Anglo-Zulu war art fetches 40 000
April 1879. From the summit of the 200m-high outcrop called Shiyane, William Whitelocke-Lloyd sketched the view. To the north lay the red rooftops of the Rorke’s Drift mission station where the British had mounted their extraordinary defence two months earlier.
Lloyd had known the officers and men who defended Rorke’s Drift. He was a lieutenant in the 24th Foot, along with most of the 150 men who were inside the fort that day. His breathing must have quickened as he raised his field glasses to view the field of battle at Isandlwana, where 1300 British officers and soldiers had died in the hours before the defence of Rorke’s Drift began.
Lloyd had missed the fights; his company had been delayed by incessant rain. However, whereas many soldiers long to be at the heart of battle, Lloyd later wrote to his sister in Ireland that he felt “quite contented” to have swum across the river and “stood on the enemies’ country and shaken my fist at him”.
From Shiyane, the 23-year-old described Isandlwana: “We can see the place where the massacre, or fight, rather, took place from here but dare not cross the river as it would mean almost certain death. Our fellows are lying unburied just where they fell and with a good telescope one can see the skeletons dotted about.”
Although he also produced a collection of humorous sketches of military life called On Active Service, Lloyd never published his Zulu works.
This week, just more than 133 years after Lloyd sat on that summit, an album of his original artwork was sold by Sotheby’s of London to a private United Kingdom-based collector for £40 000. The album contains 100 captioned watercolours from his time in the Anglo-Zulu War, as well as 24 sketches he created with pencil or pen and ink.
After Lloyd’s untimely death at 41 in 1897 – he fell from a tree he was pruning at his home in Ireland – his only son, Percy, sold most of the family’s possessions. But Lloyd’s daughter, Winifred, managed to hold on to his Zululand album.
Following her death in 1976, she left it to a family called Becher who had cared for her in old age. In 2000, the Bechers made contact with the eminent South African historian David Rattray and sent him the leather-bound album.
Rattray recognised Lloyd’s work as “an extraordinary historical find, a fresh resource probably unequalled in Anglo-Zulu War studies in recent times”. He published the contents of the album as the book A Soldier-Artist in Zululand shortly before he was murdered at his farm near Rorke’s Drift in 2007. The book included a foreword by Britain’s Prince Charles.
From Shiyane, Lloyd had used his binoculars to create an intimate sketch of Isandlwana, depicting Zulu warriors still wandering through the abandoned wagons and the decomposing body of a wagon driver crumpled on a rock. His sketch of Rorke’s Drift included a butcher’s scaffold where Zulu prisoners had been hung the day after the attack.
It was all a far cry from the neo-Gothic castle he called home back in Ireland. Lloyd’s family had prospered as merchants and lawyers in England during the 17th and 18th centuries. His father purchased the Irish castle in 1854, two years before Lloyd’s birth.
Lloyd was educated at Eton College and Magdalen College, Oxford, where he befriended Oscar Wilde. However, he was suspended from Oxford for “excessively” celebrating Guy Fawkes night; one of his Whitelocke forebears had been an accomplice of Fawkes.
In June 1878 he was commissioned as a subaltern in the 24th Foot. A month later he set sail for South Africa to join his new regiment at King William’s Town. Plans for a British invasion of Zululand were already well under way by the time he arrived.
After the battle Lloyd was promoted to lieutenant, and in the months while he awaited the arrival of reinforcements from Britain he sketched many images of daily life during the Zulu campaign, including panoramas from the Nhlazatshe heights and the Helpmekaar plateau, columns of redcoats marching through the Mooi and Thukela valley, crowded ships in Durban, the cavalry camp at Dundee, the officer’s mess, the wagons in motion, the entrenchments and artillery, and the dawn patrol.
Most of the art that later came to signify the Zulu War was painted by artists who never visited South Africa and tended to cater to romantic notions of jingoistic heroism. Lloyd’s were different – realistic, accurate and sometimes refreshingly humorous. The Illustrated London News published several of his sketches alongside their weekly reports on the war.
Wit and a fine eye for detail
As the Anglo-Zulu War historian Ian Knight noted, Lloyd’s work exhibited both “wit and a fine eye for detail and topography. Some of the sketches are in pen and ink, but most are finely executed in delicate watercolours which conjure up not only the subtle hues of the landscape, but also the shifting moods of the African light”.
Lloyd was present during the Battle of Ulundi on July 4, which brought an end to the war. He created a three-page panorama of the Valley of Ulundi, the heart of Cetshwayo’s kingdom, and sketched views of the battle from his vantage point in the camp on the White Mfolozi River. His artistic eye captured the Zulu army pouring through the scrubland to attack Lord Chelmsford’s square and, later, the very same Zulus retreating under heavy shellfire. He also sketched the great royal homesteads, including Cetshwayo’s kraal, in flames.
After the war, Lloyd sailed back to England. He left the army in 1882 and returned to Ireland, where he married and had two children.
He became a professional illustrator with the Peninsula and Orient Steamship Company, drawing pen-and-ink sketches that were sold to passengers as a keepsake of their voyage. The work took him all over the world and he produced three books of sketches of life on board these luxury liners and the exotic places through which they passed.