This finely drafted manuscript map is of profound historical importance, as it is thought to be the earliest map of the Battle of Blaauwberg (January 8, 1806), the most important single military event in the history of South Africa, and a watershed moment in the course of the British Empire. The battle resulted in Britain’s conquest of the Cape Colony from the Netherlands; such that the Cape would remain a British possession for the next century. The map is confidently attributed to the military engineer Lieutenant Henry Smart, and was drafted between January 10 and 13, 1806, on the orders of Brigadier General David Baird (the supreme commander of the invasion), who included the map within his important (but now lost) despatch to London reporting on the battle.
In July 1805, Whitehall dispatched an army of 6,500 troops under General Baird, carried by a fleet of 60 ships, commanded by Commodore Home Popham, to capture the Cape Colony, which was then ruled by the Batavian Republic, the Dutch client state of Napoleon Bonaparte’s France (and Britain’s mortal nemesis). The British action was motivated by an imperative to stop Napoleon’s design to turn the Cape into an impregnable base form which he could sever Britain’s ties with India and the Far East. However, the British juggernaut would not arrive at the Cape until the beginning of the following year.
The Henry Smart Blaauwberg Map in Focus
The present map is thought to be the earliest map of the Battle of Blaauwberg. In the immediate wake of the battle, General David Baird, the victor of the altercation, was preparing his initial account of the battle to be sent as a despatch to London. He initially ordered his chief engineer, Captain James Michael Smythe, to draft a map illustrating the battle, to be included with the despatch. However, Smythe soon became preoccupied with other duties, and so handed the task off to his deputy, Lieutenant Henry Smart.
Henry Smart was born in Gibraltar around 1780, to a military family. He obtained a commission as a lieutenant in the Royal Engineers, and his participation in the 1805 Invasion of the Cape was his first major military assignment. He remained in the Cape after the invasion, serving as the Commanding Royal Engineer, from 1808 to 1818, whereupon he made, or oversaw the creation of, several important manuscript fortification plans and regional surveys (several of which are today preserved in the National Archives U.K.). Upon his return to Britain, Smart served as the Governor of Dover Castle, Kent. He retired from service in 1830, with the rank of lieutenant-colonel. Smart was the grandfather of Victorian novelist Henry Hawley Smart (1833–1893).
Smart executed the map between January 10 and 13, 1806, and while the piece is finely executed in Smart’s distinct drafting technique, it was made in considerable haste in an active war theatre, which likely explains why the map is not signed, titled or dated.
Smart’s map was enclosed within Baird’s despatch addressed to Viscount Castlereagh, the Colonial & War Secretary, reporting on the events at Blaauwberg, dated January 12, 1806, which was promptly sent to London. Baird’s original letter is not known to survive, although facsimile copies are preserved, and the text of the despatch had been published in several books (For the full text of Baird’s despatch, please see Martin Mace & John Grehan, British Battles of the Napoleonic Wars 1793-1806: Despatched from the Front (Barnsley, S. Yorks.), pp. 188 - 192). The modern whereabouts of the map, which was recorded as having been enclosed, remained a mystery - until now.
The present map is thought to be the very first map of the Battle of Blaauwberg, and the only contemporary map of the battle to remain in private hands. Excluding the Smart map, a total of eleven manuscript maps of the battle dating from before 1820 are known to survive, all of which are held by institutions.
Focusing on the present Smart map, it should be noted that the engineers on Baird’s staff were not especially knowledgeable about the terrain around Cape Town. Moreover, neither Smart or Smythe were themselves present at the Battle of Blaauwberg, having remained behind on the supporting naval flotilla. Consequently, Smart relied upon senior officers who participated in the battle, perhaps Colonel Joseph Baird and Brigadier General Ronald Ferguson, for geographical accounts of the event. Smart then applied these accounts to a geographic template copied from John Barrow’s map, ‘Coast of Africa from Table Bay at the Cape of Good Hope, to Saldanha Bay’, produced within his book, An Account of Travels into the Interior of Southern Africa in the years 1797 and 1798, vol. II (London, 1804). Smart enlarged the relevant section from Barrow’s map by use of a pantograph.
Consequently, the present map, while providing a wealth of information, is not accurate with respect to the location or the direction of the battle. Recent research and archaeological investigations have concluded that the battle followed a different course than as shown here. That being said, seminal aspects, such as the locations of major topographical features (such as hills, rivers), the location of the army’s landing, the relative positioning of battle formations, and the placement of cannons are broadly accurate. Thus, it seems that Smart’s eyewitness sources possessed a good memory of the formation of the British forces, but were somewhat hazy with respect to the army’s relationship to geography in the technical sense.
The map is orientated eastwards, and embraces all of the Table Bay area, from Lospard’s Bay (Melkbosstrand), in the north, down about 20 kilometers to the city of Cape Town, in the south, extending about 10 kilometers inland. The map presents a detailed record of the dramatic action of the battle, and related events, depicting every feature relevant to military operations, including the locations of maritime landings sites, roads, farmsteads, rivers and points of elevation, as well as Cape Town’s numerous defensive works.
The invasion sequence commences on January 4/5, 1806, in the lower left quadrant of the map, where “the Anchorage of the Transports” of Popham’s fleet is shown riding in the lee of Robben Island (which lies just off of the scope of the map). On January 6/7, the map (on the far left) depicts the landing of the British troops at Lospard’s Bay, before taking up defensive lines (coloured in a red wash) on the beach, along with their cannons. The surf was extremely high at this location and the landing of 5,400 troops was achieved only with great difficulty. Once ashore, Baird had two battalions and six regiments at his disposal; with the 1st Battalion consisting of the 24th, 38th and 83rd Regiments; and the second, the Highland Battalion, consisting of the 71st, 72nd and 93rd Regiments.
Meanwhile, in an action assumed, but not explicitly shown on the map, the defending Dutch Governor General of the Cape Colony, Lieutenant General Jan Willem Jannsens, had moved his force of about 2,000 men up from Cape Town, to meet the invaders. However, Janssens was not fast enough.
By the early morning hours of January 8, Baird managed to expeditiously marshal his forces onto the veld behind the “Blauberg” (Blaauwberg, today spelled ‘Blouberg’), a 230 metre-high hill, just to the southeast of Lospard’s Bay. The map shows all six of Baird’s named regiments, neatly lined up with their cannon, between the Blaauwberg and “Jan Maestarts” farm, along the rise running further inland to “Oliphant’s Kop”. Janssens hastily assembled his line opposite, a ways down the veld, represented on the map by lines of blue wash, placed along the road to Cape Town. Critically, Janssens possessed a highly disadvantageous position, with his forces out-numbered more than two to one, while occupying the low ground, such that Baird’s force could charge down the ridge to strike the defenders. The only real annoyance for Baird’s men were the Afrikaner sharpshooters perched upon the slopes of Blaauwberg, labeled here as the “Enemy’s Riflemen”.
The Battle of Blaauwberg proper commenced at sunrise on January 8, 1806. An exchange of volleys of artillery and musket fair was followed by a swift British bayonet charge upon Janssens’ right flank. This was successful, and the troops of the adjacent Dutch central line became spooked and beat a disorderly retreat, the action being brilliantly expressed on the map through striations of red and blue lines that seen to move across the paper. As shown, Janssens backed up his remaining force to the next road, but seeing as his general situation was hopeless, ordered a wholesale retreat of his army. The maps shows the Dutch “Guns abandoned” and to the south, the “Enemy’s Retreat” into the interior. As depicted, Baird sent a regiment to shadow Janssen, almost as far as “Fishers Hoek”, but the Dutch general successfully managed to escape to a safe location at Elands Kloof, 50 kilometres from Cape Town (located well off of the map).
Baird did not loose focus upon the big prize, which was to capture Cape Town. As shown, Baird swiftly sent five regiments southward down the coast, to a position in the “Reit Valley”, near the “Great Salt Pan”, less than 10 kilometres from the city. Cape Town, with its neat grid of streets, is shown in the far lower right of the map, guarded by a series of defenses, including “Craig’s Tower”; “Fort Knock”; the “Castle” (the main citadel); the “Amsterdam” Battery; the “Charonnes” Battery and the “Mouille” Battery.
On January 9, 1806, Baird sent emissaries to treat with Lieutenant-Colonel Hieronymus Casimir von Prophalow, Cape Town’s commander (in Janssens’ absence). Prophalow realized that he would likely not be able to withstand a siege, especially as the town was running low on ammunition and food stores. He wanted to spare his men and the city’s citizens the unnecessary hardship, so agreed to discuss terms of surrender.
Baird and Prophalow had a parley under the ‘Treaty Tree’ at a cottage in in nearby Papendorp (today’s Woodstock). The British general revealed himself to be magnanimous, allowing the Dutch garrison to keep their colours and to return to the Netherlands as free men, while the city’s residents would have all of their civil and property rights respected.
Meanwhile, Janssens continued to hold out at his retreat in the countryside. He was a proud and hard-charging figure, and was loathe to surrender. However, he had to be realistic, in that, following casualties and desertions, he was left with barely 1,000 men against Baird’s potential force of 6,500. After some agonizing delay, Jannsens decided that, “the bitter cup must be drunk to the bottom”. He singed the final Articles of Capitulation on January 18, 1806, which included generous terms for both Janssens’ men and the residents of the colony. With that, he ended over 150 years of Dutch rule over the Cape, ushering in over a century of British hegemony.
Historical Context: Blaauwberg – A Turing Point in South African and British Imperial History
The Battle of Blaauwberg (1806) was a turning point in the history of South Africa and the British Empire. It ended over 150 years of Dutch colonial rule over the Cape Colony, and ushered in over a century of British hegemony over South Africa. The Cape then transitioned from being an obscure colony that albeit occupied a key maritime waypoint, to being a major bulwark of a greatly expanded British Empire. It would form the nucleus of a great British imperial realm that would dominate Southern Africa, sparking much conflict, but also the ‘Mineral Revolution’ that created the modern nation of South Africa.
The Cape Colony, and Cape Town, in particular, occupy an especially important location with respect to maritime trade, literally guarding the only sea route in-between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Founded by the Dutch East India Company (VOC), in 1652, the colony remained a small outpost throughout the Dutch colonial period. By 1806, it only contained 25,000 European settlers, supported by 20,000 ‘friendly’ indigenous Africans and 29,000 slaves. While many thousands more indigenous Africans lived within the colony’s expansive geographical bounds, these societies were not by any practical measure under Dutch rule.
While a useful re-victualing base for long sea voyages between Europa and Asia, the Cape Colony was always a financial drain upon the VOC Treasury. By the 1790s, the VOC was nearly bankrupt, and the colony was in desultory shape with underfunded infrastructure, defended by only a small, unmotivated garrison of troops.
In January 1795, the Netherlands became the Batavian Republic, a client state of Revolutionary (and later Napoleonic) France, Britain’s mortal enemy. Whitehall was deeply concerned that France would use the Cape as a base to harass British shipping to and from India, the Empire’s greatest source of revenue. In 1795, Whitehall dispatched a military expedition that successfully captured the colony, after landing a force at Simon’s Bay, just south of Cape Town. This resulted in the ‘First British Occupation’ of the Cape Colony. This regime would last until the beginning of 1803, when the colony was handed back to the Batavian Republic, under the agreed terms of the Treaty of Amiens (1802), the short-lived peace accord signed between Britain and Napoleonic France.
At first, Britain was delighted to be rid of the Cape. The colony had cost of fortune to run, as the British had felt a need to spend large sums repairing its dilapidated military infrastructure and funding its civil establishment, the latter in an effort to placate the Afrikaner settlers. That being said, the British military had also gained vast knowledge of the geography and defensive capabilities of the Cape Town area, insider intelligence that was soon to come in handy.
In July 1805, British officials in Whitehall faced a tense situation. Since they had declared renewed war upon Napoleon, in May 1803, things were not going partially well. Napoleon was crushing Britain’s Continental allies, and, more worryingly, was planning a sea invasion of Britain, backed by a massive combined Franco-Spanish Navy.
Also of great concern was the fact that British spies had received credible intelligence that Napoleon planned to massively reinforce the Dutch garrison at Cape Town, in an effort to hinder, if not sever, the shipping lane between Britain, Australia and the Far East. Such a situation would not only endanger Brian’s hold over its imperial possessions in Asia, but it would rob the British Exchequer of one of its biggest sources of revenue, funds necessary to maintain the war effort.
In July 1805, Britain marshaled a sizable fleet of 60 ships commanded by Commodore Home Popham (1762 - 1820). Popham had extensive experience with operations in Africa, as well as landing operations of troops along difficult shores. He is perhaps best known for inventing the Code Book adopted by Lord Admiral Nelson in 1803, and then officially, by the entire Royal Navy in 1816.
The fleet carried 6,500 troops, under the overall expeditionary command of Major General Sir David Baird (1757 - 1829), an esteemed veteran of many conflicts. His estimable experience in India was seen as ideal for conducting an operation in the rough terrain of the South African veld. Baird also ensured that his staff included a number of officers who had served at the Cape during the ‘Frist Occupation’, so benefiting from their invaluable insights.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant General Jan Willem Janssens (1762-1838), the Governor of the Cape, did his best with the poor hand of cards he was dealt. A proud nobleman of the best kind, he had worked energetically to improve the colony’s economy and defenses, with very little support from home. German and Hungarian mercenaries, a mixed group of troops from Asia, in addition to local militia, made up the majority of his army. Apart from some of the Afrikaner fighters, morale was low and resources in short supply. He came to view the promised French reinforcements as a lifeline, such that his main job was merely to keep his regime alive long enough until it arrived.
On October 21, 1805, an event occurred that was to alter the entire war. Admiral Horatio Nelson’s British fleet had utterly annihilated the Franco-Spanish Navy at the Battle of Trafalgar. This definitively ended Napoleon’s ability to send seaborne reinforcements of any kind anywhere beyond Continental Europe, let alone to South Africa. Janssens’ waiting game was pointless.
As the Popham’s fleet approached Table Bay at he beginning of January 1806, news of Trafalgar had yet to reach either the British or the Dutch sides at the Cape. It is curious to speculate how this news, if it had been received, may have altered events.
While we know, in retrospect, that the British 1806 British Cape Expedition went swimmingly, Popham face a very difficult set of choices as his ships rode in Table By. He knew that if he could successfully land Baird’s force, then the British would possess the overwhelming advantage. However, to put is simply, there was no good place to mount a mass landing of troops from ship to shore.
Ironically, it was the British who had ‘ruined’ the ideal land place, False Bay, traditionally the ‘soft underbelly’ of Cape Town’s defensive perimeter. The British decision to dramatically shore up the defensive batteries at Simon’s Bay (where they had successfully invaded in 1795) negated this possibility. The only viable location for the landing was a point to the north of Table Bay, far enough away from Cape Town to be outside of the immediate striking distance of the Dutch garrison, but close enough to be a relatively short march to the colonial capital.
Popham was a professional hydrographer who had conducted many surveys along the coasts of Atlantic Africa, the Red Sea and Malaya, and had a good read on the nature of the shore and the currents of Table Bay. After consulting officers who had spent time in Cape, he became the ideal person to select the ‘least worst’ place to land Baird’s troops. He chose Lospard’s Bay, and it proved to be good decision, even as a few boats and several men were lost in the high surf.
Once Baird’s force had successfully been landed at such a location so near to Cape Town, ultimate victory was assured. Even though Janssens tried to delay surrendering as long as possible, even from the outset of the British invasion, he knew that keeping the Cape in Dutch hands would be nearly impossible. Just after the Battle of Blaauwberg he was heard remarking that “victory could be considered impossible, but the honour of the fatherland demanded a fight”. This explains Janssens’ decision to resist the invasion.
Once the Cape was conquered the by the British for the second time, Whitehall resolved to stay in South Africa for the long haul. It was decided that Britain could never again risk having its sea route to Asia severed by allowing the Cape to be ruled by a foreign power. Moreover, the notion of making the Cape a ‘settler colony’ for British migrants gained in appeal within the new ethic of the British Empire as being a socio-political entity, as opposed to a mere trading network. At the end of the Napoleonic War, Britain demanded, and received permanent title to the Cape Colony, in return for paying the Netherlands a £6 million indemnity.
While the century-long British rule over the Cape Colony would have a profound impact on the course of events for the peoples of Southern Africa over the next century, it was also the keystone of a much larger imperial design with global ramifications.
With the (albeit temporary) collapse of France as world power, and the weakened state of of the Netherlands, Britain was given a free hand to dominate the Indian Ocean Basin. Britain assumed permanent possession of the Seychelles and Mauritius, and made a play to gain suzerainty over Madagascar. Following the Third Anglo-Maratha War (1817-8), Britain gained dominance over the Indian Subcontinent. Britain also acquired the former Dutch trading base of Malacca and, in 1819, founded Singapore, which would become Southeast Asia’s premier port. Meanwhile, Britain’s presence in Australia was progressively expanded year by year. The Cape proved to be a lynchpin of this new Asian-Oceanian realm, connecting it to the mother country.
Later in the 19th Century, the Cape Colony would (along with Canada, Australia and New Zealand) become one of the great ‘settler colonies’ for British migrants. This would form the basis of British expansion into other areas of Southern Africa, which would result in the discovery of the world’s greatest deposits of gold and diamonds. While the resulting conflicts would yield much bloodshed and injustice, the vast wealth would modernize South Africa through the ‘Mineral Revolution’ and would play a major role in buttressing the economy of the British Empire. The Cape Colony would remain a British possession until 1910, when it formed part of the Union of South Africa, an autonomous dominion within the British Empire.
Antiquariat Daša Pahor is grateful to Mr. Ian van Oordt of Cape Town, who has graciously shared his specialized knowledge of the Battle of Blaauwberg and of the cartography related to the event.
References: N/A – Unrecorded. Cf. [On historical background:] Tim Couzens, Battles of South Africa (2004), pp. 37-47; J.D. Grainger, British Campaigns in the South Atlantic 1805-1807 (2015), pp. 1-56; [On Baird’s Despatch:] Martin Mace & John Grehan, British Battles of the Napoleonic Wars 1793-1806: Despatched from the Front (Barnsley, S. Yorks.), pp. 188 – 192.