The battle of iSandlwana in 1879 was the worst defeat suffered by a British army in the colonies.
The names of some of the combatants resound even today in the chronicles of the Victorian era.
One of them is Colonel Anthony Durnford, Irish-born Royal Engineer, an enigmatic man both loved and maligned, and seen in some quarters to have contributed to the appalling defeat. Yet others see in him a man ahead of his time, a man of liberal views and steadfast integrity.
Who was this man? Where did he serve, who did he love? Above all, is he responsible for the defeat at iSandlwana? Judge for yourself in this sweeping tale which begins with his first overseas posting in Ceylon as an eager and inexperienced 21-year old Lieutenant.
The title salutes the three women in his life: his wife, Frances whom he met and married in Ceylon, and who deserted him for another man, his daughter Frances, born on the isle of Malta, and the woman he loved in his later life, Frances.
IT’S no secret that I am an admirer of Peter Cleary and of his writings.
‘For the Love of Frances’ is his ninth offering, and I have had the pleasure of reviewing all he has penned to date.
In all previous appraisals, there was much to praise and precious little to criticise – constructively or otherwise.
But this book is different, and by that I mean Cleary has undoubtedly reached a new level of authorship maturity.
While his genre remains history-based and his credible characters are still men and women of action and appeal, this time they are portrayed in a far more vulnerable, human and sympathetic light.
The characters, at the centre of which is disparaged hero Colonel Anthony Durnford, dominate the story. And the story is a fascinating one.
Though often told, as with all great tales the legend of the great battle of Isandlwana never fails to captivate.
Even though Cleary has romanticised events, they are firmly rooted in history.
His ‘version’ of the truth of what was for the British military a calamity and for the mighty Zulu impi under Cetshwayo a mighty victory, is far more credible (certainly more interesting) than many one-sided accounts in school text books.
Cleary’s grasp of the ways the British army and civilian administration operated at the height of the empire testifies to exceptional research, even as far as corners of the colonies such as Ceylon, where the story begins.
My wish is that Zululanders will buy and read this book, as much to confirm my evaluation as for your own reading pleasure.
Dave Savides – Zululand Observer