Thursday, May 24, 2012

More on the Sao Joao story

The coast north of Port Edward, currently  believed to be the area
where the Sao Joao met her fate.

Wonderful on a calm clear day but imagine a wooden ship
 being dashed against rocks like these.
Night on a barren shore must have been terrifying for survivors.

Historian Graham Mackeurtan in his 'Cradle Days of Natal' refers to the Sao Joao being wrecked just north of the Umzimvubu River - i.e. he chooses the Port St John's location, as did George MacCall Theal and other authors. Though more recent research prompts us to disagree with Mackeurtan's choice of site, he does give an account of the circumstances of the wreck and of the sufferings of the survivors:

'In four hours the ship was smashed to atoms, and her debris and disintegrated cargo strewed the shore. There was not a piece of the galleon as large as a man's arm remaining. The surrounding country was barren, and practically deserted ... After waiting twelve days for the sick to recover, the party set out for Lourenco Marques on 7 July 1552. Donna Leonor, the Captain's wife and a woman of noble rank, delicate and young, was borne in a litter ... For a month they travelled in this way ... subsisting on rice saved from the wreck and fruit found in the thickets.'
Sepulveda, his wife and children, died along the way in circumstances of unimaginable hardship; a small number of Portuguese and slaves survived the march north. A memorial, today unfortunately much ravaged by wind and weather, was placed at Port Edward and offers a verse by the Portuguese poet Luis de Camoens:

Dear gentle soul who went so soon away
Departing from this life in discontent,
Repose in that far sky to which you went
While on this earth I linger in dismay.
In the ethereal seat where you must be,
If you consent to memories of our sphere,
Recall the love which, burning pure and clear,
So often in my eyes you used to see!
If then, in incurable, long anguish
Of having lost you, as I pine and languish,
You see some merit - do this favour for me:
And to the God who cut your life short, pray
That he as early to your sight restore me
As from my own he swept you far away.


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