A Soldier-Artist in Zululand: William Whitelocke Lloyd and the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879

Article excerpt

A soldier-artist in Zululand: William Whitelocke Lloyd and the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, by David Rattray. Rorke's Drift: Rattray Publications, 2007. 259pp. ISBN 0-620-37707-0. £100.

David Rattray, the author of this superb book on the Anglo-Zulu War, was renowned as an historian, a battlefield tour guide and perhaps above all as a story-teller who could move his listeners to tears. Ten years on, I still remember vividly the experience of listening to him tell the story of the war, whilst sitting first on the slopes of Isandlwana and later, in the evening, by the perimeter wall of Rorke's Drift. As the sun went down and a huge thunderstorm built up on the horizon, only to break just as he finished speaking, I knew that this was one of the most moving experiences of my entire life. Somehow he had the ability to make you not just imagine what it must have been like to have been there around one hundred and twenty years before, but feel that you were actually present during the events he so graphically described. He spent much of the last five years of his life working on this book, and his tragic death, gunned down in his own home at Fugitives Drift only days before it was published, gives it an added poignancy.

Its provenance alone would thus make this book of interest, but what really distinguishes it is the fact that it is based on a hitherto totally unknown source, the watercolours and sketches of William Whitelocke Lloyd. These only came to light in 2000 when one of Lloyd's family visited Fugitives' Drift and left copies of some of the pictures for David Rattray to see. He immediately recognised their significance as a pictorial record of the war, got in touch with the family, and then set himself not only the task of putting the images into context, but also of identifying the location of every scene and photographing it as it is today. Considering that the portfolio contained more than one hundred pictures, this was an extraordinary mission, but one which Rattray was able to bring to a triumphant conclusion; in the end, there was only one view whose location he was unable to find. The result is a view of the Anglo-Zulu War which is extraordinarily fresh, partly because of the sheer quality of the original pictures, but also because the modern day photographs show how little the landscape has changed over the intervening century and a quarter.

Lieutenant William Whitelocke Lloyd was an officer of the 1st battalion of the 24th (second Warwickshire) Regiment of Foot, who saw active service during the Anglo-Zulu War. He was an artist of considerable talent; after he resigned from the army in 1882 he became the official artist of the P & O and Union shipping lines, and published three books of sketches and watercolours, one of which was devoted to army life. However, few of his Anglo-Zulu War pictures featured in any of these books. After his early death (he fell from a tree whilst carrying out some pruning), the album containing them appears to have passed to his daughter and then on her death to the branch of the family which currently owns them.

Browsing through the pictures, one can see immediately just how talented an artist Lloyd was. He had the ability to portray not just the landscape and the large battle scenes, but also the everyday trials and tribulations of his fellow soldiers. Scenes showing them waiting around to move up country at the beginning of the campaign, struggling to ford rivers, drinking muddy water or disturbing an anthill display a humanity and a sense of humour which bring the ordinary soldier's experience of the war vividly to life. They also convey the tension at times of crisis. Some of the most striking pictures in the book are those showing the troops manning the hastily constructed defences at Helpmekaar during the nights immediately following Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift, peering out into the darkness and waiting for the attack which they all anticipated. …