The Eastern Cape is awash with places of historical interest. Some are tucked out of sight, but all are worth visiting as part of exploring the threads of the past that have helped to weave the future.
The Governor’s Kop Signal Tower, 15Km east of Grahamstown, is one of those sites that leave one wondering about so much more than the reasons for its existence.
It was built in 1843 as part of a series of signal towers that relayed messages via semaphore from Fort Selwyn in Grahamstown via Governor’s Kop to Fraser’s Camp and so on to Fort Peddie and Fort Beaufort.
Given the historical context, it was likely that not only would these towers have warned about possible raids by the tribes across the Fish River, but also provided information about stock theft. The idea was a good one in an age without cell phones! The signal tower at Governor’s Kop is a double storey stone structure built on the highest point in the surrounding area. Interestingly enough, cell phone towers have now sprouted on high points throughout the country – following a similar principle.
While it is now surrounded by vegetation, the Governor’s Kop signal tower would have commanded an excellent view of the Winterberg Mountains with a clear line to the towers on either side of it.
I am told that the signalling system was not as successful as originally planned for, in spite of the (then) unimpeded view, signals were apparently often difficult to decipher because of the mist and hazy conditions that obscured the messages.
Although the signalling system had fallen into disuse by 1846, the tower remains to provide us with a glimpse into the past and to leave us wondering about things like: how the stones were brought to what must have been a remote place in those times; the care taken in shaping the stones and fitting them together in a way that has lasted – in site of the large crack down the front.
A close look at the tower with its small windows and narrow loopholes reminds one of the potential dangers faced by the few people left there on their own to man it. Spending some time there filled me with curiosity. Where did they draw water from? What sort of food supplies did they have? What did they do for relaxation and entertainment? What did they think about being posted in such a remote place so very far, and very different, from home?