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Retief Park Memorial
Robben Island, Western Cape

Date:1870
Type:Memorial
Status:Extant

 


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Coordinates:
33°48'38.19" S 18°22'44.75" E Alt: 11m

The memorial is located at what was the central crossing of two intersecting paths within an open area that was originally known as Retief Park. While Retief Park has since been subsumed by later developments and by changes to the road layout, the memorial remains as an important marker of this layer of Robben Island's history. The three dimensional form of this small-scale memorial is made up of various component parts - namely a base, a cubic plinth and a capital.

A shallow square block forms the base of the memorial, the four vertical faces of which are finished with smooth lime-plaster into which two 'courses' of brick bonding were carefully inscribed along the upper margin. The top face of the base has four sloping surfaces falling away from a plastered cubic plinth.

Each square vertical face of the cubic plinth has a recessed semi-circular blind arch. Two of the blind arches (on opposing sides of the plinth) frame a set of large raised plaster initials in a cursive font which form a decorative monogram - superimposed on each other and spelling either WE or EW. The other two blind arches (on the other two opposing faces) frame the latin motto "Strenue et Prospere" which is applied in raised plaster letters that follow the curved form of the blind arch. The motto means "Earnestly and Successfully" and is apparently the motto of the Scottish town of Jedburgh. The motto's have in both cases suffered from the effects of time and portions of the raised letters have been lost. The top face of the cubic plinth also has four sloping surfaces falling away from a smaller cubic capital.

The capital comprises a square block on top of a shallow projecting base - and was probably made with concrete cast in a temporary form. Each square face of the capital has a recessed square panel - within which is a smooth plastered circular disc out of which radiate a set of inscribed lines. Each of the circular discs originally accommodated a date in raised plaster letters - one of which is clearly 1870. The other three dates are no longer that clear - having been damaged due to erosion or by vandalism.

The square block capital has a circular opening on the top surface making visible the hollow shell structure of the capital. The opening also provides a 'memory' of the original circular base of a precast concrete urn that surmounted the memorial and which has been removed.

It has not yet been determined what event or person the memorial commemorates. Based on the initials in the Monogram it might possibly relate to William Edmunds - the Surgeon Superintendent on Robben Island from 1862 to 1872 - but this is purely conjecture.

William Martinson, Osmond Lange Architects, July 2019.