The purpose of our trip to Fort Beaufort was to see the Martello Tower, which formed part of the extensive British fortifications authorised for the Eastern Cape by the then Governor of the Cape, Sir Benjamin D’Urban. The tower was constructed by the Royal Engineers in about 1844 and was manned until 1869. It is unusual for a Martello Tower to be erected so far inland, as they were more commonly used for coastal defence.
Dressed stone from local quarries as well as baked clay bricks were used for its construction. The base is 9,6 metres in diameter and the tower is 9,5 metres high. The stone walls are 1,9 metres thick. The garrison’s quarters were situated on the middle floor of the tower, with the magazine situated on the ground floor. There are four firing ports, each with a flue above it to carry away the smoke from the muzzle loaders that were in use at the time.
There is also a fire place for warmth during the winter and all the smoke from this and the weapons comes out from a chimney vent at the top of the tower.
That is where the flat gun-roof is, with a Machicouli gallery for defending the entrance from above.
The tower was originally equipped with a nine-pounder swivel gun that could traverse a 360 degree arc. A reproduction gun carriage is there to give visitors an idea of what the original looked like and a different gun is lying on the floor.
The Martello Tower was declared a national monument in 1938. It is disturbing to note that figs have got a firm hold on the walls – destruction of these is vital for the safeguarding of the masonry.
While in Fort Beaufort, we looked at the historic Victoria Bridge over the Kat River.
It is the oldest triple-arch bridge in the country. The bridge was designed by Andrew Geddes Bain and Major C.J. Selwyn and was built by the Royal Engineers in 1844. Having visited it some years earlier, I was relieved to note that several large trees that had been growing out of the stone walls have been removed in the interim.
There is a forest of alien vegetation growing on the banks below it though!