The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 3 No 5 - June 1976

Archaeology of the 1880-1881 Potchefstroom Fort

Report by Mr J Keene, Department of Small Arms, S A National Museum of Military History, on the materials recovered in the November 1973 excavation.

Note: Professor R.J. Mason, Department of Archaeology, University of the Witwatersrand, carried out an excavation of the 1880-1881 Fort at Potchefstroom in November 1973. He subsequently addressed the S.A. Military History Society on the subject, the text of which address was published in this Journal, Volume 3 Number 4 December 1975. The report by Mr Keene which follows was regrettably omitted from the published version of Professor Mason's report.

The small-arms ammunition examined conforms to types in general use from 1853 until 1888. The specimens which predominate are those of the Martini-Henry wrapped brass Mark 111 which appear on the surface and at various depths up to 80 cm.

Two specimens of early muzzle-loading ball, 8 gauge, were encountered at 100 cm. These pieces are likely to have been used in early flintlock weapons dating from 1830 approximately.

An anomaly was encountered in the specimens from E 3.5 F 2.5/33-37 0-20 cm. with expended cases, .303" Mk VII, which is dated 1937.

There are specimens of both bullets and cartridge-cases which have been fired and those which have not. Instances where bullets, designed for rifled barrels, are distorted without bearing impressions of rifle-grooves, suggest the possibility of external ignition or percussion. There are examples of undistorted bullets without cartridge-cases. It can be assumed that the latter were of the cardboard or paper variety and have disintegrated with the passage of time.

There are very few examples of the fired bullet of the Martini-Henry .577"/.450" wrapped brass Mk III. Most of them are undistorted, and there is a solitary undistorted bullet, a .441" Westley Richards. Examples of bullets having been fired are the .577" Enfield, the .577" Snider Mk IX, the Whitworth .451" and .441" Westley Richards.

From the predominance of expended cases of the Martini-Henry cartridge and the scarcity of fired bullets from the same, it is reasonable to conclude that it was principally this ammunition which was fired from the fort. Similarly, from the preponderance of fired examples of .577" Enfield, .577" Snider Mk IX, Whitworth .451" and .441" Wesley Richards bullets, it is reasonable to suppose that it was this type of ammunition which was fired into the fort.

The types of ammunition examined were used in the following weapons:
1. Martini-Henry . 577"/.450" used officially from 1871
2. Magazine Rifle Lee-Metford used from 1888
3. Enfield Rifle Pattern 1853 used from 1853.
4. Westley Richards ‘monkey-tail’ used from 1866
5. Snider-Enfield used from 1865
6. Whitworth pattern 1862
7. Smooth-bore musket 8 gauge from approximately 1830

Grid plan in metre squares, approximately north-south direction<br> 
originating twenty metres north of the north wall (bank) of the fort, used for controlling the excavation

Grid plan in metre squares, approximately north-south direction originating twenty metres north of the north wall (bank) of the fort, used for controlling the excavation

TrenchSizeMax. Depth PitsSizeMax. Depth
EO H4 2920m x 1m50cm EO/201m x 1m40cm
GO 20-2910m x 1m45cm EO/241m x 1m30cm sterile
HOH4 20-2410m x 1m50cm EO/371m x 1m60cm
C 1-2/374m x 1m150cm GO/371m x 1m10cm - sterile below 10cm
H4/45.00-484m x 1m100cm H4/371m x 1m60cm
    E3,5 F2,00/24-274m x 3m70cm
    E3,5 F2,50/33-374m x 4m30cm

Trench/PitDepth (cm)Serial No.MaterialRemarks
44:45.5-4910-201Four expended cases of cartridges,
.577/450" Small Arms Ball, Wrapped Brass MkIII
Used in the Martini Henry Rifle which was in service from 1871 until 1888
  2One expended case of Cartridge,
.303" MkII Small Arms Ball.
Introduced into service 9-7-1893.
Headstamp markings
“R.L”: (Royal Laboratories)(manufacturers)
‘c’,: Cordite
‘II’: (Mk II)
H3H4/20-2130-601One expended case of Cartridge.
.577/450" Small Arms Ball, Wrapped Brass Mk III
H4/45.5-4940-5013 expended cases same as above 
E 3.5 F 2.5/33-370-201Six expended cases same as above 
  2One bullet from above cartridgeWeight 480 grms
  3Two expended cases of Cartridges
Cordite Mk II, Small arms Ball
Period 1893
  4One expended case of Cartridge .303" Cordite MKI, Small Arms Ball Introduced into service 3-11-1891
  5One bullet from 3 or 4 aboveDoes not appear to have been fired
  6One expended case of Cartridge, .577/450" Small Arms Ball Solid Case MkII 
E 3.5 F 2.5/33-370-207One expended case of Cartridge, .303"
MKVII Small Arms Ball
Date 1937
Manufactured by KYNOCH
  8Hook from personal equipmentSlade Wallace equipment
  92 Buttons, shirt or trouserCould be military issue

Trench/PitDepth (cm)Serial No.MaterialRemarks
100/73 E 4F224-271Pipe stem (smoking pipe) 
100/73 G 0/2010-201Slate Stylus 
100/73 114/37-1Pipe stem (smoking pipe) 
100/73 114/20-4/250-201Section of bowl of a clay smoking pipeIn vogue 1870/80
E 3.5 F 2.5 33-3720-301Cruciform object: Spread percussion capUsed with a percussion rifle or musket from approx. 1850 onwards.
  2Section of stem from clay smoking pipe 
  3Buttons, shirtProbably from an issue garment c1880
F 3.5 F2.5 33-3720-301Cartridge Case. Martini-Henry. Drawn Case MK11Manufactured by Kynoch
H4/2910-2012 Expended cases .577/.450" Wrapped Brass MkIII 
100/73 H4/3740-50111 Expended cases as above 
  2General Service Button (British)issued during Victorian period
100/73 HO H4/20-240-1013 Expended cases .577/450" Wrapped Brass MkIII 
  2One Bullet .577" Snider MKIXIntroduced 1871
100/73 H5/3830-401Expended cases .577/.450" Wrapped Brass MkIII 
  2Expended case .303" MkII 
  32 Buttons, shirt or trouser 
  4Buckle, personal equipmentSlade Wallace equipment
H4/240-1012 Expended cases .577/450" Wrapped Brass MkIII 
  21 Cartridge .303" MKII Cordite Small Arms Ball 
100/73 Well filling25-351Brass ButtonBritish General Service
E 3.5 F2/24-27 2Cartridge Case, pistol .450" 
E 3.50 F2.50/33-3720-30111 Expended cases .577/.450" Wrapped Brass MKIII 
  2Bullet, Martini Henry .450" 
  3Cartridge case, .303" MKII
Cordite Headstamp: B
Not fired
Birmingham Small Arms Co.
  4Expended case, .303" MKII
Cordite Headstamp R L.

Royal Laboratories
  5Bullet .303" 
H4/2010-2012 Expended cases .577/.450" Wrapped Brass MKIII 
HoH4/20-2410-2016 Expended cases .577/.450" Wrapped Brass MKIII 
  2Brass ButtonBritish General Service
  3Section of hookTent accessory
  4Brass eyeletTarpaulin or tent
H1/29&20-301Expended case .577/450" Wrapped Brass MKIII 
  2Clothing button (metal) 
  3Bullet .441" Westley RichardsFrom a paper wrapped Cartridge used in the W-R ‘Monkey-tail’ carbine

Trench/PitDepth (cm)Serial No.MaterialRemarks
H1/2910-201Clothing button (metal) 
100/73 C1-2/3770-801Expended case. .577/.450" Wrapped Brass MKIII 
  2Bullet .577" (Snider) 
H2/2920-301Clothing Button (metal) 
100/73 C1-2/371101Lead shot from smooth-bore muzzle loading musket8 gauge (8 balls to the pound)
H4/45-49/60 12 Expended cases .577/.450" Wrapped Brass MKIII 
  22 Spent bullets (hexagonal)Used in P/1862 Whitworth rifles. The fire-arm was on issue in the British Army until 1867
  31 Spent bullet .577" Snider 
H4/45.5-4920-301Expended case .577/.450" Wrapped Brass MKIII 
  2Section of paper patch? 
C1-2/37751Expended case .577/450" Wrapped Brass MKIII 
Ho H4/20-240-1011 Bullet .450" pistol 
  2Section of spoon 
  3Piece of iron similar to that found
at H3/20-21/20-30
Probably a section of bed-leg
  42 Brass Buttons, British General ServiceWorn on Tunic
  51 Brass Button, small, British General Service 
  61 Brass Button, Royal Dublin Fusiliers 
  72 Expended cases .577/450" Wrapped Brass MKIII 
100/73Surface1Bullet .577"Used in P/53 Enfield
100/73 H4/290-101Sections of mouth organ 
45/20/440-501Brass pike tipPossibly from a colour or standard
H4/200-101Buckle from personal equipment 
F4/290-1012 Pieces shot. .696"Brunswick rifle?
  21 bullet. .451" Whitworth hexagonal 
  31 bullet .577" Snider MKIX 
  42 bullets .577" Enfield 
100/73 E4F/24-2740-5012 Metal Clothing Buttons 
  22 Small Bone clothing Buttons 
  3Coiled wire with gauze 
100/73 F4/290-101Brass hooks and eyesFrom military Marquee tent side walls
  2Washers, nails, screws 
  3Brass bracket with rivets 
H4/45.5-4940-501Helmet accessory, usually
surmounted by a spike, ball etc.
Situated on top of helmet
100/73 H4/45.5-4985-1001Expended case..577/.450" Wrapped Brass MKIII 
  2Spent bullet. Whitworth hexagonal 
  3Spent bullet .577" 
  42 Spent bullets probably used in Westley RichardsFlatbase

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