Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 16.djvu/272
enemy, and with his faithful Basutos followed the flying volunteers, whom he only caught up and succeeded in rallying after a fourteen mile ride. In 1874 Durnford patrolled the country and carried out the demolition of the passes in the Drakensberg mountains, thus restoring confidence among the colonists. For these services he received the formal thanks of the colonial government. The tribe of the Ama Hlubi, after some unnecessary bloodshed, was broken up, as was also another tribe, the Putini. The proceedings in both cases were extremely distasteful to Durnford, who highly disapproved of the whole policy of the colonial government to the natives. Durnford received his promotion to lieutenant-colonel in December 1873, and was for some time after that date, owing to his exposure of the cowardice of the volunteers and his strong advocacy of the rights of the native tribes, the best abused man in the colony, although, on the other hand, he was adored by the natives.
In 1877 came the annexation of the Transvaal and the Kaffir war, and then followed the Zulu boundary dispute, when Durnford was appointed a member of the commission sent to investigate the grievances of the Zulus, and whose award seemed to promise a peaceful settlement; but unhappily other influences were at work, and war with Cetshwayo was shortly declared. Durnford, who had been promoted colonel in the army on 11 Dec. 1878, was appointed to the command of No. 2 column, composed of three native battalions of infantry and native cavalry raised by himself, and a rocket battery of artillery. His great popularity among the natives enabled him to raise this body of native troops with extraordinary celerity, men coming literally hundreds of miles to serve under him. Lord Chelmsford, with the headquarter column, had moved on 20 Jan. 1879, in accordance with his previously expressed intention, to a position near the Isandhlwana hill, where he formed his camp, but no step was taken to make the camp defensible in case of attack. At this time Durnford, who was on his way to Rorke's Drift with his mounted natives, had orders to co-operate with the general. He arrived at Rorke's Drift on the 21st, and on the 22nd received orders to march to the camp, where he expected to find the general and to be of use to him with his mounted men, the only cavalry at the general's disposal. On the morning of the 22nd Lord Chelmsford went out with a column to attack the Zulus, and when Durnford arrived at the Isandhlwana camp, reports having already come in of a movement of Zulus in the neighbourhood, he took his mounted men out to reconnoitre. It was, however, too late. The Zulus appeared in force to the front and left. Durnford then fell back slowly towards the camp, keeping up a steady fire, and disputing every yard of ground until his men's ammunition was expended, when they retired rapidly to the right of the camp to obtain more; then the Zulus swept down in hordes upon the camp, the infantry were broken, and fell back fighting hand to hand towards the right of the camp, where Durnford had rallied the white troopers, and with them and the Basutos still faced the Zulu left, keeping open the road across the ‘Nek,’ where retreat could yet be covered. About thirty of the 24th regiment, fourteen of the Natal volunteer carabiniers, with their officer, Lieutenant Scott, and twenty of the Natal mounted police held on with Durnford to this position when all hope of retrieving the day was gone; dismounted they fought on foot to cover the retreat of their comrades, and died to a man at their post. Four months later, when the general first allowed the battle-field to be visited, Durnford's body was found lying in a patch of long grass, near the right flank of the camp, a central figure of the band of brave men who had fought it out to the bitter end.
An ungenerous attempt was made at the time to throw the blame of the disaster on Durnford, it being alleged that he had received orders to defend the camp; but a copy of the orders he received was afterwards ascertained to have been recovered from the battle-field, and it is now known that no such instruction was given. In the judgment of those most competent to decide, Durnford acted, under the circumstances, for the best, and, as General Sir Lintorn Simmons wrote to the ‘Times,’ ‘fought and died as a brave and true soldier, surrounded by natives, in whom he had inspired such love and devotion that they sold their lives by his side, covering the retreat of those who were flying …’
Durnford's character is well summed up by Sir Henry Bulwer in the following few lines: ‘Colonel Durnford was a soldier of soldiers, with all his heart in his profession, keen, active-minded, indefatigable, unsparing of himself, brave and utterly fearless, honourable, loyal, of great kindness and goodness of heart. I speak of him as I knew him, and as all who knew him will speak of him.’
His brother officers of the corps of royal engineers have testified their admiration of his conduct and his noble death by placing a stained-glass window to his memory in Rochester Cathedral.[Official Records; Corps Papers; E. Durnford's A Soldier's Life and Work in South Africa, 1882; Wylde's My Chief and I.]