South African Military History Society

NEWSLETTER Cape Town Branch October 1997


GUNS have played an integral part in the history and growth of the Cape of Good Hope since the establishment of a settlement here by officials of the Dutch East India Company in 1652. A fascinating picture of a facet of man's appetite for possession of land, and the subsequent defence of the territories that he has occupied was provided by our guest speaker for September, Cdr GERRY DE VRIES, the Officer Commanding SAS WINGFIELD, who has recorded a catalogue of over 500 guns located around the Cape of Good Hope, which has been sponsored and published by Durr Estates, and which was recently launched locally, and which was reviewed in our last newsletter.

The Guns of the Cape can be classified broadly into three major categories. Firstly, heavy pieces used for the defence of harbours and beaches with shot; secondly, small, easily transportable bronze guns for use as anti-personnel weapons against attacks launched by the indigenous "Hottentots"; and thirdly, signal guns, used as a warning system in wartime and an alarm system in peacetime, firing only blanks. Of the large bronze guns, none have survived, while some of the small ones are still in existence. The remaining hardware consists of iron guns, that emanated from a wide range of manufacturers located in, inter alia. Sweden, England and France, and include the oldest iron guns in the world that are still in daily use located at Lion Battery on Signal Hill - the Noon Guns, which are fired every working day, and which are certainly worth a visit.

It was common practice, during the 17th and 18th centuries, to redistribute the placement of defensive guns following the appointment of a new Governor or military leader at the Cape, or consequent upon the improvements and innovations in the waging of warfare that arise from the evolution of tactics and strategy, and also as a direct result of the growth of the settlement

The signal guns, scattered across the whole occupied territory, were used to call the burghers to arms in time of need, while the gun on Signal Hill was fired to advise the Garrison of the Castle of Good Hope of the arrival of a trading ship. Of course, if Ships' Chandlers and suppliers of other goods heard the signal, they could act speedily to take advantage of the trade brought about by the arrival of another vessel, and presumably pubs with their friendly waitress would sieze the opportunity as well.

In daytime, flags were hoisted to supplement the gun signal, while at night fires were lit and lanterns raised on masts, in specific patterns, according to nature of the message or call up. A regular chain of signal relay stations existed between the Castle and Signal Hill, perhaps even between Robben Island and the Castle, and around Table Mountain near where Rhodes Memorial, Constantia Nek, Kalk Bay, Muizenberg, Simon's Town and Wynberg Hill are situated today.

Our speaker's research into guns and gun positions took him all over the Cape, following up on reports or articles about guns left in different places, from farms to almost inaccessible mountain tops, and altogether 500 guns are recorded in his publication, although by now this number has grown. And, since more finds have been reported, the time is not far off when the DURR RECORD OF THE GUNS OF THE CAPE will have to be updated and enlarged to include more of this engrossing history.

Major Tony Gordon thanked our speaker, on behalf of the branch, for a most entertaining presentation.

ADDENDUM : The Battle of Mome Gorge - August's Guest Speaker, Ken Gillings, has asked for the following to be added to the text of last month's review:

"At his subsequent trial, King Dinizulu steadfastly denied that he had given orders to Bhambhata to start a rebellion. Nevertheless, he was found guilty and sentenced to four years imprisonment in March, 1908. Two years later his old friend, General Louis Botha, as the newly appointed Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa, ordered that King Dinizulu to be released and transported to the farm "Uitkyk" in the Transvaal, where he died in 1913."

NEW POSTAL ADDRESS : The Cape town Branch of the Society now has a permanent postal address:
P.O. Box 12926,

Cape Town:
Panel Discussion chaired by Col O.E.F. Baker

Talk by Mr W.C.C. Newton

Dec 97 In recess

Meetings of the Cape Town Branch are normally held on the second Thursday of each month (barring December), at 20h00 (8.00 pm sharp), in the Recreation Hall of the SA LEGION'S ROSEDALE COMPLEX, Lower Nursery Road, Rosebank, (off Alma Road), opposite the Rosebank railway station, below the line. Visitors are welcome. Donation R 2.00. Scholars and Students free. Tea and biscuits will be served.

A charity performance of "THE YEOMEN OF THE GUARD", the Gilbert & Sullivan Operetta will take place at the Baxter Theatre, Main Road, Rondebosch, on Tuesday evening, 21 October 1997, in aid of fundraising by the Gunners Association and the Sappers Association. Tickets are R 35.00 pp which includes a finger supper with wine, and performances by the Pipe Band of the Cape Field Artillery Regiment. For reservations, please phone Lt Col Mike Rightford at 419-3415 (during office hours).

THE FRIENDS OF THE CASTLE MILITARY MUSEUM recently hosted a successful function in the Castle Military Museum, at which well over 100 Friends and visitors were treated to a most informative slide show and talk by GWEN FAGAN. She explained the varied and essential restoration work that has been undertaken by her and her husband GAWIE over the past 30 years, particularly the many unexpected discoveries behind previously bricked-up walls, and fireplaces, the finds of old vases and plates in previously unknown old wells, all in perfect condition, had the audience captivated. The hostess of the evening, Jeanette Kok, advised that similar functions are planned for the future. Keeping Cape Town's history alive is certainly a goal worth the full support of our Society.

John Mahncke, (Vice-Chairman/Scribe), (021) 797 5167

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