South African Military History 


Newsletter No. 16 - January 2006.
Nuusbrief 16 - Januarie 2006.

The December meeting took the form of an excursion to Grahamstown on Saturday 10th December. The day was organized by Pat Irwin and his fellow members resident in The Settler City. We were joined by a large contingent from the Grahamstown Historical Society and a head count, including our own members resident outside Port Elizabeth, was put at about fifty persons. The weather was good to us and hats were the order of the day.

We met at Fort Selwyn, which overlooks the City and lies adjacent to The Settler Monument complex. The fort is in a good state of repair and has never fired a shot in anger from its fortifications. Pat Irwin dealt with the history of the fort since inception, its use as a signal point in the times of The Frontier Wars and on the background to the cannon that are still in place. In brief the fort was built in 1835 on a proposal by Sir Benjamin D'Urban and the design and construction was left to Major Charles Selwyn. At the outset the fort had two cannon cast circa 1800 in Scotland, there were officers' quarters, barrack room, cookhouse and the powder magazine. The method of signaling in use was the so-called Semaphore system which operated by means of indicators attached to a mast. The fort was declared a national monument in 1936 and restored by the Provincial Administration in the early 1970's.

The gathering next moved to the Botany Dept. of Rhodes University which was in previous times the Military Hospital. We met in the present Lecture Theatre where we were taken through various scenes of Grahamstown circa 1820/30 by Etienne Nel and Hugo Nel, both of Rhodes Staff. They have an intimate knowledge on all the old military buildings found on Campus, their origins and also their architecture and which have remained in use to this day. Rhodes is situated on the site of the old Drostdy and this area retained the core of the military buildings of earlier years. Also situated in close proximity were buildings occupied by the Cape Corps, the Royal Engineers and further out the now Fort England complex known then as the East Barracks. The present English Dept. once housed the Royal Artillery and whose architecture has been saved, as has the imposing Selwyn Castle. This building built by Major Selwyn has parapets and was used as a gentleman's residence to accommodate Sir Andries Stockenstroom and had been occupied by him since 1836. To thousands of one time Rhodes students it will be remembered as "The Kaif" and the gathering place on campus! It is thought that the Royal Engineers Barracks may be the oldest complex in the City - it is the present day Dept. of Fishing Studies. The imposing Drosdty Gate at the entrance to the campus was described and the old Provost, used as a jail, was visited. The building is semi circular in construction and thus allows the prisoners to be observed by the guards without being aware of it. At the conclusion of this walking tour and lecture by Etienne and Hugo they were sincerely thanked by Richard Tomlinson who in his appreciation strongly urged that what had been seen, heard, and described should indeed be recorded and published in the Society's annual publication.

Members spread themselves out on the lawns of the Botanical Gardens and enjoyed a picnic lunch. It is pleasing to note that these one time well kept gardens have been handed over to Rhodes by the Municipality. It is the intention that they be restored to their former glory and to be made into a safe and quiet area on campus. In the gardens lie a few very old graves dating back to the City's earliest times and these, is the intention, will be incorporated into any future development.

After lunch the party assembled at the Botany Dept and were presented with a digital type display on the Battle of Grahamstown which has been devised by Peter Gess. It was an entruiging scenario from which one could formulate a number of what if situations on the Battle itself and what could have happened, for instance, had not a party of so called buffalo hunters under one called Boesak not arrived late on the afternoon of conflict to lend a hand to the embattled garrison. Where were they from and were they not perhaps rallied earlier that morning by a concerned Wiltshire who foresaw his looming predicament and the advance of the tribesmen as they gathered on the heights above the present day? There after members traveled to the top of Mountain Drive and from a vantage point over the City the battle was described. Members had an information-packed day and time ran out on the party. At the conclusion and in late afternoon the site of the gun emplacements sited by Wiltshire, near the present Kowie Ditch, were viewed but the trenches dug by the St. Andrew's College cadets at the time of the Boer War, ahead of a pending visit by Smuts and his Commando, time ran out on. All in all a most enjoyable day and one to be repeated probably on an annual basis.

Next Meeting

12th January, 2006 at 19,30 hours, at the PAG Drill Hall, Central, Port Elizabeth.

My apologies in not detailing our speakers for the evening but with a new laptop certain documents have not been transferred. I will advise you shortly by way of a separate note of our Speaker's Roster for this meeting and into 2006. I do not wish to delay this letter in that the New Year is upon us and I will not have access to my mail for the next ten day period. A blessed New Year to all of you and may 2006 be a good one

Ian Pringle,
Scribe./ Secretary
0836366623 or

South African Military History Society /