Isaacs, Nathaniel

views updated


ISAACS, NATHANIEL (1808–1872), South African trader and explorer, regarded as one of the founders of Natal. He left a record of his visits to the kraal of the Zulu kings, Chaka and Dingaan, Travels and Adventures in Eastern Africa, 1–2 (1836), which is an important contemporary account of Zulu life and customs. Isaacs was a nephew of Saul Solomon, merchant of St. Helena, and was sent from England at the age of 14 to join his uncle's countinghouse. In 1825, befriended by J.S. King, commander of the brig Mary, he accompanied him to Port Natal, and decided to explore the interior. His party reached the royal kraal of Chaka 130 miles inland, and was received by the monarch, who already knew King. Isaacs observed tribal life at close quarters and was later able to describe the tyrannical rule of Chaka with much horrifying detail. He traded in ivory and accompanied the Zulus in an expedition against a Swazi tribe (in which he was wounded) and was given the name "Tamboosa" (Brave Warrior). He was granted a concession of land at what is now Durban, which he surrendered to H.F. Fynn, another Natal pioneer. Much of our knowledge of Chaka Zulu derives from him.

After Chaka's assassination by Dingaan, Isaacs vainly urged upon the Cape Government the advisability of colonizing Natal. He was then only 20, and he spent two more years in Natal where he trained the Zulus in cultivation and cattle raising. In 1831 he returned to England, still hoping Natal would be declared a colony, but received no encouragement. Natal was annexed by the British in 1843, but by then Isaacs was in West Africa, trading in Sierra Leone.


H.G. Mackeurton, The Cradle Days of Natal (1930), 125ff.; L. Hermann, A History of the Jews in South Africa (1935), 79–82. add. bibliography: M. Jolles, Samuel Isaac, Saul Isaac and Nathaniel Isaacs (1998).