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Fraser's Camp Signal Tower
Bathurst district, Eastern Cape

ROYAL ENGINEERS: Architect

Date:1835
Type:Signal Tower
Status:Extant

 


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Coordinates:
33°17'12.75" S 26°53'07.15" E

Wording on plaque below Historical Monuments Commission Badge:

HISTORICAL MONUMENTS
COMMISSION
WATCH TOWER, FRASERS CAMP. ONE OF
THE CHAIN OF FORTS BUILT IN 1835
__________

HISTORIESE MONUMENTE
KOMMISSIE
WAGTORING, FRASERS CAMP EEN VAN
DIE REEKS FORTE GEBOU IN 1835.

A small double-storeyed masonry relay tower. Originally constructed to communicate with four balls on a mast but subsequently changed to the Chappe system of Optical Telegraphy.

Fort Selwyn was the base station in Grahamstown, at which a semaphore mast has been reconstructed. Three relay towers were placed along each of two lines - one to Fort Beaufort Martello Tower and the second to Fort Peddie Tower. In addition to the base and terminal stations, which have been restored and are in good condition, the signal towers at Governor's Kop and Fraser's Camp have both been partly restored to consolidate the structure - albeit with no roof.

The semaphore tower at Fraser's Camp is the large rectangular shaft expressed on the west facade of the building, forming a vertical counterpoint to the tall chimney on the east facade. A relay tower such as constructed at Fraser's Camp was intended to be manned by three men. The entrance door on the north elevation was at an elevated height to facilitate its protection from attack and both internal floor levels were provided with numerous narrow loopholes.

The supply of water and other provisions was also an ever-present problem and the small isolated sites could not be easily relieved when attacked in force.

The towers were completed and semaphores installed in the Fort Beaufort line before the outbreak of the Seventh Frontier War in 1846. However, in practice, the system failed because the signals were difficult to decipher. This was due to the poor quality of the telescopes issued from London, the refraction of light in hot weather and because some of the semaphores were not silhouetted against the sky.

Within one month of the outbreak of war, 'all these towers were in ruins, abandoned by us or burnt by the enemy', in the words of Henry Hall, Foreman of Works to the Royal Engineers.

Ref:
Text adapted and extended from article on fortifications in SA by Richard Tomlinson

Tomlinson, R. 2006. Three centuries of fortifications in South Africa 1652 to 1958. Fortress Study Group: Fort 34.

Fraser's Camp was named after Major George Sackville Fraser. When Col. John Graham left the 93rd Regiment of Foot, Maclennan states that he "took with him some of the best officers, among them George Sackville Fraser, an 'uncommon fine lad', who he hoped would become his eldest captain."

According to Cory, "the gentleman first appointed [in 1812] to this office [that of deputy landdrost in the Zuurveld] was Major George Sackville Fraser of the Cape Regiment". Cory also notes that this position became known in 1814 as Landdrost of Grahamstown, in the District of Albany.

Maclennan records that "Fraser died on 19 October 1823, having lived out his last days at his farm, Lombard's Post, south of Grahamstown, which had been granted to him in 1817. He had been obliged to retire from active duty, although still commandant of the Cape Corps."

Ref:

Maclennan, Ben. 1986. A Proper Degree of Terror: John Graham and the Cape's Eastern Frontier. Ravan Press, Johannesburg: pg 29 & 224.

Cory, G. 1910. The Rise of South Africa: A History of the Origin of South Africa, Colonisation and of its Development towards the East from the Earliest times to 1857. Volume 1 (of 4): From the Earliest Times to the year 1820. Longman, Green & Co. London: pp 267 & 272.

Extracts of Information provided by Liz de Wet of the Cory Library, Rhodes University, Grahamstown.

[Submitted by William MARTINSON]

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

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 57