South African Military History Society

NEWSLETTER No.261 Cape Town Branch OCTOBER 1999

Regrettably, Rudi Roth, who was to talk about cannons on the 9th September, was hospitalized in Switzerland and had to cancel his trip. The news reached us too late to make alternative arrangements, but he has promised to give his talk at our next meeting.

PETER HUMPHRIES took the floor and, from his vast knowledge on maritime matters, spoke on the Anglo/Boer War. Although it was a land based conflict there is a maritime link, albeit of minor, if interesting, significance. Anticipating the need for arms and ammunition, Dr. Leyds, Special Envoy and Plenipotentiary of the Kruger Government, hired two ships, the GIRONDE and ROUSSOLON, in 1899 with the intention of running guns to the Boer Forces in the Transvaal. However, nothing came of it.

Instead the Royal Navy began a sea blockade at Lourenco Marques, perhaps fuelled by a spurious rumour of a German Captain who had declared a number of bulky crates lashed on deck of his ship to contain pianos, when they were full of weapons for the Boers. HMS MAGICIENNE stopped the German Imperial Mail Steamer BUNDESRAT and escorted her to Durban to be searched. Nothing was found on board, and the ship was allowed to continue after 19 days. The same fate befell the HERZOG and the GENERAL which were intercepted off Durban and Aden respectively, and released after a few days. These actions resulted in a whirlwind exchange of telegrams and in recriminations between Germany and Gt. Britain, although, with the fall of Pretoria in June 1900, outside help to the Boers stopped.

The British freighter MASHONA with a cargo of flour from the US, as well as the German sailing ships MARIE und HANS WAGNER, also carrying flour, tried to run the gauntlet of the naval blockade, but were boarded and taken to Port Elizabeth and Durban where the flour was taken off and impounded as a prize of war, while the ships were allowed to sail on.

Other warships on patrol were HMS BARRACUDA and DORIS protecting Port Nolloth and Mossel Bay, HMS WIDGEON Plettenberg Bay and HMS PARTRIDGE Saldanha Bay. The latter was fired on from the shore by two enthusiastic Boers, Thys Boonzaier and P.v.Niekerk, and the PARTRIDGE fired back. No blood was drawn, and this was the only time fire was exchanged.

There was one accident, though. In the evening of 15 Jan 1901, HMS SYBILLE approached Lambert's Bay in good weather and landed Captain Hugh Williams and a party of 50 sailors to protect the British port. The First Lieutenant, Hubert Holland, put to sea and returned to pick up the landing party early the next morning. But the weather had turned foul, and what he had also not considered was that the current had taken the ship 6 miles to the south. Consequently, the SYBILLE ran aground and was wrecked. Still, luck was with them, the crew got off and reached the shore safely, only one fatality was recorded, and eventually the ship's company arrived in Simon's Town.

At the ensuing Court Martial the First Lieutenant, the navigating officer and the officer of the watch, Sub-Lieutenant Street, were dismissed from the ship and severely reprimanded.

Sub-Lieutenant Street resigned his commission in 1906 but served in the Royal Navy again in both World Wars and retired as a Commander. His name appeared in the Royal Navy's Retired List for the last time in 1967.

We are most grateful to PETER that he introduced us to some fascinating details of military engagements of a different kind.


Thursday, 14 Oct 1999
Curtain raiser: RUDI ROTH on cannons.
Main Lecture: A TALE OF TWO SKIRMISHES ON 17 Sept 1901
1) Modderfontein
2) Blood River
Thursday, 11 Nov 1999
Illustrated Talk by JOHN MAHNCKE
December 1999: In Recess

DATES TO REMEMBER: 30 October - THE SKY IS THE LIMIT - AIR SHOW at the SA AIRFORCE MUSEUM at YSTERPLAAT. Spitfire, Mustang, Vampire, DC 3 and DC 4 and other aircraft will be flown in, and it promises to be an excellent show. Further details from: (021) 508 6377.

A visit to the SA NAVAL MUSEUM in Simon's Town is always a must, especially if you show friends the False Bay coast. The curator, CDR MAC BISSET, runs it with great commitment, and is always ready to assist with any military or naval history research.

WELCOME TO NEW MEMBERS: Stephan Fourie and John Gibson

BOOK CORNER: SIMON'S TOWN AND THE ANGLO/BOER WAR 1899-1902 by Mrs A E Read. This is a comprehensive, illustrated publication and can be obtained from the Simon's Town Museum, P.0. Box 56, Simon's Town, 7995, for R 120.-. For info tel.: 786 3046, fax 786 2391.

ANGLO BOER WAR CENTENARY COMMEMORATION: The Battle of Talana will be re-enacted at Dundee on 6 and 20 November 1999 at 10 a.m. For info please phone: (0341) 22121 ext 262 or Fax (0341) 82837

Meetings are held on the second Thursday of every month at 20h00, in the Recreation Hall of the SA LEGION'S ROSEDALE COMPLEX, Lower Nursery Road, Rosebank, opposite Rosebank Railway Station, below the line. Visitors are welcome. Tea and biscuits will be served.

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

South African Military History Society /