Approximately 40 troops that survived the catastrophe at Isandlwana struggled towards the mission station at Rorke's Drift....
James Rorke who died in 1875 established the station as a trading store on the Buffalo River ford where for some years it was used as a mission station but it was now acting as a supply depot and hospital between the force in Zululand and the headquarters at Helpmekaar.
Major Spalding, the officer in charge, was concerned about the non-arrival of two extra companies from Helpmekaar and went out to look for them.
Lt Chard, an engineer, whose job it was to check the pontoons across the Buffalo River was left in charge. Chard was not overly concerned when he heard rifle fire from the direction of Islandwana and continued to check the pontoons. Lt Bromhead was Chard's second in command and when the two clergymen eventually climbed the hill they found to their horror a strong Zulu force headed their way.
Two wagons were overturned and 200 lb of maize sacks were hurriedly employed as a barricade.
Some 4000 Zulus that had been held in reserve at Isandlwana attacked at around 16h30 from behind Rorke's Drift and only at a distance of 50 yards away was this rush finally checked.
The Zulus got close enough to torch the thatched roof of the hospital and managed to isolated the hospital from the storeroom. By knocking down the internal walls the defenders and patients managed to cross from room to room and finally the 30 yards to the store.
Towards midnight the Zulus rushed the cattle enclosure in front of the store and captured it. However, the defenders managed to recover it at bayonet point.
After this the Zulu attacks petered out and Chard sent out a detachment to despatch the wounded Zulus in the vicinity of the post.
The British were down to a box and a half of ammunition by this time and would have been unable to launch another serious defence but luckily the Zulus withdrew.
Chelmsford feared that Rorke's Drift had fallen but the sounds of cheering from the mission station soon convinced him otherwise.
The British lost 17 of their mere 125 men whereas when the reinforcements arrived the next morning 500 Zulus lay dead. The remains of the hospital were pulled down and used for further fortifications.
The 11 Victoria Crosses that were awarded was more than any other in British military history for a single engagement. The Distinguished Conduct medal was also awarded to five soldiers. The award of so many decorations was thought by some to be an attempt to distract attention from the catastrophe at Isandlwana.
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