Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Anglo-Zulu War: Looking back on LUGG in Natal

Trooper Henry Lugg of the Natal Mounted Police was only 19 years old when he carried dispatches from Helpmekaar to Pietermaritzburg, shortly after the attack on Chief Sirayo's stronghold. In the aftermath of this the first battle of the war of 1879, the country was swarming with Zulus but Lugg covered the distance of 113 miles in 11 hours, riding ten horses in relays. After a brief respite he made the return journey, re-crossing the Buffalo River where his horse had a fall, crushing its rider's knee against a rock. This chance accident had remarkable repercussions: it led to Trooper Lugg's temporary disablement, his enforced stay at the only hospital in the vicinity i.e. at Rorke's Drift, and an unexpected role in the heroic Defence of this post against a large Zulu force, thereby earning himself a permanent place in the history books.

Lugg was one of three Natal Policemen present at this action and the only one of those three to survive. (The others, Green and Hunter, fell beneath the assegais.) His eye-witness account of the battle, originally written as a personal letter to his fiancée Mary Camp, was published in the Bristol Observer and still never fails to impress, its unemotional style throwing into sharp relief its riveting content.

Hampered by his swollen knee and armed with a small hunting-knife and a Swinburn Henri carbine, the bent stock of which was hastily tied up with a piece of rein, Lugg remained calm and resolute in the face of the overwhelming odds and reported that after 'seeing the first I fired at roll over at 350 ... my nerves were as steady as a rock.' He was even able to comment that 'There was some of the best shooting at 450 yards I have ever seen.'

Henry Lugg's talent for drawing led to the sketch which accompanied his letter being sent to the artist Alphonse de Neuville, who used it as essential background information for his own now-famous painting of the Defence of Rorke's Drift - the one we all know so well, with the burning thatch of the hospital providing dramatic lighting for the scene.

In the book A Natal Family Looks Back, Trooper Lugg's son H.C. Lugg (Harry Camp Lugg) tells us that 'The firing was so fast and furious that rifle barrels got red hot, and in proof of this, the forepiece of the carbine, still in my possession (1970), will be found to have been badly scorched, so badly in fact that a couple of inches at the end had to be cut off to prevent it splintering.'  [A Natal Family Looks Back by H.C. Lugg: T.W. Griggs & Co. (Pty) Ltd. Durban 1970]

After all this excitement and danger, hotel-keeping on the Natal South Coast must have been tame by comparison, but that was Henry Lugg's choice of occupation at the end of the Zulu War. He and another Devonshire man, Camp, left the NMP and bought a store and hotel at Umbango in the Port Shepstone area. In 1881 the two friends celebrated a double wedding in Durban, Henry Lugg marrying Mary Camp, and Edwin Camp marrying Marion Lugg. Both girls had journeyed out from England together; the Lugg and Camp families had been closely acquainted for some years.

The quiet life soon palled for Henry who seems to have hankered after soldiering as he became active in the formation in 1884 of a local volunteer regiment, the Umzimkulu Mounted Rifles. This corps, consisting mainly of Norwegian immigrants, was later amalgamated with the Alexandra Mounted Rifles which in turn by the early 1890s re-formed as the Border Mounted Rifles with Captain Henry Lugg as second in command to Major Bru de Wold. In 1895 both became District Adjutants on Col W J Royston's Staff (Royston then commanding Natal Volunteers and not to be confused with Brigadier John Royston, or "Galloping Jack" as the latter was known). Lugg held an intriguing variety of Government posts around that time, including Conservator of Forests, Field Cornet and, last but not least, Collector of Dog Tax.

Lugg and his wife Mary had several children: Harry James Camp Lugg (i.e. H.C. Lugg, b 1882, author of Historic Natal & Zululand 1947 and A Natal Family Looks Back 1970; he never used the James part of his name); Alfred John (Jack) Lugg; Cyril Edwin Lugg; Barrington Kingsley Camp Lugg and Garnet Evelyn Lugg (no prizes for guessing after whom he was named). There was a sister born in 1887 but, like so many infants in the colonies, she didn't survive more than a few hours.

H.C. Lugg, an acknowledged Zulu linguist and authority on Zulu customs and tradition, was a man of nearly ninety when I met him in 1971. 

Tall and spare, he was remarkably fit and was planning another book. At that date he was probably the only person living whose father had fought at Rorke's Drift. His fund of anecdotes held us spellbound during a long and leisurely braaivleis (barbecue) at our Smith family home on the Natal South Coast. When, in the midst of luncheon, I spied a green snake coiled around the leg of a chair, Mr Lugg was prompted (once the ensuing furore was over) to share some of his renowned snake stories - mambas of incredible length, pythons of amazing size etc. - dating from pre-urbanised Natal before dense natural bush gave way to tarred roads and traffic. During his long lifetime he had seen enormous changes in the province which became known affectionately as The Last Outpost of the British Empire.  

He was proud of his family heritage and in particular of Trooper Lugg, Defender of Rorke's Drift. H.C.'s reminiscences are required reading for anyone interested in this topic or
in colonial Natal in general. The author paints a vivid pen picture of his own childhood and youth, and gives modest glimpses of his distinguished career in the Natal Civil Service - he held among other posts that of Chief Native Commissioner of Natal and President of the Native Appeal Court of Natal and the Transvaal. It is no exaggeration to say that, highly-regarded by the Zulu people and with his enviable command of their language, he was uniquely placed to collect and preserve valuable nuggets of Zulu oral history which might otherwise have been lost.

© Rosemary Dixon-Smith
This article previously appeared on the website Genealogy World and is repeated here by popular request.

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