FORT POST RETIEF

It was overcast and damp when we set off along a narrow dirt road, travelling through a portion of Mpofu Game Reserve, to reach the fort at Post Retief, used during the 8th Frontier War of 1850 both as a base supplying the campaigns of the surrounding areas and as a hospital for the wounded. The road winding through the hills was very rough and muddy in places. It was comforting to be in a 4 x 4 vehicle with a high clearance!

This is no place for a history lesson, yet the remains of the barracks and the loop holed stone walls capped with a double pitch to make it difficult to climb over provide an interesting insight to the building materials and styles of 1836.

Post Retief Barracks was designed by Major Charles Selwyn of the Royal Engineers and constructed from local sandstone – which is notorious for its poor quality – as well as bricks made from the local clay.

The kingpost trusses clearly visible in the Cape Corps stables are typical of the construction by the Royal Engineers.

In one building, the stone lintel is actually bending as it is not thick enough – one needs to bear in mind that these buildings were not meant to last forever – compared with another which remains straight, thanks to the thickness of the stone used.

Next to the officers’ kitchen is the officers’ stables, still containing a fully boarded roof covered with zinc sheeting.

A large tree is now growing in what were the officers’ privies at the end of this row of buildings.

The narrow gate in the wall opposite the officers’ quarters – facing the Katberg Mountain – was used to draw water from the Koonap River below.

MARTELLO TOWER

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.

Martello Tower

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.

Martello Tower flue

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.

chimney opening

That is where the flat gun-roof is, with a Machicouli gallery for defending the entrance from above.

Machicouli gallery

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.

cannon

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.

fig damage

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.

Victoria bridge

There is a forest of alien vegetation growing on the banks below it though!

Victoria Bridge

GREEN DOOR

Have you ever listened to the 1956 song by Jim Low called The Green Door? It ends with the intriguing words:

Midnight, one more night without sleepin’
Watchin’ till the mornin’ comes creepin’
Green door, what’s that secret you’re keepin?
Green door, what’s that secret you’re keepin?

The song popped into my head when I saw this green door on the Vergelegen Estate in Somerset West:

Green door