Whoosh! Issue 40 - January 2000

IAXS project #722
By Virginia Carper
Content copyright © 2000 held by author
Edition copyright © 2000 held by Whoosh!
3515 words

Introduction (01-02)
The Real Deal: Rorke's Drift (03-07)
The Fiction And The Reality (08)
     The Beginning (09-13)
     The Attack (14-16)
     The Hospital (17-20)
     The End (21-23)
How Different? (24-25)
     Commanders (26-30)
     The Soldiers (31-33)
     The Enemy (34-35)
Mr. Sears' Explorations
     Xena And Chard (36-38)
     Gabrielle And Reynolds (39-40)
Not One And The Same (41-45)

Inspiration for THE PRICE


You think maybe these bright red coats make us stand out?

ZULU was the film that influenced THE PRICE.

[1] In his interview with Bret Rudnick (Whoosh! #22, July 1998, http://whoosh.org/issue22/isears1.html), Steven Sears expressed a keen interest in the Anglo-Zulu War (1879), one of the wars fought by imperial powers against indigenous rulers. He said that the source for the Xena: Warrior Princess (XWP) episode THE PRICE (44/220) was the movie Zulu (1964, Cy Endfield). This movie depicted Rorke's Drift, a famous battle in that war.

[2] Zulu, which so impressed Mr. Sears, was filmed in the early 1960's. Britain was still rebuilding after the Second World War. The disintegrating Empire was being transformed into the Commonwealth. Zulu harkened back to the time when "the sun never set on the British Empire". The movie also beckoned to the future of the Zulu and British as equals. Moreover, Zulu presented a story of unbending courage in the face of terrific odds.

The Real Deal: Rorke's Drift (January 22-23, 1879)

[3] In southern Africa, the British Empire regarded KwaZulu (Zululand) as a threat. Already the largest kingdom in the region, KwaZulu was expanding its rule. To provoke King Cetshwayo, Sir Bartle Frere (the High Commissioner of Natal) used the incident of a Zulu chief pursuing his two unfaithful wives into Natal. Frere gave the King an ultimatum to fulfill within twenty days or face invasion. Among the list of his demands were: (1) hand over the Zulu chief, (2) disband all Zulu amabutho (regiments), and (3) have the British supervise the disbanding. Cetshwayo refused Frere's demands.

[4] Expecting an easy victory, Lieutenant General Lord Clemsford invaded KwaZulu in January 1879. He planned to capture the King's kraal (homestead) in a single fight. Much to his consternation, the Zulu overran his army at Isandlwana (KwaZulu, January 22, 1879). The Isandlwana massacre was the worst disaster in the history of the British Army. After their victory, the Zulu impi (army) marched to destroy the small makeshift hospital and supply depot at Rorke's Drift (ford).

[5] Unaware of what was happening at Isandlwana, Major Henry Spalding, the commander at Rorke's Drift, left for Helpmekaar to check on the relief troops promised him. He left Lieutenant John Chard (of the Royal Engineers) and Lieutenant Gronville Bromhead (of 24th Regiment of Foot) in charge. Though he held neither man in high regard, Spalding rationalized that he would be gone only a short time.

[6] After Spalding left, Chard and Bromhead heard distant rifle fire, but they ignored it until survivors straggled in warning them about the impending attack. Acting Assistant Commissary Officer James Dalton convinced the two officers to construct a fort around the exposed compound. Quickly, everyone stacked mealie (maize/corn) bags, biscuit boxes, and water barrels into barricades.

[7] Fighting day and night, the soldiers of B company, 2nd Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot (The Warwickshires, later South Wales Borderers) withstood waves of Zulu attacks. When the Zulu set fire to the hospital, several soldiers dragged the sick men to safety. For their heroism, eleven soldiers were awarded the Victoria Cross (VC), the highest military award in the British Empire. [Note 01]

The Fiction And The Reality

[8] After viewing THE PRICE (44/220), one asks, is an understanding of Rorke's Drift possible? Mr. Sears filters the battle through the perceptions of Xena and Gabrielle. Xena becomes the commander who leads the troops against impossible odds. Gabrielle serves as the pacifist that the Swedish missionary Otto Witt was in Zulu.

The Beginning: THE PRICE

Some fans will do anything for an autograph

A peaceful day of fishing is abruptly interrupted in THE PRICE.

[9] Xena and Gabrielle are fishing by a forested river bank, when suddenly a dying man reaches for Gabrielle. The man sputters out, "The garrison... surrounded... waiting... for help... the Horde!" Panicked, Xena orders Gabrielle to run and steals a Horde boat. Furiously paddling, Gabrielle shudders hearing the tortured soldiers, on the shore, screaming in pain. In spite of Xena's mounting terror, Gabrielle persuades her to save a mortally wounded Athenian general. Before the three are surrounded, a squad of soldiers arrive to fend off the Horde. During a lull, Xena, Gabrielle, and the soldiers race to the Greek fort.

The Beginning: Zulu

[10] The movie opens with a burning battlefield littered with bodies of British soldiers. Actor Richard Burton narrates, "We regret to inform Her Majesty that Her Majesty's forces suffered a grave defeat at Isandlwana". Next, King Cetshwayo presides over a mass wedding of his warriors and maidens. Conversing with Witt and his daughter, the King casually tells them that his impi had just defeated the 'red soldiers'. Shocked, the Witts quickly take their leave, and race to warn the soldiers at their mission station.

[11] Meanwhile, escaping the carnage at Isandlwana, Lt. James Adendorff of the Natal Native Contingent (NNC) rides pell-mell to warn Chard, who is building a bridge. Upon hearing Adendorff's breathless report, Chard orders his men to hurry back to the hospital. While waiting for Bromhead, who is out big game hunting, Chard fortifies the compound.

The Beginning: Rorke's Drift

[12] At the mission, Private Fred Hitch was making tea for the company. Hearing gun fire, Rev. Otto Witt, Rev. George Smith, and Surgeon James Reynolds (of Army Medical Department) climbed the Oscarsberg behind Witt's mission to investigate. They saw a large impi marching towards them. Alarmed, Reynolds and Smith raced back to warn Bromhead.

[13] At Dalton's urging, Bromhead organized the defenses. While the 24th and NNC piled boxes, Witt left with the most seriously ill soldiers. Meanwhile at the ford, Adendorff alerted Chard, who reported promptly back.

The Attack: THE PRICE

[14] Inside the fort, Xena orders the mutinous soldiers to man the walls. The dispirited Athenians refuse until she disciplines a soldier. When the Horde attack, she sets a trap for them so that one of the Athenian officers (Mentacles) can go for reinforcements. After repulsing the Horde, Xena props dead soldiers on the walls to fool them into thinking that the Athenians had greater numbers.

The Attack: Zulu

[15] Bromhead and Chard nervously await the Zulu attack. Their spirits rise when they see the Natal Native Horse (NNH) ride by, only to have them plummet when the NNH urge evacuation. The Africans of the NNC flee, leaving 130 men behind to defend the compound. Inside the hospital, the sick men prepare rifle sights and load muskets. Outside the compound, the Zulu beat their shields and charge. After severe losses, the Zulu generals order retreat. The British celebrate until Adendorff informs them that the generals were only testing their mettle.

The Attack: Rorke's Drift

[16] While Dalton prepared the fortifications, the NNH rode by exhorting the soldiers to desert. Many did, leaving only the soldiers of the 24th. Left with only 84 soldiers and 36 patients against 4,000 Zulu, Chard realized he did not have enough men to defend the perimeter. He built a second line of defense in front of the Commissariat store. Meanwhile, Bromhead assigned Private Henry Hook and five others to protect the hospital patients, and Hitch as look out.

The Hospital: THE PRICE

[17] Unknown to Xena, Gabrielle organizes a hospital. She assigns the less wounded to nurse the more severely wounded. To save more of the wounded, Gabrielle battles a stubborn Xena over the limited supplies of food and water. Greatly disturbed by Xena's callousness, Gabrielle lectures her on killing a fleeing Horde warrior in cold blood. Finally fed up with Xena's irrationality, Gabrielle leaves the fort to minister to the wounded outside.

The Hospital: Zulu

Not exactly painting by numbers

Contemporary painter William Watson Rice did this print of THE BATTLE OF RORKE'S DRIFT.

[18] While the soldiers anticipate the Zulu attack, Witt urges Chard to order the evacuation of the post. Ignoring Witt, Chard orders the wagons tipped on their sides for fortifications. Witt's daughter screams, "Animals! All of you! Animals!" Colour-sergeant F. Bourne removes Witt to a holding cell and his daughter to the chapel. When the Zulu attack, Witt screams from his cell, "Die! Death awaits you!" Fed up with Witt's insane behavior, Chard has him and his daughter leave.

[19] As darkness falls, the Zulu amabutho set fire to the hospital roof. During the attack, Hook evacuates the wounded through the hospital's top window. While Hook fends off the Zulu warriors, Private John Williams (Fielding) forges an escape route by breaking through the walls. Meanwhile, Corporal Ferdnand Schiess of the NNC, who was previously wounded, limps outside to join the fight.

The Hospital: Rorke's Drift

Looks remarkably like the editing rooms at Pacific Renaissance

Restoration of Rorke's Drift, South Africa.

[20] The fighting at the hospital happened as depicted in Zulu with a few exceptions. When the defenders and patients descended from a ladder into the yard, they had to sprint forty yards to safety. Defending them were Bromhead, Schiess, Hitch, and four others. Except for Bromhead, the rest were either wounded or killed. Praying that the Zulu would leave, Smith handed out ammunition to the combatants. Meantime, Reynolds treated the wounded under fire.


[21] Xena discovers that the Horde regard Gabrielle's actions as a truce. This enables Xena to end the siege. She challenges their leader to single combat. Victorious, Xena spares him, only to witness his warriors kill him. Then both sides retreat, the Horde to the forest and the Athenians back to Athens.

The End: Zulu

[22] After fighting all night, Chard assembles the men and conducts roll call. The tired and wounded soldiers watch in disbelief as the Zulu warriors return to chant. The Welsh soldiers respond with their own songs. Believing an attack is imminent, Chard stares despairingly at the horizon. Adendorff consoles him, "They're saluting you. They're saluting your bravery." Incredulously, Chard watches the impi retreat.

The End: Rorke's Drift

[23] Chard regrouped his men in front of the store, and he had them build another barricade. About midnight, Bromhead organized a bayonet attack and repulsed the final wave of Zulu attacks. The following morning, Chard warily watched a large party of Zulu massing on Kwasinqindi Hill, opposite the post. Meanwhile, Bromhead inventoried the nearly empty stores of ammunition. The spent soldiers knew they could not withstand another attack. To their surprise, the Zulu retreated across the river to KwaZulu. Hook later recalled, "We broke into roar after roar of cheering". (The Zulu amabutho had seen the main British army coming to relieve the besieged compound.)

How Different?

[24] Mr. Sears presented THE PRICE (44/223) in the tradition of 'last stands', a small brave force facing impossible odds. The Athenian Guard was under constant siege by an unknown savage enemy. Sent to establish a fort near the river, they did not expect an attack. Caught unprepared, the Athenians needed Xena, an interloper, to take command.

[25] Stationed at the rear, the soldiers at Rorke's Drift were part of an invasion force. Their senior commanders were overconfident and severely underestimated the Zulu's capacity to wage war. When the impi attacked, the soldiers worked together to survive.


[26] Xena takes command in the middle of a protracted siege. Ignoring the Athenian officers, she barks orders to their soldiers. Because of her formidable reputation, the soldiers concede leadership to her. However, her command comes with a price. Outraged and desperate, she makes the fight her personal vendetta. Moreover, her fixed thinking blinds her to alternative solutions.

[27] Xena yells at Gabrielle, "I'm trying to save our skins. Those things outside will kill us all!" Later she growls at Gabrielle, "Don't you ever question my authority or methods in fronts of my troops. I told you I'd do what ever it takes". Surprised, Gabrielle asks, "Your troops? I don't understand".

[28] Angrily, Xena spits back, "We didn't ask for this. If they want a fight to the death, they're going to get it. What part of that didn't you understand?"

[29] In the British army, Chard and Bromhead were invisible. Chard's fellow officers regarded him as "hopelessly slow and slack". Bromhead's superiors described him as "fearless but hopelessly stupid". Although Chard was nominally in command at Rorke's Drift, he relied on Bromhead. While Chard commanded the defense, Bromhead oversaw the hospital detail.

[30] In Zulu, Chard and Bromhead discuss their predicament. Frightened, Bromhead wishes that he was "just a damned ranker". Chard replies, "But you're not, are you? You are an officer and a gentleman". Bromhead sees Chard worried about commanding. He counsels Chard, "When you take command, you're on your own. First lesson, the General, my Grandfather early taught me".

The Soldiers

Also doubles as Argo wrangler

Frederick Hitch was the only London cab driver to receive the Victoria Cross.

[31] When Xena arrives at the fort, the besieged Athenian Guards are past caring. She shoves a disgruntled soldier against the fort's wall. Looming over him, Xena growls, "Now take this sword, get on that wall, and do your job, 'cause what they might do to you is nothing compared to what I'll do". She turns to Gabrielle, "You can't reason with dead men Gabrielle, and these are as dead as those men on the river bank". The soldier pleads with his commander, "We're gonna die, Mercer. Those things out there will kill us all." Usurping Mercer, Xena spits back, "Do? We're gonna kill 'em all!"

[32] Guarding the rear, the force at Rorke's Drift was not expecting an attack. After hearing news of the Isandlwana massacre, the soldiers of the NNC fled. The remainder then realized what they were facing. Hook later said, "We were pinned like rats in a hole". Chard wrote in his report, "We seemed very few now that all these people had gone".

[33] Accounts of the battle at Rorke's Drift emphasized the soldiers' bravery in the face of impossible odds. Hitch wrote of "doing good service with his rifle". Trooper Harry Lugg (Natal Mounted Police), a patient at the hospital, recounted that "it was some of the best shooting he had ever seen". After the battle, Hook, a teetotaler, poured himself a drink.

The Enemy

Unfortunately, the Horde had a much better union

Zulu warriors after the Battle of Rorke's Drift.

[34] In his interview, Mr. Sears explained that he wanted to explore racism. He purposefully dehumanized the Horde. In THE PRICE (44/220), he introduced the Horde through Xena's memories and through the butchered bodies of the soldiers. Xena wanted all the Horde dead, whereas Gabrielle sought relations with them.

[35] Although they were warned by other Africans, the British had not expected the Zulu to be excellent combatants. The British attitude was summed in "Here they come! Black as hell and as thick as grass!" [Note02]. The massacre at Isandlwana and the near tragedy at Rorke's Drift punctured their sense of superiority. The Zulu War continued for another six months of hard fighting.

Mr. Sears' Explorations

Xena and Chard

[36] The themes in Zulu continue to be a touchstone for Mr. Sears. In several of his Xena: Warrior Princess episodes, he revisits those concepts. For example in A GOOD DAY (73/405), he explores leadership under fire.

[37] Sick from leading the charge against the Roman soldiers, Gabrielle sits down next to Xena. "Everything worked out just like you said. Almost everything. I could've saved him [Phlanagus]. How do I get over that?" Xena replies, "I can't answer that question. Maybe 'cause there's nothing I can say to take away that feeling you have. You want to know that what you did was for all the right reasons, but with that pain in your gut, the best you can come up with is that it was a good day of fighting".

Before the baseball card came out

Early photo of real-life Lt. Bromhead.

[38] Contrast Xena's words with Chard's. After the battle, a tired Chard asks an exhausted Bromhead, "How do you feel?" Bromhead replies, "Sick". Chard retorts, "You have to be alive to feel sick". Bromhead responds, "I feel ashamed. Is that how it was for your first time?" Chard looks to the horizon, "I told you I came up to build a bridge". The two men reach an understanding that Xena and Gabrielle cannot.

Gabrielle And Reynolds

[39] Mr. Sears wanted to include the hospital burning in THE PRICE (44/220) but did not have enough time in his teleplay. If the hospital burned, what would Gabrielle do? Could she choose who to save and who to leave? Mr. Sears revisits this in A GOOD DAY (73/405). Gabrielle tried to save Phlanagus by spearing a Roman. She missed and her friend died. Her conversation with Xena reflected her confusion and guilt.

[40] In her dilemma, Gabrielle resembled Army Surgeon James Reynolds. At Rorke's Drift, Reynolds was responsible for the sick and wounded. During the battle, Reynolds treated the wounded as spears and bullets flew around him. To save a soldier he speared a Zulu. For his bravery, Reynolds received the VC. Perhaps, in future episodes, he could be a model for Gabrielle.

Not One And The Same

Not with peanut clusters

The Victoria Cross.

[41] To translate an actual event into a story, choices need to be made. Each medium has its own virtues and restrictions. Film offers panoramic vistas but limits the story's focus. TV can reach more people but has time limits.

[42] Mr. Sears wrote within the context of an existing TV show, which also limited him in characters. Furthermore, he chose to tell a story of overcoming fear. How does one go beyond the fear to find the humanity? With Xena and Gabrielle on opposing sides, he explored this question within the context of a "last stand" battle.

[43] Moreover, Mr. Sears took his dramatic clues from Zulu, a project of Sir Stanley Baker, a Welsh-born actor. Although, Sir Stanley filmed in Natal with Zulu actors, the movie reflected his sensibilities. As Chard, Sir Stanley was the hero. Bromhead (played by newcomer Michael Caine) was subordinate to Chard. Sir Stanley presented the 24th of Foot as a Welsh unit sprinkled with some English instead of the actual opposite.

[44] THE PRICE (44/220) makes for terrific TV viewing. A fan favorite, the episode highlights the worst and best qualities of Xena and Gabrielle. Xena's ability to take command contrasts with Gabrielle's tolerance. Against the backdrop of a desperate battle, the two learn to resolve their differences.

[45] Rorke's Drift was a story of teamwork under fire. The soldiers of the 24th chose to hold the line instead of fleeing with everyone else. Being so few in number, they worked with their officers to ensure the survival of every one. Their story waits to be told.


Note 01:
Eleven Victoria Crosses were awarded to the following men for their heroism at Rorke's Drift (the most ever for any military engagement). More information on their deeds can be found at 'Victoria Cross Reference'. The South Wales Borderers and Monmouthshire Regimental Museum (http://web.ukonline.co.uk/rrw/index.htm) (Brecon, Wales) has exhibits on the 24th Regiment of Foot's participation in the Zulu War.

Cpl. Allen, William Wilson* (24th): evacuated the burning hospital

Lt. Bromhead, Gonville (24th): commanded holding action

Lt. Chard, John Rouse Merriott (Royal Engineers): commanded holding action

Act. Asst. Commissary Dalton, James Langley* (Commissariat Dept.): superintended the work of defense

Pvt. Hitch, Frederick* (24th): evacuated the burning hospital

Pvt. Hook, Alfred Henry* (24th): evacuated the burning hospital

Pvt. Jones, William (24th): defended the sick in the hospital

Pvt. Jones, Robert* (24th): defended the sick in the hospital

Surgeon Reynolds, James Henry (Army Medical Dept.): attended the wounded under fire

Cpl. Schiess, Ferdnand Christian* (NNC): displayed great gallantry

Pvt. Williams (Fielding), John** (24th): evacuated the burning hospital

* Seriously wounded. ** Killed in action.
Return to article

Note 02:
The quote is from unofficial British Army reports from Rorke's Drift.
Return to article


Battlefields of South Africa.

Edgerton, Robert. Like Lions They Fought. (1988, The Free Press, New York).

Hinde, Robert A., 'The Psychological Bases of War', American Diplomacy, Volume III, No. 2, Spring 1998.

Lock, Ron, 'Death of the Prince Imperial', Military History, Volume 15, No. 3, August 1998.

Morris, Donald, The Washing Of The Spears (1965, Simon and Schuster, New York).

Race, William Watson and Jon Guttman, 'Zulu Mountain Trap Sprung', Military History, Volume 13, No. 2, June 1996.

Rudnick, Bret Ryan, "An Interview with Steven L. Sears", Whoosh!, Issue 22, July 1998.

Victoria Cross Reference.

Whoosh! Episode Guide for THE PRICE.

Young, John, 'Dramatic Zulu Reversal at Khambula', Military History, Volume 14, No. 7, March 1998.

Zulu. Enfield, Cy (director) 1964.


Virginia Carper Virginia Carper
My goal is to be a garden variety human being. My friends know me as a squirrel. I am, however, a card carrying member of the Squirrel Lovers Club, and do squirrel studies. My family watches XWP for the marvelous things Xena does and for Joxer, the warlord with autism.
Favorite episode: BEEN THERE, DONE THAT (48/302)
Favorite line: Joxer to Xena and Gabrielle: "A great many people have become allies because of their hatred of me." Xena and Gabrielle nod 'Yes!' BEEN THERE, DONE THAT(48/302)
First episode seen: WARRIOR PRINCESS (H09/109)
Least favorite episode: Most of the Third Season

Return to Top Return to Index