Once British fortifications were built, the area became the centre of the majority of the conflicts that took place between the British and the Xhosa during the 8th War of Land Dispossession from 1850 to 1853. The settlement started out as a mission station, established in 1816 by Reverend Joseph Williams of the London Missionary Society. Three years later, Lord Charles Somerset, Governor of the Cape Colony, used the site to meet Chief Ngqika, Maqoma's father, in an effort to find mutually agreeable ways to stop the ongoing cattle thefts from white farmers by the Xhosa. No agreement was reached and the British established a military post in the form of a blockhouse about 3 miles away from the mission station in 1822. The post was named Fort Beaufort in honour of the Duke of Beaufort, one of Somerset's relations.
Dutch Reformed Mission Church It was completed in 1845 under the direction of William Thomson. Since then, it has often been at the centre of racial and theological controversy, unlike other churches in the Fort Beaufort area and served an exclusively white congregation.
Originally from Scotland, Andrew Geddes Bain was a road engineer who built many roads in South Africa including the Bainskloof Pass near Wellington and the Katberg Pass near Fort Beaufort. His occupation created an interest in geology and during the construction of the road near Blinkwater, he discovered a fossilized reptile, Pareiasaurus serridens which they promptly named the “Blinkwater Monster”. The original fossil was sent to England and a replica is on display at the Albany Museum in Grahamstown.
A replica of the original “Blinkwater Monster” which can be viewed in the Albany Museum in Grahamstown.
Fort Fordyce is the site of one of the greatest Xhosa victories in their battle for dignity and recognition of nationhood and therefore occupies a special place in South Africaʼs Heritage. The site was initially known among whites as Waterkloof and among the Xhosa as Mthontsi, a name derived from the Xhosa word for a drop of water. Fort Fordyce Nature Reserve is nestled between the picturesque towns of Fort Beaufort and Adelaide. Perched on the edge of the Amathole escarpment, the reserve enjoys magnificent views of the Hogsback and Katberg mountains.
In Bell Street one can see the Martello Tower, which was completed in six years after 1837. Along with the town's Victoria Bridge, it became another link in the chain of fortifications and roads in the Eastern Cape authorized by the Governor of the Cape, Sir Benjamin DʼUrban, after the 6th War of Land Dispossession of 1835. Many of the Eastern Cape forts had towers, serving as elevated gun placements as the commander-in-chief of the British Army, the Duke of Wellington, favoured them as colonial defenses.
Dating back to mid-1800s, the original infantry barracks were eventually incorporated into the Tower Psychiatric Hospital. The guardhouse, ordinance store, office, and the magazine store are still clearly distinguished by their frontier military characteristics, such as the slits in the walls through which rifles could be fired.
Founded towards the end of the Wars of Land Dispossession, Healdtown is an extraordinary example of the healing process of reconciliation. In 1848 when Methodist minister Rev. John Ayliff united the black people in the Fort Beaufort area that had been scattered by the wars to live together in one place, he bridged both geographical and cultural divides.
The school became one of the largest and most influential schools in Southern Africa, drawing students from as far afield as Kenya, Zaire, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Lesotho. By 1934 students from 36 different areas, representing 28 different cultures, were being housed and educated. The name Healdtown was chosen in honour of Sir James Heald, a British merchant who gave generously to the Methodist Church, specifically for the founding of the mission station in Fort Beaufort. It has produced political and academic giants, such as John Jabavu, Dr Seetsile Modiri Molema, Dr Zola Skweyiya, Dr Nelson Mandela, Silas Nkanunu, Govan Mbeki and many others.
Dating back to 1830, the officer's mess is one of the oldest buildings in Fort Beaufort. After the Wars of Land Dispossession, the building was converted and became the Fort Beaufort Secondary School. In 1938 it was handed over to the Municipality by the commission for the Preservation of Natural and Historical Monuments, Relics and Antiques. Fort Beaufort Museum offers an overview of local culture, ranging from the area's military history to Xhosa arts and craft.
Built in 1849, the Officersʼ Quarters are next to the old U-shaped Military Hospital. Designed by Captain J.E. Walpole of the Royal Engineers, it was erected shortly before the 7th War of Land Dispossession. This separate building was eventually converted into a residence for the magistrate and used as such until 1950. Currently part of the building serves as a store and lecture rooms for the provincial hospital complex.
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