Blood River Canon

A Copper Canon that helped shape Voortrekker history

Andries Pretorius bought a small canon for 500 Rijksdaalders from a merchant ship in the Cape. Called Weeskind it was destined to play a pivotal role in Voortrekker history.

In 1837 Voortrekkers negotiated land from the Zulu King Dingaan in Natal. However, Dingaan had the delegation killed on 6 February 1838. Among those who died was Voortrekker leader Piet Retief.

This incident left the Voortrekkers devastated and without a leader. They wrote to Pretorius, seeking his assistance, and on 22 November 1838 the dynamic Pretorius arrived at the Voortrekker lager on the Klein Tugela River (near the present Colenso). He immediately took control and assembled a commando of fighting men.

Pretorius knew that the Zulu Impis were a formidable force and on 15 December 1838, after spotting the advancing army, he set up his commando’s lager between the Ncome river and a donga to shield his small band from the pending Zulu attack.

The next day at dawn between 10 000 and 15 000 Zulus attacked the lager where 464 Voortrekker men and 200 servants were waiting. Miraculously the Voortrekkers were able to repel wave after wave of attackers.

In addition to their voorlaaiers the Voortrekkers also had two small canons, one named Grietjie and, of course, Pretorius’ Weeskind. During the battle Pretorius became aware that the main Zulu force was stationed on the opposite riverbank, 1.5 to 2.5 km away. He instructed that his canon be loaded with a double load of black powder and elevated on stones to give striking distance. The shot had the desired effect, but the double load caused the canon to flip over backwards. By then the battle was so fierce that there was no time to get the small canon back into action.

The significance of the single shot only became clear much later, when it was realized that nine of the thirty Zulu generals were hit.

By the afternoon the battle was over, and the Ncome river had turned red with blood spilled during the battle.

For the 2020 commemoration of the battle of Blood River a replica of the famous ‘Grietjie’ canon was made available by the ZAR Gunners Association to fire a shot on the historical site.

As part of the process to commemorate these historic events the ZAR Gunners Association was establish in 2012. One of their aims is to restore old historic canons and recently the association also acquired the skills to cast replicas of canons.

This year the aim is to manufacture a replica of Weeskind, and those willing to help can donate money to complete the historical project.  For this a trust find was started by the Voortrekker Monument.

Donations can be made to:
Account name: Die Voortrekker Monument Natuurreservaat
Bank : ABSA
Account No : 307 433 8177
Branch code: 632 005
Reference : BR Weeskind