The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 15 No 5 - June 2012


Who designed the Johannesburg Fort?

I have just received an email from John Harris, who is the editor of FORT, the Journal of the UK-based Fortress Study Group. As you know, I am the only South African member of this organisation. John has just been on a brief visit to South Africa, and had the time to visit the Johannesburg Fort.

He mentioned that the visitors' information board at Johannesburg Fort says 'it was designed by one Sytze Wierda, the City Architect' while I said in my article on South Africa's fortifications, published in FORT in 2006, it was Adolph Schiel, Chief of the Prison Services. I have replied to him as follows: 'Regarding the designer of the Johannesburg Fort, Wierda was one of the members of the building committee for this fort appointed by the Executive Committee of the Republic, and which also included Schiel, Commandant-General P J Joubert and S WBurger, a member of the Executive Council, so it is a bit uncertain as to whom to attribute the design. Sytze Wierda was a fine designer and ran the ZAR's Public Works Department, and is credited with designing many of the Republic's principal public buildings and railway stations in the 1890s.

It is possible, therefore, that Wierda had some architectural input when Johannesburg Fort was being planned. However it should be borne in mind, firstly, that the fort was built around an existing prison (which would have restricted design options) and, secondly, that Adolph Schiel is stated to have been "charged with the execution of the building plans because of his knowledge of fortifications." ( Source: J J Oberholster, The Historical Monuments of South Africa, published by the Rembrandt van Rijn Foundation for Culture, at the request of the National Monuments Council, Cape Town, South Africa, 1972). I think it most likely therefore that Schiel was the main designer here.'

Richard Tomlinson
Port Elizabeth

Military History Journal Volume 15 No 4, December 2011. A reader comments:

Congratulations on another most readable issue of MHJ.
However the map on page 141 of Dr Amir's intriguing article on Tipu Sultan is almost totally illegible.

One very small point of grammar - in the obituary on General Magnus Malan on page 159, Allan Sinclair writes on para 3, line 4, 'He served alternatively as .. .' 'Alternatively' is defined in my dictionary as 'a choice between two or more courses'; 'alternately' would be better as it means 'first one then the other, with an option of going back to the first and so on'. But I think the best word in this scenario would be 'successively', meaning each appointment succeeded the one before as he rose up the rank of appointments. Sorry to sound like a schoolteacher, but I think it is important to point out so that the meaning is clear to readers.

Richard Tomlinson
Port Elizabeth

You are, of course, absolutely correct, Richard. I apologise for the error. - Ed.

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