Tourism, Accommodation and Historical Attractions in Natal, South Africa

The Natal Battlefields

The Aftermath of Bloukrans.

The aftermath of the massacre of the Voortrekkers by the Zulus at Bloukrans.

The Aftermath of the Massacre at Bloukrans

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The Voortrekkers Regroup

The survivors of the Zulu attacks at Bloukrans were in great peril. Not only were many of their number dead or wounded but their cattle were gone and they did not know when to expect another attack.

Several of the party returned over the Drakensberg but the majority stayed on bolstered in their resolution to do so more by the women - and particularly those who had lost husbands - than any of the others.

To make matters worse, Gert Maritz died after a short illness (right).

Support for the Voortrekkers Arrives

Gert Maritz came into his own, organizing the camps, seeing to the dead and wounded and matching orphans with families. After reorganizing the wagons into three fortress-like laagers, messages were sent across the Drakensberg for help. Both Uys and Potgieter responded and within a few weeks, there were more than one thousand men below the mountain.

Thoughts were then on revenge. If the Voortrekkers were not to be killed themselves, they had to destroy the Zulu army. On April 5th 1838, 347 men rode out towards Umgungundlovu.

On a note that was to have repercussions, both sets of men (those under either Uys or Potgieter) refused to serve the other commandant. The men were ostensibly to be guided to Dingane`s cattle by a deserter, thought by most to be spy and not to be trusted.

The Disaster at Ithaleni

Very close to Umgungundlovu at Ithaleni, the road lead through a narrow defile and in the distance cattle could be seen in the grass. Uys and his men galloped down and were immediately cut off by hidden Zulus.

Potgieter rode around the mountain to attack the Zulus while Uys's men were fragmented and faring badly. Uys himself was mortally wounded and his son Dirkie was killed attempting his rescue.

Potgieter in the meantime hung back although some of his party rode to assist Uys. Eventually Potgieter, leaving behind Uys's wagons rode back to the laagers under the Drakensberg. This shameful retreat was known as the 'vlugkommando' (flight commando) and there was immediately accusations of cowardice thrown at Potgieter - the same man who had defeated Mzilikazi at Mosega and Kapain.

These accusations added to the recent removal from position of Commandant caused Potgieter - who in any case had had serious doubts about Natal as a trekker destination - to move with his men back over the Drakensberg.

The Durban Settlers Suffer Defeat

Another disaster befell the settlers of Durban as they marched in concert with the vlugcommando on 2nd April. Fifteen of the port's white settlers (about half the total) marched north with a rabble of about one thousand local Africans - many of whom, it was observed were so old that they needed walking sticks - marched north to take the fight to Dingane (and also hoping for some cattle booty).

Having crossed the Tugela at Ndondakusuka (the scene of the most vicious battle in Natal later, in 1856), the Zulu army, fresh from Italeni fell upon the horde. During the melee thirteen of the fifteen white settlers were killed along with most of the Africans (monument to the battle, below).

Hotly pursued by the Zulu army, one survivor ran the 70 miles to the port whereupon the remaining whites climbed aboard a ship that had just put in and the local Africans fled into the bush. The Zulu army spent several days ransacking the entire settlement.

The loss of the majority of the white settlers in the port prompted the Voortrekkers to occupy it.

The Battle of Veglaer

The trekkers' spirits were at their lowest ebb. The horses and cattle were in poor condition because of the restricted grazing, many Voortrekkers were ill through poor sanitation and it was the middle of winter - no crops would grow for several months. Further, there were few reinforcements arriving.

August 12th 1838 brought another attack by 10,000 Zulus on one of the camps near Estcourt. This attack lasted a full three days and nights.

The Zulu Tactics

First the Zulus would attack and try and burn the wagons, then the Boer horsemen would sally forth and scatter the Zulus. They would then regroup and attack again, burning the grass round the laager. Only on the third day was the attack called off leaving hundreds of dead Zulus. Only one trekker lost his life.

This site was then called Veglaer (Fighting Laager) and has now been covered by the waters of the Wagendrift Dam near Estcourt.

On 23rd September, things got even worse when the trekkers' Natal leader Gert Maritz died after a long illness. A few weeks later, a few Voortrekkers settled at a place called Bushmansrand and renamed it Pietermaritzburg after their dead leaders (above).

Next: The Vootrekker Laagers in Natal

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