Tourism, Accommodation and Historical Attractions in Natal, South Africa

The Natal Battlefields

The Voortrekkers - The Laagers in Natal.

NATAL
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The Voortrekkers who had decided on Natal as their destination descend the passes over the Drakensberg mountains and set up laagers in the foothills below.

The Vootrekker Laagers in Natal

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Retief had descended the mountains with a small group of men and had been given the news that Dingane the Zulu king had given them most of Southern Natal. The Voortrekkers had heard the good news and were streaming towards the Drakensberg passes - unbeknownst to them that at that very time, Louis Tregardt was doing the same thing 200 miles to the north.

The Voortrekkers however were unaware that Retief had been unable to meet with Dingane personally because the Tugela River that marked the border between Natal and Zululand had been in flood. It was only as a result of a shouted conversation with Zulus across the river that he gained the impression that the land was free to settle.



Potgieter and Uys very reluctantly followed the Maritz Voortrekkers over the mountains. Potgieter in particular was filled with foreboding that there would be great trouble in Natal.

Saailaer

Saailaer was the camp of Gert Maritz and is overlooked by the adjacent Fort Durnford Museum across the Bushman's River. The sounds of gunfire from the other laagers alerted Maritz who assumed a defensive position. Later, the Zulus attacked across the river but, being in flood (it was the wet season) had to resort to human chains to get across.

This was exploited by those in the laager who shot repeatedly at the chains to break them. Later, the attack fizzled out and Maritz moved off to help the other trekkers.

While he was here, Maritz dug irrigation furrows that can still be seen to this day. There are also signs of old walls, the old drift and a road. After the attacks, Maritz moved the laager to Strydpoort.

Rensburgkoppie

The site of this laager is just off the old main road between Estcourt and Mooi River. On the night of 16th Febraury, the laager, like nearby Maritz's was alerted by the sound of gunfire from the other laagers. The entire party took refuge on the nearby koppie and when the Zulu attack came, were able to produce such a withering fire that the Zulus could not dislodge them.

Eventually, very close to the end of their ammunition, relief arrived from the other laagers but they could not get through the Zulu attackers. One of the party however rode to the laager, grabbed bags of ball and powder and galloped through the Zulu throng to the besieged trekkers.

Bloukrans

The worst attacks occurred at the laagers on the Bloukrans river (close to Chieveley) where almost all the Voortrekkers from the Liebenberg, Roussouw and Bezuidenhout families were wiped out.

In 1895, those killed were exhumed and reinterred in a communal grave.

Doornkop

This laager held the families of Piet Retief and Erasmus Smit and was one of the largest. Because it was set somewhat back from the others, closer to the Drakensberg, it was not attacked and then acted as a refuge for the others.

Maritz moved his laager next to that of the (dead) Retief and later, Andries Pretorius split his party between the two laagers. Later again, Uys's party formed a separate laager so that by April 1838 all the Voortrekkers were in laager at the same spot.

Modderlaer (Mud Laager)

So named because of the muddy conditions, this laager was established when it became known that the Voortrekkers had been defeated at Italeni. The laagers of Retief and Uys combined at this point over the hill from Doornkop.

Veglaer (Fighting Laager)

Also known as Gatslaer, the site is now covered by the Wagendrift Dam. The laager was set in a steep valley on the Bushman's River and was set up because the two laagers at Doornkop could stay close together for long because of the lack of grazing.



Consequently, those Voortrekkers at Modderlaer moved to this point in July 1838. On 13th August, ten thousand Zulu warriors surrounded the laager and attacked it for two days and nights, being repulsed only on the 15th August. The site of the battle lies under the waters of the Wagendrift Dam near Estcourt.

Sooilaer (Sod Laager)

Maritz, having moved his laager to Doornkop, then to Modderlaer and then to near the Bushman's River was forced to move again to the Little Tugela near Loskop, an easily recognizable mountain. Because attacks from the Zulus were expected at any moment the laager was immediately reinforced with sod lumps.

After the attack at Veglaer, Maritz went to help the Voortrekkers there who moved to Sooilaer, one group with him and one groups across the river. The Voortrekkers stayed there some months, digging irrigation furrows and planting crops.

It was at this laager that Gert Maritz died on 23rd September 1838 and it was also from this laager that the 'wenkommando' under Andries Pretorius departed to engage the warriors of Dingane at the Battle of Blood River. After the battle, the Voortrekkers dispersed.

The king of the Zulus, Dingane, was to present the Voortrekkers with severe difficulties

Next: Andries Pretorius

Retief's Treks



   
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