South African Military History 

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Our speaker on 14 May 2015 was Rear Admiral JG André Rudman whose topic was the Battle of Saldanha Bay in 1781. Admiral Rudman introduced his illustrated talk with a chart bearing the legend 'here be dragons' and explained that the animals depicted on old charts of Africa, however, included rhinoceroses, elephants and tigers.

He discussed the early mariners who visited the Cape during their explorations. Francois Caron, a Frenchman, in 1666 recommended that the French East India Company use Saldanha Bay as a base and built a fort, bearing his name, there.

Admiral Rudman explained the importance of the spice trade. Spices were used to preserve meat for use during the winter months in Europe. He discussed the pioneering voyages of Bartholemeu Diaz who reached Mossel Bay in 1487 and Vasco da Gama who reached Calicut in India on 16 May 1498. Others followed. The death of the Portuguese Viceroy Francisco de Almeida in a skirmish with the Khoi-Khoi on the shores of Table Bay in 1510 resulted in the Portuguese avoiding the Cape. The Portuguese were followed by other nationalities. Sir Thomas Cavendish and Sir James Lancaster were two explorers, navigators and traders who were the first Englishmen to set foot in the Cape in 1591. The latter commanded the first East India Company voyage to the Indies and established a factory or fort there in 1602. He was a pioneer in the treatment of the scourge of the high seas at the time - scurvy - using lemons and lemon juice.

On 27 March 1620, Captains Fitzherbert and Shilling arrived in Table Bay with three British ships and annexed the Cape. However, King James I decided not to confirm the annexation. This left the door open for the "Here XVII" of the Dutch East India Company to send Jan van Riebeeck to establish a refreshment station at the Cape in 1652.

Admiral Rudman then discussed the general political situation in December 1780. The Dutch were supplying guns to the Americans, whose war of independence was in full swing at the time. The French were also supporting the North American revolutionaries. A world war gradually developed between Britain and its adversaries - France, Spain and the Netherlands. News of the declaration of war on 20 December 1780 only reached the Cape on 31 March 1781 when the French frigate Sylphide brought a dispatch from the Dutch ambassador in Paris. The Cape was virtually defenceless and it was realized that England was keen to capture the colony to secure its sea route to India.

The Stellenbosch militia sent detachments to the Castle for periods of 30 days to assist with the defence of the colony. There were several Dutch merchantmen in Table Bay and, as winter was approaching, it was decided to send four of them to Hout Bay which was defended by a battery armed with 20 guns (the West Fort). Since Hout Bay was too small for more ships, it was decided to send the rest of the ships to Saldanha Bay. So, on 13 May 1781, the Hoogkarspel, Honkoop, Middelburg, Perel, Dankbaarheid and Held Woltemade set sail under command of Gerrit Harmeyer of the Hoogkarspel who was appointed commodore. He was ordered to anchor in a sheltered position and unbend all the sails of the ships and store these in the packet-boats Zon and Snelheid. These were to be sent further up the bay so that they could be destroyed if necessary. The commodore was also ordered to prepare defences using the guns from his ships. He, however, did not heed this instruction and only a solitary 8-pounder was mounted on Marcus Island.

After an anxious seven weeks of wondering what was happening in Europe, the French frigate Serapis arrived in Simon's Bay on 20 May 1781 with the news that a French fleet carrying troops was on its way to the Cape to defend the colony.

When hostilities with the Netherlands became a certainty, the British government started to assemble ships and troops for an expedition to capture the Cape. Full details of these preparations were sent to the French by a spy named De la Motte who was based in London. He was later captured, tried for high treason and sentenced to death. The French fleet was, at the time, about ready to sail for the East and preparations for its departure were speeded up.

The British force of 46 ships sailed from Spithead on 13 March 1781. It consisted of the Romney (50 guns and flagship of Commodore George Johnstone as naval commander), Hero (74 guns), Monmouth (64 guns), Jupiter (50 guns), Isis (50 guns), Apollo (38 guns), Jason (36 guns), Active (32 guns), Diana (28 guns), Infernal (fireship), Terror (bomb vessel), seven light armed cruisers, two cutters and a sloop, four transports, eight storeships/ victuallers and thirteen Indiamen. The army force of 3,000 men was commanded by General Sir William Medows, KB.

When the British fleet reached Santiago in the Cape Verde Islands, it anchored in the bay of Porto Praia to take on fresh water. Major Rooke, who was there, wrote that the Port Book revealed that a French fleet were expected in April but this information was ignored. Many British sailors were ashore and their ships unprepared for battle. The French fleet appeared off Porto Praia on 16 April, and its commander, Acting Commodore André Pierre de Suffern decided to attack immediately as he realized that this was the British force sent to take the Cape of Good Hope.

Despite being taken by surprise, the British ships recovered well and fought back against the attacking French, forcing them to break off the action. Ships on both sides were damaged but the French casualties of 74 dead and 148 wounded were larger than the British casualties of 20 dead and 77 wounded. Commodore Johnstone initially decided to follow the French who were sailing south but, with nightfall approaching and after some delays, he changed his mind and spent some time repairing his ships. Suffern and his force arrived at Simon's Bay first. Johnstone still thought that he would arrive first because he expected Suffern to go to a Brazilian port to repair his ships. He sent the Active on ahead of his force on a reconnaissance mission. The Active encountered the Held Woltemade, which had slipped away from the rest of the Dutch fleet and was heading towards the East, and captured it. On board the Held Woltemade was the daughter of a senior Batavian official as well as a large sum of money intended for Ceylon. Commodore Johnstone was delighted with the capture of the ship, the money and "a most amiable female prisoner"! He now knew that the French force were at the Cape, but decided to go to Saldanha Bay to capture the ships sheltering there.

The Dutch ships' captains had been ordered to prepare their ships for destruction by fire but only the captain of the Middelburg had done so properly. The sails of the ships had been removed and sent away in a small hooker to Schapen Island.

The British fleet sailed inshore the night before the attack and entered Saldanha Bay at 0920 on 21 July against the northwesterly wind. Although the British ships had hoisted the French flag, they had failed to make the secret signal, so the Dutch were not deceived. The British ships now lowered their French flags and hoisted British flags, firing on the Dutch ships. The Dutch ships cut their anchor cables and started fires on board. The British were well-prepared and put fire fighters on board the Dutch ships. These were successful in putting out the fires, except on the Middelburg which was soon burning fiercely. Between decks, cries were heard and a sailor fought his way through the flames and found two British prisoners chained to a ringbolt. He rescued them but was himself badly burnt, losing the use of an arm.

The burning Middelburg threatened the safety of the other ships but was successfully towed away before her powder magazine exploded. As fate would have it, the famous French naturalist, Francois Le Vaillant, was provided passage on the Middelburg, along with his baggage, which largely consisted of his drawings, notes and fauna and flora samples that he had collected on his most recent wanderings in the Cape's hinterland. He had been ashore on a hunting expedition when the Middelburg blew up and he saw his research papers and collection go up in smoke.

The Rattlesnake was sent to find the hooker with the Dutch ship's sails down near Schapen Island. The hooker was captured and the British were fortunate to capture the sails as the hooker's captain had not carried out his orders to burn them. The Dutch sailors had abandoned their ships prior to the arrival of the British and had started the long walk back to Cape Town which they eventually reached safely. Le Vaillant's description of a fleeing Dutch sailor being decapitated by a cannon ball was thought by Admiral Rudman to be a flight of fancy, as he was known for this in describing his observations in nature. While all of this was happening, General Medows decided that the army should play its part and persuaded Commodore Johnstone to let him land his troops. They landed and part of the force pursued the sailors heading back to Cape Town. The other detachment captured the 8-pounder and the small post on the Postberg. This was the extent of the land operations but the army went one further and also claimed a portion of the prize money awarded to the Royal Navy. The matter was decided in court and the Army eventually was granted a small percentage.

Two further hookers were captured but these were left behind as they were used by the colonial government.

When the Dutch ships surrendered, two boats were seen approaching the British ships. These contained the royal heads of the Sultanate of Ternate and the Kingdom of Tidore1 and their families. They were exiled from the Dutch East Indies and held as political prisoners on Robben Island, but had been sent to Saldanha Bay with the Indiamen. They were welcomed by the British who presumably thought they could be useful to Britain in its efforts to expand their Asian interests.

In the meantime word was received that unrest broke out in the State of Mysore in India which put British possessions in the sub-continent under threat. General Medows along with the largest part of his troops, loaded in three of the troop transport ships, immediately set sail for Madras, along with part of Johnstone's squadron as escort.

The Dutch Indiamen were handed over to prize crews and sent to St Helena unescorted. On the way they were struck by a hurricane and only the Hoogkarspel and Perel reached England safely.

Admiral Rudman pointed out that Commodore Johnstone had lost sight of the aim of his expedition - to capture the Cape of Good Hope and garrison it. His greed had sidetracked him into capturing five Dutch merchantmen instead. The loss of these five ships was something the Dutch East India Company could not afford and contributed to the Company's eventual bankruptcy. In conclusion, Admiral Rudman said that the capture of these ships could not be called a battle - it was more along the lines of a skirmish.

Commander Bisset thanked the speaker for his most interesting talk and congratulated him on the excellence of his illustrations and charts before presenting him with the customary gift.

1 Ternate and Tidore are neighbouring islands of a small group of islands known as the Moluccas Islands, or the "Spice Islands" in Eastern Indonesia. Due to their prominent role in the spice trade, control of the "Spice Islands" was seriously contested by the European seafaring powers, namely the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, French and British, in succession.


NEWSLETTER No 431 - May 2015

Our speaker on 9 April 2015 was Dr Dean Allen, whose topic was the role that Matjiesfontein and its famous (or is it notorious) 'Laird', James Logan, played in the South African War of 1899-1902. His topic was "Empire, War and Cricket in South Africa - Logan of Matjiesfontein". His book on the subject (based on his PhD thesis) has now been published by Penguin Random House South Africa and autographed copies of the book, which is profusely illustrated with photographs from the Logan family archives, were on sale after the talk.

Dr Allen introduced his talk with a quotation by Cecil John Rhodes that he had only met two creators in South Africa - himself and James Douglas Logan! He pointed out that James Logan's remarkable career would have received far greater recognition if he had lived in Scotland. He explained that he was encouraged to write his biography by Mr David Rawdon, who was responsible for restoring Matjiesfontein to its former glory and who rewarded Dr Allen with many fine breakfasts at Matjiesfontein while he was working on the project.

James Douglas Logan was born at Reston in Scotland on 26 November 1857, where his father was a North British Railway employee. He joined his father at an early age, working as a clerk at the Reston Station. Here his good work was noted by the Railway's management.

The attraction of the expanding British Empire, which recognized no class distinction other than that of money, proved too great for Logan, who decided to emigrate to Australia. His ship, the Rockhampton, was damaged in a storm and put in to Simon's Bay for repairs on 1 May 1877. Frustrated by this delay, Logan left the ship and went to Cape Town where he joined the Cape Railway Company as a porter at Cape Town Station. Dr Allen pointed out that Logan could not have chosen a better time to come to South Africa. His arrival coincided with the possibilities created by the discovery of diamonds in Kimberley. Within a week, Logan's Scottish Railway experience resulted in his being promoted to the Clerical Department at Salt River Station. More responsibility soon followed. He was appointed Station Master at Cape Town and subsequently, District Superintendent of the railway line between Hex River and Prince Albert. From this unlikely base in the Karoo Logan launched his business, political and cricketing careers. In 1883, after he had retired from the Cape Government Railways, Logan purchased 3 500 morgen of land at Matjiesfontein station between Touws River and Laingsburg. Here he opened a new refreshment room at the station and built a model village with all the trappings of Victorian Britain in the middle of the Karoo. He had found an ample source of water and developed a health resort famed for its dry, healthy and bracing climate, ideally suited for patients suffering from respiratory ailments.

Logan was a master of self-publicity and had the nickname "The Laird of Matjiesfontein". By the 1890's, a stream of distinguished personages were visiting his village. Lord Randolph Churchill (father of Winston) visited Matjiesfontein in June 1891and was followed by the Duke of Hamilton, the Sultan of Zanzibar, Lord Carrington, Admirals Nicholson and Rawson, Sir David Gill and Olive Schreiner, amongst many other distinguished dignitaries.

The facilities at Matjiesfontein included a full-size cricket field and, during the 1890's, Logan hosted many British and South African cricketers there. This earned him much public acclaim. Dr Allen is of the opinion that Logan's greatest contribution was as a benefactor of the game of cricket. Jon Gemmell has written that "cricket's elitist ethos ensured the involvement of men concerned with issues of status and stature. Similar qualities probably enticed the same individuals into politics".

Dr Allen discussed Logan's friendship with another Scot, Sir James Sivewright, the member of the Cape Colonial Government responsible for all contracts relating to the Cape Railway network. Logan persuaded Sivewright that, in the interests of efficiency, all of the railway catering services should be placed under his management. Logan's request was approved but, when details of this became known, the contracts were cancelled and Sivewright and some other cabinet members were excluded from the new cabinet formed by Cecil Rhodes.

Although Logan was praised for his promotion of cricket, he was a litigious person and sued two prominent cricketing personalities, Messrs Ash and Reid, for failing to repay outstanding loans.

Logan was extremely fortunate in his marriage which became a requirement when he was appointed District Manager in the Cape Railways. We were shown photographs of Tweedside, Logan's home at Matjiesfontein, taken before the sale of the treasures he had collected, and of the Lord Milner Hotel. Dr Allen showed us photographs of the British and South African cricket teams which visited Matjiesfontein, including the first South African team to visit England in 1894.

Dr Allen then discussed the impact of the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War in 1899 on Matjiesfontein, which quickly became a major and huge British Army base. Logan was appointed a major in the Matjiesfonten Mounted Rifles (nicknamed "Logan's Horse"). A photograph showed Logan mounted on his horse and others showed members of the unit on sentry duty. Logan watched the battle of Belmont through binoculars, from a safe vantage point while enjoying a picnic lunch. The Glasgow Herald later published a letter in which he praised the courage of the British soldiers who fought in the battle.

Dr Allen described Logan's brief meeting with Major General "Andy" Wauchope CB CMG, whom he described as a jolly nice chap! The general was killed in action at the Battle of Magersfontein and buried at the Modder River Camp. Major Logan had his body exhumed and reburied at Matjiesfontein. Here a splendid monument and tombstone were erected, carved by an Aberdeen stone mason.

During the guerrilla phase of the war, nearby Sutherland was besieged on 7 September 1901. The small garrison refused to surrender to Commandant Louw's commando and the town was relieved on 14 September 1901.

Dr Allen described Logan's centennial cricket tour of England in 1901. The tour was condemned by Dr Arthur Conan-Doyle, who argued that the team members should be fighting the Boers instead of playing cricket. But Murray Bisset, who was chosen to captain the team, wrote in reply that most of the members of the team had in fact served during the War during the second invasion of the Cape and when this had been repelled, everyone thought there would be no more trouble so they joined the team. The Springbok colours chosen for the team were not green and gold but were red, blue and orange - the colours of the Queen's South Africa Medal, for service in the Anglo-Boer War on the British side. Permission to wear these colours was obtained from General Sir Forestier-Walker, GOC Cape Colony and acting Lieutenant-General in command of Lines of Communication, South Africa Field Force, 1899-1901.

Finally Dr Allen showed us photographs of the Hon J D Logan in British Gentlemen's Court Dress at the Coronation of King Edward VII in London in 1902, which he and his wife were commanded to attend by the Earl Marshall. This high honour was related to his political status as a Cabinet Minister in the Parliament of the Cape Colony.

Logan died in 1920 and lies buried in the same cemetery as Gen Andy Wauchope. The cemetery is visible and accessible from the nearby National Road about ten km before Matjiesfontein, when approached from the Cape Town side. The Chairman thanked Dr Allen for his fascinating talk and presented him with the customary gift.



The following new or relocated members are welcomed in our midst: We are looking forward their attendance and in the sharing of our monthly meetings.



Mr Ian van Oordt has been co-opted as additional committee member for the current term of office. We would like to welcome Mr Van Oordt on board and wish to congratulate him on his election as well as thank him for being available to serve the branch in this capacity.

The committee currently is constituted as follows:
Chairman: Mr Johan van den Berg (also editor/compiler of the Cape Town newsletter)
Vice-Chairman: Mr Alan Mountain (heritage matters)
Honorary Secretary: Mr Ray Hattingh (printing and mailing of branch newsletters)
Honorary Treasurer: Mr Robert Buser (also designated Assistant Scribe)
Scribe: Cdr Mac Bisset (also heritage matters)
Ordinary Member(s): Mr Ian van Oordt (communication & marketing)



11 June 2015: THE BATTLE OF WATERLOO AND ITS IMPACT ON EUROPEAN HISTORY by Capt Brian Hoffmann (SAN)(Ret) Capt. Hoffman's lecture will describe as well as analyse the epoch-making Battle of Waterloo which took place on June 18th, 1815. He will not only deal with the battle itself, but also within the wider context, discuss the origins of the battle, as well as the consequences and the impact it had on Europe - as well as globally - after the fall of Napoleon. The lecture will be illustrated.

TUESDAY, 14 July 2015: GUERRILLAS OF TSAVO: WW1 IN BRITISH EAST AFRICA, AUGUST 1914 - MARCH 1916 by Mr James Willson Our speaker is a man of many talents: Battlefield guide, historian, and author, as well as a retired hotelier with wide experience in the Kenyan hospitality and tourism industry. Mr Willson will be on visit to South Africa and has graciously offered to share with the Cape Town Branch of the SAMHS his research and experiences on the WWI campaign in British East Africa. He has over the course of thirty years in some detail researched the East African Campaign within the time-frame of events/operations between 1914 and 1916.

During this period the conflict was not only restricted to Tanganjika (the erstwhile German East Africa, today Tanzania), but also spilled over into the then British colonies of Kenya and Uganda, as well as being invaded overland by Belgian troops stationed in the erstwhile Belgian Congo. His lecture will concentrate on the least recorded period of the campaign and will picture events through narrating the numerous skirmishes along the common German- and British East Africa frontier [BEA]; the build-up of Empire reinforcements following the invasion / occupation of part of the British colony, up to the arrival of the South African Expeditionary Forces under General J C Smuts, who finally freed the BEA of German occupation in March 1916.

This illustrated lecture will show camps, forts and battle sites as they were and are today and which were built to contain the German threat against the Uganda Railway and the port of Mombasa.

Also to be discussed will be: The disastrous seaborne landings and attempted invasion of Tanga by the Indian Expeditionary Forces and the effect it had on the campaign; the skirmish that led to the only VC awarded during the land campaign in BEA; special mention of the British actions against the German sea raider SMS Königsberg (coinciding with the centenary of her destruction in the Rufiji River delta on the 13th July, 1915); the subsequent arrival of the first aircraft to the war zone in BEA, and lastly, the arrival of the South African RFC squadron.

Mr James Willson's years of research culminated in a book of the events described above, appropriately titled Guerrillas of Tsavo: WW1 in British East Africa, August 1914 - March 1916. His book will be on sale at the meeting for R450,00 a copy - offering a discount of R100,00 specially for members on the evening. RRP is R550,00 per copy.



BOB BUSER: Treasurer/Asst. Scribe
Phone: 021-689-1639 (Home)

Phone: 021-592-1279 (Office)

South African Military History Society /