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'No Account Or Tradition How Or When They Came There'

Professor ES Grossman


There are a number of contenders for the originators of our cannons and anchors, these are summarised below. Unfortunately salvaging took place without specialist oversight which means much of the archaeological context was lost. This has been especially unfortunate in the case of the anchor at 8 Alice Road, for which no information has been obtained, except that the anchor was recovered from Kabeljou Draai

Sao Joao Baptista 1622

The larger of the two cannons mounted in Cannon Rocks is traditionally believed to come from the Sao Joao Baptista. While the exact wreck site of the Baptista has never been established, it is allegedly in the Cannon Rocks area. The Portuguese Carrack was homeward bound having left Goa in India on 1st March 1622 with a cargo of pepper, Chinese porcelain, cloth, carpets and 'other treasures'. On 19th July , off Cape Agulhas, she encountered two Dutch warships which engaged in battle. Fighting continued on and off for 19 days and despite using the 18 small calibre cannon on board, the Baptista was badly damaged. Virtually helpless, she was largely at the mercy of the currents and eventually sighted shore on 29th September, 72 days after first engaging with the enemy. Two hundred and seventy nine people survived the wreck and camped for a month to recuperate at the wreck site somewhere in Cannon Rocks. On 6th November they set off to walk to the fort at Sofala in Beira, Mozambique. After a gruelling nine month journey and 1152 kilometres, 28 crew and passengers reached their destination on 28th July 1623

Tantalising support for Cannon Rocks being the site of the Sao Joao Baptista wreck comes from a few other sources. Firstly the Chinese Ming-era porcelain shards (2) which have been picked up on Cannon Rocks beaches have been identified as coming from the same time period as when the Baptista wreck occurred

Then whilst on tour of the Eastern Cape in 1778, Col Robert Jacob Gordon, Commander of The Dutch East India Company garrison at the Cape, was led by locals to the sight of a shipwreck where he found two very rusted and unidentifiable iron cannons lying among the rocks to the west of the Bushmans River. He writes '..there were iron cannons, an 18 and a 6 or 8 pounder. They were badly rusted so it was impossible to make out any of the letters,' A similar report by Lieutenant TH Bowker on 26th December 1834 indicates that an 18 pounder (9 foot long) and another, shorter gun (four foot) were pointed out to him on the rocks in approximately the same locale. [Note: Cannon Rocks cannons are 3.2m / 10.4ft and 2.5m / 8.2ft long]. Bowker further remarks of the cannons that 'No account or tradition how or when they came there'

It is a moot point and worth consideration whether cannons, as badly as badly corroded as reported by Gordon and Bowker, and purportedly from the Sao Joao Baptista, would have survived another 150 years of weathering, to be in a fit state for mounting at Cannon Rocks

'Geonese vessel' 1796

Little is known about this wreck, which occurred in February 1796 and was mentioned by Bennie in a 1982 letter found in the Howard collection (Also see Ann and Eliza below)

Betsy and Sarah 1839

This Dutch barque hit an outlying reef off Bird Island in a gale and drifted to her doom on a beach at Cape Padrone, close to Cannon Rocks on 19th April 1839. A 900 tonner, she was laden with tin, arrack, coffee, rice and sugar on her way to Amsterdam from Batavia. She was under command of the Chief Officer, her captain having died at sea earlier in the voyage. Nineteen lives were lost and thirty two saved

HMS Nerbudda, 1855

On 9th June 1855 the British brig, HMS Nerbudda, left Algoa Bay and was never seen again. Under command of Captain HA Kerr, with a full compliment of officers, men and crew, she was caught in a storm after leaving Algoa Bay and disappeared at sea with 132 lives lost. No trace of her has ever been found

Jupiter T 1875

Under command of Captain Guiseppe Luigi Ivancich this Austrian 689 ton barque was returning from Singapore, fully laden with a cargo of peppers, buffalo hides, tin ingots, nutmeg, gamboges, copal and rattans among others. Wrecked on a reef about half a mile off Cape Padrone in dense fog on 19th April 1875, she drifted onto the rocks in windless calm conditions and started breaking up. Miraculously there was only one casualty, a cabin boy, who drowned from severe injuries when his lifeboat capsized in the surf. The mounted anchor and smaller cannon as well as the anchor at 170 Alice Road are said to come from the Jupiter T. The wreck of the Jupiter T lies close to that of the Roma.

The above five wrecks have been named as possible sources of the Cannon Rocks cannons and anchors

PART 3 to follow

'Other wrecks recorded as having occurred in the vicinity of Cannon Rocks, which would have had cannons and anchors on board are... '

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