Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Shipwreck survivors 13: Hercules 1796

The Hercules, commanded by Captain Benjamin Stout, is remembered in the Captain’s own Narrative of the Loss of the Ship Hercules, published in 1798. In this account the author states that the ship was wrecked on 16 June 1796 in a violent storm, at no great distance from the spot where the Grosvenor was lost in 1782. This is dubious as it rests mainly on eye-witness reports by local tribesmen. If the site had been near the Grosvenor the rate of progress of the Hercules' survivors to Cape Town on foot would have been 25 miles per day, possibly more allowing for unavoidable detours, a speed impossible to maintain. Other details given by the Captain muddy the water, so to speak, even further, and his narrative is therefore reduced in credibility. Nevertheless, Stout managed to get 60 of his men to the Cape without losing a single life.

A traveller named John Barrow states that the Hercules was wrecked between the mouths of the Keiskamma and the Beeka (Bira) Rivers, near Madagascar Reef. He says ‘we saw the wreck of the Hercules on the coast of Caffraria at the precise spot indicated by the Captain’. But he also mentions that he met Stout and some of his crew at the Cape, which is impossible as the Captain left the Cape in September 1796 and Barrow did not arrive in South Africa until May 1797.

However there was a wreck at the site Barrow refers to, near the Umtana. This has been accepted as being that of the Hercules but may not be. According to various experts, the guns found at the spot had been reported years earlier and that pottery found there is too early. The latter could be explained by the theory that Chinese porcelain is not always a good indication of date for a wreck as this material was often used as ballast and could be of earlier origin.

There might have been more than one wreck in this vicinity. Some researchers have claimed that the so-called Hercules wreck might be the Bennebroek.

Another maritime mystery left for us to ponder. The name Hercules appears on maps of the area, possibly from the wreck.




Thank you for the interesting post, Mole. Solving maritime mysteries is fraught with difficulties, complicated by distorted historical accounts such as you have outlined. One wonders what motivated witnesses to alter facts? Andrew

Unknown said...

An interesting saga indeed. I do believe though that the ship, if the story is true, was wrecked closer to the Bennebroeck than the Grosvenor.