TOPIC: Vlotman of the Natal Hussars
Vlotman of the Natal Hussars 9 months 1 week ago #55967
Medals to members of the Natal Hussars are very seldom seen - I am privileged to own this one.
Trooper A.P. Vlotman
- South African General Service Medal with clasp 1879 to Tr. Vlotman, Natal Husrs.
Very little is known about Vlotman which is why this work will focus on the regiment, and the role it played in the Zulu War, rather than the man. To this end the late Terry Sole’s work on the Colonial Regiments, For God, Queen and Colony, has proved invaluable and is heavily relied on for the details provided.
Vlotman was most likely one of the men in this photo.
Formed on 11 July 1865 the Natal Hussars came into being for the protection of the districts of Greytown, York and Noodsberg in the Natal Midlands. They were a smaller unit that their sister regiment, the Greytown Mounted Rifles, surviving a period between 1864 and 1872 when many of the smaller units of the Natal Volunteer Corps were disbanded due to austerity cuts. During this period the Hussars experienced a drop in numbers but remained an effective unit throughout.
In 1868 they numbered 70 but had reduced to 65 the following year despite an amalgamation with the soon to be defunct Greytown Mounted Rifles referred to. The unit was mobilised on 25th November 1878 with 35 men under Captain Norton marching out from Greytown on the 3rd of December to Potspruit near Kranskop where they were joined by the Durban Mounted Rifles.
During the first week of January 1879 these two colonial regiments were joined by the 3rd Regiment (The Buffs) and marched to Thrings Post where they fell under the orders of Captain Barrow who commanded all troops at the Lower Tugela. The Hussars reached Fort Pearson on 10 January and were brigaded with the Alexandra Mounted Rifles, the Durban Mounted Rifles, the Stanger Mounted Rifles and the Victoria Mounted Rifles.
On 12 January, Person’s No. 1 Column crossed the Tugela River and commenced building Fort Tenedos on the Zulu side. This fort was completed on 17 January with the cavalry constantly on patrol and on many reconnaissances into the heart of Zululand. One such reconnaissance took place on 15 January the men foraging nine miles into Zulu territory without discovering any enemy force, with the exception of a dozen warriors who threw down their shields and assegais when confronted by the sight of the troop. The Natal Hussars pounced on them taking five prisoners.
With the completion of Fort Tenedos it was possible to commence the advance on Eshowe taking along a large supply of transport and stores. Here it must be mentioned that Pearson’s Column was but one of a three pronged attacking force designed to bring the Zulus to heel. War clouds had been gathering for quite some time and this spilled over into open conflict between Britain and the Zulu Kingdom in January 1879.
Pearson had been instructed to establish a fortified forward post at Eshowe with the column moving forward in two sections. On the 21st January the Natal Hussars were ordered to reconnoitre Umgingindlovu kraal but, finding it deserted, they burnt the grass huts and returned to camp at Kwasamabela where the column spent the night. At 5 a.m. the next morning the column moved off blissfully unaware of the impending fate of their comrades camped at Isandlwana.
A few Zulu scouts were seen on the hills as the column skirted the base of the hills and Pearson ordered the Natal Native Contingent to disperse them. As the N.N.C. approached the Zulus disappeared only for another group of Zulus to show themselves beginning to fire on the oncoming men. With this the battle of Nyezana had begun with the Natal Mercury publishing the following story;-
“Over the hills came several thousand blacks, uttering their war-cry, and rushing down on the unfortunate native levies (the N.N.C.). It was here that the five white men of one company lost their lives. Major Barrow disposed of the force under his command, and checked the advance of the enemy. The mounted infantry and the Hussars took the right of the road, and the Victoria and Stanger squadron the left. The first shot was fired about 8 a.m. and by 9 the hottest fire was over, and the kafirs retiring. It was at this point that all the casualties occurred.
The mounted volunteers kept up the credit of the colony; the Umvoti Hussars (Natal Hussars) had a hotter corner than the Victoria Squadron, and the latter were ordered to protect a valley on the left of the knoll, and clear the Kafirs away from a kraal near the road, where they were swarming in great numbers.
This was done very successfully and with a steady telling fire. The kafirs stood the fire for about three minutes then made a clear bolt for shelter leaving many dead around the kraal. The enemy retired and the troops extended in skirmishing order in pursuit, driving the enemy before them.
The ground was strewn with the dead and severely wounded. Guns of all shapes and patterns were picked up. A loss of 300 is below the real number left by the enemy; over a large breadth of ground the bodies were to be found pretty thickly strewn.”
The battle over the column commenced its journey to Eshowe reaching that place the following day. At about this time Pearson was made aware of the debacle at Isandlwana prompting him to fortify and defend Eshowe and, finding that there were now too many men present, he ordered the mounted troops and N.N.C. back to Fort Pearson on 28 January. The Natal Mercury columnist wrote:
“Early this morning the Victoria, the Stanger and the Hussars were punted over to Fort Pearson. We are now bivouacking on the heights above Fort Pearson. The heat was something intense, and we were all literally scorched. Thank goodness the volunteers are in Natal. The satisfaction expressed at our being on this side of the border is immense. It is no use denying it; to a man we are heartily thankful to be back here again all safe and well. What is yet before us it is idle to conjecture, but we shall be defending our own soil and not invading a savage country.”
With all the mounted colonials back in Natal, the Governor, Bulwer, forbade any of them from re-entering Zululand thereby limiting the activities of the Mounted Rifles regiments and the Natal Hussars to guarding and patrolling the Tugela River frontier against the expected raids into Natal by parties of Zulu warriors. The following appeared in the popular press:-
“During the time we were beleaguered one of the Natal Mounted Hussars and one of the mounted infantry, whose names I will not mention, were tried by court martial for cowardice. The following are the facts as near as I have been able to glean them: The two prisoners and Private Kent were sent out to vidette duty in a certain direction. Five armed kafirs suddenly rushed out of the bush and attacked Kent. The two prisoners witnessed the attack, but instead of going to their comrade’s assistance they hurried back to the Fort to report the occurrence. They were told that they should have stood by him, and both were made prisoners. A company of the 99th was immediately sent out after Kent, who was found lying dead with seventeen assegai wounds on his body.
Kent had volunteered for vidette duty, and he had evidently fought stoutly against the five Zulus. The trial of the two prisoners has been completed, but the sentences have not having been confirmed they have not been promulgated. The Hussar was always regarded as a man of such courage, and I believe that in his defence he said the mounted infantry man ran away first, and he felt justified in following him. Unfortunately for the Hussar hr reached the Fort first, and the conclusion arrived at was that he was the first to run away.”
Lord Chelmsford could not afford to lose the services of all the mounted Colonial men and Bulwer relented; approving of the formation of a regiment of colonial volunteers to serve in Zululand – this became the Natal Volunteer Guides. All the mounted rifles regiments with the exception of the Hussars volunteered men. The Hussars as a regiment moved to Thring’s Post where it remained for a month carrying out patrol and outpost duties. From there they moved up to Kranskop and then a place called Burrups. This is where a British journalist wrote,
“At Burrups we fell in with a patrol of the Natal Hussars, established in a rough shanty, called the “Vulture’s Nest”, who had a large stretch of country to patrol.”
An earlier mention of them was less flattering – a Colonel Harness of the Royal Artillery wrote on 2 December 1878:
“Thirty volunteers passed through this morning. They are the “Natal Hussars” – a good name at any rate, the best thing about them, I should say, from what I saw this morning.”
With a large track of ground to patrol the Hussars had patrols constantly out on patrol and never had time to rest. In May with the 2nd Division about to invade Zululand, Chelmsford ordered all the border forcers to raid into Zululand in the hope of reducing an attack on the 2nd Division’s right flank. One of these raids ordered the Hussars to Kranskop. A Colonial serving with one of the volunteer regiments sent the following to the Natal Colonist:-
“At Kranskop we were told Major Twentyman proposed making a raid into Zululand, and that he wanted some volunteers to cross over with him. We then proceeded down the steep sides of the Tugela Valley leading our horses the greater part of the way, over boulders and under thorns. It was dark before our camping ground for the night was reached about a mile from the drift, in a sheltered valley with any amount of beastly thorns and knobby stones.
By morning star we moved down to the river, arriving there shortly before daybreak. Just as the sun rose, an advance into the river was made by about thirty volunteers under Sergeant Duckham of the Natal Volunteers. When the party got to the island in the middle of the drift, there was some difficulty in tracing the ford across to Zululand. Whilst this was being seen about, a volley was fired by about a dozen Zulus.
Immediately after firing they shouted the war cry “Usutu”, and disappeared over the brow of the hill. Fortunately the shooting generally was wide”
After the raid the force returned to Kranskop where a party of the Hussars rode to Riebeling’s mission station to bring the Missionary and his family to safety. The Hussars spent the rest of the war carrying out their duties to the satisfaction of all and were awarded forty South African General Service Medals with the 1879 clasp.
The Natal Hussars were enthusiastically received on their return and presented with the following address:-
“We the undersigned, inhabitants of Greytown and the County of Umvoti, desire now, on your return to your respective homes, after a long service of eight months in the field, in the defence of your country, to express our sincere and hearty appreciation of your gallant conduct through many hardships, at the risk of life, and at considerable material loss.
We especially call to mind your cool and brave conduct at the battle of Inyezane in which you bore a manly and conspicuous part side by side with the Imperial troops, defeating the enemy under great disadvantages, and at the conclusion of the engagement receiving the special thanks of General Pearson. We now bid you welcome with grateful hearts.
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