Intended Route : Port Edward (border) - Bizana - Magusheni -
Flagstaff - Port Grosvenor - Lusikisiki - Port St. Johns -
Umtata - Coffee
Bay - Bashee Bridge - Butterworth - Great Kei River Bridge (border)
- Kei Mouth - East London - Grahamstown - Port Elizabeth
The road from Port Shepstone to Port Edward was good highway. The
route would then take us slightly inland to Flagstaff. Then from
Flagstaff to Umtata we would have to drive in a series of loops
down the coast as there were no roads running straight along the
better route would have been to drive along the inland road, but my
father being ever the adventurer, wanted to take the scenic route
to see the wreck sites near Port St. Johns.
This is how my book describes the Wild Coast :
From the Mtamvuna River in the north to Kei River in the south
there is a rugged stretch of coast, 250kms long, known as the Wild
The homeland of several of the principal Bantu tribes, it is a
green and pleasant grassland stretching inland for about 150kms to
the foothills of the Drakensberg range.
In spring and summer the whole of the Transkei is emerald green. In
autumn and winter the grass fades to brown but the coastal belt is
Scenically, the Transkei is at its best on the coast. The Wild
Coast is quite superb in its unspoilt beauty. There are lagoons,
cliffs, palm trees, arum lilies, sandy bays and rivers reaching the
sea in deep valleys, many of them finding their way through the
hills in incredibily involved convolutions.
Exploring this coast is a delight for the nomad. There are pleasant
hotels ... relaxed places where formal dress is unknown ... and
many caravan and camping grounds in settings of great
The roads to any of the coastal points lead through unforgettable
scenery, offering innumerable interesting glimpses of the way of
life of a people living in a manner totally different to that of
Europe or Asia.
Hmmmm ... sounds ok. I'm sure my dad thought so too. But the story
is a whole lot different!
The Wild Coast
A place called ... Redoubt
Don't ask me how far we got into the Transkei, but the little
village of Redoubt is aptly named ... they should have named
The roads at first seemed quite good ... well, put it this way,
they weren't exactly the Kings highway but my dad has seen worse
and the old khombi managed to get over the crevases ok. At first we
thought that they must have had floods in the area and the road was
washed away in places ... but no, this WAS the
travelled along and travelled along ... five miles took an hour!
... no problem, this is Africa said my dad, you have to expect a
bit of rough riding as my mother gripped the side of the door as we
The people stopped and stared ... maybe they had never seen white
people before ... maybe they thought we were mad ... or maybe they
had seen us before ...
that farm hut looks familiar ... yes I remember the child playing
outside ... No he's just black, you know they all look the same!
... No, definitely, I remember the girl too, and the dog ... Don't
be so silly woman! ... Oh Eric please let's turn back! ... Shut up
I'll get to this place if it's the last thing I do!
(hours later) ...
Eric I think we're lost!
Conversation from the recovered 'black box'
I mean ... How can you get lost in open countryside like THIS?
Yes ... but we're not stood at the top of a hill looking down!
Those tracks ... what do you mean tracks? ... those are the
Here's one we took earlier ...
The main road to Port St.
(notice the crevase in the right hand corner)
The Transkei today is an autonomous state with its seat of
government in the town of Umtata.
Living in the south is the Gcaleka section of the Xhosa tribe, in
the middle of the country are the Tembu and Bomvana tribes, and in
the north are the Pondoand Mpondomise tribes. Smaller tribal groups
include the Cele and Xesibe people who live inland to the north
around Mount Ayliff; and the Fengu, who live in small groups mainly
in the Xhosa country.
Each tribe has it distinguishing costume, colours, beads and
articles of clothing.
Red and the orange of ochre are the favourite colours of the Xhosa,
Tembu and the Bomvana.
A very light blue is the colour of the Pondo and
Especially notable are the rondavel-type huts, all built with their
doors facing east, an old convention of uncertain origin, possibly
related to the Hottentot belief that the power of good lived in the
east, and evil in the west.
During the winter months travellers (?) in the Transkei may pass
teenage boys with white painted bodies and the bizarre costume of
the Khwetha, or circumcision lodge, which every boy has to go
through before he is regarded as a man. If he does not, even in old
age he will still be regarded as a boy, and no self-respecting
woman would consider marrying him.
Hmmm! Interesting ... no wonder they gave them self-rule!
Beach near Port St. Johns
We never managed to see any of the wrecks
But here is their account ...
Early 15th Century
In the days when the trade routes to the East Indies were
being navigated, the ships would sail up the coast of southern
Africa and then swing away towards Madagascar and India. If the
nights were dark and the crew's instincts for longitude or their
navigational equipment was faulty, then they were simply washed
towards the shore.
ships and their crews were lost without trace, but some were broken
on the shore and their crews managed to survive the gruelling walk
up to the Portuguese settlements in the north, or to the Dutch
settlement in the Cape.
The survivors, often without arms or ammunition, had to face
attacks from wild animals and local tribespeople. Some turned
cannibal, some committed suicide, some died of exposure, some were
fortunate enough to make friends with the tribesmen and settled
with them. Several small communities on the coast claim decent from
shipwrecked ancestors of European and Asian origin.
The Portuguese had a particular horror of this coast as so many of
their vessels, heavily loaded with wealth from the East were
wrecked upon the Wild Coast that it was partly responsible for the
bankcruptcy of their empire.
This is the story of three Portuguese ships :
The St. John (June
The Sao Bento (1554)
The Santo Alberto (March 1593)
And the British ship :
Grosvenor (August 1782)
(1552) The St. John was deeply laden with cargo and carried
several prominent Portuguese citizens.
The ship ran into a storm as it approached Africa. Masts and rudder
were lost and the ship was unceremoniously dumped onto the rocky
shore. More than 100 people drowned and most of the 400 survivors
were badly injured on the rocks.
After resting for several weeks, the survivors started the 700km
trek up the coast to Lourenco Marques. Those too weak or too old
simply dropped out and died. Personal belongings that had been
saved were discarded along the way as they became too heavy to
carry. Some of the wealthy paid others to carry them until the
burden became too much and they were abandoned.
Three months later, some of the straggling survivors reached the
port of Lourenco Marques. Upon learning that the annual trading
vessel had just left, they rested a while and then decided to
continue walking up to the next Portuguese habitation were they
would be in with a chance of catching another ship, despite the
warnings of the friendly tribespeople.
They fell prey to hostile tribesmen who robbed them of their
belongings. A Portuguese nobleman, his wife and two children were
among those who were stripped naked. His wife and children died and
the nobleman became demented.
Only eight Portuguese and 17 of their slaves managed to reach the
island of Mocambique (Ille de Mocambique) ... 1,600kms from the
scene of the wrecked St. John. Amongst these was a man called
Manuel de Castro.
later (1554) the Sao Bento was wrecked on the Wild Coast near the
mouth of the Umtata River. The ship was also heavily and richly
laden. About 150 people were drowned, but 99 Portuguese and 224
slaves reached the shore.
They made shelters for themselves from the carpets and silks from
the ships cargo that had washed ashore.
Among the survivors was Manuel de Castro, the same man who had been
wrecked on the St. John. Manuel had been taken to India after he
had reached the island of Mocambique and was now on his way back to
Portugal in the Sao Bento. Manuel couldn't face another gruelling
trek up to Lourenco Marques and died in despair.
The rest of the survivors set off on the long trek. Along the coast
they met up with some of the survivors of the St. John who had
built themselves shelters and were now living in the area.
Some from both shipwrecks were encouraged enough to attempt the
journey to Lourenco Marques, the rest stayed behind.
Three months later the band of 56 Portuguese and 6 slaves reached
Lourenco Marques. And after a wait of four months, a trading vessel
took them back to Portugal.
(1593) The Santo Alberto was wrecked near a place called The Hole
in the Wall, so named because of its geological feature. 28
Portuguese and 35 slaves were drowned; and 125 Portuguese,
including two women, and 160 slaves survived.
Again the vast treasure went down with the ship, but amongst the
wreckage cast up on the beach was many items of practical value to
the survivors, including arms and ammunition, foodstuffs, bales of
cloth, metal and beads suitable for trading, writing paper and
The captain and his men were resolute and competent and maintained
strict discipline after the ship was wrecked. And some of the
slaves were able to speak both Portuguese and one of the languages
of the tribes of Mocambique.
Instead of walking up the coast, they made the bold decision to
walk inland to Mocambique. Their journey is regarded to be one of
the epic journeys in the history of Southern Africa.
The party was able to communicate with the local tribes people and
convince them that they were not invaders. Furthermore, the
discipline of the survivors proved to be disconcerting to any
bandits or predators ... human or animal. And they kept a diary of
They travelled so far inland that they became the first Europeans
to see the Drakensberg mountains, then covered in snow, and to
explore the midlands of Natal.
They hunted venison, fished in the rivers, and lived well.
In the course of the journey, 9 Portuguese and 95 slaves dropped
out and remained with friendly tribes.
The two women, one a girl of 16, did the whole journey of more than
1,500kms without mishap.
They reached the bay of Lourenco Marques on 30 June 1593 after 88
days of travelling, where they found a ship ready to return to base
at Ille de Mocambique.
The Grosvenor a British ship, was a treasure ship. Her bills of
lading show that she was carrying a cargo of bullion ...
jewels, coins, and other precious goods from India by the British
East India Company. And it is rumoured that she was also carrying
the celebrated Peacock Throne of Persia.
Faulty charts were responsible for the wreck. The lookout shouted a
warning that he saw breakers ahead and the captain tried to turn
the ship but it ran full-tilt onto the rocky shores of a deep bay
known as Lwambazi.
Of the 123 people on board only 15 drowned and the rest reached the
shore. Little wreckage was washed up and the survivors were left
with no more than the clothes they were wearing.
Only 18 survivors managed to reach the safety of the Dutch
settlement at the Cape. Without arms, food, or suitable trade
goods, the survivors had been doomed from the start. The rest
disappeared and their fate became part of the so-called 'kaffir
News of the wreck and the richness of the cargo soon attracted
attention. However, the site of the wreck is a deep, rocky bay
exposed to winds and strong seas. At least four salvage companies
and many individuals have laboured to recover the treasure of the
Grosvenor. And although an impressive amount of valuables have been
recovered, the bulk of the cargo remains with the ship. The remains
of the ship now lie buried under the sand, too near the rocks to be
reached from the sea, and in water that is too deep and stormy to
be easily reached from the land.