Extracts from a letter written by a non-commissioned officer of HMS Tenedos two days before Colonel Pearson’s column started for Eshowe.
My Dear _______,
Just a line in haste to tell you were I am. We landed from the ship on the 1st January in the morning, and after a long ride by rail we commenced marching, and kept at it, with short intervals of rest, till the night of the 6th, when we arrived here. We are now attached to the Lower Tugela Column, and the part of the Naval Brigade to which I am attached is encamped in the Fort, which overlooks the Tugela River, and this river separates the Colony of Natal from the enemy’s Country, “Zululand.” War actually commenced on the 11th; we fired two shells from our gun in the Fort at a party of the enemy across the river. On the 12th the troops commenced to cross and have been at it day and night since. We number now about 2,500 white troops and 2,500 black troops, so we are a large party. On our left, at a few miles interval, are three more columns near the same strength as ours. Until to-day, very little has been doing; a few prisoners and some cattle have been captured by our Cavalry scouts. To-day an engagement has taken place between the Zulus and ours, which resulted in victory on our side, several killed, and a great number wounded on the enemy’s side, and only two killed and a few wounded on ours. But as yet it is nothing. Five prisoners were brought in on Tuesday, captured by our scouts. They were also scouts, and well armed, but ours had good horses, and they are splendid riders. One of the party told us that we can do what we like with them because we have them, but, pointing to the mountains behind which King Cetawayo’s main body of soldiers are, he said, you will find your match there. Rumours vary as to the number of the enemy’s troops, but all agree that he has a terribly large and fierce army, well organized and drilled, and armed, as an Englishman has been his principal advisor till lately. I can’t stay to tell you much now. We leave this Fort on Saturday, and advance into Zululand so it may be long before I can write you again. We have had some terribly wet weather and rough times, often having to lie down in a pool of mud, or stand up by night, but we are all cheerful and hopeful, and the camp is quite alive with bustle. I am happy to say that I enjoy good health, and am as merry as a lark, and burnt as a berry. Some with sun, and some with dirt, we are all like n_____rs; but never mind, we may be able to get clean water again some time.
Naval Brigade, Fort Pearson, Lower Tugela, 16th January, 1879
(Source: The Western Times, February 26, 1879)
Petty Officer Tom