Rorke’s Drift, Battle of


Rorke’s Drift, Battle of
(1879)
   A minor but celebrated engagement of the Zulu War that followed quickly on the Zulu victory at Isandhlwana in January 1879. At a mission station by a ford of the Buffalo River 25 miles southeast of Dundee in South Africa, a British force of 139 men, 35 of whom were ill, defended a small hospital compound against repeated attacks by a 4,000-man Zulu impi for 12 hours until the Zulu force abandoned the assault. The British force was commanded by two officers hitherto notable for no distinguished service, Lieutenant John Rouse Merriot Chard of the Royal Engineers and Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead of B Company of the 24th Regiment.
   In response to repeated Zulu charges, the defenders fired a total of 20,000 rounds of ammunition and inflicted heavy losses on the enemy. At its height, the battle degenerated into savage hand-to-hand combat, and the mission hospital was set afire. The defenders counted 17 dead and 10 wounded after the fighting subsided. Zulu losses have been estimated as low as 400 and as high as 1,000. In all, 11 Victoria Crosses were awarded for the defense of Rorke’s Drift, the highest ever given for a single engagement.
   In 1880, Alphonse de Neuville completed a superb painting, The Defence of Rorke ’ s Drift 1879, which today hangs in the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
   FURTHER READING:
    Farwell, Byron. Queen Victoria ’ s Little Wars. New York: W. W. Norton, 1972;
    Knight, Ian. The National Army Museum Book of the Zulu War . London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 2003.
   CARL CAVANAGH HODGE

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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