Friday 27 September 2013

Hout Bays East Fort cannons

How many times have you driven past the East Fort ruins on the Hout Bay end of Chapmans Peak drive and never noticed the cannons below? I read that those cannons have lain there for 200 years and now they have been restored are once again firing on special occasions.

The Western Cape region of our country offers the discerning traveler a view into a fascinating and colourful history. The little coastal town of Hout Bay has its own incredible military story to tell.
Hout Bay reflects the history of not only the Cape, but of many world happenings dating back to Van Riebeeck’s arrival at the Cape in 1652.

Just after the colony was 100 years old, the military significance of Hout Bay, as well as Cape Town, became of global importance. Britain and France were at war and the American War of Independence was raging (1775-1783). Protection of the trade route to the East Indies was crucial. The Netherlands and Great Britain also declared war during this period.

Table Bay was considered adequately protected, but Hout Bay with its easy access from the beach was completely open to invasion – placing Cape Town in danger. It was therefore necessary to take urgent action.
On the first of May 1781, the Dutch Political Council decided in principle to build a twenty cannon battery at the western entrance to Hout Bay (Fort West as it is known today.) The fort was just a few months later put to use to protect four Dutch East Indiamen that took shelter in the bay to escape the British Naval Fleet, and successfully deterred an attack by a British Frigate.

The French, who virtually controlled the Netherlands, became involved and sent a French mercenary regiment to protect the Cape from British occupation. Indian Sepoys and Irish troops were part of the French contingent, which was welcomed by the Dutch authorities.

The regiment (the Pondicherry Regiment) then built the earthworks of the East Fort on the slopes of Constantiaberg to further protect the bay,
A further fort was built to protect the rear of both the East and West Forts, to repel a Hout Bay beach landing. This was called the Klein Gibraltar

My thanks to G Tours for the information above in small print.

There are two unique iconic places on earth that every schoolboy’s atlas prominently displays. They have no rivals and are the turning points of East and West. The Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn.
Cape Town has been blessed with outstanding natural beauty, but  It has also been  given an extraordinary place in World history which like a talent, could remain undiscovered or even be lost.
Hout Bay’s East Fort embodies the beauty and the mysteries of the past, both of which are fragile. The Fort’s buildings have deteriorated over the last few years and are collapsing due to the neglect of the authorities entrusted with their care.

Please open the link to read more,thank you to the local Heritage Trust for their invaluable work.


In 1781 Hout Bay was included in the new defences.
The garrison consisted of Khoi troops quartered at Kronendal reinforced by the French Pondicherry Regiment composed mainly of Indian Sepoys under the command of Irish Expatriate, Count de Conway. West Fort was built adjacent to the present day harbour. It's guns were able to protect three laden ships of the returning East India fleet sheltering from marauding Admiral Johnson of the Royal Navy who had partially destroyed the rest of the fleet in Saldanha bay. The taking of prizes and privateering were rife in war conditions.

After this episode East Fort battery was built with earthworks and canon of large calibre on gun emplacements adjacents to the present day Chapmans Peak Drive. Some of the guns with the V.O.C. mark can still be seen and cannon balls that would have been heated in ovens before firing have been retrieved by archaeological digs.
The East Fort guns have been fired in anger only once. Admiral Elphinstone sent a flotilla inshore to examine the seaward fortifications of the Cape on the 15th September 1795.

"The Echo' put into Hout Bay and, remaining out of range, drew fire from both East and West Forts enabling her commander to report back details of range and fire power to his Admiral. The following day the Dutch surrendered and the British then occupied the castle and other fortifications including the Hout Bay forts.

Note, the West Fort cannons were removed some years back but were recently put back in place, I will post a picture later today.


Mail asking for information is below.

Nice blog on the cannons Roy! Two questions – was it the East Fort cannons recently put back into service, or West Fort? I saw the note below saying West Fort as well, and separately, but thought East Fort had been going all the while? Second one – the “Echo” – a ship? I always wondered why the False bay local news rag – equivalent  of Hout Bay’s Sentinel, is called “the Echo”? There is also an Echo Road south of Fishhoek on the mountain towards Glencairn. Connected with this boat? Do you know?

Later I will post a picture of the boat that was the Echo and for the day on the 200th anniversary of the event.
I was the helmsman that day and that was eighteen years ago!

The Arthur Robb designed Halloween, it was the Echo for the one day!