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Provost Building
Grahamstown, Eastern Cape

ROYAL ENGINEERS: Architect

Date:1836
Type:Fortifications
Status:Extant
Street:Lucas Avenue


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33°18'53.75" S 26°31'11.24" E
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Military Gaol, Military Provost

British public buildings in the colonies were often built under the auspices of the Military Engineers, and this was certainly the case with most military buildings. In 1836, the Governor of the Cape Colony, Sir Benjamin D'Urban, gave instructions to the Royal Engineers to build a 'fortified barrack establishment' in the grounds of the Drostdy at Grahamstown. Two years previously, when Capt CJ Selwyn was posted to the Eastern Cape to take over the defence system of the settlement, the Drostdy buildings were converted into fortified barracks. Above, on Gunfire Hill, Fort Selwyn was constructed, according to his designs, by the Royal Engineers.

The Provost building was hastily completed by January 1838 for the detention of 20 mutinous Khoikhoi of the Cape Corps from Fort Peddie. In an attempt to escape imprisonment they had shot one of their officers, Ensign Crowe. These mutineers were subsequently executed on the adjacent parade ground. Based on the plan devised by Jeremy Bentham for a Russian prince in 1787, the Provost was built on the panopticon system, whereby each window of the tower housing the guardroom and gaoler's quarters commanded a view of at least two of the eight cells fanning out from a yard below.

Forming part of the Albany Museum, both the Provost and Fort Selwyn were restored some 20 years ago by the Cape Provincial Administration's Department of Nature and Environmental Conservation. The Drostdy Gates, now the entrance to the grounds of Rhodes University, also owe their origin to the military, having been designed by Selwyn and erected by the Royal Engineers in 1841 as a suitably impressive entrance to the Military Reserve. With the additions of flanking walls and sentry boxes, these gates, together with the Provost Tower and Fort Selwyn, comprise some of Grahamstown's most familiar landmarks.

Proclaimed: 09-07-1937. (Picton-Seymour 1989:110)

All truncated references not fully cited below are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.


Writings about this entry

Greig, Doreen. 1971. A Guide to Architecture in South Africa. Cape Town: Howard Timmins. pg 122
Hartdegen, Paddy. 1988. Our building heritage : an illustrated history. South Africa: Ryll's Pub. Co. on behalf of the National Development Fund for the Building Industry. pg 56
Lewcock, Ronald. 1963. Early Nineteenth Century Architecture in South Africa : a study of the interaction of two cultures, 1795-1837. Cape Town: AA Balkema. pg 275 (with plan)-276 (with photo)
Picton-Seymour, Désirée. 1989. Historical Buildings in South Africa. Cape Town: Struikhof Publishers. pg 110
Timlin, William M. 1927. South Africa. A series of pencil sketches by William M. Timlin with an introduction by Gilbert. E. Chitenden. London: A & C Black. pg Fig 17