Thursday, 22 January 2009

Isandlwana, a solar eclipse, and my great-great uncle Malcolm Moodie's pointless death

Today is the 130th anniversary of the Battle of Isandlwana, and, in four days' time, a partial solar eclipse will be visible in South Africa. How are these things connected, why should I care, and why do I have goosebumps on my arms as I type this post?

Well, a decade or so back, when I first got interested in family history, I discovered that a great-great-uncle of mine, Malcolm Moodie*, aged 22, died during that battle, in which a mighty force of 20 000 Zulu warriors, mustered by King Cetshwayo, below, resoundly defeated a column of some 1200 British soldiers, who were armed to the teeth.

Knowing very little about Malcolm, or the circumstances of his death, or indeed about Isandlwana, I did some reading. The accounts of that tragic battle chilled me to the marrow - the usual stuff of war: the meaningless slaughter of thousands of teenage men; the blood and the last gasps of dying soldiers and warriors; the beating of chests and the wailing of widowed women and heartbroken mothers; the devastating casualties on both the Zulu and British sides. But what really got my attention the fact that on the day of the battle, an eery yellow light fell across the battlefield as a partial (65%) solar eclipse began.

Can you imagine how frightening and ominous this must have seemed to the exhausted soldiers of these armies? I don't know if you've ever experienced a solar eclipse, but I have, once, and was a truly spooky experience to see the sky darken, the birds flock to the trees to roost, and the stars begin to twinkle. So when the sun dims on Monday, and the world feels like it is coming to an end, I'm going to be thinking about Malcolm and all the other young men who died so pointlessly at Isandlwana.

I never met Malcolm - there's no one alive today who did - and I reckon there are only two or three people who remember that he ever existed at all (and they are deeply sentimental family historians like me). But on Monday, as the eclipse starts, I intend to get a tear in my eye for Malcolm, and for every young man who perished on that day, whatever side he fought on, and whatever his motives were.

------------------------------------------------

*Malcolm Moodie, Natal Carbineers, born 1857, in Natal, died 22 January 1879, at Isandlwana, KZN Natal. Malcolm was the son of William James Dunbar Moodie and Clarissa Meek.

A handwritten note (probably written by his niece, Shirley Moor) in my family's copy of The Moodie Book, says:


“The burial parties afterwards recognised him by the brilliant colour of his hair, like burnished copper. Beside him were 79 used cartridge cases. He had been obliged to stay behind the day by one hospital, with a hurt shoulder.


"Lord Chelmsford having left with the main body of troops. Malcolm had lent his horse to his cousin, Edward Greene (afterwards Colonel E Greene, Natal Carbineers), whose own horse was lame.”

Stumble Upon Toolbar

5 comments:

tonypark said...

Shiver.

TigerO said...

Came across this on a search because I have been seeking information about the last hours of my great uncle who was also killed at Isandlwana.

I recently acquired a copy of the "Red Book" which contains copies of all the Newspaper reports in Natal for 1879.

Malcolm Moodie and my great uncle, Fred Jackson, died together on the Battlefield. Fred was just 16 when he died.

A well known researcher I met in the last week suggested that this may indicate that the two may have been carrying an ammunition box from the camp down to the other Carbineers fighting with Col Durnford. Durnford, Lt Scott and the other Carbineers fought as a group and when they ran out of ammunition they fought hand to hand with the Zulus. They all died together in this group. The Zulu witnesses reported their great respect for the bravery of this group.

A report from the burial party led by Lt Royston of the Carbineers dated 29 June 1879 reads;

"We buried Lieutenant Scott,Troopers Davis, Borain, Lumley, Hawkins, Dickenson, Tarboton, Blaikie. These were lying near together between the road and the 1-24th camp. About 400 yards higher up were Moodie and F. Jackson, close together."

I would love to know the source of your info to see if any further info can be gleaned. You can contact me on my site;

www.oats.org.uk

Rob

Juno said...

Hi Rob

Thank you very much for this interesting post. I will visit your website and get in touch.

Kind regards
Juno

Kris Herron said...

I have just read you post, and I am Col Anthony Durnford's 2nd cousin*3.

For 136 years our family knew he had done something so bad in the Zulu War, and been responsible for the death of so many.

Imagine my surprise when 4 weeks ago I learnt that he had followed the orders as they were written. His story forms part of our family history, but also the need to tell his story and that of his innocence. Hence the biggest project I have ever undertaken in 6 years of research. Pity I wasn't at University, or my thesis would score me some marks. I understand how you feel, and because there is so much abut Anthony it was unreal to realise that we shared so many personality traits. If you want to read the posts are at www.edurnford.blogspot.com

Kris Herron Australia

Kris Herron said...

I have just read you post, and I am Col Anthony Durnford's 2nd cousin*3.

For 136 years our family knew he had done something so bad in the Zulu War, and been responsible for the death of so many.

Imagine my surprise when 4 weeks ago I learnt that he had followed the orders as they were written. His story forms part of our family history, but also the need to tell his story and that of his innocence. Hence the biggest project I have ever undertaken in 6 years of research. Pity I wasn't at University, or my thesis would score me some marks. I understand how you feel, and because there is so much abut Anthony it was unreal to realise that we shared so many personality traits. If you want to read the posts are at www.edurnford.blogspot.com

Kris Herron Australia