Xplorio Overberg

STRUYS BAY: THEN AND NOW – written by Jimmy Herbert

The first European visitors to the most southern tip of Africa were the Portuguese.

Understandably, they gave this geographical point its first European name – Cabo das Agulhas (Cape Agulhas/Cape of Needles).

When sailing passed some distance off this impressive bay, with its extremely high dunes, it can easily display itself as one large bay – visually stretching from Northumberland Point in the west to Cape Infanta some 80km further east. This bay they conveniently referred to as the ‘Bay de Agulhas’– the bay at Agulhas. Even on 14 May 1686, the Portuguese survivors from the Nossa Senhora de los Milagros put a request in using this name, “… Chief mate, junior mate and a sailor, all in the service of the King of Portugal, told how they lost their ship in the Bay de Agulhas.”

This large bay was later given a new name, ‘Struys Bay’, by the Dutch.

Proof of this is seen in both letters and charts of 1673 and 1686. On many Old Dutch maps, one finds this bay indicated to be Struys Bay, for example, a map of the period before 1673 was used to record and report the first recorded shipwreck to be lost in this bay (Zoetendal 1673) as lying in Struys Bay. From the historical record, it is clear that utilising the name Struys Bay for the whole bay, stayed in use longer in the Overberg than in the UK.

London and the Cape settlement were the first to move away from the latter. It would appear that just after the sinking of the Martha in 1826, the big (old) Struys Bay was subdivided on the British charts. London and the Cape started referring to this bay as not one anymore but consisting of more than one bay. They had a much smaller Struys Bay now only stretching from Northumberland Point in the west to Struys Point in the east.

The next bay became Marcus Bay (maybe named after the wreck of the Martha wrecked at ‘Skips Kop’). This point was allocated the name Martha’s Point.

Even once these changes were made on British maps, locals apparently still stuck to the use of Struys Bay for the whole bay. Two (of many) examples of this were the locals reporting to the Cape on the loss of the Miles Barton (1861) and one month later the Star of the East (1861). Both ships had reportedly sunk in Struys Bay. Miles Barton went ashore near the Klippe Strand (also a local name of the time, today called ‘Ryspunt’). The news sent to the Cape stated, “… gone ashore in Struys Bay” (Cape Monitor, 14 February 1861). The ship Albatross was sent to assist, and fortunately, a reporter was on board to record this historical event.

One finds many interesting or likeable sentences like, “Onward we steamed, admiring the beauties of our South African coast”. On passing Agulhas he wrote, “… the fog having completely cleared off, we obtained a view of Struys Bay. On the sandy beach there stood erect, high and dry, the fine form of the ship Scotland that went ashore about four months ago”.

Clearly, the reporter and all the naval people on board expected to find the Miles Barton in the first bay east of Agulhas. In disgust he commented, “No Miles Barton was to be seen”. In search of the ship, they continued sailing eastward until they eventually spotted the unfortunate vessel ‘about seven miles off and about thirty miles from where we were led to expect we should find her’.

What one can learn from this is always to take into consideration which date and by whom (a local or not) reference was made to Struys Bay before presumptuously deciding in which bay the wreck is to be found – Struys Bay, Marcus Bay or De Hoop Bay.