A Minor Battle That Declared The Begining Of British Rule Of South AfricaPosted: June 7, 2009
Soon after the start of the American War of Independence from Britain, tension mounted between Holland and Britain, because of the Dutch’s trade with France and the American revolutionaries. In 1779 the Dutch Republic joined the First League of Armed Neutrality to seek protection from Britain. The British government saw the complications of getting embroiled in a war with Russia, Sweden and Denmark (members of the leage), and declared war on Holland in 1780. This was the beginning of the fourth, and last, Anglo-Dutch War. The Dutch’s naval capacity has been deteriorating since 1712, and their fleet was in dismal shape. With only twenty naval warships at the start of the war, the Dutch fleet was no match for the British Royal Navy. The Fourth Anglo-Dutch War resulted in ruin for the Dutch Republic that was ruled by William V, Prince of Orange. Prince William was pro British and also grandson of king George I of Great Britain. Therefore when Holland lost the war, he was blamed by the pro French elements in Dutch politics for mismanagement. The Patriots formed out of discontent for the Republic’s poor performance and in an attempt to turn around its decline.
By 1785 the Patriots threatened to overthrow the Stadholder led government, even though most people still gave their full support to the House of Orange. The same year the Patriot revolution commenced. However in 1787 they were forced out by a Prussian led force that supported William’s wife, Princess Wilhelmina daughter of Prince Augustus William of Prussia. Since its formation the Patriots associated themselves with the French revolutionaries, and fled to France.
In 1795 the Patriots returned with the full support of the French revolutionary armies. With force they took control of the Netherlands, and established the new Batavian Republic. Prince William V fled to his ally, Britain, abandoning his country to the French backed revolutionaries.
Britain now lost a strategic ally and with it access to the Cape of Good Hope. The Cape was a key midway point for ships to replenish crew and equipment on their way to important colonies in the east and far east. The British East India Company realised they had to take control of the Cape to retain access to India. Lord Baring the Chairman of the British East India Company, persuaded the British Government to intervene with a military force.
A fleet of seven Royal Navy ships was sent to the Cape under command of Vice-Admiral Elphinstone. Five were third-rate ships of the line: HMS Monarch (His/Her Majesty’s Ship, 74 guns), HMS Victorious (74 guns), HMS Arrogant (74 guns); two were 4th rate ships of the line: HMS America (64 guns) and HMS Stately (64 guns); two were 16-gun sloops: HMS Echo and HMS Rattlesnake. The fleet left Britain on the 1st of March, and reached Simon’s Bay in early June 1795. Elphinstone attempted to negotiate with the Dutch governor Sluysken, to handover the Cape Colony to Britain, but was refused. On June 14 the Dutch was unable to scorche Simon’s Towns, when 350 Royal Marines and 450 men of the 78th Highlanders infantry regiment took control of the town.
The Dutch retreated to their fort just outside Muizenberg, where their military force could defend against the British forces with artillery fire. The British assembled another 1,000 sailors from the fleet into two battalions of five hundred men each, commanded by Commander Temple Hardy, captain of Echo, and Commander John William Spranger, captain of Rattlesnake, bringing the total number of soldiers to 1,800 men. The British used carronades, a powerful, short-range anti-ship and anti-crew weapon, from the ships’ launches, to serve as close artillery. The Dutch waited with 800 soldiers at their Muizenberg fort.
The Dutch had three days to prepare their defences. Today some of these fortifications are still visible, like the middle battery. The middle battery is a small lookout post halfway up the hillside, on small promontory which gives it an excellent 180 degrees view from Simon’s Town to Muizenberg Beach. At least one gun was mounted at this location, since it was recorded as a battery. The gun was most likely a 4-pounder, of which several were known to have been deployed on the site. A 4-pounder weighed about 900 kg, and was used for signalling or to fire grape and musket-shot at infantry. The little battery is also home to the ruins of a stone hut built using cement, which indicates it was built by the British. The hut is currently demolished.
On Sunday 7 August 1795 at 12:00pm the skirmish commenced, when the British marched towards Muizenberg in a column formation, for speed and manoeuvrability, through Fish Hoek and Kalk Bay, supported by the the big 4th rate America and Stately, and the smaller Echo and Rattlesnake from the sea with their carronade cannons
In a hurry the Dutch constructed defences, and assembled the guns from various sources. Two 4-pounder field guns with their large wheels were the easiest to be transported with horses to the site. A couple of days later a 13-inch mortar and a howitzer, a kind of short, heavy cannon, and also a powder wagon, a kind of box on wheels with a steep roof, arrived at the fort. These were used for dropping explosive shells, instead of solid shot, on the British infantry. Next the Dutch sent two big 24-pounder cannons and their gun carriages.
These were meant to be operated from mounted positions as ship or battery guns. Apparently they arrived without their wooden platforms. Weighing 2500 kg, they quickly sank into the sand and impossible to aim. Two more 4-pounders were sent to the fight. In the Dutch’s retreat to Zandvlei they would’ve taken the 4-pounders. However the large 24-pounders, mortar and howitzer were left behind, and captured by the English. The Dutch most likely disabled them before deserting them.
Because the Dutch fort was built so close to the sea, it was within range of the ships guns. The warships anchored close to the rocks and in half an hour fired 800 cannon balls at the defenders. The column of British soldiers and troops then overran the position. Some of the Dutch and especially the Pandouren or native troops fought well, but Dutch morale was low and they abandoned the fight. The Pandouren were Coloured or Khoisan men who were either slaves of the Dutch or free men subject to the authority of the VOC. By 2:00pm the Dutch retreated around the corner to Zandvlei.
The fighting continued for weeks, but the British eventually pushed the Dutch back to Wynberg Hill. On the 14th of September 1795 a fresh assault with reinforcements was made on the Dutch. On 16 September 1795 the Dutch finally surrendered the Cape to Britain.
This first, temporary, British occupation led to the second in 1806, which was permanent, and is the reason we speak English in South Africa rather than French. The consequences of this little skirmish was huge.
Today, next to the Main Road in Muizenberg is a crude rock fort started by the Dutch in 1795 and expanded by the British from 1796 onwards. Higher up the mountainside, below Boyes Drive is a crudely built defensive protective wall in front of a trench (parapet) that was probably built by the Dutch.