Graham Leslie McCallum

The tree of happiness flowers and fruits most abundantly for the creative man

FORT AMIEL – A HISTORY

RESEARCHING FORT AMIEL

There is and always has been a paucity of information on long overlooked Fort Amiel, and researching the fort’s history has not been an easy task. Even the restoration of the installation in 1986 was beset with problems, especially in regard to the positioning of the walls, and even the very nature of the buildings that had not survived.

In reflection, this lack of information has several reasons, the first being that most visitors to and through Newcastle between the years 1876 to 1902, did not take a trip up to the fort which was located a distance outside of the town and away from the road. In addition, Newcastle was in every sense of the word a ‘frontier village’ with little import for several decades, bar for military reasons and latterly for the coal that lies in seams about and under the town. Further to this – for the few who did put pen-to-paper – they most times referred to any military matter in relation to Newcastle and not to Fort Amiel – even though the military encampments and most military maneuverings were located at and around the fort. Another reason is that momentous events such as the Battles of Laingsnek, Ingogo and Majuba drew the attention of writers and reporters further north from the fort. One can locate numerous images of Majuba Mountain, but precious few of the neighbouring town and of Fort Amiel from where the soldiers marched out to these battles. I am certain that had Newcastle been besieged by the Boers as were the towns of Ladysmith and Kimberley; or had the Fort been beset by the Zulu impi as had happened at the mission station Rorkes Drift, we would have a plethora of information and imagery.

I do not believe that this dearth of information diminishes the importance of the fort, for it is quite evident from the information that we do have, that Fort Amiel was a vital and strategic point during the Anglo-Zulu War as well as during both Anglo-Boer Wars.

Research requires us to work that much harder – and whereas other topics require simple harvesting, that of Fort Amiel has required concentrated and long term gleaning.

I trust this posting will add to our knowledge of Fort Amiel and provide some insight into the lives of the men and women who were stationed here. I dedicate this history to all the soldiers who served loyally at the fort. Also to all those who suffered  the wounds of war, and to those young men who paid the ultimate price. May their spirits rest in peace.

Graham Leslie McCallum

Early Newcastle and For Amiel

FORT AMIEL and the STAFFORDSHIRE VOLUNTEERS

The frontier town of Newcastle gained importance to the British Military in the 1870’s as the British Government took preparatory measures to complete the annexation of the Transvaal. To accomplish this, British troops were stationed at several towns and villages across the Transvaal, setting up garrisons at towns like Standerton and Potchefstroom. Lord Carnarvon at the Colonial Office in London believed in a more vigorous foreign policy, and that the Transvaal be brought completely under the British umbrella of control. He therefore encouraged greater military preparedness, with the upgrading of military installations. One of the first indications of this new strategy was the building of Fort Amiel and Fort Durnford in 1976 at Natal.

In the Transvaal – British troops were spread rather thinly and with the Boers becoming increasingly hostile and rebellious to British authorities, it became necessary to hold additional troops in reserve within the Colony of Natal should they be needed to bolster the garrisons already in the Transvaal.

This strategy is borne out by an early traveler who traversed Newcastle in early 1876, namely Anthony Trollope, who wrote the following in his book ‘South Africa’… “Newcastle is the frontier town of the Natal Colony, and is nearly half-way between Pietermarizburg and Pretoria, the capital of the Transvaal. It is now being made a military station, – with the double purpose of overawing the Dutch Boers who have been annexed, and the Zulus who have not.”

It is for this reason that the order was given that the 80th Regiment, known as the Staffordshire Volunteers, were to be transported to Natal. They arrived at Port Natal, Durban, early in 1876, in the vessel ‘Orontes’ from their previous posting in Hong Kong.

Troopship Orontes

Her Majesty’s Transport ‘Orontes’ photographed at Cape Town in the 1870’s.
The regiment of 300 men of varying ranks commenced a march in May 1876 from Durban (by foot, for the railway line was yet to be built) up the escarpment, across the midlands and over the Biggarsberg Range, and arriving at frontier town Newcastle in June that winter. This road (more a track) is described in accounts of the time as rutted, muddy, and dangerous to animal and vehicle. The road forks beyond Newcastle, with one branch leading across Botha’s Pass to the Orange Free State and on to Bloemfontein and Kimberley in Griqualand West, where diamonds had recently been discovered in 1871. The other branch led up the Majuba Pass, over Lang’s Nek (also traditionally but erroneously spelled Laing’s Nek) to Charlestown, and then over the border to the small town of Volksrust in the Transvaal, and on to the capital, Pretoria.

80th Regiment of Foot

A soldier from the 80th Regiment of Foot.

Anthony Trollope, an early visitor to Newcastle wrote an account in his book ‘South Africa’ of a detachment of the 80th who he encountered encamped along the road to Newcastle… “Immediately opposite to this hovel there was on that night a detachment of the 80th going up to join its regiment at Newcastle. The soldiers were in tents, ten men in a tent, and when I left them in the evening seemed to be happy enough. It poured during the whole night and on the next morning the poor wretches were very miserable. The rain had got into their tents and they were wet through in their shirts. I saw some of them afterwards as they got into Newcastle, and more miserable creatures I never beheld. They had three days of unceasing rain, and – as they said, no food for two days.”

Any traveler today, taking the old road to Newcastle that traverses numerous hills, deep valleys and rocky mountains; crossing numerous streams and rivers – cannot fail to appreciate what the 80th endured as they lugged all their kit and equipment the 400 kilometres inland.

Trollope continues… “When they reached Newcastle there was a river between them and their camping ground. In fine weather the ford is nearly dry; but now the water had risen up to a man’s middle and the poor fellows went through with their great coats on, too far gone in their misery to care for further troubles.”

80th Regiment of Foot, Staffordshire Volunteers, button, Fort Amiel, Newcastle

Military button belonging to the 80th Regiment, Staffordshire Volunteers, found at Fort Amiel.
The 80th Regiment soldiers (Staffordshire Volunteers) who built Fort Amiel were under the command of career soldier Major Charles Frederick Amiel. The fort they built in 1876-1877 was named after the Major. 90 years later, the adjacent suburb (Amiel Park) was also named after the Major.

From Colonel-Commandant Arthur Thurlow Cuningham’s book ‘My Command in South Africa’ we know that the Colonel who commanded the 60th had arrived in Newcastle towards the end of May (a month before Major Amiel arrived with the 80th). It was he who chose the siting for a fort and encampment, for he writes… “The British troops under my command did not immediately accompany me, but followed by a somewhat different route. In case of an outbreak I established a military post at Newcastle, a commanding position, and the troops, having reached that point, proceeded to the Transvaal.”

General Sir Arthur Augustus Thurlow Cunynghame

Colonel-Commandant Arthur Thurlow Cuningham

Newcastle, Fort Amiel and District, 1900

Map of Newcastle showing the position of Fort Amiel and the Surrounding District. Cuningham positioned his camp and subsequent fort on Newcastle Townlands.

Traveler Anthony Trollope was invited by the Major and his officers to have tiffin and dinner at the encampment atop the bluff. Gratefully he relates… “Everything was excellent; but that on which the Mess prided itself most was the possession of Bass’s Bitter Beer.” As the old song of the time goes… “Of all the complaints from A to Zed – the fact is very clear – There’s no disease but what’s been cured by Bass’s Bitter Beer.” We can only hope that when the 80th (referred to before by Trollope) reached the camp, they were rewarded with some of this draught.

It is evident today from the large piles of broken glass on the edge of the hill that the men indulged frequently, not only of Bass’s but also of Schiedam’s Dutch Gin too.

Gin Bottles, Talana Museum, Dundee

Gin bottles in the Talana Museum (Consol Glass Collection) Dundee, Natal.

Trollope writes the following (so reminiscent of my own two years in the South African Defense Force and we being encouraged to put pen to paper) … “We stayed at Newcastle over a Sunday and went up to service in the camp. The army had its Chaplain, and 150 men collected themselves under a marquee to say their prayers and hear a short sermon in which they were told to remember their friends at home, and to write faithfully to their mothers.”

In concluding his visit, Trollope writes graciously… “We were only three nights at Newcastle, but when we went away we seemed to be leaving old friends under the tents up on the hill.”

Brevet Lieutenant Colonel occupied himself with more than simply fort building. The life’s of an officer in the British Army had its advantages, for besides fine dining mentioned above, we know that Amiel requested of the Government in 1877 that he and an underling be granted permission to shoot 6 hartebeest.

When (newly appointed) Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel Amiel’s commanding officer Colonel Twemlow died in King Williamstown, Amiel was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel on the 9th of November 1877 and took over the command of the Regiment in Pietermaritzburg. His place at Fort Amiel was taken by Major H. Rowland who unfortunately died shortly thereafter on the 17th of November 1877. In turn, Major Charles Tucker took command of the Fort.

Fort Amiel, Charles Frederick Amiel, The London Gazette, 22 January 1878

An excerpt documenting the promulgation concerning Lieutenant-Colonel George Hamilton Twemlow, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Frederick Amiel and Major C. Tucker in the London Gazette, 22 January 1878.

80th Foot, Staffordshire Volunteers, badge

Badge of the 80th Regiment, Staffordshire Volunteers.

Newcastle with Fort Amiel in the distance

An early photograph (1870’s) of a rustic and ramshackle Newcastle, looking North. Fort Amiel can be seen in the distance atop the bluff. In this image the soldier’s Barracks are visible on the far left of the hill, the Guard Room and Canteen are to be seen atop the middle area of the hill and two large Stores can be noted on the hill to the right. The treeless state of the surrounds can be seen in this image, something noted by early uncomplimentary visitors. In the very far distance of this image, one can see a range of hills where a fort was built atop Signal Hill. The approach to the fort is visible on the right of the image, leading up from the drift on the right of the photograph. In this image the road to the North that leads to Majuba Mountain, Charlestown and the town of Volksrust across the South African Republic border (Transvaal) can be seen too.

A drawing of Newcastle from Fort Amiel, 1880

An informative 1880 illustration of the town of Newcastle drawn from the lower heights of Fort Amiel during the 1st Anglo-Boer War. Note the many pack wagons and the treeless course of the Ncandu River in the middleground. Hilldrop is visible in the background as it is in this sketch I made at a teenager in the 1980’s.

In Florence Dixie’s 1881 book ‘In the Land of Misfortune’ she writes the following…”The squadron had trotted on ‘towards Fort Amiel, and, having crossed a small spruit, an offshoot of the Incandu River, had formed up to await the wagons and afford any assistance that might be required. This, ere long, was much called for at a short but very ‘perpendicular hill, which rose abruptly from the spruit in question to the level of the Fort. In spite of gallant efforts on the part of the oxen, several wagons stuck fast, and it required many and many united hauls on the part of the men before they could be extricated. All this took up a good deal of time, and it was nearly nine o’clock before the last waggon was seen safely to the summit…” The spruit to which Dixie refers is the Inguduma stream.

Ncandu River, Newcastle, Natal

(image above and two images below) Photograph of the footbridge across the Ncandu River, Newcastle, near the fork with the Incandu River and Inguduma Spruit.

Incandu Footbridge, Newcastle c 1928 1

The Incandu Footbridge, Newcastle c1926

Florence Dixie writes of the Incandu Drift…”On arriving at the Incandu, however, another halt had to be called, and a delay even more lengthened and tedious undergone in superintending its passage, for the ford was an awkward one, lying deeply in a hollow, and the wagons descending with a rush into the rapid waters, some difficulty was found in preventing the poor beasts yoked to them from coming to a dead stop for the purpose of slaking their thirst. In this way several spans got hopelessly entangled, and much delay was occasioned in their unraveling ; added to which the way leading out of the spruit rose in an abrupt incline, which, speedily becoming slippery from the drippings of several wagons that had already passed, rendered it almost impossible for the animals to retain their footing. Down they kept falling one by one, the confusion so occasioned being frightful. Altogether, what with the shouts of the soldiers and the fiendish yells of the drivers and conductors, the scene became one somewhat in accord with the descriptions of the infernal regions”.

Ncandu River, ACH, titled Crossing Horses, 1902

Cavalry horses belonging to the Australian Commonwealth Horse crossing the Incandu River Drifts below Fort Amiel in 1902.

A Trekwagon and oxend crossing the Incandu River Drift, with Newcastle in the background

A Trekwagon and oxen crossing the Incandu River. Note the Pontoon to the right of the image.

Incandu River with Newcastle in the background, 1900

Washing Clothes, Incandu River. Note the military tents in the background.

Capsising of the pontoon on the Incandu River, Newcastle, sket by Capt. Ernest Thurlow 60or 80 th Rifles.

Capsizing of the pontoon on the Incandu River, Newcastle, sketch by Capt. Ernest Hovell Thurlow, 60th or 80 th Rifles.

British Troops building a Cask-Bridge across the Incandu River, Natal

British troops building a cask bridge over the Incandu River.

Egerton K. Laird, of whom I have previously written, says the following about the Incandu River, drift and fort… “Fort Amiel, where the troops are, is on the opposite side of the river, and lies in a healthy situation on a high cliff. The river is now fordable, but in summer has to be crossed on pontoons or by boat, and is dangerous at times.”

Bridge over the Ncandu River with Newcastle in the background

A photograph taken circa 1900, looking south showing the bridge over the Incandu River, with Newcastle in the background. The modern bridge lies just to the east of this crossing point. The sandstone piers to this bridge still exist supporting a modern day footbridge.

Ncandu River and Bridge, Natal, ACH, 1902

(Above and Below) Incandu River and Railway Bridge, April 1902.This bridge as well as the Road Bridge were blown-up by the retreating Boers in 1900, and had to be rebuilt.

The Bridge over the Ncandu River into Newcastle, 1902

British soldiers crossing the Ingagne River near Newcastle, Natal, Anglo-Boer War

British soldiers crossing the Ingagane River south of Newcastle via Aerial cable while the their horses swim across the drift.

The Ingagane Railway Bridge destroyed by retreating Boers, Anglo-Boer Ware

The Railway Bridge across the Ingagane River to the immediate south of Newcastle with bathing British troops. This bridge was destroyed by the Boers as they retreated through Newcastle.

Ingeduma Bridge, Fort Amiel, Newcastle

A rough pen and ink sketch I executed of the modern bridge over the Ingeduma Spruit, where the drift was located and just upstream from the fork with the Incandu River where another drift was located that allowed access to Newcastle.

BUILDING THE FORT

The 80th immediately began the task of choosing a suitable location for their encampment and a location for a defensive fort. As has been stated before, the site had already been chosen by Colonel-Commandant Arthur Thurlow Cuningham as a camp becasue of its ‘commanding position. Newcastle as stated was built upon a plain, and the only two areas of high ground were Hilldrop, the locality of the farm Roy Point/ Mooifontein of Sir Rider Haggard, that lay several miles away to the South of the town; and the promontory to the North of the town on the further side of the Incandu River.  This bluff, less than a kilometre from the fledgling town, was surrounded on three sides by steep hillsides making approach difficult, with the tributary stream to the Incandu, the Inguduma flowing at the base of the hillside on two sides, to the west and south.

Map of Fort Amiel and varied Structures

Map of Fort Amiel. 2014.

Fort Amiel, showing positions of structures, from Fort Amiel Museum

Photograph showing the varied locations of the buildings at Fort Amiel.

Fort Amiel, Map showing original positions of structures overlaid with present situation q

Map of the Fort Amiel military installations overlaid with the present situation so as to indicate the positions of buildings now no longer extent.

For Amiel, Map of the Military Installation, including Barracks and Stores q

Map of Fort Amiel showing the positions of the buildings and structures, as well as indicating the topography.

Fort Amiel, an aerial view

(above) A bird’s eye view drawing of Fort Amiel based on a scaled model (below), prior to 1882 when the Barracks/Hospital were demolished and the Stores were sold-off.

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Fort Amiel, pre 1882

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Another aerial-view of Fort Amiel.

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Soldier's Barracks and later Hospital, Fort Amiel

A graphic image of the Barracks/Hospital at Fort Amiel based on a long-distance photograph of the installation.

Long distance view of Fort Amiel and encompassing its left and right extremes

A wide-angled and closer view taken from the image below of Fort Amiel. (Image – courtesy of the Talana Museum, Dundee).

Newcastle Fort Amiel in Distance 04-11706 2

A close-up of Fort Amiel on the horizon line

A closer-view of the image above showing from left to right the Guard House, Commissariat Office, Canteen, Cook Houses and four Officer’s Barracks. (Image – courtesy of the Talana Museum, Dundee).

Drakensberg, Glencalder

A sketch from the western boundary of Fort Amiel showing the commanding view of the land lying to the west of fort towards the Drakensberg and the Orange Free State that lies above the escarpment.
25 years later – in 1901, a Captain Campbell of the 6th West Australian Contingent who was stationed at the fort writes of the Inguduma… “A pretty little spruit runs right round the base of the hill, which affords an excellent bathing place; and a copious supply of fresh water is furnished by a spring close at hand.”

In addition, the larger Incandu River was suitably positioned within close proximity to the south, and the Incandu Drift into and out of Newcastle within artillery range. And furthermore, from the bluff, the road to the Orange Free State and Transvaal were within view. The position chosen could only be approached from the north across a narrow neck of land. Thus it was that the 80th began the arduous task of clearing the hillside of rocks, leveling the land, digging ditches, raising ramparts and gathering rocks from the locale to build dry-stone walls.

Fort Amiel and Surrounds, 1900

Map of Fort Amiel and Newcastle, 1 of A

(above and below) A map of Fort Amiel and the Newcastle Township, based on the Original Plan of the Fort from 1883.

Map of Fort Amiel and Newcastle, 2 of A

The British War Department bought the land where the Fort is positioned from the Newcastle Council.

Presently, one may only speculate how long the fort took to complete, and one may surmise that it had been completed (or hastened to a completion) before the commencement of the Anglo Zulu War in January 1879, a time span of two and a half years. We know that several buildings in Newcastle were fortified in 1879 as a fear of a Zulu attack grew more possible.

Another military installation at Newcastle is the Old Magazine (Armoury) thought to have been built in the 1860’s by the local contingent, the Natal Mounted Rifles.

The Armoury (Old Magazine) Newcastle, Natal

The Armoury, Old Magazine. Of interest – Winston Churchill after his capture by the Boers (when a War Correspondent during the 2nd Anglo-Boer War) spent a night imprisoned here while been taken to Pretoria.
The fort consisted of the following works…

A Ditch, a Rampart and a Stone Wall – constructed on the highest area of the knoll and on the leading edge of the hill, containing the Offices, Canteen, Cookhouse and Guard House. By the early 1970’s this ditch and rampart had been filled in. The wall was built of local uncut stone in the form of loose rocks and boulders, with an outer layer of larger stones and an inner core of smaller stones, in a technique common in the farmlands of the British Isles. Only sections of the wall had survived into the 1970’s, mainly on the Eastern and Southern flanks of the fort, most of it diminished in height. Much of the lower courses survived, consisting of large, finely laid stones that would have required many men and perhaps oxen to move. The Canteen was constructed on a stone platform that doubled as a protective wall.

Fort Amiel, Commissariat Office and Dry Stone Wall

Fort Amiel, Sandstone remnants of Platform

Unlike the rest of the stone walls, much of the lower course on the south western corner was constructed of white sandstone, mostly damaged by the restoration of the 1980’s., although some of the lower course survives.

Remnant stonework, Canteen Platform, south, Fort Amiel

The Canteen – built on the precipitous south eastern corner of the fort, on a large stone platform. One can view this platform from the outside of the fort. The reason for locating the Canteen on this spot is unusual and might come down to the the whim of an officer wanting a view.  At the time of the commencement of the 2nd Anglo-Boer War, the pediments of this building had been destroyed and the remainder was flat-roofed in corrugated iron. By the 20th Century this building had been completely destroyed, although its 2 metre high foundation, of well laid stone were extent. In the 1970’s the stonewalled courtyard to the Canteen was partially extent. In 1899 this area was partially roofed over with corrugated iron. In the 1970’s this walled-in corner appeared to have been used as horse stables for we found numerous horse shoes in the ground.  As children we knew it as the ‘Stables’. The Canteen was rebuilt in the 1980’s of red brick. A photograph from the time of the Zulu War does not reveal the Canteen and this indicates that it was one of the latter buildings to be constructed. From the original plans we can deduce the following about the original building – Foundations of stone in the fashion of a platform. Floors of brick or stone. Walls of 14 inches (350 mm) built of  sun-dried bricks with burnt brick exterior courses, assembled with ‘daga’  (ant-hill mud) and plastered with the same and loop holed. Inner walls were whitewashed.  Bricked Arches were built above all doors as supporting lintels but finished flat. Windows were of the casement sashe kind and constructed of 1 1/2 inch deal, bevelled bar, with 4″ by 3″ mullion that was rebated and bevelled, opening outwards with bolts and holdfasts, glazed in 6 panes and secured with 5/8″ iron bars. The Door was 2 inches thick and framed in diagonal match-boarding in two thicknesses and covered in sheet iron, inside and out. Doors were secured with 14″ bolts, 10″  Stock lock, padlock and hinges.  In the two brick pediments vents were inserted for cross ventilation.  The roof was of collar and tie beam and covered in corrugated iron without a ceiling. Canteen also had two chimneys and fireplaces and a lightning conductor.

A watercolour painting of Fort Amiel, Hospital, Newcastle, Natal, 1986

A small watercolour painting I did of the Canteen after it was reconstructed in the 1980’s. Hilldrop can be seen in the far distance of this image.

Fort Amiel, Canteen, photographed in 1899

The Canteen photographed in 1899. Tow of the windows have been bricked in.

Fort Amiel photographed as a Farmstead, circa 1940's

Fort Amiel photographed in the 1960’s showing the remnants of the Canteen. By the 1970’s this structure was completely destroyed.

Fort Amiel, arched windows and doors

Detail of the Arched Lintels to Window and Door Openings.

Fort Amiel, Canteen

Fort Amiel, Canteen a

Fort Amiel, Canteen c

The Officer's Canteen, Fort Amiel, Newcastle

An ink and pen sketch of the Canteen prior to the reconstructing of the stone walls.

Offices (Commissariat Offices) – extent in the 1970’s – and consisting of 4 offices, each with a central fireplace, iron-barred windows, wooden floors and corrugated iron roof. This building was made of sun-dried and burnt brick, with walls 14 inches thick. Interconnecting doors were driven through walls when it became a farmstead. During the 1950’s a lavatory and a kitchen had been built onto the rear of the house and the verandahs semi-enclosed. These were demolished when the fort was restored to its original dimensions, however the rest of the building was of such a poor condition that the whole building was demolished and rebuilt. In 1902, during the latter months of the Anglo-Boer War, this building was used as a prison for transgressing soldiers.

From the original plans the following can be deduced about the original construction – Foundations of stone, with wooden under-ventilated floors. 14 inch walls were built as already stated of sun-dried brick with outer courses of burnt brick, assembled with ant-hill ‘daga’. Walls were loop holed, plastered and whitewashed on the interior. Cement skirting walkway was constructed around building. Lintels were built of arched brick and finished flat and sills of brick set on edge and cemented. Windows were of the casement sashe kind and constructed of 1 ½ inches deal, bevelled bar, hung in 2 widths with 2pr butts, 2 bolts and holdfasts, opening inwards and glazed in 5 panes and secured with 5/8″ iron bars. The doors were 1 ½ inch framed, rebated and beaded, with padlock, Norfolk Latch, and butts. The roof was constructed with collar and tie beam, covered in corrugated iron and with match-boarding ceilings. Air vents were set in the two pediments and a lightning conductor was set atop the roof.

Fort Amiel, Commissariat Office and Guard House

Commissariat Office, Fort Amiel, Newcastle. There is an aspect to these two buildings reminiscent of the Blockhouses of the 2nd Anglo-Boer War.

Fort Amiel Photograph labeled Blockhouse and Mess, Newcastle, Australian Commonwealth Horse, 1902

A poor but valuable photograph of cavalrymen from the Australian Commonwealth Horse standing in front of the wall that lies to the east of the Commissariat Offices. Lieutenant labeled the image as the ‘blockhouse’ and ‘mess’.

Fort Amiel, 1960's 1970's

The Commissariat Office photographed in the 1950’s when Fort Amiel was a farmstead. Note the two caravans to accommodate the large family who lived here.

Fort Amiel as a Farmstead, c1930's

The Offices as a homestead 1930’s to 1960’s. Note how the corrugated iron roof is weighted down with rocks because of the buffeting winds at Fort Amiel.

Fort Amiel, Commissariat Office

A Guard House – extent in 1970’s and consisting of two rooms with two doors and a corrugated roof. Walls and Floors were made of sun-dried and burnt brick, and windows that faced towards the inside of the fort. The observation conning tower atop this building was no longer in existence in the 1970’s and was later reconstructed. It was constructed in 1900 when the British Military refortified the position following the expulsion of the Boer forces.

Fort Amiel photographed from the West sometime after the 2nd Anglo-Boer War

A photograph of the Guard House at Fort Amiel taken some time after the 2nd Anglo-Boer War. Note the Conning Tower atop the building from where the guards could keep a lookout of the surrounding countryside. This must have been a miserable post on a windy or rainy day, not to mention been choked by smoke from the chimney. A compensation then and now is that the view is breathtaking. The plans for the fort indicate that the stone wall was to be built to abut the left and right sides of the Guard House (as can be observed today in the reconstructed wall) however in this image, the wall is positioned in front of the western side of the Guard House. When this image was taken, the poor condition of the stone wall, already tumbled down in sections can be observed. The gap visible in the wall is the exit point to the soldier’s barracks behind where the photographer stood. Through the gap in the wall a glimpse of the Commissariat Offices can be seen. There also appears to be a chimneyed structure with doorway adjacent the Offices, perhaps a Cook House. Note the gun slits in the western wall of the Guard House, these were bricked in when the fort became a farmstead. Photo’ Newcastle Advertiser.

The Guard House consisted of two rooms, a Guard’s Room and a Prisoner’s Room. No doubt when there were no prisoners in detention, this room doubled as a guard room.

From the original plans of the fort we know the following about its construction – Foundations were built of stone and the floor of burnt brick. The walls (17 inches thick, were built of burnt brick on the outside and sun-dried brick on the inside courses, assembled with ant-hill ‘daga’ and flat pointed, plastered and whitewashed inside and pierced with loop holes. The roof was constructed of  wooden collar and tie beams and covered in corrugated iron.All window and door openings have arched burnt brick lintels finished flat. Doors were made of 2 inch frames with diagonal match-boarding in 2 thicknesses, and then covered with sheet iron inside and out, secured with 14 inch bolts, 10” stock lock, padlock and hinges, in both Guard and Prisoner’s Rooms. Windows of 1 ½ inch deal, beveled bar, of casement sashe-kind, with mullion of 4”x3” rebated and beaded, hung in 2 widths with 2 pr. 3 ½ butts, opening inwards, and secured with bolts and holdfasts. Glazed in 4 panes and secured with 5/8″ iron bars. The Guard house was protected with a lightning conductor.

Boers in front of the Guard House, Fort Amiel, possibly the Hollander Corps, 1899

Photograph of Boers posing in front of the Guard House, 1899. A group of the Hollander Corps was stationed here to garrison it and these could well be this contingent. Most of the Hollander Corps perished at the Battle of Elandslaagte. At this time span, the fort was a farmstead – note. the loop holes are bricked in.

The Guard House, Fort Amiel, post 1900

A photograph at the Fort Amiel Museum of the Guard House, post 1900, showing a man atop the conning tower which was constructed during the 2nd Anglo-Boer War,and below the reconstructed conning tower built in the 1980’s.

(Below) – A photograph of the Guard House taken in the 1980’s before the structure was restored. At this stage it had already been badly vandalised. Remnants of the stable alongside the building is still visible.

The Guard House, Fort Amiel, before restoration in the 1980's

Fort Amiel, Guard House, c

Fort Amiel, Guard House c

Fort Amiel, Guard House, d

Fort Amiel, Guard House, a

(above and below) the modern exhibits in the Guard House.

Fort Amiel, Guard House, b

The original Guard Room key to the Guard House, Fort Amiel

The original Guard House Key.

Barracks (16 Huts) – (12) huts for soldiers and (4) huts for officers were constructed of sun-dried brick walls, with stone floors and with thatched roofing. Those of the soldiers 40 ft by 20 ft and housing 14 men in each hut. Those of the Officers huts, 23 ft by 14 ft and with wooden floors. The huts on the western side of the fort were numbered 1 to 13. Possibly more were built after this initial planned number. These had been built on the Western side of the fort, outside the walls but protected on three sides by the steep hillsides. The Officer’s Huts were built on the eastern side of the fort adjacent to the stores. None of these huts survived to the 20th Century. Although records state there were 10 huts, the original plan shows 12. The original stone foundations are extent and are composed of shoe-polished stones. These foundations can be seen on a close examination of the Google Satellite image of the area. During the 1st Anglo-Boer War, these huts changed function to that of a hospital for the wounded and diseased. Dr. D. Blair Brown, a Surgeon at the Fort during the Anglo-Zulu War and 1st Anglo-Boer War wrote a good description of these structures in his book ‘Surgical Experiences in the Zulu and Transvaal Wars’, 1879 to 1881′ … “In the Boer War, the hospital at Newcastle to which I was appointed consisted of a series of thirteen square huts, the walls of which were formed of sunburnt bricks plastered with the gummy earth procured from ant-hills, so plentiful in the country. The roofs were thatch. The huts were arranged regularly in four lines, three in each, with the odd one some little distance in the rear. These buildings had been used for a long time as the permanent barracks of the garrison.” Adjacent to hut No. 10 (the original Hospital) were two smaller huts, the one marked as a Store, the other possibly a Cook House. On the southern flanks of the hillside near these barracks are localities where large deposits of broken glass can be found today. There is also a large boulder on the edge of the hillside that has the lines of a game inscribed onto it by some long-ago soldier.

Fort Amiel photographed from the Incandu River

Photograph showing the area on the bluff where the soldier’s huts were located. Also noticeable in this image are several military bell-tents.

Newcastle and Fort Amiel c1881

A photographic view from Newcastle to Fort Amiel. The Barracks can be seen in this image.

Newcastle with Fort Amiel in the background

A view from the township of Newcastle looking towards Fort Amiel. A close-examination of this image reveals the soldiers huts on the left side of the bluff.

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Map of the Soldier’s Barracks.

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Hospital (General Hospital and latter a Surgery) – This sundried brick and mud plastered building had a thatched roof and stood on the far western side, some distance away from the barracks and overlooking the Drakensberg. During the Zulu War this building was used alone as a hospital. This structure was numbered No. 10.  Doctor. D. Blair Brown, a Surgeon at the Fort during the Anglo-Zulu War and 1st Anglo-Boer War wrote the following referring to the structures used previously as the barracks… “These buildings had been used for a long time as the permanent barracks of the garrison, the separate one in the rear as the hospital. This hospital hut was called “No. 10″ each of the huts having a number.” From Dr. Brown’s record we know that the hospital had been expanded during the Transvaal War (1st Anglo-Boer War) and now encompassed all 10 previous barracks huts, plus an additional structure which we know from present foundations was built alongside the original hospital. Dr. Brown continues in his book… “The station, Newcastle, in the Zulu War had a notoriety for the numerous cases of enteric fever occurring at it, all the cases of which were treated in N0. 10 hut.” From what we know of enteric fever (typhoid fever) – a life threatening disease contracted from the infectious agent Salmonella enterica enterica, serovar Typhi and contracted from coming into contact with the faeces of an infected person , the latrines and hygiene at the fort must have been inadequate. Dr. Brown continues… “On the break-out of the revolt in the Transvaal the whole of these buildings were placed in charge of the Medical Department, to form their base hospital, and which, as I have said, all the wounded passed through on their way to Natal and England, as well as the majority of the sick at the station who required treatment.” Brown states the following about the structure referred to previously as hut N0. 10. … “No. 10 hut played an important part in the history of this hospital, being the one to which the most serious cases were removed. The patients in it fell to me as part of my duty. Naturally I had misgivings about it as as regards the surgical success of treatment in such a building which had not been whitewashed since its use as the “general” hospital of the garrison.” Brown would have preferred to have treated the soldiers in tents, for he writes… ” Personally I would prefer treating cases of severe gunshot injuries in a well-pitched marquee than in a hut with foul walls and uncertain ventilation.” He had discovered that the cases treated in bell-tents during the Zulu War responded better to treatment. No dubt because of a reduction in surfaces infected with bacterial and improved ventilation. The doctor continues his narrative, bringing the suffering and shame of war to mind… “The groans and agonies heard and witnessed in it were enough to give one an idea of what must have taken place on a larger scale in recent European wars, and made one feel how much we have, in every detail, to learn before we can plume ourselves as too many are apt to do at present.”

From the original plan for Fort Amiel we can deduce the following about the Hospital – Stone foundations and stone floors. Walls 14 inches thick and made of sun-dried bricks assembled with ant-hill ‘daga’, plastered on the inside and whitewashed. Roof of thatch.

The drawing below is of a Private in the 58th Regiment who was wounded at Laing’s Nek. Dr. Brown amputated his shoulder and arm, including half of patients scapula and clavicle.

Private of the 58th Regiment, wounded at Laing's Nek, Amputation of shoulder, half of clavicle

4 Cookhouses – One Cookhouse survived at the entrance to the fort on the Northern side, now restored. An additional two were located off the eastern side of the fort and adjacent to the former. A fourth Cook House was located alongside the soldiers Barracks to the west of the fort and adjacent to the Hospital. In 1880, Florence Dixie visited the fort and dined in the Mess with Sir Evelyn Wood. She wrote in her book ‘In The Land Of Misfortune’… “We dined that night at Fort Amiel with Sir Evelyn Wood and his staff, and spent a very merry evening”. Is the Mess she refers to the Canteen?

In the original plans, the details of the Cook House is mentioned – Stone Foundations and Floor of burnt brick. Walls of burnt brick (14 inches) with inner course of sun-dried bricks, assembled with ant-hill ‘daga’, with inner walls plastered and whitewashed and walls pierced with loopholes. Roof of the collar and tie beam style with corrugated iron covering. Window and door lintels constructed of brick arches and finished flat. Windows of 1 ½ inch deal, bevelled bar, casement sashes, with mullion 4”x3” rebated and beaded, hung in 2 widths with 2 pr. 3 ½ butts, opening inwards, and secured with bolts and holdfasts. Glazed in 5 panes.

Fort Amiel, Cook House

(above and below) the Cook House that is located within the boundary of the fort.

Fort Amiel, Cook House a

Fort Amiel, Cook House, Interior

An interior view of the Cook House showing the two hearths.

11 Store Huts, RE Store, Pack Store, Magazine and Shell Store – none in existence in the 20th Century. Most of these were built with corrugated iron walls and roofs and were located on the apposing hill on the Eastern flank of the fort and where Amiel Road lies today. The Magazine and Shell Store have been reconstructed.

Latrines – One set of Latrines was located adjacent to the Officer’s Barracks on the northeastern side of the fort, however the location of the soldiers is unknown, but were most likely located where the french-drain lies today (west side of fort) .

Water Wells – located near the Commissariat Offices and extent in the 1970’s but covered over with a stone slab. This was destroyed by the fort’s restorers who had the inner area to the fort ploughed. A well was situated to the north east of the fort, just beyond the Stores. One visitor mentions that water was to be had at a nearby spring. A possible location for this is a natural spring that flows about 250 metres to the north west of the fort and in line with the graveyard. Also, to the east of the fort a natural spring is located that runs down the hill to the Inguduma Spruit. Water could also be obtained from the Inguduma Spruit that half encircles the bluff on which the fort is built.

engraving of Fort Amiel

Illustration of Fort Amiel atop it’s hill, drawn from a location on the plain looking up. In this image the height of the hill and of the Drakensberg Mountain on the farm Glencalder in the background is somewhat exaggerated by the artist, probably for effect. However, the buildings have been faithfully rendered. Noticeable is the stone platform atop which the Officer’s Canteen with its two chimneys was built. In this image we can see a view of the huts as well as many canvass tents. The larger of the two buildings to the left of the Canteen is the Guard House. The building to the immediate left of the Guard House is most likely the Mess. On the far right of the image are two large Stores and more tents.
The small rise in the foreground of this image was a rocky outcrop that in later years was mined for granite. It is now a half-filled up quarry today.
Newcastle and Fort Amiel 2
An early illustration of Newcastle, 1879, looking towards Fort Amiel. In the image a large number of tents can be observed clustered around the fort. The road north can be seen in this drawing, heading up to Signal Hill where a small stone fort was built on its summit. The fort atop Signal Hill was not manned permanently, but each day an attachment of troops would march laboriously up the steep incline of the hill and man the position. From here a watch was kept during the 1st and 2nd Anglo-Boer Wars. It was also used to relay heliograph messages back to Pietermaritzburg and to front lying troops positions.
Newcastle and Fort Amiel 1
An illustration of Newcastle and Fort Amiel on top of the bluff.
YEARS OF ANNEXATION
In 1878 Lieutenant-Colonel A. W. Durnford signed a Deed of Transfer on behalf of the War Department for the purchase of a wedge of land the size of 112.078 acres from the farm recorded as Twei fontein (actual spelling Tweefontein). This farm lies to the north and west of the Newcastle TownlandsSome records state the farms name as Trei fontein. It was on this piece of land that the Fort Amiel Graveyard was situated. The document was signed on the 18th of August 1878 and is archived at Kew, UK. Durnford had supervised the construction of Fort Durnford at Estcourt.
lieutenant Colonel A. W. Durnford
Lieutenant-Colonel A. W. Durnford.In 1877 Lieutenant-Colonel Nathaniel Newnham-Davis of the Imperial Mounted Infantry traversed the town of Newcastle with Colonel A. W. Durnford and wrote an account concerning Carrington’s Horse that was stationed at Fort Amiel at the time.
Carrington's Horse, photographed at Durban, 1901-1902
Carrington’s Horse photographed at Durban, Albert Park, 1901.
newnham-Davis
Lieutenant-Colonel Nathaniel Newnham-Davis. Carrington’s Horse were a contingent of local volunteers, raised initially during troubles on the Diamond Fields and commanded by Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick Carrington.
Anglo-Zulu War
No doubt the residents of Newcastle (down on their sometimes dusty, sometimes swampy plain) must have looked up the hill and realised (and correctly) that not all was well in the ‘Garden Colony’.
With Newcastle as the primary frontier garrison during the years of Annexation of the Transvaal, and to a lesser degree during the Anglo-Zulu War, this isolated village began to expand. By the time of the Anglo-Zulu War, Newcastle’s white population had grown to 250 with most of the population involved in cross-border trade with the Transvaal hinterland and the local farming community, who were of English, Scot and Natal Dutch extraction. During the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, Fort Amiel was garrisoned by men of the 4th Regiment (King’s Own) Royal Lancashire. It also became a Convalescent Station for Colonel Wood’s Column during this conflict.
We know that the defenses of Fort Amiel were again strengthened at the beginning of the Zulu War, for Major Charles John Moysey of the Royal Engineers who was attached to Colonel Evelyn Wood’s column and his senior Engineer, was sent to Fort Amiel in March 1879 to strengthen it. Of interest, the Major had designed and carried-out the construction of Fort Kambula too.
The King's Own, Royal Lancashire Regiment, Fort Amiel, Newcastle
A badge belonging to the King’s Own, Royal Lancashire Regiment found at Fort Amiel.
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A metal disc with the date 1880 found at Fort Amiel, from the time of the Zulu War.
1st Anglo-Boer War/ Transvaal War
Once again the Fort and Newcastle gained importance during the Transvaal War (1st Anglo-Boer War) of 1880 to 1881, becoming an important staging post for military operations, a convalescent Hospital, Ammunition and Equipment Store for the provisioning of an army, as well as a Commissariat Depot for the victualing of troops.Before the onset of hostilities, the total strength at Fort Amiel was a mere 162, made up of elements from the King’s Dragoon Guards, the 58th Regiment (Rutlandshire) and the Royal Artillery.The records state that in the year 1880, a small contingent of the 3/60th Rifles under Major Ogilvie was garrisoned at Fort Amiel too. When Major-General Sir George Pomeroy Colley arrived with his field force, he found everything at the fort in readiness.
6th Dragoon Guards, Carabiniers, Fort Amiel, Newcastle, 1881, 1899
A button belonging to the tunic of a 6th Dragoon Guard, Carabiniers, found at Fort Amiel.
Distribution of Troops at Newcastle and in the Transvaal, 1880
At the onset of hostilities between the Transvaal Boers and the British, Major-General Sir George Pomeroy Colley (First in Command) had quickly assembled a small force called the Natal Field Force. They marched into Fort Amiel on the 19th of January 1881 and Colley made the fort his Headquarters and stationed a contingent of the 3/60th Rifles here under Major Ogilvie. Five days later he led his force out towards the Transvaal to clear his lines of communication. This action led to the disastrous Battle of Laing’s Nek for the British on the 28th of January 1881.
Battle of Laingsburg showing stonewalls, breastworks and entrenchments
Battle scene at Lang’s Nek showing the stonewalls, entrenchments and breastworks from behind which the Transvaal Burghers had cut down the British soldier’s advance up this steep slope. Photo’ courtesy of the local History Museum, Durban. A sad account after the Battle of Lang’s Nek relates the following about the troops at Fort Amiel…”In the lines of the 58th Regiment and Mounted Squadron there was not a tent from which there were not absentees that day; every one was regretting the loss of a comrade-in-arms. The dull wet weather helped to cast a gloom around the camp, which nothing could shake off but the lapse of time,…”
Mount Prospect Camp, neat Majuba Mountain, Natal
Photograph of the British Military Camp at Mount Prospect situated to the east of Inkwelo and Majuba Mountains.
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58th Regiment of Foot, Rutlandshire, badge found at Fort Amiel, Newcastle.
The regiment had seen action at the Battle of Ulundi in 1879, and again at the Battle of Lang’s Nek in 1880. After Colley was killed at the Battle of Majuba, Major-General Sir Evelyn Wood who succeeded Colley, planned and executed the Peace from Oneil’s Cottage and from Fort Amiel, which was eventually signed in the homestead of Sir Rider Haggard at Mooifontein, Hilldrop.
Major General Sir George Pomeroy Colley
Major-General Sir George Pomeroy Colley, commander of British Forces during the Transvaal War. He perished on the summit of Majuba Mountain with many of his soldiers, and is buried in a small military cemetery to the east of the mount.
Where Colley Fell, Majuba, Australian Commonwealth Horse, 1902
Cavalrymen from the Australian Commonwealth Horse visiting the place where General Colley fell, fatally wounded in the head. The men have taken their hats off in respect as they stand alongside the rough cairn, 1902.
The Grave of George Pomeroy Colley photo 1899
Colley’s grave photographed in 1899.
Gen, Colley's Grave, showing signs of desecration 21 years later in 1902, Majuba
Photograph taken in 1902 by Lieutenant George Cory of the ACH when he visited Mount Prospect graveyard. At this point, 20 years after Colley’s memorial was erected, we can note the signs of deliberate desecration, probably inflicted by Boer soldiers during the preceding 4 years.
British Graveyard, with Majuba mount in the background, photographed 1890
Photograph of the graves of the British war dead at Mount Prospect Farm taken shortly after their interment, with Mount Majuba in the background. Colley’s grave and memorial is the 5th stone cross on the right.
Sir Evelyn Wood
Sir Evelyn Wood (Later Field-Marshall) who replaced Major- General Colley.
When Florence Dixie visited Newcastle and Fort Amiel in 1881 just after the Battle of Majuba, she commented in her book ‘In The Land Of Misfortune’ – that “At last Newcastle hove in sight, and away to the left of the town we could make out the white tents on Fort Amiel, dotted about amidst the stone-erected hospitals and commissariat offices.”In regards hospitalization at Fort Amiel during this time, we know from records that nuns from the Anglican Nursing Sisterhood, the Community of St. Michaels and All Angels were stationed here.
None other than Sister Henrietta Stockdale of South African nursing fame, took charge of the Fort Amiel Military Hospital for the duration of the war.
Henrietta Stockdale 1
Sister Henrietta Stockdale, Miss langlands, Miss Cuyler and Miss Pomeroy and Sister Louisa offered their invaluable assistance, saving the lives of many wounded soldiers. They record that the “going was very rough indeed.” They slept in a hut where the rain came through the roof and flowed through the doorway. Their only furniture was a bed with mattress and pillows stuffed with forage. They often had to stand in water to nurse the sick and wounded and suffered the biting cold of winter.
In February, after the Battle of Majuba, Sister Louisa remarked…”the injuries made those of Ulundi (Anglo-Zulu War) look like scratches. Men had multiple gunshot wounds and dressings took many hours each day. There were also daily operations.The Red Cross flew from the hospital tents, but there were soldiers in tents pitched all around, earthworks were thrown up in front and sentinels kept constant watch.”In his book ‘Incidents of Travel in South Africa’ Egerton K. Laird writes the following about the plight of the wounded soldiers being extracted from the three battles back to Durban… ‘We left Sunday’s River at daybreak, and had a peculiarly rough journey to Newcastle. We passed numerous rest camps for the wounded coming down country. I cannot conceive how they can survive the journey. For many their survival depended on the skills of Surgeon-Major Johnstone and Dr. Charles Ward who served under Johnstone at Fort Amiel. Ward arrived in Natal in 1877 on the Asiatic and was appointed Temporary Medical Officer.
A drawing of Colley's Staff looking towards the North and Majuba Mountain and Schuinshoogte, from Prospect Hill, Newcastle
The drawing (above and below) records Major General Sir George Pomeroy Colley’s Staff atop Signal Hill during the commencement of hostilities (1st Anglo-Boer War). The drawing above records the positions of Schuinshoogte on the Ingogo River where the Battle of Ingogo occurred. Ingogo Hill lies in the middle ground in this image, while Inkwelo Mountain (not labeled in this image) is the large mount in this image. The drawing below records the position of Mount Majuba where Colley and many British troops perished. Also labeled in this image is Mount Prospect Camp, Laing’s Nek and the source of the Buffalo River.1881. The ‘farm house’ labeled is that of Mount Pleasant Farm.
Drawing of Colley's Staff atop Prospect Hill near Fort Amiel, Newcastel, looking towards Majuba Mountain
From these mountain and hilltop forts the British could send signals using Heliographs all the way from this front line fort, to Fort Amiel, to Fort Terror, then on to Fort Mistake, all the way to Pietermaritzburg. The traveller and author Egerton K. Laird while travelling up country to Newcastle refers to these newly built forts, for he wrote in his book ‘Incidents of Travel in South Africa’ … “We also passed various stations for troops, and forts are being erected at Biggarsberg and other high peaks, to prevent inroads of the Boers for the future.”
Vicinity of Majuba Mountain 1900
Two map detailing the area of operations during the 1st Anglo Boer War. This is the terrain where the Battles of Ingogo, Lang’s Nek, and Majuba were fought, and where the antagonists negotiated peace at O’Neils Farm in 1881.
Map of Northern Natal, 1900
THE IN-BETWEEN WAR YEARS
After the termination of hostilities and the signing of Peace at the homestead Hilldrop on the farm Rooi Point (Roy Point), the military left the Newcastle District and from subsequent events, it is evident that the British military had vacated the fort.
In 1882, the British War Deparment began the task of selling-off the assets of Fort Amiel. All the iron-constructed stores were dismantled and sold, as well as all the huts, which were demolished for their timber, windows, doors, floors and ceiling boards. The Government did not anticipate that in 17 years, they and the Natal and Cape Colonies would again be embroiled in another war with the Transvaal. If they had known this, Fort Amiel would have been maintained and upgraded.
Fort Amiel, Government Sale, The Newcastle Echo, 1882
An excerpt from the ‘Newcastle Echo’ advertising the Government Sale that dispersed the Fort Amiel assets.
In 1883, the Resident Magistrate at Newcastle suggested that the responsibility of Fort Amiel and its adjacent Graveyard be placed under the supervision of his Road Overseer. The Overseer, Mr. T. Sanderson who worked for the Colonial Engineer’s Office, then made  request to the Imperial War Department that the brick buildings at the fort be placed under the control and occupancy of his department.
At some point before or during the 1st Anglo-Boer War, a railway line had been constructed from the town of Newcastle up to Fort Amiel to move supplies more effectively. In 1882, after the war, the Chief Railway Engineer reported that the line was no longer required by the military authorities and that the Imperial Government carry the cost of dismantling the line. Permission was not granted – for 15 years later in 1897 we read that the rail line was damaged by a veldt fire.
In 1896 – the Newcastle Town Council again makes a request to the War Department and Major W. F. N. Noel that the Public Works Department be given permission to utilise the remaining buildings at Fort Amiel.
THE WEATHER AT FORT AMIEL
Snow Storm at Fort Amiel, Newcastle, Natal
Three humorous illustrations of military life at Fort Amiel after heavy snow falls. Fort Amiel lying close to the Drakensberg Mountain experiences biting winter frosts and on occasion snowfalls, as is illustrated here. Living in tents during winter conditions must have been testing.
Fort Amiel on a windy day, Newcastle, Natal, 1980's
A pen and brush drawing of a storm-swept Fort Amiel and hillside that I executed as a teenager in the late 1970’s.
The bluff on which Fort Amiel is located is an exposed area, (then and now) and is subjected to frightful wind storms, blowing straight-off the Drakensberg. The area is also subject to awe-inspiring rain, lightning and thunder storms. It is for this reason that old records state, the buildings at the fort were protected with lightning conductors. The location of the fort on a raised promontory with no protection in the way of trees must have made the area a windswept one.In her book ‘The Land Of Misfortune” Florence Dixie writes the following about the buildings in Newcastle in 1880… “The tin buildings enjoyed a precarious existence, as did likewise several delicate-looking constructions of wood and canvas, that had a hard fight for it with the strong winds which at this time of year swept down from the Drakensberg with tremendous force. I have frequently seen the former, completely taken off their legs, utterly collapse ; while the latter, blown to shreds, flapped their disconsolate remnants of canvas against the skeletons of their former selves.”Captain Campbell of the 6th West Australian Contingent (who was stationed at the fort) also writes of the weather at Fort Amiel… “For some considerable time past it has been raining incessantly, and today is no exception. It comes down very solidly when it rains, and the ground outside the town becomes very soft and slippery, and almost impassable.”Private Donald Samuel McCallum Unit- 8CNIRAS writes of his stay at Fort Amiel…”We had a terrible storm where we were camped in Newcastle, our tents had about a foot of water in them.”
Dust Storm in Camp, Australian Commonwealth Horse, stationed at Fort Amiel, 1902
(above) This photograph is labeled Dust Storm at the Camp. Kitchener’s Kop, Fort Amiel, 1902. The windstorms at Fort Amiel are known for their strength. Note the wash stand and the bar of soap.
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(above) A photograph of the tented encampment at Fort Amiel, showing how a wind storm has blown tents from their pegging, leaving the wood plank floors exposed.
(below) A drawing by a war artist of a wind and dust storm blasting a Bristish camp.
Dust Storm, Anglo-Boer War
Accoutrments from British Military Tents, Fort Amiel, Newcastle
Accoutrements from British Military Tents found at Fort Amiel.
A view taken in 1899 from Fort Amiel looking down onto the town of Newcastle, Natal
A photographic view taken from Fort Amiel in 1899, during the 2nd Anglo Boer War, looking towards the town of Newcastle. At this time a larger and more prosperous town can be noted when compared to the the earlier image taken in the 1870’s. The roadway can be seen in the lower right hand corner of the image, as well as the tree-lined Ncandu River above that. It was on the crest of this promontory in this image that I located a cache of several dozen military buttons and other badges. The slight rise in the extreme right hand corner of the image was mined for granite in later years. In the 1980’s this quarry was partially filled with building waste from Newcastle.
2nd ANGLO-BOER WAR
Fort Amiel and the Natal Frontier
In 1899 war broke out once again between the British Government and the two Boer Republics, namely the Orange Free State and South African Republic (Transvaal). Allied to the British were the loyal citizens of the Cape of Good Hope and the Colony of Natal.
INVASION
The town of Newcastle was ill prepared for hostilities, with many of the townsfolk fearing an invasion.
Fort Amiel was now a farmstead. It is evident that as a military installation it had fallen into disrepair. Static positions such as these were now redundant with modern artillery capable of destroying them piecemeal. All British and Colonial forces had been withdrawn to the south, with most of the British and Colonial Forces garrisoned at Ladysmith, a 100 kilometres away. Among the many military blunders committed by the British Command, siting their forces at Ladysmith was another. This small town was located in a hollow, surrounded on all sides by overlooking hills. A more indefensible position could scarcely have been found.
Ladysmith during the Siege, Anglo-Boer War, 1900
A long distance photographic view of Ladysmith during the siege showing its surrounding hills.
Newcastle, a much more defensible position was left unprotected. At the beginning of the conflict the town had a population of 1746. The residents, realizing that they were at the mercy of the Boers, took to carts and trains and fled as refugees to Ladysmith, Pietermaritzburg and to Durban for the duration of the Natal campaign. Some of the Dutch population stayed; the pro-Boer rebels profiteering in the temporary, while the loyal Dutch Natalians suffered many indignities, imprisonments and penalties at the hands of the Boers.
A view of Newcastle, cc
A panoramic view of Newcastle taken from Fort Amiel looking towards Newcastle with the Incandu River sweeping in an arc to the left of the image.
Newcastle Station 1900
Newcastle Railway Station with Steam Locomotive and Train.
Newcastle District looking north to the majuba Pass
An illustration detailing the road running north from Newcastle, past Ingogo, Inkwelo Mountain, Majuba Mountain, Lang’s Nek, Charlestown and across the border to Volksrust.
On the 12th of October 1899, on the day after the outbreak of war, reports reached the British and Natalian authorities that the Boers were crossing the frontier from the north and west. They were led by overall command of General Petrus Johannes Joubert and advanced in several columns.
General Joubert
General Joubert.
On the 13th they occupied the small village of Charlestown, crossing Lang’s Nek and descending the Majuba Pass into Natal. Observers noted that the accompanying Boer wagon convoy stretched for several miles as it slowly descended the pass.
A Boer Commando alongside Majuba Mountain in 1899, 2nd Anglo-Boer War
A Republican burgher convoy pauses to be photographed on their descent into Natal, with Majuba mountain in the background, 1898.
Every Boer would have known the significance of this mountain, on whose heights a small British force under General Colley had been decimated 17 years before. This earlier success must have given younger burghers some confidence that the conflict would be successful and of short duration. General Viljoen however related in his reminiscences that those older Boers blanched, for they knew more of the horror of war. On the 15th, a commando of triumphant and unopposed Boers under the leadership of Assistant-Commandant Ben Viljoen, entered an unprotected Newcastle and raised the flag of the republics. Then commenced several days of  looting and vandalism of the shops, stores and homes of private Natalians. It was as if a precedent had been set, for similar destruction of private property was to characterise the rest of the war, on both sides.  It was obvious from the commencement of the war that the control of a civilian (burgher) force was problematic. Most Boer soldiers came and went from future battles, pretty much on personal whim, making it exceedingly difficult for the Boer generals to conduct effective resistance to the British advance.
General Ben Viljoen and his Secretary
A suave General Ben Viljoen (seated) and his Secretary.
They burnt several houses and ships, desecrated the Roman Catholic Church and convent before burning it down.  This ignoble start led to the town being preemptively renamed Viljoensdorp. (more of this on my posting on Newcastle). In General Viljoen’s book “My Reminiscenses of the Anglo Boer War” he conveniently omits to mention this initial looting of Newcastle, but makes the following implicating comment… “We came across a cart drawn by four bullocks belonging to a Natal farmer, and I believe this was the first plunder we captured in Natal.”  The English-speaking farmers of the Newcastle District had their farmsteads looted and vandalised, and their belongings and livestock driven-off. Their neighbours of Dutch backgrounds joined up with the Boer Forces, some through  persuasion but most through co-ercion. There was evidently more to General Joubert’s cold handling of Viljoen besides he and Commandant Kock’s disobedience at not waiting for all the Boer Forces to reconnoiter.
.General Joubert with his staff at Newcastle, natal, 1899
General Petrus Jacobus Joubert, enjoying a repast with his Staff at Newcastle, Natal. He was already an old man and after having been thrown from his horse near the Tugela River, was not far from his death in March 1900.

Boer woman and their children photographed in front of the Newcastle Town Hall, 1899

Armed Natal Dutch women and their children pose triumphantly and boldly in front of the Newcastle Town Hall, October 1899. The vicissitudes of war were to go against these women as the war progressed, and many who are portrayed here would be later incarcerated in concentration camps across the country.
As to Fort Amiel, I have not been able to ascertain if the fort was manned just prior to the invasion when a conflict seemed likely. It was most certainly without a garrison when the Boers arrived in October. What is known is that General Jan Kock ordered that 16 members of the Hollander Korps were to be stationed at the fort to guard it and to restore lame horses to health. J. de Bruyn was to be the Caretaker of the fort. This corps of Dutch citizens had been raised in Pretoria and added to the Commando of General Kock which consisted of the German Corps and Johannesburg Commando. Disobeying orders from General Joubert to wait for the other columns of Boers to arrive, they instead raced ahead, positioned themselves in a poor defensive position, were outnumbered and soundly defeated by British Forces under the command of General French at Elandslaagte. Most of the Hollanders were killed or wounded. Such are the vicissitudes of war and in contrast, the fortunes of the 16 who were left guarding Fort Amiel.
Dr. H J Coster inspects a group of Hollanderkorps
The Hollander Corps (Korps) been inspected by Dr. H. J Coster. Of interest – among the members of the Corps was Cornelius van Gogh, the brother of the artist Vincent van Gogh and the Dutch artist Frans Oerder.
Fort Amiel, Newcastle Oct 1898
The following informative image was taken of Fort Amiel in the latter part of winter by a photographer who was accompanying the Boer Forces. When the Hollander Corps was left guarding Fort Amiel, he photographed the fort and left an important record of what the fort looked like in October 1899 at the commencement of the 2nd Anglo-Boer War. Firstly the installation looks much like a farmstead. On the far left of the image the Officer’s Canteen is much altered from its condition at the end of the 1870’s. The pediments are gone and the remaining structure appears to have a south sloping roof. Two of the windows have been bricked-in. In front of the canteen is an unusual stone structure with an arched corrugated iron roof. The eastern stone wall appears to be in very good condition, with a noted opening in the wall in front of the Commissariat Office. The Office appears to be in good condition and appears much like it does today in its restored condition. What appears to be a pedimented structure to the left front of the Office is in actuality, the Magazine that lies on the western side of the fort. It is noteworthy to realize – that this building was much bigger than the Magazine that was reconstructed in the 1980’s. To the right of the Offices, the Guard House looks much as it did in the 1970’s and as it does today, though not whitewashed. To the right of the Guard House, you can just make out two structures which appear to be of corrugated-iron. Their foundations were extent in the late 1970’s just outside the present western fence. What is of especial interest are the two brick structures to the far right of the image. The closer building is one of the four Officer’s Huts and the building to its rear is the fort’s Cook House, now converted to a Wagon House. The surrounding veldt to the fort appears to be over-grazed, and a few horses are to be seen foraging for grass, most likely the sick horses of the Hollander Corps
As the Boers advanced on Ladysmith where the majority of British troops were located, they lay siege to the town. Like many of the caprices of warfare, the fate of the war was tied up early with the Boer tactic of besieging towns, for so many of the Boer forces were inactively occupied besieging instead of making an advance on the port of Durban. This allowed the British forces the necessary time to regroup and be reinforced. Troops from across the dominions and empire were transported swiftly to the Cape and Natal ports. Progressively the Boers were driven back and out of Natal.
(Below) – The war strategy of laying siege appears to be perennial one, for the ancestors of the Boers (the Voortrekkers) laid siege to Captain Smith’s laager and fort in 1842 at Port Natal after the Battle of Congella with similar failings.
Watercolour by Captain Smith, Siege of his laager cum Fort, Durban
LIBERATION
When Newcastle was liberated, the town and its fort was re-established as an important and vital staging and supply point for military operations.
FORT AMIEL AS A HOSPITAL
The Author – Sir Rider Haggard writes of there being many hospital tents at Fort Amiel. As in the Anglo-Zulu War and 1st Anglo-Boer War, Fort Amiel and the adjacent Encampment became a vital Convalescent Hospital for wounded and sick soldiers. The level area adjacent to the fort (to the north) became a veritable tent town. Many of these tents on the bluff were used as hospital tents, some for surgery, others for enteric (typhoid) cases, while others for recovery. We know that in addition to the tents there were also several wooden buildings and a small storeroom used by the nurses. E. C Laurence writing about the hospital in her book ‘A Nurse’s Life in War and Peace’ records that…”there are about 500 beds here, nearly all under canvas” and in addition “a few buildings of wood.”
These conditions were far from ideal, but in a war situation, it was better than the open veldt. Laurence writes of the blasting winds, the stuffy tents in summer, the torrential rain storms and the biting winter cold she endured. One can only wonder how this affected severely wounded patients. She was hard-pressed to convince the officious ‘CO’ (Commanding Officer) of the necessity to obtain movable boilers that could supply hot water.
From the records it is clear that thousands of wounded and sick men were brought to the encampment for treatment. One can read in the doctor’s accounts of the time of the appalling injuries caused from high velocity bullets and shelling. When beyond the limited medical help of the time – they died in large numbers. It is sobering to think of the many who arrived at Fort Amiel and who never left – soldiers like Lance Corporal E. Beaumont, Regimental No.1120, of the Imperial Light Infantry, who died from fever on 3 March 1901 at Newcastle. He came from Dover, UK.
The interior of a British Field Hospital, Anglo-Boer War
An informative photograph of a typical British Tented Hospital during the 2nd Anglo-Boer War. Each tent held ten beds. A soldier appears to be having an injured hand dressed, while two bedded patients can be seen in the background, one with a bandaged head wound and his arm in a sling. The man standing in the background behind the helmeted soldier is an Orderly. These were invariably young men. Several medications can be noted on the table and three enamel bowls. From accounts at the time, we read of the liberal use of brandy as a reviver, as was the emetic castor oil. I am sure the soldiers appreciated one far more than the other.
For a researcher, some of the best descriptions of conditions at Fort Amiel and its Encampment are to be gathered from the writings of the female hospital staff –
E. C Laurence in her book ‘A Nurse’s Life in War and Peace’ writes… “It began to rain the first night I went on duty, and during the fortnight I had only four fine nights” the other nights it rained generally in bucketfuls. The first day I went to bed it was very hot and stuffy in the tent, so I did not sleep for some time, but was sleeping in the afternoon when the rain began, and soon it woke me up by splashing on my face; then I found it was coming down in torrents, and our tent had been badly pitched, with no trench round it, that there was a deep stream flowing through. I had to paddle about and rescue all our goods from the floor, pitching most of them on to Sister’s bed; and she was rather amused when she came over to call me, to find me fast asleep under a mackintosh and umbrella, my bed a simple island, and no room for her to get into her own bed!”It is worth pausing here to note that Laurence records that there were “plenty of Boers about” the Newcastle district and that they would send their sick and injured to the hospital for treatment.
A wounded solier being loaded onto a British ambulance, Anglo-Boer War
A wounded soldier being loaded into a British ambulance, Anglo-Boer War. Two military hospitals were established at Newcastle, one on the edge of the town near the Railway Station, called the 14th General Hospital (image below) and the other up on the hill at Fort Amiel.
14th General Hospital, Newcastle
14th General Hospital at Newcastle.
Francoise Donald wearing her Boer War medals,  she served at the 14th General Hospital, Newcastle, 1901
One of the Nurses stationed  at Newcastle’s 14th General Hospital was Francoise Donald. Sister Donald is photographed post war and wearing her war medals. She nursed and cared for Private J. Crowther while he was at the 14th with enteric fever. He wrote a sad and dispirited letter to his mother… “Just a few lines hoping you are quite well, but sorry to tell you that I have been in hospital for over three weeks with enteric fever, and I am nothing but skin and bone. I have been on milk and six oz. of brandy. That is all. I have not had a letter from you while I have been in hospital … I will not be able to write again while I am in hospital. I have no money and cannot get any in here. I may be sent to England when I get better and I may not. I have no more to say, so I will close with best wishes to you all at home.”Crowther recovered, but 7 months later he was sickened again with enteric fever. Sister Francoise Donald wrote to his mother… “I am exceedingly sorry that I have been powerless to avert the great shock that the news of your son’s death must have given you. Letters take so long to travel and the telegram must have reached you long ere this. He had been doing very nicely with his progress, but one morning when I came on duty I saw there was a great change. He seemed dull and could not answer me at all clearly. When the Doctor saw him he said there must be an internal haemorrhage. He became unconscious soon after and seldom was clear up to the time of his death… He slipped quietly away and suffered no pain.”
The Last Letter Home
An illustration titled ‘Last Letter Home’.
In 1902 at the very end of the war, the hospital atop the hill at Fort Amiel became a location to treat venereal disease in the troops. The following was reported in the New Zealand Evening Post on the 14 July 1902… “But there is another hospital which is of a different class for patients whose ailments are the result of folly. It is a wretched place, once a fort, the food is good and medical skill first class, but the place looks more like a prison than a hospital. The Red Cross flies over it, and the men feel the shame of being there. Would that among its patients I could say that New Zealand regiments were not represented.” One can only wonder how the sanctimonious relater knew so much about the place.
Badge from Fort Amiel, possibly Red Cross, Newcastle
A helmet badge found at Fort Amiel. I have been unable to identify the badge, but possibly Red Cross.

FORT AMIEL AS A MILITARY INSTALLATION

When the Newcastle area was liberated from Boer control we know that Fort Amiel was attached from its private owners.
The military needs of the time necessitated a very large encampment, adjacent to the walled fort. From images of the time we know that this camp was of considerable size, running north and spreading out over the grassed area that led up to the base of Signal Hill. This area today are the neighbourhoods of Amiel Park and Hutten Heights. This accounts for the large number of artifacts that residents locate to this day in their gardens across this vast area.

Private J. N. Davies wrote a descriptive account of the encampment to the Clarence and Richmond Examiner in March 1902 towards the end of the war… “We were marched to Fort Amiel. Intending settlers camp about one and a half miles from Newcastle, near Kitchener’s Kop, under the command of Captain Everett, who became Commanding Officer of the detail camp, having some 2000 or 3000 men under his charge, consisting of Australians and Canadians. Opposite the detail camp, and just at the foot of Kitchener’s Kop, were some thousands of bell-tents, occupied by Colonials who had just come back off  trek waiting their turn to leave for home. They consisted of mixed battalions from Australia and New Zealand. The Scots Greys formed a camp just near them two days after we arrived. There were various other regiments, scattered around, which was a sight to see, the camp covering two or three miles of country. It is wonderful with what rapidity they can move these small towns. You see a large camp one day, the next nothing but the veldt, and but for the exception of a few jam tins, old boots, etc., no one would think that on the day previous it contained some hundreds of troops. Just behind the camp one would descend into a valley clothed for miles with long thatch grass, bending and rippling like a corn field. The Boers used to fire this grass so as to distinguish the khaki better against the black ground. Ant-heaps as large as an armchair were scattered like almonds on a cake over the plain. The troops often used these ant-heaps for protection from rifle fire ofthe enemy. Kaffir kraals were to be seen not far from the camp. They are conical in shape, and consist of clay and cow-dung; also thatch grass is used in their construction.”

It is evident from the written records of the time that some distinction developed between the fort and the encampment. Many writer’s merely state they visited the ‘encampment’ or the ‘Newcastle Camp’ and do not state necessarily ‘Fort Amiel’. The most plausible reason is that they simply did not know the official name of the fort. However, from the descriptions of the location of the camp as been atop a hill – we know that their references are to Fort Amiel itself.

Now that the Newcastle district had been returned to British control, it became necessary to re-fortify Fort Amiel.
It was at this time that the wood conning tower was erected above the bricked Guard House. These upgrades are evident from 1901 dispatches to the Southern Australian Newspaper by Captain Campbell of the 6th Contingent from Australia. He related the following while stationed at Fort Amiel from the 26th of September 1901… “The fort is situated on a hill, and commands the valley below. Some extra defense works and repairs are being carried on, and a 15-pounder is being mounted on one corner, the ranges for which have been taken and handed over to us by the officer commanding the battery.”

Officers of the 6th Western Australian Mounted Infantry

Captain Campbell can be seen in this photograph, top row, second from left.

Campbell continues…”The garrisons at this place have been considerably strengthened,…” “Fort Amiel is an old landmark, having been used as a fort for many years. It is enclosed by a stonewall, which is loop-holed at short intervals; the buildings also pierced for the purpose of defense.”

We now know that the stone walls were rebuilt and some repositioned from their original planned positions of 1876. The photographic evidence, and positioning in the 1970’s bares this out.
This places a question mark against the fort’s present dimensions, for they do not necessarily reflect the timeline of the fort’s history. This is a difficult question – with no clear answer.
Campbell also relates that… “The house, and old residence, is now used as a military prison for short-sentence men, and at the present time contains five men,…” The building to which he refers is the central Commissariat Offices of prior times. Note. – this building’s 4 rooms were secured with sturdy iron bars up and until the restoration in the 80’s, giving the structure a strong impression of being a gaol.

During this devastating conflict – many thousands of Dominion and Colonial troops camped at Fort Amiel, or were marched through Newcastle to the front.

Football, NZ vs Australian Commonwealth Horse, Newcastle, back of Town Hall, 1902

Troopers of the Australian Commonwealth Horse playing a game of cricket on the fields behind the Newcastle Town Hall, 1902. Old resident of Newcastle will remember these fields and will recall the positioning of an old circular fountain and pond in this area, now unfortunately destroyed.

I have a letter written by Private Donald Samuel McCallum, who was my Great Great Grandfather Alexander Wallace McCallum’s nephew. In it he relates being camped at Newcastle.

Dear everybody
Just a few lines hoping they will find you quite well as I am happy as Larry. Since I last wrote we have traveled about 500 miles. We came to Newcastle from Durban right through all the country that Gen Buller had all his worst fighting and it is a terrible place especially round the Tugela River, nothing but great rocks. We were 32 hours in the train, and coal trucks at that. We were all ready incase of an attack but a devil-of-a-Boer did we see. We had a terrible storm where we were camped in Newcastle, our tents had about a foot of water in them. The chaps had three swags under their arms and were singing like nightinggales and I was on horse picquet. We have trekked thirty 30 miles to this place where we are doing garrison duty waiting for French to drive the Boers through the pass we are holding but I don’t think they will come this way because it is to well guarded by blockhouses. There is all of A Squadron here and we are in four troops. Two troops go out every night on outpost waiting for Jacky to come down from the Burgs. The Seventh got a up when young Len Butter got killed. They came into Newcastle the day after we left so we never had a chance to see them. General Lyttleton was here the other day and I was one of his escort along with George Rountree to see him and his staff across a drift about 2 miles away. This is all I have to say today as I got to get ready to go out.
Iso sal a gasby (goodbye)
Donald
The pass that Donald refers to in his letter above, is either Botha’s Pass to the Orange Free State, or Majuba Pass to the Transvaal. The Drift he refers to can be either the Ingogo Drift or Coetzee’s Drift (Koetze’s drift). See. Map above.

Donald Samuel McCallum NZ

(Above) Donald Samuel McCallum photographed in South Africa. Enlisted as a Private (5087) Unit- 8CNIRAS. He embarked for South Africa aboard the ship SS. Surrey on the 1st of February 1902 from New Zealand. Donald survived the war. He is buried in Taruheru Cemetery, Gisborne, New Zealand, having died on the 23 April 1946. Donald’s brother Malcolm Campbell McCallum also served in this conflict, as did his many South African cousins like John Douglas Smith McCallum.
Donald writes the following letter to his father Samuel Wheatley McCallum and family back in Wellington, New Zealand.
From Campbell’s reports we now know that in October 1901, the contingents garrisoned at the fort were the 5th and 6th West Australians. Campbell writes…”The care of the fort has been handed over to the West Australians absolutely for the time being, and a guard is consequently being formed by the details of the 5th and 6th, who may from time to time be at the depot. These principally consist of men discharged from hospital waiting for an opportunity to rejoin the column.”

Newcastle, Natal, 1900-1901, company cooks of the royal australian army medical corps

Company Cooks of the Royal Australian Army Medical Corps camped outside Fort Amiel, Newcastle, 1900-1901. Their rudimentary kitchen consists of trenches for the heating coals, with the cooking pots placed above. They have delineated their camp with white painted stones to keep hungry soldiers at bay, and have proudly spelled-out their company’s name in little stones in the foreground.

John Bufton in his book ‘Tasmanians in the Transvaal War’ writes… “At 9.30 pm we at last steamed into our destination – Newcastle.” At this stage in the conflict the rail line to the Orange Free State and South African Republic had been repaired after the Boers had sabotaged rails and bridges, including blowing-up the Lang’s Nek Tunnel. This allowed the British to move troops at some speed from location to location as strategy deemed necessary. Open goods trucks were the usual transport for men and their horses, and this explains Bufton’s relief at arriving at the frontier town. One can only wonder if Bufton was aware that in the previous conflict of 1880-1881, that the men marched to Newcastle from Durban on foot.

He continues… “Transport was ready, and after untrucking our horses, looking very different from the sleek animals that had left the ship, 36 hours before, we marched out to camp on the high ground, about three miles beyond the town.” “We camped close by, and met with every kindness from Lieutenant-Colonel McLeish and all under his command.” McLeish of the Australian Commonwealth Horse, commanded the 2nd Battalion composed of the Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia contingents.

At the Fort Amiel Camp his unit was divided into separate camps, the Army Medical Corps in one (see image above); D and E Squadrons, with the 2nd Battalion and Headquarters to a camp alongside ‘Kitchener’s Kop’. For those interested, this ‘kopje’ bearing is due north of the fort and located adjacent to Park Avenue, in Hutten Heights. A small redoubt of dry- stone walling was constructed on the summit of this rocky eminence. Note. this ‘Kitchener’s Kop’ must not be confused with the other in the Northern Cape. Australian and New Zealand troops were being utilized at the time in the ‘Great Eastern Drive’ with the intention of encircling Generals De Wet and Louis Botha.

The Fort atop Kitchener's Kop, Fort Amiel vicinity, Newcastle, 1902

The redoubt atop Kitchener’s Kop, Fort Amiel, 1902.

One of the duties of Bufton’s garrison was to send soldiers to the surrounding hills as observers and signallers – for he writes… “Then ensued a somewhat tedious, but no doubt necessary period of detention, varied by outpost duty at night on the hills north of the camp, where shots were frequently heard, train escorts, and patrols to Monkey Pass, about 15 miles out – a change much appreciated by both men and horses, as the former enjoyed the novelty of scene and the clear running creek, and the latter reveled in the excellent grass.” The hills to which Bufton refers to is the Signal Hill range. A 4.7 inch gun was mounted at the fort to cover the railway line.
His reference to ‘Monkey Pass’ is a comical one stemming from someone in his unit mistaking a monkey ( a baboon) for a Boer spy at one of the local passes – probably Majuba or Botha’s Pass.

Private Walter Putland wrote in his diary that a wooden scaffolding was also erected on the summit, with the platform reached by a ladder. From here Signallers would receive and relay messages. He writes of this rickety contraption that was buffeted by strong winds making signalling difficult. He also wrote of a visit to Umbana. A hill to the north west of Newcastle on the road to Utrecht. Two companies of the Middlesex Regiment were stationed here and had built fortifications. This high-rise was used to relay messages to Utrecht and front line columns. Putland relates how some of these messages were composed of up to 385 words, taking a considerable time to receive and to relay, often well on into the night by using signal lamps. Putland relates that there were 30 signalling stations on the hills around Newcastle, some protected by “big” guns. They also signaled to several Blockhouses on the Biggarsberg and Slangberg halfway between Newcastle and Ladysmith.

labeled Throwing the Stone, Kitchener's Kop, Fort Amiel, ACH, 1902

Australian soldiers shot putting stones to pass time at Kitchener’s Kop, Fort Amiel, 1902.

Bufton writes of the notorious local storms… “Some very heavy storms passed over the camp. The lightning was something to remember, and the joys at outpost duty on such nights, crouching on the exposed hillsides amid blinding lightning, drenching rain, and inky darkness, are more easily imagined than described. If you moved a few yards to visit a piece of dead ground, you probably took several most disconcerting headers over successive ant heaps, and dropped into what had been a road, but was then a very respectable spruit.”

Tiffin, ACH, Fort Amiel, Kitchener's Kop, ACH, 1902

ACH Officer’s fare, Kitchener’s Kop, Fort Amiel, 1902.

Fort Amiel, ACH in camp, 1902

Officers of the ACH taking lunch at their camp at Kitchener’s Kop, Fort Amiel, 1902.

My Morning Shave, Lt. George Cory, Camp, Kitchener's Kop, Fort Amiel, ACH, 1902

Lieutenant George Cory of the ACH captured in the act of shaving. The camp at Kitchener’s Kop, Fort Amiel, 1902.

Lieutenant Cory sewing in Camp, Kitchener's Kop, Fort Amiel, ACH, 1902

Lt. George Cory mending his uniform, at Camp, Kitchener’s Kop, Fort Amiel, 1902.

Fort Amiel, Kitchener's Kp, ACH, 1902

Troopers of the Australian Commonwealth Horse in Camp at Kitchener’s Kop, Fort Amiel, 1902.

My troop at Mess, Kitchener's Kop, Fort Amiel, ACH, 1902

Cory labeled this iamge comically as ‘My troop at Mess’ Kitchener’s Kop, Fort Amiel, 1902.

Fork from Fort Amiel, Newcastle

A brass fork found at Fort Amiel.

In March 1902 the Australian Commonwealth Horse and the New Zealand Mounted Rifles were stationed until the end of the war at Fort Amiel. The Australian’s camp at Kitchener’s Kop and the New Zealanders a short distance away. They saw limited action, participating in the last few drives to corner the ‘Bittereinders’ (Boers who resisted the British until the end and after the peace) against the Drakensberg mountains.

Trooper Beehag and his horse Wally, Kichener's Kop, Fort Amiel, ACH, 1902

Touching photograph taken by Lieutenant George Cory of his horse ‘Wally’ with Trooper Beehag at Kitchener’s Kop, Fort Amiel, Newcastle District in 1902.

SAMSUNG

Military buttons. (Below) General Service British Military Button.

General Service Military Button, Fort Amiel, Newcastle

Artifacts from the hills around Fort Amiel.

SAMSUNG

Waiting to hear Peace, Newcastle, ACH, 1902

Photograph of the residents of Newcastle and soldiers from the Australian Commonwealth Horse from Fort Amiel await telegraphed news of the Peace. The Peace of Vereeninging was signed at Melrose House, Pretoria, on the 31st of May 1902 bringing to an end this disastrous and destructive war.

FORT AMIEL AND THE YEARS SUBSEQUENT TO THE WAR

In 1904 the Road Superintendant of the Public Works Department request that the buildings at Fort Amiel be put up for letting.

In 1928 – the Imperial War Department grants the land (now called Farm Fort Amiel) and fort buildings to the Newcastle Council.

In the 1930’s and onwards the O’Reilly Family hired the land and stead and resided at Fort Amiel. Presently, I believe the O’Reilly family to be the O’Reilly’s of the farms ‘Gordon’ and ‘Highton’ and after whom ‘O’Reilly’s Vlei’ is named that lies on the farm ‘Tweefontein’ that borders Fort Amiel. The patriarch of the family in 1900 was J. W. O’ Reilly. Later O’ Reilly’s were James John Thomas O’Reilly, John Robert O’Reilly

Fort Amiel was declared a National Monument on the 22nd of June 1979 in the South African Government Gazette.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion – this excerpt from the book ‘Diary of an African Journey’ by Sir Rider Haggard on his return trip to Natal in 1914, sums up for me much regarding Fort Amiel and War – firstly that the vicissitudes of time brings everything to dust. Secondly, it also says much about war, for when it is stripped of its gallantry and glory, it’s appalling suffering and heartache.
Haggard wrote…”I visited what used to be Fort Amiel where now there is nothing but a little stead and a graveyard full of bones of the victims of the Boer War. Last time I was here the mount was covered with cantonments and hospital tents in which, I remember, were many dying of wounds and gangrene.”

Graham Leslie McCallum

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