Of the first three ships to meet their end in an area where today they are lying restfully in the light of the Cape Agulhas lighthouse, most of their survivors, who made it to the Cape (some 200km away), for the most part owe their lives to the Overberg Khoekhoe locals.
The 448-ton flute Zoetendaal was the first recorded ship to hit Africa’s most southward protruding landmass.
This disaster transpired in the early hours (03h15) of 14 September 1673. With a reasonable quantity of horse meat and some consumable water, they set off in search of their fellow Dutchmen at the Cape. One can safely assume that those from the Zoetendaal must have had help and guidance from Overberg locals (the Khoekhoe), as it only took some of their sailors eleven days to cover the distance. For someone who knew their way around the Overberg such a trip with ox waggon normally took between eight to ten days.
Another mention of locals helping shipwreck survivors was recorded nine years later.
A diarist survivor of the Joanna writes on his 4 June 1682 entry that, while staying over at a Khoekhoe town, they found out that some three years earlier , more than 200 white people had come to that place. Because some had not been able to go any further, the Khoekhoe had kept them there for ten days to recuperate, after which time they guided them to the Dutch town. The diarist’s entries of the help locals provided to those from the Joanna in 1682 and the 200 people from an unknown wreck, again shows how locals were directly responsible for so many Europeans and slaves being able to make it through the harsh Overberg region to safety at the Dutch settlement.
On the morning of Monday 8 June 1682,
as darkness faded with dawn fast approaching, those on the deck of the reefed, and already fast disintegrating Joanna, fearfully observed “the wild people” (as they had put it) on the sandy beach at Die Dam. While terrified of the latter yet more afraid of drowning, many left the ship in an attempt to make it to shore. On arrival, and to their relief and amazement, the Khoekhoe set about helping wherever they could. Even in the pouring rain, the Khoekhoe helped the English to gather firewood and get fires going. Once the overland trip to possible salvation commenced, the route they took again points to them having already been wisely informed by the locals. This path led them almost directly to the town of Captain Klaas, the local Khoekhoe leader (Swart River and Bot River). In turn, after ensuring that all had enough to eat and drink, the latter even accompanied them all the way to the Dutch Castle situated below the slopes of Table Mountain.
The march to the Cape of the surviving crew, passengers and slaves that made it to shore from the Portuguese ship Nossa Senhora de los Milagros in 1686, was completed with much less assistance from the local Khoekhoe than their predecessors. As a result, many paid with their lives. The greatest losses were from the largest group of mainly Portuguese and slaves, who cowardly had left the others behind to fend for themselves. This latter group of 15 Siamese Nationals, hopelessly lost and without any navigation equipment or navigation skills, wisely decided to spend time in the ‘place of plenty’ at the Mussels River at today’s town of Hermanus. It was close to this place that three Khoekhoe, sent by the Dutch, found them. These three locals not only guided them, but also continuously motivated the barely alive Siamese all the way to the Hottentots Holland outpost successfully and safely.
Today, we can thus say that thanks to the local Khoekhoe, most of the first ‘reluctant visitors to the Overberg’ made it back to civilisation safely.