The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 6 No 2 - December 1983

Governor Mauritz Pasque de Chavonnes and the First Military Uniforms at the Cape

by D. Sleigh

Mauritz Pasque de Chavonnes was the youngest son of Pierre Pasque de Chavonnes, whose father, Joachim Pasque, marquis de Chavonnes, fled from France to the Netherlands after the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre in 1572. During the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713) Mauritz de Chavonnes commanded an infantry regiment in the army of the United Provinces. When the peace treaty of Utrecht was concluded he resigned his commission, joined the Dutch East India Company, and was almost immediately posted to the Cape of Good Hope to succeed the late governor Louis van Assenburg, who had died on 27 December 1712.
Governor de Chavonnes was introduced to the public in the Castle of Good Hope on 28 March 1714, four days after his arrival.(1) On 1 May 1714, about a month after his arrival at the Cape, the new governor issued a general order, consisting of 58 articles, to regulate the duties of the whole garrison from reveille until retreat was beaten at 22h00. The duties of the guard, the location of the outposts and the patrols were clearly specified. On 11 September 1714 another general order, consisting of 12 articles concerning the soldiers' arms and ammunition and their proper care, was issued to the garrison.(2) Between these two dates an event of importance for the South African military chronologist occurred; the governor took the first step towards putting his soldiers in uniform. Until that time, the Dutch East India Company's troops at the Cape did not wear regimental uniforms, although a variety of articles of uniform clothing and other military equipment that had been obtained in Europe, appeared among the rank and file of the Cape garrison.
In 1712 the governor-general, Abraham van Riebeeck (the son of Jan), had written to De Chavonnes predecessor, acting commander Willem Helot, that it would be necessary to issue uniforms to the soldiers serving on board the Company's ships, to facilitate the defence of these vessels.(3) He was concerned that friend would otherwise be indistinguishable from foe in the melee caused by boarding parties fighting along the upper deck. Van Riebeeck died shortly after this, and nothing more was done about the matter.

Governor De Chavonnes expressed the opinion to Lords Seventeen in a letter dated 30 May 1714, that the variety of colours and styles of the soldiers' clothing at the Cape militated against a sense of pride and prestige. He requested the Directors to equip the garrison with proper uniforms like those worn in Europe, made of good English serge or a Dutch material (carsay: Kersey) to a style of Lords Seventeen's choice. At the same time he assured them that the cost would be negligible, and that the advantage to the morale of the troops and the service of the Company would make up for any expense. He added that the soldiers would be glad to buy good warm waterproof clothes on credit, provided that it was cheap. If Lords Seventeen approved of his proposal, he would be grateful to receive the following material: 60 ell of fine linen for the officers' uniforms (an ell was taken to be the distance between the elbow and the tip of the middle finger), 60 elI of a somewhat poorer quality for the sergeants, and 3 000 ell of English serge or 1 500 elI Dutch material for the troops.(4) The governor did not give much detail in his order, and possibly left it to the imagination and the generosity of his superiors to provide the Cape soldiers with an attractive although strong, practical outfit.

Lords Seventeens' reply, dated 9 September 1715, was received at the Cape on 19 March 1716. They had accepted all the Governor's proposals, because his plan would help to increase the prestige of the Honourable Company. They had given the necessary instructions concerning the new uniforms to the executives of the Chamber Amsterdam, who would despatch the required goods to the Cape. About a week after receiving the good news, De Chavonnes wrote to Lords Seventeen thanking them for agreeing to equip the garrison with livery (leverij). In a separate letter to the Chamber Amsterdam he thanked them for the linen and woollen cloth received, and assured them that it would not be sold to the men above cost price.(5)
Within a fortnight a proclamation (placaat) was posted to inform the public that the Company's soldiers would in future be clothed in a uniform of blue serge. The soldiers were not allowed to sell the uniform to civilians, neither were civilians permitted to purchase articles of uniform from the soldiers. The tailors of the garrison worked from March to September 1716 making the new uniforms. The garrison was relatively small (it consisted of 270 men of all ranks) and it is therefore possible that some attempt to measure and fit individual uniforms may have been made. It is more likely that the officers (2 captains, 1 lieutenant and 3 ensigns) had their outfits made to measure. In May 1716 a sworn statement was taken from Ensign David Feijerabend to the effect that the blue material received for the officers was of the correct length, but that the plain material sent for the use of the N.C.O's or onderoffisieren was only 95 ell in length, and therefore short of the figure given on the cargo list.(6)

Uniforms were issued to local troops for the first time on 2 September 1716. A brief statement in the Daghregister (Day Book) under that date records: 'The military apparel, made according to Lords Seventeen's instructions, were this day distributed among the garrison'.(7) What the appearance, style or cut of the finished articles were, is not recorded. It is possible that the written instructions referred to above, were given to the garrison tailor to study, and that he did not return them to the secretariat, to be preserved with other documents for the modern reader's perusal. Some months later, in April 1717, the Governor proudly but mistakenly, informed Lords Seventeen that the troops were clothed in their new blue outfits in August 1716. (The actual date was 2 September 1716). He described the finished uniforms as made of blue woollen material, with linings of a thinner cloth, and with flat brass buttons.(8) No mention of hats was made.
No drawings or other illustrations of the Cape garrison in their first uniforms appear to exist neither does a detailed list of their articles of clothing, although it is possible that such a list may exist among the papers of the Chambers Amsterdam in the Algemeen Ryksarchief in The Hague. In the absence of historical verification, one can therefore only speculate that the uniforms were plain and entirely blue, without facings, piping or markings of a different colour. The uniforms would have had to have been cheap in order to enable the men whose salaries were small, to afford them. The style of the uniform may have been similar to that worn by infantry regiments in Europe at the time, and therefore, probably consisted of a tricorn hat, a flared thigh-length coat, a shirt, short breeches, hose and shoes.

The ship Catharina brought the second consignment of uniform material to the Cape in July 1718. It consisted of 6 chests containing 84 rolls of blue serge, 1 chest containing 200 rolls of coarse thread, 40 rolls of blue thread and 246 lengths of gold braid possibly intended as trimming for the hats), 1 chest containing 100 soldiers' hats and 12 sergeants' hats, 1 chest containing 112 soldiers' hats, 4 chests containing 24 (4 x 6) lengths of linen, 1 chest containing 2 pieces of blue cloth for the officers and 3 pieces (units) of red cansant (a carsant was a collar with a medallion or a jewel, worn at the throat. The meaning of cansant is not clear), 1 chest containing 100 gross copper coat buttons and 4 ounces of gold thread, 1 chest containing 2 lengths of blue cloth for the sergeants and 1 ream of plain blue paper. After the material was off-loaded, it was discovered that 88 ell of the material intended for the sergeant's uniforms were moth-eaten and spoiled. A replacement for the damaged portion was obviously, therefore, required.(9)

Governor De Chavonnes used the introduction of military uniforms to the Cape as an occasion to form a company of grenadiers (handgranadiers). He did his best to give them a distinctive uniform and with the limited resources at his disposal, managed to achieve something with a local character. Their wallets or satchels (tassen) which were worn on the right hip, were made of sealskin, and their caps (mussen), were covered with leopard skin. He reported to Lords Seventeen that the men looked very smart and that their uniforms were expected to last for two years.(10)

Thus, in the first few months of his governorship, De Chavonnes regulated the duties of the garrison, put the men into uniform and issued a set of instructions for the maintenance of their arms and ammunition. The latter document yields some interesting information. Each of the four companies was equipped with the following: 2 halberds (for the non-commissioned officers), 1 side-drum with 2 drum sticks and carry-band, 55 swords (degens) with their sword belts (port-epees), 52 muskets (snaphanen) and 52 satchels for bullets. This indicates that the officers carried a sword, the non-commissioned officers carried both halberd and sword, the drummer carried a sword, and the 52 troopers were armed with swords and muskets. Each soldier's satchel contained 3 spare flint stones, 12 cartridges and 12 bullets. Each man was responsible for keeping his equipment complete, in good repair and clean. Loss of, or damage to, equipment meant both punishment and repayment.(11)

The first noticeable change in the uniform took place in 1720, when 212 pairs of soldiers' hose arrived, of which half were blue and half were yellow.(12) This event can not be explained further, but if one assumes that a soldier would need at least two pairs of hose (the assumption is based on the poor man's maxim of 'een aan de bas, een in de was' - one to wear, one in the wash), the 106 pairs of yellow hose would be sufficient only for one company of 53 men, and as the grenadiers already wore distinctive clothing and were the only specialist company, it is possible that the yellow hose were also meant for them.

Two years later, in 1722, Governor De Chavonnes brought about some colourful innovations. The ships Oosterrust and Apollonia brought a cargo of new blue kersey with which to replace the uniforms that had been in use since 1716. Altogether 62 pieces of this coarse woollen material, with a total length of 2 348 ell or approximately 1 077 metres, were received by the Storemaster. There were also 212 soldiers' hats (hoeden) trimmed with gold braid, 8 sergeants' hats trimmed with gold braid, 215 ell of gold braid 1.5 inches wide, 36 ell of gold braid 1 inch wide and 144 ell of gold braid for the grenadiers' caps (mussen).(13) The purpose of the extra pieces of braid is not clear, but they possibly indicate the appearance of gold trimming on the soldiers' coats. It should also be noted that the grenadiers wore mussen, while the other troops wore hoeden. In illustrations of contemporary European grenadiers, a type of headgear somewhat resembling a sugarloaf in shape, can be seen. Similar caps may have been in use at the Cape.

The ships Oosterrust and Apollonia also brought 20 ell of dark blue trilly, 57 ell of dark blue linen for the officers' coats and 8 pounds of blue camels' hair. The small quantity of hair would not have been sufficient to provide the entire regiment with plumes, (if that was their purpose) and it is likely that only the officers - or their horses - got the plumes. In addition, 212 pairs of ponse, knitted, roll-up hose, 8 pairs of fine hose for the sergeants and 12 pairs of fine hose for the officers appear on the cargo list.(14) It is clear that all four companies including the grenadiers now wore the same colour hose. The yellow hose formerly worn by one company, was no longer issued. The new regulation colour is described as ponse. In a cargo-list from 1724 the same word is given as ponzon. It may be a phonetic rendering of the French ponceaux, meaning poppy coloured. If this interpretation is correct, the local troops wore scarlet hose, or at least a deep orange coloured hose, from 1722 on. A painting of a scene on the beach at Green Point, on 6 May 1740 depicting the crowd which came from Cape Town to see the wreck of the Indiaman De Vis, shows a soldier with his musket at the slope. No detail of his dark blue uniform is discernible except for the bright, pumpkin coloured hose.(15) It is not certain that the ponse or ponzon colour ordered by Governor De Chavonnes, was the colour worn in 1740.
The Oosterrust also brought 24 ounces of twisted gold cord for an unspecified purpose, 18 dozen gold (sic) coat buttons and, possibly the one item that gave the regiment its special dash of colour when they paraded on a grey winter's day, 226 scarlet canvas capes. (16)
Lack of information makes it difficult to reconstruct an image of the uniform issued to the men during Mauritz Pasque de Chavonnes' governorship and much room for research on their clothing, lodging, arms, drill, daily routine, salaries, rations and life in general, both on and off duty, remains.
Governor De Chavonnes' military innovations included the organisation in 1722 of the Free Blacks and Chinese living in the Table Valley into a Citizen Force company called the Companie Vryswarten commanded by their own officers. This company took its turn with other Burgher companies in doing the nightly rounds of the wards.(17)
The soldier who brought the first military uniforms to the Cape died on 8 September 1725 after a single day's illness and was buried on 14 September 1725. The funeral procession included military and civilian mourners. His spurs, sword, gloves, helmet and cuirasse were carried on cushions and his horse, draped in black, was led before the hearse. The local regiment provided the guard of honour and fired the salute at the grave. A company of burgher cavalry and one of burgher infantry also attended the funeral. From the moment the hearse left the Castle, until the guard returned to the Castle after the funeral, minute guns were fired from its ramparts. For six weeks the bells of the Castle and the church in the Heerengracht were tolled daily for an hour in the morning, an hour at midday, and an hour in the evening.(18)


1. D.W. Kruger (ed.): Dictionary of S.A. Bibliography II. Cape Town, 1972, p.163.
2. A.J. Boeseken (red.): Resolusies van die Politieke Raad IV, 1.5.1714, pp.378-386; Ibid., 11.9.1714, pp.422-423.
3. C 392 Inkomende Brieven: A. van Riebeeck - W. Helot, 24.11.1712, p.113. (Cape Archives).
4. C 511 I Uitgaande Brieven: M. de Chavonnes - Lords XVII, 30.5.1714, p.184. (Cape Archives).
5. C 401 Inkomende Brieven: Lords XVII - M. de Chavonnes, 9.7.1715, p. 68; C 511 II Uitgaande Brieven: M. de Chavonnes - Directors, Chamber Amsterdam 28.3.1716, p.166 (Cape Archives).
6. M.K. Jeffreys (red.). Kaapse Plakkaatboek II, 10.4.1716, p.64; VC 41 Monsterrollen: 30.6.1716, pp. 16-25; C 337 Attestatien: Affidavit by D. Feyerabend a.o., 1.5.1716, p.29. (Cape Archives).
7. VC 21 Daghregister: 2.9.1716, p. 176. (Cape Archives).
8. C 511 II Uitgaande Brieven: M. de Chavonnes - Lords XVII, 3.4.1717, pp. 416-417, 442-444. (Cape Archives).
9. C 337 Attestatien: Affidavit by S. Swellengrebel, 6.7.1718, pp.701-703; C 336 Attestatien: Affidavit by G. van Baarsenburg, 26.9.1718, p.711. (Cape Archives).
10. C 511 II Uitgaande Brieven: M. de Chavonnes - Lords XVII, 3.4.1717, p.477. (Cape Archives).
11. A.J. Boeseken (red.): Resolusies van die Politieke Raad IV, 11.9.1714, pp.422-423.
12. C 339 Attestatien: Affidavit by A. Pleunis, 17.7.1720, p.116. (Cape Archives).
13. C 340 Attestatien: Affidavit by J. Frappe, 27.10.1722, pp.430-431. (Cape Archives).
14. Ibid., Affidavit by J. Frappe, 27.10.1722, pp. 432-433. (Cape Archives).
15. The painting is in the office of the Director of the S.A. Library, Cape Town.
16. C 340 Attestatien: Affidavit by J. Frapps, pp. 430-433. (Cape Archives).
17. D.W. Kruger (ed.): Dictionary of S.A. Bibliography II, p. 168; G.C. de Wet (red.): Resolusies van die Politieke Raad VI, 13.10.22, p.211.
18. VC 22 Daghregister: 8.-14.9.1724, pp. 162-175. (Cape Archives).

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