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Nathaniel Isaacs - Jewish Explorer

Explorer and soldier in Africa's Zulu region who became intimately acquainted with Shaka, the Zulu Chief

Born: 1808 - Canterbury, England
Died: 1872 - Egremont, Cumbria

Nathaniel Isaacs was an adventurer and author born to a Jewish family in Canterbury in the early 19th Century. After his father died in 1822, he was sent to live with his uncle, who was a consul for both France and Holland, on the remote island of St. Helena.

In 1825, at the age of 15, Isaacs accompanied Lieutenant James Saunder King on an expedition to Cape Hope and then to Natal, South Africa, to retrieve two of King's comrades, Lieutenant Francis Farewell and Francis Fynn the Physician, as well as for commercial purposes. The Mary, the ship they were sailing on, wrecked near Natal, after which Issacs spent the next several years exploring the Zulu and Fumos regions.

Subsequently, Isaacs became acquainted with the famous Zulu chief, Shaka, who took both men under his protection. King soon died of disease, and Isaacs was wounded while fighting for Shaka against neighboring tribes. During this time, some sources contend that Isaacs fathered illegitimate children, and was involved in slave and gun trading.

According to Isaacs, in his Travels and Adventures in Eastern Africa, published in 1836, he witnessed much bloodshed and ferociousness at the hands of Shaka. One such story told of how every morning Shaka would bathe and then rub his body with raw meat. There was also an account of his murder of thousands people for not showing sufficient grief at the death of his mother,

For his services to Shaka, Isaacs was given hundreds of miles of inland country and 5 miles of seacoast in the Natal area. In fact, he was even crowned Chief of Natal.

After Shaka was assassinated, and replaced by Chief Dingale, relations soured between the Zulus and white settlers. After a group of settlers was massacred by Dingale, Isaacs left the region, never to return.

See also: Gaspar da Gama, Luis de Torres

Interesting Facts
  • Many believe that Isaac's descriptions of the blood thirsty and cruel nature of Shaka were concocted by Isaacs in an effort to increase book sales.
  • Isaacs was a fluent Zulu speaker.
Further Reading
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