“Zululand and Cetewayo” – the journey of Walter Ludlow
By any standards, Walter Robert Ludlow lived a remarkably active and full life; he is one of those people who make you wonder where they got all the time from!
Born in 1857, educated at Solihull Grammar School and at Malvern College, he was the son of an important railway surveyor who played a major role in the early development of railways in the Midlands. Walter Ludlow followed his father’s profession and duly became a railway surveyor and an auctioneer in his own right, working in this father’s successful Birmingham business.
But his profession as surveyor was simply his means of earning a living and Ludlow did so many others things apart from “the day job”.
His military career (which turned out to be a lifetime commitment), began when Ludlow joined the 1st (Birmingham) Corps, Warwickshire Rifle Volunteers in 1874 – his father’s regiment. In April 1875 he was commissioned from the ranks as Supernumerary Sub-Lieut. and was promoted to Lieut. in December 1876. In terms of local advancement (and commitment) Ludlow was appointed J. P. for the City of Birmingham in 1892, of the County of Warwickshire in 1923 and as a Deputy Lord Lieut. for Warwickshire in 1921. In 1913 he was appointed Colonel Commandant of Cadets for Warwickshire and remained in that post until 1926.
He clearly came from an adventurous family. When he was only 14, in 1871 at the tail end of the Franco-Prussian War, his father took him to Paris, where they had to pass through Prussian siege lines to get into the city. Why a father decided to take a teenager on a risky journey through military siege lines into war-ravaged Paris is unknown. It seems rather reckless! But there was a ‘Ludlow’ family living in Paris at that time, so perhaps they had gone to check on their safety.
Two years later, whilst only 16, Ludlow went to South America to learn about railway building – then a booming development, with Britain being the leading source of the rails, machinery and expertise – and undertook a 1,000 mile journey on horse-back through Uruguay to the coast and to return home.
In 1879, aged 21, Ludlow took his 16-foot “Mersey canoe”, the Pinafore, down the Thames and then continued across the Channel from Ramsgate to Calais – a remarkable and demanding feat which aroused considerable attention at the time and which he later wrote about in Country Life.
In 1882, Ludlow published a small book in Birmingham and London – Zululand and Cetewayo, which, its frontispiece declares, is “An account of Zulu Customs, Manners and Habits, after a short Residence in the Kraals…“. Ludlow declares himself to be a Captain in the 1st Rifle Voluteer Battn. of the Warwickshire Regt. but in fact, at the time of his journey, he only held the rank of Lieutenant in the Volunteers.
The book was the result of a journey Ludlow made early in 1880, when he took himself off to Durban in South Africa and then journeyed into Zululand. He nowhere states his reasons for making the journey – presumably he was caught up in the interest in the recent Zulu War and also wanted to explore the hunting prospects. From Durban he set off on into Zululand, only a matter of months after the end of the bloody and arduous campaign. Again it seems a brave or reckless thing to do – he initially went by himself, spoke no Zulu, had little in the way of maps and may well have realistically expected some hostility. Nevertheless, having bought two horses, supplies for himself and “goods to barter with the Zulus”, and with difficulty some guns (as they were not easy to buy or own in Natal at that time), he set off northwards from Durban into Zulu country, eventually employing two young Africans as attendants. He was very fortunate, early in his journey north of Durban, to run into a man who is only ever referred to as “Adams” who agreed to act as his guide and interpreter.
“Adams” was obviously an experienced traveller and perhaps trader in Zululand and the surrounding country and had clearly served in the colonial cavalry in “the late war”. Trying to pin him down is difficult – a quick glance through the Medal Roll for the Zulu War throws up at least 16 men of this name serving in various colonial units. It is claimed in one part of the book that Adams had been wounded twice during the war, losing part of a finger and a thumb. It looks from one reference that he had served at Gingindhlovu on 2nd April 1879, so he would indeed have known the “coast route”. The most likely colonial cavalry candidates for him and for this service would be Tpr. James Adams (from Verulam) serving in the Victoria Mounted Rifles or Quarter-master W. A. Adams of the Durban Mounted Rifles. Neither of these occurs in the official casualty lists but there is also a Tpr. C. Adams of the Transvaal Mounted Rifles, who was wounded in the attack on Sekukuni’s stronghold on 28th Nov. 1879 [though they weren’t at Gingindhlovu]. Since Ludlow claims that at the time of his journey Adams’ wounds were still not fully healed, it may be the last named who was Ludlow’s guide and companion. Or it may be none of these!
Ludlow seems to have set off along the route taken by the Coastal Column under Colonel Pearson during the Zulu War. Heading for Stanger and passing “the site of the old military kraal of the renowned Zulu chief Tshaka”, he reached the American-run Mission Station at Umvoti and describes the scenery and the river valley before reaching the “exclusively Dutch” settlement of New Guelderland. Here, he found that numbers of unemployed and disgruntled ex-soldiers of the Natal Native Contingent, which had been disbanded in that area, were causing considerable trouble, so that the “Dutchmen [vowed] they would shoot any of the gang of disbanded [natives] they came across and talked about organising a party to scour the adjacent country and examine all the kraals in the district”.
Having nearly been “fleeced” by their innkeeper for their overnight costs, Ludlow commented that “during the war these canteen keepers fleeced the English officers and men and they do not like now to drop their old prices”.
Moving onwards, Ludlow and Adams crossed through “a most beautiful and hilly country … [by] thick sugar plantations …. This part is very thickly populated with Zulu refugees who had fled from the tyranny of successive rulers. About 30,000 are located in this district. There were large kraals on every hill.” Pausing at Webber’s Store, they awaited the official permissions they needed to enter Zululand – “no-one is allowed to cross without an order from a Magistrate countersigned by the Border Agent …. [and] the ordinary trader is not allowed to carry a firearm of any description nor any ammunition.” Crossing the frontier at the river Tugela (Thukela) was only allowed at three points, other possible crossings being patrolled by “John Dunn’s native policemen [who] watch his frontier and the Border Agent ours.”
Having got their documents, which Adams took some trouble to obtain, Ludlow and his group “rode to Mr. Fynny’s (sc. George Finney – the famous Border Agent) … who has spent all his life organising and controlling the vast numbers of Zulus who have emigrated to Natal and is more intimately acquainted with Zululand than most men”. From there, they rode to the Tugela, “where there is an excellent inn” and seeing “on the right of the Drift, Fort Pearson”. He goes on to describe the site of this well-known fort as it existed just after the war:
[It is] situated on a commanding hill, the wattle huts, commissariat store and officers’ mess hut, just as the troops had left them but very much overgrown with weeds and bananas. On the hill in the rear was the hospital and near it the graveyard, shaded by several gigantic euphorbia or cactus trees …. Fort Pearson is very strongly constructed with gabions made of strips of galvanised iron and filled with earth, with an inner citadel and telegraph office. The slopes in front were strewn with old biscuits and preserved meat cans, here an old ammunition wagon thrown on its side, and there a dilapidated gun-carriage. At the drift were remains of the pontoon bridge and several of the punts.”
Near Fort Pearson, Ludlow noted that “There were a great many graves neatly fenced in and each had a headstone bearing the name and regiment of the deceased …. ” He went on to say that “the saddest sight in Zululand is the number of these graveyards. Wherever there had been a halt, you saw one of these melancholy records of the war, some containing only three or four, and others as many as twenty graves. Fever caused by the defective water supply was the chief cause of death.”
On the other side of the drift, which was “about 400 yards wide and dangerous on account of the shifting sand … [was] Fort Tenedos”, with “several intrenchments in places across the road or rather track. These were made after the disastrous defeat at Isandula and the retreat from Echowie [Eshowe]; and we were told that the Zulus came and danced along the top of the hills and jeered and taunted our soldiers lying behind these intrenchments”.
From here, Ludlow made for St. Andrew’s Mission Station, “a most miserable place, in a state of complete ruin, having been burnt by the Zulus” and its gardens and interiors completely devastated.
On June 1st 1880, they arrived at Mongat (“The Place of Execution”) home of the famous John Dunn (1834-95) who, by this time, had been given the largest of the 13 areas into which the Zulu kingdom had been divided after the war. The travellers were given a warm welcome and Ludlow saw “in one of the huts … a collection of guns, rifles, swords, helmets, bottles, flasks and property of all kinds captured by the Zulus at Isandula and the Intombe river, where one of our convoys was surprised”.
At dusk, the party reached Brunner’s Post, which was “situated in a bleak spot” and had “been used as a commissariat depot during war”; it was now one of only two stores which had opened within Zululand. It was near this site that the bloody battle of Ndondakusuka had been fought in 1856 in the civil war between between Cetshwayo and his brother Mbuyazi, which secured the succession for Cetshwayo. According to Adams, for 12 miles north of the Tugela, “the corpses of men, women and children lay in heaps” and thousands had been killed on and near the drift, their remains unburied.
Next day, Ludlow set off “along the military road … the route which the column that marched to the relief of Colonel Pearson at Echowie [Eshowe] took and it was littered with the bones of dead oxen … and old meat tins lay scattered about at frequent intervals along the road.” A few miles along the road, “we came to the battlefield of Inezane …. the Battle of Inezane was fought on the same day as Isandula”. Ludlow goes on to describe the battle, fought on 22nd Jan. 1879, and later made his well-known reference to a survivor who had been hit by a rocket during the battle. Continuing onwards, eight miles further on, he crossed the Amatagoolu [Amatikulu] River; “on the right side of the Amatagoolu [which] we crossed by the remains of an old footbridge made by our soldiers” were the remains of Fort Crealock, a strong earthwork with a deep trench around it. A little distance away was the graveyard, with a dozen little white crosses, surrounded by a slight rail fence and covered with rank grass three feet high”.
At one village nearby, where they stopped and asked the headman to provide accommodation, “the old Zulu looked very much aghast and said “The English have thoroughly eaten me up. I have lost my cattle, I have no mealies, I and my people are starving. We have been ruined and there is nothing left for us but to go and work.” Pointing to Ludlow’s companion, Adams, the old chief said “I remember you … you came after Gingelhovu and set fire to my kraal”. Though they were given their hut, Ludlow unsurprisingly felt very uncomfortable that night, since the chief had recognised Adams and they feared some retaliation.
On June 7th, Ludlow and his party crossed the Umlalaasi River heading for Ingoya, site of one another of John Dunn’s homes. Dunn was in residence and welcomed them heartily, apologising for the state of the farm, with little to show his guests “since when the war broke out my place was completely destroyed and I have only lately commenced to rebuild it.” Staying overnight at Ingoya, Ludlow had an interesting visit – “an Induna [headman/chief] came in with Lieut. Douglas’s sword, saddle bags and watch; also the helmet of the trooper who was killed with him. It made one very melancholy to look at the half rusty sword, with the marks of blood on the blade, showing how gallantly its owner had defended himself”. Other “souvenirs” which had actually belonged to Cetshwayo were also viewed, along with “quantities of rifles, flasks, bottles, cartridges, fishing tackle and miscellaneous rubbish brought in by the Zulus who had taken them at the fatal field of Isandula. The main spring of my rifle being broken, John Dunn gave me one of the Martinis used by our soldiers on that day and supplied me with cartridges from the late owner’s pouch”. Dabulamanzi, the king’s brother and commander at Rorke’s Drift, also lived within Dunn’s compound but he didn’t impress Ludlow at all and he commented that: “Dunn regarded him as dangerous and kept him in a sort of captivity and never allowed him to go out without two indunas”.
As they progressed northwards from Ingoya, Ludlow noticed “scores of poor fellows limping about with the most frightful sabre cuts inflicted by our cavalry” and one man who had apparently been struck by a rocket (presumably at the battle of Inyezane, where rockets were indeed used) “which, catching him on the breast had literally melted the flesh off his chest” and passed down along his leg, which made that leg 4″ shorter than the other; he had, by his own account, been laid up as a result for two months.
Crossing the Umlatoosi river near Fort Crealock, they halted at a kraal formerly owned by Cetshwayo. The local chief expressed astonishment that anyone should be making such a journey simply as a matter of “sight seeing”. “He asked me what we were going to do with Cetewayo and said we ought to show him our country [Cetshwayo did of course end up seeing London] and so impress him with our power. He did not want to have him back”. This comment was frequently recorded by Ludlow on his journey, along with fears that the former king’s return would lead to civil war in an already devastated country.
Ludlow often records the clear results of the recent war – villages still recovering from almost total damage, poor communities who had suffered the loss of their livestock by theft, confiscation or disease, people struggling to find enough to eat. Despite the fact that he was often told – when he turned up on the doorstep requesting overnight accommodation and food – that there really was nothing available, he was usually met with a genuine attempt to meet his needs and outright generosity. In return, Ludlow and Adams gave out pieces of cloth, coloured beads (which seemed very popular) and other small items, like penknives etc.
Only on one occasion during their journey – or the only one which Ludlow recorded – was the group faced with hostility; everywhere else they had been greeted if not with enthusiasm then with kindness. Ludlow recalls that when they had entered the territory of “Usibep” [Usibepi, 1841 – 1904, a brother of Cetshwayo who had been given one of the newly-formed Zulu territories in reward for his loyalty to the British], “Two of his young men came up … on their heads they had war plumes made of a large bunch of black feathers and were armed with assegais. They were magnificent specimens of Zulus. They scowled at us in the most vicious way and seemed to resent our intrusion but Adams told them he would stand no nonsense and they went off into the bush [still scowling] ….”. Ludlow went on to explain that “these men belonged to one of the regiments which had conquered us at Isandula and not having been in action since, thought themselves invincible. That accounted for the very off-hand way they treated us.”
“Only on two or three occasions did I see any Zulus carrying assegais at they had been ordered to give up all their weapons and not to carry arms on pain of having a fine of cattle levied on their district … [but] notwithstanding all these regulations, very few of the guns taken at Isandula were given up and quantities of guns and ammunition were concealed in various parts of the country.”
Ludlow, Adams and his party continued north, beyond the theatre of operations during the Zulu War, increasingly occupied with hunting (with good descriptions of local scenery and villages thrown in) up as far as Goose Point on the shores of Lake St. Lucia, where they lingered for some time. They then began a return journey via a slightly different route and visiting the largest kraal they had yet seen at Umlandela and calling at Mason’s store, where they met another of Cetshwayo’s brothers, Magwenda, before hurrying back towards the Tugela across John Dunn’s lands and Ingoya and again crossing the battlefield of Gingindhlovu. Here, they found “the grass very long and rank, but the shelter trench thrown up by our troops, also the site of the entrenched encampment where the soldiers bivouacked on the night of the battle, were plainly visible. The graveyard was half way down the side of the hill, about half a mile from the scene of the fight. It was surrounded by a turf wall and contained three or four graves with neat crosses at the head of each. Near one corner of the shelter-trench I picked up a Zulu skull.”
Ludlow finally re-crossed the Tugela “after a ride of fifty miles” and put up at the nearby hotel. In the morning, they rode for Durban, where Ludlow quickly sold off his horses, guns and kit and “bid Adams a hearty goodbye”. Boarding the SS African, he set off back to England.
The bulk of Ludlow’s book, as per its title, is taken up with descriptions of the impressive landscape, Zulu villages, Zulu customs and traditions, agriculture, dress, food, medicine and ceremonies like marriage. In general, allowing for a few expressions of the time which we would find objectionable, Ludlow writes of the Zulu in an objective, sympathetic and unpatronising fashion, which cannot be said of other some writers on African societies, and was clearly interested in the people and communities he visited. He concludes the work with an account of the Zulu chiefs down to and including “Cetewayo”.
After these adventures, Ludlow settled down into his professional duties in England and duly became senior partner in the Birmingham firm of Ludlow, Briscoe and Hughes. In 1895 he was appointed a Surveyor to the Board of Trade (in the Railway Department), having become a Fellow of the Surveyors’ Institution in 1890, and at the time of the Coronation in 1911 was appointed C. B. (Civil) for his work on railway engineering and received the Coronation Medal.
Equally continuing his military career, Ludlow was appointed Captain in the 1st Volunteer Battn., Royal Warwicks. Regiment, in April 1891 and was later advanced to Major. He received the Volunteer Long Service Medal in January 1895, was promoted to Hon. Lieut-Colonel in August 1895 and to the actual rank in October 1901; he received the Volunteer Officers’ Decoration in September 1904 and became Honorary Colonel in November 1906.
On the formation of the Territorial Force in 1908, Ludlow was appointed to the command of the newly-formed 8th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment (which he worked hard to raise) and on completion of his tenure of command in May 1913, transferred to the T. F. Reserve of his Battalion as Lieut.-Colonel with the honorary rank of Colonel.
Ludlow was 57 when war broke out in 1914 and, despite his age, was recalled to service. Initially, he did duty as chief recruiting officer in Birmingham but in Jan. 1915 was appointed Brigadier (graded as Assistant Adjutant-General) and promoted to Temp. Colonel in the Army on the same date. Ludlow commanded the 184th Infantry Brigade (61st Division) in the UK for just over a year until February 1916 and was granted the honorary rank of Brigadier-General in the Army on relinquishing command. His son was killed in action on the Somme, serving in the Warwicks, shortly afterwards.
However, even this was by no means the end of Ludlow’s wartime career. During 1917-18 he served, of all things, as Area Commandant in the major military centre of Ypres – an important and demanding role. For his services in the Great War Ludlow was appointed C.B. (Military: Jan. 1918) – thus having both the Civil and Military C.B. – and Mentioned in Dispatches (L.G. 12th Feb. 1918). Having received the Volunteer Officers’ Decoration in 1904, he received the Territorial Decoration at the end of the war, thus holding the rare combination of both V.D. and T.D., with two C.B.s
After a long and very full lifetime of professional work and military service in the Volunteers and TA, both at home and on actual war service, Ludlow was advanced in the Order of the Bath, becoming K.C.B. (Civil; L.G. 23rd June 1936); his was one of few such decorations awarded during the reign of Edward VIII.
Sir Walter Ludlow died in Solihull on 14th October 1941.