On 22nd January 1879, the same day as the shocking defeat by the Zulu of a British force at Isandhlwana (principally the 1st Battalion of the 24th Foot Regiment), an impi of perhaps 3,000-4,000 Zulu warriors advanced on a small British supply base which had been established in a mission station close to a river crossing known as Rorkes Drift.
The mission was garrisoned by a single company of infantry. B Company, 2nd Battalion of the 24th Regiment under the command of Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead and comprised a dwelling house and chapel. The dwelling house was being temporarily used as a field hospital and there were only 104 men who were fit enough to fight. Having received advanced warning of the impending attack, a makeshift barricade was hastily constructed using mealie bags, connecting the two buildings and utilizing part of their outer walls as part of the barricade. An inner barricade was also constructed from biscuit boxes.
The men of the 24th, armed with Martini Henry rifles with bayonets attached repelled attack after attack by the Zulus throughout the late afternoon and night. Both sides fought with desperate courage. Finally, at dawn on 23rd January, the Zulu force withdrew and this military episode would enter in history as one of the most heroic moments and brave defenses of the British Army. Eleven Victoria Crosses were awarded to diverse participants in the action, the record for a single military action.
Our figure depicts a private of the 24th during the desperate defense of the position.