Book Review: A British Lion in Zululand: Sir Garnet Wolseley in South Africa


by William Wright

Stroud, Eng.: Amberly / Chicago: Trafalgar Square, 2017. Pp. 390+. Illus., maps, appends., notes, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 1445665484

Garnet Wolseley’s Forgotten Role in the Great Anglo-Zulu War

Although satirized by Gilbert and Sullivan and “The very model of a modern major general”, Garnet Wolseley (1833-1913) was arguably the best general the British had in his times, succeeding in the most difficult situations by meticulous planning and execution, and rose to Commander-in-Chief. In this work Wright, a former chairman of the Victorian Military History Society and author of several books on the wars of the Victorian era, examines Wolseley’s largely overlooked role in British operations in South Africa during the Anglo-Zulu and Anglo-Bapedi Wars of 1879, which will probably come as a surprise to even well-read students of the subject.

After outlining Wolseley’s early career, with service in Burma, the Crimean, India, , China, Canada, and across Africa, Wright gives us a comprehensive account of his role in the Zulu War and the subsequent Anglo-Bapedi War, a much less well-known conflict.

Wright noted that although Wolseley arrived after the British had recovered from the disaster at Isandlwana (Jan. 22, 1879) and gone on to defeat the Zulu at Ulundi (July 4, 1879), and thus missed the “glory”. Despite this, Wolseley played an instrumental role in the general was instrumental in settling affairs in Southern Africa. He managed to capture King Cetshwayo of the Zulu, insuring there would be no prolonged resistance, and then went on to defeat the Bapedi, who had been resisting white encroachment, capturing King Sekhukhune by the end of the year, a campaign which was the only offensive action by the British during either war.

Wright includes a lot of material in this work on how local British colonial and military authorities brought about both wars, which the British government definitely opposed, as well as the complex interactions among the various African nations, the British, and the several Boer communities, and military practice in Southern Africa during the period.

A British Lion in Zululand is necessary reading for anyone interested in the Great Anglo-Zulu War, the early history of South Africa, or colonial warfare in general.


Note: A British Lion in Zululand is also available in several e-editions.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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