Tuesday, April 17, 2012

This Day in Southern African History: Apr 17, 1838: Robert Biggar and his force are killed


During March and April 1838 the British in Port Natal sent an expedition against Zulu forces, resulting in the Battle of Ndondakusuka near the Tugela River. Robert Biggar was the leader of the group with 16 Europeans under him, among them T. Carden, W. Bottomly, Richard King, John Cane, Richard Duffy, Robert Wood, W. Wood, Blanckenberg and Lovedale. His force also included between 20 and 30 Khoi with guns and roughly 1 500 African followers, mostly deserted Zulus. Only 4 Europeans, namely George Duffy, Joseph Brown, Robert Joyce and Richard (Dick) King, 750 Africans and 2 or 3 Khoi survived the slaughter.

The British commando wanted to attack Dingaan's Zulus to avenge the death of Thomas Halstead and George Biggar, Robert's brother, who had been part of Piet Retief's murdered party. Only the Europeans, Khoi and a small group of Zulus had guns. On their march to uMgungundlovu the British party came across a group of Zulus with about 700 cattle. The Zulus fled and the party collected the cattle, taking them back to Port Natal as booty.

10 days later some members of the Biggar party departed for the heart of Zululand again. They travelled towards UMgungundlovu again and close to the uMvoti River they spotted a group of 150 Zulus camping. They sent scouts to spy on the group and, after they fired some shots, chased the Zulus away. A larger force was sent to follow the group to the Tugela River. The British group fired at the Zulus again and drove them away. Biggar was getting increasingly confident and took a Zulu warrior from a nearby village prisoner to question him. While busy with his interrogation an enormous group of Zulus descended on him and his party. Although they drove off the attacking force 3 times Biggar made a critical mistake in dividing his force, inspiring the Zulus to rush, killing most of them.

Read about the killing of Robert Biggar and Piet Retief.

  1. http://www.southafrica-travel.net/history/wood.htm
  2. http://www.rapidttp.co.za/milhist/woodzulu.html
  3. Omer-Cooper, J.D. (1987). History of Southern Africa, London: James Currey

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