other person embodied the turbulent times in which
they lived more than John Dunn, the legendary hunter,
trader and white chief of Zululand whose activities
spanned three crucial decades in the history of Zululand.
was born of Scottish parents in 1824 and grew up in
the rough and ready spirit of early Port Natal (now
Durban) but at the age of 18, he moved with his young
bride Catherine into the unexplored territory north
On one of his hunting trips into Zululand, Dunn met
Cetshwayo - the heir apparent to the Zulu kingdom
- and was invited to settle in Zululand and become
the prince's advisor.
Dunn agreed to the offer and was made Chief of the
fertile coastal area known as Ongoye
- stretching from Thukela River to the Mhlatuze River
in the north - and he increasingly adopted the culture
and customs of the Zulu.
Against the disapproval of his wife, Dunn married
his first Zulu wife in 1861. Over the next few decades
he ended up taking 48 Zulu wives. He was careful to
heed Zulu marriage rituals and customs and paid
ilobolo (bridewealth delivered by bridegroom
to his in-laws) of between nine and 15 head of cattle
to the fathers of the brides. For breach of rules,
several of his wives were banished from his household
and two wives found guilty of infidelity were sentenced
to death and executed in accordance with Zulu law.
He is credited with having sired at least 117 children.
The close bond between Dunn and King Cetshwayo strengthened
over the years and Dunn rose to become one of the
wealthiest and most powerful chiefs in the Zulu kingdom
through his ivory and gun trading.
Dunn's own economic well-being depended on a policy
of peace with the British colony of Natal but with
the inevitability of war, Dunn's influence over Cetshwayo
diminished and the king and his advisors came to view
his motives with suspicion.
Dunn tried to negotiate a position of neutrality for
his chiefdom but the British warned him that he would
lose everything in a British-controlled Zululand.
On Old Year's Night 1878 Dunn and his family, 2 000
supporters and over 3 000 head of cattle were ferried
across the Thukela into British Natal. A few days
later - his fortunes plummeting rapidly - Dunn offered
his services to the British. His first task was to
brief the British on the terrain of his former chiefdom.
He took in the war for the first time at the Battle
Following the defeat of the Zulu army at Ulundi and
the arrest of Cetshwayo, the British divided the kingdom
into 13 independent chiefdoms and appointed men amenable
to British administration, including Dunn who was
given back his former chiefdom with increased powers
and twice as much land. In the late 1880's Britain
annexed Zululand as a British colony and Dunn unhappily
found himself once again under colonial rule.
He eventually washed his hands of all involvement
with the British government and retired to spend out
his last years as a cattle farmer. His health deteriorated
and after a brief illness he died on 5 August 1895
at his farm Emoyeni outside Mtunzini at the age of
71. He was survived by 23 wives and 79 children.
- Dunn, John (edited by Moodie, D C F). Cetywayo,
and The Three Generals, Pietermaritzburg,
1886. Reprint available at Fort Nongqayi Museum
- Ballard, Charles. John Dunn: The
White Chief of Zululand, Craighall,
Dunn (centre) takes a group of friends on a fishing
trip to his favourite camp at Umlalazi.
Dunn's servants prepare a meal in the field
during one of his trips through his chiefdom.
Dunn is a handsome, well-built man,
about five feet eight in height,
with good forehead, regular features,
and keen grey eyes; a closely-cut
iron-grey beard hides the lower half
of his bronzed weather-tanned countenance,
and a look of determination and shrewdness
is discernible in every lineament.
So far from affecting native costume,
the chief was, if anything, more neatly dressed than
the average colonist, in plain tweed suit
and wideawake hat. In manner he is quiet
and unassuming, and no trace of
self-glorification or 'bounce'
is there about him."
- a contemporary commentator.
- in particular the coastal bush and the lagoon - held a
special place in Dunn's life. An area under a large milkwood
tree (site of the present Indaba Campsite) was cleared and
used to conduct court hearings as well as a venue for family
celebrations such as harvest festivals and weddings. A pool
was dug out on the banks of the Mlalazi River to provide
an area safe from crocodiles and hippo in which his wives
could bathe. He is buried on his farm Emoyeni outside Mtunzini.
loved this white man as my brother . . . '
King Cetshwayo, on board the
HMS Natal, on his way to exile in the Cape.
in captivity at Cape Town Castle, King Cetshwayo
recorded his thoughts on his friend, John Dunn:
One very cold and stormy night in winter I was seated
before a large fire in my hut when there was a noise
without as if someone was arriving.
I asked the cause from my attendants and they told
me a white man in a miserable state of destitution
had just arrived and claimed my hospitality. I ordered
the servants to bring him in, and a tall, splendidly
made man appeared. He was dressed in rags, for his
clothes had been torn to pieces in fighting through
the bush, and he was shivering from fever. I drew
my cloak aside and asked him to sit by the fire, and
told the servants to bring food and clothing. I loved
this white man as a brother, and made him one of my
head indunas, giving him land and wives, daughters
of my chiefs. Now my sun has gone down and John Dunn
is sitting by the fire, but he does not draw his cloak
rare photograph of
one of Dunn's wives