INCIDENTS IN THE ZULU WAR 1879 II

Chard and Bromhead achieved a certain degree of fame, but there was another subaltern who became better known in Britain, though for quite different reasons: he once chose to be prudent rather than heroic. His fate was tied to the Prince Imperial, Louis Napoleon, only son of Napoleon III and the Empress Eugénie and the great hope of the French Bonapartists, who already called him Napoleon IV.

The Prince Imperial had been educated in England and had attended Woolwich, although he was not given a commission. After Isandhlwana, when reinforcements were being shipped out to Chelmsford, he begged to be allowed to go fight. Although Disraeli thought it would be ‘injudicious’, the Empress Eugénie enlisted the support of the Queen on her son’s behalf and he was at last permitted to go to war as a ‘spectator’. Chelmsford was told to look after him. The Prince wrote his will – the only document he ever signed as ‘Napoleon’ — and, taking the sword carried by the first Napoleon at Austerlitz, he sailed for Durban. There he donned the undress uniform of a British lieutenant and with a valet, a groom, and two horses – one of which was named ‘Fate’ – he proceeded to the front to join Chelmsford’s staff.

He was a lively, popular young man and eager to see action. He went out on a few patrols and worried his commanders by his dash and daring. The Duke of Cambridge had told Chelmsford: ‘My only anxiety on his conduct would be, that he is too plucky and go ahead.’ After one experience with the Prince, Buller refused to take responsibility for him. The Prince told Wood: ‘I would rather fall by assegai than bullets as it would show we were at close quarters.’ Chelmsford finally ordered that the Prince should remain in the camp unless he went out with a strong escort.

Chelmsford’s columns were now beginning to move into Zululand and the Prince was given the task of sketching the ground over which one of them travelled. One 1 June the Prince asked if he could extend his sketch to cover the ground they would be covering on the following day. The ground had already been gone over by a patrol and no Zulus had been seen, but orders were given that a dozen troopers accompany him. It was then that another staff officer, Lieutenant Jahleel Carey, apparently on an impulse, asked and obtained permission to go with the Prince.

Lieutenant Carey, son of a clergyman, was an exceptionally religious officer and devoted to his wife, two daughters and his mother. He had been commissioned in the 3rd West Indian Regiment and had taken part in a minor expedition to Honduras in 1867. Three years later he went on half pay in order to go to France with an English ambulance unit. He had now served fourteen years in the Army and had passed through the staff college. He had transferred to the 98th Regiment (North Staffordshire) and was soon to be gazetted captain. This was a fateful day in his life.

Not all of the troopers assigned to go with the Prince appeared – they reported to the wrong place – but Lieutenant Carey and the Prince took the seven men that did report and set off. A light rain was falling as they rode out of camp. Major Francis W. Grenfell saw them and called out to the Prince, ‘Take care of yourself, and don’t get shot!’ The Prince waved and replied that Carey would take good care of him.

It is not clear who was, or ought to have been, in command of this little party. Technically, of course, the Prince had no authority and Carey, as the only commissioned officer, was in charge, but the Prince seems to have given most of the orders and the soldiers obeyed him. Shortly past midday they halted at a deserted kraal, pulled thatch from a roof to build a fire, and made coffee. The kraal was, they knew, only temporarily deserted, ashes by one of the huts were still warm, but no lookouts were posted and no member of the party seemed anxious. Carey and the Prince discussed the campaigns of Napoleon Bonaparte as they rested and drank their coffee. About 3.30 they prepared to move on. The horses were saddled. The men stood by their horses’ heads. The Prince gave the preliminary order, ‘Prepare to mount!’ Each left foot was put in a stirrup. Then the order, ‘Mount’. And at that moment there was a crash of musketry and about forty Zulus ran screaming towards them. Most of the troopers gained their saddles and their horses carried them away, but the Prince’s horse shied and dashed off before he could mount. For a hundred yards he clung to a leather holster attached to the saddle; then a strap broke and the Prince fell beneath his horse.

The horse trampled on his right arm, but he leapt to his feet, drew his revolver with his left hand, and started to run. The Zulus were behind him running faster. One hurled an assegai that pierced his thigh. He stopped, pulled it out and turned on his pursuers. He fired two shots, but missed. Another assegai struck him in the left shoulder. He tried to fight with the assegai he had pulled from his thigh, but, weak from loss of blood, he sank to the ground. In a few moments he was overwhelmed. When found, his body had eighteen assegai wounds.

Of the Prince’s escort, two had been killed and one was missing. Lieutenant Carey and the four remaining men had been carried off by their frightened horses at the first volley but they stopped and came together in a depression about fifty yards from where the Prince was killed. None had fired a shot at the Zulus. To Carey it seemed foolhardy to return to look for the Prince when they were so obviously outnumbered. He led his men back to camp.

When Lieutenant Carey entered the officers’ mess he was greeted for the last time by a cheery remark from a fellow officer: Major Grenfell called out, ‘Why, Carey, you’re late for dinner. We thought you’d been shot.’

‘I’m all right,’ Carey said glumly, ‘but the Prince has been killed.’

The word soon spread through the camp. Chelmsford was shaken. All those responsible knew the importance of the tragedy, not only to the world at large but to their own careers and reputations. The wretched Lieutenant Carey sat down that night and wrote the whole story to his wife: ‘I am a ruined man, I fear. … But it might have been my fate. The bullets tore around us and with only my revolver what could I do. … I feel so miserable and dejected!’ He had reason for feeling sorry for himself. It was probably true that there was little he could have done to save the Prince and that he probably would have been killed himself had he tried. But he did not try. And for this he was condemned by every officer in Zululand; indeed, by every officer in the British army. He tried to find excuses for himself. Apparently he came to believe in his own blamelessness and to resent the scorn of his fellow officers. He demanded a court of inquiry to clear his name. The court met and recommended that he be court-martialled. At his trial Carey maintained that he had not been in command of the party but had only accompanied the Prince to correct his sketches. He did everything possible to shift the blame for the disaster onto the victim. He did not succeed. The court found him guilty of misbehaviour in the face of the enemy.

The news of the death of the Prince Imperial created a sensation in England. Queen Victoria heard of it on the forty-second anniversary of her accession to the throne while at Balmoral castle. The newspapers were soon full of it. It was the biggest story of the year and was given more coverage in the press than the defeat at Isandhlwana, and far more than the gallant defence of Rorke’s Drift.

Carey was sent back to England where he found considerable sympathy among civilians who did not understand the soldiers’ code and who thought that Chelmsford and the Duke of Cambridge were more to be blamed than he. Carey, in his talks with the many reporters who interviewed him, put more and more of the blame on the Prince. In spite of everything, Eugénie pleaded with Queen Victoria not to allow him to be punished and the Queen reluctantly wrote to the review board to ask them to drop the charge, which they did. Carey was ordered to report to his regiment, but he was still not content. He felt that he would be completely vindicated only if Eugénie received him. He wrote time and time again requesting this, but, unknown to him the text of the letter he had written his wife immediately after the fight admitting his cowardice, had been sent to Eugénie. He wrote and talked so much that at last the Empress released the letter to the press. Carey was ruined.

When he rejoined his regiment Carey found himself a pariah. No one spoke to him. Officers turned their backs when he approached them. He had disgraced his regiment and the army, and he was never forgiven. Oddly enough, he did not resign but endured this social hell for six years until he died in Bombay.

Soldiers and civilians obviously had different views of the affair. For the most part the soldiers kept their mouths shut, but Wolseley, writing to his wife, expressed the views of many officers when he said: ‘He was a plucky young man, and he died a soldier’s death. What on earth could he have better? Many other brave men have also fallen during this war, and with the Prince’s fate England as a nation had no concern. Perhaps I have insufficient sympathy with foreign nations; I reserve all my deep feeling for Her Majesty’s subjects.’

A month after the Battle of Ulundi, Cetewayo was captured and sent off to England. There on 14 August 1882 he was presented to Queen Victoria. She recorded the meeting in her journal: ‘Cetewayo is a very fine man in his native costume, or rather no costume. He is tall, immensely broad, and stout, with a good-humoured countenance, and an intelligent face. Unfortunately, he appeared in a hideous black frock coat and trousers. …’ Cetewayo could not wear his necklace of lions’ claws for it had been appropriated by Wolseley, who broke up the necklace, had the claws suitably mounted, and presented them to the wives of important men.

Cetewayo was later returned to Zululand and reinstated. The Queen thought this a mistake, but, as she told Sir Henry Ponsonby, ‘Cetewayo is unscrupulous, as might be expected, but he is not a fool; and I do not think he will with his eyes open come into collision with us again.’ She was right.

The British army went away to fight elsewhere and the Zulus were left to try to recover from their disaster. They never did. Eighteen years later Zululand was annexed to Natal. In 1906 the Zulus made a last attempt to be free, but their revolt was quickly suppressed. The Zulus still exist, one tribe among many in the Republic of South Africa, and they still make their distinctive black and white cowhide shields and their sharp assegais – tourists like them.

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