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Also referred to as the BRITISH MILITARY ENGINEERS.

Note that the ROYAL ENGINEERS Library used a Martello Tower as their badge - see book cover and library stamp. For photographs of a Martello Tower visit the entry of the one in Fort Beaufort.

British colonisation of the Cape Colony (1806) and Eastern Cape Frontier Wars (- 1878)

On 23 April 1812 a Royal Warrant authorised the establishment of the 'Royal Engineer Establishment', in Chatham, Kent for "the Instruction of the Corps of Royal Military Artificers, or Sappers and Miners, and the junior officers of the Royal Engineers, in the duties of Sapping and Mining and other Military Field Works".

Captain (later General Sir) Charles Pasley, was promoted to Major and appointed as the first Director of the Establishment, a position he held from 1812-46. He was an intelligent and far-thinking man who was the inspiration behind the early 19th century reforms in the Corps and the founding of the Royal Engineer Establishment (later the Royal School of Military Engineering).

Curriculum and Innovation - 1812-1918

Under his Directorship the Establishment gained a reputation for experimentation, innovation and achievement. The Establishment which later developed into the School of Engineering provided the foundation upon which the high reputation of the Corps of Royal Engineers was built and prepared it for its participation in the widest aspects of engineering throughout the 19th century and beyond.

Survey - first introduced in 1833, covered Technical Surveying and Military Topography. This lead to officers and soldiers conducting surveys and boundary commissions throughout the world.

Electricity - first introduced in 1830's, covered battery construction, telegraphy, firing of mines, and electric light (search-lights).

Estimating and Building Construction - first introduced in 1830's and included: building materials, sewerage, drainage, ventilation, gas and water supply, building design and architecture. Architecture was introduced in 1825 and by the 1840's onwards, this department was training world-class building designers and architects.

[Royal Engineers Museum, Corps History - Part 6]

Practitioners listed on this website who were either enlisted in South Africa or joined the Royal Engineers to fight wars elsewhere:

ARMSTRONG, John (Captain)
BLANC, Louis David
CHAPMAN, Stephen
COTTRILL, Gilbert St John
COX, Gurth Howard
DURNFORD, Anthony William (Lt.-Col)
FOWKE, George Henry
GORDON, G Hamilton
GREENE, Thomas
HALL, Joseph Lockwood
HARVEY, C (Captain)
HIME, Sir Albert Henry
HUDSON-HOLDGATE, John Graham (Lt Col)
JERVOIS, Sir William Francis Drummond
JONES, Walter Parke
KALLENBACH, Clifford Raphael
LESLIE, Francis Seymour
LEWIS, H Loftus (Lieut)
LEWIS, John (Colonel)
LUCMORE, Thomas (Captain)
McCUBBIN, David Aitken
MOFFAT, John Abraham
MOODIE, Donald (Lieut)
OXLEY, Wilfred Benjamin
PAPWORTH, Alfred Wyatt
PEARSE, Geoffrey Eastcott
PETERS, Kershaw
PILKINGTON, George (Captain)
RINALDI, Raymond Clement
RUTHERFORD, James H (Lieut)
SCOTT, Col H Maurice
SELWYN, Charles Jasper (Major)
SMITH, Charles Henry
STEGMANN, George Frederick Charles
TEELING, Christopher P
THOMPSON, Albert John
VINCENT, John Harold
WHITE, Everard

Zulu War - 1878-79

The engineer units involved in the war were:

  • 2nd Field Company (Captain WRC Wynne RE) - despatched from England 2 December 1878
  • 5th Field Company (Captain WP Jones RE) - despatched from England 2 December 1878
  • 7th Field Company (Major FW Nixon RE) - the resident Royal Engineer unit in South Africa at the time.
  • C Telegraph Troop (Major AC Hamilton RE) - arrived in South Africa in May 1879

[Royal Engineers Museum, Corps History - Part 7]

Officers of the Royal Engineers 1879: Who's Who

Two field companies of the Engineers (the 2nd and the 5th) embarked for South Africa on December 2nd, 1878, and landed at Durban on January 4th, 1879, for the reinforcement of the Corps in South Africa. This had previously only consisted of the 7th Company, commanded by Major F W Nixon, who had under him Lieutenants, F H MacDowel and J Clarke.

Colonel A W Durnford, assisted by Captain A H Hime, who was at the time Colonial Engineer, had organised and equipped three Companies of Native Pioneers. These each consisted of a Captain and 2 Subalterns (European), and 4 Sergeants and 96 Sappers (African). In each company 25 men were armed with the Martini-Henry rifle, the remainder bearing assegais and shields. Each man also carried a tool slung. The equipment of tools, forges, dynamite, etc, was loaded in two-wheeled ox-carts. The officers were employed in the Colonial Engineers department.

When the expeditionary force was organised, Colonel Durnford took command of the entire Natal Native Contingent, consisting of three battalions of 1,000 men each, with 450 mounted men and a rocket battery under Captain Russell RA. From long residence in the area and from having command of similar contingents during previous outbreaks, Colonel Durnford had acquired great influence over the indigenous peoples of Natal and Basutoland, and it was felt that no-one else was so well qualified to lead this auxiliary force.

Colonel F N Hassard was Commanding Royal Engineer, and Lieutenant J C Baxter was Adjutant. The other officers and companies were divided amongst the three columns which were intended to penetrate into the district from different points.

Colonel E Wood commanded that which was to start from Utrecht; with him was Major C J Moysey.

Colonel Glyn's column was to start from Helpmakaar and Rorke's Drift; with him was the 5th Field Company Royal Engineers, with Captain W P Jones, Lieutenants J R M Chard, R Da C Porter, and C E Commeline, also two Companies of Native Pioneers commanded by Lieutenant F H MacDowel.

A third column, under Colonel Pearson, was to cross the Thukela river near its mouth. With him was the 2nd Field Company with Captain W R C Wynne, Lieutenants D C Courtney, H B Willock, and C E Haynes; also one Company of Native Pioneers under Lieutenant T R Main. Lieutenants V J Yorke and Brice were appointed Assistant Engineers and took charge of the bridge equipment for crossing the Thukela. Lieutenant General Lord Chelmsford was in Command of the combined force.


When the dire situation of Chelmsford's forces became known in England, immediate steps were taken to hurry out reinforcements sufficiently numerous to carry on an active engagement in the war.

The Engineers were strengthened by the 30th Field Company under Lieutenant Colonel R Harrison, with Captain (later General Sir) Blindon Blood, Lieutenants Watkins, Sherrard, MacKean and Littledale.

One half of the 'C' or Telegraph Troop, under Major Hamilton, Lieutenants Hare, MacGregor, Rich and Bond.

Also sent out were Lieutenant Colonel Steward, as Commanding Royal Engineer to the force, Lieutenant-Colonels Webber and Hale, Captains Anstey, Heneage, Lieutenants James, Cameron, Penrose and Brotherton.

[Royal Engineers Museum, Engineers and the Zulu War 1879]

Anglo-Boer War - 1899-1902

In June 1899 the British garrison in South Africa amounted to less than 10,000 men, (4,000 in Cape Colony and 6,000 in Natal) its only engineer support was 29th Fortress Company (Captain EF Taylor RE) stationed in Cape Town, but organised and equipped to act as a field company in case of war. It was deployed on the railway lines at Naauwport Junction, De Aar Junction and Stormberg. To bolster this inadequate engineer support three units were hastily despatched to South Africa.

  • 23rd Field Company (Major SR Rice RE) despatch to Natal on 10 June 1899 - on its arrival in Natal it was sent to Ladysmith, a major railway junction, where the bulk of the British troops were stationed.
  • 7th Field Company (Brevet Lieutenant Colonel WFHS Kincaid RE) despatch in July 1899 - was sent to Orange River Station with a detachment (Lieutenant RL McClintock RE) to Kimberley, where it rendered good service during the siege, which began on 17 October 1899.
  • 8th Railway Company (Captain WR Stewart RE) despatch in July 1899 - was used to patrol the Cape Government Railway in two armoured trains specially constructed in Cape Town.

Colonel (local Major General, later Sir) Elliot Wood (1844-1931) was appointed Chief Engineer and the Royal Engineers detailed for service with the Army Corps were:

  • Field Troop (Brevet Major AG Hunter-Weston RE) - Cavalry Division
  • 17th Field Company (Major HH Massey RE) - 1st Infantry Division
  • 11th Field Company (Major GF Leverson RE) - 2nd Infantry Division
  • 12th Field Company (Major A Graham Thomson RE) - 3rd Infantry Division

Army Corps Troops:

  • Bridging Battalion, A Troop (Major JL Irvine RE) - During the course of the war Irvine designed a special trestle for use in crossing South African streams.
  • 1st Telegraph Division (Captain EG Godfrey-Fausett RE)
  • 1st Balloon Section (Captain HB Jones RE)
  • 26th Field Company (Major WFH Stafford RE)
  • 1st Field Park (Captain RN Harvey RE)

Line of Communications troops:

  • 10th Railway Company (Captain GS McD Elliot RE)
  • 6th Fortress Company (Captain H Broke RE) - worked in support of the Railway companies
  • 20th Fortress Company (Captain CS Wilson RE) - worked in support of the Railway companies
  • 31st Fortress Company (Captain FG Fuller RE) - worked in support of the Railway companies
  • 42nd Fortress Company (Captain GM Kirkpatrick RE) - worked in support of the Railway companies
  • 45th Fortress Company (Captain GP Scholfield RE) - was detailed for Steam Road Transport.

The engineers and the railways

Prior to the war there were 4,628 miles (7,448km) of railway track working in direct intercommunication with one another in Cape Colony, Orange Free State and Transvaal. From the start it was evident that the railways would play an important strategic and tactical role in the war and to that effect the British were determined to ensure that they controlled them.

A Department of Military Railways under the direction of Major (later Colonel Sir) E Percy C Girouard (1867-1932), Royal Engineers was set up in October 1899. Its work was divided under the following headings:

  • The control and working of the railways in British territory.
  • Arrangement for the repair of lines damaged by the enemy.
  • The control and working of the lines in Boer territory - once captured the lines were referred to as the 'Imperial Military Railways'.

In December 1899 a Railway Pioneer Regiment (Major (later Major General Sir) John Capper RE) was raised in South Africa, they along with the engineer railway units (8th and 10th Railway Companies and 6th, 20th, 31st and 42nd Fortress Companies) did much work restoring damaged track and bridges, as well as, operating the trains.

The Military Railway Department proved of great importance in transporting the force; for instance during the three weeks from 21 January to 10 February 1900 27,025 men, 13,590 horses and mules and 24,168 tons of stores were carried north on a single line in preparation for the assault on Bloemfontein.

In the retreat from Bloemfontein the Boers did considerable damage to the railway including blowing four major bridges as well as several smaller ones. The 12th and 26th Field Companies along with C Pontoon Troop were called in to assist the units of the Military Railway Department to make good the damage and render the lines fit for use again.

In the final stages of the war the Military Railway Department was heavily engaged in the containment strategy adopted by Kitchener by constructing and operating the armoured trains used to patrol the lines.

On 15 May 1902 the Vereeniging Peace Conference opened. By 31 May the conditions of peace were agreed and the war was over.

During the war the Royal Engineers developed in every branch, and during the last twelve months of it had designed and carried out a system of blockhouses and barbed-wire barriers which had been instrumental in bringing the fighting to a conclusion. They had taken over from the enemy, repaired, organised and ran about 1,400 miles of railway and the telegraph system of two large countries - the Orange Free State and the Transvaal.

[Royal Engineers Museum, Corps History - Part 9]

All truncated references not fully cited in 'References' are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.

List of projects

With photographs
With notes

Administrative Headquarters: 1903-1904. Thaba Tshwane (Robert's Heights; Voortrekkerhoogte), Gauteng - Architect
Anglo-Boer War Blockhouse: c1903. Jacobsdal, Free State - Engineer
Bailie's Grave Post - Fort Stokes: c1835. Dimbaza, Eastern Cape - Architect
Barracks: after 1835. KwaMaqoma (Fort Beaufort), Eastern Cape - Architect
Blockhouse: n.d.. Beaufort West, Western Cape - Architect
Blockhouse: n.d.. Burgersdorp, Eastern Cape - Architect
Blockhouse: c1900. Laingsburg, Western Cape - Architect
Blockhouse: c1900. Noupoort, Northern Cape - Engineer
Blockhouse: 1900. Prieska, Northern Cape - Architect
Blockhouse: 1901. Ritchie, Northern Cape - Architect
Blockhouse: n.d.. Stormberg, Free State - Architect
Blockhouse: 1900. Thaba Tshwane (Robert's Heights; Voortrekkerhoogte), Gauteng - Architect
Blockhouse: c1901. Tulbagh, Western Cape - Architect
Blockhouse: c1900. Wellington, Western Cape - Architect
Blockhouse No 1: c1901. Eikeboom Farm, Hermon, Western Cape - Architect
Blockhouse No 2: n.d.. Hermon, Western Cape - Architect
Blockhouse, Witkop 1: 1900. Vereeniging, Gauteng - Architect
Blockhouse, Witkop 2: 1900. Vereeniging, Gauteng - Architect
Botha's Post Signal Tower: 1837-1846. Makhanda (Grahamstown), Eastern Cape - Architect
Castle Eyre: n.d.. Keiskammahoek, Eastern Cape - Architect
Corrugated Iron Blockhouse: n.d.. Fouriesburg, Free State - Architect
Craig's Tower and Battery: c1795. Cape Town, Western Cape - Architect
Defensible Guard House: c1830. KwaMaqoma (Fort Beaufort), Eastern Cape - Architect
District House: early 1900s. Thaba Tshwane (Robert's Heights; Voortrekkerhoogte), Gauteng - Architect
Drostdy Barracks and Lodge: 1822 : 1828. Makhanda (Grahamstown), Eastern Cape - Architect
Döhne Post: 1861. Stutterheim, Eastern Cape - Architect
Fort Amiel: 1878. Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal - Architect
Fort Armstrong: 1835. Balfour, Eastern Cape - Architect
Fort Beechamwood: 1878. Willowvale, Eastern Cape - Architect
Fort Blazes: 1851. Whittlesea, Eastern Cape - Architect
Fort Double Drift: late 1830s. Makhanda (Grahamstown), Eastern Cape - Architect
Fort Durnford: 1874. Estcourt, KwaZulu-Natal - Engineer
Fort Frederick: 1799. Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth), Eastern Cape - Architect
Fort Glamorgan Powder Magazine: 1847. West Bank, East London, Eastern Cape - Architect
Fort Hare: c1847. Alice, Eastern Cape - Architect
Fort Jackson: pre 1859. East London, Eastern Cape - Architect
Fort Linsingen: 1877-1878. Komgha, Eastern Cape - Architect
Fort Loxton: 1851. Whittlesea, Eastern Cape - Architect
Fort Luxury: 1851. Whittlesea, Eastern Cape - Architect
Fort Misery: 1851. Whittlesea, Eastern Cape - Architect
Fort Murray - First: 1835. Qonce (King William's Town), Eastern Cape - Architect
Fort Murray - Second: c1847. Qonce (King William's Town), Eastern Cape - Architect
Fort Owen: n.d.. Kentani, Eastern Cape - Architect
Fort Pato: 1853. East London, Eastern Cape - Architect
Fort Peddie: n.d.. Peddie, Eastern Cape - Architect
Fort Warwick: 1878. Komgha, Eastern Cape - Architect
Fort White: 1835. Qonce (King William's Town), Eastern Cape - Architect
Fraser's Camp Signal Tower: 1835. Bathurst, Eastern Cape - Architect
General's House: 1902. Potchefstroom, North West - Architect
Governor's Kop Tower: 1844. Makhanda (Grahamstown), Eastern Cape - Architect
Lighthouse, Cape Recife: 1851. Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth), Eastern Cape - Architect
Line Drift Post: 1835. Peddie, Eastern Cape - Architect
Lower North Battery: 1793 : 1861 : 1885 : 1939 : etc. Simonstown, Western Cape - Architect
Martello Tower: n.d.. KwaMaqoma (Fort Beaufort), Eastern Cape - Architect
Martello Tower: 1795-1796. Simonstown, Western Cape - Architect
Mess House and Officers Quarters - Museum: c1830. KwaMaqoma (Fort Beaufort), Eastern Cape - Architect
Middledrift Post: 1852/3. Middledrift, Eastern Cape - Architect
Military Base: Detention Barracks: 1905. Wynberg, Western Cape - Architect
Military Gaol: 1836. Makhanda (Grahamstown), Eastern Cape - Architect
Military Provost: 1836. Makhanda (Grahamstown), Eastern Cape - Architect
Naval Store: c.1740 : 1795 : 1878. Simonstown, Western Cape - Architect
Old Powder Magazine (Star Fort complex): 1821. Bathurst, Eastern Cape - Architect
Post Retief: 1836. KwaMaqoma (Fort Beaufort), Eastern Cape - Architect
Provost Building: 1836. Makhanda (Grahamstown), Eastern Cape - Architect
Queen's Blockhouse: after 1795. Zonnebloem Estate, Cape Town, Western Cape - Architect
Rice Pattern Blockhouse: c1899. Ritchie, Northern Cape - Engineer
Rice Pattern Blockhouse, War Museum of the Boer Republics: c1899. Bloemfontein, Free State - Architect
Royal Engineers Building: 1823 - 1863. Makhanda (Grahamstown), Eastern Cape - Architect
St Patrick's Church: 1844. Makhanda (Grahamstown), Eastern Cape - Architect
Tarka Post: 1849. Makhanda (Grahamstown), Eastern Cape - Architect
Trompetter’s Drift Post: n.d.. Makhanda (Grahamstown), Eastern Cape - Architect
Two Blockhouses: 1901. Wolseley, Western Cape - Architect
Victoria Bridge - Kat River: 1844. KwaMaqoma (Fort Beaufort), Eastern Cape - Architect
Watch Tower: 1841. Peddie, Eastern Cape - Architect


Coetzee, CG. 2000. Military villages on the Eastern Frontier - proposed and founded - 1821-1850. Grahamstown: Private. pp All

Coetzee, CG, Westby-Nunn, Tony (Revised and edited). 2010. The Cape journal : military villages in the Eastern Cape : the unfortified military villages of Sir Harry Smith, 1848-1850. Cape Town: Westby Nunn publishers. pp All

Coetzee, Colin. 1995. Forts of the Eastern Cape : Securing a frontier 1799 - 1878. Grahamstown: Colin G Coetzee. pp All

Robson, Linda Gillian. 2011. The Royal Engineers and settlement planning in the Cape Colony 1806-1872 : approach, methodology and impact. Pretoria: University of Pretoria (Unpublished PhD). pp All