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The Castle of Good Hope known locally as the Castle is a bastion fort built in the 17th century in Cape Town, South Africa. Originally located on the coastline of Table Bay, following land reclamation the fort is now located inland.
In 1936 the Castle was declared a historical monument (now a provincial heritage site) and following restorations in the 1980s it is considered the best preserved example of a Dutch East India Company fort.
Built by the Dutch East India Company between 1666 and 1679, the Castle is the oldest existing building in South Africa. It replaced an older fort called the Fort de Goede Hoop which was constructed from clay and timber and built by Jan van Riebeeck upon his arrival at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652.[page needed] Two redoubts, Redoubt Kyckuit (Lookout) and Redoubt Duijnhoop (Duneheap) were built at the mouth of the Salt River in 1654.
The purpose of the Dutch settlement in the Cape was to act as a replenishment station for ships passing the treacherous coast around the Cape on long voyages between the Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia).
During 1664, tensions between Great Britain and the Netherlands rose amid rumours of war. That same year, Commander Zacharias Wagenaer, successor to Jan van Riebeeck, was instructed by Commissioner Isbrand Goske to build a pentagonal fortress out of stone. The first stone was laid on 2 January 1666. Work was interrupted frequently because the Dutch East India Company was reluctant to spend money on the project. On 26 April 1679, the five bastions were named after the main titles of William III of Orange-Nassau: Leerdam to the west, with Buuren, Katzenellenbogen, Nassau, and Oranje clockwise from it.
In 1682 the gated entry replaced the old entrance, which had faced the sea. A bell tower, situated over the main entrance, was built in 1684—the original bell, the oldest in South Africa, was cast in Amsterdam in 1697 by the East-Frisian bellmaker Claude Fremy, and weighs just over 300 kilograms (660 lb). It was used to announce the time, as well as warning citizens in case of danger, since it could be heard 10 kilometres away. It was also rung to summon residents and soldiers when important announcements needed to be made.
The fortress housed a church, bakery, various workshops, living quarters, shops, and cells, among other facilities. The yellow paint on the walls was originally chosen because it lessened the effect of heat and the sun.
During the Second Boer War (1899–1902), part of the castle was used as a prison, and the former cells remain to this day. Fritz Joubert Duquesne, later known as the man who killed Kitchener and the leader of the Duquesne Spy Ring, was one of its more well-known residents. The walls of the castle were extremely thick, but night after night, Duquesne dug away the cement around the stones with an iron spoon. He nearly escaped one night, but a large stone slipped and pinned him in his tunnel. The next morning, a guard found him unconscious but alive.
In 1936, the Castle was declared an historical monument (from 1969 known as a national monument and since 1 April 2000 a provincial heritage site), the first site in South Africa to be so protected. Extensive restorations were completed during the 1980s making the Castle the best preserved example of a Dutch East India Company fort.
What3words location: guesses.dazed.equipment
Geolocation: -33° 56′ 6.1273″, 18° 28′ 13.8018″
The high ground behind the Castle had always been the weak point in the Cape’s defences. It was the key for any enemy.
The British, following their invasion in 1795, decided to occupy the entire range of heights including the shoulder of Devil’s Peak. General Craig described the area where the King’s Blockhouse is situated as, “this shoulder to the Devil’s Hill is the Key to the Key and should be maintained at every risk.”.
It was subsequently fortified with the erection of the King’s Blockhouse, Queen’s Blockhouse and the Prince of Wales Redoubt. Cannons used at the King’s Blockhouse have been identified as Swedish and were originally brought by the Dutch to the Imhoff Battery at the Castle and later moved by the British to the blockhouse.
Following the first British occupation of the Cape in 1795, the existing Dutch line of defence, known as the French line, was extended by the addition of three blockhouses up the slopes of Devil’s Peak. These included the Queen’s Blockhouse, on the Zonnebloem Estate, the Prince of Wales, above present-day De Waal Drive, and the King’s Blockhouse further up the mountainside.
The first two have since fallen into a state of disrepair but the King’s Blockhouse, a massive stone structure 7m square, located on a prominent point on the Devil’s Peak, was retained in use as a signal station for communication between Table Bay and False Bay.
The line was further strengthened in 1814 when several additional redoubts were built, and at one stage served as the official boundary between Cape Town and the country districts beyond. The King’s Blockhouse was declared a National Monument under old NMC legislation on 4 February 1938.
Het Posthuys is considered of the earliest buildings along the False Bay Coastline and was built in the late 1600’s as a lookout post for enemy ships entering False Bay. Het Posthuys features early photographs of the Muizenberg area and some material on the Battle of Muizenberg.
First recorded on a map in 1687, the actual origins and history of this building are still a subject of debate, but it is thought to be the 2nd oldest building in the Cape after the Castle, and the oldest in False Bay. In addition to it’s role as an outpost and lookout, it was used as a toll-house to levy taxes on farmers passing by to sell their produce to ships in Simon’s Bay. It seems to have a varied career as a police station, stables a naval storage facility, and later an ale and eating house, a brothel and a private residence, until it was restored with funds from the Anglo American Corporation.
Evidence exists that the site occupied by De Posthuys was utilized by Khoisan people. During excavations on site (date unknown) a hearth with shells was uncovered below foundation level of the former 18th century kitchen. This site probably provided for good views over the bay while being a sheltered position. It should come as no surprise that in 1662 when, due to the imminent outbreak of war between the Netherlands and England in 1665 the site was chosen for the erection of a watch post to guard False Bay in case of attack. The building, part of a larger barracks complex, was completed in January of 1663. It is debated whether the structure currently standing is the original structure. A map of 1690 indicates an extant structure on the site.
The buildings on this site remained in military use. During the Battle of Muizenberg in 1795 De Posthuys received a direct hit on its stoep. Adjoining buildings seem to have been destroyed at the same time. The site remained in military use during the First British Occupation as well as during Batavian rule. By 1814 the troops stationed in Muizenberg were removed and De Posthuys occupied by a barracks sergeant in charge of convicts, housed in the adjoining barrack used for road making. By the 1840’s a wooden floor was introduced into the building. It seems that the structure was by then let as summer accommodation for holiday makers. By the mid-1880’s JA Stegmann of Claremont obtained a lease for the property who upgraded it for use as a holiday home, calling it “Stegmanns Rust”.
In 1919 the barracks, by then in ruin, were demolished leaving De Posthuys as the sole remaining survivor of the early military post. This was upgraded in 1922 by the South African Defence Force and used as accommodation until 1929. Some of the alterations carried out at this time (concrete beams in walls) date form this time. In 1929 the structure was sold to a Mr W Leon who made large additions to the structure and in turn sold it to the Anglo American Corporation in 1969. It was recognized as a heritage site n the 1970’s and was let to tenants until restoration commenced in 1979. During archaeological work a two-stuiwer coin, minted in 1680 in Holland and a rare flintlock musket were found, as well as a multitude of other invaluable artefacts. Further restoration was again carried out in 1990
Het Posthuys is well worth a visit for those interested in South Africa’s early colonial history. It is one of the notable structures along Muizenberg’s Historical Mile. Het Posthuys consists of a small stone cottage and outbuildings (once used as stables for horses) – look out for the hitching posts! Het Posthuys means “the Post House” in Dutch.
Due to it’s position and function as a lookout post to warn of military invasion which came to pass with the Battle of Muizenberg (1975) and the first British occupation of the Cape (1795). Het Posthuys is pictured in a painting of the Battle of Muizenberg done shortly after the battle.
The Anglo-American Corporation restored the building in the early 1980s and it was reopened as a museum. This single storeyed stone and thatch dwelling is a restoration based on archaeological investigation to its 17th century appearance. All additions were removed; the thatch roof and brandsolder reinstated, shell lime floors relaid, stone steps rebuilt, and new doors, casement windows and shutters installed.
Het Posthuys features early photographs of the Muizenberg area during the early 1900’s and some material on the Battle of Muizenberg and a diorama. . One of the original floor stones still has a series of boat-shaped grooves caused by an ochre-grinding stone, probably used by the San or Khoi inhabitants of the area.
Since 1906 the Scala Battery atop Red Hill has kept watch over the Naval town of Simons’Town in South Africa. Although this 9.2 Inch breech loading gun was last fired on the 13th of May 1947, she has kept watch over during two world wars and when fired was described as a terrifying sound that could be heard as raw away as Cape Town. #lovecapetown
Above Lower North Battery in Simon’s Town are three more gun emplacements, Upper North, Middle North and Scala batteries. These are collectively known as Scala. I’ve always found these big guns fascinating.
In 1795 The Dutch put up an extremely weak defence against the invasion of the British but since then the guns of Simon’s Town have never fired a shot in anger. Unfortunately most of the guns have fallen into disrepair. More recently the 12-ton, 9-inch RML Gun manufactured in Woolwich mounted at Middle North in 1895 has been restored to working condition and is fired annually during Simon’s Town Navy Week.
South Africa had one of the most extensive coastal defence systems of any of the commonwealth nations, and Cape Town is home to 9 of approximately 27 remaining 9.2 inch guns found around the world (12 can be found in South Africa). Various attempts have been made to restore the rest of the guns at Scala Battery. Work commenced in 1945 for a radar station at Scala Battery. On a recent visit there I was pleased to see that at least the guns had been painted, but much more specialised work is needed in order to preserve them properly. Amscor have successfully restored one of the 9.2 inch guns on Robben Island to firing condition but there is no news as to if it will ever be fired.
The first 9.2 inch gun at Upper North situated on Red Hill used to be open, and years ago we climbed down underneath it into the ammunition bunkers which was fascinating because we didn’t realise just how big the bunkers are underground. Unfortunately due to vandalism all these entrances have had to be sealed so people don’t steal things.
At the top is an old signal cannon pointing towards Cape Point. Old Dutch cannon used to signal Cape Town when ships came into Table Bay.
Kanonkop Hiking trail
Distance – 6,5 km return
Time – 3 hours – 3h30min.
Starting/finishing point – Bufflesfontein Visitor Center car parking
Highlights – an old cannon, fantastic views from Kanonkop peak, blue Disas (in summer)
It’s a nice route with an ascent to the peak and a subsequent descent to the coast. The trail offers great views of the coast and the park. Between mid-January and February you can find blue disa orchids along the route. After descending from Kanonkop you can extend your walk to Venus Pool, a beautiful rocky tidal pool. It’ll add about 2,5 km to the hike.
This hike is a part of the first day route of the Cape of Good Hope trek if you walk the inland route.
The year 1939 was the end of a long and difficult war over the soul of Cape Point, and the start of a long and difficult war over the soul of Europe.
On one side of the dispute at Cape Point was a Johannesburg-based property developer who wanted to buy the largest farm in the area and turn it into a luxury resort. They were opposed by a group of concerned environmentalists and Cape Point residents, who wanted the government to buy the land and declare it a national reserve.
The good guys won. In 1939, the Cape Divisional Council did buy the land with the intention of declaring it a reserve. But in the same year Hitler invaded Poland, sparking the start of World War II.
So in the end the land did not fall into the hands of the greedy property developers; but it did not immediately go to the environmentalists either.
In 1939 Cape Point fell into the hands of the South African military.
The strategic importance of Cape Point is fairly obvious. Before the Suez Canal was built (in 1869), any ship taking the shortest distance between the West and the East would need to pass this tip of the African continent.
But even after the Suez Canal was built, the importance of Cape Point did not diminish. The canal was a vulnerable and limited maritime passage to the East.
Especially in times of war.
Early history – Manhandling cannons
Cape Point’s earliest use by the Dutch East India Company was as a signal point. Ships sailing into Table Bay from the East were heralded by the firing of a series of canons. The first of these was at a lookout point on Kanonkop, so named because an old Dutch canon was discovered there in the years preceding the second World War.
One of the more remarkable signalmen in Cape Point, stationed somewhere on the west coast of the reserve in the 1800s, was said to inhabit his humble lookout in the company of his fertile wife and their nine children. “This must have been the job in the Cape with the best views but the most boring remit,” mused Cape Point documentarian, Michael Fraser. “No wonder he had so many children.”
During the First World War, the Cape Mounted Rifles were stationed at Cape Point, primarily to guard the newly-built second lighthouse. In the years between the World Wars, the promontory was used as a training facility by temporary camps that were erected along the banks of the Klaasjagers River, which marks the northern boundary of the Reserve.
An old photograph captioned “Manhandling a field-gun through the fynbos. SA Permanent Garrison Artillery, Cape of Good Hope, 1928” shows two rows of 15 men dressed in smart, pale uniforms and wearing stiff-peaked army hats.
They are dragging an enormous, polished canon over the sandstone and scrub of the Reserve. Each row of men is pulling a rope attached to the wheel of the cannon. It is backbreaking work. Needless to say, the men are not smiling for the camera.
WWII – Code Name: Blue Gums
“Fortunately,” writes Commander W.M. Bisset of the South African Navy, the second World War proved to be “a great anti-climax because South Africa was spared an attack on her coastal cities and towns by enemy warships and aircraft.”
After much of the newly-proclaimed Cape Point Reserve was cordoned off from the public for exclusive military use, six FOPs (forward observation posts) were built on the promontory.
Their codenames were:
Cobra (at Slangkop)
Bosch (at Olifantsbosch)
Vasco (at Cape Point)
Diaz (overlooking the False Bay on the Point)
Crow (at Scala)
Blue Gums (between Miller’s Point and Smitswinkel Bay).
These were all built and operational by 1942.
The radar stations built into clandestine nooks of the Cape Point cliff face were operated by the Special Signal Services the 61st Coastal Defence Corps – said to be composed almost entirely of women. Their exact location was top secret. Had their existence and location been discovered, enemy bombers would have made sure that the promontory would not have been the same size and shape as it is today.
There are also unconfirmed anecdotes about one man who would join the fishermen in False Bay with a rod and tackle that had been rigged to create an antenna with which he would signal coded messages of military activity to enemy ships.
Decades later, people buying houses in Kalk Bay and Fishoek would find military equipment in dusty cellars that were attributed to spying activity. (There were enough Nazi sympathisers in South Africa at the time to lend these tales some credence – there was a strong public lobby at the time for South Africa to join the war on the side of the Germans!)
In 1947, two SA air force pilots wrote a letter to the War Stores Disposal Board in Pretoria to ask if they could access the Blue Gums FOP. The “small concrete blockhouse, woodshed, water tank and a latrine adjoining it” were overgrown with fynbos and forlorn after several years of neglect.
Nonetheless, the fixer upper had great views, and the pilots promised to give it some carpentry and attention if the army allowed them to use it as a weekend fishing retreat.
Three months later the pilots received a response: no.
But it was certainly worth a try.
Wolf in sheep’s clothing
Perhaps the most enticing military anecdote to do with Cape Point was related by an ex-editor of the Cape Times newspaper, George H. Wilson, in his book Gone Down The Years (1947).
During the First World War, Wilson was a lance-corporal in the Cape Mounted Rifles and in the autumn of 1916 his corps was ordered to take up a position near the old lighthouse at Cape Point.
“The expedition did us all a great deal of good,” wrote Wilson, “and we enjoyed the experience, but there was great wonderment at the time as to why we should suddenly have been ordered to such a remote point, and where any German forces were likely to come from.”
Wilson was a journalist and his instincts led him to uncover the following story:
On 23 July 1916, the lighthouse keepers were startled to discover that a boat had landed on Maclear Beach. They also saw ten men making their way up the steep path from the beach to the lighthouse. The party was being led by two British officers and the men were carrying two large, heavy boxes, which the lighthouse keepers presumed was communications equipment being carried to higher ground.
When they got to the lighthouse the British officers asked to use the phone, and proceeded to speak with the Simonstown Naval Base for about 15 minutes. They then thanked the keepers and made their way back to the boat, with the men lugging the steel boxes back down the hill behind them.
The next day, the lighthouse keepers thought it would be a good idea to report the incident to a routine military patrol of Cape Point. The patrol duly logged the strange landing when they returned to Simonstown. But something was not quite right with the story, and further investigations were made.
The local authorities asked the lighthouse keepers if they noticed anything suspicious about the soldiers they had encountered. The keepers answered that, now that they’d thought about it, while the officers in British uniforms spoke fluent English, the rest of the men remained absolutely silent, even when spoken to. There was also “a suspicious looking craft in the gloom about four miles out to sea.”
It gradually dawned on all involved that this suspicious craft was almost certainly not a British one. In fact, there were no British war ships in Simonstown at all during this time. (The naval base was temporarily run by Britain’s WWI allies, the Japanese.)
The men who accompanied the officers dressed in British uniform did not speak English because they were actually the crew of the SMS Wolf – a famous German merchant raider. We know this because years later the captain of the Wolf, Commander Karl August Nerger, boasted that his activities in False Bay had been “greatly assisted by the searchlights of Simonstown”.
The lighthouse keepers did not recognize the “suspicious vessel” as a German military ship because the Wolf was specifically designed to change her appearance by putting up fake funnels and masts that made her look like a merchant ship. And we can now surmise that the ship’s tactic of changing her costume had also been taken up by her crew.
The heavy boxes carried by the men were probably explosives intended for the radio station at the Slangkop lighthouse. When they realized their mistake, the men rowed back to the Wolf. The lighthouse at Slangkop was never bombed.
We do know that the Wolf was a minelayer that and that she sunk four ships around Cape Town in WWI (but the dates of these sinkings were in 1917 – one year after the events related here).
One thing is for sure: immediately after the incident, Lance-corporal G.W. Wilson’s Cape Mounted Rifles were called to protect the lighthouse from any further Wolf crew in whatever clothing. And they had the time of their lives.
Inspect the old cannon at the top of Slangkop. It has been restored and is now mounted on a specially built wooden base.
East Fort’s vistas remain as they were when the Portuguese navigators, the Dutch, British and French merchant fleets passed Hout Bay on their way to the East.
Many know East Fort – also called “Sluysken” – in Hout Bay as the location of an easy walking trail – or a place to rest while you watch the sun set behind the mountain. What many do not know is that this is one of four forts built in Hout Bay during the 18th century. The others are West Fort, Conway Redoubt and Klein Gibraltar.
The fort lies in ruins now and Historian Dr Dean Allen shared the most magnificent images of East Fort during a recent visit.
Allen says it was originally constructed between 1782 – 1783 by French Pondicherry Regiment who had taken control of the Cape in 1781 from the fourth Anglo-French war.
“After the French Revolution in 1793 the Cape fell back into control of the Dutch. On September 15, 1795 East Fort and Hout Bay saw its first military action when the Dutch in East and West Fort fired their cannons upon the British naval vessel HMS Echo that was approaching the bay.
“Later in the same year when the British took over, they made additions to the site including the block house, barracks and more modern cannons at the time. East Fort wouldn’t be used again for military purposes until the beginning of World War II when an observation post was erected to keep watch for German invaders. East Fort was declared a National Monument in 1936 and received Provincial Heritage Site status in April 2000,” he said.
The British occupation lasted for eight years. However, following the treaty of Amiens in 1803, the Cape was handed back to the Dutch.
“By 1805 the intransigence of the French Republic fuelled the Napoleonic Wars to new heights and a large fleet of British warships was despatched to the Cape. General Sir David Baird in charge of the British forces knew that whilst Hout Bay’s batteries were minimal compared with the Castle of Good Hope fortifications, nevertheless when considered together with the block houses built on the slopes of Table Mountain they could present formidable resistance to an attack from the South, and so the British opted to land their forces at Lospards Bay from where the Battle of Blaauwberg commenced and within a few days the Cape fell to the British once more – this time for over 100 years,” the Portal site reads.
“East Fort is potentially a significant valuable Heritage Tourism Destination attraction,” it added. “It is also a logical “Gateway Point” to Table Mountain National Park (TMNP). Visitors and tourists from Cape Town unknowingly enter the Park as their buses drive to picnic destinations on Chapmans Peak Drive and en route to Cape Point.”
However, a few kilometres south the important tourist route is tolled and for large busses the route is ‘one way’, requiring them to return to Cape Town on the Eastern side of the Peninsula. This denies tourists the opportunity to view spectacular sunsets from the Fort.
East Fort Battery c.1782 is one of four coastal fortifications built and developed in Hout Bay during the period 1781–1806. Hout Bay was seen by the government of the day as the soft-underbelly of Cape Town, exposing it to a possible marine invasion from the South. It was preceded by West Fort, on the western side of the Bay which was established by the Dutch East India Company (DEIC) in 1781 and completed by the French Pondicherry Regiment based in the French Enclave City of the same name approx.50 miles south of Madras.
East Fort was established the following year, also by the Pondicherry Regiment, and consists of a 6.4Ha site which is today bisected by Chapmans Peak Drive, part of our country’s No 1 scenic route. However, little information regarding East Fort’s important role in our country’s history is provided near to or at the site and it remains an enigma to the many passing tourists. The site includes four ruined buildings (most of which could be restored) and a battery of 8 x 18 pdr guns which have been restored, proofed and licensed by the Association and have been ceremonially fired on many special occasions by our Association’s “Gunners”.
On the 15th Sept 1795 the guns were fired in anger foiling the possible entry to the Bay of a squadron of British warships. HMS Echo, a 16 gun ship sloop, entered the Bay and drew fire from both East and West Forts forcing ECHO’s speedy withdrawal. HOUT BAY WON THE DAY! The British squadron sailed on to Table Bay. Late on the same day the Dutch forces capitulated following discussions near Wynberg and the administration of the Cape was handed over to the British Generals.
The British occupation lasted for 8 years but following the Treaty of Amiens in 1803 the Cape was handed back to Holland which had become the Batavian Republic. By 1805 the intransigence of the French Republic fuelled the Napoleonic Wars to new heights and a large fleet of British warships was despatched to the Cape. General Sir David Baird in charge of the British forces knew that whilst Hout Bay’s batteries were minimal compared with the Castle of Good Hope fortifications, nevertheless when considered together with the block houses built on the slopes of Table Mountain they could present formidable resistance to an attack from the South, and so the British opted to land their forces at Lospards Bay from where the Battle of Blaauwberg commenced and within a few days the Cape fell to the British once more – this time for over 100 years.
Importance to the community
East Fort is potentially a significant valuable Heritage Tourism Destination attraction. It is also a logical “Gateway Point” to Table Mountain National Park (TMNP). Visitors and tourists from Cape Town unknowingly enter the Park as their buses drive to picnic destinations on Chapmans Peak Drive and en route to Cape Point. However, a few kilometres South the important tourist route is tolled and for large busses the route is “One Way” requiring them to return to Cape Town on the Eastern side of the Peninsula; consequently they are denied the experience of East Fort’s spectacular sunsets. The development of East Fort as a heritage destination could host guided historic tours, educational facilities, a starting point for scenic walks and become a significant contributor to local tourist businesses to help boost the local economy with employment
Threat to the site (2016)
Unfortunately, the East Fort site is at risk in many respects. Because little or no maintenance is done or protection given to the fabric of the site by the responsible authorities, walls are collapsing, it is subject to vandalism and exposed to fire damage.
The West Fort Battery was originally built to protect Hout Bay and the Cape, from a possible British attack. It was constructed on the western side of the bay. A year later the East Fort Battery was constructed on the bay’s opposite shore.
Initially, West Fort Battery (also known as the Sluysken Battery during Dutch rule) was a simple static gun emplacement, which was improved in 1793 when a British invasion was thought to be imminent.
West Fort Battery was first armed with eight 24-pounder Dutch guns. These were later replaced with eight 18-pounder guns. Today, remains of the West Fort can be found behind the fish factories on the far side of Hout Bay harbour. Some cannons have been placed at the site.
Virtually invisible from the sea, Cape Town’s network of 9.2” guns were a great deterrent and according to Gen Graham Moodie, who was in charge of the guns during WWII, they may well have prevented a Japanese attack on Cape Town, an event that would have changed the balance of power in the Indian Ocean much to the disadvantage of the Allies.
Hout Bay’s Apostle Battery is a reminder that until the late 1950s the Cape Sea Route was considered one of the most pivotal strategic points on earth. In total there were nine 9.2″ guns in three batteries located at Robben Island (Subsequently called the De Waal Battery), Hout Bay (The Apostle Battery) and Simons Town (The Scala Battery).
Each battery had three guns and were connected via a telemetry network to track ships around the Cape their principal mission being to defend Cape Town from enemy attack. Together with the two other batteries they were a very formidable and successful deterrent. Coastal defence batteries like those of the Peninsula will never again be built as they could be taken out’ by the first enemy missile strike. Today, SA’s Modern G6 self propelled gun can evade missiles by their unpredictable location i.e. not being tied to a fixed gun platform.
Hout Bay’s Mk 9 guns were the very last to be developed and were fully armoured against aircraft attack. The picture opposite shows the protected rear of one of the guns below which is the “Ready Magazine”. The main magazine was well below ground. The steps leading to the external gun platform gives one an impression of the scale.
A complete gun was estimated to weigh 400 tons. Sadly although the guns are located in the TM National Park they have not been secured and have suffered millions of Rands worth of damage by copper and brass thieves, an absolute tragedy. Similarly, Simon’s Town’s guns at the Scala Battery have also suffered and to a lesser extent those on Robben Island. However, following a request from UNESCO, who administer the World Heritage Site accreditation conditions the Robben Island Museum was requested to refurbish the Island’s 9.2″ battery to fulfil their mandate for WHS accreditation and the Dept of Public Works recently spent R12M on the refurbishment of the guns.
All three guns have been refurbished and one of the guns is now believed to be in “working” condition. The tragedy is that there is no confirmed plan at this stage for them to be shown to the public and the cost of refurbishment will be a drain on public funds indefinitely. We believe that the Apostle Battery is potentially by far the most suitable for tourism development. It is easily accessible from Cape Town on a declared scenic route. It has many building that could easily be converted to accommodate visitors as part of a military Heritage Trail stretching from Robben Island to Simon’s Town. The Trail would effectively link two World Heritage Sites which include historic layered military sites dating from 1725 to World War II.
The layers would be Early Dutch ( Castle of Good Hope), French period 1781-3, First British
Occupation 1795, Batavian Republic Administration (Napoleonic period), Second British Occupation 1806, Victorian 1850-1905, and WWII. This is probably one of the most comprehensive arrays of historic military heritage sites anywhere in the World.
This 28 ton 9.2′ gun barrel delivered a 170kg explosive shell to a target almost 30km away. At its optimal elevation, a shell would be in the air for around 5 minutes! The gun barrels date to around 1902 and were probably salvaged from Britain’s obsolete battleships before being installed on the most modern mountings circa 1942.
The cannons were installed on Kloof Nek by the Dutch East India Company in 1782. Their purpose was to defend the settlement near the Castle from attack by a force which could land on Camps Bay beach. The guns could control the wagon track which led from Camps Bay to the Castle via Kloof Nek. The accompanying plaque states that “The guns were manually recovered from the gorge below by naval officers under training acting in support of the Durr Estates Gun Recovery Programme.”
In 1998 two Dutch cannons were returned to a position above Kloof Nek, overlooking Camps Bay The history of these two goes back to the late 18th century and were recovered from a gorge in Kloof Nek covered with the debris of time. They were also part of the signalling system against possible invasion, particularly by the British.
Probably the most famous cannon of them all!
The Noon Gun has been a historic time signal in Cape Town, South Africa since 1806. It consists of a pair of black powder Dutch naval guns, fired alternatingly with one serving as a backup. The guns are situated on Signal Hill, close to the centre of the city.
The settlement at the Cape of Good Hope was founded by the Dutch in 1652 and the signal guns were originally part of the regular artillery at the Imhoff Battery at the Castle in Cape Town.
The guns, which are still in use today, are 18 Pounder Smooth Bore Muzzle Loading Guns, and were designed by captain Thomas Blomfield in 1786. They were cast by Walker & Co. in early 1794, and proof fired at Woolwich in June 1794. After this type of gun was adopted by the Royal Navy as their standard naval gun, the Noon Guns were brought to Cape Town during the 1795 occupation.
In 1795 during the Napoleonic Wars, Britain took the Cape Colony from the Dutch East India Company ((De) Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC) in Dutch). The VOC transferred its territories and claims to the Batavian Republic in 1798 and ceased to exist in 1799. The British handed the Cape Colony back to the Batavian Republic in 1803. However, in 1806 the Cape was occupied again by the British after the Battle of Blaauwberg. Thereafter the British controlled the Cape continuously until it became a part of the independent Union of South Africa in 1910. Shortly after the English took over, the two Dutch guns were removed from the Imoff Battery and redeployed in town as signal guns, and the Castle received the latest English 18-pounders. Because the very loud report of the cannons upset residents nearby, the guns were eventually moved to the somewhat more remote Lion Battery on Signal Hill at 33°54′54.6″S 18°24′41.85″ECoordinates: 33°54′54.6″S 18°24′41.85″E. The first signal fired from there was on 4 August 1902.
Sailing ships were slow by modern standards and could not store fresh food for long periods, so the provisioning of vessels was one of the major commercial functions at Cape Town in those olden days. The noon Gun in Cape Town can be heard as far as the Parow area if listening closely; Indeed, the city was widely renowned as “The Tavern of the Seas”.
There were no telephones or telegraphs before the latter half of the 19th century and the sound of the guns travelled much faster than a dispatch rider on a horse. The guns were therefore originally used to announce the arrival of a ship, perhaps requiring provisions for the next leg of its journey, to residents living in the interior. As more modern means of communications and transportation became available, Cape Town discontinued the use of the guns to announce that a ship was in port.
The original guns – 18-pounder, smoothbore muzzle-loaders – are still in use today. The ritual represents one of Cape Town’s oldest living traditions. These are the oldest guns in daily use in the world. They fire every day at 12 noon sharp, except Sundays and public holidays and are maintained by the South African Navy.
In addition to the aforementioned port hailing duties, the guns have had the task of firing a time signal since 1806. According to local tradition, the initial purpose of the gun was to allow ships in port to check the accuracy of their marine chronometers (a precision instrument used aboard ships to help calculate longitude). The gun report might be too inaccurate for ships several kilometers away if they did not correctly compensate for the relatively slow speed of sound. For this reason, ships marked their time by the puff of smoke rather than the sound, and this is one reason the guns are sited high above Cape Town Harbour.
The invention of the more accurate time ball in 1818 soon made time guns redundant for mariners wishing to set their chronometers. The time ball on Signal Hill was used to relay time from the Cape Town Observatory, whose time ball was not visible from all parts of the bay. At precisely 1:30pm Cape Mean Time the ball would be dropped at the Observatory – an observer on Signal Hill would then drop that more prominent ball too. When setting their chronometers, mariners adjusted their observation of the time ball on Signal Hill by a second to allow for the relay from the observatory.
After the advent of the galvanic telegraph, it became possible to electrically trigger a gun remotely, and since 1864 the Noon Gun has been fired directly from the master clock of the oldest timekeeper in the country, the South African Astronomical Observatory. A South African Navy duty officer is present to ensure both guns are charged, explain the Noon Gun to any onlookers, and manually fire the backup gun in case of some failure with the active gun.
There have been few remarkable incidents involving the guns over the centuries. Perhaps the most notable one occurred many decades ago, in the days when horse-drawn traffic was commonplace. The rammer used to tamp the charge into the muzzle was inadvertently left in the bore of the cannon, and when the gun fired the rammer flew down into the city and killed a horse.
One day in June 1895, the gun fired at 10:30 rather than 12:00 when a spider interfered with the relay used to remotely fire the gun.
On Friday 7 January 2005, both the main gun and backup gun failed to fire owing to a technical difficulty. This was the first time in 200 years that the noon gun had not fired as scheduled.
On the 9th of April 2013, a Twitter account was created for the Noon Gun that sends a single message reading “BANG!” everyday (except Sundays and public holidays).
On the 4th of December 2020 both the main and backup guns fired in quick succession.
The Chavonnes Battery was a fortification protecting Cape Town, South Africa, built in the early 18th century. It is now a museum and function venue.
The battery was one of the coastal fortifications of the Cape Peninsula linked to the Castle of Good Hope. It was built in 1714–1725 by the Dutch East India Company, and named after its originator, Maurits Pasques de Chavonnes, who was the governor of the Cape Colony.
The battery was built in a “U” shape with a stone wall built on a rocky outcrop on the Western flank at the water’s edge. It had 16 mounted guns with an arc of fire of nearly 180 degrees.The battery also served as a prison and a quarantine and convalescent wing of the old Somerset Hospital.
It was used to protect the bay and town until 1861 when construction work started on the Alfred basin and some of the stone and rubble from the site was used to create a breakwater. Further damage occurred when coal bunkers and later a fish factory were built over the site.
In the 1990s, during the development of the Clock Tower Precinct at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront and the construction of an office building for the BoE Stockbrokers group and Nedbank much of the battery was excavated by archaeologists from the University of Cape Town, and has now been opened as a visitor attraction that includes a museum, hosts contemporary art exhibitions, offers guided tours, venue hire and cannon firing.
The museum includes the excavated walls, well and other components of part of the battery, with displays on cannons and the equipment needed to maintain and fire them and information boards related to the history of Cape Town.