History – The Battle of Blaauwberg

The Battle of Blaauwberg

Just behind Melkbosch Strand, you can see a little hill, which was referred to as the Blaauwberg in 1806 during a battle, which changed the history of many countries.

In 1806, the Damhuis (Dam House) was the only building right on the Melkbos beachfront, with a fresh water fountain and a dam right in front of it. (The fountain still exists to this day, but have been channeled underground). It was to this dam the British troops came to quench their thirst, when they set foot on this shore on 6/8 January 1806.

The British fleet of 56 ships – under command of Popham and Sir David Baird, planned to pass Robben Island, but he found the surf running very high, so he made a round about West and sent a smaller craft ashore to investigate a landing right here in front of the Damhuis. The Dutch farmers on the other hand were waiting for them behind the many sand dunes, their snipers on horseback storming and firing from the one side and the British cannons with the firing distance of 1,5 kilometres, were chasing them back.

A National MonumentThe First Occupants

Eventually the boats landed, and the men took over the Damhuis as a fresh water source with plenty of dried fish in the “Visschuur” (fish shed) as the Damhuis was known then.

At dawn of the 8th January, the British had already crossed over the Blaauwberg hill and were forming up a line on the other side, ready to advance. For 5 months these bodies were starved from anything fresh at sea. The British troops ravaged the Melkbosch farm. Janssens’ army was a composite one; it contained Dutch troops, burgher militia, a regiment of Waldeckers and some French soldiers, with his artillery in the hands of the Javanese or Malays. The latter were excellent soldiers. The Dutch farmers on horseback were deadly and brave snipers and as the British advanced, Janssens had to call them back. For some time they stayed put, firing at the advancing enemy. Amongst the troops was also the well-trained Hottentot Corps.

The British numbers are estimated at between 9000 men and the Cape defenders at 2000. In those days fighting took place at what we would consider fairly close quarters. The British dragged their field cannons with them; imagine the Scottish Highlanders in sea sand, across dense undergrowth, crossing the neck by Blaauwberg, drawing heavy war machinery along… in the heat of summer! But in the face of British troops descending from Uitenhage, Janssen decided to surrender.

It was not a bloodless battle, for 300 killed and wounded on the Batavian side and Baird estimated his losses at 700 killed and wounded. A treaty was signed under a tree in Woodstock, which is a familiar landmark today.

Had the local soldiers known how tired the British were during battle in the field – that some had died from pure exhaustion, they might have attacked again. Dan Sleigh, South African writer/historian says something to the effect of: if a battleground, such as this one behind Blaauwberg existed in Europe, it would have been hailed holy territory.