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The Battle for the Cape 1778 to 1806

The Battle for the Cape 1778 to 1806

The Battle for the Cape 1778 to 1806

Ian van Oordt

A4 hardcover portrait format

546 pages of which 28 are in colour and 55 references.

20 chapters containing 1,730 references and over 770 people.

Limited edition of 80 signed copies.

In 2006, at the anniversary event of the little known Battle of Blaauwberg near Cape Town, the author asked the organiser if there was a definitive book available describing the history. He was told that apart from a few books detailing the stories around the British landings and the brief battle behind Blaauwberg Hill, there was nothing. “Why don’t you write one he was told?”

15 years later: after searching through 26 archives, reading numerous first-hand accounts and checking specific details on the actual site, Ian van Oordt produced this long awaited definitive account.

This is defintely a concise reference book for the history of how Britain finally took control of the Southern Cape, thereby securing the commercial route from Europe to the East Indies. The author has expertly detailed the history behind why the Cape was so important: how the two sides of the conflict were embroiled in to the Napoleonic Wars, the build up of forces plus the epic voyage of the British fleet. Most importantly the book investigates little known facts about the battle of Blaauwberg on the 8 January 1806. It then continues to relate the military movements to enhance the readers understanding of a complex combination of how tactics and human behaviour entwine.

As the title of the book suggests, each detail is enhanced by written evidence from the actual people who were involved in the decision making and taking part. It is these narratives that make this book so good for understanding the events that happened. Sometimes, when reading historical records, the reader only sees what the writer wants to be understood. The author of this book, however, manages to extract the truth from the writing and thereby makes sense of some of the confusing aspects of war.

The British needed to transport a complete army of nearly 6000 men, plus supplies and accompanying support, from England to the tip of Africa at a time of high alert during the Napoleonic wars. The book explains how this covert operation was compiled and executed and nearly became embroiled in the fleets massing off the northern Atlantic before the battle of Trafalgar. Led by the enigmatic Captain Home Riggs Popham the fleet carried Lt-General Sir David Baird’s troops across the Atlantic to South America, before heading back over the southern seas to Cape Town. Landing on the shores of the Cape was not without its problems, causing Baird to make changes to his plans before they finally set foot on African soil.

The main topic of this book is the battle that took place two days after the landings. Details of the tactics of the defending Batavians was critical to describing how the events of the morning of the 8 January 1806 unfolded. A mixed army of several nations came together under the command of Lt-General J. W. Janssens to repel the British invasion. This book details how these various nationalities were moulded together, and dispells a number of unfounded stories that have evolved over the years of their shortcomings. Although a short battle the history continues over a number of days before the capitulation of the town and eventually the Cape.

The many maps and pictures from archives enhance the story of events to detail the history perfectly. But; the most pleasing of the pictures are the colour paintings of specific events of the conflict. Privately commissioned by the author, the paintings pick out details as good as any photographs of modern day wars. The artist was provided with specific information of each event, and the actual locations were used, where possible, to form the backgrounds.

The first print of the book was a limited edition of only 80 copies and quickly bought up by enthusiasts. Unfortunately, Ian van Oordt died shortly after the release of the limited edition, however; a soft cover reprint will be made available should there be a suitable interest.

Dave Honour

June 2023