Friday 20th of December 2002 02:09 PM 
Blockhouses of the Anglo-Boer War

Stone blockhouse - location unknown The blockhouse system was introduced at the beginning of 1901 by the British military authorities as a counter to the operations of the Boer forces in as well as outside, the Boer republics. They were primarily for the protection of British lines of communication and the restriction of Boer mobility. Originally the idea was merely to establish a protected area around Johannesburg and Pretoria by safeguarding the railways. Later on strategic roads were also taken into consideration, and finally the system was extended so as to isolate the principal combat areas. The object was to surround the Republican guerilla forces and eliminate them by means of 'drives' with mounted troops. The idea was for the most part a dismal failure, because the commandos, especially those under General C.R. de Wet easily broke through the blockhouse lines, erected 3000 yards apart and later at 1000 yard intervals. Strathcona's Horsemen outside a corrugated iron blockhouse - location unknownThere were several types of blockhouse. The usual type consisted of two concentric circles of corrugated iron sheets, with the space between filled in (usually with sand or gravel), except for loopholes through which to fire. After the war many of the blockhouses were broken up and the materials used for reconstruction in the devastated parts of the former republics. An example of this type of blockhouse still stands on the farm Onze Rust just outside of Bloemfontein. The more permanent type consisted of rectangular two-story forts of stone, which were built at bridgeheads and at the entrance to towns. These also had several variations. Typical examples still in existence have been proclaimed historical monuments.

Principal Lines of Blockhouses - 1902
From Lambert's Bay on the Cape west coast to Calvinia; from Williston to Carnarvon, Victoria West and up to the main line which ran from Wellington to Beaufort West and Warrenton; from De Aar to Noupoort, Rosmead and Cradock, with a side line to Middelburg, Steynsburg and Molteno.
The invasion route of Republican forces from the Orange Free State was cut off by lines of Stone blockhouse at Leeugamka blockhouses stretching between Queenstown, Molteno, Burgersdorp, Aliwal North, Lady Grey and Bethulie. From Colesberg to Kroonstad the line followed the railway, and between Kroonstad and Vereeniging (where de Wet broke through) armoured trains were used to patrol between the blockhouses.
Branch lines of blockhouses in the Orange Free State ran up to Mount Prospect in Natal. The whole north-eastern part of the Orange Free State was cris-crossed by lines of blockhouses. On the western side of the railway there were also cross-lines to the railway, which was protected by blockhouses from Kimberley to Mafeking.
The Transvaal lines were chiefly on the Highveld, not necessarily along railway lines. The network extended from Mafeking through Lichtenburg to Potchefstroom, Krugersdorp and Springs. A second line ran from Potchefstroom through Rustenburg and Pretoria, and thence all along the Delagoa Bay railway to Kaapmuiden. In the Eastern Transvaal, which had become the chief field of operations of General Louis Botha, there were several lines running through the following points:
Machadodorp, Lydenburg, Barberton, Wonderfontein (near Belfast), Carolina, Ermelo, Amsterdam, Standerton and Greylingstad. A separate line of blockhouses ran from Johannesburg along the railway to Volksrust, Wakkerstroom and Piet Retief. Here also the armoured trains were used as reinforcement.
In Natal there were lines of blockhouses from Volksrust to Newcastle, and from Vryheid to Dundee.


Murray, Colin. Black Mountain: Land, Class and Power in the Eastern Orange Free State, 1880s to 1980s. Washington, D.C: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992.
Rosenthal. Eric [ed] Encyclopedia of Southern Africa. London: Frederick Warne, 1967.
Rosenthal. Eric [comp.] Southern African Dictionary of National Biography. London: Frederick Warne, 1966.


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Go here to see a wonderfully informative site on the Blockhouse system, with a number of images of assorted blockhouses.

Further Reading

"Deeds of the Royal Engineers." Royal Engineers Journal. (Jun 1917): pp. 249-56. Per.
(Ref: 23d Co, Royal Engrs at Ladysmith.)