Madeira takes centre stage in South Africa history


The French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, during the war against England and its allies ,invaded most of Europe, including Holland, which made Dutch overseas colonies vulnerable to French domination.

This development placed at risk the protection of India, the jewel of the Crown of the British Empire, and as consequence England decided to invade the Cape.

The aim was to prevent the French to control the maritime routes to the orient, where England, France and Holland had established valuable trading outposts.

In contrast with the victories of Napoleon armies in Europe the influence of French and Dutch in the Orient and in the Americas was diminishing, due to the resolute British offensive to achieve the domination of seas.

The Cape colony , which was established in the early XVII century by the Dutch East India Company to provide supplies to their navy and merchant fleet in route to Batavia( Indonesia today) ,was one  of the places that gained strategic value  for British expansionist policy.

The invasion of the Cape was planned as a top secret project, because England did not want to alert the French European naval blockade, with the movement of a large  British fleet.

Therefore the ships that would participate in the invasion of the Cape left separately from several English port and only in the open seas it was revealed that Madeira was their destination .

The island of Madeira was particularly well positioned in crossroads of naval and merchant ships of major colonial powers of the time.

 The vessels concentrated in the deep anchorage of  the Funchal harbour by  late in 1085 ,and it was there that the troops were informed by the commanding officers ,Commodore Riggs Popham and General David Baird, that their ultimate target was the Cape.

The briefing of the navy and army officers for the assault of the Cape took place in the fortress of Sao Tiago under the friendly hospitality of the  Portuguese garrison.

Popahm was not stranger to Madeira having taken possession of the island in 1801 for about one year, when the hostilities against the French broke up in Europe.

Madeira would  be occupied again by England in 1807 ,when Napoleon troops invaded the Iberian Peninsula and the King Jon VI of Portugal and the royal family left for Brazil .

The British stayed in Madeira until the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte, who called the island en route to exile in Santa Helena Island and, according to the tradition , he was offered a cask of  Madeira wine alleviate his captivity .

The invasion of the Cape, a tactical  operation that was initiated in Madeira and changed South Africa forever, was documented by  the cotemporary  naval painter  Thomas Withcombe, recording both the arrival of the fleet in Funchal and the Cape , in two canvas that fetched record prices in a recent Sotheby’s auction .


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