Sketches from the battlefield: Captain George Vaughan Wardell and the Battle of Rorke’s Drift

By Nicola Kelly, Archivist, Maynooth University Library

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The Wardell Archive comprises the personal papers of the Wardell family; William Henry Wardell senior (1799-1881) a Major in several regiments, including the Royal Canadian Rifles; his wife Eliza Wardell (b.1800); William Henry Wardell junior (1838-1903)  Major-general, and an instructor at Woolwich Academy. The majority of the collections contents are the letters, photographs and sketches by George Vaughan Wardell  (1840-1879) Captain of the 1st Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot.

Captain George Vaughan Wardell’s correspondence reflects his family life and military career which began when he enrolled as an ensign in the 1st Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot in May 1858. He writes between 1864 and 1871, mainly to his parents but also to his brothers and sister, a series of letters detailing among other matters his experiences in faraway postings such as Mauritius, Rangoon, Madras, Malta and Burma.

Captain George Vaughan Wardell

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Document of the Day – The Wardell Archive

explore-campaign_identityNicola Kelly, Archivist

Captain George Wardell’s view of the battlefield from the Wardell Archive.

George Wardell was born in Toronto in 1840, to a family with a rich military tradition. His father Major William Wardell, and Grandfather Lieutenant Colonel Wardell, both veterans of several wars.

George Wardel
Portrait of Captain George Wardell c.1877

In 1872, Wardell was promoted to captain. As company commander, he was stationed at St Helena, before being posted to South Africa ‘to inquire into the late native disturbances, my Colonel has gone up with him’ (PP/2/61). Throughout the Wardell Archive, George Wardell documents his experiences in South Africa in letters to his parents describing his post at Fort Warwick; ‘what a knocking about my regiment has had since we came over to South Africa beginning in 1875 with the diamond fields expedition lasting some 8 or 9 months, and many hundreds of miles of marching.’ The archive also contains interesting sketches by Wardell, most notably one titled ‘Relief of Fort Warwick, Impetu, by Colonel Lambert’s column.’

Fort Warwick
‘Relief of Fort Warwick, Impetu, by Colonel Lambert’s column’ by Captain George Wardell

He served throughout the Ninth Cape Frontier War (1877-78), where he and his company successfully built and defended Fort Warwick against Xhosa attacks for several months. Wardell describes Fort Warwick in a letter dated 28 Novmber 1877; ‘it comprises of wattles interlaced,and spread over outside and in, with mud and cow dung well mixed together to make it hard, when perfectly dry we whitewashed it’. (PP/2/62).
Wardell notes in his correspondence the ‘continuous knocking’ of campaigning for his regiment and ‘hundreds of miles marching’, he predicted a war soon ‘as the Zulus are a far more powerful and better armed than the last.’ (PP/2/68).

The Wardell archive is available for consultation at Special Collections & Archives at Maynooth University Library on (01) 4747423 or