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The Voortrekkers at the foot of the Drakensberg had no knowledge of the events of 6th February 1838 (Retief's death) but were increasingly concerned when the party did not reappear. Rumours however were coming in of a tragedy.
The settlers in Durban knew of the events before the Voortrekkers and one settler sent to inform them was shot dead mistakenly by a trekker. Another was dispatched from the port on foot but arrived too late.
The Voortrekkers Fail to Protect Themselves
Retief, despite his unfounded optimism had warned the Voortrekkers to stay behind the Bloukrans River and to laager each night - both of which most had failed to do.
A large proportion of their menfolk was with Retief and of the others, some were away either helping other Voortrekkers down the mountains or hunting. Thus it was that on the moonless night of 16th February 1838, mainly women and children occupied the camps.
The Attack Starts
At 1am, the Zulus attacked several camps simultaneously, wiping them out. There was a single young survivor of one of the camps who managed to warn nearby families but they too were overrun.
Camps slightly further away had a few minutes warning and several were able to repulse the warriors. The Zulus had not appreciated the depth of the Trekker encampment and those at the rear were not attacked. These in turn mounted hasty commandos and saved many lives.
The Voortrekkers Lick Their Wounds
By morning, more than 500 dead Voortrekkers were discovered including 56 women and 185 children. Two survivors had 16 and 23 spear wounds respectively. The remaining wagons were summarily pulled back over the river and arranged in a laager.
For the Zulus, the night had been a success for they returned with more than 25,000 head of cattle although they could easily have wiped out all the camps. Dingane was under the impression that the only encampment was that of Retief.