi at Nyezane. The coastal column moved onward to the abandoned KwaMondi mission station, at Eshowe. It was here that Pearson received the tidings of the disaster at Isandlwana. Rather than retreat through a hostile countryside, he decided to fortify the mission station and await the arrival of reinforcements.
The route to Eshowe lay in Dunn’s old domain. Chelmsford was determined to utilise Dunn’s first-hand knowledge of the terrain. Chelmsford implored Dunn for his assistance, stressing that his knowledge of the land would be an asset to the Eshowe Relief Force. Reluctantly Dunn accepted the position of Political and Military Intelligence Officer, with the local rank of Commandant. He was going to war against the amaZulu, a people who he had considered himself part of, only months before. The Eshowe Relief Column moved across the Tugela and into KwaZulu, with Lord Chelmsford riding at its head, and John Dunn and his men scouting before the mass of wagons and impedimenta. When the column halted the wagons were drawn into laager, Dunn ridiculed their efforts, saying it was not good enough. Also accompanying the force was Dunn’s old hunting friend, Guy Dawnay. Caution dictated every move of Chelmsford’s advance, mindful of the blunder of Isandlwana. Mounted troops rode ahead of the force searching for the Zulu.
On Tuesday, 1st April, the column laagered and entrenched near to the deserted military inkandla of Gingindlovu. During the evening the mounted patrols reported that Zulu forces were congregating in the vicinity of uMisi Hill. To confirm this, Dunn undertook a daring lone reconnaissance towards the Zulu position. On his return he reported seeing the Zulus’ bivouac fires, but he was unable to determine their numbers. The laagered camp was placed on a state of alarm. Many of the soldiers were untried young men, and fear caused at least one false alarm.
At 5 a.m., on Wednesday, 2nd April, a heavy mist cloaked the laager, Lord Chelmsford ordered out a patrol to scout the area for the whereabouts of the Zulus. A patrol of Natal Native Horse located the Zulus crossing the Nyezane River and advancing on the camp. A smattering of shots were fired and the mounted men withdrew on the laager. A bugler sounded ‘Stand-To’, and the troops were told, “No independent firing - volleys by companies when they are within three yards.” The Zulus deployed in the usual horned formation. A Gatling Gun chattered into life and cut a swath into the Zulus. The Zulus pressed their attack by attempting to envelop the laager. Mindful of their orders the troops opened up at their designated range. Crashing volleys vied with the fire of the Gatlings, the thud of cannon-fire and the whoosh of rockets. For nearly an hour the Zulus pressed on despite mounting casualties. John Dunn took up an exposed position on a wagon and fired from there. With some thirty rounds he managed to bring down a warrior with every shot, but was discouraged to see that the British soldiers were not so accurate. Over one thousand Zulu corpses littered the battlefield before their commanders ordered a withdrawal. Dunn and his men, together with the Natal Native Contingent despatched the wounded warriors at the point of an assegai. By 7.30 a.m. the butchering was complete, and the following day Eshowe was relieved.
Lord Chelmsford received information that Dabulamanzi, Dunn’s old neighbour and friend, had retreated to his eZulwini kraal, a mounted expedition - including Dunn - was launched to kill or capture him. Dabulamanzi was perhaps the best known in Britain of Cetshwayo’s generals, for it was he who launched the attack on the mission station at Rorke’s Drift in the wake of Isandlwana debacle. On their arrival at eZulwini, the umuzi was almost deserted, three stragglers were found two were shot and the third captured. The other Zulus had taken to the high ground above the umuzi, and as the British were putting the huts to the torch, they began sniping down from their position. With the aid of a telescope, John Dunn recognised the most able of shots to be Dabulamanzi himself. The two former friends now traded shots with one another at a distance which was later adjudged to have been 1,200 yards, and although no-one hit in the exchange, John Dunn was ruled to have been the winner, as the Zulus had been forced to take cover to prevent from being hit. With their one prisoner, wearing a noose about his neck, the mounted men returned to Eshowe.
Chelmsford decided to abandon the position at Eshowe, and exercising the same caution as he used when he advanced, he did the same again as the column retraced its steps.
On the night of 5th/6th of April, picquets were set in case of a night attack. The night was dark, and heightened tensions and nervousness abounded. A shot rang out somewhere in the distance, a squad of men from the 3rd, 60th Rifles, dressed in dark green fled from their forward post, and blundered into a position held by Dunn’s men. At this point a guard company commander seeing dark forms coming towards to laager opened fire on them, five riflemen fell wounded. Dunn’s men shouted in their heavy accents, “Friend, friend!” John Dunn heard the shouts and the shots, he rushed down to the firing line. With tears in his eyes he yelled at the guard commander, “My God! They’re killing my people! Oh, my children!” The guard ceased firing and John Dunn rushed out to the casualties. He found three of his men dead and another eight wounded. The guard-commander a Sergeant in 3rd, 60th Rifles was subsequently court-martialled, reduced in the ranks and sentenced to five years penal servitude. However, the sentence was later quashed.
As the column progressed back to the Tugela, Dunn passed through his old homesteads of eMoyeni and Mangethe. The Zulu had vented their full anger on the properties and looted and wrecked them. An officer enquired what Dunn felt about this and he replied, “I have not done with the Zulus yet.” For the subsequent part of Anglo-Zulu War, John Dunn remained with the reinforced and reorganised Coastal Division. True to his word John Dunn had not yet finished with the Zulus.
Sir Garnet Wolseley assumed command in KwaZulu after Chelmsford had dealt a last crushing blow at oNdini on 4th July, 1879, which in turn had led to Cetshwayo’s capture. Wolseley was tasked with bring the kingdom into line with its British neighbours in Natal. He tinkered with the idea of placing John Dunn on the now vacant Zulu throne, but rather he made John Dunn one of the thirteen kinglets, who would rule the divided kingdom with powers invested by the British Crown. John Dunn returned to KwaZulu and assumed his position on the agreement that Cetshwayo was to see out his days as a prisoner.
On 1st September, 1879, six years to the day on which Shepstone had crowned Cetshwayo king, the British destroyed Zulu power for good. Dunn signed an oath of allegiance to the British and returned to rule his old lands and more.
In January, 1883, King Cetshwayo was permitted to return to KwaZulu, with powers diminished he was only a shadow of his former self. That same year civil war broke out in KwaZulu and bloody vengeance was wrought on Cetshwayo and uSuthu faction, and the king was forced to take refuge in the British Residency. The two former friends were destined never to meet again, King Cetshwayo kaMpande died on 8th February, 1884, some say he was poisoned by his rivals, others that he died of a broken heart; mourning the loss of his beloved country.
In 1887, Britain finally annexed KwaZulu and absorbed it into the colony of Natal. With the annexation John Dunn’s chieftainship came to an end.
The following year, 1888, Dinizulu, son of Cetshwayo rose in revolt, and again John Dunn went to the aid of the British and the rebellion was surpressed. With his eyesight failing he settled down to spend his last few years with his family. He died after a short illness on 5th August, 1895. With his many wives he had created seventy-nine children, he had be a king in all but name of his own country, and children - his own tribe. His descendants still live to this day in a place, once known as “JOHN DUNN’S LAND.”