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MELKBOS HISTORY

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Just off the picturesque coast of Melkbosch Strand, rises the historically rich site of Blaauwberg Hill. This name was first recorded two centuries ago. It was dubbed this because of the colour of the hill when seen fro the approaching ships. Its historical association stems from a battle which changed the history of our country, if not of more than one country – and perhaps of the world.

 

Blaauwbergstrand was mainly populated by people who lived off the land, the Strandlopers, or by farmers who either claimed land or were awarded land by the governments at the Cape of Good Hope. It was also populated by the Khoikhoi – previously proud tribes living off the land and farming goats, sheep and cattle.

 

In 1806, Melkbosstrand already had its foreshore – albeit only the Damhuis (Dam House). This structure still exists today on the Melkbos beachfront, but without the dam.

 

It was this dam which the British troops swarmed to for water when they set foot on this shore on 6/8 January 1806.

 

THE BATTLE OF BLAAUWBERG

 

A little mock battle and various other tactics were employed by the British fleet of 56 ships – under command of Popham and Sir David Baird.

 

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When the fleet, with troops on board, sailed to the north of Robben Island in January 1806, the Commander, Sir David Baird, intended to land at Blaauwberg. He found the surf running very high, so had to abandon his plan. He sent a couple of ships on to Saldanha Bay, intending to follow with the others the next day, and so march the troops from there. On the following day, the waters were calm. After at some point also faking a mock attack in the direction of the current Table Bay Harbour; there were eventually better conditions for the invasion of the enemy. So he ran one of the smaller craft ashore at a spot then known as Losperds Bay. This is slightly to the north of Melkbosch Point where Melkbosstrand is now established. Unfortunately, one boat, with Highlanders, sunk and the men drowned.

 

Imagine sand dunes, many ships at sea, and Dutch farmer snipers on horseback storming towards the invaders and firing at the enemies’ superior numbers.

 

The firing power of the cannons, on board the ships, chased them back. These could shoot 1,5 kilometers’ distance and would later again play a big part in the battle. The boats landed and the men helped them to water at the Damhuis. It was the intention of General Janssens, the Dutch Governnor and Commander of the Force, to hurry his men up to the summit of Blaauwberg, and so impede the landing and advance of the British. At dawn of the 8th January, the British had already crossed over the hill and were forming up in line on the other side, ready to advance. For 5 months these bodies were starved from anything fresh at sea. The British troops ravaged the Blaauwberg farm, as the dam at the Damhuis was too little to serve all of them quick enough. Further north, farms were similarly ravaged by troops working their way south from Saldanha. Sir David Baird kept his men in line for some distances, when he divided them into two and sent the left wing on first, which began to advance in echelon. Janssens’ army was a composite one; it contained Dutch troops, burgher militia, a regiment of Waldeckers and some French soldiers, with his artillery in the hands of the Javanese or Malays. The latter were excellent soldiers. The Dutch Farmers on horseback were deadly and brave snipers, but as the British advanced, Janssens had to call them back. For some time they stayed put, firing at the advancing enemy. Amongst the troops were also well-trained Khoikhoi.

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The British numbers were estimated at about 9000 men and the Cape defenders at 2000. In those days, fighting took place at what we would consider fairly close quarters. The British dragged their field cannons with them. Imagine the Scottish Highlanders in sea sand, across dense undergrowth, crossing the neck by Blaauwberg, drawing heavy war machinery along… in the heat of summer!

 

When the artillery of the attackers opened fire and the first shots fell amongst the Waldeckers, they were a rent-an-army lot, who turned and ran, thereby opening up the centre of the defence line. This seemed to be fatal. Paintings, serving as proof that Janssens whipped these deserters, show him on a rearing horse – whip heaved in action. He tried all he could to reconstruct the line, but the attackers were in larger force and he eventually retreated. The soldiers stayed next to Rietvlei Lake. The next day the next battle ensued, but with help from the cannons, which Popham cleverly employed – firing from the ships, the local army had to flee again.

 

Not to put the centre of town at risk by fleeing in that direction, Janssens stayed the night at Maastricht, a farm today still at the top of Conterman’s Kloof, belonging to the previous governor. Thereafter they fled to Meerlust Farm, another well-known farm today, then owned by Captain Myburgh and today still belonging to the Myburgh family.

 

Here, the Waldeckers tried to apologize to Janssens, but it’s said that he kicked them down a stair-case. Janssens and his troops then left for the Khoikhoi-Holland Mountains, but in the face of more British troops descending from Uitenhage, he decided to surrender.

 

It was not a bloodless battle, for lives were lost on both sides, although not in great numbers. Many were wounded. An estimate of 300 killed and wounded on the Batavian side and Baird estimated his losses at 700 killed and wounded. The British marched on, towards Cape Town, over sandy and dry country, encamping at Riet Valley that night. They were tired and worn out after the morning’s battle and the advance under a blistering hot sun over ground that was new to men from Europe. A few days afterwards, Cape Town capitulated.

 

A treaty was signed under a tree in Woodstock, which is a familiar landmark today. A plaque existed there until recently – it was stolen, probably for the value of melted copper.

 

The treaty was unique in that it favoured the local soldiers – a result of the respect the British had for Janssens.

 

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Had the local soldiers known how tired the British were during battle in the field – that some had died from pure exhaustion – they might have attacked again. Current structures regarding culture, judicial systems and more, are results of this battle. The battle also had an impact on the battle between the British and French in the East.

 

Dan Sleigh, South African writer/historian, says something to the effect of: If a battle-ground, such as this one behind Blaauwberg, existed in Europe, it would have been hailed hole territory.

 

This important historical incident was, for the first time, treated with the respect it deserves – although a small step, it is a big step in the direction of a nation discovering and honouring its roots. Especially the positive part of it – that of the protective attitude of the people of the Cape, protecting what is theirs in unison.

 

DEVELOPMENT OF MELKBOSSTRAND

 

The Cape Lands Development Company LTD developed Melkbosstrand – then known as Melkbosch Strand in 1924. At that stage, the Damhuis, a lovely Cape Dutch homestead, a few other holiday houses, a post office and a café had already been built. 600 plots were laid out.

 

There was a natural spring at the Damhuis, with a large dam almost where the current parking area is situated next to Beach Road.

 

The Cape Lands Development Company LTD supplied a cement building block plant and building costs were greatly reduced compared to other areas.

 

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An estate agency, managed by J Commaille, was operating at the entrance of the town. The office building was constructed from these cement blocks, with the intension to give exposure to the product and The Cape Lands Development Company LTD.

 

The Cape Lands Development Company LTD also completed a new water scheme which, together with two natural springs, supplied crystal clear water to the town and its households.

 

The development consisted of Mostert Street, Commaille Street and, with no formal road, where the current Beach Road is. It was meant to be a holiday village.

 

Provisions for only two “hard surfaced roads” were made, being the current Mostert Street and 11th Avenue.

 

Already at that stage, “boeresport” was held every year on the 2nd of January and was famous for its horse events under the patronage of influential farmers, mainly from the Malmesbury area.

 

Although safe open-sea bathing facilities existed along the whole beach of Melkbosstrand, nature provided a natural swimming bath in the shape of a miniature lagoon at the southern end of the township, almost where the fire station is situated today. Into this, one could dive at high tide and have a brisk swim.

 

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Practically every street has been planted with gum, pine, cypress and oak trees to create a green township. Tree planting has also been carried out on the fringe of the turf at the foreshore.

 

Tennis courts were built on Beach Road, together with a big beachfront recreational hall, where picnic dances became very popular.

 

Only after the development of Koeberg Nuclear Power Station and the building of the West Coast Road (R27), Melkbos developed rapidly into a residential township. This occurred when Kaptein’s Bay was developed and thereafter, Duynefontein.

 

A dune which hosted a fresh water dam at it’s top, had to make way for the new shopping centre, while the dam which served as a vantage point for the ‘Strandlopers’ stock guard, has disappeared under a big housing complex.

 

Kreef was nog volop in die sestiger jare toe die kreeffabriek, wat geleë was waar die brandweer stasie tans is, baie florerend besigheid gedoen het.

 

So onlangs soos 1970, het Melkbos slegs gestrek vanaf 1ste laan tot 19de laan en was Melkbos ‘n rustige stranddorpie met twee kafees in sesde laan en een kafee (Kreef kafee) in Kusweg – waar die restaurant, Maranello, nou is.

 

Die laerskool was geleë langs Otto Du Plessis, waar die Pre-Primêre skool nou is. Die hoof was vir jare Mnr. Louw, wie die hele laerskool moes behartig in drie klaskamers.

 

Desembermaande was die strand gepak met vakansiegangers wat veral in die karavaanpark langs Kusweg, waar die park langs die parkeerterrein tans is, geleë was. Talle foto’s bestaan van tente wat op die strand opgeslaan was.

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