Tourism, Accommodation and Historical Attractions in Natal, South Africa

The Natal Battlefields

Voortrekkers - The British in Durban Again.

As a result of Trekker excesses, the British are dispatched to Natal.

The British arrive in Natal

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In March 1842 a force of 260 under a Major Smith and including the Reverend Archbell (of the Sikyonela handcuff fame) marched towards the port. The party also took along 60 wagons, 600 oxen and a large number of women camp followers.

It was not intended to annex Natal but to demonstrate British resolve to the Boers. The journey was particularly harsh as the country was largely unknown and in all a total of 122 rivers (mostly in flood) had to be crossed.

At Umkomaas, just South of Durban, they were met by some of the local settlers who were intent on driving the Boers from Natal. Durban was entered on May 3rd 1842 with no opposition.

This time, as a result of an ignominious defeat at the hands of the Boers, the British were to stay.

Messages were sent between Smith and Pretorius for several weeks. Pretorius also requested help from the Boers on the highveld. However, he decided to steal Smith's cattle.

The Farce at Congella

Smith was a hardened soldier, having fought in the Peninsular War and at Waterloo however, he engineered a true farce when he tried to attack the Boers. He determined to attack the Boer fort at Congella (a contraction of the Zulu - uKangel amaNkengane - 'vagabond lookout'), further round the bay under cover of darkness.

On a bright moonlit night he took his men and two field guns and clattered round the bay, waking up all and sundry for miles.

His howitzer, he managed to get into a small boat which promptly stuck on a sand bank. His men were ambushed by the Boers and suffered grievously (17 dead) whilst the oxen pulling the field guns stampeded at the first shot and tangled the traces.

In the end, 49 men were left behind and the guns were lost. Smith retreated back to the Fort and was promptly besieged. This farce of a skirmish was to have dire consequences for the Boers. Imperial pride was at stake.

Dick King to the Rescue

One night, Dick King (who had driven the Reverend Francis Owen up to Umgungundlovu) and a servant slipped away and rode for Grahamstown, 600 miles away. They arrived after 10 days to great concern.

The siege lasted 26 days, at the end of which 651 Boer cannon balls were counted in the fort, the food was almost out and Smith was dining on a dead crow for breakfast at the end. That same day, a frigate appeared off the Bluff and the siege was raised.

Boer Resistance Collapses

In Pietermaritzburg, there was the greatest consternation at the news and to make matters worse, Mpande was making overtures to the British. By 15 July 1842, realizing that the Boers could not defeat the British soldiers, they tendered their submission to the Crown although Natal was not formally annexed until 12th December 1842.

It is strange to note that, but for the disastorous skirmish at Congella, the British might never have stayed permanently in Natal.

Mpande was pleased to hear that his border was not the Black Umfolozi but the Tugela and was thus ruler of a much larger kingdom.

Next: The Voortrekkers Leave Natal

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