Nathaniel Isaacs was born in Canterbury in 1808 of a Jewish family of Kent. His farther died went the boy was very young. His mother sent him to St Helena to stay with her brother Saul Solomon at the tender age of fourteen. Mr Solomon was a merchant at Jamestown on St Helena. In 1825 the brig Mary, commanded by Lt King of the Royal Navy, arrived in St Helena with goods consigned to Solomon. Here he met the seventeen old ‘lively youth’ Nathaniel Isaacs who convinced his uncle to join King on his onward voyage to the Cape. They arrived in Cape Town in the beginning of August 1825 and then went to Port Natal for the first time.

Chart of Port Natal 1822 by Lt King

Isaac’s journal is one of the first reports of a European on Natal and the kingdom of the Zulus. The first volume of Travels and Adventures in Eastern Africa (VRS Vol I-16) covers the period from 1825 to 1828 and gives the reader a detailed description of Shaka, his society and culture.

In this publication, Isaacs describes his second journey to, and stay in, Natal from 1830 until 1832.

After his return to St Helena in 1828 he was staying with friends on the island and become acquainted with an American, Captain Page, who was on his way to Natal. Page, being anxious to avail himself of Isaacs’s knowledge of Natal and its people, made him a very attractive offer to accompany him in the capacity of “supercargo” – managing the cargo owner’s trade, selling the merchandise in ports to which the vessel was sailing. They left St Helena in mid February 1830 and sailed directly to Port Natal where they arrived on 31 March and Isaacs was given a hearty welcome by his old friends. During this second visit, Dingaan reigned as King of the Zulus and Isaacs reports on the early white settlement and, in great detail, on the customs and culture of the Zulu nation. He also visited other East African countries and islands, and visited Cape Town where he tried to convince the Cape Government to colonise Natal, before he returned to St Helena, arriving there at the beginning of March 1832.

Zulu prophetess


[…] instructed in the use of fire-arms, hit the target at a distance of sixty paces, nine times out of ten. I attributed their success to the quick sight and strong nerve they have, which is peculiar to the blacks in almost all parts of the African continent.
5th.- My co-partner Mr. Fynn set off this morning, accompanied by a body of armed natives, with a quantity of goods to barter with the Botwas, who had arrived at the river Umcamas expressly to meet him, and had invited him thither.

In the afternoon we had a grand display of a marriage festival or ceremony, at which had congregated an innumerable body of natives of either sex, and of all ages. It commenced by the bride exhibiting herself, attended by a numerous train of females dancing up and down the kraal. She was attired in a short habiliment reaching from the waist to the knee. Her hair was decorated with feathers in imitation of a coronet. Her skin shone with brilliant lustre from having been greasefully prepared for the purpose. On her sable breast, she had hung, in rows tastefully arranged, beads of various hues to adorn a bust of more than graceful shape and symmetry. From her neck she had suspended a selalo, or ornament, forming a cross,

That Jews might kiss, and infidels adore.

There was, altogether, something so engaging in the bride, that she seemed like a black fairy, or something superhuman. Though black she was lovely, and though of a savage race she was as meek, gentle, and tender, as any reasonable savage could desire. Had she but been attired in costume of our European beauties,

she might have been thought elegant, though it could not be said that

Angels were painted fair to look like her.

The old females who had assembled sang their croaking strains, in admiration of her grace and attitudes during her dancing.

After this preparatory ceremony, the bride approached carelessly the feet of the anxious bridegroom, to whom she threw, with great nonchalance, a few  strings  of  beads,  and,  with  graceful  indifference,  danced   away to the middle of the kraal, when her attendants dis­tributed a few beads to all the friends of the happy husband; the old females made congratulatory speeches, and, with occasional significant glances towards a  fat cow that was near, intended for the wedding repast, indicated that their minds were more occupied about the beast than the bride, and that they anticipated  more solid pleasure from the cow than from the bridegroom. The cow was then killed; the bride and her female friends, with great formality, approached the bleeding animal which  they  touched  and  retired.  The  mother, or queen of the kraal, now concluded the marriage ceremony by placing a piece of cloth on her breast, indicating that the matrimonial ties were designed to cover all their youthful follies, and that  they had to enter into a state of indissoluble friendship, which could not be cut asunder as the cloth could be rent. The bride and her friends now divided the flesh of the cow, which was soon consumed,  and as it is not the custom of the Zoolas to cohabit on the bridal-night, the bride passed the evening with her female friends in singing and dancing; while the bridegroom, somewhat sullen, entertained his male friends, of whom I was considered one […]


Dr Louis Herrman