KwaZulu-Natal Heritage Preservation Initiative


Bloukrans – 1837

The Bloukrans Monument marks the communal grave of those Voortrekkers – men, women and children, along with their servants – killed on the banks of the Bloukrans River in what went down in history as nothing short of a massacre by the Zulus, in the year 1837.

The monument today lies about 13 kilometres from Colenso on a farm, but at the time this land had just been granted the Voortrekkers – who wanted to settle here after their journey from the Cape – by Dingane the king of the Zulus.

Piet Retief, the Voortrekker leader, had spent days negotiating with Dingane at the Zulu capital of uMgungundlovu at which a document was drafted and signed. The agreement included the return of several of Dingane’s cattle that had been stolen from him.

In a chapter out of history now famous Piet Retief and his party were all killed, shortly after leaving Dingane’s kraal, but not before Retief had sent word to the rest of the Voortrekkers that he had been successful.

As a result the Voortrekkers had already dispersed and had set up camp spread over an area between today’s Colenso and the little village of Willowgrange. Others remained at Saai Laager, Doornkop and in scattered camps.

When Piet Retief did not return as anticipated some Voortrekker groups organised themselves into laagers, others did not heed the warnings sent out by Gert Maritz who was, by now, concerned. Within twelve days of having signed the original agreement, the Zulus, sent by Dingane, began an assault along 9km of the Bloukrans River.

There was no chance that the Voortrekkers could present a unified front by this stage even if there were scattered attempts at counter-attacks. They lost no fewer than 41 men, 56 women, 185 children and 200 servants in the skirmish, and spoke about the battle as ‘the great murder’; referred to today as ‘the Bloukrans massacre’. The Zulus fared no better, losing an estimated 1000 men.

Article information:


Creator Reinhardt Hartzenberg
Content Owner KZNHPI
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Location near Colenso
Content information Bloukrans memorial site
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Content Type Photograph
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Article ID 983
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