(17th February 1838)
Compiled by the Bushmans River Tourism Association
Piet Retief went on an expedition, but was murdered by the Zulu leader, Dingane. Pending the return of Retief, the main body of the Trekkers - fully 1000 wagons - came down the Drakensberg into Natal. Many went along the Klip River; several were on the western bank of the Tugela River as far as the confluence of the Blaauwkrantz and the Bushmans Rivers; others were spread out near the Mooi River and the upper waters of the Bushmans River. These Trekker camps were dispersed in small groups over an area of 45 miles by 25 miles.
The dispersement was a bad state of arrangements in a hostile land where keeping together formed the best means of defence.
After the murder of Piet Retief, Dingane, the Zulu king, gave orders that his impis (warriors) must set out immediately to attack all Voortrekker parties in Natal and put them to death. Three Zulu regiments were selected for this task, the force consisting of 10 000 fully armed Zulu warriors (fortunately the Tugela River was in full flood and this screened Natal from a possible Zulu invasion). The Zulus marched rapidly over a wide frontage, but moved silently and well concealed. Little did the Trekkers expect such an invasion as they had all heard, and believed, that the Zulu king was friendly towards them.
This Zulu force was operating on strict military formation, strict discipline and under good leaders. Their plan of attack was to come from the East, along the whole line of laagers, starting from Rensburg spruit up to Colenso.
The First Attacks
In the early hours of the morning of February 17th, 1838, the Zulus struck, catching the laagers completely unawares. The first laagers to be attacked were Liebenberg's at Moordspruit (murderer's creek), then Wynand Bezuidenhout's, and simultaneously the Rossouw family was attacked. All along Moordspruit and Bushmans River whole families were killed. The Trekkers who received no warning of the Zulus were those along the Moordspruit and Bloukrans Rivers.
Therese Viglione, wife of an Italian trader, mounted her horse and rode to as many laagers as possible warning them of the Zulu attacks.
George Biggar, the son of an 1820 British Settler, who was born on board the South African bound ship "Weymouth", was killed at Bloukrans.
Legendary Dick King went to warn the Trekkers near Weenen about the murder of Piet Retief, but as he was on foot, he arrived too late. He was able to render some assistance and helped defend the Maritz Laagers.
Most rivers were swollen from recent rains. At Doornkop, Piet Retief's laager and his immediate followers were now anxiously awaiting their leader's return, wholly unaware that he and his group were murdered by Dingane. This laager consisted of 78 wagons.
Sarel Celliers was with a small laager at the Bushmans River; Maritz’ laager was some 4 miles south of the Bushmans River, before its confluence with the Tugela where it was joined by two small streams.
Some well-known family names and where they were
It was between these rivers, under some trees on a long rise, that family group laagers were situated: those of the families De Beer, Liebenberg, Bezuidenhout, Botha, Bresler, and Smit. At the main spruit (creek) were the families of Rossouw, Engelbrecht, Greyling, Roberts, Jacobus Hatting, Van Der Merwe, Prinsloo, Bothma, Klopper, and Steenkamp. Some 20 miles lower at Rensburg Spruit, was the laager of the Van Rensburg group. Near Willow Grange were family groups Malan, Swart, and Breed. Near present day Chieveley were Van Dyk, Scheepers, Roets, Van Vuuren, Geyer, and Prinsloo.