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Zululand

Cover of Mrs Fenton Aylmer's Bush life in Zulu-land, or, Adventures among the Caffres. London: John and Robert Maxwell, [1862] [FCO Historical Collection PR4699.A95 AYL]Cover of Mrs Fenton Aylmer's Bush life in Zulu-land, or, Adventures among the Caffres. London: John and Robert Maxwell, [1862] [FCO Historical Collection PR4699.A95 AYL]The kingdom of the Zulus, one of the last in southern Africa to lose its independence, exercised a fascination for the British armchair traveller, whose insatiable demand for accounts of the Zulu nation – its warrior people and their customs, as well as the opportunities for big game hunting that its land provided – was satisfied by a distinct genre of published literature. These two examples, which both take the form of fictionalised accounts of visits to Zululand, are typical.

Cover of Hugh Mulleneux Walmsley's Zulu Land: its wild sports and savage life. London: Frederick Warne, [1872?] [FCOHistorical Collection DT 2259 WAL]Cover of Hugh Mulleneux Walmsley's Zulu Land: its wild sports and savage life. London: Frederick Warne, [1872?] [FCOHistorical Collection DT 2259 WAL]The Zulu kingdom was firmly organised on military lines, with a large army of superbly trained and disciplined impis. Long dominant among the African kingdoms of South Africa, it was viewed by the British as a constant threat to its Natal colony.

In 1878 Sir Bartle Frere, governor of the Cape Colony, using various minor border incursions by Zulus on the Transvaal (then under what was to be a short-lived period of British rule, following annexation in 1877) as a casus belli, presented the Zulu king, Cetshwayo, with a set of conditions that he could not possibly accept. Cetshwayo’s refusal to meet these conditions, which included the dismantlement of his army, gave Frere the opportunity he wanted and in 1879 British forces invaded Zululand.

The famous encounters of the ensuing war – Isandlwana, Rorke’s Drift and Ulundi – captured the public imagination but the result was inconclusive. The Zulu kingdom survived, but it was divided and doomed. In 1887, following further fighting, it was annexed as a crown colony and in 1897 became part of Natal.

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