"Shortly after the conclusion of hostilities in Zululand John Maxwell drafted his reminiscences. His
original manuscript was donated to the University of Cape Town many years ago and was subsequently
edited and published by the University. The basic outline of these Reminiscences are set out in the
Introduction to the published document and reads as follows:
The manuscript of John Maxwell's Reminiscences of the Zulu War was donated to the University of Cape Town Libraries by Mrs. Pamela Strasheim, whose grandfather Hermann Bolus, elder son of Dr. Harry Bolus, the eminent botanist, married Louisa Maxwell, John's niece. It seems that the manuscript was passed to the family of John's younger brother, Thomas (1840-1914). The manuscript covers thirty pages of ruled foolscap and is written partly in lead pencil and partly in blue pencil. On the first page someone has noted in ink "Written by Uncle John Maxwell". It is thought that the narrative was written for publication, as a similar version appears in the Christmas Number of
the Natal Witness for 1884. There is a typescript narrative of the same incident by 'J.M.' in 'Reminiscences of the Zulu War, 1879’, by various authors, compiled in two volumes by Dr. Killie Campbell. The text of the typescript is not identical to that of the manuscript, possibly a result of being edited before publication in the press. The text published here is that of the original manuscript.
John Maxwell was born in Liverpool, England on 11 September 18372 and came out to Natal as a boy of 14.
His father, Commander Francis Severn Maxwell, R.N., after serving with gallantry in the Mediterranean during the Napoleonic Wars, apparently decided to try cotton growing in Natal at the age of 61. As a retired naval officer he would have been entitled to a free grant of land. Commander Maxwell, his wife, three sons William, John and Thomas, and two Irish servants, set sail from Liverpool on board the brig “Wilhelmina” on 16 October 1850. They arrived off Port Natal early on the morning of 7 January 1851.
By 1855 Commander Maxwell owned 695 acres of land near Besters Hoek in the County of Pietermaritzburg and in August 1855 was listed as living at 33, Burger Street, Pietermaritzburg. He is described as a Gentleman and Landowner. Commander Maxwell was present at a meeting in Pietermaritzburg on 15 January 1855 to discuss the establishment of a Volunteer Cavalry Corps and seconded the proposal that "a Mounted Volunteer Corps be established for the County of Pietermaritzburg". This resulted in the formation of the Natal Carbineers and all three Maxwell brothers are listed as being members of the Maritzburg Troop on various occasions during the 1850s and 1860s. It seems likely that John and Thomas went to the Eastern Cape in the 1870s. John was a member of Brabant's Corps in September 1878 and would therefore have fought in the Ninth "Kaffir" (Frontier) War of 1877-78. John Maxwell joined the Natal Native Contingent in King William's Town on 12 November 1878, where Commandant Rupert La Trobe Lonsdale was recruiting white officers and N.C.Os. They left King William's Town on 20 November on a special train for East London, and sailed on the S.S. Nubian for Durban on 21 November. They arrived in Durban on 23 November and left the next day for Pietermaritzburg. Maxwell was a lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion (commanded by A. W. Cooper) of the 3rd Regiment N.N.C. (commanded by Lonsdale). Each battalion of the 3rd N.N.C. consisted of 10 companies; each company consisting of nine whites i.e. one captain and two lieutenants (who were mounted), and six N.C.Os, as well as 100 Blacks, six being N.C.Os. The 2/3rd N.N.C. formed part of the Number Three or 'Centre Column' under the command of Brevet Colonel R. Glyn, which was to cross the Natal border into Zululand at Rorke's Drift and move eastwards to Ulundi, Cetshwayo's chief kraal. The Column consisted of N Battery 5th Brigade Royal Artillery; two squadrons Imperial Mounted Infantry; two battalions H.M. 24th Foot; one squadron Natal Volunteers
including Natal Carbineers, Newcastle Mounted Rifles and Buffalo Border Guard; one squadron Natal Mounted Police; the 1st and 2nd battalions of the 3rd Natal Native Contingent and one company of Native Pioneers. Lieutenant-General Lord Chelmsford, Commander in charge of forces in South Africa, and his staff accompanied the Column. Maxwell's narrative begins on 21st January 1879, after the Column had left Rorke's Drift (where a small force had been left on guard); crossed into Zululand; fought a brief engagement near Sirayo's kraal and established a camp at Isandhlwana. Maxwell's company was part of the force under Major Dartnell and Comdt. Lonsdale sent out by Lord Chelmsford on 21st January to reconnoitre ground to the south-east of Isandhlwana, as reports of Zulus near Matyana's stronghold had been received. When a large body of Zulus was sighted at sunset near Isipezi Mountain, Dartnell decided to send for reinforcements and bivouac there for the night. Early on the morning of 22nd January, Lord Chelmsford and Colonel Glyn left Isandhlwana with a force to join Dartnell. They remained out all day in spite of reports that a Zulu
force was attacking the camp. Maxwell describes the return to Isandhlwana after the Zulus had overwhelmingly defeated the British and Colonial troops left in camp; and the march to Rorke's Drift the next morning where a small group of defenders had held the depot against a Zulu force commanded by Dabulamanzi on the night of 22nd January. Colour of the 1/24th Regiment, and ends his narrative with a description of visits to Isandhlwana on 14th March and 21st May. Maxwell left the N.N.C. on 29th April and took over No. 1 Native Reserve Levy at Umsinga on 30th April. There is a note in the manuscript to the effect that Maxwell returned to Umsinga on 19th July, presumably being involved in border defence only and not in any subsequent battles. Little has been discovered about Maxwell's later career. He died in Eshowe on 26 December 1905 at the age of 68 and is buried there.
Any alterations to the original text have been made in order to clarify and make it more readable. Maxwell's erratic punctuation and lavish use of capitals has been brought into line with modern usage as far as possible. Abbreviations have in most cases been expanded. Minor grammatical and spelling errors have been corrected, but Maxwell's spelling of proper names has been retained and where necessary the correct form is explained in a note."