Paleontologists searching for fossils in a remote area of South Africa were astonished to find spent bullets and cartridge case remnants in an area not previously known as a battle site. A chemical analysis of the cases and traces of propellant identified the items as being from the time of Britain's wars with the Zulus and the Boers. Investigators seeking further information about the previously unrecorded presence of British soldiers in the area have found papers in British Government archives which show that a third battle was fought after Isandlwana and
In what is now being called the Balloe Massacre, a small force of about 30 Zulus massacred a larger force of about 900 British soldiers. There was only one - un-named survivor. His report was marked 'confidential' and has lain undiscovered in the British Parliament's archives ever since.
Researchers note that this massacre occurred during the year in which the British newspapers and illustrated magazines were focused on stories about the gallant defenders of Rorke's Drift, the ending of the Zulu War and the tragic collapse of the Tay Bridge. Perhaps it was a good time to bury bad news.
About 79 miles upstream of the junction of the White Umfolozi River and the Black Umfolozi River, just off the river's flood plain stands a strange rock formation known as Gingan in the local dialect. The name GinGan translates roughly as 'stone bones'.
The shape has been described as resembling a fossilised human leg, bent at the knee. At the top of the hill is a rock formation which - at a stretch, because it is only slightly convex - may be described as resembling a patella. Viewed from the plain at a specific angle, fissures in the flanks create a semblance of, on the one flank: a tibia and fibula; on the other flank: a femur.
It appears from the - admittedly slender - documentary evidence that a force of about 900 soldiers under the command of Sir Ephraim Balloe, on hearing news of the massacre at Isandlwana, retreated to the top of Gingan where it was supposed that the defenders might take advantage of high ground and make use of the many natural fissures for defensive purposes. Loose rock was gathered and parapet walls made on the sides of the many fissures facing the path up which the Zulus were expected to attack.
Gingan had obviously not been properly explored beforehand. A sketch map which accompanied the confidential report shows a side elevation and a plan of the 'knee'. The name Gingan has been struck out and the name 'Balloe' inserted. Perhaps Sir Ephraim - a member of the Royal Geographical Society - had hoped to make a name for himself as the 'discoverer' of the strange rock formation. The path running up the 'femur' is clearly marked in the sketch. Modern maps show that there is an eroded channel running down the other flank between the 'tibia' and the 'fibula'. In South African English such a channel, ditch or gully is known as a donga.
It is apparent that the Zulus made use of the donga as a defile to approach the British unseen. Without need to debouch, the Zulus were able to fire at the rear of the soldiers who had made themselves ready to repel attack exclusively from the opposite direction.
With the advantage of hindsight we can see that a few soldiers properly placed in the defile could have prevented the Zulu attack from the rear. The massacre was preventable.
From the original report:
Suddenly the noise of firing became much more intense, but with the smack of the bullets striking the earth all round quite close it was not easy to tell from which direction this fresh firing came. At the same time the men seemed to be dropping much oftener, and I was impressing them with the necessity of keeping up a brisker fire to the front, when I noticed a bullet hit our side of the parapet.From the official Parliamentary records:
It then became clear, the enemy must evidently have got into the donga behind us (to which I paid no attention, as it was to the rear), and were shooting us in the back as we stood up to our parapet.
SIR EDWARD WATKIN
asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies ... whether such Report was not printed, with maps attached, last autumn; and, if so, why the Report and maps were excluded from recent Papers, and, in fact, suppressed, until a Question was asked in the House; and, whether he can give a date before which the Report and maps will be issued to Members, in pursuance of the promise of the Secretary of State for War?
SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
[the report] being very voluminous, it was printed at the time for the use of the War Office, and, being so printed, was marked "Confidential." I had arranged last spring ... that if among the Papers forwarded ... there were any which, in his opinion, should not be published, they should be marked "Confidential; because, being the channel through which despatches to the War Office were presented to Parliament, I had often felt a difficulty in deciding whether Papers of a professional or technical character were fit for publication or not. Therefore, as this Report was so marked, of course I did not publish it. I trust the hon. Member will feel, after this explanation, that his use of the word "suppression" has not been justified.
Gingan as a lesson in military tactics
The_Defence_of_Duffer's_Drift, a short book written in 1904 by Major General Sir Ernest Dunlop Swinton, became a classic text on military tactics. Although written in the style of a parody, it is intended to teach serious lessons about tactics and defences, and has indeed been used for such purposes. Long thought to be based on the defence of Rorke's Drift, it appears now that elements of the terrain around Gingan are described. Is it possible that Major General Swinton could have seen the report on the Gingan massacre? There is a clue. In a pencilled marginal note to a first edition of 'Duffer's Drift', adjacent to a description of terrain which might well be Gingan, some owner or historical researcher has written, no doubt as a tribute to Sir Ephraim Balloe: Gingan = Balloe Knee.