Tourism, Accommodation and Historical Attractions in Natal, South Africa

The Natal Battlefields

The First Boer War - Calamity on Majuba Hill

The tactics, leadership, motivation and training of the British troops are exposed as the Boers retake Majuba mountain.

The First Boer War (1881) - Calamity on Majuba Hill

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The British camp had seen the Boers post a picket on the mountain only during the day and resolved to take the mountain before Joubert - the Boer commander - decided to also picket the mountain at night. Ironically, he had decided to do just that but on the eve of the Britsh ascent on February 24th 1880, the first night picket had got lost and camped half way up the mountain.

In the dead of night, with several days' rations, in full kit, with entrenching tools and in complete silence, 579 British, including their General, climbed the mountain.

The next morning - a Sunday - the Boers were completely surprised to see redcoats on the summit and of course, had to remove them. The Boers traditionally did not fight on Sundays, either in this or the second Boer War.

By using cover and covering fire, the Boers managed to scramble over the summit. Finally alert to the gravity of the situation,Colley made a lone stand and was shot at close range (some said that to all intents and purposes, he committed suicide). Colley had actually been asleep in his tent on the summit during the first part of the battle.

The End of Colley

In the ensuing rout, 150 Boers exacted a terrible toll from the British redcoats (in order to obtain some degree of camouflage, the redoats had smeared their helmets and other white webbing with coffee or dung) who were sent tumbling over the mountain and who had yet again forgotten to adjust their rifle sights as the Boers approached

The training of the average British soldier was poor, with very little rifle practice.

It has been said that the British would have accounted for more Boers had they simply hurled rocks over the edge. The Boers advanced in three columns, one, of the more experienced older men providing covering fire using dead ground for the others.

After the battle, the Boers treated the wounded in a very courteous manner and allowed the British to maintain a hospital tent on the summit. Several of them had entertained Colley to dinner in Pretoria and were friendly with him.

Of 579 men, the British lost almost a hundred men killed and 130 wounded - nearly half being accounted for through the pell mell retreat down the mountain. The Boers lost one dead and one wounded and celebrated only by singing hymns.

There was much recrimination amongst the British troops as to who exactly was to blame for the rout and examination of the British dead revealed that most had died from approximately five head wounds.

Whilst in the Boer camp, a British delegation complained about their defeat, to which the Boers replied - "What do you expect from fighting on a Sunday". The cry "Remember Majuba!" became a rallying call for the British in the next war with the Boers.

Next: Epilogue

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