Hout Bay's Historical Batteries
Hout Bay with the Sentinel in the background.
Back in 1781 the Cape Colony was just over a 100 years old.
The Cape had a thriving trade with passing ships and Table Bay
was an important stopover for supplies for ships sailing around
the tip of Africa to the east.
It was also a time of war in the world. The American War of
Independence” was raging and the British and French were
also at each others throats.
Authorities at the Cape knew that due to the poor defences
at the Cape any power could just sail into Cape waters and
take over the sea route to the East.
Defences of Table Bay were adequate but Hout Bay and False Bay
were considered the soft under belly to the defences of the Cape.
Any ship could enter these two bays and land troops which could
take over the Cape with little resistance.
The Political Council became extremely worried on the 31st March 1781
when news reached them via the French ship Sylphide, that war had
broken out between the Netherlands and Great Britain.
After a meeting of the Political Council in May 1781 and at
the instigation of the Governor J. van Plettenberg it was
decided to build a twenty cannon battery at the western
entrance to Hout Bay.
Major Gilquin a fortifications expert and Pieter Cloete an engineer
were roped in to build the battery.This they did with the help of slaves and fortification workers. The battery was designed as a conventional zig-zag battery
with stationary gun emplacements.
Three of the four cannon that can still be
seen at the site of the West battery
In July 1781 this battery was given its first test when four
ships sailed into the bay to shelter from Admiral Johnstone's
fleet who were persuing them.Admiral Johnstone lead a British fleet to the Cape to take it
over but found that French ships had been sent to the Cape to
bolster its defences.
As was the case in those days if you cannot carry out your
main task then capture the shipping belonging to the enemy
as your prize.This the admiral had done with great success when he captured
a number of Dutch ships in Saldanha bay.
The ships anchored in Hout Bay were richly laden East Indiamen.
After patrolling the entrance to Hout Bay for a number of days
a frigate belonging to Johnstone's fleet entered the bay and
sailed to within shooting distance of the ships anchored in the bay
from where it studied the defences on the shoreline.
The frigate then left the bay and went to report
its findings to the Admiral.
The Admiral decided that it was not safe to continue the
chase so sailed away leaving the battery with its first
success without having fired a shot.
The east battery was sited on the lower slopes of the
Hout Bay mountains where it can still be found today.
At about the same time it was decided to build a battery on
the eastern side of the bay . This was done in the period
1781-1783. People are not sure of the exact dates of
the building of the battery.
Both batteries however were equipped with 35 pieces of 24-pounders.
(whatever that means). In my understanding they are cannon
which fire 24 pound cannon balls.
The east batteries' cannons were also aimed at
the entrance to the bay.
Llandudno was also considered a threat so a third battery was
built high up on the slopes where one today exits Hout Bay
to drive around Chapman's Peak.
This battery was placed there to protect the backs of the east
and west batteries and contained six 12 pounder cannons.
These cannon would have had a devastating effect on enemy shipping
should they have been called upon to fire on them.
The bay is reasonaby small and a ship caught in the cross fire
of these cannon would have nowhere to run and hide.
Both east and west batteries are still there today. The west
has four cannon pointing out to sea while the east batteries cannons are being refurbished.
It is interesting to see how the old strategies worked and how effective they might have been had they been called into battle.
Email : Geoff Fairman
6 Bothma Street, Monte Vista 7460 South Africa
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Page updated 27.5.2015