THE HALL OF HONOURS
Trooper Robert J Kincade was one of only 55 British troops who escaped the terrible slaughter of the Battle of Isandlwana in 1879 when Lord Chelmsford's columns were dealt a crushing defeat by the full might of the Zulu nation. All the British foot soldiers were slaughtered in the battle despite valiant resistance against a Zulu impi that numbered more than 23,000. Some 858 British troops and 471 natives died in the slaughter that came as a horrible blow to the British Army in the fatal field of Isandlwana.
Trooper Kincade, who was clearly a versatile soldier, managed to beat all the odds on a rough landscape and then a raging river to escape certain death. Kincade, of the Natal Mounted Police, was able to escape the horror of Isandlwana by riding over deeply dissected, boulder strewn, bush clad terrain to the Buffalo River five miles away. In the swirling river, which was in full spate, he lost his horse as Zulus and British troops fought deadly hand-to-hand battles. However, once Kincade had reached the opposite bank he managed to find a riderless horse and galloped to safety despite being in a state of exhaustion. At that point, after seeing the full horror of the battle and fighting for his life in the river, witnesses say Kincade was dazed.
The South African Medal 1877-79 (Zulu War) to Mr. Robert Kincade
© Hendrik Meersschaert, 1999 - 2017
Trooper Kincade was able to flee the bloodbath across the Buffalo River. Though it is not known exactly where he crossed the river historians say that all the survivors, with very few exceptions, made their escape at a spot which has become known as Fugitives Drift (see left picture).
It is believed that Trooper Kincade was the last survivor of the terrible Isandlwana massacre to die. He passed away in Addington Hospital, Durban, aged nearly 80.
In the book "The Glamour and Tragedy of the Zulu War" by WH Clements, Trooper Charles Montague Sparks tells how he met Kincade sitting on the bank of a river after the Isandlwana Battle with his field boots in hand. He asked Kincade if he did not realise the danger he was in from the Zulus who were in hot pursuit. Kincade's replies were incoherent as if he either did not know or realise his peril or was dazed from the fight for his life in the river, where he too had lost his horse. Kincade then found a horse in the neighbourhood that had managed to swim across and land on the bank minus its rider. Sparks and Kincade then mounted horses and rode as fast as possible to the town of Helpmekaar. Two days later Kincade’s name was posted at the Helpmekaar Base Camp as a known survivor. At that stage the British thought that only 44 men had survived. That figure later grew to 55.
The fateful battle started at 11.15am. At 2.30pm there was a partial eclipse of the sun and and an hour later the battlefield was littered with dead. After tasting victory at Isandlwana some 3,000 Zulus went on and attacked the mission station at Rorke’s Drift, some 10 miles away, that was successfully defended by 139 heroic British troops. That day 14 Victoria Crosses were awarded (3 at Isandlwana, 11 at Rorke's Drift). The campaign eventually ended after the defeat of the Zulus at Ulundi.
Readers will notice that Trooper Kincade’s medal has a reverse side pin. According to Zulu War historian and leading figure on the battle, Ian Knight, this was commonplace in those days. The pin was added so that the medal could be worn by the widow.
The left picture shows how Trooper Kincade's medal would originally have looked.
Compiled by George Byron, edited by Hendrik Meersschaert