Geelbecks River Blockhouse - History and Facts | History Hit

Geelbecks River Blockhouse

Laingsburg Local Municipality, Western Cape, South Africa

Mortared stonework type blockhouse, 12km North of Laingsburg, and right next to the N1 national highway (motorway) between Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Image Credit: Alamy

About Geelbecks River Blockhouse

The Geelbecks River Blockhouse is a very typical, easily reachable and well-preserved example of the blockhouse fortifications erected by British forces during the Anglo Boer War between 1899-1902.

These were strongpoints in their defences of the colony borders and strategically important locations like railway bridges, as in this case.

History of Geelbecks River Blockhouse

The Geelbecks River Blockhouse is located on the banks of the Riet River (also known as the Rietrivier), in the district of Herbert, which is in the south of South Africa. It is one of around 441 masonry blockhouses built by the British during the early, guerrilla stages of the Second Boer War in 1899 until it ended in May 1902.

The blockhouses were built in strategically important locations, such as by rivers and railways. The Geelbecks River Blockhouse was commanded by Lt Austin of C Company, 5th Warwicks Field Force, who was in charge of twenty men, which was the average number of people to be garrisoned per fortification.

The blockhouse overlooks the site of and likely housed some British force who were involved in the Battle of Modder River in November 1899, which was fought between the British, who were attempting to relieve the besieged diamond-mining town of Kimberley, and the Boers. After a day-long stalemate where both sides shot at each other from afar, the Boers grew afraid of becoming outflanked, and withdrew at night. 70 British were killed and another 413 were wounded.

The origin of the term ‘Blockhouse’ is debated amongst historians. The term was probably first used to describe King Henry VIII‘s defence of the English coasts in the 1530s and 1540s.

The term was variously used again in South Africa in the early 19th century to describe three British-built masonry towers built to protect Cape Town on the slopes of Table Mountain, amongst other similar structures.

It has been settled upon that a blockhouse is ‘…structure of mortared stonework or concrete, one to three storeys in height, with a roof of timber and corrugated iron or concrete, with rifle ports, windows and doors protected by loopholed steel plates and with or without steel machicouli galleries.’

Geelbecks River Blockhouse Today

Today, the Geelbecks River Blockhouse remains in sturdy condition, and is a feature on a number of hiking trails around the Western Cape. There is a memorial to the Battle of Modder River some 3km away for those who wish to explore local war historiography further.

Getting to Geelbecks River Blockhouse

The Blockhouse is reachable in 35 minutes by car from Kimberley, primarily along the N12 road.

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