The name “Cape of Good Hope” is in every schoolboy’s Atlas World-wide. It was, and still is, synonymous with Cape Town, Table Mountain and the Castle of Good Hope, which was built to protect the Cape Sea Route over 300 years ago.
In his book “The muzzle loading cannon of SA II” South Africa’s foremost cannon expert, Gerry de Vries, recorded over 700 surviving cannons in South Africa, the vast majority being in the Cape. In its day, the then “state of the art” Castle was the hub of a large number of defence locations which served Cape Town over the years. There were almost fifty in number, (not including WWII fortifications), many of which replaced previous fortifications. In total they were formidable and they served the VOC (the World’s first multinational company) and their merchant fleets well. Sadly, very few of the gun batteries and redoubts have survived and fewer still have retained their original guns. It is claimed that only four of the batteries ever fired their guns in anger, which happened in 1795. They were the temporary battery at Muizenberg, Hout Bay’s East and West Forts and the hastily constructed battery called Kijk in die Pot, the location on which Fort Wynyard was established in 1862. Only Hout Bay’s East and West Forts have significantly survived. The Castle is not known to have fired any of its guns in anger, which testifies to its defensive prowess.
An umbilical heritage link between the Castle and East Fort remains, and must never be lost. They share the parent ownership of the SANDF via the Defence Endowment Property and Account Act of 1922, when they were given to the Union of South Africa by the British Government. Ownership is still retained by the SANDF although it was “appropriated” to the TMNP for maintenance.
Whilst the Castle was never directly challenged, in 1806 the Cape fell to the British subsequent to the Battle of Blaauwberg, an event that had international repercussions across Southern and East Africa with World-wide implications. The reason why the British landed at Losperd’s Bay prior to the Battle was because their fleet did not want to tangle with the up-graded defences of Simon’s Town, Hout Bay and definitely not Table Bay ‘s fortifications which would have been disastrous for them. The exposure of the West Coast which had been discounted for so long, was the fatal flaw in the Cape’s armour, . Today a window of opportunity exists to create a “Cape of Good Hope Heritage Trail” based at the Castle where a field museum could illustrate the extent of its International history for schools and visitors to our country.
Opening the door to International Heritage Tourism
Dutch explorers and colonists were already in North America when the VOC came to establish a settlement at the Cape in 1652. A Fort had already been established on Staten Island by the Dutch, which one suspects did not survive the ultimate British occupation. New Amsterdam became New York, named after the Duke of York, Commander in Chief of the British Army. By coincidence a subsequent Duke of York gave his name to “York Point” on whch Hout Bay’s .West Fort stands!
The progressive colonisation of North America and South Africa followed a similar pattern and their paths crossed subsequent to the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, which ultimately linked developments with Hout Bay in 1781. A fascinating story!
The series of events that resounded across the Atlantic ocean from 1777 to 1781 read like an historical thriller, culminating in a race, to the Cape between Britain and France, when the French foiled the British by delaying their fleet at the half way mark.
The tables were turned in 1795 when the first successful British Occupation of the Cape took place after Holland was over-run by France the previous year. The VOC, who were dependent on international trade, eventually went bankrupt and British forces were tasked to keep the peace to prevent a further French intervention attempt, this time by Napoleon’s formidable forces. When eventually the Treaty of Amiens was signed in 1802, it took another year before the British administration handed the reins back to the Batavian Republic’s administration and a degree of normality returned to the Cape in 1803.
A Nation that turns its back on its history, the lessons and experiences of the past, good or bad, undermines the foundations of its future.
The sixty year rule.
In contrast with the Castle, East Fort’s vistas remain as they were when the Portuguese navigators, the Dutch, British and French merchant fleets passed Hout Bay on their way to the East. Its “sense of place” remains virtually intact whilst the Castle of Good Hope over-looks a bustling modern City.