Anglo-Boer War Blockhouses of the Karoo

The small Eastern Cape Karoo town of Burgersdorp is blessed to have two wonderfully preserved blockhouses. Named after their designer Major-General Elliot Wood, 18 of this style of blockhouse were built between Wellington and Beaufort West to protect key railway bridges.  These two are within rifle range of each other and stand one at the west, and one at the east of town on prominent hills.

There was also a military hospital located in the town, making this quite an important location for British and Boer alike, treating all casualties. Burgersdorp is the oldest town in

the north-eastern Cape, named ‘town of citizens’ by the 300 Afrikaner families who were its first inhabitants. The town is situated in a shallow bowl protected by the Stormberg mountains and as a result has a slightly cooler climate. A memorial monument to those who died during the Anglo-Boer War was unveiled in 1908 by the Afrikaner hero, General Koos de la Rey.

Ketting Station blockhouse in the Western Cape, immortalised by the Kipling poem.

The Ketting Station blockhouse stands on the northern bank of the Blood River 800 metres from the new Ketting Station. Take the Gemsbokfontein turnoff from the N1, which is about 50 km east of Laingsburg, by a large red and white mobile cell site mast and follow the dirt track for 7.5km, where the blockhouse is by the prominent bridge.

The Ketting Station blockhouse was immortalised by Rudyard Kipling in his poem ‘Bridge-Guard in the Karoo’ but is now a ruin and stands as a single sentinel guarding the 150 metres span rail bridge, high over the riverbed. There are inscriptions of former residents showing ‘5th RWR’ and ‘5 R. WRA. Coy’ painted on the loopholes which relates to the 5th Royal Warwickshire Regiment who were stationed here in 1902 and occupied the Geelbek River blockhouse on the N2 near Laingsburg.

Two more blockhouses, the Dwyka blockhouse pair can be visited on this trip if you carry on the road east, a further 12km – it is best to  return via the same route to avoid a risky crossing of the Dwyka River. Even when dry this can consume a 4×4 as the author found out to his cost!  The blockhouses are called the Twin Towers by Kipling and sited either end of the bridge, in a ruinous condition.

Richmond, Northern Cape, with both warring nations’ flags on Signal Hill.

You drive past the Richmond fort as you pass the town on the N2, just on the left and usually flying the ‘Boer and Brit’ flags to mark its presence.  You can access the fort from Loop Street in town though is on private property, please ask at the house before entry. The hill was known as Vlagkop by the Boers – and Flag Hill by the British, hence to owners wish to fly both flags!

There are other forts on the surrounding hills which were greatly needed when an assault led by General Wynand Malan came early on the morning of 25 June 1901 and lasted for approximately 12 hours. British casualties were 16 and they were laid to rest in the tiny Anglican cemetery in Paul Street.

At 17 Loop Street you will find the Horse Museum, which is housed in a former school boarding house, it is one of only two such horse museums in the world which is dedicated to the saddle horse. There is also a collection of rare old guns and pistols, muzzleloaders, and hunting rifles.

The small fort on the hillside overlooking Uniondale, Western Cape.

During the war Uniondale garrisoned the largest contingent of British forces in the area, and at the beginning of 1901 five forts were built around Uniondale. Only one was previously noted and recorded as a Provincial Monument, with the others only recently being published in the Anglo-Boer War Blockhouse – A Field Guide.

They are constructed to a similar design, being roughly circular, with a covered entrance and curved protecting screen wall. The all occupy commanding positions above the town forming a secure ring to protect it. they would have been manned by about 46 white and 95 coloured men who again saw some action as a result of that man Commandant Scheepers!

During Scheepers’ invasion into the Cape Colony he rode into the unguarded Uniondale and occupied the town for several days, having quite a merry time. He released the Afrikaner prisoners from the jail, locked up the local magistrate and destroyed all the records he could find. In an act of defiance, he tore down the Union flag and hoisted the Republican Vierkleur, then tying the British flag to the tail of his horse galloped down the main street in jubilation, in typical Scheepers style. Shortly afterwards the daring Boer was capture near the Ketting Station blockhouse and was executed by the British, which caused a major uproar concerning the unceremonious way he was buried.

  • The books are self-published and available from the author at for an order form. They are priced at R400 for The Engineer’s Perspective, which tells the full story of the blockhouse system in black and white, and R500 for The Field Guide”, which lists all the remaining sites worthy of a visit left in South Africa, in full colour. Discounted price for the pair.

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