The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 10 No 5 - June 1997

(incorporating Museum Review)


by Murray Graham

It was a chance sighting of the colour illustration on the front cover of Antiques in South Africa (No 13, Summer 1983) of the unusual Naval ensign flown on a British man-of-war, which has prompted the author to describe to readers his attempts to solve this puzzle. As Major Philip Erskine of Ida's Valley, Stellenbosch, pointed out in his article in the same publication, 'Lord Keith', this illustration was part of a watercolour painted by J C Friderici, entitled 'MUYZENBURG den VII AUGUST anno MDCCXCV'. It gave a spirited rendering of the attack mounted on the Dutch East India Company Post at Muizenburg by part of the British squadron which had been lying at anchor in Simon's Bay since 11 June 1795. Through the good offices of Miss M C Jooste, the Curator of the Mendelssohn Collection in the Houses of Parliament in Cape Town, the author obtained a full-size colour photograph of the entire Friderici watercolour, as he wanted to reassure himself that the colouring of this flag had been thithfully reproduced in the illustration.

The ensign in question resembled the ordinary White Ensign, but it had a blue cross overall on an orange field. The Union Jack in the upper hoist is, however, correctly shown. The author could not imagine why Friderici had chosen to paint the ensign in this way. After all, the usual White Ensign was correctly depicted on the larger man-of-war to the left in the painting. It was difficult to accept that Friderici may have made a mistake, since he had been present at the engagement as a member of the Dutch defending force, as a lieutenant of the Artillery. He was, moreover, an experienced artist and cartographer, well-known as one among those responsible for the fine maps and charts of the Cape coast and its hinterland, which had been commissioned by Lieutenant-Colonel C J van der Graaff while he was Governor of the Cape from 1784 to 1791.

Several authorities on British Naval ensigns in the United Kingdom, when approached by the author, said that they had never seen or heard of an ensign such as he described.

Mrs Wendy Pickstone of Lekkerwijn, Groot Drakenstein, the owner of a second example of the watercolour - the example which had been used by Major Erskine in his article - had not noticed the anomaly and could offer no reason for Friderici's choice of colour. Miss Jooste had also not noticed it and, as far as she knew, neither had anyone else.

The larger man-of-war in the painting was the 64-gun HMS America. In charge of the ship was Commodore John Blankett and present on board as an observer of the action was the Ibnze's commander, Sir George Keith Elphinstone, then Rear-Admiral of the White. Admiral Elphinstone's flagship, the 74-gun HMS Monarch, did not take part in the attack. She would have drawn too much water in order to get close enough inshore to effectively engage the shore batteries at the Muizenburg post.

The smaller man-of-war to the right, which carried the strangely coloured ensign, was the 16-gun HMS Echo, under Commander Temple Hardy. Gunsmoke from the warships unfortunately obscured the ensigns of the 64-gun HMS Stately and the 16-gun HMS Rattlesnake, the other two men-of-war shown in the complete painting. They were positioned to the left of the HMS America.

In Britain at the Cape, 1795-1803 (The Brenthurst Press, Houghton, 1992), edited by the late Maurice Boucher and Nigel Penn, readers will have seen full-colour reproductions as a double-page spread on pages 56 and 57 and, in part, on the book's dust cover. In addition, Mrs Pickstone owns another Friderici watercolour of a panoramic view of the bay with the Dutch fleet, commanded by Rear-Admiral Engelbertus Lucas, trapped there by the British fleet under Sir George Keith Elphinstone, by then Vice-Admiral of the Blue. The author believes that Friderici may have been commissioned to paint both watercolours some appreciable time after the two actions, but two questions remain unanswered: When did Friderici paint them and who had commissioned them?

What the author has been able to ascertain of Friderici's life and career after the formal surrender of the Cape Colony on 16 September 1795 is very limited and for most of it, he is deeply indebted to Mrs Dee Nash of Claremont, whose research has served to supplement the meagre amount of information on the latter part of Friderici's life which is contained in the Dictionary of South African Biography (Volume V, pp 281-2). As a result of Mrs Nash's efforts, we know that on 6 October 1795, Friderici submitted an application to remain at the Cape.(1) He did not apply for a Government post.(2) He also made an application for a grant of land near the 'Groene Clooft' (present-day Mamre), known as Groote Rondeberg and Nieuwe Burgers Post.(3) Entries in the Cape Directory for 1800 list him and his wife, Sophia Maria Elisabeth (ned Bauermeester) as residents of Cape Town and its environs and as the occupiers of the farm 'Riet Valley (aan de Bergrivier)'.(4) These snippets of information suggest that Friderici retired to live out his last years near his in-laws, the Bauermeesters. As with many other recruits into VOC service, we know only when he was placed on their books - he was taken on in 1784 as a soldier, hailing from Heldburg, Thuringia (Germany). Even his death notice did not provide such details as his age or date of birth.(5) Notes

a. While the Dictionary of South African Biography favours the spelling of his name as 'Frederici', the author has kept to the artist's own spelling of his surname as 'Friderici', except for the variants used in direct quotations.
b. Admiral Elphinstone was still a Rear-Admiral of the White when he arrived at the Cape. He did not learn of his promotion to Vice-Admiral (promulgated on 1 June 1795) until news of it reached him on the arrival in Simon's Bay of the main part of the British force under the command of Major-General Alured Clarke on 3 September. All of the warships under his command would then have changed their white ensigns for blue ones in recognition of his advancement in rank.
c. A respondent to a note on the 'mysterious' ensign which the author placed in the November 1991 issue of The Mariner's Mirror (Journal of the Society for Nautical Research), drew a false comparison to the present-day Dutch Royal Standard, which had been especially created for Queen Wilhelmina in 1907. The author is indebted to the late Dr Cornelis Pama and to Mr A F Ubels, Chief Archivist of the Royal Archives in The Hague, for informing him about the Dutch standard.


The prime source consulted for information on Admiral Elphinstone and the British fleet under his command were The Keith Papers, published in three volumes at various dates for the Navy Records Society, London. Much of Volume I comprises Part IV, The Capture of the Cape of Good Hope, 1795-6, pp 205-474.

1. Cape Archives Depot, BO 232: 'Application to remain in the Colony', p 9. Artillery Officers: Lieutenant Johan Christiaan Friderici. 6 October 1795'.
2. Cape Archives Depot, BO 96: 'Applications for Government Posts'. Nil.
3. Cape Archives Depot, BO 109, No 33, pp 78-80. 'Memorials (Land), May - December 1795'. Joint memorial from Friderici and twelve other ex-Company servants, dated 6 October 1795.
4. Cape Directory, 1800, with a foreword by Eric Rosenthal (Struik, Cape Town, 1969), p 28: 'Permanent Residents of Cape Town and environs: FREDERICIE Johan Christiaan (van Hibburg [sic - Heldburg is meant]) and Sophia Maria Elisabeth BAUERMEESTER: Bergrivier'. P 249: 'Bewoners van Plaatsen: Riet Valley (aan de Bergrivier) FREDERICIE, Johan Christiaan en: Sophia Maria Elisabeth BAUERMEESTER.'
5. Cape Archives Depot, MOOC 6/2 (deaths 1797-1806), Vol 2, p 89: 'District: Cape. Name of deceased: Johan Christiaan Fredericie. Date of death: 25 May 1804.'

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