The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 2 No 5 - June 1973

The Imperial Garrison of Natal


On the high ground to the south-west of Pietermaritzburg overlooking the city, stands a prominent red brick building; this is Fort Napier, the home of the Imperial Garrison of Natal for over 70 rears. It was on this site on August 31st, 1843, that the Union Jack was raised by three companies of the 45th Regiment(1) who had marched up from Port Natal with a small detachment of Artillery and Engineers.

Although the initial fort and barracks were erected by this regiment (which later formed its garrison for over 15 years), the 45th was not the first Imperial unit to set foot in Natal. This honour belonged to a company of the 72nd Highlanders(2) who were sent from Port Elizabeth at the end of 1838 by Sir George Napier Governor of the Cape, to take possession of the Bay of Natal with a view to preventing supplies and warlike materials being landed for the use of the immigrant farmers. This detachment was withdrawn at the end of 1839.

Early in 1842, Captain T. C. Smith, who was commanding a detachment of the 27th Regiment(3) stationed on the Umgazi River in Pondoland, was ordered to march with two companies to take occupation of the Bay of Natal as a retaliatory measure against the immigrant farmers who had declared themselves an independent Republic. This force arrived in May, 1842, their march being disputed in the latter stages by the farmers under Commandant Pretorius who later demanded its evacuation. After being repulsed in an unsuccessful attack on the Boer camp at Congella on 23rd May, 1842, Captain Smith was besieged in the fort which he had erected until the end of June when a relief force, consisting of five companies of the 25th Regiment(4) under the command of Lt-Col A. J. Cloete arrived to raise the siege. Before the end of the year the 25th were required for duty in Afghanistan and were withdrawn.

In July. 1843, the garrison was reinforced by three companies of the 45th Regiment and it was this detachment which in the following month marched to Pietermaritzburg to establish Fort Napier. A further three companies of the 45th arrived in August, 1845, to relieve those of the 27th Regiment.

The Headquarters of the garrison was moved to Fort Napier soon after its establishment but one company of the garrison battalion continued to be stationed at the Old Fort in Durban until 1887 although details of various units were maintained there until 1897.

Although the Regimental Headquarters of the garrison battalion were always at Fort Napier, it was frequently necessary for three or four companies to he detached for duty in Pondoland and on the eastern frontier until the end of the Ninth Kaffir War in 1878.

After the departure of the 45th Regiment in 1859 after more than fifteen years service in the Colony, it became the policy for the garrison battalion to be relieved every two to three years. It was necessary for the troops in Natal to be substantially reinforced as a result of the Zulu and Transvaal wars during 1878-1881. During this period Imperial Troops were stationed at Kokstad, Harding, Umzimkulu and Pinetown in addition to those in the areas of operations. After the conclusion of these wars the establishment of the garrison was increased to one mountain battery, one cavalry regiment and three infantry battalions until 1888; one battalion and a detachment of cavalry being stationed in Zululand at Eshowe. This was no doubt due to the disturbed condition of that country as a result of tile disastrous experiment of the 13 ‘Kinglets”.

The number of infantry battalions was reduced to two in 1888, and to one in 1891, although one company of the garrison battalion continued to be stationed at Eshowe until 1899. From the end of 1898 onwards substantial reinforcements arrived and these troops were stationed at Howick, Mooi River, Ladysmith and Dundee, pending the outbreak of the 2nd South African War during which virtually every unit of the British Army served at one time or another in Natal, but this brief article is concerned primarily with the peacetime garrison of the Colony and Province of Natal.

After the conclusion of that war, the cavalry regiment and battery of Royal Artillery were not replaced, the garrison being reduced to one infantry battalion which remained until the outbreak of war in 1914. Imperial troops did not take any part in the suppression of the Bambata Rebellion in 1906, but as a precautionary measure, a battalion of the Camerons was brought down from the Transvaal to reinforce the garrison at Fort Napier. August 12th, 1914, marked the end of an era for the city of Pietermaritzburg, for it witnessed the final departure of the Imperial Garrison, when the 1st Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment, after their drums had beaten retreat in front of the City Hall for the last time, marched away to embark from Durban, for the carnage of the first Ypres. During the 71-year occupation of Fort Napier, the military had done much to assist in the development of the city by the construction of roads, water courses and buildings and later made an important contribution to the cultural, sporting and social life of Pietermaritzburg and Natal. A plaque, recording the names of the regiments which served on garrison duty at Fort Napier, has been placed in the foyer of the City Hall in Pietermaritzburg.


1881-90 6th Inniskilling Dragoons
1890-92 11th Hussars
1892-95 3rd Dragoon Guards
1895-98 7th Hussars
1896-97 9th Lancers
1898-99 5th Royal Irish Lancers

1884-93 4th Mountain Battery
1893-98 10th Mountain Battery

1843-59 45th (1st Sherwood Foresters)
1859-61 85th (2nd King’s Shropshire Light Infantry)
1861-62 59th (2nd East Lancashire Regiment)
1863-64 25th (2nd Royal Northumberland Fusiliers)
1864-65 2/11th (2nd Devonshire Regiment)
1865-67 99th (2nd Wiltshire Regiment)
1867-70 2/20th (2nd Lancashire Fusiliers)
1870-71 32nd (1st Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry)
1871-75 75th (1st Gordon Highlanders)
1875-77 1/13th (1st Somerset Light Infantry)
1877-78 80th (2nd South Staffordshire Regiment)
1878 1st 24th (1st South Wales Borderers)
1878 2nd 24th (2nd South Wales Borderers)
1879-80 3/60th (King’s Royal Rifle Corps)
1880-84 58th (2nd Northamptonshire Regiment)
1881-86 1st Welch Regiment
1883-85 1st Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders
1884-87 2nd South Lancashire Regiment
1886-88 1st Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers 1888-91 1st Royal Scots
1887-90 1st North Staffordshire Regiment
1891-94 2nd York and Lancaster Regiment
1894-98 2nd Duke of Wellingtons Regiment
1897-99 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers
1898-99 1st Leicestershire Regiment
1899-02 Anglo-Boer War (no permanent garrison)
1902-03 2nd King’s Own Royal Regiment
1902-03 2nd West Yorkshire Regiment
1904-08 1st Royal Garrison Regiment
1906 2nd Cameron Highlanders
1906-07 3rd Royal Warwickshire Regiment
1907-09 2nd Royal Norfolk Regiment
1908-09 3rd Royal Fusiliers
1909-13 1st Wiltshire Regiment
1913-14 1st South Staffordshire Regiment

1. Later 1st Battalion Sherwood Foresters.
2. Later 1st Battalion Seaforth Highlanders.
3. Later 1st Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.
4. Later 1st Battalion Kingis Own Scottish Borderers.

Regiments in Natal, Curtis (privately printed, London, 1930)
Pietermaritzburg Panorama Hattersley. 1938.
History of Natal, Brookes and Webb.

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