Author Topic: Shipwrecks of the Blaauwberg Coastline part 1  (Read 2858 times)

Peter Callahan

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Shipwrecks of the Blaauwberg Coastline part 1
« on: September 08, 2013, 01:38 PM »

Many hundreds of ships have been lost in the shallow of Table Bay since the seafaring nations began to use the bay in the 15th century. Remnants of many of these wrecks lie along the shores of the present bay, on what was Woodstock Beach and extend northwards across the edge of Table Bay towards Milnerton and Blaauwberg. Some may have been covered during reclamation of the foreshore. Milnerton lagoon previously formed part of the massive Salt River estuary and Paarden Eiland complex. This body of water is believed to have stretched from what is now Duncan Dock to Rietvlei. It was semi-navigable and ships were careened in the mouth of the river. Unfortunately, during dredging operations in 1985, material to a depth of 2 metres was removed from the lagoon close to Milnerton. This process is likely to have destroyed any material in the lagoon. One should also bear in mind that the present shoreline at the lagoon mouth has eroded some 90m inland as a result of harbour engineering.
The South African heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) historic shipwreck database has the most comprehensive list of shipwrecks along the Blaauwberg coastline. Many of these are well off the beach and will not be impacted on by development and are also not accessible to the general public. The only possible exception to this is the wreck of the Nieuwe Haerlem, the site of which has not yet been found. The wreck of the Oosterland has been excavated by the Maritime Archaeology Department at the University of Cape Town. This wreck lies offshore, to the south of Milnerton Lagoon.

Some of the better documented shipwrecks off the Blaauwberg coastline follow (in date order):

The wreck of the Mauritius Eylant.
The ship Mauritius Eylant arrived at the Cape on the 16 February 1644. That night it wrecked itself in the thick mist on the rocks at Mouille Point. The crew managed to get the ship off the rocks, but the hull was so badly damaged that they wisely decide to, in face of deteriorating weather, to let the ship wash up on the beach at the mouth of the Salt River. The crew of 340 managed to save the bulk of the cargo and transfer it to land. Here they erected a fort out of vats and erected a cannon.
Another Dutch ship, the Vrede, loaded a substantial amount of the cargo, the captain and 40 crewmembers and left the wreck in Table Bay. When the news of the wreck got back to Batavia, a ship named De Tijger was sent to pick up the rest of the cargo and crew. This happened without incident.
The crew of the Mauritius had thus spent about 4 months on the Blaauwberg coast near Salt River. During this time, there were no fatalities and minimal discomfort. This resulted in the Dutch East India Company realising that the possibility of establishing a permanent settlement was not so far fetched as they might have thought.

The wreck of the Nieuwe Haerlem.
The stranding of the ship Nieuwe Haerlem near the Blaauwbergstrand beach (where the Dolphin Beach complex is now situated) on the 25 March 1647, not only gave further weight to the establishment of a permanent settlement at the Cape, but actually resulted in a permanent settlement arising.
The Nieuwe Haerlem was nearing Table Bay on its return trip to Holland, richly loaded with cargo from the East. It left Batavia with two other ships, the Olifant and the Schiedam. On the trip, the ships must have become separated, because the Nieuwe Haerlem found itself alone. As the Nieuwe Haerlem came into Table Bay, it saw an unknown ship tethered to its normal anchoring place. To encounter an unknown ship in an unfamiliar place was in those days a scary matter. Great tension reigned on the Haerlem. To ascertain what ship this was, captain Van 't Zum sent a boat to investigate, but the South-Easter, which was blowing a bit, suddenly came on strongly. Before Van 't Zum realised what was happening, his ship was taken by the wind and swept to the north-eastern side of the bay, where it got stranded on a sandbank. The anchor was thrown out, but due to the strength of the wind, the anchor line broke and the Haerlem was pushed further to the shore.
It was now evening. The crew tried to attract the attention of the other ship by using cannon and lanterns, but to no avail. After an anxious night, the boat sent out by the Haerlem returned with the news that the other ship in the Bay was the Olifant and that they though that the cannon and lanterns were a sign for them to return! Cornelis Claesz, the skipper of the Olifant, arrived in his own boat to see if the Haerlem could be salvaged. They also did not realise the power of the South-Easter and very soon, they were also in trouble. His boat's anchor line also broke and the boat started drifting towards the beach. The skipper lost his balance on a boat that was being thrown around in the wind and he fell badly. With broken arms and legs, he was later transferred to the Haerlem by his crew, who in doing so put their own lives in danger.
The following morning, a boat, together with crew and two carpenters, was sent out from the Haerlem to the shore, to go and form some sort of shelter. In doing so, this boat also capsized and one crewmember drowned. The rest reached the beach and started constructing some kind of shelter. With the assistance of a rope attached from the Haerlem to the shore, rescue work began.
The next morning, two English ships entered Table Bay. The next day, Van 't Zum asked them to assist in rescue and salvage work. The two ships readily gave their assistance and two days later departed with 40 crewmembers of the Haerlem aboard. At this stage, not all the crew on board the Haerlem had left the ship.
On the 31 March, Van 't Zum landed ashore and walked all the way along the coast to where the Olifant was anchored. The next day he returned with helpers, so as to establish a "settlement". On the same day, the Schiedam, the third ship in the original group, arrived. Their crew also assisted with the building of a settlement. It was decide that Leendert Janszen would stay behind to look after the goods on shore.
The Schiedam and the Olifant left on the 12 April with the rest of the Haerlem's crew, a large
part of the cargo and the Haerlem's books and documents. Only Janszen and his men
stayed behind, and constructed Fort Zandenburgh.

The wreck of the Rygersdal.
During their dreadful journey from Holland to Table Bay, 125 men on board the Dutch East India Company ship died of scurvy. After 4 months at sea, they eventually sighted Dassen Island on the 25th October 1747. Robben Island was reached with difficulty due to the few fit crew, and anchor was dropped. A strong south-easter blew shortly afterwards and caused the anchor rope to part. The ship was swept towards Ysterfontein, where it was blown ashore on the west coast at Silwerstroomstrand.
20 men reached the shore safely with a boat. They had taken with them the ships logbook. 4 more reached the shore afterwards. 93 men were drowned. An expedition was sent from The Castle to fetch all valuable goods, but found only one chest of money.
Today the spot is known as Springfontein se Punt and lies north of Melkbosstrand. A number of brass cannon were salvaged lying in about 3 metres of water, amongst boulders. 6 large and 4 small cannon were also salvaged. The reef, which lies about half a kilometre from the shore, is covered with black mussel, red bait and short kelp. The area towards the west is very shallow reef. The reef only shows at low tide and is surrounded by sand. A number of steel cannon are left there, as they have no value. A lot of the ships conglomerate has been removed by small controlled blasts, so as to recover the coins undamaged which were imbedded in it.

The wreck of the La Cybelle.
The La Cybelle was a French slave ship of twelve guns. It was wrecked a little north of Bloubergstrand on 19 March 1756 while on a voyage from the coast of Guinea (West Africa) to Mauritius with a cargo of slaves. She had entered the bay for water. No lives were lost.
Cape Archives, V. C. 34

In 1773, there was a particularly bad storm in Table Bay. There were five ships of the Dutch East India Company lying in the bay. None of the vessels should have been in the bay. Instead they should have sought anchorage at Simon's Bay as this was considered to be a safer winter anchorage. It was the Company's ruling not to anchor in Table Bay after May 15 due to the unpredictable weather. For several days the ships had been ready to put to sea, but a north-westerly gale had been blowing hard and had prevented them from sailing. On May 31st 1773, the gale had reached its full height and each of the ships had dropped additional anchors in an effort to hold them steady. Soon the hawsers holding the anchors began to snap under the pressure of the storm.
Worst placed of all the merchantmen was De Jonge Thomas, carrying 207 men and captained by Barend Lameren. At five o'clock in the morning of 1st June 1773, she was straining at her last anchor. Rather than be caught unprepared and be driven ashore at the mercy of the storm, Lameren decided to beach the vessel whilst he could still choose the spot. Accordingly, the anchor rope was cut, and with the light sails set, the ship bore down on the beach. The captain had chosen the level stretch north of Salt River mouth to run ashore; unfortunately he was unaware that that the Salt River had burst its banks and was emptying into the sea near the spot he had chosen. Even more unfortunately, at the moment of impact, De Jonge Thomas swung broadside to the beach. Less than two minutes pounding from the gigantic waves broke the ship's back and she parted in two at the mainmast, which crashed overboard.
This was the sight that met the eyes of Governor Van Plettenberg at dawn, when he scanned the bay anxiously. His first reaction, no doubt, was to breathe a prayer of thanks that the eighteen money chests which De Jonge Thomas was carrying from Holland were still ashore in the Castle for safe custody. Then he sent thirty soldiers down to the beach. Normally this procedure was of little avail to the unfortunates wrecked out in the bay, but that day it was to save lives.
The first military step, as usual, was the erection of a gibbet on the beach, to hang any trespassers. Then the soldiers commenced collecting salvaged goods, periodically casting a sorrowful glance out to sea, where pitiful cries could be heard from those survivors still clinging to the wreck.
Amongst the soldiers was Corporal Christiaan Woltemade; in the course of the day his father, Wolraad Woltemade, rode up on horseback, bringing him a bottle of wine and a loaf of bread. Wolraad Woltemade was no youngster. As a soldier, he had been stationed at Muizenberg as early as 1752, and by 1770, he was in command of that post. He must have retired after that, though there is some confusion as to his occupation in 1773. Thunberg says that he was the keeper of the menagerie (at the top of the Company's Garden), whilst the Dagregister refers to him as a dairyman.
Filled with pity for the luckless sailors aboard the wreck, Woltemade mounted his horse and urged the animal into the sea, determined to save some of those in peril. Why he did not carry a line to the wreck is not clear, but the fact is that he rode into the sea without a rope. The horse was a fine swimmer and fought its way gamely through the surf. As they approached the wreck, Woltemade turned the horse and called for two men from the ship to jump into the sea and grasp the horse's tail. After a moment's hesitation, two men threw themselves into the water and did so, whereupon Woltemade urged the horse forward and dragged them to shore. Not satisfied with this feat, Woltemade returned immediately and rescued another two men. He repeated this again and again, until he had drawn fourteen men to safety. By this time, instead of hesitation there was competition amongst the sailors for the next place, as for the horse, it was staggering with exhaustion. Woltemade dismounted to rest the poor animal, whereupon a great cry of despair went up from the wreck. Despite the entreaties of his son, Woltemade mounted the horse again and rode back into the water. Realising this was probably the last trip, the men onboard lost all restraint. As the labouring animal neared the ship, half a dozen men jumped into the water and grasped the horse; one stupid fool caught it by the bridle, dragging the horse's head under. It was all over in a moment - horse, rider and sailors disappeared beneath the waves. No further attempt was made to rescue those aboard the wreck.
As night fell, they watched the beach empty as the soldiers returned to their barracks, and the officials to their warm firesides. Through the night they clung to the wreck in sodden misery; gradually the weather cleared. On the morning of June 2, the sea was still rough, but Jan Jacobs, the junior mate and twenty-four men waded ashore from the wreck. In all, forty-seven men had survived, of whom fourteen owed their lives to Woltemade. That day the shore was littered with bodies; amongst them were the Captain, and Wolraad Woltemade.
The Captain was given an official funeral, but there was nothing so grand for Woltemade. The general opinion at the Castle seems to have been that he was an officious fool who had lost his life unnecessarily. In the first report to Holland, his name is not even mentioned - though considerable space is devoted to the eighteen boxes of money providentially saved. However, Karl Thunberg, who had witnessed the event, did not forget Woltemade; nor did the formers countryman, Anders Sparrman, when he wrote his famous book "A Voyage to the Cape of Good Hope" in 1775.
And so the story of the incredible rescue spread. The company named one of its ships the Held Woltemade, and Woltemade had become a legend. Ironically, the ship Held Woltemade, surrendered ignominiously to the English in 1781, without firing a shot, and passed into history. Few people indeed, will be able to tell you the name of the Jonge Thomas, compared with those who know Woltemade's name - yet ironically, none know the name of the real hero, the horse. Woltemade's widow and sons living in Batavia were compensated. A statue of him was created in later years by the sculptor J. Mitford Barberton and erected in the grounds of the Old Mutual Assurance Society in Pinelands, which grew on the grazing fields of the dairy Woltemade had ostensibly managed. A railway station was named after him on the old dairy-farm grounds and this serves the mourners coming to visit the Woltemade Cemetery. The highest South African decoration for bravery was also named after him, the Woltemade medal.

The wreck of the Svere.
The Svere was a French man-of-war with 64 guns. It was wrecked at Bloubergstrand in Table Bay on 27 January 1784 while on a voyage from Mauritius to France with a regiment of soldiers. No Lives were lost.
Cape Archives, V. C. 34

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Shipwrecks of the Blaauwberg Coastline part 1
« on: September 08, 2013, 01:38 PM »