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Title:Colonel Anthony Durnford: The Imperial Hero and the Contradictions of Liberal Imperialism
Author:Lieven, Michael
Periodical:Journal of Natal and Zulu History
Geographic term:South Africa
Subjects:military operations
Anglo-Zulu War
biographies (form)
Military, Defense and Arms
History and Exploration
About person:Anthony Durnford (1830-1879)ISNI
Abstract:Colonel Anthony Durnford's responsibility for the disaster at the Battle of Isandlwana in 1879, where a British column was wiped out by the Zulu army and where he lost his life, has distracted attention from his significance as an exemplar of a peculiarly Victorian heroic type, a type whose very virtues lead one back to the contradiction at the heart of liberal imperialism. He was a protector of African tribesmen and an opponent of overt racism; but he was also an imperialist whose very doubts amplified the destruction of the Zulu people in a war which he 'utterly' condemned but which he helped to bring about. This article explores this contradiction through a rereading of three texts written in different genres in the years immediately before and after Durnford's death: the biography by his brother, Edward Durnford, 'A soldier's life and work in South Africa 1872-1879' (1882); Frances Colenso's (and Edward Durnford's) 'History of the Zulu war and its origins' (1880), and Colenso's tale of imperial adventure 'My chief and I' (published in 1880 under the pseudonym of its fictional narrator, Atherton Wylde). All these works portray Durnford as a chivalric hero, defending a morally upright ideal, blind to racial prejudice, and sacrificing his life to protect others. Central to the rereading is the suggestion that two of these works are heavily based on Anthony Durnford's construction of himself in letters and accounts of his experiences to his mother and 'lover'. Note, ref.