Abridged version tells a gripping story of shipwreck survivors and their journey through the Eastern Cape
In 2011, British academic Dr David Culpin made a marvellous discovery.
While at the National Library of SA in Cape Town, researching the collection of Sir George Grey, the governor of the Cape Colony between 1854 and 1861, Culpin came across a book published in South Africa almost two centuries ago.
Written in French by adopted Capetonian Charles Etienne Boniface, it details a shipwreck off the Wild Coast and the survivors’ fight for safety.
Only seven of these books are thought to exist.
The merchant ship, called the Eole, sank near Mazeppa Bay after being hit by a storm, and only eight of the 20 crew members survived.
After being washed on to the shore, they trekked for three weeks to the Cape Colony.
Their journey by foot, wagon and ship included many individual events.
At one point, they took a burning stick from a village hut that had recently been burnt down, which aroused the anger of the local population because they were unwittingly disturbing an important funeral rite.
They had no water, so drank Bordeaux that had been washed on to the beach.
En route, they interacted with amaRharhabe of Kumkani Hintsa and had an encounter with the Lochenberg family, whose head was a man of Dutch extraction married to a Griqua woman.
They left the Cape Colony after annexation by the British to live with the amaXhosa.
Now, this interesting journey has been brought to life in an abridged version by SA Heritage Publishers.
With lively illustrations, great attention to detail and written in a clear and easily readable fashion, you can discover every step of the survivors’ journey yourself.
We asked Terence Ball, founder of SA Heritage Publishers, about what sparked the decision to turn the Eole story into an abridged book.
“While an unknown number of ships went down on the Wild Coast from the time the Portuguese began sailing up South Africa’s east coast in the late 1400s, we know of some that sank whose survivors either acculturated into the local society or attempted to attract the attention of passing ships,” says Ball.
“Only when Cape Town became a stopping point for ships in 1652, nearly 200 years later, was there a reason for survivors to making their way southward.
“The story of the Eole survivors’ journey through the Eastern Cape to Port Elizabeth is the only known contemporary account of such an event.”
Ball says turning the story into an abridged book required a careful reading of the original work to identify and include the most compelling aspects of the survivors’ experiences in such a way that would encourage readers to read the complete work.
And the most interesting part of the story?
“The fact that a white Cape Town resident of Dutch extraction, married to a Griqua woman, so despised the English and the annexation of the Cape that herelocated his family to present day Eastern Cape and lived among the amaGcaleka under Kumkani Hintsa.
“On arrival in Cape Town, the survivors learnt that Lochenberg died in a battle with his amaGcaleka clan against a group described as ‘Zooloo’. Many South Africans can scarcely believe this,” says Ball.
Read an extract of the book here
When the eight survivors of the shipwreck walked barefoot through South Africa’s interior to safety, it was between the fifth and sixth Xhosa frontier wars. At that time, the Xhosa prophet Chief Makana had recently been imprisoned on Robben Island by Europeans.
Nevertheless, the Eole survivors were accommodated for three days by amaXhosa on their journey to safety, namely Kumkani Hintsa’s amaRharhabe people.
In an extract from a book published in 1834, we find a description of a presentation made to Hintsa on behalf of Sir Lowry Cole, in gratitude for the treatment of the Eole survivors by Hintsa’s people.
“In consideration of the humane attention of his people to the unfortunate sufferers who escaped from the wreck of that vessel, his excellency the governor, Sir Lowry Cole, very laudably presented both him and them with a number of useful articles, as a reward of their services, and as a stimulus effort in similar cases of emergency.
“These, consisting of wearing apparel, blankets, hatchets, iron cooking pots and beads, were committed to my care; and the chief, together with other parties concerned, having been apprised of this, a numerous assemblage took place at the mission [the first mission built at Butterworth] village on Wednesday, April 7 1830, to witness their presentation.
“Nearly 40 of the chief counsellors were in his train, and served as a kind of bodyguard. With the exception of their long beast skins, loosely thrown over the shoulders, all were marked with grease and red ochre.
“No man brought his spear with him on this occasion; the only weapon [if such it might be called] carried by any of them was the itonga or fencing stick, which is more frequently used as a staff than for any other purpose.
“All came up in due form, until the procession arrived in front of the mission house, where they sat down in a circle, and thus remained until I went and saluted their master.”