INTERESTING & RARE ZULU KNOBKERRY FROM BATTLE OF KHAMBULA
An interesting souvenir of the battle of Khambula, a Zulu iwisa (knobkerry) engraved with Scottish-style floral motifs (including a thistle), the words ‘KHAMBULA MARCH’, ‘T.KEW’ and ‘T.TURNER’. The battle of Khambula (29 March 1879) was of course the turning point in the war, in which the Zulu amabutho who had triumphed at iSandlwana were repulsed after hours of determined attacks upon Col. Wood’s fortified base in northern Zululand. A number of items taken by British troops as souvenirs of their victory have survived, several of them revealing a consistent style in the way they have been engraved suggesting that there was a single individual responsible for the engraving work, making his services available to those soldiers who wanted a record of their participation in the historic events. The presence of the thistle confirms that it was taken by someone in the 90th (Perthshire) light Infantry, the only Scottish battalion present at the battle. There is no name ‘T. KEW’ on the medal roll but the compiler D.R. Forsyth, notes that the roll was a difficult one to read, and that ‘errors may have crept in’. In fact T. Kew apparently appears on the roll as Pte. 2000 J. Kerr, the flourishes in the handwritten original having been misread by Forsyth. Who the other name, T. Turner, refers to is unclear although the presence of an engraved heart after the name suggests that she may well have been Pte. Kew’s sweetheart back home. A rare and unusual piece, in good condition, overall length 28 ins.
THIS IS THE FIRST ZULU WAR BATTLEFIELD PICKUP CARVED KNOBKERRIE WE HAVE OFFERED SINCE WE STARTED THE GALLERY WEBSITE IN 2017!
From Ian's Newsletter - February 21, 2021:
DECIPHERING A RELIC OF THE BATTLE OF KHAMBULA
I’ve recently added an interesting and rare relic of the battle of Khambula to my gallery website. Khambula, of course, is widely regarded as the turning point of the war; on 29 March 1879 the same Zulu amabutho who had triumphed two months earlier at iSandlwana attacked Col. Evelyn Wood’s Left Flank Column. The outcome this time was very different, however; unlike at iSandlwana Wood had protected his position with an entrenched redoubt and two wagon-laagers and he was, moreover, warned of the Zulu presence by the debacle at Hlobane the day before. For several hours the Zulus attacked, coming close enough at several points for men to fall dead against the British barricades – but in the end the concentrated British firepower was too much for them and they were driven off. As they withdrew, exhausted, British Irregular cavalry pursued them, cutting down hundreds more. The battle marked the high-tide of Zulu successes during the war – after it was over the confidence which had prevailed since iSandlwana slowly gave way in the face of a realisation that the Zulus had almost nothing to counter a well-protected British defensive position. ‘Do not put your faces into the lair of the wild beasts’, King Cetshwayo had told his men, ‘for you are sure to get clawed’; the spirit of iSandlwana had carried them up to the British barricades, but at Khambula the King’s words were proved sadly correct.
Now, it was not unusual for British troops to take trophies after their successes and this practise became more commonplace from Khambula onwards, once it was clear that a British victory was likely, and individual soldiers thought it more likely that they would be able to bring their souvenirs home. One favourite type of souvenir was a Zulu weapon, taken from the battlefield or from a significant Zulu homestead, and marked in some way to remember the occasion. Zulu amawisa – knobkerries – were a popular choice because they were distinctive items yet rather easier to carry throughout the remainder of the campaign than, for example, Zulu shields. I have seen a number of such souvenirs – and, indeed, a few clumsy fakes – over the years, and it goes without saying that they are very desirable now. The work of engraving them seems to have been done by men in the British camps who had the necessary woodworking skills, and sometimes it is possible to detect the same hand at work, the same stylistic flourishes, in different examples, even when different names have been added, suggesting that the engraver was in demand by different men after an incident to mark their trophies.
The item I’ve currently listed is absolutely typical of such souvenirs and, indeed, it bears points in common with other surviving examples from Wood’s column, in particular the way the lettering has been chased out, and the addition of various decorative flourishes. Where this iwisa was ‘souvenired’ is clear enough – it bears the bold inscription ‘KAMBULA MARCH’ – but the story behind it takes rather more unpacking. It bears a very distinctive Scottish motif, a thistle, and two names – T.KEW and (in slightly smaller letters) T. TURNER. The Scottish element is an important clue as of the two infantry battalions at Khambula one – the 90th Perthshire Light Infantry – was Scottish. That narrows the search for the individuals concerned, but in fact there is neither a ‘T. Kew’ nor a ‘T. Turner’ on the medal roll. Here, however, a comment by D. R. Forsyth – who complied the standard medal roll for the 1877-8-9 campaign medal – suddenly assumes an unexpected significance. Forsyth, and indeed most researchers working from original documents, worked from the original hand-drawn lists compiled by the regiments, and the condition and handwriting varied from one document to the next. Forsyth, indeed, prefaces his list of the 90th with the pithy comment ‘A difficult roll to read. Errors may have crept in’. Perhaps, then, T. Kew is on the roll, but mis-translated from the original handwriting? Are there any similar names? Well, the culprit is probably Pte. 2000 J. Kerr, who was awarded the medal with 1877-8-9 bar; think for a moment about how an initial ‘T’, curled at the foot with a slight flourish, might look like a ‘J’ – and how a ‘w’w might similarly look like ‘rr’. Interestingly the 90th’s roll has an unusually high proportion of soldiers with the initial ‘J’ on the roll, suggesting that unless John, or James, or Joshua were disproportionately popular names north of the border, the original clerk may have made little distinction in the way he transcribed ‘T’s or ‘J’s. But if Pte. J. Kerr is in fact Pte. T.Kew, who is the other person listed on the knobkerry – T. Turner? That is rather more difficult to untangle but the fact that the engraver has added a heart next to the name suggests that Pte. Kew intended to make a present of his trophy to an important love in his life – was his girlfriend back home a Miss T. Turner..?