"In the end, it's not the years in your life that count, it's the life in your years." - Abraham Lincoln

Posted on February 10, 2018 by Sioux under General
2 Comments

 

We walked across the Clock Tower Precinct, not knowing what to expect. At the entrance to the museum we were told that the ruins we were about to see had been uncovered during excavations for new buildings and at the time of the discovery, no one other than those alive in Van Riebeeck’s era had walked on the sands!  It felt almost surreal to be walking around, underneath a modern building, and being transported back hundreds of years! 

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The Chavonnes Battery, built in 1714-1726, was a coastal fortification protecting Cape Town. Although completed in 1726, it was only officially named in 1744 after the death of its founder and the governor of the time, Marquis de Chavonnes. Built in a “U” shape with a stone wall built on a rocky outcrop at the waters’ edge, the battery had 16 mounted guns with an arc of fire of nearly 180 degrees. The battery also served as a prison and quarantine and convalescent wing of the old Somerset Hospital.   

The area was filled-in in 1861 when construction work started on the Alfred basin and some of the stone and rubble from the site was used to create a breakwater. Further damage occurred when coal bunkers and later The Concentra fish factory were built over the site. It seemed as if the Chavonnes Battery was doomed to remain hidden forever! The site was excavated by archaeologists in the 1990’s during the re-development of the Clock Tower Precinct and the construction of office buildings. It is now a museum which includes some of the excavated walls, a well and other components of part of the battery, with displays of cannons and the equipment needed to maintain and fire them.

Original walls underneath the  Nedbank building 

Original walls of the battery

The ruins of the stone wall with arches are the remains of the Concentra fish factory which

was constructed over part of the battery in the 1880’s, destroying the eastern corner.

 

The ground floor of the east side of the Concentra factory was made up of the Queens Cargo store, also built in 1880.

 

The arched openings are still visible, as are the thick shale walls and granite moldings.

Cannon shell

The well in the battery was first noted on plans dated 1808 and was probably dug by the British to use the water for sponging the heavy cannon barrels down after firing. The water is now undrinkable as it is too salty, but it is assumed it was fresh until the site was disturbed during the building of the Albert basin in 1861, allowing sea water to flow into the well.

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A typical cannon site, with all equipment and armaments packed ready for use: 

 

1). Rammer 2). Sponge 3). Hot-shot oven 5). Tongs 6). Kindling wood

8). Hand spikes 9). Lead apron 10). Spare breeching

11). Linstock in sand barrels 12). Wads 13). Cartridges 14). Block and tackle 

15). Cannon balls 16). Carriage 20). Wooden gun platform

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The size of cannon balls in pounds. To convert to kg’s, divide the pounds by 2.2.

Various rams and sponges used when firing and cleaning the cannons

An interesting and informative morning out! 

Leaving the Battery, we decided to see if we could get tickets to the ferry to Robben Island. As the days trips were fully booked, we opted for a sailing boat trip instead. The seas were relatively calm but there was quite a wind blowing which made for ideal sailing weather and we headed out for an hours’ sail around the bay.   

Windswept, sunburned, hungry and thirsty, we went for lunch and then headed out to Slangkop Lighthouse in the hopes of seeing a good sunset.  

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The 3-storey clock tower in the V&A Waterfront was imported from Edinburgh and quickly became a landmark once building was completed in 1882, to be used as the first Port Captain’s office. The pointed Gothic windows and stunning clock gave it a unique beauty, despite being a functional building. On the ground floor was the top of a well-like tidal gauge which indicated the exact height of the tide at any given time, for the benefit of ships entering and leaving the harbour. The top floor was lined with mirrors so the Ports’ Captain could see everything that was happening in the docks by merely moving his eyes around. The tower was painstakingly restored in 1998, the clock repaired and restored and layers of drab grey paint peeled off to reveal the original colour – the striking red it is today. Over the years the tower has begun leaning to one side and is now about 50mm off centre. Brass pins have been inserted into the brickwork to ensure any further tilting can be easily spotted. 

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The Carrick Mat, also known as a Thump Mat, is a knotted rope traditionally placed around a ring bolt on the deck of a ship as chafing gear – to deaden the sound of the block falling and to save wear on the deck and tackle.

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2 responses to “Home again #8 – part 3 – long lost discoveries and sailing boats.”

  1. Cheryl Wilkinson says:

    Good for you Sue we don’t realise how beautiful and how much history we have right under our noses here in S.A. We were in Simons Town for a short period in December i.e. between Christmas & New Year and I was fascinated with the battery there – love this stuff! I find it all so interesting! Tx for sharing!

  2. Pauline Smith says:

    Lol – you, scuba diving… Nah, I don’t think so.
    Always love your history lessons.

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