Castle Prison and Torture Chambers

Castle Prison and Torture Chambers

It is quite hard to believe that Cape Town in South-Africa has a Military Castle, complete with a prison and torture chamber. The Castle, as it’s simply known around here, has an interesting and checkered history, although probably not as interesting as the medieval castles of Europe. According to the official website, the Castle of Good Hope is the oldest surviving building in South Africa, built between 1666 and 1679. Yes, the historical buildings of South-Africa are rarely more than 300 years old.

The Castle main building, now housing the museum
The Castle main building, now housing the museum

Today, the Castle of Good Hope houses the Castle Military Museum and ceremonial facilities for traditional Cape Regiments. My first visit was with parents when they came to visit, but I have been again when friends came to visit as it is quite interesting. They have free guided tours of the Castle at certain times of the day and I would recommend taking one of these as you learn so much about the colourful history of these buildings.

The Castle was also the infamous location of many imprisonments, frequently accompanied by torture and subsequent death of prisoners. As happened at most castles in those days, I suspect. There are cells still eerily sporting ‘graffiti’ within the Castle, which was done by the criminals and other asorted people held here in these cells.

Above are some images of the inscriptions carved into the doors of the Provost cells where prisoners were kept as well as the one of the original locks.

Cell for Solitart Confinement
Cell for Solitart Confinement

I had to read up on the “famous” criinals held here as I could not remenber all the names and stories that our guide told us. Here is one of my favourites. Fritz Joubert Duquesne, later known as the man who killed Kitchener and the leader of the Duquesne Spy Ring, was one of its more well-known residents. The walls of the castle were extremely thick, but night after night, Duquesne dug away the cement around the stones with an iron spoon. He nearly escaped one night, but a large stone slipped and pinned him in his tunnel. The next morning, a guard found him unconscious but alive.

The Castle was right next to the sea and its sub levels would frequently fill with water as the tide rose. During the winter floods, the water rose three feet within minutes sometimes, drowning the inmates chained to the dungeon walls. Escaped slaves, bandits and outlaws were frequently executed within the Castle walls.

But the most dreaded was known as the “Donker Gat” or Dark Hole, a windowless dungeon which doubled as a torture chamber. The Torture Chamber and the Dark Hole which are adjacent rooms were the torture chamber and dungeon. Because old Dutch law required that a criminal confess to his crimes before sentence could be passed, prisoners hearing the sounds of torture from next door would more readily admit to their crimes. There is an inverted horse-shoe on the door which suggests that here one’s luck had run out.

Looking out of the Dark Hole where there is a very small source of light, I could imagine how scary it must have been to be locked up in here, knowing what torture awaited.

 

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