Battle of Isandlwana

Now, in ‘A small piece of history’, Emma Mawdsley
of the National Army Museum presents a favourite object from the Collection. This is the most popular painting in the National
Army Museum Collection, which is actually rather surprising since it shows the
defeat of the British Army by non-European troops. It was the first occasion when the British Army had
been beaten so completely by non-European troops. In 1879, the small garrison at Isandlwana was
attacked by a force of 20,000 Zulu warriors and, though they fought valiantly, they were
routed. The artist, Charles Edwin Fripp, wasn’t a witness
to this scene but he did visit the battlefield with Chelmsford’s force some four weeks later and the bodies were still lying
unburied, rotting on the ground. Fripp depicted the Zulu fighting technique very
accurately. He shows how the Zulu uses his shield to
attract the soldier who bayonets through the shield. He then lifts it up and almost disarms the soldier because
his bayonet is through the shield so he can’t retract it. And in the meantime the Zulu then attacks from underneath
the shield and stabs the soldier in the stomach using his spear called an iklwa Iklwa is an onomatopoeic word which describes
the noise that the weapon makes as it’s thrust into the body and then withdrawn – a sort of
sucking noise. Some elements were included for dramatic effect, such
as this drummer boy here who looks 12 or 13, younger than any drummer boy present at the
battle of Isandlwana. The average age of the drummer boys at Isandlwana
was about 24. Fripp’s great achievement in this painting is transforming
the chaos of battle into a heroic last stand.

4 thoughts on “Battle of Isandlwana

  1. one of my favorite paintings since i was a kid.i saw the original at the national army museum and i have a framed copy….the 1st battalion had been in africa a long time and most of them were apparently bearded….i did read in Donald Morris,s book there was a young drummer boy present…there was an eclipse during the battle and a lot of the zulus were high on magic mushrooms and potions…….the 24th died hard that day god bless them..

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