Although Port Elizabeth was never directly affected during the Anglo-Boer War as it was never occupied or fought over, measures had to be taken to prevent the destruction of infrastructure in the unlikely event of a Boer raid.
The blog only covers those defensive measures.
Main picture: One of the two forts at the Upper Van Stadens Dam which was constructed during the Anglo-Boer War
Erection of town defences
At some stage during the war, the British received word of a possible Boer invasion and started setting up town defences. Part of these were a series of forts and trenches around the area. Four of these trenches are still visible just off the How Avenue parking area of Settlers Park. None of these forts can be traced.
To man these defences, volunteers were requested. Nine hundred names were collected and eight Companies formed. On 5th February 1900, the first parade of the Port Elizabeth Town Guard was held under the command of Major Herbert Mallors Smith, an ex PAG officer.
Forts at the Upper Van Stadens Dam
The provision of water to Port Elizabeth from the Van Stadens River, 35 km west of the town, was first mooted in 1862. This was an ongoing process of development, the Upper Van Stadens Dam with its intake weir, filter beds and caretaker’s cottage being completed in 1893. Construction continued early in 1899 on the provision of a pump house, with engine and pumping weir, about 3 km downstream from the Upper Dam complex.
Despite its enthusiastic formation in February 1900 and regular drills in the Feather Market Hall, the interest of the Port Elizabeth Town Guard flagged during the year. However, the activity of Boer commandos in the Colony soon precipitated action there, as it did in other centres. At a special parade on 14 January 1901, Lt-Col E J K Priestly, Base Commandant in Port Elizabeth, called for volunteers to form another battalion, to raise a mounted company and to guard the waterworks at Van Stadens.
The volunteers for the latter duty numbered 3 officers, 8 non-commissioned officers, 86 privates, and 2 buglers. Four days later, the wagon convoy taking ammunition and baggage left Market Square with an escort of two NCOs and ten troopers, while the main body of the Guard was transported by rail to Uitenhage, and then marched 24 km to the Upper Van Stadens Dam.
The Guard was divided into two, one party to protect the pump house and the other, the dam. The men remained at the dam for three months, building two small forts in the hills to the west and south-west. They returned to Port Elizabeth on 14 April 1901, with the exception of two officers, a sergeant and twelve mounted men who had volunteered to stay behind. It is believed that the returnees were replaced by British troops of the 3rd Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, which had landed in South Africa on 30 March 1901 and had its headquarters in Port Elizabeth.
Although it is not known how long the forts and waterworks were garrisoned, the 3rd Bn Loyal North Lancashire Regiment returned to England in February 1902 and the Town Guard was disbanded in October of that year, five months after the end of the war.
Similar in construction to the Jansenville Fort, the two Van Stadens forts have unmortared stone walls about 2 m high, although the tapered loopholes occur at only one level.
The Upper Fort is circular in plan with an external diameter of about 10 metres. In addition to an internal wall offset beneath the loopholes, it has an external batter (or slope) to the wall. The entrance on the south side is covered on the outside by a freestanding length of loop-holed screen wall. A paved walkway or firing step, 1 200 mm wide and 150 mm high, runs around the inside of the circular wall. Apart from a collapsed section of wall, about 3 metres long on the west side, the fort is complete.
The Lower Fort is in the shape of a parallelogram with rounded ends and measures about 7,5 x 17 metres. The walls are 700 mm thick and also have an external batter, but no internal offset. The entrance, situated in the middle of the east wall, is protected by a projecting right-angled wall similar to the Jansenville Fort. An interesting feature is a 1 m wide and 1,2 m deep trench, which begins outside the entrance to the fort and extends 22 metres down the hill to the east to join another, U-shaped, trench at right angles; this was undoubtedly designed to provide hidden access to the fort, as this slope of the hill faces directly onto the Upper Dam and the caretaker’s cottage. Apart from a 10-metre section of the west wall and a 3-metre length at the south-east corner, which have collapsed to below the level of the loopholes, the fort is reasonably complete.
Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the end of 1945 by Margaret Harradine
Additional information regarding both the forts above the original dam as well as those defending the water pipeline where it emerges from the Van Stadens Gorge are available in the Port Elizabeth Historical Society’s magazine, Looking Back – Volumes 35 (1996) and 48 (2009) respectively.
Port Elizabeth of Yore: Memorials to the Fallen in War
Port Elizabeth of Yore: Fire Damage to the P.E. Advertiser in 1913
Port Elizabeth of Yore: Albany Road
Algoa Bay before the Settlers: Sojourn by Henry Lichtenstein in the Early 1800s
Port Elizabeth of Yore: Captain Jacob Glen Cuyler
Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Growth of the Population
Port Elizabeth of Yore: Murders most Foul
Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Phoenix Hotel
Port Elizabeth of Yore: Echoes of a Far off War
Port Elizabeth of Yore: Main Street in the Tram Era
Lost Artefacts of Port Elizabeth: Customs House
The Great Flood in Port Elizabeth on 1st September 1968
A Sunday Drive to Schoenmakerskop in 1922
Port Elizabeth of Yore: Horse Drawn Trams
Port Elizabeth of Yore: Trinder Square
The Sad Demise of the Boet Erasmus Stadium
Interesting Old Buildings in Central Port Elizabeth:
The Shameful Torching of Port Elizabeth’s German Club in 1915:
Port Elizabeth of Yore: Cora Terrace:
Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Grand Hotel:
Port Elizabeth of Yore: Whaling in Algoa Bay:
Port Elizabeth of Yore: White’s Road:
Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Slipway in Humewood:
Port Elizabeth of Yore: King’s Beach:
Port Elizabeth of Yore: Russell Road:
Port Elizabeth of Yore: Sand dunes, Inhabitants and Animals:
Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Horse Memorial:
Port Elizabeth of Yore: Target Kloof:
The Parsonage House at Number 7 Castle Hill Port Elizabeth
What happened to the Shark River in Port Elizabeth?
A Pictorial History of the Campanile in Port Elizabeth
Allister Miller: A South African Air Pioneer & his Connection with Port Elizabeth
The Three Eras of the Historic Port Elizabeth Harbour
The Historical Port Elizabeth Railway Station