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Burt Lancaster, Zulu Dawn and Colonel Durnford link uncovered in grave find in Brockley cemetery

Burt Lancaster as Colonel Durnford. In the film Zulu Dawn he used an authentic break frame Webley revolver. He had to do all this acting and action with a crippled left arm and he devised a way he could handle and reload this type of weapon.. He proved a fit and skilful rider and comes over well as the doomed Colonel.

Source : Zulu Dawn , behind the scenes ( 2021)

Link to the original film trailer.

Anthony William Durnford was born in County Leitrim, Ireland in 1830 but spent his formative years in Germany. In 1848 after cadet training at Woolwich he entered the Corps of Royal Military Artificers (in 1856 they became the Corps of Royal Engineers). He served in Ceylon from 1851 to 1856 building the harbour at Trincomalee and later saving it from burning. He was then in Malta, returning to England in 1858. From 1861 to 1864 he was in Gibraltar then spent 6 years in England and Ireland, with the rank of captain, before going to South Africa. During his time in Cape Colony, he was part of the pursuit of Langalibalele ( during the 1873 rebellion) at Bushman's River Pass during which he was wounded by an assegai spear. The wounds healed but a nerve had been severed and he permanently lost the use of his left hand. In a report on him, a superior officer wrote that he had 'a commanding presence, untiring energy and undoubted powers of leadership'.

Colonel Anthony William Durnford, Royal Engineers, killed in action during a last stand at Isandlwana, in Zululand, South Africa, on 22nd January, 1879. Source -Durnford blog

 Lord Chelmsford regarded him as headstrong. When the British and colonial army was sent into Zululand in 1879 for the first invasion it was divided into 5 columns and Brevet Colonel Durnford was placed in command of no.2 Column with the intention of starting from the Middle Drift. This column was made up 6 Troops of Natal Native Horse, 3 battalions of the 1st Natal Native Contingent and a Rocket Battery. In the event Chelmsford combined Columns 2 and 3 to proceed towards Isandlwana.

At the fateful battle of Isandlwana on 22nd Jan 1879, Durnford was technically in command of the camp while Chelmsford took half the force 10 miles forward. But he and his mounted troops were 4 miles to the east of the camp when the Zulus began to attack. Although some of the 24th Regiment were deployed eastwards to help Durnford they had to be pulled into the camp area. Durnford's men were dismounted and firing to hold off the left horn of the Zulu impi (regiment), however, they ran out of ammunition and when Davies and Henderson were sent to get more from the Quarter Master of the 24th, they were refused. Durnford's men had no option but to mount up and ride to the camp. This allowed the encirclement of the camp to continue and contributed to the final tragic outcome. Most of the native troops escaped towards the Natal border, including Durnford's mounted men. Durnford himself was part of a last stand near the nek (pass) at the southern end of Isandlwana mountain, where he was killed.

Incontrovertibly the senior officer present, history has blamed him for the disaster for failing to exercise effective command and control!

Located alongside the outer cemetery pathway aside the busy Brockley road lies a truckle shaped headstone , which until recently this astute local cemetery historian had overlooked! Partly as it was often covered in vegetation and is conveniently situated close to the graves of other more ' notable ' residents of the cemetery who have featured in past guided walks.

The headstone is that of a Arthur Hamilton Durnford d.1915 . Closer genealogical scrutiny discloses that Arthur who was born in Waltham Abbey ( Essex) in 1856 hailed from a truly remarkable family background that had around 13 generations in the military, mostly the Royal Engineers, holding prominent positions throughout the world, some were governors, some built forts in Bermuda, Quebec City and the further reaches of the British Empire and one particular family member's heroic death was cinematically celebrated in the 1979 film ' Zulu Dawn' portrayed by none other than the famous Hollywood actor , Burt Lancaster!  Anthony William Durnford of Zulu fame was his 3rd cousin.

Arthur's occupationally hazardous employment was no less than that of a manager, at different times ,of several gunpowder mills , one in particular factory known as the Kames, being located on the scenic Kyles of Bute( Firth of Clyde, Scotland) which is the subject of a fascinating article for those keen to know more about the gunpowder industry :

Arthur later worked in Hounslow ( 1902) and was cited as a witness in various patent disputes , centred on improvements in the manufacture of gunpowder. He married an Emily Thomson in Lewisham in 1886. Arthur died at the relatively early age of 58 in London and was interred in Brockley cemetery on the 19 th February 1915. Emily who died in 1943 is also interred here. The couple appear not to have had children.

Headstone of Arthur Hamilton Durnford d. 1915 in Brockley cemetery ( Image : courtesy of Find a Grave)

The historical reach of the Durnford's is simply too vast to reasonably encompass in a brief post - but another of Arthur's ancestral links merits a worthy mention 

Elias Durnford and Rebecca Walker ( wife) undated. Source : Encyclopedia of Alabama.

Born in Ringwood, England in 1739, Elias Durnford joined the Royal Engineers in 1759 and was promoted to Lieutenant in 1762. During the Seven Years’ War, he was part of the expedition to Havana intended to cripple the Spanish West Indian colonies. The force landed at Havana and attacked its main fort,  Afterwards, in London, he produced a series of six engravings with views of the city of Havana, which - together with the series of 12 engravings of the siege operations by - form the some of the earliest in situ representations of the island of Cuba.

In 1764, Durnford earned a commission to design new plans for British West Florida and was made Lieutenant-Governor of the area. He laid out the city of Pensacola in the Seville Square district and created a new town design based upon a classic pattern. There were separate squares built for government, public affairs, and military drills. Streets were set at right angles and named for the royal family and principal personages in government. He developed a thoroughfare along a long row of family gardens which was logically called Garden Street. The name still applies. Elias Durnford died from yellow fever at Tobago on June 21, 1794. *

* Andrew  Durnford (1800– 1859), free man of colour, planter, and physician, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Thomas Durnford, an English immigrant and merchant, and Rosaline Mercier, a free woman of colour. Thomas Durnford was a cousin of Colonel Elias Durnford

Readers who wish to know more about this remarkable family should follow this link - a website which offers an extensive research on the Durnford family - courtesy of Cynde Durnford ( personal communication)