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RRorke's Drift, in KwaZulu-Natal, has its place as the greatest defence in British military history, taking place just days after the self-same British army had suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of the Zulu at Isandlwana.
From Isandlwana a reserve group of 4 000 Zulu soldiers advanced on the nearby trading post and mission at Rorke's Drift where British commander Lord Chelmsford had left a member of his staff, Major Spalding, in charge of the small garrison of 139 soldiers.
Spalding, unaware of what was happening at Isandlwana, rode out to ascertain the position of his companies and placed Lieutenant Chard in temporary command.
Chard, a military engineer, was at the drift repairing pontoons when two survivors of Isandlwana, Lieutenants Vaine and Adendorff, rode in to tell of the impending attack.
They were followed by the remnants of the Natal Native Horse cavalry fleeing Isandlwana, and they volunteered to picket the far side of the river overlooking the drift. A defensive perimeter was hastily constructed and the buildings fortified.
Late that afternoon came news that the Zulu were crossing the river at Fugitive's Drift and could be expected at Rorke's Drift in a few minutes. This resulted in a number of the British contingent deserting, effectively halving the garrison.
Under furious attack, which continued into the night, the British were able to hold out until the next morning when the Zulu retreated. In what is still considered the greatest military defence in history, 10 of the defenders were awarded the Victoria Cross.
In 1962 the Evangelical Lutheran Church established an arts and crafts centre at the mission on this KwaZulu-Natal battlefield, which has had an enormous influence on art in South Africa. Among the famous artists to emerge from this centre are Elizabeth Mbatha, Bhekisani Manyoni and Ephraim Wiqubu.
Travel tips & planning info
Who to contact
Tel: +27 (0)31 366 7500
How to get here
Dundee, about an hour's drive away, is the closest town to Rorke's Drift and the battlefield is well sign-posted from the town. From Durban it's a 4-hour drive and from Johannesburg 5 hours.
Best time to visit
All year round, but winter is better as it is cool and dry.
Things to do
Visit a traditional Zulu homestead to learn more about their culture.
Rorke's Drift Lodge offers battlefield tours as well as horseback safaris.
The ELC art and crafts centre is based at the museum/interpretation centre at Rorke’s Drift where textiles and ceramics are produced by local artists.
What to pack
Comfortable walking shoes or boots are a must. A hat, sunscreen and bottled water, especially in summer, are also advisable.
Where to stay
There are numerous lodges around the area. The excellent Rorke's Drift Lodge overlooks the battlefield itself and is perfect for war history buffs.
What to eat
Try some traditional Zulu food.