New Castle – Fort Amiel

Fort Amiel Museum is in Newcastle KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Fort Amiel was constructed in 1876 by Major Charles Frederick Amiel and soldiers of the 80th Staffordshire Volunteers. It was built as a fort and “look-out post”, for the British during the run up to the annexation of the former Transvaal and the Zulu War, although it really never served that purpose.

During the First Boer War it was used as a garrison for the King’s Own Royal Regiment (Lancaster).

Fort Amiel served as a commissariat depot, transit camp and hospital. Many wounded soldiers were taken there, to recover from their wounds. The fort is positioned on a knoll overlooking the original wagon drift across the Ncandu River. It has majestic views of the Drakensberg mountain range and the town of Newcastle.

Major Charles Frederick Amiel was born on 2 August 1822, in Hanover Square, London, England. He was christened on 2 August 1822 in St Peter, Chertsey, Surrey, England. Major Amiel died on 10 September 1885 at London, England. He was buried at St Peter, Westminster, London. Amiel never married.

The fort and surroundings, including a graveyard below the knoll fell into disuse for many years. In 1979 the site was declared a National Monument and restoration work began after the discovery of the original plans for the fort were discovered during this period in a London Museum. The restoration work was undertaken by the visionary Newcastle Town Council and in conjunction with the Natal Museum Services.

Today, Fort Amiel houses an historic/cultural museum. Military displays of the two Anglo-Boer Wars. There is a wonderful cookhouse re-construction, this shows a typical British Army Base found in the 1880s.
Fort Amiel, situated in Newcastle, was built in 1876 by Major Charles Frederick Amiel and a force of two hundred men from the 80th Staffordshire Volunteers. The Fort was to serve as a supply depot, transit camp, and hospital for the British during the Zulu War and the Transvaal War of Independence. The fort is located on a knoll, overlooking the town of Newcastle, and today houses the Newcastle Cultural History museum.

Restoration work in 1979 was undertaken by the town council an the Natal Museum Services, after the fort was declared a national monument. The work was greatly assisted by the discovery of the plans which helped in establishing the uses of the various buildings. Excavations on the site revealed the foundations of the Magazine, Shell store, and Royal Engineers Store. The buildings were later rebuilt on these foundations in 1986. The last of the buildings to be completed were the Officers’ Quarters and the Cook house which were taken down brick by brick and reconstructed.

The museum at Fort Amiel was opened in 1990, and houses a variety of Military displays which focus on the two Anglo-Boer Wars. The museum also features a period room, which illustrates the career of old time Newcastle resident Sir Rider Haggard who was the author of “King Solomon’s Mines”. The room also includes an original chair that once belonged to him. The Cookhouse at the fort is typical of those found at British Army Bases in the 1880’s, and contains an interesting selection of period kitchen utensils. Fort Amiel’s canteen displays a variety of clothing, old photographs, and assorted odds and ends from Newcastle’s colourful history. The Guard House houses an exhibit displaying the history of the building of the fort as well as information on the various British Regiments who were stationed there. Also included are a display of the 80th Regiment and a unique collection of campaign furniture that belonged the fort’s Quartermaster, Captain Perrin. A recent addition to the Fort is a Zulu Umuzi (hut) with a detailed interior, and a fine collection of 19th century Zulu bead work.

Fort Amiel and the surrounding area are also said to be frequented by ghosts. Since this British military outpost was constructed in 1876, many British soldiers were buried a short distance from the fort in the cemetery. Two sightings of a soldier have been seen in the Cook House. This red coat soldier once “slapped” an unfortunate gardener through the face and in another incident “lifted up” another worker and “dropped” him while reminding him that he did not give him permission to enter. In the Royal Engineers Store a sighting has also been made.

A resident in one of the houses in the present suburb of Amiel Park, close to the fort, eventually relocated after hearing unbearable noises, amongst others the galloping and whinnying of horses, which started daily at midnight. Many residents still find rusted horse shoes and other remains of the military activity of the past in their gardens.