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Shipwrecked Castaways on the SA Coast

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The Cape of Good Hope has been famous for more than 500 years as the 'graveyard of ships'. Sea captains of yore also talked about another danger spot: the 'mountains of water' off the Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape.

Indeed, the 3000km South African coastline has claimed perhaps 3000 vessels over the centuries, with known records dating back to the 1500s and the heyday of Portuguese navigation and conquest by sail. That's about 1 for every kilometre of coastline.

The names of famous shipwrecks off South Africa's coast include the Grosvenor, the Arniston, the Waratah, the Birkenhead, and the Sacramento. Even the mythical Flying Dutchman is sometimes 'spotted' on a foggy day down at Cape Point. Many ships that sailed these waters simply disappeared without trace – the most famous being the Waratah in 1909.

Thousands of castaways suddenly found themselves on forbidding African soil for the 1st time in their lives. As they wandered up and down the coastline, they were killed by starvation, animals and hostile locals, or simply assimilated into whatever village system existed in the area. There are some colourful accounts of European castaways being integrated with local communities of people, even marrying into them, and living out their days not far from where their ships went down.

And if you wander about the various museums of South Africa, including the Maritime Services Museum at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, the Shipwreck Museum in Bredasdorp, and a section of the East London Museum, you will gather the kind of sea stories that once made Robert Louis Stephenson such a popular nautical adventure writer.

The only difference is, most of these South African shipwreck stories are true... http://www.southafrica.net/za/en/articles/entry/article-southafrica.net-shipwrecks-off-south-africas-coast#.Ui2IesYwfRU

PROJECTS TO DATE

The Grosvenor

The Teuton

Maria

The Grosvenor

Pondoland Coast - 4 August 1782

The wreck of the Grosvenor on the 4th August 1782, on the coast of Pondoland north of the mouth of the Umzimvubu River, near the place where the São João was wrecked more than 200 years before, is one of the best-known South African ship­wrecks, and is referred to in more than a hundred printed works.

The disaster was, it is suspected, ascribable to a grave miscalculation by the captain, possibly due to misty weather and treacherous currents, and to the carelessness of the look-outs. In January 1782, the Grosvenor left Bengal with a cargo valued at £75 000, a crew of 132 and 18 passengers (12 adults and 6 children). Of the 123 survivors, 6 eventually managed to reach the farm of Ferreira near Algoa Bay.

A search party sent by order of Governor Van Plettenberg from Swellendam rescued 3 Whites and 9 Indians. Only 18 of those shipwrecked eventually reached Cape Town, from which they were repatriated. The rest either died from their privations or were murdered by the Bantu or forced to live among them. A half-caste group later found in the vicinity of the scene of the wreck would seem to indicate that the White wives whose husbands had been murdered possibly lived with the Bantu. http://ancestry24.com/articles/algoa-bay/

When the survivors reached England and their story became public knowledge it caused a sensation that lasted well into thenext century – Charles Dickens would describe the story of young Tom Law and his faithful sailors as ‘the most beautiful and affecting I know associated with a shipwreck. .. In 1905… William Bazley [told how] forty years earlier [1860-1870] he had met ‘a very old white woman living exactly as a native’.. the woman told him that she had come off the huge ship that crashed ashore, lost her family, and been saved and raised by the Pondo. Bazley, at least, was certain that the woman was Frances Hosea, daughter of William and Mary, at two years of age left wandering alone in the wilderness after her parents lay down and died in a welter of diamonds on the high shores of the Wild coast. Cummins, Joseph. 'Cast Away'

Castaways from the Grosvenor, one of the East India Company's finest vessels, included the wives and daughters of gentry left defenceless after the male passengers were reportedly slaughtered. For the contemporary equivalent of the tabloid press it was a sensation. "By these Hottentots, they were dragged up into the interior parts of the country, for the purposes of the vilest brutish prostitution," said the Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser. Newspaper accounts of ravishings by "the most barbarous and monstrous of the human species" were so shocking that British society was relieved to be subsequently assured by an official investigation that the women had in fact perished before the natives got hold of them. New evidence, however, suggests a rather different story. Several female passengers did indeed survive and become intimate with tribes men. But rather than being abducted and raped it appears they chose to become wives and mothers. A new book, ‘The Caliban Shore: The Fate of the Grosvenor Castaways’, has concluded that three, possibly four, women passengers joined tribes in what is today known as Pondoland, a remote, rugged landscape on South Africa's east coast. The author, Stephen Taylor, has scrutinised written and oral testimony, including previously overlooked material, pointing to the survival of white females who are still remembered by the tribes. "The notion of white women with black men was so horrifying to contemporary sensibilities that polite society tried to wish it out of existence," Taylor said in a telephone interview yesterday. "But that's what the evidence points to." The Grosvenor ran aground on her way from Madras to England, throwing 125 survivors onto an alien coast far from European outposts. The crew set out on a desolate trek lasting months - but only 13 made it back to England, the rest succumbing to hunger and disease. When the last male passengers died the women and children were dependant on assimilating with natives who eked a livelihood from hard, unyielding soil. Lydia Logie, the young, vivacious wife of the Grosvenor's chief officer, appears to have joined a Xhosa tribe after her husband died, impelled perhaps by a desire to save their unborn child. Several years later a commander of the Cape garrison, Robert Gordon, met a Xhosa man who told him a white woman had lived among his tribe, and that she "had a child, and she frequently embraced the child, and cried most violently". Piecing together other fragments, Taylor concluded that Ms Logie had been adopted by a sub-group know as the ama-Tshomane whose matriarch, by coincidence, was an Englishwoman named Gquma who had been shipwrecked as a child in Pondoland about 40 years earlier. By the time a rescue party from the Cape arrived in 1791, nine years after the Grosvenor sank, Ms Logie was dead, her spirit and strength probably worn down from the grind of tanning hides, planting crops and collecting firewood. The rescuers were disappointed not to find any survivors, but Taylor believes they blundered by missing Mary Wilmot and Eleanor Dennis, young girls who escaped the Grosvenor and grew up in Pondoland. Evidence for this comes from a former Royal Navy lieutenant Francis Farewell, who stumbled across the wreck in 1823 and was told of two white women who had lived there for some time but had fled a Zulu invasion. They disappeared into the bush and starved to death, he was told. Archives in the University of Natal suggest that Frances Hosea, who had been two years old when the Grosvenor sank, may also have survived and become the elderly, Zulu-speaking white woman encountered by a British trader in the 1860s. For a British public fed racist notions of baboon-like savages, such assimilations would have been inconceivable, Taylor said. Rumours and fragmented reports of white women rearing children in Pondoland kraals only deepened the dread. Relatives feared the official version of all the females swiftly perishing was too "optimistic". "English society saw theirs as the fate that was worse than death and out of kindness wished them dead," said Taylor.Carroll, Rory, The Guardian Newspaper, Jhb Monday 22 march 2004

Minna - the Grosvenor Castaway's Descendants

Minna was possibly Mary Wilmot, the 7yr old survivor of the wreck of the East Indiaman, the Grosvenor in 1782. In 1907 William Bazley describes how, “after the women and children were abandoned by Capt. Cox and his officers, one little girl, who he calls Minna, was carried across the Mzimvubu River by a Lascar man. … Bazley calls her maMolo [so] she was probably raised by the amaMolo.” [Crampton, p299.]

Said to have married a soldier who had deserted from the Cape. Crampton speculates that it might have been one of the four Englishmen deserters who associated with the rebel boers: John Madder, Thomas Bentley; Harry Obry; Coves Bork associated with Willem & Nicholas Lochenburg (the old boer who guided the first missionaries to Bessie’s son, Mdepa in 1827) [Crampton, p299.]

Minna – or Minnie – as Bazley sometimes calls her, is said to have had children with this man, before he died. He says that she then married an escaped slave (or one of the Lascars who survived the Grosvenor) – Domosi. Crampton suggests the name could be a corruption of Damin – a runaway Bengalese slave, who spoke Dutch and acted as Ngqika’s mother’s interpreter, and who is known to have lived alongside the boers.

A missionary, van der Kemp, at Ngqiuka’s Great place, taught Damin – who he called a ‘Mahometan Hindoo’ to read and write. Another of van der Kemp’s pupils was the Khoi woman Sarah, who later married Nicholas Lochenberg, and a ‘Heathen’ woman called Mary… As Minna, like Sarah, eventually settled at the Butterworth mission station, it seems like to Compton, that Minna – the child survivor of the Grosvenor, Mary, the convert, and Mary Wilmot – the 7 year old Grosvenor survivor were the same person. [Crampton p300]

Minna and Damin had several children. One, a son – May Jong (Eastern name?) is said to have lived for many years at the Ibisi in East Griqualand and died there, an old man.

Bazley says at least two of her daughters married white men – one becoming Mrs ‘Toughy’ and the other Mrs ‘Piarse – with a daughter, Catherine, who marries John Dunn.

Mr Toughy was probably DC Toohey, a ship’s cook, who liked to be addressed as ‘Doctor,’ who arrived at Port Natal early in 1835 aboard the ‘Circe’. Within 4 years he had established himself as the acknowledged chief of around 2000 Zulu refugees, and along with another English settler, Henry Ogle, had considerable territory extending down the coast from the Mgeni River. He worked as a trader for a Grahamstown firm, travelling up and down the country with two other traders – Robert Biggar and John Cane. He had at least one son, Tshali (The Zulu version of Toohey’s name, Charles) by a Zulu woman who lived at the Thukela. [Crampton, p303]

Another of Minna’s daughters married Piarse or Pierce. The Pierces first arrived in SA as 1820 settlers aboard La Belle Alliance. Richard Pierce, a 41 year old banker, his wife Ann, and 3 sons were members of Wilson’s party. The eldest son, Dick, who was then 11, grew up to marry a woman of ‘Cape Malay Origin’ – the daughter (name unknown) of the castaway Minna and Damin the runaway slave. The other two sons were Paul Pierce, aged 10, & Joseph Pierce, aged 9.

Dick Pierce and his wife worked in PE as servants to Robert Newton Dunn, also an immigrant of 1820. When Robert Dunn moved his family in the 1830s to Port Natal, where his father-in-law, Alexander Biggar was a leading figure in the fledgling settler community, with – like most of the other Englishman there – a son by a Zulu woman, the Pierces went with them.

Dunn settled at South Coast Junction, imposing his authority over several hundred Zulu and coloured clients. His son, John , was born in about 1835, followed three years’ later by the Pierce’s daughter Catherine. The 2 children grew up together. WhenJohn was about 14 his father was trampled to death by an elephant. His mother died a few years later and the household broke up. The orphaned John, in his own words ‘took to a wandering existence, having always been fond of my gun and a solitary life.’ He disappeared for a few years, taking Minna’s granddaughter, Catherine with him.

The teenagers lived off the land – ‘Dunn was a regular white kaffir and used, as a boy, to go about in native dress,’ said one old settler – surviving by hunting and ivory trading. They were ‘found’ by a trader named Walmsley while hunting in the wilds of Zululand near the Thukela River. Walmsley took Dunn under his wing and educated him. John Dunn stayed with the trader for 6 years, marrying his childhood companion, Catherine Pierce in 1853. (He was about 18; she 15.) [Crampton, p303]

By the 1860s John Dunn was well established as a gunrunner, conducting an extensive trade in firearms, for which the Zulu king, Cetshwayo was a leading customer. Dunn became his friend and confidant and was awarded some land near the eMatikulu River. He became a man of power and adopted Zulu customs, one of which was polygamy.

Eight years after his marriage to Catherine he took a Zulu woman by the name of Macebose Mhlongo as his second wife, then 48 others another, securing marital ties with clans living in his district, and beyond. He was careful to respect traditional marriage rituals, paying lobola of 9 to 15 head of cattle for each and every one of them..

During the Anglo-Zulu War Dunn sided with the British and betrayed Cetshwayo. When hostilities ceased, the vanquished kingdom was divided into 13 chiefdoms and Dunn was rewarded with the largest portion, the southern region, stretching from the coast to the Buffalo River.

John Dunn was described in 1880 as follows: ‘a handsome well-built man about 5 ft 8 in height, with a good forehead, regular features, and keen grey eyes; a closely cut iron-grey beard hides the lower half of his bronzed, weather tanned countenance, and a look of determination and shrewdness is discernible in every lineament.’

He was frequently visited by Whites – important officials from the colony and Natal, hunters and travellers – but neither his wives nor his children were allowed to socialise with them. Nor did Dunn ever take any of his black wives with him to Natal, and in this way their existence could be politely ignored. His son, Dominic acknowledged that ‘there was a kind of segregation practised… My father kept to his whiteness in social matters..we, the children, as coloureds, lived separately from the natives.” They were not encouraged to establish relationships with the Zulus.

Catherine remained very much opposed to his marriages to Zulu women, and despite t fact that she was herself of mixed descent, she aspired to being as ‘European’ as possible and condemned Dunn for his ‘degenerate social behaviour.

Dunn died on 5 August 1895, aged 60. He was survived by 33 sons, 46 daughters, and 23 wives, including Catherine. 2 years after his death the rinderpest epidemic destroyed 90% of Dunn’s cattle, and his descendants and dependants were reduced to extreme povert. The government of the colony of Natal set aside a piece of land for the occupation of Dunn’s descendants, but many were forced to leave Zululand to seek employment, and today can be found all over the world, including Britain, America, Canada and Australia.

Catherine died on 27 January 1905, aged about 70. She left no building or land to her surviving children; the ones she lived in reverted at her death to her husband’s will, which stated they were ‘to be shared amongst all members of the family.’ Described as a ‘housewife’ in her estate papers, she was survived by several children, listed as Ann Agnes (41), Sarah Amy (39), Mary Rose (38), Alice Lilly and Lizzy Edith (both 35), Catherine Louise (34) and Sunny Dunn (26)”. [Crampton, p305-6]

Minna’s third daughter, Lydia, married Poswa an Mfengu of the ‘Maskati or Langalati’ tribe, and had several children – the youngest of whom was Elizabeth – who Bazley mistakenly says married Carson – actually Charles Canham; a white trader of dodgy repute. One official described him as ‘a rascal.’ He’d lived on the Wild Coast since at least 1856, in which year he’d written a letter on behalf of the Thembu chief to the colonial governor regarding the murder of Rev Thomas of Beecham Wood mission, a crime in which some of Bessie’s descendants were involved. The missionary had apparently been caught up inadvertently in a squabble between the ‘Morley people’ – Canham’s close friend, Mathew Ben Shaw, son of Rev William Shaw, co-founder of Morley mission, and the ama Mpondo. the feud included an attack on the latter by several armed and mounted men led by Shaw…

When Sir Walter Stanford, a colonial official, met the Canhams in the 1880s, they were living in the vicinity of today’s village of Lusikisiki – a little inland from the Lambasi Bay where Bessie was shipwrecked. Elizabeth, says Stanford, was ‘a light-coloured woman of civilised ways and habits’ and assumes she is descended from Bessie: one of the three old women seen by Jacob van Reenen at Umgazi on his expedition in search of survivors of the Grosvenor. Elizabeth’s death notice in the Cape archives proves, however, that she was really Mina’s granddaughter, according to Crampton. [Crampton, p301-2]

Mina’s grandson, Smith Poswa, the son of a Coloured man, was a Xhosa chief. He was literate, promoted education, and petitioned the granting of individual title deeds, which directly opposed the traditional communal use of the land. He was a Christian, condemned initiation dances, complaining ‘of being kept awake at night by the dancing going on’ and was opposed to ukulobola and polygamy. His nephew was the exact opposite: Francis Canham, the son of a white man, was a polygamist with two Pondo wives and appears to have been illiterate.

Crampton thinks Mina may have married a third time – as on 14 Dec 1828 Rev Shrewsbury of Butterworth married Simon Xila aka ‘April’ ( a 70 year old runaway slave) to a woman called Mina (who he describes as one of Matiwana’s people– an Mpondomise chief of San descent) Brought to the Cape from Batavia, he escaped to the Xhosa of the east coast. He had at least one child – a daughter. By 1828 he had been living among Hintsa’s people for upwards of 30 years – since about 1798 (the same time as Lochenbergs arrived in the area. Rev Shrewsbury baptised him on 22 June 1828.In 1828 – when she was 53 yrs old , Mina could have known Xila from the time a ‘Zila’ had acted as van der Kemp’s interpreter at Ngqika’s Great Place. (William, Lochenberg – eldest son of Nicholas confirms he was the same man – who had left Lochenberg when the Butterworth mission was established.) [Crampton p300]

Crampton, Hazel. ‘The Sunburnt Queen’. Johannesburg: Jacana. 2004. Print. Contact Sharon Doubell

The Loss of Teuton

Simon’s Bay August 30th 1881

The Union Company’s mail Steamship Teuton ran aground and was wrecked at seven pm between Quoin Point and Cape Agulhas on August 30th 1881. The ship was on the way from Cape Town to Natal, aiming for Mossel Bay, keeping fairly close to the land. After she ran aground it was initially thought that there was no real danger, that she had not sustained much damage and that her watertight compartment would keep her afloat. However, after 3 or 4 hours on the rocks the Teuton was backed off into deep water and almost instantly foundered. Only twenty seven people were saved. Three boats were lowered, but one carrying 15 women and children was lost alongside the ship. The other two boats arrived at Simon’s Town shortly after 10 o’clock.

The Teuton left Southampton, England on August 5th or 6th with a total number of 272 passengers and crew on board, calling at Plymouth. She took 23 days on the outward journey. 84 passengers landed at Cape Town, leaving 156 on board at the time of the wreck. These passengers together with the crew took the number involved in the disaster to over 200.

Passengers who survived:

  • William BARRETT,
  • Robert CRAESS,
  • James MEIKLEJOHN,
  • Francis SMITH,
  • A.H. GUDDATT,
  • John COOPER,
  • David GREEN,
  • Joseph ALLEN,
  • Lizzie ROSS and
  • B E RAFFTESOTH.
  • One passenger, KROMIN, boarded at Cape Town and was saved.

Another 3 who joined the ship at Cape Town were lost.

Crew members who survived:

  • PADDEN, boatswain;
  • Roberts CARPENTER; White fireman;
  • GLEW engineers’ servant;
  • CLARK Quartermaster;
  • Grogan, HEHR, waiters;
  • MILL, WILLS, WHITCH, KNIGHT, WHITFIELD, HIRST, PERRY, BARTER, WALKINSHAW, seaman.

All Officers were lost.

A family of seven named BUCHANAN from Gateshead were all lost; other names amongst the victims were LANCHBURG, PARRY, COOPER (including a mother and 5 children) – the father John (above) the only one of the family to survive.

The nine mail bags on board from England, along with 2 packages, had been landed at Cape Town. The body of Captain Edward MANNING was discovered on the White Sands, some miles from Simon's Bay, and has been buried in the same churchyard where the remains of Captain BARRON of the Star of Africa, wrecked just a year before. Both bodies were the first to be washed up from the wrecks of their respective vessels.

These are treacherous waters where other ships have floundered. On 25th March 1852 the Birkenhead sunk at Danger Point, not far away from the scene of this disaster, and 438 lives were lost. In 1875 the Union Company lost the Celt which was on the same voyage, but all passengers and crew were saved

The Teuton was built at Dumbarton in 1869. She was nearly 333 feet long, just over 34 feet wide and 25 feet deep. She was one of the smallest, oldest and slowest of the Company’s ships.

Full list of passengers –

From http://www.wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?31108#117125

“JUDGMENT of the Court of Inquiry held at Cape Town into the loss of the steamship "TEUTON," off Danger Point, on the 30th August 1881. The Court finds that the steamship "Teuton," under the command of Edward Manning, left Table Bay about 10 a.m. on the 30th August 1881 bound to Port Elizabeth.

Having on board about 105 officers and crew, including 20 coolies, and about 157 passengers, of whom about 95 were women and children, and that the ship was sound and efficiently equipped; that she duly arrived at 2 p.m. at a point of departure due south of the Bellows Rock, when and where the error of the compass was verified under the personal direction of the captain; and that the subsequent courses and distances maintained were also under his personal direction.

The Court finds that these courses and distances should have taken the ship one and a half sea miles off the outermost sunken rocks off Quoin Point, at about 60 miles from her point of departure, which rocks extend one and a quarter miles off that point, and which point is three and a half miles from the bluff hill of the same name, forming its background; and that the ship should have arrived there very soon after 7 o’clock, and after dark.

The Court feels no hesitation in pronouncing that the vessel struck on the known outermost rocks off Quoin Point at about 7.25 p.m. of the 30th August 1881, and regretfully adds that it finds this casualty was attributable to the injudicious navigation adopted by the captain. The Court concurs in the propriety of the steps that were immediately taken, and of the endeavour, at that time, to reach a port.

The condition of the ship became, however, in the opinion of the Court, so altered and suggestive of peril as indeed, at a considerable time before her foundering, to manifest the impossibility of reaching a port (although, from the want of evidence, the Court has not been able to get any clue to the mind of the captain on this point) that the Court is led further to find that it was a grave error of judgment that delayed sufficient efforts being taken to provide for the safety of the lives in jeopardy, the deplorable loss of which the Court cannot but attribute to this cause alone, namely, either the failure to take, or the failure to see the necessity of taking, steps that were available for this paramount object.

The Court finds that the ship most probably foundered at about 10 minutes to 11 p.m. 30th August 1881, between N.W. and S.W. from Danger Point, and most probably between five to eight miles from that Point. Finally, the Court finds that the steamship "Teuton" was lost on the night of the 30th August 1881 through default of her captain, and acquits Mr. Robert Diver, third officer of the ship, who was in temporary charge of the deck when she struck”.

Maria

Sank off Plettenberg's Bay - 23 August 1788

Maria, a 908 ton Dutch flute, hired by the H.O.I.K. under Captain Pieter (Pierre) Seskers sailed from Amsterdam on 13.07.1786. It dropped anchor in the Cape from 02.01.1787 until 29.01.1787, and anchored in Batavia 15.05.1787

The ship left Ceylon on 08.12.1787 with a cargo of linen, cotton, coffee, spices including pepper, and sapan wood, and was ordered to sail past the Cape. On 13 August 1877, Maria was met off Plettenberg Bay by the Cape packet Meermin, and found to be in a condition of distress. The ship had sprung a leak, and 21 of the 40 crew members had already died from scurvy. Only the captain and 4 crew members were still able to walk.

The Meermin under Captain Arij Steijne assisted the Maria to sail into the bay and anchor. The Maria lay at anchor for 10 days and on 23.08.1788, driven by a strong south easterly wind, broke anchor, tipped seaward and was stranded near Robbeberg in Plettenberg Bay.

The Maria broke up, and was a total wreck. According to the 4 crew members, the pepper clogged up the engines, and accordingly the water could not be pumped out fast enough. The only cargo that could be saved was the linen and wood.

Known Survivors :

Gustaav Erlang 19

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