In 1842 Dick King rode 950km across some of South Africa’s toughest country in just 10 days on a horse called Somerset. This journey from Durban to Grahamstown has become the stuff of legend, but has history remembered well? Barry and Joe find out.
In May 1842, on the southern tip of Africa, Boer commandos of the Republic of Natalia laid siege to the British Imperial forces struggling to gain control of the port at Durban. Much was at stake for both sides: the Boers desperately needed a sea port to become a prosperous independent state, the British, if defeated, would find their supremacy in the region confined to the Cape Colony. Without reinforcements the British garrison would certainly fall to the superior numbers and firepower of the Boer commandos. The British commander turned to Dick King a local trader, farmer and big game hunter of British decent to summon help from the nearest garrison at Grahamstown in the Cape Colony.
At midnight on the 24th of May, Dick King, called Mlamulankunzi (“the peacemaker” or “the man who separates fighting bulls”) by the Zulu, left the ship on which he was sheltering in Durban bay with his companion Ndongeni Zulu to begin the epic 10 day, 950 km dash on horseback that has become the stuff of legend and ultimately led to the annexation of Natal by the British in 1843. Had he failed the entire history of South Africa would have been very different.
Barry Armitage and Joe Dawson assisted by a support crew and a team of five horses follow the route of King’s compelling ride through a wild land; crossing over 180 rivers, in an attempt to keep up the furious pace set by King, and understand the heroic achievements of this historic man of action. The landscape of King’s time was undeveloped and dangerous; teaming with wild animals, populated by the warlike Zulu and Xhosa nations wary of the white man’s inroads into their territory, and patrolled by Boer commandos desperate to make Natal and the port at Durban their own. The modern landscape by contrast is more civilized but diverse; much has changed in South Africa in the intervening 168 years and the riders face not only the challenges of traversing sprawling cityscapes but also ride through the remote and dramatic landscape of the Wild Coast, little changed by the march of time.