Rorke’s Drift Part 7 – The  defences  

Towards the very end of the battle at Rorke’s Drift a redoubt (a temporary or supplementary fortification, typically square or polygonal and without flanking defences) was built just outside the storehouse where some very intense firing was dealt out by the British. Essentially, the redoubt was the defenders last stand of Rorke’s Drift. 

Approximately 20,000 bullets were fired from the faithful old Martini Henry rifles during the defence of the old mission and, with under 1000 rounds of ammo left, the Brits were very, VERY lucky the Zulus decided to call it a day when they did. 

The redoubt and most of the defensive walls that were hurriedly set up around the Mission, in preparation for the inevitable attack from the Zulus, were built from mealie bags. Mealie is a coarse flour that comes from maize. In the movie Zulu when one poor chap bites the dust a mealie bag gets shot open and corn/maize pours into the dying Red Coats gaping mouth. It’s a small detail really but I’m unsure if the mealie bags, in the real battle, contained flour or corn? Haha. Confused? This deep dive is exciting for me but boring as bat shit for 98% of the population I’m sure haha. 

I was inspired to paint the mealie bags in a similar way to what this chap has done for his own brilliant Rorke’s Drift Project –

The blue and red stripes give the bags a distinctive British look BUT I think, with all due respect, the YouTuber got the stripes slightly wrong. According to Lady Butlers classic painting below, if you zoom in on the bottom left, the stripes were red on the outer with a blue line on the inner. I actually tried both but preferred the look that the YouTuber had gone with. Soooo maybe not 100% accurate but close enough. 

I’m not great at painting straight lines but overall I’m fairly happy with the finished result. At first the stripes were too bright so I gave them a light dry brush to soften or mute them.

As well as mealie bags, biscuit boxes were also used to create defensive walls that could be manned by troops. These boxes were, mostly, used to split the original defences in half. Lieutenant Chard (Commander at Rorke’s Drift) realised, as the the battle progressed, he was going to lose the hospital so therefore ordered a second line of defence barricades be hastily constructed. By doing this Chard tightened up his defensive perimeter which, in hindsight, was a very smart tactical move. A smaller defensive line with denser firing capacity. I kept the boxes pretty simple.

Here are some boxes mixed with mealie bags too. 

I also painted up some loose crates/boxes/barrels. 

For the wagons my research lead me to believe that they were of a blue grey colour as they were official British army wagons. I did three of the wagons, two of which were used as part of the defensive wall, the same. The fourth one (water wagon) I kept “woody”. 

Fun fact, in the movie Zulu (1964) we see the British troops tip over the wagons to use them as defensive walls. In reality they didn’t have the time for this but did line them up and threw some mealie bags on and around them. These wagons were used, along with mealie bag walls, to join the hospital to the storehouse on the south side of the mission. 

I kept things pretty straightforward with the stone (Kraal) walls too. A build up of browns and greys via the dry brush then added some shrubs and ground cover. 

There were two  Kraals at Rorke’s drift. One that became part of the defences but another, larger, one off to the east a bit. I have enough walls to create both. The smaller one wasn’t just a square either. It had partitions in it according to maps and detailed drawings. I was going to recreate all this by cutting up some of the walls but in the end I decided against it. 

As I had my “stony” paints out, I painted the outhouse, which I believe is actually meant to represent the cookhouse but it’s too small really. 

Here’s a fascinating story about the cookhouse: 

Chard’s report to Queen Victoria

During the fight there were some very narrow escapes from the burning hospital. Private Waters, 24th Regiment, told me that he had secreted himself in a cupboard in the room he was defending, and from it shot several Zulus inside the hospital. He was wounded in the arm, and he remained in the cupboard until the heat and smoke were so great that they threatened to suffocate him. Wrapping himself in a cloak, or skirt of a dress he found in the cupboard, he rushed out into the darkness and made his way into the cookhouse. The Zulus were occupying this, and firing at us from the wall nearest us. It was too late to retreat, so he crept softly to the fireplace and, standing up in the chimney, blacked his face and hands with the soot. He remained there until the Zulus left. He was very nearly shot in coming out, one of our men at the wall raising his rifle to do so at the sight of his black face and strange costume, but Waters cried out just in time to save himself. He produced the bullet that wounded him, with pardonable pride, and was very amusing in his admiring description of Dr. Reynold’s skill in extracting it.”

It took me roughly a week to get all this done which I’m quite proud of actually.

Next I’ll be painting the hospital and storehouse but I’ll actually be sneaking in something a little sad and special just before that though. 



31 thoughts on “Rorke’s Drift Part 7 – The  defences  ”

  1. Excellent stuff mate – and I’m definitely part of the 2% of the population who’s finding your deep dive fascinating so dive away mate, dive away. Love the story of the guy covering himself in soot and hiding in the corner to avoid detection, top marks for balls and cunning there. Of course I think questions have to be asked about what happened to his uniform, the start of the story where he ends up out of uniform and hiding in a cupboard wearing only a skirt possibly calls for a bit of investigation!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I’ve always been excited about bat shit mate so naturally I found this post most enjoyable. Some nice facts thrown in along the way too. Can’t believe you got that lot done in a week and looking so good. Great work. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This is really nice progress on your terrain for this project. More importantly, I think what you made looks fantastic. You seem to have a real knack for terrain, mate. I enjoyed learning a thing or two about this conflict along the way too. I imagine we’re a more receptive audience than your significant other children are, though I may be wrong! 😀

    Liked by 3 people

  4. ZZzzzzzzz…huh?! What?! I’m part of the 98%?!?! No way man, put me down for more of this crazy batshit behind the scenes real deal story stuff! Never watched the movie, but I need to at some point. The pieces look amazing, in no small part due to your awesome lighting. I do wish I had your camera skills! Not that it’s all camera work, as I can tell they would look cool all on their own as well.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hehe you’d be forgiven if you were part of the 98 mate. Thanks Re the camera part. I’ve always enjoyed the photography part of the hobby. Not that I’m a photographer but I think it’s important to try and do your best.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Coming on nicely matey,doing all that fine work in a week is something to be proud of! I would still be struggling along with the mealie sacks. Funny thing is I have just purchased a kg bag of mealie but it comes in a paper bag thats green and red now days.

    Liked by 2 people

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