Colenso, Battlefields

The smaller neighbour of Ladysmith, the quiet town of Colenso lies in the foothills of the Drakensberg, on the banks of the Thukela River. It is one of few towns in the area to maintain its country atmosphere and has a little over 6 000 residents.

Used as a base by the British Army during the Anglo-Boer War, the town is also known as eSkipeni (Zulu for Place of the Boat). Today its peaceful atmosphere belies the battle that ensued here, regarded as one of the lowest points of the British Army.

The Battle of Colenso, fought on 15 December 1899, was the first of five battles to try and lift the siege on Ladysmith. This battle was fought on three fronts, none of which managed success - one was repulsed, one was ambushed, and the last came under heavy fire and had to abandon its advance. In the process of attempting to retrieve guns, a number of men were lost including Lieutenant Freddy Roberts, son of Field Marshall Lord Roberts. In total 1100 men were killed at Colenso versus the eight Boers who lost their lives.

Colenso’s main attraction is to visit the several sites commemorating parts of this battle, including the Ambleside Military Cemetery, open daily. A number of smaller battles that became known collectively as the Battle of Tugela Heights - possibly the largest battle ever fought by the British Army up until the Second World War - were fought a short distance from Colenso, en route to Ladysmith.

Travellers' Reviews

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We came to Colenso with the intention of exploring the historical battlegrounds. It was very interesting, and very beautiful too. We felt like we were miles away from any kind of civilization!

Ella (Virginia USA)

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