All right Class… By now everyone knows that the sea route past the Cape of Good Hope was of vital importance to the Dutch East India Company as they traded goods back and forth from the Netherlands to the East Indies.
Here is a question though… How did the American war of Independence of 1775 became a threat to this route? … America is after all on the other side of the world and had nothing to do with the settler community at the far South end of Africa.
It all comes down to alliances… The French aligned themselves with the Americans and by implication became enemies of the British. The Dutch, of course, were allied to the French and it suddenly became rather important to protect the Dutch colony in the Cape - and the sea route to India - from possible British invasion.
Hout Bay was seen as a soft target, with its wide beach that would be an easy landing for a regiment of soldiers who could then make a quick march over the Nek to Cape Town, which could then be taken from above.
A French regiment of mercenary soldiers was quickly raised in Pondicherry, India, which was a French enclave South of Madras and sent to South Africa to help build fortifications in Hout Bay. In 1783 the West Fort Battery was constructed with eight 24-pounder Dutch guns and soon after the East Fort Battery was finished with eight 18-pounder guns. The iron guns were cast in Sweden to the specifications of the Dutch military engineers. These guns were called finbankers.
Despite the best efforts of the Dutch and the French, the British did assume control of the Cape colony in 1795, following the minor Battle of Muizenberg. However, the gunners of the East and West Battery excelled themselves in a short battle on 15 September 1795.
Historical records explains the events this way:
"Around noon, the 16-gun British Ship Sloop HMS Echo, which was part of a small flotilla en route from Simonstown to Table Bay under the command of Captain Todd, entered the bay on a reconnaissance mission. The task was to establish whether or not the Bay was fortified and at the same time let the Dutch know that a British naval task force was active on the Atlantic seaboard. The Echo drew fire from both the East and West batteries and quickly took flight without loss, but she also took with her reliable intelligence about the gun batteries for the British fleet. Admiral Elphinstone's feeling that Hout Bay could be the "soft underbelly" of Cape Town was proved wrong and the Hout Bay Gunners' stand was probably the last act of defiance by the Dutch prior to the first British occupation."
So as you stand here amongst those old 24-pounders, try and cast your minds back over the span of over 200 years and try and imagine them blasting away at the HMS Echo. Smell the gunpowder, sense the excitement, hear the blasts, watch as history unfolds before your very eyes…
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In front of the last cannon (furthest away from the fish & chips restaurant) you will find old ruins. It is believed to date from World War II. The original ruins of the West Fort lies beneath that apparently. Anti Aircraft guns were temporarily located at this site during WWII. Look for large round iron bases for these guns. How many can you see? and how many bolts holds each of them down? (Please do not give the answers in your log).
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