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MMaybe it wasn’t much compared to bigger, bloodier battles in history, but the Battle of Blaauwberg, fought within sight of Cape Town’s Table Mountain in 1806, set the colonial power of Britain up in the Cape Colony for more than a century and ended the era of Dutch rule once and for all.
A quick historical summary will tell you that the Battle of Blaauwberg, fought near Cape Town on 8 January 1806, was a dispirited two-hour fight between 5 000-odd very tired, undernourished British troops and an estimated 2 000 Cape Colonists, many of whom felt they had something better to do somewhere else.
However, this seemingly minor battle had massive ramifications for southern Africa. It established a firm British hold on the region that would only really fade more than 150 years later, when South Africa became a republic.
As you stand on Big Bay Beach in modern-day Bloubergstrand digging your toes into the golden sands at sunrise, you look across the waters at that classic view of Table Mountain and the city of Cape Town.
Think back more than 200 years, when Britain was on the warpath against France. Holland and its colonial Batavian Republic, which included the Cape of Good Hope, were aligned with the French. Britain wanted final control of the Cape and the sea route to India.
The British gathered a massive fleet of more than 60 ships and a large contingent of troops and sailed south under the military command of Major General David Baird.
Back in the Cape, Dutch Lieutenant Governor Jan Willem Janssens called on a motley collection of colonists, German and Hungarian mercenaries, slaves and Khoi volunteers to make up the defence of the city and surrounds.
By now, the Cape had passed through several colonial hands. Originally established by the Dutch East India Company, or VOC, the British had run it for a while in the mid-1790s, before ceding it back to the Dutch – but possibly the most colourful colonial phase was the short 2-year tenure of the French, from 1781 to 1783.
Suddenly Cape Town was alive with grand parties, fancy feathered hats on parade in the streets, dashing French cavalrymen clanking about and making the ladies’ hearts beat faster – and with all this bonhomie came an unprecedented financial boom. For that short, bright little bite of time, Cape Town was known as ‘Little Paris’.
But 23 years later, the mood was grimmer. Baird sent part of his force north to land at Saldanha Bay and beached the remainder at Losperd’s Bay, now called Melkbosstrand. He headed them in the direction of Blouberg Mountain.
The battle took place on a plain on the eastern side of Bloubergstrand. One of the most colourful sights, according to historians, was that of the Highland Brigade, resplendent in tartan kilts, fixing bayonets onto their flintlock guns and charging, bagpipes in full cry, over the field of battle.
The colonial mercenaries, the Waldeck battalion, were the first to waver in the face of the charging Highlanders. Janssens ordered a retreat, with more than 330 men lost. The British had about 220 casualties.
A scant two days after landing, the British were in charge of Cape Town, and would remain so until the Union of South Africa was formed in 1910 – although it was still nominally ruled by the British monarch via the commonwealth until the country was declared a republic in 1961.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Blaauwberg Coast Visitor Information Centre
Tel: +27 (0)21 521 1080
Rietvlei Wetland Reserve
Tel: +27 (0)21 444 0315
Blue Peter Hotel
Tel: +27 (0)21 554 1956
How to get here
There are no battleground relics to remind one of this engagement, but interested visitors normally go to Rietvlei Wetland Reserve in Grey Avenue, Table View, where Governor Janssens had his field headquarters.
Best time to visit
Pick a sunny day in the Cape and enjoy an outdoor braai – and also perhaps a bit of fishing, hiking and bird-watching.
Things to do in the area
You’re at the southern gateway to the glorious West Coast of South Africa. Motor up the coast and visit hideaways like Paternoster, Langebaan and Saldanha Bay.
Tours to do
There is a huge amount to do in and around Cape Town. Browse through the selection of attractions on the Cape Town Tourism website.
What will it cost
Rietvlei Wetland Reserve entry fees: R16 for your vehicle, R12 per adult, R6 per child, senior citizen or student.
Length of stay
A visit to Rietvlei Wetland Reserve followed by lunch in Bloubergstrand and some time on Big Bay Beach, and your day is almost over!
What to pack
Pack binoculars for bird-watching, sun block for sensitive skin and a big floppy hat for the outdoors. From April to September, wet-weather gear is also a must in Western Cape.
Where to stay
Bloubergstrand has lots of good accommodation options – see the listed Cape Town Tourism website. Why not stay at the historic and nautically themed Blue Peter Hotel right on Bloubergstrand?
What to eat
Enjoy a seafood dinner in The Lighthouse Restaurant at the Blue Peter Hotel, with the beautiful Table Mountain as a backdrop.
The Cadiz Freedom Swim from Robben Island to Bloubergstrand usually takes place in April.