What does the museum consist of?
The museum’s layout is an unusual one, since part of it is in the open air, although the greater portion is indoors. The two parts are on either side of tall glass windows, so that there is no sense of separation. The open-air section consists of the extreme left-hand portion of the seaward-facing front wall, which has been built up to its authentic original appearance, including two casemates or underground rooms. Three great cannon are in place on reconstructed garrison carriages, and thanks to the museum’s unique layout, visitors inside have a cross-section view of how the wall was constructed on the rocks at the water’s edge.
In the indoor section the skeleton of the battery is laid bare, so that visitors are literally within arm’s reach of its ancient stones stones. Graphic information boards in Afrikaans, English and Xhosa tell the story not only of the battery in all its phases of existence, and plot the arduous sea-voyages which led to the establishment in 1652 of a small outpost which would one day become the City of Cape Town.
Other boards tell the story in words and pictures of the indigenous clans the Dutch East India Company’s men found here, and provide information about some of the other Cape fortifications which followed the battery. One long panorama shows a magnificent view of the Grand Parade and Castle two centuries ago. Yet other displays show the results of the excavation work, including a well and the relics found in the process. Two very detailed models depict the battery as it looked when completed in 1726, and a bird’s-eye view of Cape Town and Table Bay about 70 years later, the coastline now bristling with defensive lines and gun positions; without a word needing to be said, the importance of the Cape is graphically illustrated.
One of the most popular sections is the gunnery display, a mixture of genuine artefacts, careful replicas and some of the best models to be found anywhere in South Africa – so popular, in fact, that extra new exhibits are being planned for it. Here visitors can see exactly what an early 18th-Century gunner’s duties entailed, and those on guided tours are given a quick lesson in the loading and firing of a genuine 18-pounder cannon … except, of course, that the 18-pounder isn’t actually fired.
So the Chavonnes Battery doesn’t actually fire cannon any more?
Yes, it does! Guns, after all, are what the Chavonnes Battery is all about. Visitors realise this the moment they enter and stare into the muzzles of three artillery pieces. One of them is a two-pounder British ship’s gun, belonging to the SAS Unitie Trust, which is about 160 years old and is still regularly fired.
On occasion the beautifully maintained 25-pounders of the Cape Field Artillery’s Saluting Troop have made the Waterfront tremble from the ring road in front of the battlements, and on various weekends re-enactment gunners of the Cannon Association of South Africa regularly fire their carefully restored (and in some cases newly manufactured) weapons from the battlements, to the enjoyment of passing visitors to the Waterfront.
Two artillery pieces which don’t fire, unfortunately, are a pair of extremely rare 1880s-vintage Canet 75mm breech-loading guns – possibly the only ones left - which were captured by the Germans in attacks on Portuguese posts in Angola early in 1914, then captured in turn by South African forces which invaded the then German South West Africa (now Namibia) in 1915. But somewhere along the line, alas, their breech-blocks were removed, possibly when they were first captured. These also belong to the SAS Unitie Trust.
See the Noon Gun
Perhaps you haven’t had the opportunity of going up to Lion Battery on Signal Hill to watch the Noon Gun being fired. If so, come along to the Chavonnes Battery. From the flagpoles you have a grandstand view of the Noon Gun’s cloud of smoke, followed by the usual loud boom. If you time your visit to end just before noon or start just afterwards, you can obtain an unusual souvenir by having your companion take your photo in front of the Flagpoles just as the Noon Gun’s smoke bursts out of the mountain behind you.
Books for sale
Visitors can buy a wide range of books, which are rarely available elsewhere.
One is the authoritative "The Muzzle-Loading Cannon of South Africa" by Gerry de Vries and Jonathan Hall, a unique compendium of facts, figures, illustrations and stories about South Africa's hundreds of surviving cannon (R120).
The other book is titled "Mannen met een missie naar Kaap de Goede Hoop / Men on a mission to the Cape of Good Hope" by Agnes van Loon, with parallel Dutch and English text. Her book tells the stories of the four greatest Dutch East India Company commanders at the Cape – Jan van Riebeeck, Simon van der Stel, Rijk Tulbagh … and Maurice Pasque, the Marquis de Chavonnes. The book contains historical facts, stories, maps and illustrations, including a fine portrait of De Chavonnes, which she unearthed after much searching in The Netherlands (R120). Income derived from sales of the books is divided between the authors and the museum.
Now available a heavily expanded and updated edition of Willem Steenkamp’s book... “Borderstrike!” [R200]about early operations in the South West African/Namibian insurgency, which has become a standard reference work. Two of his historical novels, “Blake’s Woman” and “Jim Zulu” also on sale for those who like some lighter reading."[R120]
Photograph yourself in a genuine tricorne hat
The battery keeps a number of specially made braided tricorne hats of the 18th-Century style on hand at the exit which departing visitors can put on and then photograph themselves for a special keepsake of their visit. The cost? Nothing! It’s by way of saying “thank you” for visiting.
Uniforms and weapons for film and stage productions
The Chavonnes Cannon Battery Museum offers another service for film and stage productions: We have an extensive knowledge of the military uniforms, accoutrements and weapons of all ages, and have a number of suppliers who can manufacture them to any desired degree of authenticity and functionality, right up to muzzle-loading cannons that can actually fire, as well as more modern weapons. All such weapons are completely legal, as they are produced by a qualified and registered armourer who has worked on many major film productions.