The Battle of Blaauwberg

On Saturday 5th January, the Cannon Association of South Africa (http://www.caosa.org.za/) hosted the commemoration of the Battle of Blaauwberg. The display was awesome. The cannons were beautifully turned out and the littlest model (not much bigger than a cigarette lighter) performed fabulously. Public & Tourists visiting the Castle of Good Hope were treated to this fascinating display of cannon fire until 14:30.

Here follows a brief history of the Battle of Blaauwberg…

During Europe’s Napoleonic Wars the Cape Colony belonged to the French controlled Netherlands (at that time the Netherlands was known as the Batavian Republic). The sea route around the Cape was important to the Great Britain and they decided to invade and seize the colony in order to prevent the sea route from being controlled by the French. A British fleet was sent to the Cape in July 1805, to stop French troopships sent by Napoleon  to reinforce the Cape garrison.

The Governor at the time was Lt Gen Jan Willem Janssens. He was also commander-in-chief of the military. The forces were small and of poor quality, and included foreign units hired by the Batavian government for the purpose. They were backed up by local militia units.

The first British warship reached the Cape on Christmas Eve 1805, and attacked two supply ships off the Cape Peninsula. Janssens out his forces on the alert, declared martial law, and activated the militia. This was on 4 January 1806

Two British infantry brigades, commanded by Lt Gen Sir David Baird, landed at Melkbosstrand, near Cape Town, on 6 and 7 January.

Exchanges of artillery fire marked the beginning of the battle between the colony forces and the invading British. This was followed up with an advance by the colonists militia cavalry, and volleys of musket fire from both sides. A British bayonet charge disposed of the units on Janssens’s right flank, and he ordered his remaining troops to withdraw.

Lt Gen Janssens began the battle with 2,049 troops, and lost 353 in casualties and desertions. Baird began the battle with 5,399 men, and had 212 casualties.

From Blaauwberg, Janssens moved inland to a farm in the Tygerberg area. Later his troops moved 50 Km’s inland to the Elands Kloof in the Hottentots-Holland mountains.

When the British forces reached the outskirts of Cape Town on 9 January the commandant of Cape Town, Lieutenant-Colonel Hieronymus Casimir von Prophalow sent out a white flag hoping to spare the civilian population and the city from damage. Terms of surrender were negotiated later in the day.

The formal Articles of Capitulation for the town and the Cape Peninsula were signed the following afternoon, 10 January, at a cottage at Papendorp (now the suburb of Woodstock) which became known as “Treaty Cottage.” Although the cottage has long since been demolished, Treaty Street still commemorates the event. The tree under which they signed remains to this day.

The final Articles of Capitulation were signed on 18 January by Lt Gen Janssens.

The above passage has been paraphrased from various Internet sources including: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Blaauwberg, and the website of the South African Cannon Association: http://www.sa-cannon.com.

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