The small town of Colenso is located 20km south of Ladysmith and 40km north of Estcourt.
The residents named the town after Bishop John William Colenso. Before this, the Greater Tugela Drift, as it was one of the major stopover points for the flourishing wagon transport trail between Durban and Johannesburg and the Free State.
The Battle of Colenso
The town’s name came to fame during the Anglo Boer War. Here, General Buller’s Ladysmith relief force met its first reversal at the hands of General Louis Botha’s Burghers holding the Thukela Line. The Boer generals had set up a defensive position along the Thukela River to prevent the British Imperial Forces from entering their republics from the colony of Natal. The Battle of Colenso took place on 15th December 1899. It was the first of five major battles to be fought to relieve the besieged town of Ladysmith. There are thus several sites in and around Colenso related to these actions. A good example is the site of the Battle of Spionkop.
This battle was the third and final battle fought during the “Black Week” of the South African War. In a disastrous week from the 10 to 17th December 1899, the British Army suffered three humiliating defeats by the Boer Republics at the battles of Stormberg, Magersfontein and Colenso. These encounters claimed 2,776 men killed, wounded and captured.
Both sides fought heroically during this battle. One of the most heroic actions was that of Lieutenant the Honorable Frederick Roberts (the only son of Field Marshal Lord Roberts) and Corporal George Edward Nurse. The Boers mortally wounded them as they attempted to retrieve artillery guns. As a result, both posthumously received the Victoria Cross. Unfortunately, a second attempt to recover the rest of these weapons also failed. This battle was also an example of the brilliance of General Botha as a commander, how he entrenched his regiments, his use of camouflage and mock artillery emplacements. These helped to inflict a devastating defeat on the British forces.