Battle of Muizenberg
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|Battle of Muizenberg|
|Part of French Revolutionary Wars|
|Dutch East India Company||Great Britain|
|Commanders and leaders|
Colonel Robert Jacob Gordon
Major General James Craig
Captain John Blankett
|670 Men||1600 Men|
|Casualties and losses|
|6 killed||8 killed in action, 26 died from disease|
In 1795 the Dutch East India Company controlled the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa. They had been in possession of the area since 1652, over 140 years. The once-mighty company was now failing. Bankrupt, confused, beset by powerful nations competing for the same resources, the VOC had not long to live. The British East India Company had developed its own trade to India and Ceylon, but relied on Cape Town as a refreshment station, just as did the Dutch. India was simply too far for a sailing ship to reach in one voyage from Europe. Wear and tear to the ship, sickness amongst the crew, need for provisions and fresh water meant that a halfway stop was essential. Without access to Cape Town, the British thought they might have to abandon their Asiatic trade. They claimed there were no alternatives.
In 1795 the political turmoil in Europe saw the Netherlands attacked by France, the second such attack. Prince William of Orange fled to England, his ally. The citizens of Holland had coalesced into the Patriots (Republicans who now supported the French) and the Orangists, royalists who supported Prince William. For the British East India Company the situation was dire. If the Patriots took power then British access to the Cape could be denied as contrary to French interests, and with that would go all access to their Asian trade. Sir Francis Baring, chairman of the East India Company, was quick to see the danger. He petitioned Henry Dundas, the British Secretary of State for War, for assistance.
Great Britain sent a fleet of nine warships and one merchant ship to the Cape under Vice-Admiral Elphinstone. They were the:
- HMS America (64 guns)
- HMS Stately (64 guns)
- HMS Ruby (64 guns)
- HMS Monarch (74 guns)
- HMS Arrogant (74 guns)
- HMS Victorious (74 guns)
- HMS Sphinx (24 guns)
- HMS Rattlesnake (16 guns)
- HMS Echo (16 guns)
- Arniston (a merchant ship)
The fleet left England 1 March, and in early June 1795, anchored in Simon's Bay. just east of the Cape. Elphinstone suggested to the Dutch governor that he place the Dutch Cape Colony under British protection - in effect, that he hand the colony over to Britain - which was refused. On 14 June 350 Royal Marines and 450 men of the 78th Highlanders occupied Simon's Town before the defenders could burn the town.
However, the Dutch still held the surrounding area, with a force of militia at Muizenberg. From there, they could harass the British forces with artillery fire. Accordingly, the British resolved to make an infantry assault on the militia position. In addition to the 800 infantry already landed under the command of Major-General Craig, 1,000 sailors were disembarked from the fleet. These were formed into two battalions of five hundred men each, commanded by Commander Temple Hardy, captain of Echo, and Commander John William Spranger, captain of Rattlesnake. This made a total strength of about 1,800 men. Carronades were mounted in the ships' launches, to serve as close artillery.
At noon on 7 August 1795, the America, Stately, Echo and Rattlesnake set sail, drawing slowly along the coast towards Muizenberg, with the launches in attendance. They fired on two guard posts, forcing their abandonment; arriving at the main Dutch camp shortly afterward, they began a highly effective barrage. Losses were light for the British - America lost a gun, with two men dead and four wounded, and the Stately took one injury - whilst the Dutch were forced to abandon the camp before the infantry, who had been following the ships, could even arrive. The bombardment lasted about 30 minutes, from 2.00pm. Approximately 800 balls were fired by the British ships.
The Dutch fell back to a nearby ridge, which they were driven from that evening by a force of the 78th, who took one injury. Dutch reinforcements were brought up from Cape Town overnight, and on the 8th a counterattack with artillery support was made in an attempt to recapture the camp; however, after a brief skirmish in which the battalions of seamen held firm, the attack was repelled.
The engagement continued for six weeks, eventually stalemating at Wynberg Ridge. Neither side was strong enough to defeat the other. Both sides were lightly armed, some distance from supplies and lacking in artillery or cavalry. Following skirmishes on 1 and 2 September, a final general attempt to recapture the camp was prepared by the Dutch for the 3rd, but at this point the main British fleet arrived in Simon's Bay. A British advance on Cape Town, with the new reinforcements, began on the 14th; on the 16th, the colony capitulated.
Few men died during the campaign on either side. The British dead are well documented, the Dutch less so. Of the 34 British dead only 8 died of wounds received in action; the balance were deaths due to disease.
The British assumed control of the Cape of Good Hope for the next seven years. The Cape was returned to the restored Dutch government (known as the Batavian Government) by the Treaty of Amiens in 1804. In 1806 the British returned and after again defeating the Dutch at the Battle of Blaauwberg, stayed in control for 100 years.
English became the language of the Cape. This was Britain's second African colony, after Sierra Leone. Ownership of this territory proved crucial during the First and Second World Wars, when mastery of the Cape had significant strategic importance to the Allied war effort. In addition the Cape became the springboard for British colonial expansion into Africa. Certainly current-day Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi all owe their current form to the battle.
- The 78th Highlanders or Ross-Shire Buffs
- Naval History of Great Britain, Vol. I, p. 300, p. 301 and p. 302