Monday, 27 April 2009
Chavonnes Battery, Cape Town
My recent honeymoon in South Africa did not afford many opportunities for military tourism, not least because we were in the wrong part of the country for any Zulu or Boer War action. We missed the Castle of Good Hope because we arrived too late in the day (relaxing in a wine bar for 2 hours after lunch has its advantages, but efficient sight-seeing is not one of them). However, on our first day when we were just looking around the Victoria and Albert Waterfront area, where we were staying, we passed the Chavonnes Battery Museum. I think I was allowed inside only because it was the first day of the honeymoon proper and I had just pre-paid the hotel bill.
The museum contains the foundations of part of stone wall fortifications that the Dutch East India Company built in the early 18th century to protect its small harbour outpost. These defences were built on the order of the governor, the Marquis de Chavonnes, to protect the right flank of the castle. What de Chavonnes constructed was essentially a large battery that was atop a promontory at the sea's edge and so which had a commanding position to fire on ships approaching the harbour or trying to land soldiers. The battery took 11 years to build and was completed in 1726. It was the first step in a significant expansion of Cape Town's defences. The battery held 16 guns which were armed with a variety of shot. There were two ovens immediately behind them in which round shot could be heated to cause maximum damage to shipping. Apparently these guns were never actually fired in anger.
In 1860 the battery and other parts of the defences were largely demolished during the construction of the Alfred Basin and what remained was built over. However, the Chavonnes site was rediscovered in 1999 during further building work and the authorities decided to create a museum around what was left of the foundations. The museum describes the history of the Dutch defences in Cape Town and contains a large variety of 18th century artillery equipment, which are shown below. I was very impressed with the size of some of the implements - they were much larger than I had expected. The model of the gun platform is a useful guide for modelling. The uniform is that of the 22nd Batavian Infantry, a regiment formed in 1802 from Dutch marines specifically for service at the Cape. The final photo shows the Kiwi examining a late 19th century mountain gun. These were much used by the Portuguese up the eastern coast. Anyway, I thought these photos might be of interest.