Back to the archives! I’ve just come across this tract I wrote back in 2012 on the occasion of the reunion of the Dunn family in that year. My grandmother Elizabeth Nunn, was a daughter of this illustrious and controversial ancestor. John Dunn, secretary and diplomatic adviser to Cetshwayo, King of Zululand (1873-1879); labour recruiter and Protector of Immigrants in Zululand for the Natal colonial government; political and military intelligence officer under Lord Chelmsford in the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879; principle political adviser to Sir Garnet Wolseley on the post-war settlement, and chief of the largest and wealthiest of the thirteen districts carved of the subjugated Zulu kingdom. Having married 49 wives and sired 120 children, the gathering was large indeed!

Dunns Unite 2012 – John Dunn’s Descendants Reunion

On 2 December 1856 on the north bank of the Lower Tugela river, one of the largest military battles ever to take place on South African soil happened. This battle, the ‘Second Battle of Ndondakusuka’, between two of King Mpande’s sons, Prince Mbuyazi, the favoured heir to the throne and his adherents, the Gqoza, and Prince Cetshwayo, contender for the throne and his Usuthu, resulted in the deaths of Mbuyazi and five other sons of Mpande, as well as an estimated ten to fifteen thousand of his followers, women and children included, in a single day. John Dunn, who loyally fought on the side of Mbuyazi, along with a contingent of about fifty of his men, narrowly escaped with his life.


Thus began John Dunn’s long involvement in the affairs of the region. Viewed by many during his lifetime and up to today as a traitor to Cetshwayo, he in fact had demonstrated his loyalty to King Mpande who saw Mbuyazi as his successor. Prince Mbuyazi was thus deposed in a military coup and Cetshwayo went on to be King, and meet his fate as the last king of an independent Zulu nation.


John Dunn was born in 1834 in South Africa, either in Port Elizabeth, (or Algoa Bay as it was known then) or in Port Natal (modern day Durban). His parents were 1820 settlers and his father, Robert Dunn a hunter-trader was on the first shipload of European married civilians to settle in Port Natal in 1834, preceding the colonists. I would like to believe that realizing that the 1820 settlers had been sent by their own government into a war zone, reason prevailed and they decamped to settle in a friendlier zone, amongst the Zulu.


John’s father, Robert died in 1847 when trampled to death by an elephant and the fortunes of the Dunn family declined rapidly. John’s mother Anne Dunn neé Biggar and his three sisters returned to Port Elizabeth and John elected to remain in Natal. After being shortchanged by an unscrupulous businessman for a service he had provided, he ‘renounced civilization’ and left for the frontier lands on the border between Natal and Zululand.


It was during his tenure as administrative assistant to border agent captain Joshua Walmsley that he engaged in the sortie in the second battle of Ndondakusuka. In an about turn he then went on to become an advisor to Cetshyawo, who apparently recognized his prowess as a warrior as well as a diplomat.


It was his involvement in the affairs of the Zulu nation, which saw him rise to the status of a chief long before the overthrow of the independent Zulu nation by the British in 1879. First under King Mpande, and then as advisor and confidant to King Cetshwayo, John Dunn’s influence in the region grew, and he accumulated the land, livestock and wives which cemented his relationship with the very many influential clans which would ensure his status as a great man in the Zulu constellation of power. Before the war of 1879 Dunn had been bequeathed two tracts of land by Mpande and Cetshwayo, one extending from the Tugela to the Amatikulu River and the second was known as the Ongoye Mountain or forest.


Chief amongst those that Dunn associated with was Royal Prince Dabulamanzi based at Entumeni.


The destruction of the independent Zulu Kingdom by the British Empire was to complicate Dunn’s life. He had for years advised Cetshwayo to avoid war with the British. Dunn was embroiled in this war when he was also served with an ultimatum at the same time the British served the Zulu’s with an ultimatum, which led to the war. Dunn was told that he in no way could remain neutral, that to do so would expose him as being partial to the Zulu’s and he would be dealt with accordingly when they were defeated. Placed in this predicament, he went on to serve as commandant under Lord Chelmsford, Sir Garnet Joseph Wolseley and Theopholos Shepstone amongst the many other prominent colonial figures he interacted with in his chequered career throughout his life.


Dunn, who was a humanist, had accumulated at least 3,000 subjects and considerable property, which he chose to protect. It was this decision, coupled with the fact that he had witnessed the ability of political decisions to result in people’s deaths that caused him to always favour peace. In any case, on being forced into siding with the British, he did so on several conditions, every one of which was broken by the British.


Dunn’s descendant’s, many of whom live in the little land left to them after his death, and many other’s who live throughout the country and indeed the diasporas, ask for little, but that they may finally be accepted unreservedly as the South Africans they are. This gathering on the 15th & 16th of December 2012, a national day of reconciliation, is one such expression of this desire. It will allow this large and disparate family to reconnect and is done in the spirit of our legendary ancestor, who embraced change, diversity and challenged the narrow stereotypes of his European ancestry by integrating with the Zulu people. Dunn descendants take pride in the legacy we have been left, and are determined to continue in this spirit and be a part and a force for unity in our diversity in South Africa.


The event will take place at the Mangete Primary School on the 15th
& 16th of December. All John Dunn’s descendants and interested parties are invited to join us at this exciting event. Entrance is R50 at the gate. Tshirts and illooms (Led Balloons) are also on sale.


An inter-active overview presentation of John Dunn’s history and his descendants will be presented by Cedric Nunn at 3pm on the 15th.


We are calling all John Dunn’s grandchildren to be present where we will have a photo session. These pictures will be published in the Dunns Unite 2012 Book of Memories.


There will be a guided tour of the John Dunn tourist attractions which departs at 8am on the 15th from the Total garage. Interested parties are to meet at the garage in Mandini where you will travel in convoy. You will be taken to John Dunn’s grave in Emoyeni, then to Ngoya where his first home is, and on to Eshowe Museum where some of John Dunn’s artifacts are kept. Thereafter you will be taken to the Mangete Primary School where the event will officially open at 12h00.


Some will experience their first taste of umqomboti (traditional Zulu beer) as well as tripe and mathumbus served with phutu. For the less adventurous please bring your own meat & refreshments. Lit braai fires will be provided for your use.

There will also be jumping castles & water slides for the kiddies.

We will also play games the old school way and teach our children how we had fun. Lots of prizes, lucky draws & raffles.


A balloon ceremony will be held in honour of our loved ones we’ve lost along the way.


A live band and DJ will keep you entertained all night. For the brave & talented we will have a karaoke session. So tune up those vocal chords.


On Sunday the 16th we will take a ride to Tugela Beach (our virgin beach) where we will have a wors braai and just enjoy each other’s company and new found friendships. And play games, go for walks, etc.


So bring your tents, sleeping bags & camping gear, picnic baskets, meat, cooler boxes, and get to know who your awesome family is and get familiar with your roots. This is guaranteed to be an experience not to be missed.


For further information and to book your ticket call Zelda Smith on:- 078 5656 585


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