The majority of the existing urban areas in South Africa began as colonial centres. This study seeks to evaluate the role the Royal Engineers played in the development of the Cape Colony from 1806 until the acceptance of responsible government by the Cape Colony in 1872. The Colonial State implemented a capital works programme of staggering breadth and scale. During this time South Africa was delineated, urbanised, developed and connected to the world markets. This was achieved via a highly trained and professional military establishment; the Royal Engineers. The role of the Royal Engineers and the legacy of towns, forts and infrastructure are studied in depth in this thesis. British imperial approach to colonial expansion and development in both a spatial and theoretical manner forms the basis of this thesis. The case study covers the Eastern Cape of South Africa. The physical and spatial development of this region are analysed in order to glean any lessons which could be learnt from the approach adopted to colonial settlement. This Study illustrates that a small highly trained group of military engineers had a significant impact on the establishment of early towns and infrastructure in South Africa. They have left a lasting footprint on South Africa’s spatial development and many of the towns and much of the infrastructure is still in use today (specifically the harbours, railways and mountain passes). The Royal Engineers’ approach to development and background training is studied and then reduced to its theoretical approach. This theoretical approach is then analysed in order to glean the lessons history can teach us about development, specifically development on ‘terra nova’. An attempt is made to extract planning theory from historical analysis of developmental elements which worked in the past. The study begins by analysing the background and training of the Royal Engineers and then moves on to assessing the spatial and physical impact their plans had on the development of South Africa. The discussion then moves beyond what the Royal Engineers did to understand how they made it happen; to arrive at a positive theory of planning or to ask when does planning work ? The Royal Engineers were schooled in the sciences and trained to be experts in almost all things; they were the master craftsmen and skilled problem solvers of the era. The training they received at Chatham, is a very early example of professional training; it was comprehensive, high quality and practical. Those who emerged from this training carried out vast public works around the British Empire; they produced very few theories of development but they did challenge ideas. The avant- garde designs of some colonial towns such as Queenstown, Khartoum, Adelaide and Savannah show a desire to improve on settlement forms and to provide design solutions to urban problems. The Royal Engineers adopted a pragmatic approach to development, they initially received a very good scientific academic training, they then learnt by example whilst serving under engineer commanders. As a unit they learnt by observation, experimentation and example. What is striking in their approach is that they saw a problem and simply went about solving it and their solutions were inevitably physical structures and infrastructure.