A unique single button found with the skeleton of a British soldier killed by King Cetshwayo’s victorious army at the battle of Isandlwana on January 22, 1879 has led to his positive identification.
“This is a truly remarkable discovery,” said Arthur Konigkramer, chairman of Amafa, the provincial heritage body administering the historic battlefield.
“The button is unique as it belonged to Colour-Sergeant M.C. Keane and he was the only member of the General Staff Corps at Isandlwana. He was staff clerk to Colonel John Crealock, military secretary to Lord Chelmsford, commander of the British invasion of Zululand.”
“If the button had come from the uniform of a soldier of the 24th Regiment, he could never have been identified as hundreds of them died at Isandlwana and are among the 1300 men buried there.”
Konigkramer said Ezemvelo KZN staff, responsible for nature conservation on the site, were digging foundations for guards’ accommodation in April when they found a half-intact skeleton. Amafa archaeologists later unearthed a single button next to the remains.
“We sent a photograph to John Young, a military medal expert in London, who was able to identify it and the soldier who wore it,” said Konigkramer.
“Keane was not a front-line soldier and was likely one of the last to abandon camp at Isandlwana when it was obvious the Zulu were overwhelming it,” he said.
“He was probably on horseback which would explain his body being found some way down the Fugitives’ Trail along which survivors fled towards the uMzinyathi river and the safety of Natal.