On this day in history, January 22

The Zulu left horn assaulting down Wombane Hill at the Battle of Inyezan. Illustration by Peter Dennis, from the book, “British Infantryman vs Zulu Warrior”, by Ian Knight.

The Zulu left horn assaulting down Wombane Hill at the Battle of Inyezan. Illustration by Peter Dennis, from the book, “British Infantryman vs Zulu Warrior”, by Ian Knight.

Published Jan 22, 2024


Real people, real stories – more than just dates and boring facts

1506 The first contingent of 150 Swiss Guards arrive at the Vatican to protect the pope. The guard is one of the oldest active military units and is famous for their last stand which allowed Pope Clement VII to flee Rome.

1833 Groot Constantia, which shipped wine to Napoleon in exile on the island of St Helena, concludes another sale with a VIP; this time with the King of France, Louis-Philippe.

1879 A British supply column moving up the North Coast towards Eshowe is attacked by about 5 000 Zulus as they cross the Nyezane River. The attack is beaten off. On the same day as the more famous battles of Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift, one hundred miles to the south, the British No. 1 Column under Colonel Charles Pearson was attacked while crossing the Inyezane River by a Zulu impi of around 11,000 warriors (less than half the size of the impi that attacked Isandlwana). The Zulu inkosi, Godide kaNdlela, intended to encircle the British, with the "left horn" skirting behind Wombane Hill before coming up behind the British engineer company, assailing them while half the British forces were still on the other side of the river, cutting Pearson's force in half. Unfortunately for the Zulus, the left horn regiments executed their pivot too soon, coming down Wombane and running straight into the 2nd Battalion of the 3rd Buffs Regiment. Wombane is deceptively steep, and there is a gully at the bottom, which the Zulus clustered into. Redcoats from the Buffs stood on the high ground, firing into the Zulu at close range, in what some called "a shooting gallery."

The Zulu centre was driven back by a Gatling gun supported by a bayonet charge from the Naval Brigade and additional companies from the Buffs. The Zulu "right horn" inexplicably never engaged at all, leading to its warriors being accused of cowardice, though miscommunications may have played a role. The Zulu ambush was repulsed at the cost of 350 dead, with hundreds more wounded. Pearson's column suffered 16 killed or died of wounds, mostly colonial volunteers or allied African warriors (only two were redcoats from the Buffs), with around twice as many injured. The column reached its destination of an abandoned mission station at Eshowe the following day. Pearson's decisive victory was completely overshadowed by the catastrophic defeat at Isandlwana and heroic defence of Rorke's Drift on the same day. The Battle of Inyezane, and indeed the entire southern campaign around Eshowe, was mostly neglected and is arguably the most forgotten theatre of the Anglo-Zulu War.

1879 Cetewayo’s impis, defying the odds with their traditional weaponry and tactical ingenuity, wipe out British troops at Isandhlwana in one of the worst disasters in British military history, stabbing 1 272 soldiers to death. They then descend on the trading post at Rorke’s Drift, but the 130 defenders manage to hold off the 3 000-4 000 attackers.

1915 A train plunges off the tracks into a deep canyon in Mexico, killing 600 people.

1927 Teddy Wakelam gives the first live radio commentary of a football match.

1943 Australian and American troops defeat the Japanese army in the bitterly-fought Battle of Buna-Gona in New Guinea.

1970 The Boeing 747, the world’s first “jumbo jet”, enters commercial service.

1971 The results of an informal poll among white sportsmen show that of 101 sportsmen questioned, 79 were in favour of mixed sport, 17 were not, and five had no comment.

1984 The Apple Macintosh, the first consumer computer to popularize the mouse and the graphical user interface, is introduced.

1999 Australian missionary Graham Staines and his sons are burned alive by radical Hindus while sleeping in their car in East India.

2019 The powerful eruption of Russian volcano Raikoke is seen from the International Space Station. Turns sunsets purple across the Northern Hemisphere all summer.

2023 Australian Laura Enever sets world record for surfing the largest-ever wave by a woman at 43.6ft at North Shore, Hawaii [1]

2023 China’s northernmost city, Mohe, records a record low temperature of -53°C.