Kanonkop in Montagu - the story
Posted by Mareletta Mundey on 22 June 2018 4:20 AM CAT
The story of Kanonkop started at Pietersfontein in the Montagu district before 1825 when Abraham Verreyne came to Pietersfontein to farm. He was a very interesting character – a true pioneer who brought with him a front loader ship’s cannon with balls that weighed 8 pounds each.
He put the cannon on a hill somewhere in the valley. The only time a shot was fired, was when someone tried to rob his beehive. Fortunately no one was hurt. Only an old goatskin bag was left by the would-be thief.
The old cannon was later transferred to the hill above the town; hence the name “Kanonkop”. The cannon was placed near the two gunpowder houses that belonged to the firms Brink Bros. and Barry & Nephews where each firm housed its ammunition and gunpowder. During those years one could order a few sticks of dynamite with one’s groceries. Then someone would be sent by bicycle to fetch it at the gunpowder house.
The idea behind the placement of the cannon was to fire shots on special occasions, like Queen Victoria’s birthday. When the first church in Montagu was inaugurated in 1852, a few shots would have been fired, but it ended in tragedy. A young man called Jackie had to put the gunpowder in the mouth of the cannon. The person, who had to fire the shot, brought the lighter too soon and the cannon fired and Jackie lost both his arms. Al the best remedies were used and the two stumps were eventually healed. The furious farmers of the area threw the cannon over the hill into Lover’s Walk.
When the Cogmanskloof Pass was finished in 1877, the engineer, Hendie, transported the old cannon to Rooiwal outspan, now called Ashton, to fire a salute – probably during the inaugural ceremony. The old canon was, however, so rusted that it burst.
Kanonkop was without its cannon for many years, but in 1988 Mr Kenneth Knipe, the mayor of Montagu at that time, heard that a cannon was lying in the sea near Simon’s Town. It was part of an old wooden ship that had sunk many years before. Mr Knipe, with the help of Gerhard (Gerry) Smuts, retired Naval Commander then owner of Mimosa Lodge in Church Street, obtained permission to fetch the cannon. In order to get it out of the sea, air bags were fastened to the cannon and filled with air until the cannon floated on the water. It was brought to Montagu on a municipal lorry, but after nearly 20 years under the sea, the cannon were covered with a thick layer of salt and mussels. To neutralize this the cannon was unloaded in the Baths Kloof stream, which helped a great deal. It was transported to Kanonkop with a fork-lift truck, and placed on solid jarrah sleepers.
Thanks to Mr Knipe’s initiative and perseverance the Cannon still watches over Lover’s Walk, Montagu West and the whole valley.
Apart from the cannon, a few tragedies happened on Kanonkop. According to Mr Jan Jordaan of Montagu, a Coloured man named Kallie, who worked for Mr Beets, got lost in 1947 and fell down Kanonkop and died.
Years ago there was also a Nothling family who stayed close to Kanonkop. Every afternoon the boys used to take goats to the hill to graze. One day, while the boys were chatting, the goats grazed too near the cliff overlooking Montagu West. One boy, Gertjie, tried to chase them back, but lost his balance and fell over the edge onto a rock ledge. After the accident the Family moved to Paarl.
References: Montagu Museum archives; the Library, conversation in October 1998 between Mr Kenneth Knipe, Mrs Esther Hofmeyr and Mr Jan Jordaan.