Norval's Pont (or ferry) is a small town in the northern Cape Colony on the southern bank of the Orange River, approximately 30 miles north east of Colesberg. A scotsman started operating a ferry here in 1848.
It was an strategic crossing point, made more so by the construction of a railway bridge in 1889.
Boer forces occupied Norval's Pont on 1 November 1899 and used it as a crossing to invade Cape Colony. As the British forces pushed back the Boers, the bridge was destroyed on 5 March 1900. The Royal Engineers constructed a pontoon bridge which was completed by the end of March.
How a river is crossed in South Africa: Interesting engineering operations at Norval's Pont
Norval's Pont on the Orange River, where General Clements crossed into the Free State, is on the main line of railway from Port Elizabeth to Bloemfontein, and is therefore an important point in Lord Roberts's line of communication to the south. The following will explain the various methods adopted for crossing the river:
A. Channel formed by the backwater in which the old punt, which gave its name to the site, used to be during heavy floods
B. C. Three spans of the railway bridge cut by the Boers
D. Pier destroyed from its base
E. ground on which General Clement's covering party (ferried over in twenty four pontoons) effected its lodgement on March 15. The pontoon bridge thrown over the river the same day is out of sight round the bend R about 5 miles down the river from the railway bridge
F. Flying bridge first establishes
G. Aerial line first established
H. Second flying bridge intended for 5 inch guns
I. J. A short pontoon bridge
K. Second aerial bridge
L. Traveller for second aerial bridge
M. low-level line on the concrete piers of the old bridge
N. Baulks made from the low-level line
O. Piers of old stones from for the low-level line
P. Formation level being made by Railway Pioneers, who are also undertaking the aerial line L and K
Our illustration from a sketch by Major F Malony, RE.
Joining hands: How the forces of Lord Roberts and General Clements met at Norval's Pont
The forces of Lord Roberts and General Clements met at Norval's Pont on March 15. The Grenadiers were sent down by Lord Roberts from Bloemfontein by train and four of their officers sitting on the front of the engine were the first to greet the Australian Horse (General Clements's advance guard) after they had passed the river into the Orange Free State. The broken railway bridge at Norval's Pont is shown in the middle distance of the sketch.
The Graphic 28 April 1900
It is not clear how this railway line would be able to cross at the bridge but we must allow some artistic licence to be able to show both the meeting and the bridge in the same view.
Dr David Biggins
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