Friday, January 15, 2016

Shipwreck survivors 2

In his book British Residents at the Cape 1795-1819 Peter Philip attempts to define the term
'settler' as 'a person who had left his bones or his bairns in South Africa'.  Although many shipwreck survivors left their bones on our shores not many of them produced descendants, most not living long enough to do so or being lost track of due to their isolation in the interior of the country where some were absorbed into local tribes. The story of one of these is told in The Sunburnt Queen.

But it would be extremely difficult, perhaps impossible, to trace the descent of a shipwreck survivor who married local women and produced a mixed race. There is no doubt that this happened and notably in the area known at one time as Pondoland. The paler colour and different cast of feature among many inhabitants testifies to that fact.This region had long ago suffered the incursions of the east coast slave trade run by the Arabs and this also accounts for variety of skin colour and even language found in the area.

Most survivors of wrecks simply didn't make it back to civilization though many tried, some walking incredible distances. Most of those who did get there were sailors, a tough hardy breed, rather than the more refined passengers who expired - as Manoel de Sousa Sepulvedo's wife did, on the coastal sands, after the wreck of the Sao Joao.

Ahead of the people who survived this wreck lay a walk of hundreds of miles north to Delagoa Bay during which they succumbed by turns to exposure, heat, exhaustion, thirst and starvation. Why attempt to reach Delagoa Bay? The initial plan was to build a small caravel on the beach to send to Sofala for help, but there were insufficient usable timbers from the wreck for this purpose. Table Bay, equally far off, held memories of d’Almeida and fifty of his men killed by Hottentots in 1510. Delagoa Bay was chosen as a known stopping point for Portuguese ships for water and trade.

The account of the boatswain’s mate reveals that it took them three months to reach Delagoa Bay, at a rate of about 4.2 miles per day. Only 22 of the original 500 survived – 8 Portuguese and 14 slaves, the latter presumably being used to surviving all manner of circumstances. None of these people remained on the shores which had treated them so cruelly, so no descendants exist - as far as we know.

1 comment:

andrew van rensburg said...

Am loving this. Thank you Mole.