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Jonathan Ball

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Willem Steenkamp’s Assegais, Drums & Dragoons Launched with a Bang at the Chavonnes Battery Museum

Willem Steenkamp

The launch of Assegais, Drums & Dragoons: A Military and Social History of the Cape by Willem Steenkamp went off, quite literally, with a bang when a nine-pounder muzzle-loaded cannon was fired by Mogomat Hartley, dressed in a unique straw hat, the uniform of the loyal Javanese Artillery Corps who fought at the Battle of Blaauwberg.

Assegais, Drums & DragoonsSteenkamp reflected briefly on the nature of the history of the Cape. “I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s totally different from what we generally think,” he said. This book, which is part military history and part social history, aims to answer the questions that were raised for him in his capacity as the organiser of the bicentenary celebrations of the Battle of Blaauwberg.

Steenkamp recalled this watershed battle on 8 January 1806, which ushered in the Second British Occupation of the Cape: “Something very strange happened there. The best trained Batavian soldiers cut and ran, almost at the first shot.” He noted that the last ones on the battlefield were a small group of Dutch gunners, a small contingent of French, and three Cape regiments, the Hottentot Light Infantry, the Light Dragoons of Swellendam and the Javanese Artillery Corp.

“Why did these three units fight so hard against the British? What did they have in common? They all spoke what was not yet called Afrikaans!” He said that writing this book had been a journey of discovery, beyond the writing of his thesis. “I discovered many new things about the Cape, including details of my ancestors!”

Generous sponsorship for the book’s launch, received from Uwe Koetter, Cynergy Liqueur and Longridge Wines, was gratefully acknowledged by Jonathan Ball’s Ingeborg Pelser. Guests mingled afterwards in the remarkable Chavonnes Battery Museum, getting their books signed by the author, who had a personal note for each one.

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Liesl Jobson tweeted from the launch using #livebooks:

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