The Boiling Cauldron: Utrecht District and the Anglo-Zulu War 1879

By Huw M Jones

After the overwhelming Zulu victory at Isandlwana the British Commander-in-Chief, Lord Chelmsford, looked to Wood and Buller �to pull me out of my difficulties�. Thus events were set in motion that would lead to the battle on the Hlobane plateau where a British force were confronted by the Mdalose, Ntombela and Qulusi led by Mbilini.

Huw Jones�s account of Hlobane battle avoids any echoes of Boy�s Own derring-do, offering instead a sober exposition reminiscent of David Jackson�s cool-headed appraisals of Isandlwana. Students of the war will find Jones�s opinions on who did what and who went where at Zungwini�s Nek of particular interest. He also raises the question of whether Hlobane was a battle that should even have been fought in the first place. Wood�s suspect tactical claims apart, there seems to have been an inordinate interest in the spoils of war, in this case cattle. War correspondent W. H. Russell identified both Wood and Buller as �relentless devils and cattle lifters�. The battle also highlighted British attitudes towards colonial units: �The colonial volunteer horsemen played the central role at Hlobane,� says Jones, �and were clearly sacrificed to save the lives of British infantrymen, not only by plain substitution, but by poor planning.�

The Boiling Cauldron tells a complex story that requires attentive reading and, as if to emphasise its academic nature, there is little in the way of illustrative material, indeed no photographs at all. However, there is � and published for the first time � Lieutenant-Colonel AW Durnford�s 1878 map of Zululand and the three maps that he prepared for the 1878 Boundary Commission, as well as one of the maps drawn by Captain J Alleyne for the Zululand Boundary Commission in September 1879, and five contemporary sketches drawn by Major T Fraser RE when travelling through the area with Wood in September 1881. Hardback, 379 pages, 12 maps.

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