Zandvlei Trust

The Battle of Muizenberg.

(Extract article from the September 2010 Newsletter)

photograph by Peter Kruger

Information board in Main Road Muizenberg, at the battle site.

This skirmish / battle, between the Dutch and the British, which has now become known as the ‘Battle of Muizenberg’, took place on 7th August 1795. That is 215 years ago.

Although there were not many casualties (two or three on the British side) and the ‘battle’ did not last very long, this action was one of the pivotal points in the history of this country. From 1652 until then, the Dutch had ruled the Cape and protected the very important sea-route to the East which gave the Dutch East India Company (VOC) access to the spices and riches of the East.

As a background to this ‘battle’ one has to look at what was happening in Europe at that time. France was at war with England and Holland. The French had successfully invaded Holland in 1794 and the Prince of Orange had fled to his allies in England.
The other major factor to be remembered as background to this situation was the remoteness of the outpost at the Cape and the lack of communication with Europe. The only communication was by sea and that was seldom and not on a regular basis.

At the Cape, the person in charge of the VOC’s affairs was Commissioner-General Abraham Sluysken. Besides not being informed of the situation in Europe, his task of controlling matters at the Cape was made more difficult because the VOC was beginning to falter and there was dissension and division in the ranks of the burghers at the Cape.

In April 1795, the Dutch frigate, the Medemblik, brought some news about the French advances for those at the Cape. Unfortunately this ship had sailed from Holland before the collapse of the monarchy there, so Sluysken was still under the impression that the British were allies and the French were enemies of the Dutch.

Given the turmoil in Europe and the importance of the Cape sea-route to India the British Government sent a fleet of seven Royal Navy ships under the command of Vice - Admiral Elphinstone to secure the Cape as a refreshment station and as their gateway to the East. That fleet arrived off Simon’s Town in early June, 1795.

The Dutch troops in Simon’s Town pulled back to their fort in Muizenberg while the British sent a delegation through to the Castle in Cape Town, who suggested to Sluysken that the Dutch should hand over the Cape to the British. This was rejected and the British delegation returned to Simon’s Town.

The site of the Dutch fort at Muizenberg is the land immediately adjacent to where Sir Abe Bailey’s home, Rust en Vrede, was later built. This was a very clever selection for the siting of the fort as it is in a situation where any persons passing from North to South would have to go just below the fort. The mountain in this area comes down fairly steeply to the sea and it would have been difficult to pass on the mountain side of the fort. The one disadvantage was that it was in range from the sea.

On the 7 August the British made their move. They began marching with infantrymen and sailors from Simon’s Town towards Fish Hoek and Kalk Bay, with the aim of attacking the fort in Muizenberg. At the same time four of the Royal Navy ships set sail from Simon’s Town and anchored parallel to the coast, more or less opposite where Bailey’s cottage stands to-day. At about 2pm they released a bombardment of cannon balls at the Dutch fort. It is believed that the bombardment lasted about 30 minutes and in that time they released many cannon balls. It didn’t take much for the Dutch to realise that they were outclassed and they hastily abandoned the fort and retreated towards Zandvlei and the Retreat area. (Hence the name ‘Retreat’).

A number of cannon balls have been recovered over the years. One is on display at the entrance of the Shoprite store in Muizenberg. It was found when the foundations of that building were dug. The latest cannon ball to be found was when they recently resurfaced the Main Road just in front of the Posthuys building.

Reinforcements were sent from the Castle but the fight had gone out of the Dutch and they moved back and encamped in the vicinity of Wynberg Hill. Odd engagements continued for about six weeks until eventually a stalemate was reached. In September the Dutch again tried to recapture the fort at Muizenberg but were repelled.

In the meantime the main British fleet with reinforcements had arrived in Simon’s Town and a new advance on Cape Town started on 14 September with the Dutch capitulated on the 16th.

This resulted in the British taking control of the Cape for seven years. The Dutch came back and ruled at the Cape in 1804 and 1805 and were then again defeated by the British at the Battle of Blaauwberg. After this the British ruled the Cape Colony and South Africa until 1961 when the Republic of South Africa was born.

The remnants of the fort of Battle of Muizenberg are on that strategic site overlooking False Bay. Maps and an explanation of these happenings can be seen at the Posthuys museum. Where they also have a good collection of cannon balls used in this encounter.

The remains of this fort and the site of the Battle of Muizenberg are cared for by the Muizenberg Historical Conservation Society.

Tours can be arranged.

Peter Kruger.


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