A more balanced picture of what happened at Rorke's Drift

12th September 1997 at 01:00
I was surprised at Elaine Carlton's portrait (TES, August 22) of the Zulu King Shaka as a Rousseau-like noble savage.

His method of executions of captured enemies was barbaric, and eventually he was assassinated by his own inner circles of elders.

I would be more inclined to give credence to European travellers who actually met him and used the term "fierce monster".

Be that as it may, to write of the slaughter of 350 Zulus at Rorke's Drift by British soldiers is a complete distortion of what happened. There were approximately 120 soldiers and civilians defending Rorke's Drift, who were attacked, it is estimated, by 4,000 Zulu warriors, intent on their annihilation. Eleven Victoria Crosses were won in less than 24 hours' successful defence. To apply the term slaughter to the Zulu dead is risible.

Perhaps Ms Carlton does not know that the previous day, the comrades of the Zulus at the Drift - some 20,000 men - attacked a British regiment of 1, 100 soldiers and native auxiliaries, and killed virtually everybody at a place called Isandhlwana. Slaughter in this case would be an apt word.

All this took place in January 1879, and of course there were unselfish acts and extreme bravery demonstrated by both sides. It is right that we should examine these events again and perhaps present a more balanced view of what happened. However, set the facts reasonably correct, and avoid the more pejorative words, otherwise an historical review is a waste of time.

W F TULLY 119 Queenswood Gardens Wanstead London E11

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