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Castle of Good Hope
Central, Cape Town, Western Cape

Pieter DOMBAER: Engineer
Pierius COOL: Architect

Date:1666
Client:State
Type:Fort
Status:Extant


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33°55'31.48" S 18°25'37.39" E
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Also called Het Casteel de Goede Hoop, Vesting de Goede Hoop, Fort de Bonne Esperance

Often erroneously and anachronistically atributed to VAUBAN

The construction of the Castle is closely tied to the trading rivalries of England and the Netherlands. In 1665 Isbrand GOSKE was instructed to institute its construction. The soldiers garrisoned at the Cape were tasked, when not repairing the old earthen Fort, to collect shells and stone and to this end paid additional wages for their work. There were insufficient wagons at the Company's disposal and so a wagon and span of eight oxen were hired from four of the Freeburghers. This was also for purposes of collecting firewood for firing two large lime kilns.

DOMBAER arrived aboard the Nieuw Middelburg on 17 August to select a site and oversee its construction. The proposal from The Seventeen was that it be constructed about the existing earthen Fort and this demolished on completion of the works on the Castle. While military concerns and express instructions to keep the new fortifications away from the range of cannon fire from the nearby mountains were to be heeded, it was the availability of fresh water which determined the new location, since at a time of siege the availability of water was an imperative.

The garrison was strengthened by three-hundred troops, of which two-hundred were set to work clearing and leveling the selected site. The surveyor and fiscal, Hendrik LUCAS, with Dombaer, set out the foundations. Digging the foundations of 4,8 meters wide to a depth of 3,45 meters at a distance of approximately one-hundred-and-fifty meters to each of the points of the pentagonally arranged bastions was arduous work. Eventually, after five months, the excavations were completed, and on the 2nd of January 1666 four foundation stones were laid, by Commandant Wagenaar, the Reverend van Arckel, the Deputy Purchase Gabbema, and a fourth by the Fiscal, Hendrik Lucas. The Company paid to each of the bricklayers, carpenters and smiths a bonus of thirty Riksdalers. Huge festivities were held on the site of the Castle. Two head of cattle and six sheep were slaughtered for roasting, one hundred loaves of bread baked and four casks of beer quaffed, as huge a festivity as had ever been had on these shores.

Two weeks later the Reverend Johan van Arckel was dead, and buried beneath the floor of the carpenters' workshop on site, which at the time served double duty as a chapel. Hence the Castle serves as tombstone to the Cape's first Christian preacher.

Work progressed in fits and starts, as the travails of European powers waxed and waned.

In 1667 the Peace of Breda ended hostilities between England and the Netherlands and construction ceased in May when news was received of the victories of the Dutch fleet, somewhat to the relief of the Seventeen who were alarmed at the cost of the exercise. The walls were then barely out of the ground, a point marked by an extant stone inscribed "1667 LVDOVICVS". Who Ludivicus might be remains a mystery.

This was a fragile peace. Charles II of England and Louis XIV of France had already divided the Netherlands in the Treaty of Dover (May, 1670). The VOC sent instructions to the Cape that building be resumed in earnest. The most westerly bastion was raised, three hundred men having been dispatched for the purpose. Boats were sent to Robben Island for the collecting of sea-shells for burning as lime. Commissaris Goske reported on the inferior quality of the bricks baked at the Cape and requested that these be dispatched from the Netherlands. By 5 November 1671 the western bastion was completed. The day after the team was joined by fourteen additional brick-layers who immediately set to work.

The lack of an adequate workforce and the tardiness of the troops was an ongoing issue. Collapse of sections of the building due to inclement weather further slowed progress. Isbrand Goske, the accomplished militarist who had initiated the project, was made Governor. He arrived on 2 October 1672 and immediately set to inspecting the works.

The imminent collapse of the gun-powder store below the first bastion was feared, and the construction of another beneath the second was an imperative for purposes of defense should the Cape be invaded. To this end the completed sections were stocked with ammunition and proviant. The gunpowder store of 9,6 meters by 3,9 meters wide was completed beneath the second seaward bastion and the reconstruction of the first was undertaken. In each these ten thousand kilogrammes of gunpowder in casks could be stored, or eleven thousand in chests.

There was much by way of materials that needed to be imported, particularly cement from Patria, since the attempts at the Cape to burn cement in the "Persian manner" had failed due to the sandiness of the soil. The construction was demanding of the workforce and costly. It was a constant fear that the labour would abscond or mutiny. In order to alleviate costs and promote a greater efficacy of labour the works were contracted out to the troops. One section of the Garrison would complete the third seaward bastion for 4000 Guilders. Another party was to do the rock-breaking for a sum of 6000 Guilders.

However the old travails of sickness and inclement weather caused delays, and the collapse of a large portion of the walling of the third bastion just prior to its completion set the work back by a month. Shortage of materials was another ongoing concern. The provision of lime was aided by the discovery of a spongy and brittle local stone which, when burnt, created a good lime. This eased the demands on sea-shells which led to cutting of the costs to the Company.

By October of 1673 the seaward corps de guarde was completed, and two months later so too the third bastion. A new contract was arranged for the Sergeant and the fourth most easterly bastion commenced on 2 January 1674, and brought to height by May of that year. At this stage it was resolved to demolish the old earthen fort, there now being sufficient storage in the incomplete structure. The men of the ships Tidoor and Zirksee, then in harbour, helped accomplish this task.

In the meanwhile the Dutch had concluded a peace with England on 6 March 1674, the news of which reached the Cape on 13 July. In October sixty men of a passing ship were instructed to dig the foundations of the last bastion. By 1676 the supply of shells of Robben Island had been exhausted and boats sent up the coast to Saldanha Bay to fetch supplies. In March of that year the Council Politic dispatched the Sparendam to Mauritius to fetch a sufficient quantity lime for the completion of the fort.

By this time Isbrand Goske asked the Company to release him. He was followed by Johan Bax who arrived at the Cape on 13 March 1676, which co-incided with the visit of the Commasaris Verbrugh, who instructed that the Castle be completed within the year, excluding the inner buildings. Governor Goske had left detailed instructions as to what was required for completion, including suggestions as how to arrange against the curtain wall the ancillary accommodation required so as to save on costs as well as keeping the inner plain free of impediments. He also foresaw that the completion of the moat, then already under construction, would be an arduous task, particularly on the rising landward side of Table Mountain.

By September of 1676 the fifth bastion reached its requisite height. The superstructure of the Castle had reached essentially the building we recognise today.

In May of 1678 the main entrance was completed. At that time all persons entering or leaving the Cape would have, of necessity, passed by this gateway. But much by way of accommodation was outstanding and in order for it to be properly considered a fortification there were many ancillary structures to be completed, not least of which was the moat.

In 1679 The five bastions were named in honour of the titles of the Stadholder, namely Buuren, Nassau, Catzenellenbogen, Oranje and Leerdam. But the moat remained incomplete. This was a particular concern of Bax and he decided to lead by example. One day, he, his wife and son each removed a basket of earth from the moat. Thereafter he issued a decree stating that anyone, male or female, passing by the Castle was to remove a requisite quantity of earth – twelve baskets by each male person, and for each female, six – in order that the moat be completed. Then it was a recent discovery that gunpowder was effective in loosening the earth. All white labour was subsequently withdrawn. By virtue of this innovation the work was already, by March of 1680, about a third complete.

(The narrative follows the descriptions of events by Ras (1959).)

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A description of The Castle, circa 1811 is included in "James Ewart's Journal". Ewart was a young Scottish officer of the 93rd (Highland) Regiment of Foot at the Cape of Good Hope for three years. His is one of the earliest accounts written during the second British Occupation.

"The fortifications of Cape Town are numerous but not of any great strength, being all commanded by neighbouring heights. The greater part are placed along the beach as a defence against an enemy's landing. On the east side of the town stands the Castle, now nearly surrounded by houses. This is a regular pentagon, the ramparts of which are faced with large blocks of granite; the curtain, in which is the principal entrance, is defended by a ravelin, as is another facing the country in which there is a sally port. The ditch surrounding the ramparts is dry and very broad; along the centre of it runs a breast work, about a third of the height of the inner rampart. This work on the side next the sea forms a strong battery mounting from thirty to forty guns. The body of the place contains the Public Treasury, a house for the Lt. Governor, for the Commandant, and staff officers, besides a barrack for six hundred men, with magazines, ordnance storehouses, &c.

The other defences on the east side are several small batteries along the beach, and a chain of forts drawn from it, to the foot of the Devils Hill, connected by a strong breastwork. On the brow of the hill are erected several block houses and other redoubts.

The principal works on the west side are three batteries, viz. Amsterdam, Chevone, and Rogga Bay. The first is more properly a fort, or redoubt, having a rampart all round, the side towards the sea is casemated and bombproof, and contains a guard room and cells for prisoners."

(Ewart, 1970: 20)

Submitted by William MARTINSON.

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In 2001 the Castle was restored by Gawie FAGAN for which he received a SAIA Award for Excellence.

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

FERREIRA, OJO. 2008. Fortaleza de São Sebastião en die Kasteel de Goede Hoop: ‘n historiese en vergelykende studie. South African Journal of Art History Vol. 1, no. 1
Bakker, Karel A, Clarke, Nicholas J & Fisher, Roger C. 2014. Eclectic ZA Wilhelmiens : A shared Dutch built heritage in South Africa. Pretoria: Visual Books. pg 2
Barker, Brian Johnson. 2003. The Castle of Good Hope from 1666. Cape Town: Castle Military Museum. pg All
Cole, DI. 2002. The building stones of Cape Town : a geological walking tour. Cape Town: Council for Geoscience. pg 18-20
Ewart, James & Gordon-Brown, A (Introduction). 1970. James Ewart's Journal. Covering his stay at the Cape of Good Hope (1811-1814) & His part in the expedition to Florida and New Orleans (1814-1815). Cape Town: Struik. pg 20
Fairbridge, Dorothea. 1922. Historic houses of South Africa. London: Oxford University Press. pg 45-56
Finch, JR (Compiler). 1911. The Cape of Good Hope being the official handbook of the City of Capetown. Cape Town: Corporation of the City of Capetown in conjunction with the Publicity Department of ithe South African Railways. pg 99-108
Fisher, Roger & Clarke, Nicholas. 2014. Architectural Guide : South Africa. Berlin: DOM Publishers. pg 10
Greig, Doreen. 1971. A Guide to Architecture in South Africa. Cape Town: Howard Timmins. pg 88-89
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 16-17, 20, 21
Luckhoff, Carl August in collaboration with Gohl, Colin and Versveld, Martin. 1951. Table Mountain : our national heritage after three hundred years. Cape Town: AA Balkema . pg 14, 15, 16, 19, 30 (ill)
Ras, Anna C. 1959. Die Kasteel en ander vroee Kaapse vestingwerke : 1652-1713. Cape Town: Tafelberg. pg
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 4 Castle Gate
Trotter, Alys Fane. 1928. Old Cape Colony. A chronicle of her men and houses from 1652 to 1806. London: Selwyn & Blount. pg 46-49, 67, 96, 137