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Fort Murray

Fort Murray, King William's Town

After the Sixth Xhosa War (1834—1835), Sir Benjamin D’Urban annexed all the land between the Keiskamma and the Kei Rivers as part of the Cape Colony, calling it the Province of Queen Adelaide.

To protect this territory he started to build a network of forts; along the Buffalo River they almost formed a line. One of these forts, known as Fort Murray, was situated about 18 kilometres south of King William’s Town in a bend of the Buffalo River, near Mount Coke Mission Station.

When the British Government refused to ratify the annexation, the province was abolished and in September, 1836, Fort Murray was vacated, whereupon it fell into disrepair.

The Sixth Xhosa War was followed in 1846 by the Seventh, known as the War of the Axe. When this ended, Governor Sir Harry Smith once again proclaimed the land between the Keiskamma and the Kei as British territory and called it British Kaffraria.

A little-known fact about Fort Murray is that there were actually two forts by this name.

After the original fort, built in 1835, was abandoned, a second fort, by the same name, was erected about about 8 kilometres from the original fort -- was constructed soon after the establishment of British Kaffraria.

This second Fort Murray - of which the ruins remain to this day - was an extensive stone structure with barracks for infantry and cavalry. Built by the Royal Engineers, it would serve as a combined barracks and fort, and became the head quarters of Lieutenant Colonel John Maclean, Chief Commissioner for the Crown Colony.

The fort was built using stone that was quarried on the banks of the nearby Buffalo River and was erected as a square structure, with loop-holed stone walls each measuring approximately 67 metres in length and 3 metres in height.

All doors and windows opened onto an inner barrack square, in the centre of which stood the guard house and the powder magazine. The rooms were probably roofed over with slate.

After the British German Legion had landed at East London early in 1857 to become military settlers in the colony, they spent two months encamped outside the walls of the fort. They spoke about being given access to Colonel Maclean's wonderful garden nearby.

By 1877, when the Gcaleka War erupted, Fort Murray had already fallen into a state of disrepair. Nevertheless, it was used during that war as the training centre for the Frontier Armed Mounted Police, the last unit to occupy the fort. Since that time the place has been badly neglected and large quantities of stone have been removed from the buildings to be used elsewhere.

During the years that followed, many well-known Imperial regiments occupied the old fort.

During and after the Ninth Xhosa War (1877—78) it was used as a training centre for the Frontier Armed Mounted Police, also known as the Currie Police, and in the 1880s it was used by the Cape Police.

Gradually the fort was deprived of its military status. At one time it was used as a depot for sick mules. In the 1890s an unsuccessful attempt was made to convert it into an institution for leprosy patients, and during the Anglo Boer War there was talk of using it as a concentration camp. After that it fell into disrepair.

Many of the stones and bricks were taken away, and for a time it even served as a cattle kraal. To put an end to such vandalism, notices were erected in 1909 forbidding further destruction of the fort.

The ruins of this fort was proclaimed a national monument in 1938.

Source: South African Heritage Resource Agency

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