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Full text of "Harbours of Memory"

Harbours Of 
Memory 




Harbours Of Memory 

A book of personal experiences along South African and other romantic waterfronts, 
odd characters encountered by the author and the strange tales they told. 



ByLawrence G. Green 

Author of "On Wings of Fire", "To the River's End", "Full Many a Glorious 

Morning" and other books on Africa 



FRONT Cover 

If you love the waterfront atmosphere these harbours of Lawrence Green's memories 
will give you hours of enchantment. Readers of Lawrence Green's previous books 
are aware that this experienced author shuns the well known stories and seeks the 
strange, weird and curious episodes that other writers have missed. His characters are 
not always respectable, he finds many of his people in bars and taverns, and their 
behaviour is often riotous and abandoned; hence every page is filled with unexpected 
and fascinating material. 

Most of these harbours are in Southern Africa. The book opens in Table Bay and 
there are tales of Simon's Bay, Mossel Bay, Port Elizabeth, Port Alfred, East 
London, Port St. John's and Durban. East African harbours form part of this rich 
narrative and there are meetings with magicians in North Africa. Two of the most 
vivid chapters in the book deal with Gibraltar and Marseilles. Lawrence Green has a 
way of passing on to his readers his own enjoyment of life's pleasures and surprises. 
You will remember these adventures, including the wine and food. 



Contents 

1 The Road to the Harbour 

2 Jaggery and Tamarinds 

3 Skeleton Harbour 

4 Old Naval Base 

5 Harbours on the Veld 

6 Aloes and Oysters 

7 Bay of Lost Cargoes 

8 By Wagon to the Kowie 

9 River Harbour 

10 The Wild Coast 

11 Point Road 

12 Ports of the Portuguese 

13 Haven of Peace 

14 Rum Harbour 

15 Harbours on the Nile 

16 Suez Magic 

17 Gibraltar 

18 Cous-Cous and Cobras 

19 Gateway to Africa 

20 London's Dockland 




Chapter One 
The Road To The Harbour 



Dock Road was a roaring waterfront 
very close to Table Bay early this 
century when I first passed over the 
cobblestones bound for the harbour. 
Sailormen all seemed to be going in 
the opposite direction, heading for the 
thousand delights of the land. I can 
still see a ghostly panorama of sailing 
ships off the broad thoroughfare of 
Dock Road, square-rigged ships that 



have vanished for ever. Most of the 
seamen's canteens and saloons have 
gone, too, but there are times when the 
voices and the music I heard in the 
sailortown of my youth come back to 
my ears. I find myself dreaming my 
way through the centuries in that 
atmosphere while Neptune's heroes 
stream past the dock gates to slake 
their thirsts as they have always done 
in the taverns of Cape Town. 

Table Bay washed the fringe of the 
Dock Road at the turn of the century 
and long afterwards. That old water- 
front from the Castle to Mouille Point 
had not changed much since the 
Dutch departed. The town between 
its frontiers of Buitengracht and 
Buitenkant still held many buildings 
designed and adorned by master 
craftsmen long ago and a little of the 
beauty remains to this day. Granite 



cobblestones that came from Scandi- 
navia as ballast in timber-laden 
sailing ships are still there, too, and I 
only wish that other relics had 
proved indestructible. However, I 
have my own memories and the tales 
I heard from bygone seafarers and 
observant characters of the old har- 
bour. 

Cape Town lost the sea and many 
waterfront buildings between the 
wars of this century. I met old citi- 
zens who could remember the storm- 
lashed waters of Table Bay beating 
against the Castle walls. Not so long 
ago the sea almost reached Garlick's 
store and in that area you could smell 
the fresh tang of seaweed on the 
rocks at low spring tides. House- 
wives walked down to Rogge Bay 
and bought line fish for their 
luncheons. Townsfolk strolled on 



wooden j etties where coasters landed 
their cargoes. Little factories and the 
shops of all sorts of craftsmen 
flourished there. Brewing is left to 
the financial giants nowadays but the 
inspiring aroma of beer came from 
many small premises early this 
century. If you had barley, hops and 
the right sort of water, mash tuns, 
copper dome, coolers and casks, you 
could go into business. Those old 
brewers made brown ales, bitter and 
mild beers with their own distinctive 
colours, strengths and flavours, 
differing one from another like the 
wines of various estates. One of the 
large breweries stood almost on the 
sands of Woodstock beach. Every 
member of the staff had a glass on 
his desk and two bottles of ale were 
supplied free every day. Some 
ordered more and got it. Martienssen 



of "tickey beer" fame had a brewery 
in Queen Victoria Street, of all 
places. Stott brewed at Green Point 
"to avoid the noxious vapours of the 
city". Malay coopers passed on their 
secrets to their sons, using their eyes 
as they planned the curves of 
wholesome hand-made casks. I 
watched their descendants still at 
work in recent years under aged 
vines in the Somerset Road yards. 

Along the Dock Road or in the 
seafaring streets leading out of it there 
were not only brewers and wine 
merchants but cigar makers and 
pawnbrokers, fish curers, ship 
chandlers and consuls. Drysdale the 
diver had a shed in Dock Road 
towards the end of the last century, 
close to the fish jetty and Kamp's ice 
factory. Stable boys at AttwelPs 
bakery caught rats in cages, then let 



them go and unleashed the fox- 
terriers; a fierce sport that no longer 
disturbs the sedate city of today. 
Shipwrecked sailors and other 
mariners have had a home near Dock 
Road for more than a century; and 
there, as a young reporter, I listened to 
their adventures, the tales of men who 
had faced the ordeals of the sea 
unafraid. Along the waterfront their 
language was fearful, their behaviour 
riotous and abandoned. How well the 
landlords in the harbour area knew 
their customers! Every seafaring 
nation had its own favourite bar; sea- 
men from all the ports of the British 
Isles, from Norway and Portugal, 
could toast the barmaids in their own 
language and feel at home as long as 
their money lasted. 

Billy Biddlecombe catered for blue- 
jackets at the Royal Navy Hotel while 



Germans from the Woermann steam- 
ers went to the Hansa or the Hamburg. 
Union-Castle firemen paraded Bree 
Street with bands and pantomime 
elephants made of canvas, raising 
money for drinks at the Fireman's 
Arms. There was the Cambrian for 
Welsh sailors who came from Cardiff 
in full-riggers loaded with coal. Irish 
shellbacks rolled joyfully in and out of 
McCullie's pub the Limerick, or 
Murphy's renowned Ship Hotel. An 
Italian named Dimaio welcomed 
fellow-countrymen at the Sicilia in 
Riebeek Street, while the Queen's at 
the dock gates entertained all the sea- 
faring nations as it does to this day. Of 
course the bars, canteens, inns and 
taverns of this quarter were all cosmo- 
politan, but each one had its own 
strong personality. The atmosphere in 
most was Victorian. Splendid 



engraved mirrors reflected the colours 
of the bottles; walls were covered with 
flowered paper; doors and windows 
were decorated with the proud 
symbols of the liquor trade, from 
sheaves of barley to vine leaves. 

Some places went in for stained glass, 
so that the drinks, the polished copper 
measures, the porcelain and brass beer 
pulls, the lamps - and the customers - 
made up a kaleidoscope worthy of the 
brush of a Hogarth. But against this 
conventional background there were 
all sorts of curios and oddities 
gathered at the ends of the earth and 
presented to attractive barmaids by 
seafaring admirers. You could find 
anything from a Mexican stone idol to 
Japanese netsukes in those waterfront 
pubs. Murphy of the Ship Hotel went 
in for small panoramas, forerunners of 
the cinema. He also had peep-shows; 



seamen dropped their coppers into the 
box and were a little disappointed 
when they stared at Queen Victoria's 
coronation with all the peers and 
bishops in perspective. Battles were 
better and execution scenes best of all. 

Parrots were kept in a number of pubs; 
Amazonian parrots with exquisite 
green feathers touched with rose; 
African grey parrots with red tails and 
long-tailed Macaws. African greys 
were the most amusing talkers and 
Mick Sheehan of the Star Hotel in 
Waterkant Street owned one that was 
supposed to have come to the Cape in 
a man-o'war early last century. This 
bald parrot Koko looked the part 
though its longevity was probably 
exaggerated. "Give the fellow a 
groat", Koko often remarked, clear 
proof that it had lived in the days of 
that departed coin. Koko would shake 



hands with Mick Sheehan and then say 
decisively: "You red-headed old rat - 1 
don't want to speak to you". At that 
horse-drawn period Koko had great 
fun stopping hansam-cabs and other 
vehicles outside the Star with a loud 
and authoritative "Whoa!" Drivers 
shouted back and their angry remarks 
added to Koko's vocabulary. Koko 
endeared himself to customers by 
calling to the Cockney barmaid: "Let 
yer 'hand tremble Liz - give the gent a 
proper tot fer 'is money." And 
business often picked up during a dull 
evening when Koko shouted 
persuasively: "Hany horde rs ? Give 
yer horders fer the love o' Mike". 
However, there was a rival in the same 
street at the Table Bay Hotel owned by 
George de Lacy. This old parrot made 
clicking sounds in time with the piano 
and danced on its perch. When a dog 



or cat appeared it snarled: "Get out 
you brute!" It would lie on its back at 
a word from George de Lacy and 
pretend to be dead. Then, raising its 
head, the parrot would announce 
gravely: "Trixie drinks like a fish." 

Trixie, barmaid at the Great Eastern in 
Bree Street, was a large but shapely 
woman who had spent years at sea as a 
stewardess. She understood sailors, 
she had a philosophy of life and a deep 
knowledge of the trinkets and odd- 
ments brought in by customers. Trixie 
could value sapphires and moonstones 
from Ceylon, ivory and jade, carved 
teak, scarabs from Port Said, bead 
necklaces, gold and silver filigree and 
Kashmir shawls. If the customer was 
thirsty but penniless Trixie gave credit 
or accepted a piece of amber, a prayer 
rug, or a cameo from Naples. Seamen 
admired the shrewd Trixie and drank 



her health in ports as far apart as 
Bombay and Valparaiso. Trixie main- 
tained law and order with a wink and a 
gesture; she never had to call a 
policeman. 

In those days before darts and radio 
every enterprising publican tried to 
provide something to accompany the 
unfailing charm of liquor. Teutonic 
hosts like Dolfie Scharfscheer ran 
proper beer halls with alcoves for 
secretive parties and counters laden 
with sausages, pickled herrings and 
sauerkraut. Dolfie had an impressive 
German fork beard and flowing 
moustache; and when he handled the 
beer engine and served the heady 
Munich beer with his wife playing a 
waltz at the piano a breath of Bavaria 
drifted out on to the Table Bay 
waterfront. Short drinks such as a 
glass of beer, sherry or hock cost a 



tickey at the turn of the century. Pale 
ale came from England in hogsheads, 
but that cost more. Hungry seamen 
paid sixpence for pea soup or fish, a 
shilling for roast beef or steak. Many 
generous hosts provided bread, cheese 
and pickles free of charge. A favourite 
meal in many harbour taverns 
consisted of a plate of mulligatawny 
soup followed by sosaties and rice, 
curried fragments of mutton on bam- 
boo skewers. This cost one shilling 
and sixpence, including a glass of 
wine. 

Curries of various sorts were 
favourite everyday meals in the 
seafaring quarter. If you passed 
down Waterkant or Bree Street 
between certain hours there were 
such pungent aromas of chillies and 
garlic, mustard oil and onions, that 
you might have been in Calcutta. 



Jacob Watermeyer, a Strand Street 
ship chandler, was the far-sighted 
business man who transformed the 
curry and rice dishes of Cape Town. 
This remarkable episode brought him 
and his assistant a fortune. The 
master of a British sailing ship owed 
Watermeyer money for stores and he 
departed without paying the bill. 
Next time he called, however, the 
honest captain entered Watermeyer' s 
shop and announced: "I still can't 
pay, but if you care to come down on 
board my ship I will show you 
something valuable." Watermeyer 
and his assistant lunched in the 
saloon and were given the finest 
curry they had ever tasted. After 
lunch the captain handed them a list 
of ingredients and showed them how 
to mix the curry powder which had 
made the lunch memorable. I do not 



pretend to know the exact amount of 
turmeric, ginger, chillies and other 
spices that went into the powder; it 
was a secret recipe. No one could say 
that it was dominated by this or that 
condiment. It was a true blend, and 
compared with the other curry 
powders of the period it seemed to 
have an almost magical effect on 
soups, pumpkin, beans, crawfish or 
snoek, eggs, chicken and meats. The 
captain revealed to Watermeyer the 
whole secret process and gave him a 
sealed barrel of the curry powder. 
Watermeyer cancelled the debt, three 
hundred pounds, a substantial 
amount to write off in those golden 
days. He put the curry powder on the 
market in tins and Cape Town 
flocked to his store to buy more. 
Here was a powder with just the right 
bite. It gave a rich, almost myste- 



rious stimulating quality to a thick 
stew. People glowed and perspired 
and declared that Watermeyer' s 
curry powder made them feel cool in 
the heat of summer. The assistant 
married Watermeyer' s daughter and 
inherited the secret. He built a store 
in Adderley Street far more ornate 
than the little ship chandler's shop 
down on the waterfront. The store 
has gone but the curry powder 
survives and is still mixed just as that 
forgotten sea captain showed Jacob 
Watermeyer in the Indiaman's saloon 
more than a century ago. 

Few old people record their memo- 
ries and I was lucky to hear the curry 
saga before the origin was lost. 
When an interesting person dies a 
whole page of the past is torn away. I 
am grateful to those who spoke to me 
and left their most vivid impressions 



for me to pass on. Such a man was 
Mr. W. H. Hinton, a railway pioneer. 
He knew Table Bay in the fifties of 
last century, before the breakwater 
was built. He saw the English 
navvies coming on shore in their 
sleeved waistcoats, moleskin or 
corduroy trousers and heavy boots to 
lay the first railway line. 

Cape Town ended at the early 
morning market. Papendorp, with its 
fishermen's cottages, had not yet 
become Woodstock. London omni- 
buses served the suburbs. Salt River 
had only one house, Mrs. Slabbert's 
homestead. Hinton went to a dance 
there, in the forage loft, with a 
concertina and violin orchestra. He 
said Cape Town was a late town at 
that period. Youths paraded the 
waterfront with guitars and banjos 
and the Malays kept people awake at 



night with interminable throbbing 
Khalifa sessions. On their high 
stoeps the citizens took their ease 
and drank their wine; and there were 
unkind visitors who said they would 
rather drink than eat. When the mail 
steamer arrived from England she 
fired two guns; the Castle replied and 
everyone hurried down to the Central 
Wharf to hear the news. Only when 
the newspapers were landed did Cape 
Town learn of the assassination of 
President Lincoln and other great 
events. 

Hinton saw troops embarking for 
Algoa Bay in a wooden man-o'-war 
with paddle-wheels. He watched 
captured slaving vessels brought into 
Table Bay by the navy; seventy-foot 
Arab dhows from East African 
waters and Portuguese brigs from 
Angola. Slaves were housed at a 



"negro station" at Papendorp and 
sometimes they escaped into the 
interior, vainly seeking a way home 
overland. "Prize negroes", as the 
slaves were called, were apprenticed 
to farmers. Slave ships were put up 
to auction with their cargoes. In this 
way many useful craft found new 
owners in Cape Town and many 
cargoes of silk and cigars, tea and 
coffee, were purchased by the shops. 

Leopards were still visiting the 
shambles at the foot of Adderley 
Street in search of offal when Hinton 
was a boy. Wharf Square, outside the 
old main line railway station, was 
close to the wharf. The slaughter 
house, built long before the station, 
supplied meat to troops bound for 
India before the Suez Canal was 
built. Shortly after World War II an 
aged coloured man showed officials 



the door in this building where he 
had stood shovelling refuse into 
Table Bay. So many sand sharks 
gathered for the feast, that they 
called the place Haaibaai. Now the 
shambles has been demolished and 
the nearest sea is more than twelve 
hundred yards from Wharf Square. 

Perhaps you remember the Protea 
Bar, part of the old Cape Town 
station, a bar noted for its tickey 
sherry rather than for a clientele of 
connoisseurs. This bar stood over 
Van Riebeeck's first reservoir, built 
to hold the water from the mountain 
stream. Steps led down to the beach 
where sailors waited to lift the water 
barrels into the boats. They needed 
the water, but I think they would 
rather have had the powerful sherry 
of later years. 



Hinton was present when the corner- 
stone of a great waterfront landmark 
was laid. He saw Sir George Grey 
the Governor, pouring oil and wine 
on the masonry that became a 
massive building with seven castell- 
ated towers. Grey wanted a building 
as magnificent as the Castle and so 
he chose a hospital design which 
might have been mistaken for an 
Elizabethan palace. Newcomers 
arriving by sea still gaze in wonder 
on the grand old-fashioned facade of 
his New Somerset Hospital. This is a 
monument not only to an able gover- 
nor but also to the naval surgeon Dr. 
Samuel Bailey, founder of the origi- 
nal Somerset Hospital and still in 
practice when the New Somerset was 
built. Bailey served in H.M.S. Vic- 
tory at Trafalgar, a man of many 
adventures, certainly a memorable 



figure along the Table Bay water- 
front. 

British officers and civil servants from 
India, officials of the Honourable East 
India Company and others, were still 
visiting Cape Town during Hinton' s 
youth. They regarded the Cape as a 
great sanatorium after years of ill- 
health in the East. They came in 
sailing ships with their horses, their 
carriages and Indian coachmen in 
turbans and white muslin; and often 
there were two thousand of them 
spending their rupees generously in 
the Cape Peninsula during the late 
summer. People called them 
"Hindoos" but it was an affectionate 
nickname. They brought new life as 
well as money to the town. Some of 
their favourite Indian recipes are 
followed by Cape Town cooks today. 
They also left us Indian names, words 



and phrases. When the Suez Canal 
opened they departed. Most of them 
never returned, but there were some 
who saw the Cape again because they 
had married girls they met in Wynberg 
and Constantia. 

Martin Leendertz, a waterfront report- 
er who passed on a few years ago, 
spoke to me of the Norwegian barques 
with square sterns that carried timber 
from Scandinavia. They were unsink- 
able but they leaked badly, so they 
were fitted with windmill pumps to 
empty their bilges without the usual 
back-breaking labour. This was also 
the hey-day of the "turret ships", those 
peculiar steamers with narrow upper- 
decks and full bellies designed to 
defeat the Suez Canal charges based 
on deck measurements. Some master 
mariners regarded them as fine ships 
in heavy weather; others pointed out 



that two "turret ships" had capsized. 
Two of the Clan Line vessels of this 
design were lost on the coast of the 
Cape Peninsula, but not because of the 
unusual design. Those old "turret 
ships" brought many heavy cargoes 
into Table Bay, railway material and 
other "Glasgow jewellery". The small 
boys of Cape Town were more 
concerned about the arrival of a ship 
called the Crown of Aragon, which 
came in from Shanghai every year in 
good time for November the Fifth with 
her cargo of fireworks. 

I asked Martin Leendertz to describe 
the waterfront aromas of his day and 
he replied at once: "Fish drying on the 
beaches, bales of snoek, piles of 
rubbish, seaweed and ozone, open 
drains and malodorous steegs - and the 
scent of pines as an occasional relief." 
He said the south-easters and the 



winter rains saved Cape Town from 
disaster. 

Electric street lamps were switched on 
in Cape Town before the end of last 
century, but the waterfront bars clung 
to hanging lanterns or gaslight for 
years. Carbon filament lamps were 
unpopular; they were not bright 
enough and electricity was expensive. 
However, the harbour area was 
illuminated by harsh electric arc 
lamps. They burnt steadily without 
sputtering and showed many an 
unsteady seaman the way to his 
gangplank. Candlemakers were among 
the first to suffer from the advance of 
electricity, and few of the small crafts- 
men of last century have survived. In 
the streets near the harbour sixty years 
ago there were blacksmiths and 
saddlers, tallow-chandlers, carpenters, 
sailmakers and shoemakers. And 



where are the old houses? Stately 
mansions with massive walls and lofty 
rooms stood side by side, lovely 
homes with small-paned windows and 
warm tints in. their rooms. Town 
houses always had stoeps, often five 
feet above road level, stoeps with 
basements where the slaves once lived. 
Holland saw the creation of the stoep 
for the Dutch raised their floor levels 
several feet to allow windows in their 
basement rooms. Holland sent hun- 
dreds of thousands of handsome bricks 
called klompjes to decorate the Cape 
stoeps; bricks that weathered and 
became a rich golden yellow. Cape 
Town enjoyed the open-air stoep life 
but these obstructions in every street 
became a nuisance. Yet the old Cape 
Town houses would have lost much of 
their beauty without the flight of steps 
and the raised floor running the whole 



length of the facade with benches at 
each end. Those were the days of 
Mauritius teak and Knysna stinkwood 
beams, heavy carved doors, pediments 
with decorated panels, gables with 
sweeping scrolls, slates from Robben 
Island, reeds from the Liesbeek river, 
wrought-iron and. brass railings, iron 
and brass lanterns worked into fanlight 
designs, dark and cool dining halls, 
trellised vines in the courtyards and 
pomegranate trees twisted with age. 
Some of the ancient vines are still 
yielding mellow crystal grapes and 
dwarf fig trees still give their fruit. 
Most picturesque of all adornments to 
the facades of large houses near Table 
Bay was the dak-kamer. The purpose 
of this roof-room is controversial but I 
cling to the belief that it was intended 
to give the owner a view of the 
shipping. Among the fine houses of 



the merchants in Cape Town's sea- 
faring streets were much smaller dwel- 
lings with a charm of their own. These 
were the single storeyed homes of 
artisans and others, a central door 
flanked with a window on each side, 
often with a Malay parapet and flat 
roof in obedience to the fire laws. 
Whale oil and molasses made the roof 
waterproof, a fitting mixture for a 
seaport. 

Once the cooks of waterside Cape 
Town were able to hear the breaking 
of the seas as they lifted their nostrils 
to a salt tang that mingled with the 
kitchen aromas. You can still find 
some of those old kitchens. Fireplaces 
were ten feet wide and there was a 
raised brick hearth and hooks for the 
burnished pots. A flue was built into 
the chimney for curing bacon with the 
smoke of dried mealie-cobs. Water 



spouted from an ornamental tap in the 
shape of a copper dolphin. Sheets of 
brass hung on the walls to protect the 
lime-washed surface. On the shelves 
were lacquer boxes of spices, blue 
earthenware Flemish jars for pickled 
fish, oriental stone jars for holding 
pickles and ginger, flagons with 
flavouring essences. They needed 
many servants and they had them. 
When you stand on the stone flags 
(once polished daily with wax and ox- 
blood) the scene returns. Dark, bare- 
footed girls bustle round the tart-pans. 
Joints sizzle over the coals. From the 
oven comes a whiff of bobotie, from a 
stewpan a ravishing promise of curried 
chicken, while the vark-karmenaadjies 
crackle on the grill. Look through the 
windows of lilac or pale-green panes 
from Holland and you may imagine 



the huisvrou of other days, a faint 
reflection of hooped skirts in the glass. 

Some of the old tavern names remain, 
but the buildings, the bars and the 
people have been transformed by the 
wand of respectability. The waterfront 
resorts were not all romantic but they 
held in their strong fumes the true 
breath of adventure. I wish that I could 
listen now to the conversation in the 
Queen of the South, the Dolphin or the 
Limerick during some long-forgotten 
evening when the old sailor men came 
up the road from the harbour to find 
release from the great wealth of 
memory. 



Chapter Two 

Jaggery And TAMARINDS 



Horses still dominated the road to the 
harbour for two or three decades this 
century. Strong wagon horses with 
shaggy hooves drew the cargoes from 
every wharf at Table Bay Docks and 
mule carts hauled coal round the port. 
Good light horses were owned by 
hansom cab drivers and those who 
favoured victorias and growlers, 
broughams and other romantic four- 
wheelers of that graceful era. The 
sounds of the world of horses never 
jarred on people like the abominable 
motor-car. 

Most of the hansoms were in charge of 
Malays wearing the pointed straw 
pagoda hats but long ago there were 
also a number of Irish drivers. I was 
bound for the docks one day and look- 



ing speculatively at a hansom named 
"Liffey" when a lyric brogue fell on 
my ears. "Sure sorr an' ye've an eye 
for a horse - there aren't many left like 
you sorr," came the flattering words. 
"Is it to the docks ye're going sorr?" I 
was looking at the wheels, not the 
horse; the iron-shod wheels that 
promised a bumpy ride. However, the 
blarney was irresistible and I jolted 
over the cobblestones in the Irish cab. 

When the first hansoms reached Table 
Bay Docks from London in the middle 
of last century they brought with them 
the reputation of being fast and disre- 
putable. This was never shaken off. 
They were decorated with names and 
peculiar emblems which took the place 
of armorial bearings, but Cape Town 
changed the names and the designs. 
"My Sweetheart" and "Forget-me- 
Not" became "Flying Dutchman" and 



"Lismore Castle". Hansoms were for 
short journeys without heavy luggage, 
of course, as there was little room 
inside or out. They were dashing 
vehicles with poor brakes. When the 
horse fell the passenger was thrown 
off his seat on to the glass doors. No 
lady rode unescorted in a hansom. 
Four-seater hansoms were known as 
"parlour" models, two passengers 
sitting on each side; but few of these 
were seen in Cape Town. Rubber 
tyres were first fitted towards the end 
of last century and then the hansom 
drivers hung bells on the collars of 
their horses. Certainly the jingle was 
more pleasant than the noise of iron 
tyres but there were old fashioned or 
parsimonious drivers who preferred 
metal to rubber. Hence the blarney. 
However, a hansom carried two 
people from the station to the docks 



for one shilling early this century. 
You could pay by the hour, half-a- 
crown. Cheap enough, but disputes 
were frequent, with the driver 
shouting angrily through a little trap- 
door in the roof of the cab. 

Cape Town's vast horse-drawn 
traffic kept a vanished army of 
craftsmen at work. Wheelwrights 
made spokes and rims by eye. Some 
of the paintwork was exquisite and 
undercarriages were given curves 
and scrolls of real beauty. You saw 
elegant cane panels, lamps of frosted 
glass, fine leather fittings and 
upholstery. All this gave scope for 
individual skill and ideas for there 
was no mass production in the 
carriage trade. It was a gay world of 
polished brass and happy clattering 
horses, the honest smell of harness 
and the sweat of horses. A few 



wheelwrights and other craftsmen 
were still using their old tools after 
the middle of this century. Reliable 
drivers are vanishing, however, and 
never again shall I hear an Irish 
voice assuring me (with the greatest 
possible inaccuracy) that I have an 
eye for a horse. 

Hansom cabs and taxis were for 
emergencies when I was a young 
reporter and I often took the little 
train from Monument station to 
Table Bay Docks. They called it the 
"Dolly" for no known reason. The 
fare was fourpence. Native dock 
labourers had their own train, the 
"Bombela", a fearsome cavalcade of 
dingy coaches drawn by such an 
ancient engine that one almost 
expected to see William Dabbs on 
the foot-plate. "Dolly" landed me 
near the port office, where I had to 



copy the list of shipping arrivals and 
departures and gather any news that 
was offering. I returned to town by 
train, called at the meteorological 
office for the unreliable weather 
forecast and then walked to Caledon 
Square for the real work of the day, 
the police courts. Crime had its 
interesting episodes but I would rather 
have spent the whole day at the docks. 

Of course I had known Table Bay 
Docks, every corner of the docks, for 
years before I became a reporter. No 
one thought of putting guards at the 
gangway and so I was able to walk on 
board all manner of unusual and 
adventurous craft. I was also fortunate 
in meeting friendly waterfront 
characters who helped me to peer 
through those strange doorways which 
open into the world of seamen, ships 
and the wide oceans. They shared their 



experiences with me so that I could 
look back on long-departed vessels, 
large and small; unknown and 
unrecorded sea dramas were played 
out again; I could almost hear the 
voices and feel the lash of the salt 
spray. I came to know the cafe near 
the port office where Ma Rees kept a 
cow in the bathroom; and I voyaged 
with young David Wasserfall the 
ferryman from the port office to the 
clock tower without ever realising that 
this hard-working oarsman would still 
be rowing the same boat nearly half a 
century later. 

Among my first waterfront friends was 
"Young Bob" Stephens, son of "Old 
Bob" the boatbuilder. "Old Bob" 
brought his family to the Cape from 
Sydney in 1900 and set up in business. 
He hired out pleasure boats from the 
Central Jetty and later from the Pier; 



and many a shilling I handed him out 
of my pocket-money for the joy of 
pulling a dinghy round the ships in the 
bay. "Young Bob" told me about a 
crimp named Charlie Mitchell who 
had a place in Mechau Street where 
sailors were entertained generously 
and shipped away senseless with a 
"donkey's breakfast" and a bottle of 
dop. Charlie cashed the advance note, 
three pounds for an able seaman. Yes, 
there were all sorts of sharks in human 
form along the old waterfront. "Young 
Bob" said his greatest shock came 
when a young woman hired a boat and 
asked him to row out into the bay. He 
turned his head and when he looked 
back she had vanished. Piet Fourie of 
the harbour police recovered the body 
some days later. She had loaded her 
clothes with lead so that she went 



straight down when she dropped over 
the stern. 

Another waterfront friend spoke of 
memorable craft that called before 
my time. He saw the New Bedford 
whaler Josephine sail in after a South 
Atlantic cruise that had lasted four- 
teen months. All about her rose the 
pungent odour of sperm oil. She was 
manned by Cape Verde islanders, 
Portuguese, negroes and half-castes, 
with American master and mates. My 
friend had a meal in the galley; it 
was unexpectedly good, a rich 
mutton stew with potatoes and hunks 
of bread. They had called at Tristan 
for meat and vegetables, and that 
explained the fresh mutton. The 
captain had his wife with him; it was 
strange to find a woman on board a 
whaler. They hunted the sperm in 
open boats and fired their harpoons 



from a brass blunderbuss. That old 
trade was coming to an end. I missed 
the Josephine but some years later I 
saw the last of all the sailing 
whalers, the Canton. She was a 
barque, built at Swansea in 1835, 
wrecked in 1909, not long after 
leaving Table Bay. There were many 
venerable ships in those days, and 
their timber lasted much longer than 
the modern steel. 

World voyages in small craft were 
rare early this century. A few years 
after the pioneer Joshua Slocum 
called at Table Bay in the Spray there 
came a nine-ton ketch that circled 
half the globe without any publicity 
at all. She was the Brighton, bound 
from Brighton, England, to Broome 
in Western Australia on a pearling 
venture. The Brighton was manned 
by two men and a twelve-year-old 



boy Antonio who had stowed away 
under a heap of sails when the ketch 
called at the Cape Verde islands. 
Skipper A. L. Napper had previously 
commanded a millionaire's yacht, 
the Vanderbilt turbine-engined 
Tarantula. During the passage of ten 
thousand miles they had watched a 
whale fighting a swordfish and two 
thresher sharks. The sharks killed the 
whale. Another whale menaced the 
little Brighton, diving under her 
repeatedly, so Napper brought his 
rifle on deck and put a bullet in the 
head. Their pet spaniel Nelson went 
mad and was lost overboard. In a 
northerly gale the decks were swept, 
the rudder was damaged and they had 
to use the sea anchor and oilbags. 
Steering difficulties delayed them for 
so long that they ran short of food. 
Christmas dinner, five hundred miles 



from Table Bay, consisted of tinned 
mutton and pudding. If they had not 
caught flying fish they might have 
starved. After taking on provisions and 
water the adventurers sailed away to 
Australia across the stormiest ocean in 
the world. 

Another yacht that aroused great 
interest was a large vessel, the 
Pandora. As H.M.S. Newport, a 
gunboat in the Royal Navy, she had 
been present at the Suez Canal open- 
ing ceremony. Then she had surveyed 
routes in the Arctic and the Straits of 
Magellan. An adventurer named T. C. 
Kerry bought her in the hope of 
making a fortune in some mysterious 
way. He was bound for New Guinea. I 
never heard of the Brighton or the 
Pandora again, but I often wondered. 
I suppose there is no one now who can 
tell me the true story of the American 



three-masted schooner that entered 
Table Bay during my schooldays and 
anchored far out. She had no 
communication with the port authori- 
ties; but "Young Bob" rowed out and 
spoke to the visitors. He said they 
belonged to some weird religious sect 
and were bound for Patagonia to start 
a settlement. However, they had been 
blown off their course and had fetched 
up in Table Bay. Did they ever reach 
their destination? 

"Old Bob" Stephens was a fine yacht- 
builder. Among his customers was a 
fellow Australian named Edward 
Wearin, a railwayman with a deep 
love of the sea. "Old Bob" built the 
Advance for Wearin; a yacht rather 
like the scow types that raced in 
Sydney harbour at that time. She was 
only twenty-two feet overall, but 
seaworthy. Ted Wearin left the 



railways and went sailing in her. He 
sailed the little yacht up to German 
South West Africa and made so much 
money that he was able to buy the 
fifty -ton steamer Magnet. I have told 
Wearin' s story elsewhere, 1 but there 
was one famous episode which I 
have not related before. It was in 
January 1914 that Wearin was 
suddenly asked by Colonel F. H. P. 
Creswell (then leader of the Labour 
Party) and Advocate Lucas whether 
he could take the Magnet to sea 
immediately on a mission which they 
would disclose after they had left the 
docks. Wearin was tempted by the 
amount offered for the charter but 
pointed out that the boilers were cold 
and a scratch crew would have to be 



1 In my book "At Daybreak for the Isles", 
published by Timmins, 



found. However, the ship got away 
within a few hours at eleven that 
night and Creswell gave Wearin his 
orders. 

Wearin was to intercept the S. S. 
Umgeni outside Table Bay and bring 
back a group of Rand strike leaders 
who had been deported by General 
Smuts. Creswell had secured a court 
order, an injunction for the deportees 
to be released on bail. Meanwhile the 
Umgeni had sailed from Durban 
secretly with the whole passenger 
accommodation booked for the 
deportees. She was bound for 
London direct but when she passed 
the Agulhas light her master signall- 
ed: "All well." By this time the 
action by Smuts had been published 
and Creswell thought it would be 
possible to meet the Umgeni at sea 
and present the captain with the court 



order. Few ships carried wireless in 
those days. Creswell failed to secure 
a government tug and Wearin 's 
Magnet was the only available ship. 
In spite of all the difficulties the plan 
might have succeeded but the train, 
bringing Lucas to Cape Town arrived 
late. Wearin steered westwards at 
full speed and sighted the Umgeni but 
he was unable to overtake her. A 
daring and ingenious plan had failed. 
If only Wearin had been able to leave 
Table Bay Docks two hours earlier 
he would have intercepted the 
Umgeni. However, the episode did 
not influence the course of history to 
any extent for all the deportees 
returned to South Africa after a free 
if compulsory trip to England. 
"Young Bob", who often sailed with 
Wearin, told me that the Magnet 



earned more that day than she 
usually made as a sealer. 

Forgotten adventures! The Kinfauns 
Castle came into Table Bay early in 
1914 with a strange tale. About a 
hundred small fishing craft had been 
blown out to sea by a West African 
tornado and the few ships equipped 
with wireless at that time were asked 
to keep a sharp look-out for them. 
More than three hundred lives were 
saved by this early use of radio. A 
cable ship searched the ocean for six 
days and rescued a number of thirsty, 
starving men. A seaman in the 
crow's nest of the Kinfauns Castle 
noticed a tiny speck on the ocean. It 
was a canoe with two negroes lying 
unconscious under a white cloth. 
They soon recovered, and told the 
captain that two steamers had passed 
by and left them to their fate. 



Strange, romantic and mysterious 
craft entered Table Bay in the early 
years of the century. They were 
under observation, whether they 
knew it or not, and there are one or 
two secrets which I can now reveal. 
Some ships departed with their 
stories untold, leaving my burning 
curiosity unsatisfied. For years a man 
with the eyes of a seaman and the 
bearing of a soldier wandered about 
the docks with a small camera. His 
name was Jones and I have some of 
his faded photographs before me. He 
showed great interest in the 
experiences of all sorts of seafarers; 
but few of those who spoke to him 
realised that they were talking to a 
naval intelligence officer, later Lt.- 
Colonel H. L. Jones of the Royal 
Marines. He loved his work and had 
a special regard for the men who 



sailed to German South West Africa 
in little coasters. Among them was a 
drunken but amusing skipper named 
Anderson, owner and master of a 
lovely white three-masted barquen- 
tine. This vessel had been the British 
yacht Sunrise (not to be confused 
with Lord Brassey's famous Sun- 
beam). Then she had been renamed 
Yves de Kerguelen after the discover- 
er of the French sub-Antarctic island. 
She made several voyages to 
Kerguelen under the French flag; 
then Anderson bought her and 
changed the name to Isles of 
Kerguelen. He used to sail her to 
Walvis Bay and in the course of his 
legitimate business he gathered 
information about German activities 
along the coast. All this he passed on 
to Jones. 



Colonel Jones told me that he 
became uncrowned King of Table 
Bay Docks when war was declared in 
1914, and he ruled his domain from 
the Clock Tower. One noteworthy 
episode, remembered all too vividly 
by those who were there, was the 
arrival of the Italian barque Mincio 
towed by two Norwegian whalers. 
The Mincio, an iron ship of 1739 
tons, built in 1877, was two hundred 
and fifty feet long with a beam of 
thirty-eight feet. (Note those dimen- 
sions, for they have a direct bearing 
on the story.) Launched as the 
Cleomene, she had been sold to 
Italian owners and she had called at 
Luderitzbucht for provisions a few 
days before the declaration of war. 
War came and the Germans did not 
know what to do with more than two 
thousand Cape coloured labourers 



who had been working on the dia- 
mond fields. They sent two hundred 
of them to Table Bay in the German 
coaster Bismarck, but nearly two 
thousand remained. When the Mincio 
anchored off Luderitzbucht the 
Germans informed her captain that 
they would sell him provisions only 
on condition that he carried away the 
unwanted labourers. The captain for- 
esaw the frightful and dangerous 
conditions which would be caused by 
so many passengers and pointed out 
that his crew would be unable to 
handle the sails with such a crowd on 
deck. "You refuse? Then you cannot 
have food or water," replied the 
German harbourmaster. 

So the Mincio remained at anchor 
while her captain grappled with his 
insoluble problem. Some of his men 
fell ill and some communicable 



disease was suspected. The Germans 
placed the ship in quarantine, disin- 
fected her and kept the sick men 
under arrest on shore. Meanwhile the 
coloured labourers were still at work 
on the Kolmanskop diamond fields. 
Luderitzbucht was abandoned by the 
German forces and civilians, stores 
were taken up-country, the railway 
line was dismantled. German 
officials of the diamond company 
read out faked messages to the 
coloured men; they were told that the 
German army had entered Paris and 
that the British fleet had been sunk. 
Then they were asked to volunteer 
for service as transport-riders with 
the Germans in South West Africa, 
but very few responded. 

At this period of crisis two Norwe- 
gian whalers steamed in and asked for 
coal. They were told they could have 



the coal provided they towed the 
Mincio to Table Bay. The Italian 
agreed to this plan and all non-German 
subjects were asked to leave Luderitz- 
bucht in the sailing ship. White people 
had to pay five pounds a head, 
coloured labourers three pounds; and 
every passenger had to buy food 
before embarking. "Sleep where you 
can," the unhappy passengers were 
told when they went on board the 
Mincio. For most of them sleep was 
out of the question. Mr. G. K. Forbes, 
a British passenger, and twenty-eight 
other white people were given shelter, 
but the coloured men were huddled in 
every corner of the open deck. There 
were eighteen hundred and ninety-one 
of them standing and lying down in 
turn, and with only the most 
elementary sanitation. The Mincio was 
crowded like a slaver. It was 



impossible to serve proper food during 
the passage to Table Bay but the 
Italian cook handed out mealie meal 
and rice at intervals. In spite of the 
hardships only one man died during 
the six days at sea. He was sewn up in 
canvas and put over the side early one 
morning. 

Colonel Jones told me he looked out 
of the Clock Tower window when the 
Mincio was towed into Table Bay 
Docks and it seemed to the astonished 
onlookers that the ship was crawling 
with ants. No one had ever set eyes on 
such a human cargo before. As she 
passed between the Clock Tower and 
port office an appalling stench smote 
the whole area. Colonel Jones noticed 
that the ship was listing to starboard as 
she approached the West Quay. "She 
had hardly touched the fenders when 
nearly two thousand labourers jumped 



on shore and raced for the dock gates," 
declared Colonel Jones. "I have never 
seen anything so funny in my life. 
They poured through the gates into 
Dock Road without taking the slightest 
notice of the helpless officials. After 
the horrors of the Mincio they just 
wanted to get home." 

There were sequels to this most 
sensational arrival Table Bay Docks 
had ever witnessed. Colonel Jones 
found that he could not work in the 
Clock Tower owing to the smell from 
the Mincio, so he and Captain "Bully" 
Leigh, the port captain, paid an official 
visit. They got no further than the 
gangway. Her upper deck was a foot 
deep in every sort of filth, but the 
captain of the Mincio remarked: "I am 
quite happy - why should you worry?" 
Captain Leigh exploded at this and 



had the Mincio towed into the bay 
immediately. 

Cape Town banks were invaded by 
hopeful coloured labourers who 
presented the wages they had received 
from the diamond companies in 
German paper marks. Not a penny 
would anyone give them. The "Cape 
Argus" suggested that wealthy 
Germans who had not yet been 
interned might consider redeeming the 
paper money of their Fatherland. 
There was no response. A coloured 
labourer named Jack Johnson was 
charged with stealing worthless notes 
from his comrades during the voyage 
but the magistrate decided that he had 
no jurisdiction over a foreign ship 
outside the three-mile limit. William 
Small, an American negro who had 
been serving in the Mincio, 
complained to the American Consul 



that the Germans had given him 
twenty-five lashes in Luderitzbucht 
gaol after he had been knifed in the 
stomach in a fo'c'stle brawl. He went 
to hospital. And to the relief of 
everyone at Table Bay Docks the 
Mincio sailed in ballast for the Gulf of 
Mexico without putting her nose into 
the harbour again. 

Were the cargoes handled at Table 
Bay Docks more romantic in the days 
of my youth? I set eyes on strange 
bales and cases, and there always 
seemed to be a friendly stevedore at 
hand to explain the names to an eager 
schoolboy. I saw dragon's blood from 
Japan, the resin used as a medicine; 
camphor and cassia-buds, aniseed oil 
and musk. Once there was a barque 
from India with a manifest that called 
for an interpreter; she had piece-goods 
such as palampores, doosooties and 



cushtaes; bales of salempores, the 
cotton fabrics known as baftahs and 
carridaries; strong towels called 
humhums; Calcutta silk loonghees and 
paunch mats. She had the coarse 
brown sugar called jaggery on board; 
gunny bags of mirabolines like acorns; 
casks of tamarinds and bales of 
madder, the root that yields a brilliant 
red dye. 

Zanzibar sent beeswax in beer 
hogsheads. There were bales of 
cinnamon and chests of cloves, coffee 
in casks. Bags of pepper arrived, too, 
stowed away from all other edible 
cargo so that the aroma would not 
spoil more delicate flavours. Dates 
came in cases and barrels. Tea ship- 
ments bore marks such as "Gun- 
powder", "Hyson" and "Pekoe". 
Western Province wheat was loaded 
for Mauritius, a treacherous cargo that 



shifted at sea if it was not stowed 
carefully. You could find barrels of 
anchovies, kegs of sturgeon, Irish 
hams in casks, puncheons of rum. 
Palm kernels sometimes proclaimed 
their presence by an odour that made 
the stevedores giddy. Puce was another 
dangerous cargo in old-fashioned 
ships; it heated the hold like an oven. 
Yes, I studied commerce and 
geography in my own way when I was 
a schoolboy. Table Bay Docks, the 
small harbour of those days, taught me 
to recognise everything from copra to 
whangee canes. 




Chapter Three 
Skeleton Harbour 



Cape Town is a city built on 
skeletons. In the mud of the harbour 
and along the old shoreline rest 
thousands who perished during the 
gales and the plagues of the centuries. 
Often as a reporter I was sent to 
excavations where builders or drainage 
gangs had unearthed skulls and bones. 
Sailors and citizens of long ago came 



up into the sunlight and I tried to guess 
how they had died. 

Professor M. R. Drennan the anatomist 
made a collection of skulls found by 
chance. Oldest of all were the 
Strandlopers who roamed the Table 
Bay beaches long before Van 
Riebeeck's arrival. The banks of the 
Salt River yielded skulls of many 
South African native races and the 
professor could not explain, why so 
many primitive people should have 
gone to their graves in that area. 
Perhaps there were devastating 
epidemics so long ago that the folklore 
of the Bushmen and Hottentots held 
no memories of the old disasters. 

When railway engineers demolished 
Fort Knokke to build a new main line 
they searched for the legendary 
secret passage between the fort and 
the Castle. All they found were 



South African War relics: dixies, 
stirrups, rusty rifles - and skeletons. 
No doubt they were the bones of 
soldiers buried there in the days 
when star-shaped Fort Knokke, the 
powder magazines and other build- 
ings were links in the "Sea Lines" 
stretching along the waterfront. 
Ziekestraat has also given up its dead 
in recent years. You know it as 
Corporation Street but in the early 
days of the Cape settlement it ran 
beside the Company's hospital. 
When the zieketroosters failed in 
their task, when scurvy-stricken 
sailors died, the bodies were buried 
close to the first of all Cape 
hospitals. And when the ground was 
excavated for a new parking garage a 
few years ago the skulls appeared of 
men who had never dreamt of motor- 
cars. 



I was reminded of these strange 
encounters with old Capetonians 
when the mile-long tunnel was made 
recently between the post office and 
the new railway station. The tunnel 
runs along the edge of the site of Van 
Riebeeck's mud fort, the square 
"Good Hope" fort with four bastions, 
and the Amstel or Fresh River 
flowed past one bastion. This fort 
covered almost half the present 
Parade and parts of it remained there 
for half a century. As the Parade was 
not built over, the ground was not 
disturbed until the post office tunnel 
pierced the unexplored area. Fore- 
men in charge of this sort of work 
are alive to the possibility of 
discovering historic relics, and Mr. 
R. O. Gericke reported finding old 
glass and pottery, porcelain and 
seventeenth century clay pipes in the 



Amstel River bed. Finally he came 
upon two coffins, side by side. 
University archaeologists and other 
scientists then carried out a clever 
piece of detective work and decided 
that the remains went right back to 
the Van Riebeeck period. These may 
have been the remains of Siven 
Erasmus and Jacob Hartensz. 
According to an entry in Van 
Riebeeck's diary on May 20, 1652, 
these were the first two men to die as 
a result of illness in the new Cape 
settlement. The excavations also 
brought to light old Dutch and Flemish 
pottery, Chinese ware, corroded glass 
and parts of a shoe. Relics found under 
the railway station were fairly recent; 
late Victorian inkpots, mineral water 
bottles and china. 

Cape Town has known many epide- 
mics, some so deadly that the streets 



became silent. People chewed angelica 
root and orange peel in the hope of 
warding off various plagues. Horses 
did their work with herbs in their 
nostrils. There were panic-stricken 
days and weeks when the death-roll 
seemed to threaten the whole 
population. 

Important people who died at sea in 
the Dutch East India Company's ships 
were not always buried at sea. When 
the ship carried sand ballast the body 
would be interred in the hold and re- 
buried in church on arrival in Table 
Bay. This was the procedure when the 
wife of a merchant died in the 
Vliegende Swaan towards the end of 
the seventeenth century. Soon after- 
wards the Council of Policy decided to 
remove the church and burial ground 
from the fort. Hundreds of people 
were buried in and round the Dutch 



Reformed Church at the top of the 
Heerengracht. During a funeral in the 
eighteen-forties a vault fell in and 
several people disappeared suddenly. 
They escaped with their lives and the 
graveyard then received attention. 

Smallpox reached Cape Town early in 
the eighteenth century. This was the 
epidemic which almost exterminated 
the Hottentots and carried off one- 
quarter of the white people. Smallpox 
was then known as kinderziekte 
because so many children died. During 
one epidemic the military authorities 
were unable to call up the forces for 
the annual parade. It was reported that 
"owing to the mortality in the ranks 
and the loss of trumpeters, pipers and 
drummers the muster would make a 
miserable show and would far from 
impress any foreign vessels that 
happened to be riding in Table Bay." 



It seems that the first smallpox 
contagion entered Cape Town in the 
clothing of people who had been ill 
during the passage from India. 
Washerwomen at the slave lodge were 
among the first victims. Corpses of so 
many Hottentots lay about the settle- 
ment that the air was fouled and burial 
parties had to be sent to every kraal. 
The diarist recorded that the air was 
"very unwholesome" and noted that 
two pigeons fell dead from the 
governor's house in the Castle. Soon 
there was no timber for coffins. Nearly 
one thousand white people died in one 
epidemic and more than that number 
of slaves. Smallpox was, of course, the 
scourge of the world during the 
eighteenth century and it accounted for 
ten per cent of the mortality from all 
causes; thus the world was willing to 
try any promise of a remedy. Jenner's 



investigations into the link between 
cowpox and the immunity enjoyed by 
cowherds from smallpox led to 
vaccination and very early last century 
a Portuguese ship brought the first 
consignment of vaccine to the Cape. 
Many patients were treated at 
Rentzkie's Farm within sound of the 
Table Bay breakers. More than a 
thousand people who died of smallpox 
were buried on the farm. 

Only the toughest people survived the 
surgery of the eighteenth century. 
Valentyn, the Dutch clergyman and 
author, watched a soldier's arm being 
amputated above the elbow after it had 
been shattered by a cannon shot. "He 
was placed in a chair and only begged 
the surgeon not to hurt him more than 
was necessary," Valentyn wrote. "The 
surgeon having made the incision cut 
through the bone with three jerks. The 



arm was shown to the poor fellow and 
a cordial was given to him, when he 
said: 'God be thanked that I have been 
able to endure the pain.' He died two 
days later." 

Conditions in the Cape Town hospitals 
during the eighteenth century were 
responsible for many deaths. Governor 
Louis van Assenbergh investigated the 
high death rate and discovered various 
scandals. People suffering from all 
sorts of illnesses were in the same 
wards. Patients able to crawl visited a 
tavern close by. One cook and two 
slave assistants prepared the meals for 
five hundred people. Towards the end 
of that century there were two 
physicians and they often had one 
thousand patients in hospital. Every 
ship brought one hundred or more 
scurvy cases. One eighteenth century 
visitor gave other reasons for the high 



death-rate in Cape Town. "Vast 
numbers die between forty and fifty 
so that a very old man or woman is 
reckoned a wonder," she wrote. 
"They are a gross people, eating a 
good deal of grease in their food and 
needing exercise. Labour is left 
entirely to the slaves." 

Under the Castle lie countless 
skeletons, as one might expect in a 
building where so many men were 
tortured and executed. Skulls and 
skeletons, iron neckbands and 
thumbscrews have been found in the 
dungeons. Dutch governors built five 
long tunnels from the Castle as 
escape or communication routes. One 
led to Roeland Street, the second to 
Hof Street, the third to Fort Knokke 
and the fourth and fifth to the Imhoff 
and Craig batteries close by. One 
tunnel was discovered in recent years 



when the floor gave way and a man 
fell into a dark passage among a heap 
of bones. When the bones were 
examined some were found to be 
human, others animal. They must 
have been there for centuries, and no 
one was able to solve the mystery. 
Mr. G. W. Allen, soldier and guide at 
the Castle, explored all the tunnels as 
far as possible, until he reached 
points where they had caved in. Now 
all the entrances and exits have been 
sealed as a safety measure. 

Cape Town's small police force was 
in charge of sanitation just before the 
middle of last century. Two wagons, 
fourteen carts and two water carts 
were provided; but a quarter of a 
century passed before the citizens 
approved of an efficient service for 
the removal of buckets and the 
cleaning of the streets. This was a 



time when people believed that 
smells caused disease. The first view 
of Cape Town was from the sea. 
When the newcomer landed he was 
shocked to find stinking canals 
bearing every sort of rubbish to the 
harbour. Much of the filth was flung 
back on to the beaches by the tides. 
Skeleton harbour indeed! 

A mysterious epidemic added more 
than one thousand skeletons to Cape 
Town's graveyards a century ago. 
This was the so-called "Mauritius 
fever". Some doctors swore it had 
come from Mauritius; others 
declared it had arisen in Cape Town 
as a result of the weather combined 
with filthy conditions. To this day the 
medical historians have been unable to 
find an accurate scientific name for the 
disease that haunted Cape Town for 
months and killed one person in thirty. 



The death-rate among the afflicted was 
one in five. Dr. Landsberg, the dispen- 
sary doctor, first reported the epidemic 
when he found an unusually large 
number of fever cases arriving for 
treatment. Patients suffered from 
weariness, cold chills and persistent 
headaches; some became deaf, others 
were delirious. The attack lasted ten 
days and those who recovered were 
soon back at work. Dr. R. Lawson, 
inspector general of hospitals, had 
prophesied that a wave of illness 
would occur in mid-winter; and the 
same disease was reported almost 
simultaneously in Mauritius and Cape 
Town. It was not malaria but small 
doses of quinine were given as a tonic. 
The doctors also prescribed aperients 
and emetics and encouraged perspi- 
ration. The Rev. T. E. Fuller, then 
editor of the "Cape Argus" (afterwards 



Sir Thomas Fuller, M.L.A.) raised 
£500 for soup kitchens. The govern- 
ment provided extra medical help but 
the doctors were overworked and the 
New Somerset Hospital was over- 
crowded. Dr. Landsberg went down 
with the fever but recovered; Doctors 
Graf and Brown were among the 
victims who died. The epidemic 
became so serious that the Old 
Somerset Hospital, which had been 
closed for years, was re-opened by the 
government to help those who could 
not find beds elsewhere. Altogether 
more than five thousand people caught 
"Mauritius fever". 

When it was all over Major R. 
Thornton, a military surgeon, pointed 
out that there had been only two 
deaths in the garrison of nearly two 
thousand men. Nine hundred convicts 
had escaped the epidemic completely. 



Among the six hundred lepers on 
Robben Island there had been two 
mild cases and no deaths. Major 
Thornton deduced that "Mauritius 
fever" had been caused by dirt and 
want and a flagrant disregard for all 
the ordinary laws. He recommended a 
better water supply, examination of 
fresh food and cemeteries outside the 
city limits. He was also in favour of 
the registration of births and deaths. 
Major Thornton emphasised the 
wisdom of calling in a doctor as soon 
as possible. "Those who did not get 
medical help suffered most," he said. 
"The worst doctor a man can have is 
himself. He may take the right thing 
at the wrong time." 

I discovered a queer sidelight on 
Cape Town's attitude towards vital 
statistics a century ago. Incredible 
though it may seem, the signalman 



on top of Signal Hill was expected to 
keep the death records. He could see 
the funerals in the Somerset Road 
cemeteries and also the Malay 
funeral processions near Hottentot 
Square (later Riebeeck Square). So 
he entered up each funeral in his log- 
book and that was the only record. 
Burials carried out stealthily at night 
were common at that period but these 
escaped the signalman's telescope. 

Only in the eighteen-seventies did 
Cape Town realise that the 
cemeteries and unofficial burial 
grounds within the Municipality had 
become a menace to health. For 
decades the cemeteries had been so 
crowded that gravediggers were 
always cutting into coffins and 
skeletons. Scores of vaults had 
become a nuisance, for very few 
coffins were lined with lead and the 



stench was dreadful. Doors collapsed 
or were torn down by vagrants in 
search of shelter and the bones of the 
dead were exposed. Men burrowing 
in the Somerset Road cemeteries 
were sometimes buried alive when a 
vault caved in; luckier ones were 
arrested and sent off to the treadmill. 

It was claimed that most of the 
smallpox victims during the epide- 
mic in the middle of last century 
were people who lived near the 
cemeteries. The worst areas was 
known as White Sands, close to the 
New Somerset Hospital. Early last 
century a peculiar negro sect known 
as the "Angolas" had started burying 
their dead at White Sands; then it 
became the place where dead horses 
and cattle were buried or just left to 
rot. People who did not belong to 
any congregation used White Sands 



as a graveyard and the conditions 
there became intolerable. "The 
graves are dug on the Common at the 
pleasure of the parties who make 
them," reported the "Cape Argus". 
"The sandy soil is only three feet 
deep so there is not much covering on 
the bodies. Cattle graze among the 
graves." All the cemeteries, official 
and unofficial, were closed in 1886 
and a healthier era opened with the 
proclamation of the Maitland ceme- 
teries. 

It was not until a few years after 
World War I that the Somerset Road 
cemeteries were finally cleared up and 
levelled. Official notices appeared in 
the newspapers inviting relatives to 
claim any relics they wished to 
remove. Many coffins and gravestones 
were taken away. Anatomy students 
claimed skeletons to which they may 



or may not have been entitled. Among 
those buried in this area was the 
famous architect Louis-Michel 
Thibault and Herman Schutte the 
builder. Professor D. Bax, who 
searched the records kept early last 
century in the hope of finding 
Thibault' s grave, thought the site was 
in the middle of Buitengracht Street 
about fifty feet from the Somerset 
Road corner. A picture of Thibault' s 
tombstone is to be seen in the Cape 
archives but the stone has never been 
located. Museum directors keep in 
touch with builders and excavators in 
the hope that historic relics will come 
to the surface when trenches and 
foundations are dug. Skeletons, seven- 
teenth and eighteenth century china 
and porcelain, glass bottles, coins and 
"post office stones" are greatly valued 
by museum staffs. 



Those who know the gruesome story 
of Somerset Road and Gallows Hill 
are not surprised when skulls and 
skeletons are found in. that neighbour- 
hood by men digging foundations. I 
remember one skeleton that still had 
rusty irons round the legs. Criminals 
and soldiers convicted of military 
offences were hanged or shot and 
buried at the scene of execution. 
Petrus Borcherds in his "Autobio- 
graphical Memoir" described the 
shooting of three army deserters at 
Gallows Hill during the Batavian 
Republic regime. One was the son of a 
clergyman. "His coolness when 
preparing to meet his fate was 
remarkable," Borcherds wrote. 
"Methinks I see him yet, kneeling 
upon the small heap of white sand, 
taking off his military cap previously 
to being blindfolded. The native 



garrison marched past the corpse, by 
order of the general, for example's 
sake." 

Gallows Hill was paved with blue 
flagstones and there were sockets for 
the crossbeam from which the bodies 
were suspended. Then the bodies 
were buried on the eastern slope of 
the hill. I found this account of an 
execution in the eighteen-thirties: 
"On Thursday last the two brothers 
convicted of a series of robberies 
underwent the dreadful penalty of the 
law at the usual place of execution. 
They seemed resigned and patient 
and possessed fortitude to the last. 
Having shaken hands with the 
convicts who were placed round the 
gallows they joined in prayer with 
the clergyman. They then ascended 
the scaffold and while the execu- 
tioner was adjusting the fatal cord 



they employed their few remaining 
moments in warning the immense 
multitudes of the effects of small 
crimes which were sure to lead to 
greater. Hence the ignominious and 
premature death which now awaited 
them." About thirty years ago post 
office men were excavating the 
foundation of a telephone pole at the 
Gallows Hill site when they 
uncovered two skeletons. Perhaps 
they were the robbers who had rested 
there for a century. 

When old graveyards in Cape Town 
are dug up, George III copper 
pennies are sometimes recovered. 
They bear the date 1797. Many of 
them reached the Cape during the 
first British occupation; they were 
given the value of two pence and 
were known as koper dubbeltjies. 
These heavy coins were placed over 



the eyes of the dead to keep them 
shut, and some people believed they 
came in useful for paying Charon for 
the j ourney over the Styx. 

Paarden Eiland and the area where 
Brooklyn now stands were scenes of 
a number of dramatic finds years ago 
when the ground was a waste of 
sandhills and bush. I remember 
visiting Ysterplaat with other report- 
ers more than forty years ago to 
investigate the discovery of a burial 
vault after heavy rain had washed 
away part of the Salt River bank. 
Ysterplaat homestead, occupied by 
the Ehlers family, was the oldest 
building on the river. The family had 
never suspected the existence of the 
vault, but a queer story came to light 
as a result of the publicity. Near the 
vault there was a slate headstone with 
German lettering which read; 



Here rests in God 
Friedrich Adolph Siems 
Born May 23 1783 
And happy in the Lord 
Fell asleep March 11 1799 
My first years were sixteen in 
number and gave me pain and 

great 
suffering, therefore I forsook it 
and went to eternity 

Inside the vault there were two coffins 
which appeared to have been smashed 
deliberately. Name plates had been 
removed but some bones were found. 
People living in the neighbourhood 
said they remembered the vault and 
one old man informed me that he had 
attended funerals in a small cemetery 
at that spot. It was used by the local 
farmers. Records at the Cape Archives 
were searched, and it was established 
that Friedrich Siems was the son of 



Johan Siems, a carpenter who had 
arrived at the Cape as a soldier in 1775 
and had been granted land on the Diep 
River some years afterwards. Friedrich 
Siems had a slave mother but in 1790 
the mother and child had been freed. 
When the facts were published the 
Ehlers family remembered that two 
Germans had come to the farm and 
stated that they were searching for the 
graves of two German sailors who had 
died at the Cape in the early days. 
Later the Germans called again and 
reported that the search had been 
successful. The mystery of the vault 
and the tombstone has never been 
cleared up but it seems possible that 
the Germans removed the name plates 
from the coffins. Lt. -Colonel Graham 
Botha told me that he thought the men 
were tracing a line of inheritance 



leading to a legacy. Friedrich Siems 
may have committed suicide. 

Hundreds of bodies were washed up 
on Paarden Island after shipwrecks in 
Dutch East India Company days and 
the drowned seamen were buried 
there in long trenches. Hottentots 
who died during the smallpox 
epidemics were also buried there. 
The shores of Table Bay have 
revealed even more ancient 
skeletons. I saw one skeleton four 
feet six inches in height, in sitting 
posture, with stone implements 
beside it. There were the axe-heads 
and arrow sharpeners and grinders 
the little Strandloper had used in his 
lifetime. He had rested in a sand- 
dune since the late Stone Age, 
possibly for seven thousand years. 



Chapter Four 
Old Naval Base 



Simon's Bay, that small and 
crowded harbour within the great arms 
of False Bay, has its own rich past, its 
own memories of ships and seamen. 
You may hear the clatter of Malay 
clogs on worn stone terraces and smell 
the menacing smoke of bush fires; but 
always in the streets of Simon's Town 
there is the salt air that comes in from 
deep waters to remind you of sailors 
and vanished fleets. Now and again 
the naval harbour gives up its secrets. 
Between the wars, I remember, an old 
residence near the Dutch Reformed 
Church was demolished; and then, 
after more than a century, the sunlight 
fell again on the dungeons where Mrs. 
Martha Hurter once kept her slaves. 
When the sealed rooms were opened 
the instruments of torture were still 



there. Among the oldest houses close 
to the Simon's Town beach is the 
restored eighteenth century residence 
called Klein Visch Hoek and marked 
on the charts as "conspicuous white 
house." Lord Charles Somerset went 
fishing and hunting from this thatched 
and gabled house; and his son, Colonel 
Henry Somerset, lived there early last 
century. The walls are two feet thick 
and the kitchen chimney is one of the 
largest in the Cape, with an enormous 
bread oven. Millions of harders have 
been salted in oaken tubs on the beach 
close to the stoep. Simon's Town is 
full of old guns, so old that some were 
cast long before the Dutch settlement 
at the Cape. You can see the heavy 
Portuguese cannon bearing the royal 
arms and tiny swivel muzzle-loaders 
used by slave traders or pirates in the 
bows of their cutters. One retired 



pirate bought a mansion at Simon's 
Town and lived so well there with his 
family that people called his home 
"The Palace"; hence the Palace 
Barracks. The bones of many slavers 
lie in the sands of Simon's Bay and 
modern clivers find their keel timbers, 
cannon-balls and cannon. All sorts of 
old-fashioned nautical relics come to 
the surface; earthenware jars that held 
marmalade in Nelson's day; pots that 
contained "Holloway's cure for gout 
and rheumatism"; soft copper 
cartridges with heavy bullets; clay 
pipes by the score; brass candle-lamps 
and anchors with wooden stocks. 
Huge piles of rubbish were being 
thrown on to bonfires during World 
War II when a naval chaplain saved a 
pair of antique chairs from the blaze. 
Small brass plates were revealed when 
the chairs were cleaned. The chairs 



had been fashioned out of oak from 
one of Nelson's ships and had been 
presented to the dockyard by the great 
admiral himself. Long ago I met 
Simon's Town people who remem- 
bered a coal hulk that was moored in 
the bay for many years, formerly 
H.M.S. Badger, the ten-gun brig 
commanded by Horatio Nelson as a 
young lieutenant during the blockade 
of the Bay of Honduras near Panama. 
His duty was to guard British mer- 
chant ships threatened by American 
privateers. Yes, the small anchorage of 
Simon's Bay has known great seamen. 

Fishermen were the first settlers on the 
shores of Simon's Bay during our 
three centuries but they came 
thousands of years after primitive man. 
A cave in a precipice at Waterfall 
Kloof was inhabited by people of the 
Middle Stone Age. This natural 



fortress, with a sheer drop of three 
hundred feet below the entrance, gave 
them a perfect sanctuary in their world 
of dangerous beasts. The fishermen 
appear to have been sent to the "Baay 
Fals" by the Dutch East India 
Company in the seventeen-thirties. A 
rough track was made from Kalk Bay 
to Simon's Bay. Then came govern- 
ment buildings, the powder magazine, 
stores and barracks, the bakery and 
hospital. Stavorinus, the master 
mariner, described the hospital 
building. "One hundred patients can 
with ease be admitted," he wrote. "It is 
built on the brow of a hill, with a triple 
front towards the sea. The apartments 
which are lofty without ceilings are 
very airy. In the centre is a large 
square court, so that the sick here have 
always fresh air which contributes 
largely to their recovery. The hospital 



at Cape Town is destitute of that 
advantage, whence twice as many of 
the patients die there as here." 

Simon's Bay had a wharf two 
centuries ago. Cattle grazed on Redhill 
and in the valleys, meat and vegetables 
were sent out to scurvy-ridden ships in 
the bay. Adriaan de Nys, ancestor of 
Colonel Denys Reitz, was an early 
postholder, and he kept a diary 
recording the weather and movements 
of ships. It was still a tiny settlement 
late in the eighteenth century, 
however, and Andrew Sparrman the 
Swedish physician remarked: "A 
tradesman or two have got leave to 
build an inn here, in which however 
there is not always room and 
conveniences sufficient to receive all 
such as, after a long sea voyage, are 
desirous of refreshing themselves on 
shore, the ships that land here being 



chiefly such as contain not much 
above twenty passengers." Sparrman 
said the lodging-houses kept a 
"tolerable good table." A farmer 
named Ecksteen built a wine-house at 
the shore end of the wharf, the first of 
many. Admiral Elphinstone was 
horrified by the conditions on shore 
and reported to the Fiscal, W. S. van 
Ryneveld: "There is a licensed wine- 
house where boats are sent for water. 
Seamen are constantly intoxicated and 
commit the most unwarrantable 
excesses, chasing the officers ashore 
and alarming the inhabitants. Nine 
men who put off with a boat have not 
since been heard of; they were 
overcome with liquor and are 
supposed to have been drowned." An 
early British governor recommended 
that a military detachment should 
always be stationed at Simon's Town 



"as riots and disturbances are not 
infrequent." In the end Ecksteen had to 
move his wine-house away from the 
wharf. 

Naval executions were carried out on 
board ships in Simon's Bay at 
intervals of years. James Hoiman, a 
Royal Navy lieutenant who retired 
when he lost his sight, was present in 
H.M.S. Tweed in 1829 when a bo'sun 
was hanged for murder. A gun was 
fired and the murderer was hanged 
from the fore yardarm. There he 
remained for twenty minutes. The 
body was then lowered into a boat and 
taken on shore for burial. 

When the Russian sloop Diana called 
at Simon's Bay early last century Vice 
Admiral V. M. Golovnin recorded his 
impressions. He thought the farmers 
neglected other forms of agriculture in 
favour of wines and spirits; and he 



praised the Constantia wine made 
from Persian grapes and sold in small 
barrels each holding five buckets. The 
mutton supplied to the ship was fat 
and tasty and far superior to the beef. 
Butchers prepared fine mutton hams 
and polonies and these kept fresh in 
any climate. The polonies were a foot 
long, one inch in diameter, made of 
pork and other meats and fat with 
various spices; they were bound in 
bundles of twenty-four and sewn up in 
airtight bladders. Admiral Golovnin 
also noted that seabirds were caught 
alive and fed on flour mixed with tepid 
water. After a fortnight on diet the 
birds lost all flavour of seaweed and 
fish and were ready for the table. He 
was assured that an albatross treated in 
this way became as tasty as a domestic 
goose. His crew salted fifty shear- 
waters and a few penguins. They also 



found seal meat very wholesome but 
the admiral preferred the kidney and 
liver. Simon's Town people showed 
the Russians how to prepare steenbras 
so that it would lose its toughness and 
keep for some time; they marinaded 
the firm white flesh in vinegar, onions, 
garlic, pepper and saffron. The admiral 
had to contend with scurvy in those 
days and he sent his men to collect 
young shoots of wild asparagus on the 
Simon's Town hillside. Cooked with 
meat and rice, it served as an antidote. 
The Russian sailors also gathered 
nettles and gout-weed. 

Among the Simon's Town characters 
early last century was Sampson Dyer, 
an American negro who was granted 
British citizenship. He arrived in a 
schooner from Nantucket and joined 
the Cloete, Reitz and Anderson 
whaling enterprise as a harpooner. 



Then he was sent from False Bay to 
take charge of a seal island west of 
Cape Agulhas. Myriads of seals 
flourished on the coffin-shaped island 
and the seabirds darkened the sun. 
American sealers were raiding most of 
the South African islands at this period 
and sending the skins to China; but 
landing at Dyer's Island (as it was 
called) was so dangerous that the 
Americans left it to Dyer and his men. 
Dyer lived in a hut on the mainland 
opposite the island. One night he heard 
gunfire and rowed out to find a large 
vessel of the English East India 
Company firing the distress signals. 
She had sailed in among the rocks and 
kelp in a fog and could not find a way 
out. Dyer saved the ship and the 
captain paid the clever negro a 
miserable reward of one guinea. 



Simon's Town in the middle of last 
century was still a single row of flat- 
roofed houses with a fort at each end. 
Ships of the Royal Navy went out 
from there to Mozambique and 
Mauritius, St. Helena and Sierra 
Leone; steam gunboats and brigs 
cruising in search of slavers and earn- 
ing prize money. The captured 
Portuguese slaver Eolo was sunk next 
to the Admiralty pier to strengthen the 
pier and many other slavers were 
broken up on the beaches. An account 
of Simon's Town in 1858 says that the 
population of fifteen hundred was 
"very mixed." White people were the 
business men, the natives were the 
"coolies" or labourers. The town lived 
almost entirely on supplying the men- 
o'-war and the dockyard. There were 
four churches, five schools and a 
reading-room, but no municipality 



worth mentioning. The writer 
suggested that this was hardly a disad- 
vantage when one considered the 
"stinking drains, overcrowded houses, 
scarcity of water and heaving burial 
grounds of Cape Town." Simon's 
Town had a magistrate who was also 
collector of customs, and the writer 
evidently preferred the naval port to 
Cape Town. He spoke with pride of 
the handsome and commodious hotel 
with its raised stoep and billiard room. 
"Some people think that Simon's Bay 
is not a pretty place," he remarked. 
"Others again admire it. It has fine 
scenery, hill and water. The outline is 
bold as artist can desire, and the view 
to the eastward at sunset on a clear 
evening is gorgeous. The range of hills 
from Cape Hangklip to away beyond 
the Paarl show the most beautiful 
effects of light and shade, gold and 



purple; and sunrise over the same hills 
is as brilliant a prospect as can well be 
imagined." 

Twelve oxen were needed to haul the 
wagons up the steep road behind the 
bay. "Horsemen can go up readily 
enough and a pleasant ride it is when 
you emerge on the tableland above 
and feel the cool air," goes on the 
centuryold description I have quoted. 
"Staid, elderly parties have been 
known to frisk like kittens under its 
influence. Game is not abundant, but 
if preserved would soon become so. 
This narrow peninsula is shot over in 
season and out by people from the 
ships, the town and farmers who hunt 
for the market. The game consists of 
roebuck, grysbok, klipspringer and 
hare, a small pheasant the size of 
grouse, partridge, quail, snipe and 
wild duck." 



Malays were among the first Kaap- 
stad people to migrate to Simon's 
Bay, and their descendants settled in 
white cottages round the Thomas 
Street mosque. The pioneer Malays 
were fishermen; then came trades- 
men and craftsmen. Recently there 
were a thousand of them, fishermen, 
builders, tailors, launderers, hard- 
working people who preserved their 
religion and traditions in this shelter- 
ed corner of the Cape. Here they cut 
up and steamed fragrant orange and 
fig leaves for the feast on the Pro- 
phet's birthday. Here a learned 
imaum translated the Koran into 
Afrikaans; the priest who was also 
principal of the Malay school for 
several decades. Simon's Town has 
known fine personalities among the 
Malays. Hadji Bakaar Manuel used 
to boast that his father Tifley Manuel 



had washed the clothing of three 
British princes during the eighteen- 
eighties. He declared that H.M.S. 
Raleigh was the favourite British 
man-o'-war of last century. When 
she paid off hundreds of Malays 
followed her in decorated fishing 
boats, shouting their farewells until 
she passed Roman Rock. As a boy of 
twelve Bakaar Manuel saw the first 
train steam into the small, low 
Simon's Town station. That was in 
1890, and many people enjoyed a 
free ride to Glencairn stone quarry 
and back. They welcomed the 
opening of the railway as cart drivers 
had been charging passengers ten 
shillings a head for the ride from 
Kalk Bay to Simon's Town. Often it 
was easier to transport goods by sea; 
and old Malays have spoken to me of 
the cutters that sailed in with food. 



Farm wagons also arrived from 
Stellenbosch with dried fruit. Good 
coffee cost sixpence a pound, sugar 
twopence, rice twopence half-penny. 
Wine was a tickey a bottle and brandy 
sevenpence. Each ox-wagon had to 
pay one shilling and twopence at the 
Simon's Town toll gate. There cannot 
be many still living who remember the 
toll system - or the time signals fired 
at five in the morning and nine at night 
from British men-o'-war in the bay. 
The early morning gun warned 
dockyard labourers that they would 
have to rise if they wished to earn their 
pay, half-a-crown a day. And nine 
o'clock was closing time in the public 
bars. 

Malay fishermen have left their mark 
on the Simon's Bay maps. Certain 
rocks bear Malay names, Bat Besar 
and Bat Sattoe. Jaffer's Bay at Cole 



Point was named after a famous 
skipper. My account of Simon's Bay a 
century ago describes the Malays as 
"muscular, long-winded oarsmen." 
Five or six men formed a boat's crew 
in those days, and when fish, were 
plentiful each man earned from fifteen 
to twenty shillings a day. They worked 
from five to noon as a rule and basked 
in the sun for the rest of the day. 
Stumpnose, roman and seventy-four, 
rare in Table Bay, were among the 
main catches of the Simon's Town 
fishermen. "Quantities of mullet are 
captured in the course of the year," 
says the writer. "They are a small fish, 
something like the herring in appear- 
ance, but do not come near them in 
flavour. They are a great addition to 
the breakfast table, but it would be 
sacrilege to mention them in the same 
breath as a Loch Fyne herring or a 



salmon trout. It is great fun to see a net 
hauled in and the different fish 
jumping and gleaming; the silvery 
mullet and the zebralike stripes and 
hues of others contrasting with the 
bright vermilion of the stumpnose or 
the deeper red of the roman." 

Hauls worth up to two hundred pounds 
were made at that period. Mullet were 
salted and sold to the farmers at three 
pounds a thousand to feed their 
labourers. Oysters were punched off 
the rocks with crowbars at low water. 
Crawfish were far more common than 
they are today. Strange to say, this 
writer does not mention the snoek that 
gave Simon's Town the nickname of 
"Snoekie". 

Malays manned some of the open 
boats that hunted whales in those 
waters. It was often a dangerous game, 
the sport of heroes, for the old hand- 



flung harpoons never killed the whale. 
The boat approached the palpitating 
black mountain cautiously. When the 
sharp iron entered the flesh the whale 
usually made off, towing the boat. 
Sometimes it lashed out and then the 
boat was smashed and the crew would 
have to be rescued. When the whale 
streaked off, mad with pain, the 
skipper let the harpoon line run free, 
then made fast and allowed the whale 
to tow the boat. Scores of people raced 
along the waterfront to watch the 
drama. Sometimes the whale headed 
for open sea and at last the harpooner 
would have to make a hard decision 
and cut the rope. But if the whale lost 
blood and became tired the boat would 
creep in and the harpooner would 
stand in the bows with lance poised. 
One shrewd thrust would finish the 
whale. Hundreds of people then 



assembled on Long Beach to see the 
blubber go into the cauldrons. Once 
there was a skipper named Abdol 
Clark who came alongside a right 
whale with calf, lost his head and 
lanced the calf. The mother whale 
dived to lift the calf, found it was dead 
and attacked the boat in a frenzy. The 
crew tried to go astern but the whale 
took the bows in her mouth and tore 
the whole forward part of the boat 
away. Those men were in the water for 
two hours before Hablutzel came out 
in his whaler Sea Queen and rescued 
them. 

Sharks have found human victims in 
Simon's Bay, but the shark episode 
that lingers in my mind was an escape. 
I was sailing in those waters at the 
time, May 1922, but never did I dare 
to plunge into the warm anchorage. A 
young man named E. G. Pells took the 



risk, however, and struck out with the 
idea of swimming round the training 
ship General Botha. He was halfway 
to the ship when he felt a swirl of 
water and then a shock as though a 
torpedo had collided with him. Pells 
realised at once that it was a shark. 
Next moment the rows of teeth were 
tearing at his back and left thigh. Then 
the shark moved downwards, carrying 
Pells with him. 

Pells fought hard and tore himself free. 
He was about fifteen feet below the 
surface and he could see the dark 
shape looming beside him. In spite of 
pain and shock he kept his head. His 
main fear at this point was that he 
would be unable to hold his breath 
long enough, for his lungs were almost 
bursting. At last the green light 
changed to sunshine. Pells saw white 
foam and his own blood on the surface 



- and a small rowing boat with three 
elderly Malays on board. The Malays 
had observed the attack and were 
hauling up their anchor, a large stone 
on a rope. Pells swam weakly towards 
the boat and clung to the side. As the 
Malays were dragging him on board 
the shark raced up. Pells always 
remembered the look of horror on the 
faces of the Malays as they saw this 
ferocious enemy. It seemed that the 
boat would be upset but the shark 
moved away. Within minutes Pells 
was on the wharf. Very soon he found 
himself on the operating table with the 
district surgeon attending to his 
dreadful wounds. 

Pells told me that the shark must have 
been a coward. It had failed to kill one 
who had proved that he was ready to 
defend himself. Soon after this 
encounter the Simon's Town port 



officer caught a shark with a leg of 
pork, a strong hook, steel drum and 
steel hawser. The jaws of the shark 
fitted the scars on the body of Pells. 
Teeth in the lower jaw corresponded 
exactly with the shape of the injuries. 
The shark was twelve feet long with a 
girth of nine feet. 

Simon's Bay has known many famous 
seamarks, old ships that seemed over 
the decades to have become fixtures. 
Then at last they were taken out and 
sunk - and almost forgotten. In the 
days of Rudyard Kipling there were 
the gunboats Gadfly, Griper and 
Tickler and the corvette Penelope; 
and they were succeeded in the 
historic seascape by the training ship 
General Botha, formerly H.M.S. 
Thames. I met this antiquated cruiser 
on a grey afternoon in March 1921 at 
the end of her last voyage, when she 



came wearily alongside the quay in 
Simon's Town dockyard. She looked 
battered and tired of the oceans she 
had been riding for nearly forty 
years. The men and boys on board 
were even more exhausted. Captain 
F. B. Renouf, the old sailing ship 
master who commanded her, told me 
the story of that strange ordeal. 

Renouf had taken charge of the three 
thousand ton ship at Sheerness. Two 
experienced deck officers and 
twenty-four raw little sea cadets were 
on board. The hull was covered with 
barnacles and she moved so slowly 
that she had to go into drydock for 
cleaning. Her war service as a 
submarine depot ship had left her in 
an unseaworthy condition. "I could 
have swum as fast as she travelled 
with steam in only two boilers," 
remarked Captain Renouf bitterly. 



However, two more boilers were 
repaired. Engineers, seamen, firemen 
and stewards were signed on and one 
thousand tons of coal were taken on 
board. Lloyd's surveyor shook his 
head over a large workshop on the 
main deck and told Renouf that he 
would have to nurse the ship in 
heavy weather as her stability might 
be affected. Early in January the 
General Botha steamed out of the 
Thames and worked up to her top 
speed - six knots. Very soon the 
worried captain decided that he 
would have to put into Plymouth. 

When the dismantled cruiser passed 
Plymouth breakwater in the darkness 
the naval authorities looked upon her 
as a ghost ship. They were not 
expecting her and a pinnace was sent 
to investigate. After some delay the 
General Botha sailed again with six 



extra firemen and another boiler in 
action. She had been designed for a 
full speed of seventeen knots. 
Renouf hoped to make seven knots 
on the passage to the Cape. In the 
Channel, however, he had to heave- 
to. When the four-inch guns had 
been removed the open spaces in the 
sides, like bay windows, had been 
boarded up with strong deal. Heavy 
seas smashed the timber, main decks 
were flooded and water swept below. 
Dynamos were damaged by salt 
water; coal and stores on deck went 
over the side; the stern gallery (like a 
verandah outside the captain's 
quarters) was swept away. Large stern 
windows were smashed. All they 
could do was to close the doors and 
hope for the best when she pitched 
violently and put her poop under 
water. Captain Renouf had his wife 



and five-year-old daughter on board. 
His wife's cabin was flooded and 
many of their possessions were lost. 
The cadets were kept baling day and 
night and though they behaved well 
many of them were sorry they had 
come to sea. 

At eight in the morning Captain 
Renouf was on the bridge when he 
saw an enormous sea approaching. He 
estimated the height at thirty feet. 
"You know, captain, the lower drawer 
in my cabin chest is full of water," 
remarked the second mate at this 
moment. "Here comes a sea that will 
fill your bunk as well," Renouf replied 
grimly. As the sea hit the ship the old 
cruiser put her bows right into it. The 
sea broke solid over the foredeck, 
rolled like surf across a beach, over the 
bridge and round the funnel and then 
swept the quarterdeck. That was the 



greatest sea of the whole voyage. It 
carried away the last of the deck-load 
of coal and Captain Renouf decided to 
put back to Plymouth for repairs. He 
was hoping that the deck workshop 
with its lathes and heavy machinery 
would be swept overboard before they 
arrived. 

When they anchored Captain Renouf 
discovered that his wife had lost nearly 
all her clothes. A large oak sideboard, 
wine locker and the wardroom silver 
had vanished through the opening in 
the stern. Mrs. Renouf had to go on 
shore in her slippers. They sailed again 
after eighteen days in harbour. Off 
Lisbon the rudder-head glands jammed 
and by the time the engineers had 
made repairs they needed double, tots 
of rum. Coal became the captain's 
main worry, and when he reached St. 
Vincent in the Cape Verdes he learnt 



to his astonishment that he had only 
three hundred tons in the bunkers. He 
took on more than six hundred tons at 
a high price. 

Now the weather was fine and all went 
well until a steward rushed into the 
wardroom one night while dinner was 
being served and shouted: "I've seen 
a ghost. There's a ghost in naval 
officer's uniform bending over the 
dynamos." Others reported the ghost 
in various parts of the ship from time 
to time. Nevertheless the General 
Botha reached Simon's Bay thirty- 
eight days out from Plymouth without 
further trouble. All those who had 
brought her to South Africa left her for 
good, but the ghost remained on 
board, a legend that died only when 
the General Botha left her moorings 
for the last time. 



How well I remember that old 
anchorage in Simon's Bay! Those 
were happy Sunday mornings when I 
woke up in a canvas berth on board the 
cutter Innisfallen, lit the primus, 
made the tea, and then stood on deck 
taking in the great sweep of land and 
water. There in the sunlight slumbered 
old Simon's Town with its Martello 
towers and solid masonry, its sea walls 
and slate roofs, its balconied British 
Hotel, its memories of sail and 
powder. I remembered the ships I had 
seen there. One has remained in my 
mind over the years even more firmly 
than those I joined as a reporter for 
manoeuvres or voyages. She was 
H.M.S. Dwarf, a famous little gun- 
boat that patrolled for many years in 
West African waters. With her white 
hull, grey upperworks and yellow 
funnel she made a romantic picture; 



but her officers told a different story. 
She was really a river gunboat built for 
the Yang-tse-Kiang, and at sea she 
rolled so heavily that newly-joined 
ratings expected her to capsize. Hard 
to steer, difficult to handle, the Dwarf 
was not the most popular ship in the 
navy. She was only seven hundred 
tons, a lieutenant's command, with a 
number of Kroomen from Freetown in 
her company. One officer described 
her as a "hot floating tin kettle", and 
complained that turtle (from Ascen- 
sion) was often on the menu when 
there was no butter in the storeroom. 
Men who sailed in the Dwarf suffered 
from malaria and "yellow jack"; they 
endured the fogs of South West Africa 
and the tornadoes of Benin. More 
fortunate naval officers rode and 
played civilised games; the "Dwarfs" 
hunted goats on St. Helena and caught 



sharks at Fernando Po. Yet that was 
the ship in which I would gladly have 
sailed away from Simon's Bay, bound 
for the South Atlantic isles and the 
swamps and forests and long beaches 
of sweltering West Africa. Everyone 
has his own ideas of adventure. 
Simon's Bay aroused my imagination 
long ago and sent me off at last in the 
seatracks of the Dwarf. 




Chapter Five 
Harbours On The Veld 



Southern Africa, with its great 
irrigation dams and other sheets of 
water, has many inland fleets nowa- 
days and harbours on the veld. But 
when you left the ocean a century ago 
the sight of even a small craft was a 
rarity. Rivers had not been surveyed 
and the Orange River had long 
unexplored stretches. Thus only the 



boldest and most enterprising men 
considered the possibility of naviga- 
ting the interior waterways. It was a 
dubious sort of investment. Ship- 
builders, usually in Britain, had to 
build these vessels in pieces, assemble 
and number them and then take the 
vessel apart and crate the pieces for 
shipment. Dubious and expensive. The 
parts often had to be carried inland on 
wagons or by native bearers and the 
loss of a few parts caused long delays. 

Mr. John Owen Smith, one of the 
Namaqualand copper pioneers, owner 
of the Jessie Smith mine at Kodas in 
the Richtersveld, decided to avoid all 
this bother. He secured plans for a 
small but seaworthy steamer which 
could reach the Orange River mouth 
from England under her own power. 
She would slip into the river during 
the flood season when the mouth was 



open, steam up to a point on the south 
bank near the Kodas mine, take on her 
cargo of copper ore and deliver it in 
Table Bay. He had already shipped ore 
from Alexander Bay; and it was 
reported that the mine was yielding 
from forty-five to seventy-five percent 
pure copper near the surface. "Mr. 
Smith is very sanguine and will not 
desist from operations before, by 
actual results favourable or unfavour- 
able, he has satisfied himself and the 
public whether or not the mines in that 
quarter will pay," reported the 
"Eastern Province Herald". That was 
in 1854. 

Sir James Alexander, the explorer, had 
visited the Orange River mouth about 
eighteen years previously and had 
given a glowing account of the lower 
river. "It is difficult to speak of the 
Gariep (the Hottentot name for the 



Orange) otherwise than in the most 
enthusiastic terms," Alexander wrote. 
"Besides its beautiful African features 
its utility is very great. To the 
wandering tribes dwelling near it 
affords an unfailing refuge in seasons 
of drought and famine. I found great 
store of iron and copper ores. But there 
may be even more precious metals, 
gold and silver. I saw no rocks or 
dangers at the mouth. With care, it 
seemed that the mouth of the river 
could be entered by a schooner." 
Smith was probably also influenced by 
a much later report by Charles Bell, 
surveyor-general of the Cape Colony. 
"A minute examination as to the 
practicability of navigating the Orange 
River should be made," Bell wrote. "I 
can hear of no insuperable difficulty in 
the way, at least during the floods, if 



the ore be heaped on its banks and 
shipped when opportunity offers." 

So the eager Smith paid for his 
steamer. Only after it had been 
launched did he learn, that nothing 
larger than a rowing boat could 
venture across the bar into the Orange 
River. 

Jules Verne, a pioneer of a different 
sort, the first popular-writer of science 
fiction heard of Smith's scheme but 
not the unhappy sequel. He wrote a 
novel called "Meridiana" based on a 
voyage up the Orange River by three 
Englishmen and three Russians, all 
astronomers, in the steamer Queen 
and Czar. They were accompanied 
by a faithful, noble Bushman who 
spoke the polished English of a 
professor and assured the scientists 
that the river was navigable. Jules 
Verne's ship crossed Southern Africa 



safely. John Owen Smith lost his 
money. There is a harbour near the 
Orange River mouth today, but only 
for yachts and other small craft. 

Thirty years after Smith's disastrous 
venture there arrived in the Cape a 
determined Scot named John 
Thorburn. He made a small fortune 
on the Kimberley diamond diggings 
in the eighteen-seventies. Then in 
1880 he settled down to an occupa- 
tion which he regarded as less preca- 
rious; that of a storekeeper on the 
Vaal River bank near Kimberley. He 
was doing well, but the Vaal rose un- 
expectedly, sweeping away house 
and stock. Thorburn and his wife lost 
everything. They had to borrow 
clothes before leaving for Kimberley. 
There he bought fresh stock and 
opened another store on higher 
ground. 



The swollen river had given Thor- 
burn an idea. Old residents assured 
him that the river was navigable 
every winter and Thorburn decided 
to order a steamer to bring coal from 
the mines on the upper Vaal to 
supply the river diggings and 
Kimberley. The distance was one 
hundred and eighty miles. Water 
transport would obviously work out 
much cheaper than ox-wagons. 
Thorburn was an enthusiast and a 
man of great determination, but he 
lacked the vein of caution necessary 
in such an enterprise. First he 
ordered his steamer, a twin-screw 
vessel to be built of steel. She was 
only thirty-seven feet overall, with a 
beam of eight feet six inches and 
draught of twenty two inches; but he 
specified towing-gear which would 
enable the steamer to bring with her 



a barge loaded with three hundred 
bags of coal. Edwards and Symes of 
London started building the steamer 
after Thorburn had paid a deposit of 
one thousand pounds. Meanwhile 
Thorburn secured permission from the 
Transvaal and Orange Free State 
governments to clear the Vaal River 
for navigation. He built the barge 
himself. Then he spent three years 
removing obstructions in the rivers; 
trees, boulders, anything that might 
impede the progress of his steamer and 
barge. 

At last the great day arrived when 
Thorburn heard that his little steamer 
had reached Hopetown, then the 
railway terminus. It had been shipped 
in crates. Thorburn assembled the 
vessel at his harbour on the Vaal and 
launched her. She behaved well, the 
engines ran sweetly; but Thorburn 



soon made the tragic discovery that the 
Vaal was navigable only over short 
distances. New sandbanks had formed 
and it was impossible to reach the coal 
mines. Thorburn had spent four 
thousand pounds on the venture and he 
was unwilling to let his ship rust on 
the river diggings. He loaded it on to 
ox-wagons, trekked to Potchefstroom 
and launched her again in the hope 
that people there would take river 
excursions. Unfortunately they soon 
tired of this amusement. Thorburn 
looked round for another way of 
making a fortune as a shipowner. 
Someone advised him to take his 
steamer to Delagoa Bay and carry 
freight along the Tembe Paver. So he 
named his steamer Tembe, loaded her 
on a huge ox-wagon, put the engine 
and other parts on another wagon and 
set out for the sea. A trek of nearly two 



thousand miles lay before him. He was 
menaced by grass fires and the wagons 
were stuck so often that he felt like 
abandoning the Tembe in the bush. 
Near the headwaters of the Vaal River, 
seven thousand feet above sea level, 
the large wagon fell over and the 
Tembe was almost wrecked on dry 
land. One side was smashed, the hull 
was knocked out of shape, rivets were 
drawn, an iron bulkhead doubled up 
and the cabin-fittings were splintered 
and used on the camp-fire. "I felt quite 
beaten," Thorburn confessed. Never- 
theless he repaired the Tembe and 
went on and launched her in salt water 
at Tembe drift. 

Thorburn had sent for his wife and 
family, and now he steamed down the 
river in triumph. "A sultry hot day, the 
monkeys jabbering, the parrots 
squeaking," Thorburn recalled. 



"Away she went like a duck. At the 
sound of the steam-whistle the 
monkeys went screeching and 
scrambling through the forest. But 
our speed of seven knots was too fast 
and we ran into the jungle and 
carried away the funnel." However, 
the Tembe reached Delagoa Bay 
safely. Sometimes she carried freight 
to Swaziland; often she was 
chartered for pleasure trips. Thorburn 
shot hippo in the swamps, towed 
lighters and made another small 
fortune. His little Tembe was still at 
work in those waters in 1908 when 
Thorburn died. 

I can remember the Vaal River vessel 
known for years as the "Barkly West 
battleship". She was launched by an 
optimist named George Beaumont 
just before the end of last century: a 
huge dredger, one hundred feet long, 



thirty-six feet wide, looking rather 
like a battleship with her massive 
steel mast and conning-tower, with 
projecting tubes like guns. 

Beaumont was a civil engineer who 
had dredged for alluvial gold 
successfully in South American 
rivers. He dug for diamonds below 
the Barkly West bridge; and there he 
stared into the large deep pool and 
saw visions. Surely it would be 
possible to dredge up the diamond- 
iferous gravel and make a huge 
fortune? 

Beaumont and his partners had to 
pay about thirty thousand pounds to 
get the dredger to Barkly West. 
Wagon after wagon arrived, loaded 
with huge steel plates, cranes, 
engines, 4 sorts of machinery and 
anchors. Workmen arrived from 
Britain and assembled the dredger on 



the river bank. She was launched 
with champagne at a party which 
those present remembered for the 
rest of their lives. Unfortunately the 
rocky formation of the riverbed 
defeated the expensive machinery on 
board the dredger. The scoops failed 
to raise the hard masses of conglo- 
merated alluvial gravel. Beaumont's 
diver went down and confirmed the 
disastrous situation. This was not a 
pool for conveyor-buckets. 

Shortly before World War I the Vaal 
River "battleship" was sold to an 
Indian and dismantled. The engines 
were used elsewhere on the river for a 
"breakwater" scheme. The great pool 
where Beaumont's "battleship" lay at 
anchor for years has yielded a fortune 
in diamonds since then, but they were 
not recovered by dredging. 



Beyond the Limpopo, of course, there 
are large fleets and well-equipped 
harbours far from the smell of salt 
ocean. Along the two thousand miles 
of the Zambesi all sorts of craft are to 
be found. It was on a remote stretch of 
this river that a retired officer of the 
Royal Navy put the crews of his power 
barges into uniform worn by British 
seamen, traditional collars, bell- 
bottoms and all. 

Only in recent years has a paddle 
steamer appeared in the waters above 
the Victoria Falls. She is the Chobe 
Belle and her harbour is at Kasane on 
the Chobe River. She was built by 
Colonel Charles Trevor, proprietor of 
the Chobe River Hotel, to carry 
passengers along the interesting 
stretches of lagoon and river where 
four territories meet: Bechuanaland, 



the Caprivi Strip, Rhodesia and 
Zambia. 

Steamers have navigated the lower 
Zambesi for more than a century. 
Rhodesia set up a naval base at 
Katsanya, twenty-six miles east of 
Tete, many years ago and put a fast 
launch on the river. H.M.S. Harari, as 
she was called, was built at Durban to 
a special design which enabled her to 
use the river from the sea to 
Kabarabasa rapids at all seasons. The 
Harari was painted battleship grey. 
Her duty was to protect native 
labourers travelling home with their 
earnings. Before the Harari arrived 
there were pirates on the river and 
many natives were robbed and 
murdered. 

Tete is the oldest town in Southern 
Africa and it was an important river 
harbour for decades before the 



opening in 1949 of the railway to 
Moatize close by. Stern-wheelers 
loaded at Chinde and steamed up the 
Zambesi for four hundred miles to 
Tete. David Livingstone started the 
traffic with his steam pinnace Ma 
Robert, a spectacle that almost 
frightened the primitive river people 
out of their wits. Then came fleets of 
stern-wheelers owned by sugar and 
railway companies. They carried the 
trade goods of Europe up-country 
and returned with coal and sugar, 
grain and rice, cotton, cattle, sisal, 
copra and ivory. 

Tanganyika, the largest lake in the 
world, has several modern harbours. 
One named Mpulungu was the spot 
in the present Zambia where 
Livingstone set eyes on the lake for 
the first time. Here you may see all 
sorts of craft from dugout canoes, 



dhows and trimarans to steamers 
capable of voyaging round the world. 
Mpulungu has a proper quay, cargo 
sheds, customs and immigration 
offices, police and a cold storage 
plant for fish. 

I sailed from Mpulungu in the S.S. 
Liemba to another lake harbour, 
Kigoma. This is the main port on the 
eastern shore of the lake; a pretty 
harbour with a horseshoe of hills. 
Kigoma has replaced Ujiji, five miles 
away, as a port, but Ujiji has a huge 
population and various claims to 
fame and notoriety. It ceased to be a 
port when the level of Lake 
Tanganyika fell and left Ujiji high 
and dry. Across the lake at 
Albertville the Belgians launched 
some fine steamers, the Baron Dhanis 
and Cue de Brabant; but most of their 



grand fleet ran on the Congo and its 
tributaries. 

Ah, the Congo! I have some pleasant 
memories of the river harbours of 
that equatorial basin. Belgian 
steamers built in Antwerp had to last 
a long time on the river. One 
passenger vessel, the Flandre, was 
launched early this century and 
remained in service for fifty years. 
Missionaries had their own little 
ships. Stern-wheelers were sent from 
the Mississippi to the Congo. One 
tug called Kalina was a typical two- 
funnelled Rhine paddleboat. The 
Kigonaa, a large passenger steamer 
which I knew best of all, was built in 
1915 and was still in service as a 
training vessel half a century later. 
American landing craft reached the 
Congo after World War II for use as 
pusher tugs on the main river cargo 



routes. No longer do the passenger 
and freight services run to schedule 
but there are still many splendid 
vessels on the river. 



Chapter Six 
Aloes And Oysters 

Six oceans had their will of us 

To carry all away - 
Our galley's in the Baltic, 

And our boom's in Mossel Bay! 
Rudyard Kipling. "The 
Merchantmen" 



Kipling's Ship was lucky to have 
lost nothing more than her boom in 
Mossel Bay. This sandy curve in the 
coast behind Cape St. Blaize was a 
dangerous summer anchorage before 
the harbour was built. It has known 
many shipwrecks, many sea dramas 
since the day when the first white 
explorer Bartholomew Diaz stepped 
on shore there and named it Baia dos 
Vaqueiros, the "bay of herdsmen". 
This was the first landing place of 



the Portuguese explorers in South 
Africa. (Cape Cross, where Diego 
Cam landed in 1486, is in South 
West Africa). Portuguese mariners 
were calling regularly at Mossel Bay 
years before they discovered Table 
Bay. 

I can almost smell the fumes of boil- 
ing aloe juice when I think of Mossel 
Bay for this is the land of Aloe ferox 
and the old industry that gives the 
world a favourite purgative. Perhaps 
it is better to recall the other cele- 
brated speciality of Mossel Bay, 
man's oldest food, the oyster. My 
earliest memory of the bay, however, 
was rather different; an experience 
which would make me unpopular in 
the town if I dwelt upon it with too 
much emphasis. I was on board a 
coasting steamer at anchor. The 
master was on shore. Several young 



members of the crew decided to 
swim from the gangway and I j oined 
them in the water. Soon I noticed 
that men on deck were putting down 
a barrage of lumps of coal, keeping 
the sharks at bay. I swam for the 
gangway and dared not bathe again. 
To this day I cannot tell you whether 
the sharks were man-eaters. I thought 
of the episode not long ago, 
however, when a surfer at Mossel 
Bay was attacked by "a seal or a 
shark". He escaped with a severed 
artery near the toes. Mossel Bay is 
really as safe as Muizenberg but 
there is no harbour in South Africa 
which is not visited by man-eating 
sharks on rare occasions. An entry in 
the Mossel Bay records long ago 
read as follows: "Sharks very bold. 
Anderson harpoons one eleven feet 
long." 



However, there would be no sharks' 
fin soup on the menu if I planned a 
typical Mossel Bay meal. I would 
start with oysters, of course, as 
visitors have done for centuries. Not 
the giant oysters but the smaller, 
narrow ones. And I would eat them 
raw; cold and fresh from the dripping 
hand of the sea; without red pepper 
or tabasco or vinegar and only an 
occasional drop of lemon juice. 
When I first stayed at a Mossel Bay 
hotel there was an Italian chef named 
Luigi who was a great man for 
cooking oysters. He knew that 
Escoifier disapproved of heating 
oysters; but he said that when people 
could have oysters by the hundred 
every day at low prices they demand- 
ed a change from the untouched 
oyster, even though the wild and 



HARBOURS OF MEMORY 




"When I first stayed at a Mussel Bay hotel there was an Italian chef 
named Luigi who was a great man for cooking oysters." 



inimitable tang of the living oyster 
was lost. So he served "pigs in 
blankets" (oysters wrapped in bacon 
and fried) or oysters au gratin, sole 
and oyster pie, oysters sweated in 
butter and served on hot fried bread, 
oyster soufflees, oysters with 
spinach, grilled oysters and fried 
oysters chopped and mixed with 
scrambled eggs. All very interesting 
and I must say that Luigi's oyster 
sauce for roast mutton was a 
masterpiece. But I am still with 
Excoffier, whose words should be 
remembered by every oyster-eater: 
"Oysters are the dish par excellence; 
their delicacy satisfies the most 
fastidious of epicures and they are so 
easily digested that the most delicate 
invalid can partake of them freely. 
The real and best way of serving 



oysters is to send them to the table 
raw." 

Now for the soup. Luigi was a grand 
soup hand and his kitchen gave off 
many nostalgic and old-fashioned 
aromas. He could turn out a thick pea 
soup such as good ships' cooks 
simmer; his zuppa di pesce was a work 
of art worthy of a Neopolitan 
restaurant; and his strong meat soups 
were memorable. Luigi also had in his 
repertoire a Mossel Bay soup which he 
made at my request. The main in- 
gredient was the fine avocado pear 
grown in the Little Brak Valley; an 
avocado puree flavoured with brandy, 
mustard, salt, lemon juice and 
Worcestershire sauce. 

Fish is easy at Mossel Bay and I 
would select the local sole, fresh or 
smoked. But you could have snoek or 
geelbek, kabeljou, leervis or galjoen. 



The main course I would set before 
you would be that which a bygone 
Cape governor, Sir Walter Hely- 
Hutchinson, enjoyed to the full when 
he arrived unexpectedly at the farm 
Kleinberg many years ago. "Ouma 
Kleinberg" (Mrs. Muller) had a 
splendid kerrie-afval, curried sheep's 
tripe, on the stove that day. Some of 
the local coriander had gone into the 
curry; a carminative with a pleasant 
aroma. The governor ate his curry with 
sweet potatoes and stamped mealies 
and came back for more. 

Dessert? In the Mossel Bay district 
you will find the largest privately- 
owned custard apple farm in the 
southern hemisphere. Here, within a 
mile of the sea, grow those expensive 
and exotic fruits with yellow pulp like 
custard. Luigi made use of two other 
local delicacies with his puddings. 



One was protea nectar, gathered when 
the Protea millifera was in flower; a 
rare syrup nowadays, rare and delect- 
able. The other, believe it or not, was a 
jam made from the bitter leaves of the 
Aloe ferox, the red-hot pokers that 
flourish on the Mossel Bay veld. Luigi 
peeled and sliced the fleshy leaves, 
soaked them in lime water and boiled 
them with sugar and lemon juice. 
When he could secure green shoots 
from a fig tree in spring he used them 
as a flavouring. Aloe konfyt reminded 
me of its watermelon counterpart. 

Probably the first meal eaten by white 
people at Mossel Bay consisted of 
mutton. As you know, Vasco da Gama 
put in there with his fleet in the 
summer of 1497 and gave the 
Hottentots small bells and other 
trinkets in exchange for sheep. The 
explorers remained at anchor in the 



bay for about twelve days, so there 
may have been a braaivleis (or 
Portuguese asado) beside the stream 
or under the milkwood tree. How- 
ever, there are other possibilities. 
Vasco da Gama's men caught fish 
and penguins and clubbed seals on 
the return voyage and all these foods 
were salted. The explorers listened to 
the reed flutes of the Hottentots and 
a Portuguese musician recorded the 
tune with its range of three notes. 
Thanks to that written fragment of 
history, members of a fairly recent 
Kalahari expedition were able to 
identify the same flutes and the 
identical tune played by Hottentots in 
the desert. 

Pedro Alverez Cabral called at 
Mossel Bay a few years after Vasco 
da Gama; his first landing after 
discovering Brazil. Cabral put into 



Mossel Bay again on his return from 
India. He hung a shoe from a branch 
of the milkwood tree, with a letter 
which was found by Juan de Nova 
not long 'afterwards. Juan de Nova 
built a little stone church there, the 
first place of Christian worship in 
South Africa. The ruins of that 
church, parts of the walls and 
timbering and the flagstone floor, 
were still to be seen in the eighteen- 
seventies. There was no Historic 
Monuments Commission to save the 
church and it was demolished. 
According to local legend the stone 
was used for another building in the 
town, a new warehouse, but it cannot 
be traced now. A few pieces of tough 
green heart timber and some square- 
headed, hand-forged Portuguese nails 
have been preserved, the only 
fragments of the little church. 



However, there are a few other relics 
of the Portuguese period, when 
Mossel Bay was more important than 
Table Bay. Portions of two engraved 
stones were found during the demo- 
lition of an old government building 
early this century. One showed a 
cannon and this stone disappeared 
mysteriously. The other remnant is to 
be seen in the South African 
Museum. Experts have found the 
mutilated inscription very baffling, 
but it was in all probability a "post 
office stone" left there in 1501 by 
Juan de Nova. 

Vasco da Gama set up a stone pillar 
or padrao with the Portuguese coat- 
of-arms; and several historians have 
stated without authority that this was 
placed on the site of the present 
lighthouse. This pillar and a wooden 
cross made from a spar were thrown 



down by the Hottentots while Vasco 
da Gama was still in the bay and no 
fragment of these monuments has ever 
been found. Dr. Erik Axelson, leading 
modern authority on the Portuguese 
explorers, searched for the Vasco da 
Gama padrao some years ago. He had 
been successful in discovering padrao 
fragments at other paints along the 
South African coast, but the Mossel 
Bay padrao defeated him. Dr. Axelson 
felt sure that the Portuguese would not 
have carried a stone cross weighing 
one thousand pounds to the summit of 
Cape St. Blaize. He selected a rocky 
knoll to the south of the old watering 
place for his search. According to the 
"Cambridge History of the British 
Empire" the cross was set up on Seal 
Island at Mossel Bay. Dr. Axelson has 
found evidence proving that this could 
not have been the site and he thinks 



that pieces of the padrao may still be 
found somewhere in the vicinity of the 
milkwood tree. After deep research in 
the Lisbon archives and elsewhere Dr. 
Axelson has corrected a number of 
statements by earlier historians. He has 
shown that the Bahia San Bras of the 
Portuguese records was not Mossel 
Bay but the modern Fish Bay to the 
west of Cape St. Blaize. 

Mossel Bay gave up a very old anchor 
about sixty years ago and the design 
suggests that it was lost by one of the 
early Portuguese ships. It has been 
placed in the park. An egg-shaped 
vase, found in a cave by a Mr. Meyer 
under eight feet of bat guano, may also 
be a relic of the Portuguese visitors. 
Mr. Meyer sent it to the South African 
Museum. It would hold about two 
gallons. 



Fortunately the white milkwood tree 
described by the Portuguese has 
survived the centuries and is now 
much larger than it was when the 
explorers landed. This species, 
Sideroxylon Inerme L., known in 
Afrikaans as melkhout or jakkals- 
bessie, is a low, compact evergreen 
tree that loves the beaches and does 
not suffer from salt spray. Dark green 
leaves provide deep shade for men and 
animals. The berries have an unpleas- 
ant flavour but they are eaten by birds. 
Grazing animals will not touch the 
foliage and Marloth was puzzled when 
he learned that milk from cows 
sheltering in these groves had the 
odour of the flowers. He discovered 
that the milk had been tainted by 
pollen. The specimen at Mossel Bay is 
now about twenty-two feet high with a 
spread more than fifty feet in diameter. 



It must be approaching five hundred 
years of age and it should last another 
five hundred. Milkwood timber has 
been used for fencing and boat- 
building but this historic tree will not 
be cut down. It is surrounded by 
chains. Two old ships' cannon of 
unknown origin lie in the enclosure. 
The official notice reads as follows: 

POST Office Tree 

So far back as A.D. 1500 Pedro de 
Ataide placed in this tree a letter 
containing a record of a disaster to 
a Portuguese fleet en route for 
India. This letter was found by Joas 
de Nova who had put in with his 
ship to Mossel Bay for water. De 
Nova built a hermitage within a few 
yards of this tree close to which 
was a spring of water. 



First of the Mossel Bay coast 
shipwrecks occurred in 1504 when a 
fleet under Lopo Soares sailed past 
Cape St. Blaize and one ship ran 
ashore in the night. Pedro de 
Mendonca was the captain. The wreck 
was sighted in the breakers at dawn 
but it was impossible to help the crew 
and the fleet sailed on. A year later 
Cid Barbudo put into Mossel Bay and 
landed two degredados or convicts to 
search the coast for survivors. They 
returned after three days, stripped by 
the Hottentots, and reported that they 
had found a ship's mast and a 
skeleton. It appeared that the Hotten- 
tots had set fire to the wreck to secure 
the metal. The crew must have been 
massacred. 

An official Mossel Bay guide states 
that Santos Beach was named after a 
Portuguese ship lost there in the early 



days. In fact the name is much more 
recent. The Santos was a small 
German schooner which was at anchor 
in the bay on a fine day in July 1874 
when a heavy swell set in from the 
south-east. The master was on shore 
and the mate was ill. Soon the Santos 
was dragging her anchor and moving 
towards the head of the bay. Distress 
signals were seen and the captain 
offered a large amount of money to 
anyone who would row him out to his 
ship; but no one was prepared to risk 
his life. Then the anchor chain parted 
and the crew of the Santos made sail in 
an effort to beat out of the bay. Too 
late. The ship would not answer her 
helm and she grounded between two 
reefs. The rocket apparatus failed to 
reach her but a rope was floated ashore 
and the crew reached safety by means 
of a "traveller". Mr. A. B. Munro 



bought the wreck for one hundred 
pounds. Cargo and tackle fetched 
another three hundred pounds. The 
people who watched that drama have 
all passed on and the Santos has been 
forgotten. 

The British three-masted schooner 
Rosebud broke adrift during a gale in 
Mossel Bay during the eighteen- 
eighties and became a total loss. The 
beach where she broke up was known 
for years as Rosebud Beach; then the 
name was changed to Pansy Beach on 
account of the rare and lovely pansy 
shells found there. Before the century 
ended another schooner, the Sea Gull, 
had been wrecked in Mossel Bay. First 
of the wrecks this century was the 
barque Poseidon in August 1902. Two 
months later there occurred one of the 
strangest and most costly wrecks ever 
known on the Mossel Bay coast. 



Durban harbour authorities had 
ordered a huge floating dock, nearly 
four hundred feet long with a beam of 
eighty feet; a dock capable of lifting 
ships weighing more than four 
thousand tons. The dock was towed 
from the Tyne by the steamer Bara- 
long and she rounded the Cape safely. 
In a tremendous gale off Cape St. 
Blaize, however, the towing hawser 
snapped and the Baralong was unable 
to save the floating dock. Captain 
Dryden, the Mossel Bay harbour 
master put out in the small tug 
Morning Star, but the seas were 
running high and the tug had to return 
to shelter. Dryden tried again with a 
larger vessel, the steam trawler 
Undine, but the dock was close 
inshore now and had to be left to her 
fate. The dock was lifted so far up on 
the beach that the men on board were 



able to walk on shore. You can still 
see a rusting shape at Glentana. Iran 
railings outside the Anglican 
cathedral at George and a flight of 
iron steps outside a house in York 
Street are relics of the wreck. The 
dock had been insured for £72,000 
and the towing fee was £8,000. 
Durban had to order a new floating 
dock. 

Last of the Mossel Bay wrecks 
occurred during a southeast gale in 
November 1903. Rain fell in torrents, 
houses were flooded. The Norwegian 
sailing ship King Cenric had two 
anchors down but both cables parted 
and the ship took the ground. All 
hands were rescued by the rocket 
brigade. The steam trawler Thrasher 
was lost on the rocks that day. Six 
ships were wrecked in Algoa Bay 
during the same gale. 



Portugal dominated the Mossel Bay 
scene during the sixteenth century. 
Manuel de Perestrello, navigator and 
author, left this record of his visit: 
"At this bay, upon the top point of 
the cape, I left fixed a wooden cross 
and fastened to it with brass wire a 
tube enclosed with cork and wax 
within which was a document as 
follows: 'In praise of our Lord Jesus 
Christ and exaltation of His holy 
faith and for the service and 
enlargement of the kingdoms and 
states of Dom Sebastian, the most 
serene King of Portugal, Manuel 
Mesquita de Perestrello who by his 
command came to explore this coast. 
Placed here on seventh January 
1576'." No trace of this cross or 
document has ever been found. 

Only towards the end of the sixteenth 
century did the first Dutch ships 



enter Mossel Bay. Captain Jan de 
Molinaar noted that the natives 
"seemed savage yet friendly to us". 
He bartered oxen and sheep for old 
iron. Early in the seventeenth century 
the Dutch commander Paulus van 
Caerden anchored in the bay on his 
way back from India. He took twenty 
of his men on shore with him from 
the Hof van Holland and 
complained that he could only get 
oysters when he wanted fresh meat. 
Van Caerden was responsible for 
changing the Portuguese name to 
Mossel Bay. Nearly seven decades 
passed before the Dutch thought of 
exploring the Mossel Bay hinterland. 
Then a party under Jeronimus Cruse 
were put on shore and they marched 
through unknown country to Table 
Bay, discovering the Attaquas tribe 
of Hottentots on the way. 



Jan de la Fontaine was the first Cape 
governor to visit Mossel Bay and in 
the seventeen-thirties he put up a 
beacon with the VOC emblem to 
establish ownership. Cattle farmers 
had already settled in the district. 
Ignatius Ferreira, a Portuguese who 
had been wrecked in Table Bay, 
settled at Mossel Bay some years 
afterwards and became field cornet. 
The old house with yellowwood 
floors near Brandwacht where he 
lived is still there. Another old farm 
is Geelbeksvlei, owned by the 
Meyers in the eighteenth century and 
afterwards. When a ship was lost in 
Mossel Bay in the seventeen-thirties 
Esias Meyer rode to the Castle with 
the news. He took seven days, 
changing horses fifteen times. For 
this service he was granted land in 
freehold. 



Mossel Bay saw an impressive 
cavalcade in the seventeen-sixties 
when Jan Willem Cloppenburg, 
Fiscal at the Cape, arrived with a 
coach, army wagon, horses and a 
retinue of servants. Cloppenburg 
wrote a long report describing the 
Hottentots he met. There is a 
mountain ten miles north of Mossel 
Bay called Bottelierskop, and Clop- 
penburg included in his report this 
rather puzzling reference to the 
origin of the name. "By the Klein 
Brak River is a little mountain called 
the Botteliersmutje (steward's cap) 
which name was very obviously 
given to it by seventeen sailors of the 
Huis Marquette that lay in Mossel 
Bay some time ago. With the wife of 
a certain burgher Jacobus they 
diverted themselves in a cave nearby 
that is now named the 'Chamber of 



Seventeen'." Possibly the bottelier 
(ship's victualler) had some part in 
the affair. 

Mossel Bay was on the route of a 
number of those famous old 
travellers, botanists and others, who 
enriched South African literature 
with their scholarly observations. 
Carl Thunberg the Swede stayed on 
the farm of Dirk Marcus, a great 
elephant hunter, in the seventeen- 
seventies; and soon afterwards came 
Dr. Andrew Sparrman, another 
Swede, on horseback. Le Vaillant the 
Frenchman visited the bay at the same 
period and smacked his lips over the 
oysters. Hyenas disturbed his oxen at 
night and he had to light fires. He 
exchanged tobacco for mats at a 
Hottentot kraal. Pelicans and 
flamingoes were seen in thousands. "A 
number of good habitations are 



scattered about the adjoining country," 
noted Le Vaillant. 

A large granary was built by the Dutch 
towards the end of the eighteenth 
century, for the policy was to 
encourage wheat production in the 
district. Leading farmers of the period 
were Jan and Nicolaas Meyer, J. 
Pienaar, M. le Grange, A. Barnard, H. 
Heyns, Rademeyer, Botha and Wiese. 
The granary cost nearly a thousand 
pounds. Another store intended for 
timber cost slightly more. It was one 
hundred and fifty feet long and twenty 
feet wide. Stone walls were two feet 
thick. Yellowwood was brought from 
the Outeniqua forests for the floors. 
Mr. Colin Graham Botha, the archi- 
vist, found the walls of these buildings 
still standing after World War I, and 
parts of the granary may be traced to 
this day. 



Survivors from the wrecked 
Grosvenor passed through Mossel Bay 
late in the eighteenth century, bringing 
the first news of the disaster. Four 
sailors reported that "the Caffres had 
come down upon the people, carried 
off the female passengers and killed 
several of the men who attempted to 
protect them". Heligert Muller, a 
district farmer, fed and clothed 
survivors and became prominent as 
leader of Grosvenor search parties. He 
found "women's torn clothing" but the 
women had perished. During his third 
journey Muller reached the scene of 
the wreck and found cannon, ballast, 
English porcelain and other relics. He 
brought back two pieces of East Indian 
redwood which were identified as 
dunnage used to prevent chafing in the 
cargo holds of the Grosvenor. 



Dr. Heinrich Lichtenstein, the German 
explorer, gave a lively description of a 
Mossel Bay farm when he visited the 
bay with Commissioner de Mist very 
early last century. Klaas Meyer was 
their host. "We were regaled with an 
excellent breakfast of cold provisions, 
admirable fruit and wines which 
might justly be called costly," 
Lichtenstein wrote. "Even though I 
should excite a smile in my readers I 
must once more observe how much 
we were struck with the attractions 
among the female part of this family. 
We all agreed that we scarcely ever 
recollected to have seen more 
personal beauty than in the eldest 
daughter, a young woman about 
eighteen. Her whole manner and air 
had in it much more appearance of 
refinement than is usually to be 
found among the African damsels 



and we really separated ourselves 
with reluctance from so lovely a 
creature". Lichtenstein found an 
Englishman named Murray owning a 
shop with a stock of cloth, hats, 
silks, glass and ironware. Murray had 
raised his prices "owing to the war". 
He had a small brig and another 
vessel trading between Mossel Bay 
and Cape Town but he lost both 
ships on the Agulhas reef soon 
afterwards. 

Lichtenstein also called on the post- 
holder, the government official at 
Mossel Bay, a Dane named Abue. 
"He is a sensible, active man but 
lives here secluded from the world 
and unwedded," said Lichtenstein. 
"The fall of his patron made him take 
refuge in this remote corner of the 
globe." Lichtenstein explored the 
cave at Cape St. Blaize and decided 



that the shells had been taken there 
and eaten by Hottentots, not carried 
there by birds as a previous traveller 
had suggested. He found the oysters 
were of fine flavour but some were 
so large that they could not be 
swallowed at a gulp. Lichtenstein 
dined with the widow Terreblanche 
of French descent and described his 
experience with obvious apprecia- 
tion. "The number of dishes set 
before us was greater than is almost 
ever to be seen at the tables even of 
the most distinguished bon-vivants at 
Cape Town. We found that our 
hostess was celebrated in the country 
for her excellent table and that she 
prided herself particularly upon it. 
She gave us almost everything that 
the chase or the fisheries could 
furnish, with several sorts of vegeta- 
bles dressed in an immense variety 



of ways; nor would she suffer such a 
thing to be mentioned as paying her. 
As a great rarity we had in the 
dessert a cream cheese made upon 
the spot. Attempts to make good 
cheese near Cape Town had failed as 
the milk was not sufficiently rich due 
to poor feed." 

Next on the scene was the great 
William John Burchell, botanist and 
owner of the most luxurious wagon 
ever seen in Mossel Bay. The forward 
part was his bedroom and a canvas 
partition separated him from the 
stores; goods as presents to chiefs, 
clothing and blankets for his own 
Hottentots; books and other articles 
packed into five large chests. Burchell 
gave dinner parties in the wagon. One 
of his menus consisted of boiled beef, 
rice, melted sheep tail fat and salt, tea 
without sugar. I think of him playing 



the flute and dancing on the beach at 
Mossel Bay. 

The Rev. Christian Latrobe, a 
Moravian missionary born in England, 
arrived soon after Burchell. He stayed 
with the Meyers at Hartenbosch and 
recorded: "We found friendly faces 
and excellent quarters for the night. 
Mr. Meyer and his whole family gave 
us the kindest reception and seemed 
much pleased with our visit. The 
furniture in Mr. Meyer's house, made 
of stinkwood, yellowwood and other 
curious woods, does him great credit, 
both as to beauty and strength. When 
we awoke in the morning the sky was 
covered with black clouds and it 
lightened and thundered much. At 
eight it cleared up though the thunder 
continued to roar all round the 
horizon. Our friendly host at breakfast 
gave us an account of the many wild 



beasts that haunt the woods and bushy 
coasts of the bay, where they have 
good cover. Tygers and wolves now 
and then commit depredations; wild 
buffaloes are sometimes seen; but wild 
dogs are numerous and most to be 
dreaded. A wolf hunts only at night, is 
cowardly and may be guarded against 
by various means; but the wild dogs 
go in troops and hunt night and day. 
They attack every living animal and 
the 'dread of man' is but slight upon 
them. Mr. Meyer related that if they 
have killed a tame animal they will 
quit it on being attacked by man, but 
not if their prey is wild game. Not long 
ago a troop of them hunted a rhebuck 
into his neighbour's yard. The farmer 
sallied forth with his gun to drive off 
the pursuers and secure the fugitive for 
his own table, but was instantly 
attacked by the dogs and his life with 



difficulty saved by his people. 
Porcupines are numerous; snakes 
creep into the poultry yards and 
houses and do much mischief. Our 
host getting up in the dark and 
walking into the hall felt something 
like a rope about his legs. On calling 
for a light he discovered it to be a 
yellow serpent. Had he accidentally 
trod upon it he would have been 
bitten by the venomous reptile. 
About nine o'clock we took leave of 
the family. Nowhere have we yet met 
with a more cordial reception than at 
Hartenbosch." 

Admiral Sir Jahleel Brenton followed 
Latrobe; and he too, was entertained 
by the Meyers. "The house stood 
upon a gentle eminence sloping 
down from the mountain towards the 
sea and commanded a splendid view 
of the valley, the river and the sea 



with the whole range of coast from 
Mossel Bay to the Kayman," wrote 
Brenton. "Mr. Meyer is an example 
of what may be done by industry and 
exertion. His family and his house 
were highly creditable. Hospitality, 
neatness and every appearance of 
domestic felicity gave a relish to this 
scene which is not easily forgotten 
and would have been a subject for 
admiration in any part of the world. 
All that struck the eyes conveyed an 
idea of comfort and respectability 
and showed the effect of habitual 
attention to arrangement and cleanli- 
ness. A group of beautiful and 
orderly children gave promise that 
this valley could flourish in future 
generations." 

Brenton, a clever artist, painted the 
gabled Meyer farm under the moun- 
tains, with aloes in the foreground. 



He noticed the wagons loaded with 
yellowwood beams for buildings, 
logs for planks, fellies for wheels, 
tree-nails for repairs to ships. 
Families, he said, lived mainly on 
mutton, game, tea and brandy. "A 
kind of Providence has showered 
down all the essentials of life on this 
favoured country," Brenton declared. 
"Want of food is unknown either for 
man or beast. Houses built of clay 
and thatched with reeds - are readily 
constructed; the woodwork for doors, 
windows and rafters are easily 
obtained from the nearest bosch. 
Furniture is confined to the frames of 
a bedstead or two and thongs of 
rawhide. A large chest serves as a 
store closet and table. Clothing is 
easily made from sheepskin tanned or 
untanned. A few loads of wood carried 
to the Cape Town market will procure 



them brandy and tea, the principal 
luxuries, also printed calicos and linen. 
A covered wagon is their dwelling- 
house." 

James Holman, the blind British naval 
lieutenant who travelled widely in 
spite of his handicap, visited Mossel 
Bay in the eighteen-twenties and 
encountered an English sailor there. 
He was an "easy and improvident 
beachcomber," catching whales and 
gathering oysters; weatherwise, 
accurate as a barometer. Known as 
Mossel Bay Jack, the beachcomber 
also collected shells for the lime- 
burners, exchanging a wagonload for a 
cow, ox or wheat. 

The Rev. James Backhouse, the 
Wesleyan missionary, found only ten 
houses in Mossel Bay in 1838, but 
wagons with fifty people had assem- 
bled there to wait for a ship. During 



that year the government gave the 
place the official name of Aliwal 
West, but the residents disliked it and 
went on calling it Mossel Bay. The 
first Dutch Reformed Church was built 
there seven years later with the Rev. T. 
T. van der Riet as minister. A turf club 
was formed in 1852. In that year 
Mossel Bay became a municipality 
named Aliwal South; but the obstinate 
inhabitants refused to adopt the name 
and in the end they had their way. 

When a "Cape Argus" reporter visited 
Mossel Bay in the middle of last 
century he said the place reminded 
him of Simonstown. There were one 
hundred and twenty houses, many of 
them solidly built. The new gaol, 
however, was described as "a mean 
little hovel, so tumble-down that the 
authorities fear to incarcerate prisoners 
within its walls." A jetty ran out from 



the beach and there was a landing 
place with steps. Admiral Pringle had 
sent an officer named Rice in H.M.S. 
Hope to chart Mossel Bay before the 
end of the eighteenth century. Now a 
harbourmaster named H. W. Laws was 
appointed. I have seen a report on the 
harbour by Laws in which he declared 
that Mossel Bay was perfectly secure 
from May to August and offered the 
only safe anchorage along that iron- 
bound coast. The bay was the deepest 
indentation between Simon's Bay and 
Delagoa Bay, as Knysna and Port 
Natal gave no shelter outside their 
narrow entrances. Laws pointed out 
that the opening of Meiring's Poort 
through the Swartberg had given 
Mossel Bay access to the interior and 
had helped the village to develop. 
Many houses had slate and zinc roofs 
and some had two storeys. The chapel 



and the Dutch church gave the place 
"respectability and character". There 
were three hotels, an apothecary, 
provision shops and a public reading- 
room. Officials included a resident 
magistrate, district surgeon, customs 
officer and police for the population of 
six hundred. A post-cart ran to Cape 
Town three times a week. Between the 
years 1851 and 1858 more than four 
hundred ships had anchored in the bay. 

Seal Island, which so many mailboat 
passengers have seen on harbour 
excursions by tug, was a scene of 
tragedy in the middle of last century. 
A shipmaster, a doctor named Syme 
and two others were drowned while 
visiting the island. Some years later a 
whale boat was stove in while the 
crew were attempting to land on Seal 
Island. On that occasion another 



medical man was drowned, a Dr. 
Weinstein and three others. 

Governor Sir Philip Wodehouse 
opened the Cape St. Blaize lighthouse 
and laid the cornerstone of a new j etty 
in the eighteen-sixties and a "grand 
tiffin" was held in his honour. At this 
period the newspapers reported that 
Mossel Bay had become a fashionable 
watering place. The hotels were the 
Marine, Masonic, Royal and Victoria; 
all of them offered "draught beer and 
oyster suppers". By the year 1875 
Mossel Bay had a town population of 
twelve hundred with nearly four 
thousand in the district. 

Twelve years later the town was 
shocked by the first murder among the 
white community. Louisa Ann Del- 
bridge, a schoolgirl, was found 
throttled. Tracks showed that the 
murderer had worn odd boots. A man 



named William Matfield was tried and 
condemned to death. He wrote a 
confession shortly before the execu- 
tion and this was published in the 
newspapers: "I committed the crime 
while in a mad state and it was like a 
dream when I came to my senses. 
Since my sentence I have turned over 
to the Catholic Church. I wish to thank 
the magistrate, police and gaoler for 
their kindness. I leave a wife and four 
children and trust the people of Mossel 
Bay will be charitable towards them." 
Matfield was pinioned in his cell at a 
quarter to eight one morning in June 
1888 and accompanied to the scaffold 
by Father Ballesty and two constables. 
A service was read and Matfield 
responded. Crowds had gathered on 
the hill overlooking the gaol and as the 
scaffold had been put up in the gaol 
yard the onlookers were able to watch 



the execution. Before the noose was 
adjusted Matfield addressed those 
present. (According to the local 
newspaper the witnesses included the 
deputy sheriff, district surgeon, police 
"and a few other gentlemen"). 
Matfield said: "I am about to suffer the 
just penalty for the crime I have 
committed and I commend my spirit to 
God." The trap was sprung and soon 
afterwards the watchers on the hillside 
dispersed. 

Towards the end of the century the 
first intermediate steamer called at 
Mossel Bay to load eighty thousand 
oranges and ostrich feathers worth ten 
thousand pounds. She was the brand 
new Arundel Castle of four thousand 
tons, the second ship in the Castle fleet 
to bear that name. Another interesting 
arrival at the port, in the winter of 
1903, was the first motor-car, a six- 



horse Gladiator driven by a Mr. 
Menzies. "The car attracted a deal of 
attention as it careered merrily along," 
reported the local newspaper. "Mr. 
Menzies is conveying a government 
official to Port Elizabeth and thence 
northwards. He covered the distance 
between Cape Town and Mossel Bay 
in twenty-four hours net, not including 
stoppages for sleep and meals. The car 
negotiates hills with a facility that 
fully sustains the claims made for 
these vehicles in regard to their 
capacity for speed and power." 

Trawling started in Mossel Bay waters 
very early this century. The research 
vessel Pieter Faure fished off Cape 
Infanta and brought up hauls too large 
to lift inboard. Soles, which had been 
regarded as a great luxury in Mossel 
Bay, were sold at a penny each; for 
those were the days before cold 



storage and rail facilities. When the 
first train reached Mossel Bay in 
1905 there were no more penny 
soles. 

Mossel Bay still has a number of 
reminders of its past besides the Ou 
Posboom, the cannon and anchors. 
Marsh Street, the main thoroughfare, 
recalls Mr. George Marsh, the first 
magistrate. Some of the old ware- 
houses of honeycoloured local stone 
have arched doorways built in the 
days when high-piled wagons 
entered the yards of the merchants. 
Die Bakke, one of the three main 
beaches, gained its name at the time 
when farmers camped there and then 
animals drank at the iron water 
troughs (die bakke) on the sands. 

Mossel Bay has a country museum 
where many fine specimens of old 
Afrikaans culture are preserved. It is 



housed in a low white building on 
the Hartenbos farm, ancestral home 
of the Meyer family. Strandloper 
implements form a contrast with the 
wagon equipment of the Voortrekker 
period and farmhouse furniture. Here 
are white linen kappies and a baby's 
cape decorated with spotted guinea 
fowl feathers. Old musical instru- 
ments and sewing-machines, a 
wooden kitchen mincer, guns and 
medical kit, pewter and chinaware 
are among the Hartenbos exhibits. 

I mentioned aloe fumes when I first 
entered Mossel Bay. This is one of 
Africa's ancient trades for the 
Egyptians were using aloes as 
medicine three thousand years before 
Christ; and at the Cape the Hotten- 
tots were collecting the juice for the 
same purpose long before the first 
explorers arrived. Adrian van der 



Stel sent the Aloe ferox seed to 
Holland. Dried aloe juice weighing 
millions of pounds has passed 
through Mossel Bay since the middle 
of last century. German schooners 
called for it and the dried sap was 
exported in special boxes made of 
Outeniqua yellowwood. You may 
smell herbs and sweet flowers and 
fragrant heath in the Mossel Bay 
district; but when the aloes are boiled 
in cauldrons the odour dominates the 
countryside. 

You see the tall spikes of the red-hot 
pokers along the roads and over large 
areas of veld in the early spring. The 
aloes look after themselves. Tappers 
work at all seasons though dry weather 
is best. Then you see the coloured 
tappers hacking off the leaves and 
piling them in the traditional way, cut 
ends inwards, on to a goatskin spread 



over a hollow in the ground. After 
about twelve hours the juice is poured 
into petrol cans. It looks rather like 
dark brown treacle when it is boiled. 
Finally it dries and hardens into brittle 
cakes. 

Aloe tappers have to guard against the 
effects of the powerful medicine they 
handle all day long. They find it 
necessary to add dried beans and 
mealies to their bread and potatoes. 
Even their sweat turns yellow after a 
spell among the aloes. Aloe juice 
contains the purgative drug aloin; the 
characteristic bitter taste is disguised 
by coating laxative pills with sugar or 
saccharine. Fresh juice from the leaf is 
used as an eye application for 
opthalmia. The juice is also used for 
treating scab in sheep. Sweet nectar 
from the flower is a narcotic, causing 
symptoms like curare poisoning. Buck 



are aware of the medical properties 
and have been seen nibbling the 
leaves. Some farmers think that dosing 
sheep and cattle with aloes will affect 
the blood and force ticks to abandon 
their hosts, but this is a fallacy. Dried 
aloe leaves give a smokeless flame and 
provide the finest of all fuel for flat- 
irons. Aloe ash mixed with powdered 
tobacco gives just the right flavour 
(say the addicts) to certain forms of 
snuff. Aloes were once used for 
embalming. Country folk painted the 
woodwork in their homes with aloe 
juice to keep beetles away and impart 
a deep colour. Indeed the aloe has 
been valued since the days of 
Solomon, as you will remember: "All 
their garments smell of myrrh and 
aloes and cassia." According to 
Mossel Bay legend, the secret of the 
aloe medicine and the method of 



preparation were revealed by a dying 
Hottentot slave to his master. 

Mossel Bay has one other unusual 
industry, a factory for milling the 
yellow ochre mined in the Albertinia 
district and worked into a fine powder 
for paint. The resort claims the finest 
natural bathing pool in the world, the 
Poort with its rock walls and sandy 
floor, filled by each high tide. The 
old fishing village of thatched 
cottages has grown into a town that 
has covered the hillside; a town of 
modern shops and villas and one 
circular home on a pedestal admired 
by architects. Oysters cost a bit more 
than they did in the days when the 
first hotels served oyster suppers. If 
Vasco da Gama returned today he 
would find no one simple enough to 
supply him with a bull in exchange 
for a red cap. The tigers and wolves 



(in reality leopards and jackals) of 
Latrobe's time are no longer a 
serious menace. Little schooners are 
in no danger of being driven on to 
Santos beach. Bushman paintings in 
the caves of Cape St. Blaize were 
blacked out by the fires of campers 
long ago. The oysters are still there, 
thank heaven, and so is the view of 
the distant Outeniquas, the range that 
inspired Francois le Vaillant nearly 
two centuries ago when he declared: 
"I was rapt in wonder. This land 
bears the name of Outeniqualand, 
which in the Hottentot tongue means 
'a man laden with honey'. The 
flowers grow there in millions. 
Nature has made an enchanted abode 
of this beautiful place." 




Chapter Seven 

Bay Of Lost CARGOES 



Old sailormen have told me that Port 
Elizabeth once had a seafaring quarter 
as rowdy and dangerous as old Cape 
Town's waterfront streets. The surf- 
boat crews of Algoa Bay, they 
declared, were every bit as bold and 
skilful as the Table Bay watermen. 
Just as Table Bay skippers feared the 
winter north-westers so the ship- 



masters of last century dreaded the 
black south-easters at Algoa Bay. 

Algoa Bay must be paved with lost 
cargoes, everything from steel rails 
and other "Glasgow jewellery" to 
slabs of marble and galvanised sheets. 
Hundreds of anchors have rested in the 
mud for centuries. Thousands of 
fathoms of valuable anchor chains 
have been abandoned there, enough to 
hold the fleets of the world. When 
bales and cases dropped from the 
slings the Customs men known as 
"tide waiters" recovered some of the 
flotsam on North End beach; but 
Algoa Bay has swallowed greedily 
fortunes in heavy freight that should 
have gone to the shore in lighters. 
Those who know only the modern 
all-weather harbour can have little 
idea of past hardships and disasters. 
Again and again the builders of walls 



and breakwaters were defeated by 
the violence of the sea and Port 
Elizabeth had to wait more than a 
century for the secure basin of today. 

I can remember the wind-swept 
anchorage where passenger ships and 
tramps plunged and bucketed with 
strings of lighters bumping heavily 
against their sides. Gangways were 
smashed, passengers had to enter tall 
baskets and trust the magnificent 
blacks of vast experience who 
handled the rattling steam-winches 
and lowered them safely to the decks 
of tugs. The trade of the port was 
carried on over the years in spite of 
wild and frightening storms and all 
too many shipwrecks. In the days of 
sail a strong south-easter must have 
been a nightmare for those afloat. 
Shipmasters took compass bearings 
of Fort Frederick and Bird Rock and 



anchored in six fathoms, grey sand 
over clay. October to April were the 
months they feared. When haze 
appeared on the horizon; when the 
air became cold and damp; when the 
port office hoisted a warning, then 
careful masters made for open sea. 
Some trusted their ground tackle but 
if their cables parted the surf claimed 
them and they pounded on the sand. 
Others hesitated, tried to claw off the 
lee shore; their topsails carried away, 
mainsails split and they became 
victims of the heavy, breaking seas. 
Often by the next morning a fine ship 
would have become a mass of 
tangled rope and shattered timber. 

As long as the wind blew from the 
west Algoa Bay offered safe anchor- 
age. When it veered to the east of 
Cape Recife a swell rose and the 
lighters became hard to manage. 



Black south-easters filled the sky 
with dark clouds and masters realised 
the danger before the gale warning 
was signalled from the shore. 
Tarpaulins were dragged over the 
holds of the lighters and all cargo 
work came to a halt. Small craft 
made for the shore. Ship after ship 
veered out more cable; sixty fathoms 
became seventy, eighty, a hundred, a 
hundred and twenty, and men 
wondered whether the great chains 
would stand the test. Steamers with 
their fires burning were safe enough 
for they could use their engines to 
relieve the strain or move out to sea 
if necessary. Sailing ships had to rely 
on anchors and chain and springs. 
Their crews stared across the anchor- 
age to see how others were faring 
and caught occasional glimpses 
through blinding spray. Landmarks 



became invisible. They heard the 
roaring of the gale, the surf on the 
beach, the nerve-racking creak and 
groaning of the windlass. All night 
there would be the lightning and the 
rain; the wind blowing at seventy, 
eighty miles an hour; men working 
frantically by the light of storm 
lanterns; rockets going up, tar barrels 
ablaze as signals of distress. Dawn 
would show the black cloud masses 
still racing overhead. Dawn on the 
beach would bring sorrow to all who 
set eyes on the doomed and the dead. 
Sometimes the crowds on the beach 
were able to count the men in the 
bows of a wrecked ship, but they had 
to watch them drowning, one by one. 

Years ago during an early visit to 
Port Elizabeth I was advised to call 
on two old citizens named Josephus 
Winter and Thomas Morgan. After 



this lapse of time I can hardly 
believe my own notes, for these men 
talked freely of the eighteen-fifties. 
They remembered Port Elizabeth as a 
place of sandy roads like an up- 
country village; a Main Street 
crowded with wool wagons; post-cart 
drivers with bugles; masses of foam 
blowing across Jetty Street and 
across Market Square during a south- 
easter. They had seen a sailing ship 
break away from her anchor and 
drive right through a wooden jetty, 
leaving a wide gap. Then she met her 
end on the rocks. They talked of the 
wreck of the Charlotte, a troopship 
bound from Cork to Calcutta under 
sail. She was no Birkenhead, for 
everyone on board seemed to have 
been panic-stricken. The Charlotte 
carried one hundred and sixty-three 
officers and men of the Twenty- 



seventh Regiment, eleven women 
and twenty-six children and a full 
crew. She put into Aloga Bay for 
provisions and water and while at 
anchor there a south-east gale blew 
up. Almost everyone in the town 
went down to the foot of Jetty Street 
to watch the drama. "Above the fury 
of the wind and sea we could hear the 
cries of the women and children," 
recalled Mr. Winter. "They saw the 
danger even before the ship parted 
with her anchor." The captain of the 
Charlotte got a little sail on her and 
tried to beat out of the bay, but it was 
hopeless. The troopship crawled along 
just outside the breakers, parallel with 
the shore. Off North End beach the 
mate jumped overboard and was 
drowned in the surf. Survivors 
declared that the mate had tried to 
persuade the captain to beach the ship 



on the sand. When the captain refused 
the mate said he was going to give 
himself a sporting chance of reaching 
the shore, and went to his death. The 
Charlotte struck the rockiest part of 
the foreshore and broke in half. The 
harbourmaster sent a rocket line across 
but no one in the Charlotte touched it. 
Then he sent out a lifeboat at great 
risk. "A panic at this time seized the 
crew and troops," reported the 
harbourmaster. "In defiance of 
repeated hails from the shore they 
jumped overboard. I launched the boat 
in a fearful surf and several times 
pulled alongside. The boat filled and 
was driven on the rocks after several 
men had been washed overboard." Mr. 
Winter said the Charlotte broke up 
rapidly but the stern came so close to 
the shore that a number of people were 
saved. At daybreak hardly a fragment 



of the troopship was to be seen at the 
place where she had struck. Sixty 
soldiers, eleven women and all the 
children were drowned, and the total 
death roll was one hundred and fifteen. 
Port Elizabeth regarded the Charlotte 
disaster as a mystery. As a rule people 
facing death are stirred to action but 
nearly all on board the Charlotte 
seemed to have been paralysed by 
fear. By the way, this wreck which 
was described to me by eye-witnesses 
occurred as far back as 1854. Captain 
Salmond, who tried to organise the 
rescue, was awarded a gold medal, and 
this has been preserved in the Port 
Elizabeth library. 

South-east gales brought work for the 
local shipyards. They caulked the 
damaged ships, fitted new rudders, 
fashioned new mainmasts and 
topmasts and rigged ships of all sizes. 



When the Star of Empire was 
dismasted and abandoned the Port 
Elizabeth craftsmen fitted her out 
again and sent her to sea as the Lady 
Grey. Famous little Cape Town 
traders were calling at Algoa Bay a 
century ago: the Lord of the Isles, 
which went on to Mauritius for sugar, 
the guano island vessel Alert, Captain 
James Glendinning's Admiral, the 
Anna, Albatross and Tonquille. Port 
Elizabeth builders launched a schooner 
of their own in the middle of last 
century, the Penguin for communi- 
cation with Bird Island. They had their 
own whaling industry, too, started by 
Frederick Korsten, the Dutch aristocrat 
and merchant who was there before 
the settlers arrived. He was also a 
farmer and shipowner. Korsten's ship 
Helena sailed to England and he 



opened up the sealing and guano trade 
with the Algoa Bay islands. 

Whaling flourished all through last 
century, the fierce old-fashioned 
whaling which made bull-fighting 
seem a sport for timid people. Algoa 
Bay had several great harpooners. 
Rival whalermen kept a sharp lookout 
from the Donkin Reserve or St. Croix 
island; and a smoke fire was the signal 
that a whale had been sighted. Right 
whales swam into Algoa Bay to calve 
from June to September each year. 
When the lookoutmen saw a "blow" 
the crews rushed down to North End 
Beach and launched the narrow, 
double-ended boats. Portuguese 
harpooners were among the pioneers. 
One daredevil named Fernandez often 
jumped from the boat on to a whale's 
back to drive the lance home. Searle, 
another skipper, used a small harpoon 



gun fired from the shoulder; it had a 
kick that usually knocked him over but 
when the dart exploded in the right 
spot the whale died quickly. Among 
the last of the North End whalermen 
was Old Darby, a fearless Malay. He 
once brought in a huge sperm whale, 
sixty feet long and valued at eight 
hundred pounds. They had their 
blubber pots on North End beach, and 
all the poor (and the dogs) of Port 
Elizabeth gathered there to feast on 
discarded fragments of fat whale meat. 
Whalebone was cleaned and sold in 
those days of corsets and unwanted 
parts were dumped at sea. But the 
great skeletons remained for many 
years as relics of the hunting. Mr. 
Herbert McWilliams, the well-known 
architect and yacht designer, uses the 
old cauldrons as flowerpots at his 
home on the Swartkops River. The 



vertebrae of whales decorate his 
garden. Among his nautical museum 
pieces are the figurehead of H.M.S. 
Medusa, one of Nelson's flagships; 
ships' lanterns, a signal cannon, bells 
and bollards and anchors. 

Port Elizabeth had its pubs in the 
very early days, the Red Lion Tavern 
and the Robinson Hotel. In the 
eighteenforties came the Phoenix 
Hotel, named after the pioneer 
paddle steamer Phoenix that traded 
along the coast. Cobb's coaches, 
drawn by eight horses, started from 
the Phoenix. By the middle of last 
century there were rather more bars 
and canteens than the little town 
needed. Strand Street, which had a 
vile reputation, was the resort of 
smugglers, drunken seamen, escaped 
convicts and army deserters. Here 
the thirsty sailorman could refresh 



himself at the Standard, the Prince of 
Wales, Kromm's, Ted Sasse's, the 
Caledonian, the Admiral Rodney and 
other hotels and canteens. In this 
unlighted quarter, known as Irish 
Town, beachcombers slept in surf 
boats and defended themselves 
against a horde of rats. Here the 
stevedores fortified themselves with 
brandy before pulling off to ships in 
the bay. Often they needed strong 
drink for their boats capsized again 
and again in heavy weather. People 
loved to watch the surf boats coming 
in and waiting just outside the line of 
breakers for a word from the coxs'n. 
At the right moment the coxs'n 
would dip his long steering oar and 
shout; the men would pull together 
and come roaring in on the crest of a 
wave. Once the boat touched all 
hands would jump into the water. 



With shoremen helping they would 
lift the heavy boat with slings and 
spars and rush her out of reach of the 
sea. Passengers were carried on 
shore by natives. 

Irish Town was tough but an Irish 
priest named Father Murphy restored 
law and order. He rode a black horse 
and carried only a cane. When the 
black horse died he acquired a white 
horse; and an admirer called his hotel 
the White Horse in honour of the 
priest's steed. Thanks to Father 
Murphy's influence the Roman 
Catholic prisoners in the little wooden 
gaol were allowed out on Sundays to 
attend Mass. For three decades Father 
Murphy visited the Irish emigrants 
who settled in Port Elizabeth. He died 
nearly a century ago but the man and 
his famous horses have never been 
forgotten. 



Port Elizabeth had a German colony in 
the eighteenfifties and they gathered at 
Hirsch's Hotel, the Commercial in 
Queen Street. It was not only the 
fountain with goldfish and lilies that 
attracted them. Hirsch also provided 
sausages and pumpernickel, Bavarian 
cheese and pretzels. His cooks 
transmuted the plain local cabbage 
into a legendary sauerkraut, shredded 
and flavoured with carraway seeds, 
garnished with apples and onions and 
frankfurters. Hirsch imported the 
typical German herb liqueurs as well 
as the Rhine brandies and Steinhaeger 
gin; and he kept an unfailing stock of 
regional beers to suit the exacting 
palates of residents and sailors. There 
came a time when the German colony 
in Port Elizabeth formed a Deutsche 
Liedertafel, gathering under a huge 
imperial coat-of-arms with black, 



white and red ribbons. They drank and 
sang and ate rollmops, and when the 
glasses were raised the toasts could be 
heard in the street - Prost I Zum 
Wohle I Zur Gesundheit I Strange to 
say, a favourite meeting place of the 
German colony late last century was 
the Britannia Hotel. 

Other early hotels in Queen Street 
were the George and Dragon, the 
Oddfellows Arms, the Rose and 
Shamrock, Fountain and Albion. The 
Vine in Sea Lane was known for some 
reason as "His Lordship's Larder". 
Queen Street also had, as a contrast, a 
garden filled with one of the finest 
collections of ships' figureheads ever 
seen in South Africa. Mr. Tee, the 
owner, did not exactly welcome 
shipwrecks; but he was always on the 
spot when wrecks were put up for sale, 
and the auctioneer could always rely 



on a bid for the figurehead. In this way 
Mr. Tee became the owner of a nauti- 
cal museum far more romantic than 
the rusty anchors, chain and other 
marine equipment that surrounded the 
George Hotel in Main Street. Where 
are they now, those crude yet robust 
wooden statues of classical figures 
and naval heroes, those famous men 
and women staring with sightless 
eyes towards the oceans they had 
lost? These images of good luck 
were not always works of art. Some 
came from the benches of ships' 
carpenters, though now and again a 
shipowner commissioned a brilliant 
woodcarver and adorned a prow with 
a delicate figurehead that brought the 
whole ship to life. Mr. Tee had a 
stupid-looking man with a walrus 
moustache between two lovely 
female effigies in flowing robes. 



There was an eagle from a Yankee 
whaler and a lion from some 
unknown wreck. Carved from pine 
and brightly painted, these were 
relics of the golden age of sail. 

Dick Smithers, an American who 
made a living by breaking up wrecks, 
was among the Port Elizabeth 
characters towards the end of last 
century. He ran a boarding-house as 
a sideline, and his dances with a 
pianist and three fiddlers were 
described as the best entertainment 
value of the period. Smithers charged 
an entrance fee of one shilling. Of 
course there were scenes of wild 
disorder when seamen of the 
different nations clashed, when fists 
and belts came into action. But on 
happier occasions the sentimental 
mariners gathered round the 



orchestra and sang with tears in their 
bloodshot eyes: 

But a maiden so sweet lives in that 

little street, 
She's the daughter of Widow 

McNally: 
She has bright golden hair, and the 

boys all declare 
She's the sunshine of Paradise 

Alley. 

Among the picturesque corners of 
Port Elizabeth early this century was 
the Chinese market garden. Chinese 
growers took their vegetables from 
door to door in pannier baskets. Even 
in those days some people enjoyed 
the authentic Chinese dishes; meat 
and fish cooked with sesame or 
peanut oil and mild spices; mush- 
rooms and bamboo shoots, shrimps 
and almonds and soya sauce; cakes 
flavoured with powdered ginger. 



Malay fishermen carried their fish on 
long bamboo poles. Their mosques 
were at the lower end of Strand Street. 
The fishermen moved to South End 
later and lived in wattle and daub huts. 
Like the Cape Malays this colony at 
Algoa Bay loved picnics on holidays; 
and they streamed out to the 
Swartkops River in their carts. The 
fezzed men favoured brown suits with 
gold watch chains; women appeared in 
dazzling clothes. They danced their 
own volkspele and they sang: 

So lank as die rietjie in die water 

le 
In die water le, in die water le 
So lank as die rietjie in die water 

le 
Blommetjie gedink om my. 

Mr. McWilliams, the architect I have 
mentioned, has pointed out that the 
city has a number of very narrow 



buildings. He traced this peculiarity 
back to the days when wooden spars 
from wrecks were used as main beams 
in new buildings. A spar twenty-seven 
feet long would span a roof or floor; 
and so many a frontage was 
determined. Port Elizabeth owes its 
deep, narrow buildings to the gales in 
Algoa Bay. 

Port Elizabeth once watched the daily 
movements of the most remarkable 
train in the country. It was not a train 
to boast about for it carried the refuse 
of the town, a train of trucks loaded 
with eighty tons of household rubbish. 
People called it the "Driftsands 
Special". It ran for the first time 
towards the end of last century and 
completed its unromantic task during 
the first two decades of this century. 

Drifting sand menaced Port Elizabeth 
in the eighteenseventies. First it was 



deposited on the beach and blown 
inland; then it seeped back into the bay 
at the wrong spot and threatened the 
harbour. The dune area, with sandhills 
thirty feet high, was known as the 
"Downs" and became a landmark for 
ships in Algoa Bay. Reclamation 
started almost a century ago, convicts 
planted Port Jackson willows, but the 
sand still appeared to be gaining. 
People spoke nervously of Port 
Elizabeth being engulfed by sand. So a 
railway line was built into the heart of 
the sandy desert and the "Driftsands 
Special" whistled off for the first time. 
Convicts spread the refuse over the 
dunes. Self-sown tomatoes, pumpkins 
and acacias grew out of the sand. 
Stable sweepings yielded unexpected 
crops of oathay. But still a yellow 
cloud of sand arose in a strong breeze 
and fell on the decks of ships miles 



away at sea. Only after years of 
constant work was the desert trans- 
formed into the pleasant Humewood 
resort of today. And only a few 
railway lovers mourned the passing of 
the "Driftsands Special." Mr. E. P. 
Dimbleby, the Port Elizabeth editor, 
once told me that the sight he always 
gazed upon in wonder mixed with 
horror was the fantastic horde of flies 
which hovered over the train and 
accompanied it to its destination. One 
fly does not make very much noise, 
but those millions of flies buzzing in 
unison almost rivalled the engine- 
driver's whistle. 

A more fragrant train is the "Apple 
Express" which brings the apple 
harvest into Port Elizabeth from 
stations as far away as Avontuur. 
Early this century it set out as the 
"Walmer Coffee Pot"; but those 



locomotives have gone. It might also 
be known as the "Orange and Pear 
Train" for the Langkloof orchards fill 
the trucks with these fruits. And there 
are times when the aroma of tobacco is 
wafted through the countryside from 
the "Apple Express". It is a narrow- 
gauge railway, two feet six inches 
wide, built at one third the cost of 
South African standard gauge. 
Railway-lovers flock to a miniature 
railway but during the fruit season 
they have to make way for more 
profitable cargoes bound for the 
harbour. 



Chapter Eight 
By Wagon To The Kowie 



My first j ourney to Port Alfred was by 
ox-wagon. The trek was memorable 
because this was my only experience 
of South Africa's traditional "ship of 
the veld". I was ten years old, an 
unhappy boarder at a Grahamstown 
school, and when the short holidays 
came it was almost impossible to go to 
Cape Town and back in the time 
allowed. So I went with other exiles to 
the school camp at Port Alfred. 

It was considered a great privilege to 
be chosen as one of the wagon party. 
The wagons, bearing tents, set out 
several days before the end of the 
term, so that those arriving by train 
would find everything ready for them. 
The year was 1910, with Halley's 
Comet sweeping across the night sky. 



I saw ostriches and oranges along the 
road between Grahamstown and the 
coast, but not a single motor-car. This 
was still the heyday of the ox -wagon 
and the rough tracks resounded with 
the wild cries of the drivers and the 
sounds of their long whips. I 
discovered that oxen had names too 
weird to remember; but I recall their 
strength and patience and fearsome 
horns. Sometimes the wheels sank into 
holes and I walked ahead while the 
blacks struggled with the teams. I 
found the whole j ourney very much to 
my taste; the swinging trot of the oxen 
over hard ground; the long outspan at 
midday; the smell of the earth. A box 
with a heavy lid held the food and it 
gave out a fine aroma of coffee and 
brown sugar, rusks and pepper. In the 
evening there would be stewed mutton 






,.,,. 



HARBOURS OF MEMORY 




*'My first journey to Port Alfred was by ox-wagon. The trek was 
memorable because this was my only experience of South Africa's 
traditional *ship of the veld'." 



and askoek. I would have gone on for 
ever provided the wagon was taking 
me away from that hated school. 
However, the trek ended all too soon 
at an old-fashioned Port Alfred which 
had none of the smart, modern shop- 
windows or tiled villas. 

Close to the camp was a store that 
could not have changed much since 
the days of the Settlers. It was a low 
building like a stable with a stoep 
displaying felt hats and velskoene, 
pitchforks and saddles. Packing cases 
formed the counter and the dark 
room smelt of moth powders used to 
protect the woollen goods; moth 
powders, great bars of soap and roll 
tobacco. I was interested only in the 
jars of sweets though I admired the 
gaudy handkerchiefs and guns. 

We always called Port Alfred "the 
Kowie", a native name based on the 



rushing of the waters. During a river 
excursion by steam-launch we kept a 
look-out for buffalo; but there were 
not many left even in those days for 
the rinderpest had almost extermi- 
nated them. I saw a lifeboat crossing 
the sinister bar that had caused so 
many wrecks and drownings. The 
port was a ghost harbour, a deserted 
port where the stone embankments, 
wharves and mooring rings were 
reminders of the long period when 
Port Alfred sheltered steamers and 
square-riggers. Then I went back to 
school by train, over the graceful 
Blaauwkrantz bridge of tragic 
memories. More than half a century 
passed before I saw Port Alfred 
again. 

According to legend the Portuguese 
were the first white men to enter the 
Kowie River. They must have 



sighted the mouth; but I doubt very 
much whether such fine, cautious 
navigators would have risked their 
boats and their lives so far from 
home by crossing the unknown bar 
and sailing up the uncharted stream. 

Old charts show a Rio Infante and a 
Penedo das Fontes, which have been 
identified by some writers with the 
Kowie River and the Fountain Rocks 
close by. Dr. Eric Axelson, the most 
reliable modern authority, has 
declared that the problem is insoluble 
from the present known sources of 
information. Years ago the imagina- 
tive Professor E. H. L. Schwarz (of 
"Kalahari redemption" fame) declar- 
ed that Bartholomew Diaz took three 
of his boats up the Kowie to a spot 
which he named St. Mary's Cove. 
There he found a spring and secured 
fresh water for his ships. Schwarz 



went on: "Diaz left a box of docu- 
ments relating to his voyage together 
with an emblem of Christianity to 
mark, as it were, the farthest limits of 
the faith in this unknown country." 
Early this century an ironbound box 
filled with the remains of sodden 
documents was dug up at the Cove and 
there were fragments of a devotional 
image. These relics were thrown away 
by people who were ignorant of the 
possible historical value. Schwarz may 
have been right. 

Another legend which has been told in 
some detail but still lacks an authentic 
source, placed a Portuguese castle at 
the Kowie River mouth. It was said to 
have been built by Don Pedro Basto, a 
seventeenth century pirate, who called 
his stronghold "Eagle's Nest." From 
there he attacked passing ships laden 
with rich Eastern cargoes. Don Pedro 



was supposed to have been deserted by 
his followers and he was wandering 
alone in the bush one day when the 
blacks murdered him. The harbour 
master's house was placed early last 
century on a ruin and the builders were 
said to have found dungeons with 
rusty iron rings in the walls. Some 
years later a number of skeletons of 
Europeans were dug up in the 
neighbourhood. I doubt whether there 
is much truth in the "Eagle's Nest" 
legend but a chance discovery in the 
Lisbon archives may clear up these old 
Kowie mysteries one day. 

John Campbell the missionary crossed 
the Kowie River near the mouth last 
century some years before the first 
settlers arrived. A Hottentot soldier led 
the way on horseback, following 
elephant paths through otherwise 
impenetrable forests. At low tide the 



drift was a quarter of a mile wide and 
the water came over the backs of the 
oxen. Campbell found British soldiers 
from one of the forts on the beach 
fishing. The entrails of gutted fish had 
drawn sharks to the spot and Campbell 
said that a ravenous man-eater 
attacked a child wearing a red dress. 
The child escaped. Campbell referred 
to the river as the Buffalo. Another 
distinguished visitor at that period was 
Burchell the botanist. 

When the 1820 Settlers first set eyes 
on the Kowie mouth it was a marsh. 
Great white herons were feeding 
there, no doubt, while kingfishers 
hovered over the lagoon and cormo- 
rants dived for fish. It was a barren 
spot with the south-easter howling 
down the beach; but the newcomers 
must have found some comfort when 
they took oysters off the rocks, 



speared soles and netted galjoen and 
kabeljou. Very soon the Kowie (also 
known as Port Frances) was regarded 
as a coming place. Sloops and other 
small craft sailed into the river and 
false hopes were raised; hopes that 
cost the Cape Government and others 
half a million pounds sterling, spread 
over about half a century. When the 
schooner Elizabeth crossed and re- 
crossed the bar safely the "Cape 
Town Gazette" declared: "The 
settlers after two seasons of unprece- 
dented calamity and distress have 
now the prospect of all the advan- 
tages of water communication into 
the heart of the country. Vessels may 
discharge cargoes on the river banks 
from their decks." 

Port Frances unfortunately became a 
place of wrecks and drownings. 
Boats were upset on the bar, fishing 



boats went out and never returned. 
Larger craft were reported missing 
and like the Waratah they never 
made port. James Holman, that 
shrewd, insatiable traveller, blind 
though he was, visited the Kowie in 
the eighteen-twenties and predicted 
the failure of the place as a harbour. 
He had been a naval officer and he 
knew the dangers of a sand bar. 
Holman said there was a village of 
thirty houses, but "the people would 
leave if they could dispose of their 
property without loss." A rare and 
surprising discovery on the beach at 
this period was the last remnant of an 
Antarctic iceberg. Travellers com- 
mented on the shells to be found 
there, nearly two thousand species 
from the argonauts to chank shells. 

Of course the man who really put the 
Kowie on the map for a time was that 



fantastic character William Cock. He 
was the leader of a party of 1820 
Settlers; a. short, handsome young 
man of great ability and tremendous 
drive; a man who would never admit 
defeat. Cock lost his money not long 
after landing but soon made a fortune 
as a cattle speculator. Then he became 
a shipowner. During a visit to the 
Kowie he remarked to someone: 
"What a pity that such a fine estuary is 
not made available as a port." The idea 
grew in his mind until it became an 
obsession. Cock noticed that the river 
channel came in on a curve, and he 
believed that if it could be straightened 
the floods would scour out a deep 
channel so that large vessels would be 
able to enter safely. He cut a new exit 
for the river through the sandhills on 
the west bank, built a sea-wall to hold 



back high tides, and changed the 
course of the river. 

For days when the surface was 
breaking, sometimes for weeks on end, 
it took nerve and fine seamanship to 
cross that perilous bar. Some made it, 
many lost their ships and their lives. 
The anxious master had to count the 
seas, judge the right moment and make 
a dash for it. Steamers came through 
the broken water quicker than craft 
under sail; yet steamers were among 
the victims of the treacherous Kowie. 

Miss Kate Pigot, daughter of Major 
Pigot, watched an early shipwreck and 
left a fine description of it. "Everyone 
in the village gathered at the mouth of 
the river, men, women and children 
old enough to be out, wringing their 
hands to see the ship leaning over and 
men clinging to the mast. They had 
but one boat and this capsized on 



launching and was carried out to sea. 
The surf was too wild to send any boat 
from shore and signs were made to the 
men to swim for it. It was not far, but 
in that wind with the waves crashing 
no shout could carry far. We watched 
with beating hearts while three sailors 
plunged into the sea and fought their 
way through the surf. Two-score eager 
hands stretched to help them as they 
struggled through. A fire of driftwood 
was lit to warm them and the flames, 
blown ragged in the wind in the falling 
dusk, made the scene appear wilder 
yet." 

Donald Moodie the magistrate was the 
hero of this episode, for he swam out 
to the wreck six times and brought the 
remaining six men on shore. "Between 
each trip he was sustained with brandy 
neat, and but for that he cannot have 
survived it," Kate Pigot wrote. "Such 



a cheer went up as he and the last 
man came within reach. All 
recovered now thank God and no 
lives lost, though the schooner 
battered beyond hope of salvage. 
'Tis feared this will mean less 
confidence than ever in Port 
Frances." 

Optimists said that when the harbour 
scheme was carried out "ships would 
be as safe in the river as in the 
London docks." Nevertheless, Cock 
lost one ship after another. He had 
the forty horse-power paddle-steamer 
Sir John St. Aubyn specially built for 
the Kowie trade; ninety feet long 
with two-berth cabins for sixteen 
passengers. An advertisement stated 
that there was a ladies' cabin with 
private W.C. and a dining-saloon. 
Cock was on board when she made a 
record passage of three and a half 



days from Cape Town. She was 
damaged on the bar and sank in the 
river. Cock also lost his schooner 
Africaine: and after several years of 
valuable service his iron schooner 
British Settler foundered near 
Saldanha. However, there was a 
period when Cock was sending 
profitable cargoes of "Kowie 
kippers" to Mauritius and meat to St. 
Helena. 

Cock built his famous residence 
"Richmond House" in the eighteen- 
thirties. This spacious, battlemented 
home on the heights of the west bank 
still dominates the river. Inevitably it 
became known as "Cock's Castle", 
but never as "Cock's Folly"; for it 
was a fort as well as a house and it 
saved Cock and his family when the 
native hordes attacked the settlement. 
One of Cock's sons designed the 



place and he sank deep foundations 
in the sandy ground of the bushclad 
promontory. The snow-white walls 
are three feet thick. The flat roof was 
reinforced to stand the weight of 
cannon. Water tanks were built 
undergound so that the castle might 
stand a long siege. 

When the Kowie settlement was 
attacked by the blacks in the middle 
of last century Cock's schooner 
Africaine was lying in the river. Guns 
from the schooner were brought to 
the castle and a brass swivel gun and 
cannon were mounted on the roof 
and used to beat off the raiders. 
Berrington's Inn went up in flames 
during the fight but "Cock's Castle" 
proved to be impregnable. Famous 
visitors were entertained there in later 
years: Prince Alfred, Sir Benjamin 
D'Urban, Sir Harry Smith and many 



of the frontier military leaders. The 
solid castle, with its view of the river 
mouth and the surf on the bar, remains 
one of the landmarks of the coast. Bird 
watchers love the quiet garden where 
Knysna louries and African hoopoes 
still feed on the berries. Yet this was 
the estate from which three hundred 
natives, armed with guns, carried off 
six hundred head of Cock's cattle. 
"We gave them battle within one 
hundred yards of my house," Cock 
wrote. "We were only twenty." 

Port Frances became Port Alfred 
during the second half of last century. 
Cock handed over the harbour 
development to the Cape Government 
and for a time it seemed that the 
Kowie might become a serious rival to 
Port Elizabeth and East London. 
Convicts were sent there in the 
eighteenfifties and for nearly three 



decades Port Alfred was the largest 
convict station in South Africa. Five 
hundred prisoners of many races, aged 
from seventeen to seventy, toiled in 
the quarry and strengthened the 
breakwaters against the hammer-blows 
of the sea. Men served life sentences at 
the Kowie, guarded by British 
soldiers. Some escaped, for sailing 
ships left the river bound for distant 
parts of the world; and though many 
were caught there were a few "broad 
arrow" stowaways who regained their 
freedom. Everyone in Port Alfred has 
heard of the convict ghost who appears 
only on Christmas Day. He was 
brought from Grahamstown by three 
warders; and as it was Christmas Day 
they dropped into an inn, leaving the 
manacled prisoner outside. The man 
hid in the bush while the warders 
drank. They searched and found him 



without his chains. "Stop or we fire!" 
shouted one warder. The convict 
dashed off and was shot dead. 

Port Alfred knew many vicissitudes as 
a port. The year 1873 was a year of 
wrecks: the African Belle with her 
wine and brandy; the Catherine 
Marie and the Laetitia. Marine 
insurance underwriters began demand- 
ing high rates for ships intending to 
enter the river. However, the harbour 
work went on and an historic 
locomotive known officially as 
"number nine" was landed there to 
carry stone from the quarry to the 
west pierhead. "Number nine" had 
hauled the first train out of Cape 
Town station; and this is the 
locomotive preserved as a national 
monument on the Cape Town station 
to this day. 



Dredgers worked on the bar. One 
dredger, the Perseverance, deserved 
her name for she spent thirty years in 
the river. Yet ships were sometimes 
delayed for five weeks at a time 
while tugs were sent out with "depth- 
charges" of gunpowder to blast away 
the bar. They killed shoals of fish but 
failed to remove the sandbank. 

Square-rigged mail steamers called 
regularly at Port Alfred in the eight- 
een seventies, anchoring offshore 
and loading from lighters. This was a 
prosperous decade; and in one boom 
year the Kowie exports exceeded 
£100,000. When the depth on the bar 
was twenty feet, vessels of seven 
hundred tons could use the port. Old 
photographs show ten ships in the 
river at the same time. Sailors 
deserted and headed for the diamond 
fields; but the Port Alfred taverns 



were flourishing and ways were 
devised of finding crews for vessels 
outward bound. Cock, the indomit- 
able Cock, turned to growing coffee 
and cotton. Tugs carried hundreds of 
trippers over the bar at half-a-crown 
a head to see the ships and the 
fishing boats at work. Hunters came 
out of the Kowie bush with leopards 
and buffalo. A daredevil named 
Thomas Houghton crossed the bar in 
a canoe and was drowned. And, of 
course, there was much talk of the 
coming of the railway. 

Mr. John X. Merriman "turned the 
first sod" early in the eighteen- 
eighties. Rails, sleepers and trucks 
arrived by sea. George Pauling, that 
famous and resourceful contractor, 
inspected the route and his men 
carried out the work with a subsidy 
of £2,000 a mile. It was a costly 



private venture; but the Port Alfred 
payroll was £500 a week and that 
kept Style's Hotel and the bars full. 
Those early locomotives (and the 
tugs on the river) provided work for 
woodcutters; there was no coal avail- 
able and the furnaces devoured wood 
fuel. 

Floods ravaged the Kowie banks 
eighty years ago, swamping the 
convict station and mental hospital. 
The railway offered excursion fares 
"to see the Kowie wrecks". Port 
Alfred was nearing the end of its 
time as a harbour. Coasters still 
entered the river occasionally; but 
when the Lily of Cape Town was lost 
on the bar in 1894 with a cargo of 
cement, shipowners decided not to 
visit Port Alfred any more. Once it 
seemed that the Kowie might have 
been chosen instead of the Buffalo, 



but the tally of cargoes never kept 
pace with the hopes of William Cock 
and his followers, and wreck after 
wreck ruined Port Alfred's hopes for 
the future. It is said that when Port 
Alfred was abandoned as a harbour 
Cecil John Rhodes made the Cape 
Government a secret offer. He 
wanted a port for Rhodesia, a "free 
port"; and if his terms had been 
accepted he would have taken over 
the harbour works lock, stock and 
barrel and made the entrance safe 
regardless of cost. 

Interest in Port Alfred revived during 
the South African War, when all the 
ports were congested and an engineer 
named Methuen reported favourably 
on the possibilities. Nothing was 
done. A little work was carried out 
on the west breakwater between the 



world wars but not even a fishing 
harbour was completed. 

Artists and wet plate photographers 
have left an interesting panorama of 
Port Alfred's past. First to settle 
there was the mysterious English 
aristocrat Frederick Timpson I'Ons, 
a flawless painter of landscapes and 
portraits. He was at Port Alfred in 
the middle of last century, but 
photography cut into his earnings in 
later years. Thomas Bowler painted 
the Kowie looking seaward. John 
Roland Brown, a distinguished artist, 
was painting at Port Alfred early this 
century. 

If you want to take away a genuine 
souvenir of the Kowie, buy one of 
the walking-sticks with straight 
handles made there from local 
timber. I believe this little industry 
started during the South African 



War, when the men in the refugee 
camp made these sticks and sold 
them. 

I saw Port Alfred in the ox-wagon 
era but there were earlier scenes I 
would like very much to have 
watched. The shipwrecks and rescues 
were long remembered dramas. Cock 
must have created a great stir when 
his steam flour mill started grinding 
imported wheat. Then there was the 
turtle on the beach, weighing one 
hundred and fifty pounds, bought by 
a Grahamstown hotel-keeper; a fine 
load for an ox -wagon. I would like to 
have seen Mr. W. E. Fairbridge 
launching his imported racing skiff 
during the eighties of last century. 
This tall scholar lived to a great age; 
he compiled a little-known Africana 
and newspaper index and taught me 
the art of historical research. I 



missed Berrington's Inn and the 
Britannia Inn; pubs the old sailormen 
loved. I saw the bones of the Donald 
Currie liner Finland on the rocks; but 
it must have been a great spectacle 
(eighty years ago) when the lifeboats 
pulled into the Kowie River with all 
the passengers and crew. Perhaps 
there are still a few old people who 
remember the wharves of Port Alfred 
and the bold seamen who crashed 
through the double line of breakers 
on the bar. This is indeed a dubious 
harbour of desperate adventure. 




Chapter Nine 
River Harbour 



East London has often been called 
"South Africa's only river port" and 
this is almost true. Little steamers have 
used the Berg and the Breede Rivers 
and the Kowie. But the Buffalo is the 
only stream that will allow huge 
passenger liners to berth; a marvel of 
engineering when you consider past 



dramas and disasters at the river 
mouth. 

Here the perils of the sea have been 
varied by dangerous floods. Down the 
winding seventy mile course of the 
Buffalo, at unpredictable intervals, 
come so-called "freshets" which are 
really walls of rushing water. Before 
the river mouth was opened roaring 
south-east gales drove ships ashore 
and wrecked them. They were mainly 
sailing ships at anchor in the open 
roadstead off East London, waiting to 
discharge their cargoes. Floods often 
damaged vessels in the river and 
sometimes swept them away to 
destruction. The peaceful East London 
of today with its breakwater, graving 
dock and huge turning basin, looks 
back on many desperate adventures. 

Impatient shipmasters of a century ago 
were tempted to find a way over the 



Buffalo River bar. Some crossed 
safely only to find they could not get 
out again. Others made for the river 
because they were in distress and in 
seeking the shelter of the river they 
lost their ships. East London had a bad 
reputation during the long years when 
sailing ships lay outside, their crews 
praying the anchors and cables would 
save them from drifting ashore when 
the dreaded south-easter blew at gale 
force. Anthony Troll ope the novelist 
remarked in his book on South Africa 
that some owners sent ships to East 
London hoping they would be 
wrecked. 

Portuguese sailors were the first white 
men to enter the Buffalo, but they 
were using open boats after their ship 
had been wrecked during the sixteenth 
century. Rumours and legends of 
Phoenician galleys, Arab dhows and 



Chinese junks visiting the river have 
never been confirmed. After the 
Portuguese came the Dutch, castaways 
from the wrecked Stavenisse who 
built the small Centaurus from the 
wreckage. 

Small craft were creeping through the 
drifting sandbanks of the Buffalo soon 
after the middle of last century. For a 
year at a time the mouth would be 
closed; then the floods would clear the 
sand and the little coasters would 
reach the river port once more. East 
London had a shipbuilding industry at 
this period; the coasting cutters Stoic 
and East London Packet were 
launched and sailed along the Cape 
coast. Later came a team of expert 
shipwrights, blacksmiths and carpen- 
ters from Scotland; they built many 
fine surf boats and other craft includ- 
ing the steam tug Agnes seventy feet 



long. Heavy lighters built by these 
Scots served the port for more than 
half a century. First steamer to move 
into the calm waters of the Buffalo 
was the Bismarck, a coaster running 
between Cape Town and Durban. That 
was in June 1872, when crossing the 
bar was still a hazardous adventure. 

East London was a collection of one- 
storey houses in the eighteen- 
seventies. It was a military station, 
forwarding depot for the chain of 
posts stretching along the Kaffrarian 
frontier; a village with only a few 
streets. Strand and Smith Streets 
were there. Toby Street (named after 
Captain. Toby of the barque that 
unloaded at the first jetty) became 
High Street. Captain George Walker, 
a Scot known as "Old Blueskin", was 
port captain for twenty-five years; 
and in that period he rescued 



hundreds of people from drowning. 
Cargoes were brought into the river 
by surf boats. The tough, drunken 
crews who handled these boats knew 
their worth, laboured when they were 
in the mood, defied angry ship- 
masters and threw bottles at "Old 
Blueskin" when he tried to reason 
with them. They lived in a row of 
huts known as "The Ranch" on the 
west bank and no band of cow- 
punchers could have been more 
truculent. Old Billy Button the 
ferryman loved their wild parties and 
so the ferry service was often sus- 
pended while the surf boat crews 
were revelling. Yet these were the 
men who were always ready to risk 
their lives when ships were driven 
ashore in heavy weather. "Old 
Blueskin" and "Big Harry" were 
great lifeboat skippers and they 



handled their steering oars in heavy 
surf with enormous skill and 
courage. 

The steam tug Buffalo, which had 
cost £3,000, had paddled into the 
river after a heavy flood; but "Old 
Blueskin" said she was too large and 
refused to use her. She was then sold 
and used as the Robben Island 
packet. Captain W. C. Jackson was 
sent to Britain to find a suitable tug 
and he bought the London of 
seventy-tons. As she could only 
carry enough coal for two days' 
steaming, Jackson rigged her as a 
sloop and sailed her to East London 
in sixty-six days. He kept his small 
supply of coal to bring the tug safely 
into harbour. 

All through these years the list of 
wrecks grew longer and longer. In 
the south-east gale of May 26, 1872, 



eight ships were driven ashore; the 
barques Queen of May and Refuge, 
the brigs Sharp, Elaine, Martha and 
Emma, the ship Jane Davies and the 
steamer Quanza. For three days the 
captain and his family and the 
seamen of the Jane Davies had to 
remain lashed to the rigging; then the 
lifeboat reached them. Years ago I met 
a seaman who survived that gale. He 
was James Grenfell, a Cornishman 
who had served in the Elaine. She 
had a cargo of bantu pots and candles. 
The master of the Elaine tried to enter 
the river when he saw the danger of 
shipwreck, but the brig was wrecked 
inside the bar. Some of the cargo was 
recovered through a hole in the side. 
Then the Elaine disappeared under 
the harbour rubble. She lay buried for 
more than half a century and Grenfell 
never expected to see her again. He 



joined a barque called the Crixea, and 
later in the year of the gale he was 
wrecked at East London for the second 
time. After this escape he decided to 
leave the sea and found work at the 
harbour. Grenfell saw the first block 
laid for the breakwater by Sir John 
Molteno in 1873; and when the 
turning basin was being excavated in 
1929 he was astonished to see the 
bones of his old ship, the Elaine, 
cooking pots, candles and all. Another 
ghost ship that came to light at that 
time was the barque M. M. Jones. 
She waited outside the river for four 
months in 1876, hoping to enter and 
discharge her cargo. When she came 
into harbour at last she was 
condemned as unseaworthy; and for 
years she lay on the West Bank as a 
hulk. Her fittings disappeared, wood- 
work was carried away until only her 



keel timbers remained. Sand and mud 
covered the M. M. Jones, but she, 
too, was identified during the work on 
the turning basin. 

It was the suction dredger Lucy that 
started making the Buffalo harbour 
safer. She cleared the bar in the 
eighteeneighties and paved the way for 
the entry of the barque Wolseley. The 
captain of the barque received a purse 
of sovereigns from jubilant East 
London business men. Before the 
century ended the Buffalo was 
sheltering thirty ships at a time. 

Floods and wrecks occurred at the 
same period in the old days. The 
Buffalo has a dozen feeders, causing a 
tremendous rush of water during a hot 
season when thunderstorms cause a 
deluge. Apparently the greatest floods 
of last century came during the 
eighteen-seventies. The river was 



impassable. Natives marooned on an 
island had to be rescued by rocket- 
line. Trees and huts, boxes and 
barrels, wagons and watermill 
wheels, sheep and oxen, swept down 
to the sea. East London beaches were 
littered with driftwood. Always there 
were snakes, especially puff adders, 
menacing those who were fossicking 
among the driftwood. Old-timers 
declared that the flood of July 14, 
1874, was the most serious. Five 
ships were lost, the Fingo, Natal Star, 
Western Star, Flora and the Italian 
Nova Bella; but such was the heroism 
of the lifeboat crews that only one 
boy was drowned. These men 
showed a deep contempt for danger 
and sometimes they were foolhardy. 
One lifeboat, the George Walker 
(named in honour of "Old 
Blueskin"), capsized and broke up on 



the Blinders at the Buffalo mouth 
when the coxs'n failed to take 
ordinary precautions. Two of the 
crew were drowned but a whaleboat 
brought eight back safely. 

Over the years a small fleet of hulks 
grew and lay moored along the 
Buffalo banks. They seemed to have 
become almost as permanent as the 
houses of East London and some 
were used as houseboats. However, 
the flood of October 1905 changed 
that restful picture of old ships 
ending their careers in the quiet 
river. After two days of heavy rain 
inland a white wall of foam raced 
down the river. It was seven feet 
high and the current ran at eight 
knots. East London was taken by 
surprise. A regatta had just been held 
but fortunately this had ended when 
the flood arrived. Parts of the town 



were swamped, and a reporter 
described East London as "a second 
Venice". An island was submerged 
and huts were carried away. Wagon 
parties camping beside the river lost 
their wagons and oxen. It was the 
heaviest flood for more than eighty 
years and it created havoc among the 
wooden hulks and small craft 
moored along the banks. The hulk 
New Blessing was lifted out of the 
main stream and stranded in the 
bush. A coal hulk named Helene was 
flung ashore and broken in half. The 
hulk Alphen dragged but remained 
undamaged. On board the hulk 
Inspector lived a caretaker with his 
wife and children. When the 
caretaker saw that the Inspector was 
in danger he put his family on shore 
and saved the drifting hulk by letting 
go a spare anchor. Fortunately the S.S. 



Clan Stuart (wrecked at Glencairn 
some years afterwards) was at a wharf; 
and her crew helped to save various 
small craft that were being carried 
past. The hulk Cerastes with a man 
and wife aboard drifted on to the Clan 
Stuart and was secured. A houseboat 
which had been moored at Second 
Creek was smashed to matchwood at 
the river mouth. Flashes of lightning 
revealed barges, lighters and boats 
adrift on the swollen river. One barge 
was thrown up at Bat's Cave. A coal 
hulk was wrecked on West Bank. 
Once again the beach was alive with 
snakes. One man killed fifty 
puffadders while the boys of East 
London captured leguaans and 
dropped snakes into bottles. 

One tragic episode was recorded. 
Before dawn the crew of the Clan 
Stuart heard a frantic cry for help. 



The small tug Caledonia had been 
moored some way up the river with 
one old man on board as caretaker. 
This man, Guyer from Heligoland, 
awoke to find the tug moving swiftly 
down the river. No one could help 
him, the tug was carried out to sea, and 
Guyer and the Caledonia were never 
seen again. They were lost in the 
wastes of the ocean. Beaches at East 
London have been covered with 
wreckage and cargoes since then, rice 
and coal, maize and timber; and when 
the S.S. Valdivia was lost sixty years 
ago people helped themselves to 
thousands of cases of paraffin. But the 
night of drama that the old hands of 
today remember was the night of the 
1905 flood. 

Now and again, once in a generation, 
perhaps, East London watches a 
mysterious storm which appears to be 



the aftermath of a cyclone far away. 
On a windless day the sea rises 
inexplicably until gigantic breakers 
make the river mouth impassable. 
Rollers come up from the southeast. 
Beaches are lashed by the fury of the 
waves and piled high with foam. The 
first storm of this sort was recorded 
more than a century ago. Inside the 
Buffalo River the rollers were so 
violent that the schooner Shrimp 
capsized and all on board were 
drowned. Then the schooner Elizabeth 
and Mary was thrown on her beam- 
ends and turned over before she 
could recover. 

East London was asleep on a dark 
and misty night in April 1902 when 
another heavy sea swept into the 
river and set every ship's bell clang- 
ing. For those on board the vessels 
outside and within the Buffalo it 



must have been a terrifying 
experience; the weather was fine, yet 
the ships were behaving as though 
they were in a gale. At one wharf the 
S.S. Winkfield had discharged horses 
for the British Government and was 
ready to leave at daylight. (This was 
the same cattle-ship that had run 
down and sunk the Union-Castle 
liner Mexican in fog outside Table 
Bay two years previously). When the 
sudden upheaval occurred in the 
river the master of the Winkfield blew 
his siren and kept on sounding the 
alarm until the port officials turned 
out and manned the tugs. They found 
ships at the wharves ranging wildly 
and breaking adrift. Two ships, 
Mantinea and Tottenham, had been in 
collision and the stern of the 
Mantinea had been damaged. At the 
timber wharves the barques Anita 



and Cerastes rolled so violently that 
their yards and rigging were 
smashed. The tugs Buffalo and Cecil 
Rhodes worked for hours carrying 
new hawsers to the helpless vessels 
and bringing them to the wharves. 
The river was strewn with broken 
spars and other signs of damage. 
Outside the harbour the S.S. 
Mountley knocked a hole in the port 
quarter of the S.S. Darleydale, while 
five other steamers moved out to sea 
to avoid the risk of being carried 
ashore by the phenomenal waves. 
The mail steamer Dunvegan Castle 
arrived from Durban but was unable 
to embark her passengers until the 
evening. Then the sea went down and 
the queer episode ended as suddenly 
as it had arisen. 

East London can never forget its 
gales and wrecks. According to my 



records about ninety ships have been 
lost at or near East London. Orient 
Beach saw the end in July 1907 of 
the Russian sailing vessel Orient. 
She came over the horizon under full 
sail, then furled her canvas as the tug 
Buffalo approached her. Just before 
tug and ship entered the river the 
hawser parted and the Orient drifted 
helplessly on to the beach. Gangs of 
natives went on board to lighten her by 
throwing the cargo of wheat over- 
board, but the effort was unsuccessful. 
The evil smell of fermented wheat 
permeated the waterfront. For years 
the battered hull showed above the 
breakers. If ever you hear the bell rung 
at the Cathcart market examine the 
brass and you will see the name 
Orient. 



Quanza, Brighton, Cadwallon and 
Bonanza streets were all named after 



wrecks. Some of the first houses in 
East London were built at West Bank 
from the timbers of lost ships; and 
after a century a few of those houses 
are still there. And in the cemetery rest 
those grand seamen who fought the 
dangerous seas on the Buffalo bar, the 
survivors of great gales. Many others 
of that era went to the ocean grave- 
yard. 

East London has known other 
spectacles, other dramas, apart from 
the floods and shipwrecks. An old 
resident described to me the scene in 
late summer many years ago when a 
large flock of parrots flew over the 
town. They were Cape parrots, largest 
of the South African species; yellow 
birds with green rumps and red-edged 
wings. Cape parrots flock more readily 
than the smaller parrots; and East 
London became aware of them when 



an incessant screeching came from the 
trees. In parts of the town the 
screaming of the parrots was 
deafening. Everyone turned out to 
watch the flocks in the trees; there 
were so many parrots that the boughs 
seemed to be weighed down by 
gorgeous flowers. Some flew into the 
nets and fences and were killed. Out at 
the Hood Point lighthouse parrots hit 
the lantern and became casualties; 
others sheered off at the last moment. 
In the morning the lighthouse platform 
was littered with dead and dying 
parrots. Parrots were not protected in 
those days. Trappers snared the birds 
with nets or injected fruit and berries 
with brandy so that intoxicated birds 
were easily caught. There was a time 
when the Cape parrot became almost 
extinct. Since the species has been 
protected the numbers have increased. 



Flocks of fifty may be seen in the 
yellowwood trees of the East London 
park during the winter months. 

A peculiar episode in the East London 
story was the acute water shortage four 
years after World War II. After fifteen 
months of continuous drought the 
reservoirs dropped to such a low point 
that it was obvious that the town 
would soon be waterless. Fortunately 
there was an oiltanker, the Athelcrown 
bound for the Persian Gulf on her 
maiden voyage. If she had ever carried 
oil she would have been useless, for 
the tanks would have been poisoned 
by lead tetra-ethyl. The Athelcrown 
was diverted to Durban, and there she 
loaded fresh water at the special rate 
of two shillings for one thousand 
gallons. She ferried water from 
Durban to East London until the 
drought broke. 



Chapter Ten 
The Wild COAST 



I was at the wheel of a coaster 
sweeping northwards with the strong 
Agulhas current when I first set eyes 
on Port St. John's. Now and again I 
raised my eyes cautiously from the 
compass-card and glanced at the 
tremendous cleft in the table-topped 
mountain where the Umzimvubu 
River sweeps down to the sea. Forest- 
clad gates opened and shut, opened 
and shut, as the Ingerid passed the 
lighthouse, the village and the western 
banks under their primeval forest. The 
coaster was close inshore. It was 
superb, this first glimpse of the Wild 
Coast; but the captain was on the 
bridge and I was afraid to lift my eyes 
from the card. Soon he would haul off 
for the night. I was sixteen, in the grip 



of a little adventure of my own 
choosing. The Wild Coast! 

Below thousand foot cliffs the dark 
green river of St. John was calm as a 
lagoon. I could imagine the life of the 
forests on each side of this gateway 
into Pondoland; bushbuck, wild pigs 
and blue monkeys, bush babies, 
louries, rare parrots and rare moths; 
the huge yellowwood trees, wild 
medlars with scented blossoms, wild 
jasmine and orchids; the sugar cane 
and coffee, paw-paw and custard 
apples; a sub-tropical paradise moist- 
ened by the trade winds of the Indian 
Ocean. The rich breath of the land 
came out to me on the bridge of the 
Ingerid that evening and I was 
grateful. I thought the Portuguese 
explorers must have been even more 
excited when they sighted these shores 
after the weary months at sea. 



Bushmen were living in caves along 
the St. John's River in the days of the 
Portuguese navigators and there were 
Hottentots in grass and wattle villages. 
Many of the river names in the 
territory are of Khoi-Khoin origin and 
the Xosa-speaking peoples adopted 
them when they arrived later. It 
appears from the narratives of 
Portuguese castaways, however, that 
"blacks, very black in colour, with 
woolly hair" were already settled all 
along the Wild Coast in the sixteenth 
century. Pondos are mentioned in a 
Portuguese document of the late 
seventeenth century. According to 
their own traditions, the Xosa, Tembu 
and others were living on the upper 
reaches of the Umzimvubu River long 
before they met the Portuguese on the 
coast. 



Apparently the Portuguese never 
crossed the bar of the St. John's River 
in their ships, though they may have 
used their ships' boats to explore the 
river. I believe the schooner Rosebud 
from Cape Town was the first to enter 
the river. That was in 1846 and 
Captain Duthie sailed fourteen miles 
upstream to a landing he named 
Bannockburn. Soon afterwards the 
schooner Conch was wrecked leaving 
the river; but it was said that her 
timbers were "rotten as snuff". 
Another pioneer in the river was the 
schooner William Shaw, built at 
Durban, the first ship to be registered 
there. She was launched with tea 
instead of champagne and was 
nicknamed "the Teapot". After a use- 
ful life of twenty years the William 
Shaw met her end on the St. John's 
River bar. William Cock's iron 



schooner British Settler reached a 
point twelve miles upstream in the 
middle of last century; and a small 
vessel named Clara loaded grain there 
and carried it to Port Elizabeth. Alfred 
White, an 1820 Settler, was the St. 
John's trader who encouraged these 
ships to call. He died in 1870 after 
spending many years on the river 
when few white people were seen 
there. He was on the spot when Sir 
Walter Currie shot one of the last lions 
in the neighbourhood. A harbour 
master was appointed ninety years 
ago. Probably the first steamer to trade 
regularly with Port St. John's was the 
Alfredia in the eighteen-eighties. 
After a number of successful voyages 
this twin-screw steamer was sighted 
off the port and the harbourmaster 
signalled to her to remain outside as 
there was not enough water on the bar. 



Unfortunately the captain of the 
Alfredia was a daredevil who enjoyed 
making circles in the most dangerous 
places. He ignored the signal and lost 
his ship. Somewhere in the deep sand 
at the river mouth lie the bones of the 
Alfredia. 

Later regular traders were the 
Umzimvubu, Frontier and Border. The 
Germans sent their small coaster 
Adjutant to the river early this century. 
I knew a magistrate, Mr. Frank 
Guthrie, who was there at the time. He 
had no seafaring experience but he 
was expected to act as harbourmaster 
and customs officer. Fortunately he 
had at his disposal a whaleboat with a 
Norwegian coxswain and a crew of 
native police. When the Adjutant stuck 
on the bar Guthrie and his men laid 
out kedge anchors with the aid of two 
spans of oxen on the beach. The little 



Adjutant came off safely at high tide. 
This episode has been cited as the only 
marine salvage operation carried out 
with the aid of oxen. 

Guthrie told me that in his day Port St. 
John's was a refuge for people who 
needed a hiding-place. One man was 
supposed to have been a pirate in 
China seas; another had committed a 
murder in Ireland; there was a fairly 
respectable Arab who had been a 
waiter at the Hotel Cecil in London. 
Owing to rock and dense forest St. 
John's was indeed a secluded corner of 
the Cape. Travellers came down the 
river or arrived by sea. Ox-wagons 
took ten days or more from the port to 
Umtata. Among the Pondos, however, 
are some magnificent oarsmen. They 
load their boats with vegetables and 
fruit, row against the tide, and often 



put up a better performance than boats 
with outboard motors: 

Pondoland was still an independent 
native state in the eighteen-seventies, 
for the Cape Colony ended at the 
Umtata River. The barbaric Pondo 
territory formed a flourishing market 
for gun-runners and liquor smugglers. 
Some adventurers went overland, 
crossing the Umtamvuna River at Gun 
Drift; others landed their cargoes on 
the banks of the St. John's River. 
Tower muskets and other gimcrack 
firearms of that period are still 
treasured in Pondo kraals, and not 
merely as heirlooms. Police still seize 
old muzzle-loaders and carbines when 
faction fights break out. The purchase 
of land at St. John's by Britain ninety 
years ago put an end to much 
smuggling, but there were a few who 
became more cunning and carried on 



the profitable trade. Mr. Frank Brown- 
lee, magistrate and member of the 
famous missionary family, told me 
that he knew the trader Elias Thomp- 
son (Tomsoni to the natives) who 
smuggled guns and gin for years under 
the noses of the police. Thompson 
transported saplings into Pondoland to 
replace trees which had been chopped 
in the natural forest. Every one of 
Thompson's wagons had contraband 
hidden under the timber. Caps and 
leaden bullets were concealed in bags 
and cases of trade goods. Casks 
marked "molasses" held brandy. The 
main camp of the Cape Mounted 
Rifles was at Port St. John's for years. 
Troopers kept a sharp look-out but 
many a little coaster went off with a 
cargo of bananas after unloading guns. 
Sigcau, the redoubtable Pondo chief, 
had a deserter from the British Army 



as his armourer. This man would 
repair an ancient musket in exchange 
for a fat heifer; and for a suitable fee 
he would doctor a gun to make it shoot 
more accurately. He also had a little 
factory where he made gunpowder 
from charcoal, sulphur and saltpetre. 

Before the British annexation of 
Pondoland became effective a party of 
Germans arrived with the intention of 
gaining a foothold on the St. John's 
River. Baron Steinacker the leader 
secured a concession from a chief 
named Mhlangaso. Steinacker was a 
renowned drinker and when he landed 
with his followers at St. John's he 
brought with him enough wine, beer, 
liqueurs and groceries to keep a small 
army going. At first the Germans 
appeared to be peaceful traders and 
they bought a trading station fifteen 
miles inland. Soon afterwards they 



paraded in uniform and hoisted the 
German flag. However, they soon 
discovered that Mhlangaso was an 
inferior chief and that only Sigcau had 
the right to sell concessions, so they 
set fire to their illegal outpost of the 
Kaiser's empire and departed. To this 
day the spot near the Umzimvubu 
River mouth where the Germans first 
landed is called Germany. 

St. John's is a name that goes back a 
long way and the origin is contro- 
versial. It was marked on the oldest 
Portuguese charts as Sao Christovao; 
but it was probably changed to Sao 
Joao after the wreck of the galleon Sao 
Toao near there in the middle of the 
sixteenth century. However, there is an 
alternative theory. A rocky pinnacle 
standing out from a cliff at the 
entrance does bear a strong resem- 
blance to a robed human figure; and it 



is said that a Portuguese priest saw St. 
John the Evangelist in this natural 
statue. Later visitors who have studied 
the face on the west bank buttress 
agree that it has a remarkably human 
likeness, but one clergyman found it 
"evil rather than saintly". 

Umzimvubu, the river on which St. 
John's stands, means "home of the 
hippo". It is, perhaps, the grandest 
river mouth in all Africa; but the last 
hippo was shot eighty years ago. (One 
of the last was almost a record, 
thirteen and a half feet in length). 
Those were great days when the 
Pondos were able to feast on the 
luscious meat of hippos killed in 
groves of wild bananas. Stray hippo 
swam down the coast from Natal early 
this century; but the last of these 
migrants entered the Umzimvubu in 
1929, the celebrated Huberta. Natives 



thought the spirit of Chaka had 
returned and saw that she went 
unharmed; then a white man's bullet 
ended the strange odyssey. The 
Umzimvubu is still the home of man- 
eating sharks and natives have been 
killed six miles from the mouth. Stand 
on the eastern heights when the water 
is clear and you will see the sharks 
lying on the bottom like torpedoes 
waiting for a target. 

Cape Hermes at the river entrance, 
where the lighthouse was built, took 
its name from H.M.S. Hermes, a ship 
that surveyed the coast long ago. 
Mount Thesiger and Mount Sullivan, 
guarding the entrance, remind us of 
General Thesiger who hoisted the 
British flag in Pondoland nearly a 
century ago, and Commodore Sulli- 
van, the naval officer who brought the 
troops up the river at the time of the 



annexation. These names are seldom 
heard in the village, however, as 
residents usually speak of "the Gates 
of St. John's". 

Among the residents of Port St. John's 
between the wars was an old Zulu who 
was a member of the impi which 
attacked the Pondos near the precipice 
now known as Execution Rock. This 
has a face nine hundred feet high, 
rising close to the river. The Pondos, 
knowing the terrain, laid a trap for the 
Zulus; they set fire to the bush and 
drove their enemies over the preci- 
pice. Three Zulus escaped, including 
the old man in the village. Execution 
Rock saw the end of many Pondos 
who had been condemned to death as 
sorcerers. The Rev. Godfrey Calla- 
way traced a marvellous survival at 
the grim spot; a sorcerer who 
bounced off a projecting rock and 



fell into deep water. The chief sent 
out search parties but the man hid 
until nightfall and then found 
sanctuary with a rival chief. In the 
bush at the foot of Execution Rock 
many broken skeletons have been 
found. 

One of the events of the year at St. 
John's is the "sardine run". This is 
something of a mystery. Scientists 
cannot tell us why the hordes of 
pilchards arrive from the deep ocean 
in the middle of June every year, 
always reaching the coast between 
the Bashee River and St. John's. 
Often the Cape Hermes lighthouse 
keepers are the first to report the 
immense shoals. But the seabirds 
also know the fish are coming; and 
the birds are seen first, heading south 
in great ravenous flights. 



From the cliffs the sardine shoals 
appear on the blue water like brown 
or silver .islands. It is a tremendous 
spectacle. One such "island" of fish 
may cover five square miles and 
contain fifty thousand tons of fish. 
Schools of porpoises, sharks and 
game fish attack the pilchard mil- 
lions and turn the ocean into a 
battlefield. Sharks and seabirds gorge 
to such an extent that they are 
washed ashore bloated and helpless. 
And still the shoals approach the 
coast like cloud shadows on the 
surface, rising and falling with the 
swell, the water boiling as bonito and 
barracuda tear into the flanks and 
drive their prey inshore. 

All along the coast the pilchards are 
herded into shallow water. Offices 
shut down, schools are closed when 
the fish are stranded in thousands. 



Everyone is on the beach with sacks 
and buckets. Anglers bring their rods 
and land barracuda and kingfish 
easily. Sometimes a warning cry 
goes up, for the sharks are there in 
the shallows with the fish. They call 
them sardines, but these seven-inch 
silvery cigars are very different from 
those that come in tins with olive oil. 
Nevertheless, these Indian Ocean 
pilchards are so rich that they can be 
fried without fat. Commander Z. 
Marsh, a retired Royal Navy officer 
who lived at St. John's for many years, 
always deplored the waste of fish; he 
wanted to see them caught for humans, 
not left to the voracious birds and 
other fish. Commander Marsh explain- 
ed the pilchard migration mystery in 
this way; he thought the fish spawned 
to the south of the Cape and the 
buoyant eggs were nurtured through 



the fry stage in meadows of plankton. 
Warm currents brought the fish 
northwards past St. John's and the 
migration continued until the shoals 
vanished off Durban. This theory has 
been challenged by people who 
believe the pilchards spawn about fifty 
miles off Pondoland. At all events the 
sardine run is one of the great sights of 
the Wild Coast. 

Ordinary fishing often becomes 
extraordinary at St. John's, for one 
brindle bass caught in the river 
weighed nearly four hundred pounds 
and a rock cod weighed three hundred 
and seventy five pounds. You can 
hook a forty-pound kabeljou at the 
river mouth. But please remember the 
ordeal of an angler named Jeffreys 
who took his rod to the place now 
known as Jeffreys' Rocks. His boat 
came adrift and was carried out to sea. 



Jeffreys was marooned on the rock for 
three days with only his rod to keep 
the hippos at bay. Coloured fishermen, 
experts who know the weather and the 
ways of the big fish, have made a 
living at Port St. John's without using 
nets. Seldom elsewhere does a rod 
provide even a bread and butter 
income. Anglers at Port St. John's 
carry off the prizes in fishing contests. 

Wild Coast! Tales and legends, truth 
and folklore and rumours are as 
romantic as the name. It is a coast of 
ghosts and witchcraft, mysterious 
shipwrecks, sunken treasure and 
unexpected flotsam. Names along the 
coast have the true ring of adventure. 
Port St. John's is the unofficial 
"capital" of the Wild Coast and in the 
village you hear all sorts of stories 
which differ from the versions known, 
to the outside world. 



They tell you the Waratah foundered 
near Port St. John's and this is 
probably true. Air crews have noted a 
dark mass on the sea-bed which is not 
marked on the charts. It is said that 
natives picked up a lifebuoy with the 
name Waratah painted on it and tried 
to sell it to a trader. But there was no 
wireless in those days, the newspapers 
arrived a week late at the lonely stores 
of the Wild Coast, and the trader had 
not heard the Waratah was overdue. 
When the news reached him it was 
impossible to trace the lifebuoy or the 
natives. However, the trader is said to 
have made a sworn statement to the 
police; natives had not only picked up 
a lifebuoy but they declared they had 
seen the liner sinking off the Bashee 
River mouth. 

Long ago, in the 'eighties of last 
century, a police patrol found the stern 



of a wooden ship on a Wild Coast 
beach. The name John Booth stood 
out in white letters. There was no other 
wreckage. Nothing was ever heard of 
the crew. Coffee Bay, near the Umtata 
River mouth, is now a flourishing little 
holiday resort. In the eighteen-sixties, 
when a ship was wrecked there with a 
cargo of coffee, there was just the 
beach. Traders went down to the coast 
with wagons, fished and drank rum 
from the wreck, and shared out the 
bags of coffee beans. Some of the 
beans were thrown away but they took 
root along the shore; so that Coffee 
Bay became a most appropriate name. 

Mazeppa Bay, near the Qolora mouth 
to the west of Port St. John's, was the 
anchorage where the coasting 
schooner Mazeppa landed cargoes in 
the eighteen-thirties. She had been a 
slaver, a little ship with a bad reputa- 



tion, but she served a useful purpose 
when she picked up survivors of Louis 
Trichard's trek at Delagoa Bay. 
Behind the bay is the Manubi forest. 
Giant Strelitzia augustifolias grow 
along the coast with their strange blue 
and white flowers and leaves like 
bananas. Cycads are found here, the 
bantu-bread trees belonging to the 
remote past. Many of the hundred-foot 
yellowwood trees have been cut down 
but there are still giants in this Wild 
Coast jungle; Cape mahogany and 
ironwoods, sneezewood and red stink- 
wood. Botanists revel among the sub- 
tropical rarities which are found only 
to the east of the Great Kei River. 
Twenty miles to the north-east of Port 
St. John's is the abandoned site known 
as Port Grosvenor. It never was a port, 
and it is about ten miles south of the 
Grosvenor wreck at the Umsikaba 



river mouth. This was another Wild 
Coast settlement with a story. At this 
anchorage Captain Sidney Turner 
landed cargoes in the eighteeneighties, 
when Chief Mqikela granted him a 
concession in the hope that Port 
Grosvenor would become a rival to 
Port St. John's. Turner put up a group 
of wooden houses. His tiny steamers 
Lady Wood and Lion called regularly 
with freight from Durban and it was 
landed in lighters. The venture failed 
but Captain Turner dynamited the 
rocks in the neighbourhood and found 
about eight hundred gold and silver 
coins. Venetian ducats and gold star 
pagodas were recovered with Indian 
silver rupees. Turner also found nine 
cannon, pistol and musket bullets, 
crockery, brass ornamental work, glass 
stoppers, buttons, a gold clasp bearing 
the initials J.S.C., a copper plate with 



the name Buttall and many other 
relics. This find was the origin of the 
Grosvenor treasure hunts that went on 
for years near the Tezani River mouth. 
It is now clear from discoveries at the 
Umsikaba River mouth that Turner 
never touched the Grosvenor treasure. 
His coins must have come from one or 
more of the other wrecks near Port 
Grosvenor. However, the Turner 
treasure was substantial, and he left to 
his descendants a large silver cup 
made from some of the coins he had 
gathered. 

Port St. John's and the Wild Coast are 
museums of wreck relics. Many of 
these fascinating little historic 
treasures will never be traced to their 
origins; others may be identified with 
fair accuracy. Thousands of beads 
have been dug out of the beaches or 
scooped up from rock pools. They are 



known as "Grosvenor beads" and 
some undoubtedly formed part of her 
cargo; but the beads have been 
recovered along the whole Wild Coast, 
proving that they must have been 
spilled out of a number of wrecks. 
Many of the beads are pleasing red or 
yellow cornelians. They are mainly 
diamond-shaped, or cylinders two 
inches in length, or flat. India was the 
home of cornelian mining a few 
centuries ago and these Wild Coast 
cornelians were obviously native cut 
and polished with primitive tools. 
Mr. and Mrs. Denis Godfrey, who 
presented a matched string of twenty 
of these cornelians to the Africana 
Museum in Johannesburg, suggested 
that they were the "red beads of 
Cambaya" which the Portuguese 
traded with the people of Sofala in 
exchange for gold. Very similar 



beads have been found on the lower 
clay floors at Zimbabwe. Many of 
the Wild Coast beads are so crude, 
however, that they may be as old as 
the Phoenician explorers or the early 
Egyptian, Persian or Arab naviga- 
tors. Cornelian is an extremely hard 
stone. Wild Coast cornelians are 
found with drillholes at both ends; 
but the craftsman sometimes failed to 
bore far enough to enable the beads 
to be strung. 

Treasure Island at the Umsikaba 
River mouth has yielded a number of 
beads and other relics. This is the 
Grosvenor wreck site, so that the 
Treasure Island beads are probably 
genuine "Grosvenor beads". The 
flat, rocky islet is half-covered by the 
sea at high tide. During the centuries 
many small fragments of the cargo 
had been washed into holes in the 



rocks. Mrs. Nina Elliot made an 
impressive collection of Nanking 
china of the Ming period (1368- 
1644) during thirty years of 
searching at this spot. The coarse 
blue china suffered heavily after the 
pounding of the sea and only one 
complete plate was recovered. 
Celadon china, greyish-green in 
colour, has come to light at the same 
place. This is older than Ming and is 
not usually found south of Zanzibar. 
Mrs. Frances Hamilton, who investi- 
gated the Treasure Island finds, 
thought the Celadon might have been 
carried by a Chinese junk that was 
lost there long before Diaz rounded 
the Cape. She pointed out that the 
South Sand Bluff (close to the 
Umsikaba River mouth) was a 
landmark known to the explorers. It 
was then a dazzling white cliff; and 



some came in too close to fix their 
position and were wrecked. Frag- 
ments of red earthenware water jars 
(known as zeers) such as the Arabs 
used for storing water have also 
come to light on Treasure Island; so 
Arab dhows may have left their 
bones on, the rocks among the other 
victims. China and beads are often 
found on the island. The rarities have 
been diamond rings. A silver button 
with the monogram C.N., may have 
been owned by Charles Newman, a 
Grosvenor passenger. 

Rusty old cannon are the largest of the 
Wild Coast wreck relics. Port St. 
John's has one in the public gardens; 
and there is a bell from some unknown 
wreck. A more recent historic relic 
which was rescued from a marble 
quarry near Port St. John's was South 
Africa's first locomotive, the engine 



named Natal that ran from Durban to 
the Point in 1860. It had a wide- 
mouthed American smokestack, green 
body and copper wheels. 

Close to Port St. John's, across the 
river and below Hobson's farm, is 
another place where beads are 
recovered by delving into the sea silt. 
This is Agate Beach. The amber- 
coloured beads are four or five-sided 
and bored for stringing. Most of them 
are about half an inch in diameter. 
Bead collectors work at spring tides 
and though the supply of agates is 
never plentiful it seems to be inex- 
haustible. Mr. C. R. Prance, an author 
who lived at Port St. John's for years, 
was convinced that the beads came 
from the Portuguese galleon that gave 
the village its name. Gold has been 
mined near Agate Beach, though 
without much success. Prehistoric 



remains are found in caves along this 
coast. 

Rame Head to the south of St. John's 
is a bold and precipitous headland 
easily identified from seawards. Here, 
according to native legend, white men 
landed long ago and left a monument; 
probably a reference to a stone pillar 
or padrao such as the Portuguese set 
up along the shores of Africa to mark 
their achievements and serve as land- 
marks for those who followed. Expe- 
ditions have searched for the Rame 
Head padrao, but so far in vain. 

Along the Wild Coast round about 
Port St. John's live natives with 
strange ancestors. It has been proved 
beyond doubt that these little clans are 
descendants of Portuguese and Dutch, 
British and Indian castaways of the 
sixteenth century onwards. Possibly 
the foreign blood goes all the way 



back to the Phoenicians and Arabs. A 
Pondoland legend describes raids and 
invasions by men with flowing 
garments armed with muskets; 
obviously Arab slave traders. 

At one time the so-called "pale-faced 
natives of Pondoland" were regarded 
as the offspring of Grosvenor 
survivors who mated with the local 
people. Some of the unhappy 
Grosvenor exiles certainly added to 
the members of the weird clans but 
the racial mixing started very much 
earlier. Of course there are thousands 
of Pondoland coloured people who 
are of fairly recent origin. Army 
deserters, elephant hunters, crimi- 
nals, outlaws and other dubious 
characters found a refuge there early 
last century. Some of the first white 
traders married daughters of chiefs to 
maintain friendly relations. Often 



there was a danger of a store being 
attacked when a trader pressed a 
chief to pay his debts, and such 
marriages were regarded as a form of 
fire insurance. However, the white 
strain in Pondoland goes right back 
to the Portuguese shipwrecks. 

Sixty castaways from the Dutch East 
Indiaman. Stavenisse spent months on 
the Wild Coast before they were 
rescued and they, too, became fathers 
of half-castes almost a century before 
the Grosvenor wreck. Again and 
again in the narratives of survivors 
you hear of men who refused to be 
rescued and they remained on the 
Wild Coast with their native wives. 
White people were at first regarded 
by the natives as rather strange sea 
monsters; yet they were often well- 
treated. Castaways from a French 
ship, lost on the Wild Coast at the 



same period as the Stavenisse, were 
murdered with the exception of a 
French youth, Guillaume Chenut. He 
was wounded and left for dead. A 
Xosa chief befriended Chenut and 
sheltered him for a year. Chenut 
learnt the Xosa language and heard 
from the tribesmen that a band of 
white castaways were living not far 
away. He was an unwilling exile, 
yearning for civilisation. The casta- 
ways were Stavenisse men and in due 
course the Dutch ship Centaurus 
found and rescued them. Chenut 
sailed away thankfully but three 
Stavenisse survivors preferred to live 
out their lives among the natives on 
the Wild Coast. 

The adventures of the Portuguese 
castaways are fully documented. First 
there was the galleon Sao Joao in the 
middle of the sixteenth century, 



homeward bound from India. The 
records state that she was worth a 
million in gold, "for so richly laden a 
ship had not left India since it was 
discovered". She stranded near the 
Umzimvubu River mouth "two cross- 
bow shots from the shore". Nearly two 
hundred Portuguese and three hundred 
slaves reached the shore. Some 
marched to Delagoa Bay, others were 
left at various places along the coast. 
Soon afterwards the San Bento was 
wrecked at the Umtata River mouth. 
Survivors made tents of rich carpets, 
gold cloth and silk. Again there was a 
desperate march along the coast; a 
hundred Portuguese and two hundred 
slaves making for Delagoa Bay, living 
on shellfish and wild bananas. They 
passed the Sao Joao wreck and found 
a Bengalese survivor who refused to 
join the San Bento party. This was in 



the neighbourhood of Port St. John's; 
and here two weary Portuguese and 
thirty slaves deserted from the column 
and settled in Pondoland. The column 
marched on and encountered more Sao 
Joao people; a Moslem named Gasper, 
two slaves, and then a Portuguese. 
According to the records "he was 
naked, having been for three years 
exposed to the cold and heat of those 
parts, so that his colour and appear- 
ance had so altered that there was no 
difference between him and the 
natives". 

Another wreck near the Umtata River 
mouth was the Santo Alberto, almost 
at the end of the sixteenth century. Her 
men carried mats and chests of food 
on shore and sheltered under oriental 
carpets and quilts. Again many of the 
three hundred survivors remained in 
Pondoland rather than face the dangers 



of the hungry j ourney to Delagoa Bay. 
There were more Portuguese disasters 
during the seventeenth century, and 
these castaways encountered fellow- 
countrymen who had been living in 
Pondoland for years. Among those 
who were abandoned by the marchers 
were women (including nuns) who 
could not keep up with the columns. A 
Jesuit priest remained with one family 
of castaways. But most of the tough 
Portuguese wished to see Lisbon 
again and they pushed on relent- 
lessly. Mutineers were beheaded, 
thieves were tortured and hanged. 

After the Stavenisse wreck the galiot 
Noord was sent in search of 
survivors. Three of the men they 
rescued (in 1688) reported that they 
had met a Portuguese survivor of the 
Nossa Senhora da Atalaya wreck. He 
had lived among the Pondos for more 



than forty years. "This man had been 
circumcised and had a wife and 
children, cattle and land", they 
declared. "He spoke only the African 
language, having forgotten every- 
thing, his God included". 

William Hubberley, a young sailor 
who was among the Grosvenor 
survivors, wrote a journal in which 
he described a clan of natives who 
treated the white people with great 
kindness. He did not mention white 
women living among them; but these 
were undoubtedly people of mixed 
blood. By the time Jacob van Reenen 
reached Pondoland with the second 
Grosvenor rescue expedition there 
were four hundred coloured people 
in one clan, known as the Abelungu, 
the "white people". Lady Anne 
Barnard mentioned the half-castes in 
her writings. Dr. Heinrich Lichten- 



stein, the German traveller, and 
George Thompson, the Cape Town 
merchant, both mentioned rumours 
of these clans of castaways. 

Fynn the elephant hunter met the 
half-caste chief Faku, son of a 
Grosvenor survivor. Fynn also wrote 
of "an English lady of remarkable 
beauty" who had died in Pondoland 
before his arrival. Reliable accounts 
of these strange clans were written 
by the first missionaries Shaw and 
Shrewsbury in the eighteen-twenties. 
They were assisted by a rascal named 
Nicolaas Lochenberg, a hunter who 
had a native harem and had lived in 
the country for twenty years. He led 
the missionaries to the kraal of 
Mdepa, chief of the light-skinned 
clan living near the present Coffee 
Bay resort. Mdepa was then a frail 
old man; but he was delighted at the 



sight of the white missionaries and 
told them the most remarkable story 
of the whole castaway saga. Mdepa 
had blue eyes, a long straight nose 
and a lighter skin than his followers. 
When he was asked why he lived near 
the sea he replied: "Because it is 
mother. From thence I sprang and 
from thence I am fed when I am 
hungry." 

Mdepa was a son of Bessie "the white 
queen of Pondoland". The Rev. Basil 
Holt, historian of the Transkei, 
authority on many phases of native 
life, investigated the story of Bessie in 
recent years but found that many 
details had been lost in the mists of 
time. According to one tradition some 
Pondos were on the beach near the 
Lambaso Paver mouth after a night of 
storm when a white girl, aged about 
seven, ran towards them calling her 



name - "Bessie! Bessie!" There had 
been a shipwreck, but no one has ever 
discovered the name of the ship or the 
date. Holt thought it was between 
1730 and 1750. 

Professor P. R. Kirby, the authority on 
the Grosvenor and many other "Wild 
Coast" episodes, heard another 
account of Bessie's dramatic arrival. 
She had landed from a small boat with 
several slaves, black people with long 
hair. There was no white man in the 
boat. Yet another version gathered by 
Holt mentioned three white men 
named Jekwa, Hatu and Badi; and it 
was suggested that Badi was Bessie's 
father and that he left Pondoland when 
a ship called and offered him a 
passage. Some writers have linked 
Bessie with the Bennebroek, the Dutch 
ship lost in 1713 near the spot where 
the Grosvenor broke up seventy years 



afterwards. This is impossible as 
Bessie died in 1815 near where Port 
St. John's now stands, a whitehaired 
old woman but not a centenarian. 
Kirby assumed that Bessie was the 
child of English parents travelling to 
or from India, and that her Indian 
nursemaid and other servants may also 
have survived the wreck. Bessie was 
brought up in the kraal of one 
Gambushe and became known to the 
Pondos as Gquma, meaning "the 
roaring of the sea". She combed her 
long black hair, using brushes and 
combs saved from the wreck. Her 
guardians presented her with three 
white cows and gave her all the white 
calves born after her arrival. Bessie 
first married a Pondo chief named 
Tshomane, but had no children. After 
the death of Tshomane she married 
another chief, Sango, and had eight 



children. She reigned for more than 
half a century as Inkosikazi or queen 
and was loved by all. 

Bessie was in all probability the 
white woman Van Reenen met at the 
Umgazana mouth during his search. 
There he found a village and gardens 
planted with bananas and peaches, 
kaffir corn, plantains, maize and 
beans. Van Reenen said the people 
were descended from whites, slaves 
of mixed blood and people from the 
East Indies. He offered some of the 
women help in reaching Cape Town 
and at first they agreed; but later they 
refused to leave their children and 
grandchildren. The Rev. Stephen 
Kay, a Methodist missionary who 
worked in Pondoland in the eighteen- 
twenties, believed that the sweet 
potato came from the wreck when 
Bessie was cast on shore, and was 



cultivated by the natives who 
adopted Bessie. Kay gathered that 
Bessie was regarded as prophet. Her 
people declared: "The word of 
Gquma was a great word." 

Tomsoni, an old Abelungu who had 
taken the name of the trader 
Thompson, informed the Rev. Basil 
Holt that a branch of his tribe had 
settled at the Xora River mouth. 
There was an island between two 
branches of the river and this could 
be reached only by boat. The 
Abelungu planted bananas and 
peaches there, but Tomsoni could not 
say where they had secured the 
peaches. Holt thought the use of a 
boat, and the peaches, were signs of 
the foreign origin of the Abelungu. 

So it is clear that the Grosvenor 
wreck was responsible for only a 
small infusion of white blood in 



Pondoland compared with previous 
episodes. Professor Kirby traced a 
coloured man named Robert 
Saunders, living at Gun Drift on the 
Umtamvuma River, who is almost 
certainly a descendant of the Robert 
Saunders of the Grosvenor, then a 
child of about eight who was left in 
the care of a friendly tribe. Two little 
girls who survived the wreck, 
Eleanor Dennis, aged three, and 
Mary Wilmot, seven, appear to have 
been the daughters of Englishmen 
and Indian mothers. Their descen- 
dants may be living in Pondoland 
unrecognised. Professor Kirby has 
pointed out that the wives of 
survivors were not separated from 
their husbands and left in native 
kraals. The only other possible 
Grosvenor descendants might be 
traced back to John Bryan the black- 



smith, who remained at the wreck site 
and made assegais for the natives; and 
Joshua Glover, a sailor, who was left 
behind because of his mental 
condition. George Cato the explorer 
found a half-caste male near the 
Grosvenor site in the middle of last 
century, but this man appears to have 
been a grandson of Bessie. 

Holt encountered members of the 
Abelungu clan who showed clear signs 
of foreign blood. Some had a yellow 
skin tinge; one had the appearance of a 
Red Indian; another was a light copper 
colour. He learnt that years ago the 
Xosa used to point at the Abelungu 
and say: "They are Englandi". Holt 
met Dalingozi, chief of the Tshomane, 
one of Bessie's direct descendants; but 
he showed no evidence of white blood. 
His skin was black and he had African 
features and hair. Dalingozi could tell 



Holt nothing of his white ancestress. 
Holt thought it strange to reflect that 
this chief probably had distant 
relations living in Britain. "Such is our 
knowledge of Bessie, the poor little 
white waif of a storm at sea, who was 
cast up on our coast and made the best 
of the harsh circumstances into which 
'outrageous fortune' thrust her", Holt 
summed up. "It is one of the strangest 
stories ever to come out of Africa and 
tantalising because we know so little 
where we would fain, know so much 
more." 

Sir Walter Stanford, another authority 
on Transkei history, said that the 
descendants of Stavenisse sailors 
formed a separate clan in the present 
Elliotdale district, Bomvanaland. He 
gathered that Bessie's wreck was at 
the Umneno river mouth in Western 
Pondoland. Bessie's daughters were 



famous in the territory for their charm 
and beauty; and one of them Nonibe, 
used her influence to protect mission- 
aries and traders in time of trouble. 

Ninety years ago the Rev. W. A. Soga, 
a clergyman of mixed blood, tried to 
discover the origins of the Abelungu, 
but even then he could gather only 
vague information. One old man 
named Zali declared: "We came out of 
the sea. We are not a black people - 
there is white blood in our veins. 
Many years ago a vessel was wrecked 
at the Lwambasa River mouth beyond 
St. John's. A house was built by the 
people from the wreck where they 
came on shore, and parts of the wreck 
were still to be seen in recent times. 
Pondos went there for scraps of iron 
for their assegais. We do not know the 
nationality of our ancestors." 



Mr. A. J. Lawlor of Nkanya, Elliot- 
dale, informed me recently that there 
are hundreds of Abelungu in his area. 
"It is their general belief that they are 
descendants of Grosvenor people, but 
I have my doubts", Mr. Lawlor wrote. 
"I think they come from an earlier 
shipwreck. A large number of them 
resemble our South African Indians 
and unlike the natives of this coastal 
strip they are keen on cultivating 
market produce." 

Precisely. Portuguese and Dutch, 
British and Indian castaways, all 
helped to form the strange Pondoland 
clans but it is too late now to draw up 
the family trees. 




Chapter Eleven 
Point Road 



Point Road was just about all I saw 
of Durban during my first visit more 
than half a century ago, but it was a 
road to remember. I was free to roam 
Point Road only in the evenings for I 
was at work in a little coasting steamer 
Ingerid all day; polishing brass on the 
bridge, scrubbing and cleaning while 
the winches rattled and the barrels of 



whale oil loaded at Saldanha swung 
out of the holds and clanged on the 
wharf. That was my way of spending 
the long school holidays and it taught 
me more than my schoolmasters had 
done. 

One evening I was passing out of the 
dock gates at the old Criterion Hotel 
when I was hailed by John Black, the 
chief steward. He was leading a party 
of my shipmates into the bar and I was 
invited to join them. The bo' sun was 
there and the second engineer, both 
Norwegians; and Hoffman the second 
steward had come along wearing a 
black morning coat and striped 
trousers. (He was a young Jewish 
tailor who had gone to sea in a 
moment of sheer lunacy, and stayed 
there). I was a little nervous in such 
distinguished company and at the age 
of sixteen I found the atmosphere of 



waterfront bars rather too adventu- 
rous. However, I drank a pint of beer 
very, very slowly and noted the 
growing joviality of my companions. 
After a few rounds they decided to 
move on. In my innocence I thought 
they had quenched their thirsts. I felt 
relieved, but not for long. 

Point Road had more than a touch of 
Scandinavia in these days and my 
Norwegian shipmates met a number 
of friends. I recall a whaling 
company's office, the aptly named 
Cafe Viking, a ship chandler named 
Torkildsen, and a Norcap Cafe run 
by Mrs. Johansen; all places where I 
listened enthralled to the bubbling 
good humour, the gay lilting accents 
and rhythm of the Norwegians. Sad 
and dour they might appear to be at 
sea, but now all their moodiness had 
gone and they were enjoying the 



blessings of the land. Brazenly they 
ogled the girls and like giants they 
drank. 

Among our ports of call that night 
were the Drumcree, the Alexandra 
and the Bencorrum bars. I was 
allowed, as a merciful concession to 
my age, to switch to ginger beer. 
That night formed chapter one in my 
experience of bars, barmen and 
barmaids. It gave me a sentimental 
outlook on Point Road and I went 
back there often in later years to fill 
the gaps in my education. Yes, my 
shipmates knew the bars of the world 
and they started me on an endless 
quest. Perhaps it was John Black's 
story of Hell Cat Peggy that set my 
youthful imagination at work. She 
was a barmaid who dealt with an ill- 
behaved customer by seizing his ear 
between her teeth and dragging him 



outside. According to Black she bit 
some ears right off and kept them in 
jars of alcohol on a shelf in the bar as 
a warning to others; but this, I think, 
was a magnificent piece of embroi- 
dery. John Black's characters had 
wonderful resounding names; Mother 
McBride and Pop Levinsky, Big 
Mose, Chuck Murphy, Dutch Karl 
and Liverpool Mary. They were all 
stars in the saloon world I had only 
just entered. As the years passed I 
gathered the rules, the code and the 
legends of that glittering stage behind 
the long mahogany counter; the stage 
with great mirrors and sparkling 
glasses and swinging doors; a stage 
where the human voices might be 
happy or angry, but where other 
sounds come in relentlessly; the crash 
and jangle of cash registers, the fizzing 
siphons, rattle and roll of dice. Some 



bars have happier aromas than others. 
Malt and hops you have a right to 
expect, sweet and moist; but the bars 
that glow in the memory are those 
where clients are regaled with fish- 
balls and fragrant stews, pretzels and 
spring onions. Given this background 
and the right bartender or barmaid and 
a bar becomes a bulwark against 
loneliness and a sanctuary from the 
world. 

I was a schoolboy in Point Road but 
instead of wickedness I smelt freedom. 
Even then I saw the friendly barmaid 
as a wise and sympathetic creature 
with an understanding which had not 
been gained in drawing-rooms. Here 
one could come with all sorts of 
problems and return to the hard world 
mellow and decided. If you wanted an 
alcoholic remedy for a stomach-ache 
the genius behind the bar would hand 



you a raw egg in sherry. Cramp was 
treated with peppermint in whisky. 
The barman would attempt to cure an 
aching tooth or forecast the results of 
future horseraces. He presided as 
referee in frequent disputes, held 
stakes or acted as banker; and in 
selected cases he would even advance 
money until pay day. Yet I saw the 
comforter of one moment suddenly 
become the man of action; one hand 
on the bar and he vaulted over like an 
acrobat to deal with a disturbance that 
had gone too far. Yes, I saw the 
"bum's rush" carried out with great 
efficiency that night in Point Road. 

Barmaids, the right sort of barmaids, 
are born into the trade. The girl who 
has known every customer from child- 
hood takes charge of her counter with 
outward camaraderie and the skill of a 
psychiatrist. She is pouring your 



favourite drink even before you have 
closed the door; and if liquid solace is 
not enough then she will settle your 
domestic worries or affairs of the heart 
as easily as she polishes the glasses. 

John Black also had a few words to 
say about bar parrots. He declared that 
the Point Road hotels had known some 
of the most talkative and wittiest 
parrots of all time. I heard about the 
Drumcree parrot that could whistle a 
psalm without a false note or sing a 
military march. The only parrot I met 
that night was an idiotic creature at the 
Bencorrum; it spoke in a hysterical 
voice, swung by the feet and 
ejaculated in a queer falsetto: "Scratch 
my belly boy - scratch my belly." 
Obviously the parrots of other days 
had been more amusing. Why, long 
ago there was a parrot at the Criterion 
that would come down from its perch, 



select a generous seaman at the 
counter and inquire politely: "How 
about a snifter for Poll eh? Bottoms up 
and to hell with the barman." This 
parrot was susceptible to changes in 
the weather and acted as a barometer 
in the bar. It could imitate a gesture, 
dance to a tune, leap and skip on its 
perch and denounce the barmaid in 
proper seafaring language. 

Between frequent visits to bars John 
Black led the way into a "dime 
museum". Here indeed was a museum 
such as I had never imagined. My 
critical faculties were so poorly devel- 
oped that I gaped at the fake mermaid 
(half monkey, half fish) and asked one 
of my shipmates whether such creat- 
ures were really to be found in the sea. 
I saw the crude wax figure of a man in 
the electric chair; alleged photographs 
of life on the moon; stuffed birds and 



crocodiles; a calf with two heads and 
six legs; pictures of celebrated freaks, 
Tom Thumb and the Siamese Twins. 
Then we paid something extra and 
watched a flea circus. I understand 
there are highly-trained fleas capable 
of racing in miniature chariots or 
playing in a football match. The fleas 
we saw that night had not reached 
such heights of showmanship. The flea 
master handed round a number of his 
pets in small boxes with magnifying 
glasses as lids. One realised for the 
first time that each insect of torment 
had a beak and six powerful legs. 
"Would any gentleman like to 
volunteer to feed a flea?" asked the 
flea master suddenly. 

The bo' sun rolled up his sleeve and 
offered a hairy arm decorated with a 
tattooed python. Thanks to a powerful 
magnifier we observed the flea turning 



away in disgust. There were no more 
volunteers. After that the flea master 
coaxed his performers until they 
operated a tiny merry-go-round, 
danced to music and jumped through 
hoops. We heard tales of marvellous 
fleas that could juggle with balls; 
unfortunately they had died just before 
the show opened. "Must have been 
feeding off the bo'sun," remarked 
John Black. All hands then drifted 
away to slake their own thirsts once 
more. 

As time went by my shipmates 
remembered that it was five hours or 
more since Charlie our cook had 
served them with his excellent stewed 
beef and macaroni dish. Where to go? 
Mrs. Smith's Cabin Grill was closed; 
so were the Addington tea room, the 
Marine Club, the Bijou, the 
Manchester House, the Mascot and 



other Point Road cafes. John Black 
thought deeply and announced: "Pat 
d'Hara runs a late place - he'll give us 
anything we want." Pat O'Hara was 
not running one of Durban's most 
exclusive restaurants but I would have 
been sorry if I had missed the place. 
When I could see through the smoke I 
recognised it as an eating-house for 
men from the ships. Their weathered 
faces and shabby clothes proclaimed 
their occupation; faces that belonged 
not only to the seafaring races of 
Europe. A few Chinese seamen were 
enjoying their tea and the easy-going 
O'Hara had also served American 
mulattoes and a group of Filipinos. 

O'Hara came over to us, a heavily- 
built man with a merry face. Black 
asked him what he would give us. 
"Oi've two cooks here, a Zulu and an 
Indian, and between them they can fix 



almost any dish under the sun," 
O'Hara replied. "Oi savvy the dago 
grub and the Dansk, oi give the Greeks 
their moussaka and the wops a whiff 
of garlic. Oi can bolo Hindustani bat 
and make a real biriani. Any kind of 
spigotty or squarehead dish my cooks 
can do. Oi feed Frenchies and 
Portugooses, Scotchmen and Russkies. 
But at this toime of night it's ham and 
eggs or Oirish stew. What d'you say 
boys?" 

I was ready for my bunk after the 
platter of ham and eggs O'Hara put in 
front of me. All too soon, I knew, the 
enormous binnacle on the bridge 
would be calling for its daily polish. 
Thankfully I rolled on board the 
coaster with my shipmates and dreamt 
of the delights of Point Road. 

Point Road has been transformed since 
my first visit. Old hands say it is not 



so respectable now as it was half a 
century ago; but it depends on what 
you call respectable. I see that the 
Criterion has gone, the only hotel in 
the world that had its own customs' 
gate and a passage running through the 
premises from the docks to Point 
Road. It took the authorities about a 
century to seal off that loophole with a 
wire-mesh barrier. Then the old hotel, 
with all its memories, closed for ever. 

I miss the anchorage beacon, too, a 
landmark eighty feet high that stood 
for half a century. Probably I would 
search in vain for that interesting little 
shop at the corner where Point Road 
turned into West Street, the shop I 
knew as a boy. It was called 
Bingham's Corner Emporium and it 
offered liquorice and shell-decorated 
work-boxes, man-o'-war caps, 
Victorian bonnets and acid drops. So 



much has vanished that I often wonder 
how long Dead Man's Tree will 
survive. Durban will never be as 
romantic, as full of unexpected 
encounters, as it was that night in 
Point Road when I was sixteen. Men 
who boasted they could empty a fire 
bucket filled with beer are not to be 
found every day. Parrots that drank 
jorums of rum and swore in five 
languages are rare birds. Waterfront 
cooks who could produce anything 
from pepper-pot soup to Mexican 
tamales were unusual craftsmen. (I 
went back to O'Hara's place a few 
years afterwards and saw his faithful 
Zulu making Cornish pasties while the 
Indian was busy with a fish chowder). 
Those were wonderful times when I 
felt the magic of the "dime museum" 
long before I had realised that life is an 
inexplicable museum of curiosities. 



Nevertheless I shall return to Point 
Road one night and think of all the 
people I glimpsed there; natives and 
Indians in the Boating Company's 
compound, stevedores, water police, 
ostrich feather sellers, Teifel the diver, 
the Chinese laundrymen. And I shall 
find out whether old Port Natal lingers 
in the shadows. When night settles 
over Point Road I shall try to visualise 
the bay of sand dunes and bush, the 
jungle of palm trees and wild bananas, 
where an unknown Englishman lived 
with his native wives and children 
early in the eighteenth century. I shall 
imagine the slavers coming in and 
finding victims; better slaves than 
those of Madagascar, "stronger and 
blacker." Here, too, a buccaneer 
settled, calling himself "a penitent 
pirate who sequestered himself from 
his abominable community and retired 



out of harm's way." This was once a 
swampy lagoon of shipwrecks and 
castaways. In the eighteen-thirties 
came the trading brig Dove to land 
spirits. The whole settlement was 
drunk for days. Here, in the middle of 
last century, wild elephants roamed 
among the new brick cottages and 
wattle and daub shacks. On the Berea 
a settler was killed by a leopard. Lions 
visited the Bluff and the floods 
brought crocodiles to the creeks. 

Yet the London Tavern held a ball in 
the midst of these invasions. The 
widow Quested opened the thatched 
Kentish Tavern opposite the Phoenix 
Hotel in West Street, while Drew's 
Tavern in Grey Street offered music, 
dancing, skittles and boxing. Fleets of 
sailing ships anchored in the open 
roadstead and lay there pitching their 
bows under while cargoes were 



brought to the beaches in surf boats. 
Coaches set off from the Britannia Inn 
for Maritzburg. Someone bought the 
Star and Garter for two hundred and 
fifty pounds. Durban was still largely a 
village of wood or tin bungalows a 
century ago, shaded by syringas and 
fig trees; a town of yoked oxen where 
wagons had to be hauled out of reedy 
swamps. Transport riders had their 
outspan at the far end of West Street; 
there they exchanged hides, wool and 
grain for bullets, sugar and coffee. 
Ivory and pumpkins were piled high 
under the bamboos. Horse trams 
arrived, and oil lamps for homes and 
streets. Sailors played skittles on the 
beaches and drank at the Fig Tree 
Canteen. 

Even at the turn of the century Durban 
was still a small town. Only in 1904 
did the first mail steamer cross the bar. 



Long cavalcades of natives carried 
baskets of coal on their heads to fill 
the bunkers. Few realised that on one 
day in World War II more than one 
hundred merchant ships would find 
shelter in the bay while sixty-four 
more vessels waited outside. Certainly 
I had no visions of Durban's future 
civic progress that night when I first 
set eyes on Point Road. Things were 
lively enough and I was not aware that 
a band of seafarers were playing out 
their little comedy on a darkening 
stage, living for the moment on rich 
memories and strong beer. Point Road 
had an aroma of its own; the harbour 
smells, salt and tar and carbolic; fried 
fish and coffee and the spicy Eastern 
odours; poverty and sweat and 
rickshaw boys; flowers and cane 
sugar, too, and something indefinable 
and glamorous that came with the 



darkness. When I go back I shall hunt 
for that last mysterious aroma in Point 
Road. If I find it I shall meet John 
Black again and all the others, and I 
shall be sixteen years old. 



Chapter Twelve 

Ports Of THE PORTUGUESE 



Lourenco Marques still had its 
Band Square when I first landed there 
thirty-five years ago. A nervous gover- 
nor named Betencourt did away with 
this seductive praca on the ground that 
the sinister, whispering characters 
sitting over drinks outside the kiosks 
were planning a revolution. I thought 
they were merely eyeing the blondes 
from the liners but perhaps these 
malcontents were plotting other adven- 
tures as well. 

I loved the old Band Square. It was a 
glowing picture of idlers under the 
jacaranda trees, marble tables, drinks 
of every sort and colour from golden 
brandy to black coffee, green- 
shuttered windows and the mosaic of a 
million cobblestones underfoot. 



George Pauling the railway contractor 
and fabulous gourmand boasted that 
he and two companions breakfasted at 
a Band Square kiosk on one thousand 
of the small local oysters and eight 
bottles of champagne. As I sat there 
the little Portuguese policemen 
strutted past wearing swords and 
sombreros, accompanied by bare- 
footed native constables with red 
fezzes and knickerbockers. White sun 
helmets were prominent in those days. 
Cool, dignified men appeared in 
tropical silk suits or white duck, their 
womenfolk in Parisian creations. 

"Boy!" Ali the waiter hurried to one's 
table, a black ghost in white raiment. 
"Bon dios, senhor. " He brought a 
newspaper, glasses of water and 
toothpicks free of charge; and old 
customers could also rely on free 
snacks, fried octopus with olives and 



onions, little dishes of potato chips, 
peanuts and cheese straws. Then one 
ordered an aperitif. From the Band 
Square there was a grand view of the 
shipping, gay house-flags and bright 
funnels strung out along the quay. 
Street vendors offered garlic and 
onions, live chickens slung uncom- 
fortably on poles, little handmade 
rugs, baskets of fish and fruit, flowers 
and cheeses. Tourists wandered across 
the square, peering into strange 
windows, pestered by bootblacks and 
sellers of lottery tickets. Some of them 
paused in an embarrassed way before a 
small building with two doors, one for 
Senhoras, the other for Cavalheiros. It 
was great sport watching them trying 
to make up their minds. Often they 
entered the wrong doors and came out 
with red faces. Always there was life 



and interest on the Band Square, and 
on certain nights there was a band. 

Near the Band Square was the Rua 
Major Araujo, a street that has 
survived many necessary and unneces- 
sary changes. Major Araujo, a 
forgotten military hero, little knew the 
decades of dubious entertainment 
which were to make this street famous 
among the world's seamen and others. 
It has acquired nicknames such as 
"Whisky Street" and the "Street of 
Troubles". Generations of sweating 
policemen have patrolled the line of 
bars with swing-doors; thousands of 
reckless drinkers have seen the dawn 
there and held their aching heads. In 
my early days there must have been 
fifteen bars in this one short thorough- 
fare. You could listen to the Greeks in 
the Akropolis or other less predictable 
drinkers in the Chandos, the Fauvette 



Parisienne, the Gaiety, Ginette and the 
rest. A bar licence cost the equivalent 
of £60 a year in those days, but the 
licence for each barmaid was £40 
extra. A totally unexpected atmos- 
phere was to be found at the Frivolity, 
better known as Dolly's Bar. I believe 
she owned the place. 

Dolly was a middle-aged, cultured 
Englishwoman who used neither rouge 
nor pencil, a quiet woman usually 
dressed in black. All the leading 
business men went to her bar and often 
they drank tea. It was a homely place. 
Dolly liked her clients to spend a 
pleasant evening and no one ever 
drank too much. She was invited 
everywhere in the British colony of 
those days, certainly the most remark- 
able barmaid I ever met. Other bars in 
the Rua Araujo had weird bands, 
jangling pianos and feminine company 



of a sort. Dolly was one of the 
personalities of Lourenco Marques. 
She had one weakness. I was at 
Bello's Casino, where the roulette and 
baccarat tables raked in more escudos 
than some of the banks; and there was 
Dolly sitting at the baccarat table, 
apparently careless whether she won 
or lost. The croupier's rake carried 
away her stake. Other women bit their 
fingers but Dolly smiled. She lost most 
of her profits on the gaming tables yet 
she went on playing. 

One evening I sat on the Band Square 
with a local newspaperman, an 
Englishman who owned a publishing 
business in Lourenco Marques. I was 
enthralled by his stories of the town he 
knew so well. There is an Avenida do 
Duque de Connaught along the bay 
and when I asked him about this name 
his answer recalled a great spectacle; 



possibly the greatest ever seen in 
Lourenco Marques. He said the Duke 
of Connaught had paid an official visit 
very early this century and the 
Portuguese had organised a grand 
batuque in his honour. It was a tribal 
dance on a scale Africa had seldom 
known before or since. Thousands of 
Shangaans and Mchopis came into 
town day after day, until about twenty 
thousand tribesmen had assembled for 
the great event. Every man was 
correctly dressed, with shield and 
assegai. Football jerseys and other 
European, frills were banned. 

When the Duke of Connaught and the 
white audience arrived at the pavilion 
on the racecourse almost the only 
natives visible were those in the 
massed orchestras of "bantu pianos", 
xylophones and hornblowers. Round 
the course were a number of headmen 



acting as markers and in the centre 
there was a single horseman, motion- 
less in the saddle. The dancers were 
hidden among the trees on the bluff. 
Suddenly a war-cry rang out from the 
forest and four leaders raced out with 
shields and assegais held high. Then 
came a human cavalcade that made the 
onlookers gasp; hundreds of men, 
thousands of men in column of fours 
rushing into the strong sunlight, 
plunging down on to the course, 
turning sharply, moving round the area 
like an enormous human snake. The 
endless column began to curl within 
itself; and still more and more 
thousands poured out of the trees, rank 
after rank charging down the face of 
the bluff, chanting and waving their 
weapons, until the whole ground was 
surrounded by the gigantic spiral 
growing always towards the horseman 



in the centre. Louder and louder rose 
the savage rhythm of the massed 
bands as the long sinuous line 
uncoiled and moved faultlessly into 
long parallel lines facing the Governor 
General and the Duke of Connaught. 
And at precisely the same moment the 
twenty thousand tribesmen stopped 
dead and gave the royal salute - 
Bayete I The orchestras played the old 
Portuguese royal national anthem 
Hymno do Carta and finally "God 
Save the King". Yes, that was drama 
and Africa has seldom watched 
anything more impressive. 

I heard many other tales of the old 
Delagoa Bay. The settlement was no 
more than a walled camp with a castel- 
lated fortress a century ago; drums and 
bugles and a mutinous black garrison. 
Wild tribesmen often attacked the 
place and the Portuguese cut off the 



heads of those they killed and stuck 
them on poles as a warning. Shiploads 
of hunters sailed out of Durban to 
shoot buck and wild pig at Delagoa 
Bay. Adventurers from the Barberton 
goldfields sometimes visited Delagoa 
Bay and they would have seized it if 
President Kruger had given them 
permission. Indeed there were many 
clashes between the gold miners and 
the tiny Portuguese garrison. After a 
great deal of wild behaviour the 
Portuguese bought a small coaster, the 
Lady Wood, and fitted her out as a 
gunboat to maintain law and order. 
Twice the crew were overpowered and 
the gunboat looted; once by the 
Barberton crowd and again by a native 
chief named Mahash when the Lady 
Wood ran aground on a sandbank. 

Delagoa Bay knew the slavers and the 
ivory traders. Dutch settlers arrived at 



different periods and left the fragments 
of a stone fort near the waterfront. 
Inyack Island, at the bay entrance, was 
among the earliest Portuguese settle- 
ments in East Africa. You may 
remember the ancient black-painted 
brig marked "Pilotes" that lay off 
Inyack. Austrians backed by the 
Empress Maria Theresa and led by an 
English officer, William Bolts, 
occupied Inyack Island for a time and 
built a fort. Indian Ocean pirates and 
the old sailing whalers often called 
there. Inyack was annexed to Natal a 
century ago but the British withdrew 
peacefully after arbitration. Within 
living memory the island was raided 
by rebellious natives and Portuguese 
storekeepers were murdered. Now the 
tropic isle has become a pleasure 
resort and also a research station for 
marine biologists. 



Few visitors to the modern Lourenco 
Marques know the grim background, 
the bloody pages of the city's past. 
Residents have created a little Lisbon 
at this old harbour which has seen 
great fires and hurricanes, plague and 
rinderpest and the massacre of 
Portuguese seamen on the present 
Polana Beach. In the old days the 
hospital was always full during the hot 
season, the "suicide month" of 
November. One summer day the 
temperature rose to one hundred and 
fifteen degrees in the shade and fell to 
fifty-two when a gale blew up during 
the afternoon. The old settlement was 
flooded on many occasions and once it 
was almost burnt out. Lourenco 
Marques has survived many vicis- 
situdes. 

Lourenco Marques was the navigator 
who explored Delagoa Bay four 



hundred years ago but the bay was 
known to the Portuguese forty years 
before that survey. The municipality 
was set up by royal decree almost a 
century ago and King Don Luis I 
ordered the draining of the swamps. 
Engineers from Holland built the first 
wharf, known for years as the "Dutch 
Wharf". Indians built a white alabaster 
temple and the Chinese have their own 
priest and pagoda. It is a city with a 
drowsy charm of its own, a city with a 
background, a siesta city. 

Sail on to Beira and you are still in the 
land of the siesta. This town is so 
recent that in a healthier climate you 
would expect to find a few aged 
pioneers telling the wild story. But not 
here. Beira killed its pioneers. They 
heard the ping-ing-ing-zzz of the 
invincible mosquito. Cholera, dysen- 
tery, malaria and blackwater sent them 



to early graves. At one time Beira 
was regarded as the toughest settle- 
ment in Africa, drunken and lawless. 

Steamers anchored far out, for the 
deepwater anchorage close to Beira 
had not been charted. Passengers 
were lowered on to tugs in baskets. 
The earliest arrivals found only a 
Portuguese fort and a few tents; for 
Beira was simply a place for landing 
cargoes. As there was no wharf the 
lighters were beached and tons of 
galvanised iron, fencing wire, tinned 
foods and cases of the essential 
whisky were carried on shore. Early 
in the eighteen-nineties a row of one- 
roomed tin shanties on piles grew up 
on the sandspit called Beira, the 
Portuguese word for sand. The sand 
was so deep that trolley lines had to 
be laid to carry people and goods up 
and down the settlement. Every 



white resident owned a four-wheeled 
trolley and hired two Shangaans to 
push it. The governor had a little 
State coach with a coat-of-arms and 
a green awning. Soon the trolley- 
lines covered twenty-five miles of 
sand, with turn-tables at crossroads, 
points and side-tracks and busy 
junctions. Often the trolleys jumped 
the eighteen-inch gauge rails, but it 
was better than walking. I travelled 
by trolley during my first visit to 
Beira. I remember the muscular 
Shangaans and their cry at the end of 
the run: Presente I Presente I When I 
revisited Beira in the nineteen- 
thirties the trolley lines had been torn 
up, the avenidas had been paved. But 
out towards the Ponta Gea I came 
upon a derelict line and a pile of ugly 
ghosts, the trolleys flung aside for 
ever. Beira has had the same effect 



on many residents and the sight 
provoked melancholy thoughts. 

Heat was a burden in the primitive 
houses of old Beira. There were 
insects everywhere and the sandfleas 
or jiggers burrowed under one's 
toenails and were extracted by clever 
natives. Nearly everyone suffered 
from sore eyes. The garrison was 
small and feeble. When the Chief 
Gungunyana.'s warriors arrived by 
canoe in battle order to collect taxes 
from a local potentate the Portuguese 
were unable to oppose the impis 
chanting war songs. However, the 
settlement grew and railway 
construction drew white adventurers 
like vultures to a feast. Those men 
who passed through Beira were hard 
citizens and they left their mark on the 
ramshackle seaport. They fought with 
fists, knives and revolvers and always 



they drank. One governor solved the 
problem by confining the police to 
barracks when a contingent of British 
railway workers landed! Serious riot- 
ing also occurred when three hundred 
Arabs and Abyssinians arrived on their 
way to the Rhodesian mines. They 
attacked and almost overpowered the 
garrison but on this occasion the 
British section sided with the Portu- 
guese and saved the day. 

Old Beira was indeed a dangerous 
place. One British consul named 
McMaster was stabbed to death by an 
American cattleman. McMaster was a 
popular official and there were two 
thousand people of all races at his 
funeral. Lions often raided the 
outskirts of Beira during the early 
years. Big game wandered over the 
Ponta Gea at will and roamed the main 
street. The lover of wild life could also 



watch black and white crows fighting 
the dogs for scraps. 

George Pauling once remarked that he 
wished he had never heard of Beira. 
When he started the two-foot gauge 
railway in the early eighteen-nineties 
the climate was so unhealthy that he 
lost six of his most experienced white 
men in one week. Within two years 
sixty per cent of his men had died. 
Pauling noted the peculiar fact that 
there were no teetotalers among the 
survivors. "They do not stand fever 
country even as well as excessive 
drinkers," Pauling declared. He had 
thousands of natives to feed, and one 
of his Afrikaner hunters once shot 
eight buffalo before breakfast. 

Men of many nations worked as sub- 
contractors under Pauling. Some were 
hiding from the law and the Beira 
pioneers found strange characters in 



their midst. Beira was the only place 
offering the chance of a spree; and 
subcontractors earning from £2,000 to 
£4,000 a year spent freely in the bars. 
A stern-wheeler named Kimberley 
carried them from Beira to the base 
construction camp at Fontesvilla, forty 
miles up the Pungwe River. Captain 
Dickie was in command, a shrewd and 
fearsome character who provided food 
and liquor during the voyage. If his 
passengers did not patronise the bar 
Dickie ran the Kimberley on to a 
sandbank and stayed there among the 
mosquitoes until everyone had been 
driven to drink. Cecil Rhodes once 
travelled with Dickie at this period. 
Rhodes knew the trick and bought 
Dickie's whole stock of whisky and 
champagne when the Kimberley left 
Beira. Dickie made the run to 
Fontesvilla in twelve hours, a record. 



Rhodes had intended to travel inland 
by Cape cart and only when he 
reached Beira did he discover that 
there were no roads. He had to 
abandon his magnificent Cape cart in 
Beira and there it remained as a 
showpiece for many years. 

When the Pungwe was flooded the 
water spread out over a vast area and 
tugmasters had difficulty in finding 
their way. One tug loaded with railway 
material left Beira and became lost in 
the tropical forest. She was left high 
and dry when the floods subsided and 
remained there, seven miles from the 
river, for three years. Then another 
flood transformed the forest into a lake 
and the tug steamed on to Fontesvilla 
with her valuable cargo. Pauling's men 
had other adventures. Trains and 
trolleys were halted by lions and men 
took to the trees. Pauling, a celebrated 



drinker, claimed that during a railway 
journey of forty-eight hours he and his 
engineers Lawley and Moore 
consumed three hundred bottles of 
German beer. Trains were more like 
tramcars, wide open with seats along 
both sides. Tiny engines burnt wood, 
so they stopped every ten miles for 
water and fuel. When a train from 
Fontesvilla reached the terminus at 
Chimoio the passengers transferred to 
one of the famous Zeederberg or 
Symington coaches, drawn by mules. 
It was not until the end of last century 
that the first train went through from 
Beira to Salisbury. 

Mr. R. C. F. Maugham, who went to 
Beira as British consul towards the 
end of last century, found the place 
terrorised by a gang of desperadoes. 
Arizona Joe was the leader; but these 
men never recognised one another in 



public, so that it was difficult to 
identify the gangsters. They wore 
masks and carried out one robbery 
after another, forcing white residents 
to hand over money and valuables. 
Then they made their victims bring out 
their whisky. The reign of terror 
reached a climax when the gangsters 
murdered two Portuguese policemen. 
Maugham then decided to take a hand 
and with the approval of the governor 
he sent to Salisbury for a party of 
detectives. They soon dealt with 
Arizona Joe and his gang. One robber 
was shot dead and the rest 
disappeared. 

Beira stands only eighteen inches 
above high tide, so that there was no 
margin of safety until a concrete sea 
wall was built to keep the combined 
forces of the Pungwe and the Busi 
Rivers at bay. Again and again the sea 



swept houses away. Floods breached 
the first wall and the early disasters 
were repeated. When a cyclone swept 
Beira the town was flooded again, the 
bridge over Chievive Creek looked 
like a concertina, tugs and lighters 
were flung ashore, cranes were blown 
over and the sea wall was smashed. 

Mr. P. J. Francis, a shipping agent who 
lived in Beira before World War I, 
gave me his impressions of old Beira. 
When he landed there were only two 
hundred white people. There were 
eighty bars but no fresh provision 
stores. Dinner parties were always 
arranged for the night when the 
Rhodesian mail train came in, as it 
brought fresh meat and vegetables 
from Umtali. However, there were 
pioneer hotel keepers who showed 
great ingenuity in "living off the 
country". George Vaghi ran the Hotel 



Francais, while an Italian named 
Martini was host at the Royal. These 
men served buffalo meat braised with 
rich gravy so that it tasted like beef. 
Their guests enjoyed eland, the 
aromatic flesh of bushbuck, and other 
venison done in port wine with onions 
and herbs. Martini often put on a 
casserole that tasted like tender 
chicken or hare; and some of his 
guests were upset when they found 
they had been eating fruit bat. Now 
and again the fishermen brought in a 
dugong with fat as sweet as butter and 
very palatable meat. Oysters were 
pickled, stewed, baked or served in 
fritters, patties and, puddings. Turtle 
soup and grilled turtle fins often 
appeared on the Francais and Royal 
menus. Ground-nut soup was a great 
favourite. Smoked beche de mer, a 
sea slug that resembled a charred 



sausage, was not popular with all the 
patrons. Octopus was among the fritto 
misto ingredients. George Vaghi had a 
bush pie recipe in which it was said 
that Worcestershire sauce was used to 
mask the flavour of monkey. Zebra 
meat was stewed with herbs, olive oil 
and tomatoes. Pawpaw was served as a 
vegetable, boiled and mashed. Livers 
and kidneys of buck were cooked with 
garlic and red wine. Young warthogs 
came to the table tasting like pork. 
Hippo was another dish with a strong 
pork flavour. Giraffe was more like 
coarse beef. No one complained about 
rhino and wildebeest was accepted. 
Elephant was a great delicacy, for 
Gregorio Formosinho and other 
hunters sent in their ivory but seldom 
did the meat reach the Beira hotels. 
Martini let everyone know when he 
was cooking elephant feet in charcoal. 



Vaghi roasted elephant heart with con- 
siderable skill. I was told that Martini 
was cheered by everyone dining at his 
hotel one night when he served a 
tremendous lion casserole. 

Game, pineapple and bananas still find 
a place on Beira menus but in the 
homes of the Portuguese the cooking 
is very different from the efforts of 
Martini and Vaghi. You can still have 
shrimp omelettes and prawns a foot 
long. Dried cod comes all the way 
from the North Atlantic to be 
transformed into golden bacalhau. 
Hens' eggs are as small as they were 
in the early days; if you find five eggs 
on your breakfast plate then a Beira 
tradition is still being observed. But 
instead of hippo there will probably be 
Cozido a Portuguesa, a boiled dinner 
with rice and potatoes; or smoked 
pig's back with green peas; or ovos de 



paraizo, eggs baked with pastry, bam 
and cheese. Elephant meat has gone 
for good; you will have to do with 
vitella (veal) marinaded with bay leaf, 
garlic and wine; or gammon stewed 
with broad beans, onion, wine and 
olive oil; or pigs' tongues, or the meat 
balls called almondegas. The 
Portuguese call any roast rosbif, so do 
not be surprised if you are offered 
rosbif de porco. They are great eaters 
and their fish dishes are especially 
hearty. I tasted a Caleirada de peixe in 
Beira, a fish stew rather like 
bouillabaisse but without the saffron. 
They give you a good sopa de 
camarrao there, a shrimp soup with a 
brandy flavour. Sardines are fried in 
batter. Tunny is simmered skilfully 
with onions and tomatoes, white wine 
and olive oil. I also remember the 
chestnuts boiled with aniseed, the 



excellent savoury rice, the serra 
cheese from the milk of mountain 
ewes. When you come to the sweets I 
can recommend the quince dish called 
Marmelada and the strange little 
desserts known as Sonhos (dreams) 
and Suspiros (sighs). Old Martini 
never reached those heights, though 
there was plenty of Coll ares in his day, 
the Portuguese claret, and the strong 
red wine called Bombarrel. 

In the bars of old Beira a character 
nicknamed Zambesi Jack slaked his 
thirst. He became famous as Trader 
Horn, a successful author. Whisky was 
three shillings a tot, beer three 
shillings and sixpence a bottle; too 
expensive for many customers, so they 
bought vinho tinto by the keg and 
diluted it moderately with water to 
remove the burning sensation. Those 
bars were gateways to adventure and 



the men who drank there went on to 
shoot big-game, to plant tea in 
Nyasaland or prospect the rivers of 
Mozambique for gold. Beira has been 
transformed since the lawless days and 
I have heard it described as a "re- 
formed harlot". Yet the past can no 
more be brushed away than the sand 
that remains under the flame trees. 

I listened to the talk at sundown on the 
long verandah of the Savoy Hotel. 
They spoke of the days when an 
Indian barber came round early every 
morning to shave male guests in bed; 
and it made no difference whether they 
were awake, asleep or drunk; they all 
got a clean shave. I heard of the man 
whose friend was eaten by a lion; he 
shot the lion next day, found a 
clergyman and arranged a Christian 
burial for the lion with the man inside. 
They told me about a Savoy Hotel 



manager named Ellis, a generous man 
who was always calling out: "Drinks 
are on the house." Some people took 
advantage of his good nature and 
signed his name on their bar chits. 
Mrs. Ellis looked after the accounts 
and Ellis was often in trouble with his 
wife. I heard tales of the rakish dhaws 
in the harbour and the little coasters 
reeking of copra and overrun with rats 
and cockroaches. Those people on the 
verandah spoke in hushed voices of 
treasure, on the caravan route to Sofala 
and gold in unmapped gullies. They 
discussed many strange topics with 
rich anecdote and emphatic ring of 
glasses as the sun went down. 

No longer are there shots in the night 
to disturb law-abiding Beira. Most of 
the tin shacks and old iron balconies 
have disappeared. I visited the rusty 
skeleton of a three-masted iron sailing 



ship in the jungle round the Makuti 
lighthouse, thinking it was a ghost of 
old Beira; but no, it was just a useless 
hulk that had been dragged in there to 
bind the sand. The war against sand 
goes on all the time. Yet modern Beira 
has fine villas with courtyards and 
slatted awnings and lovely gardens. It 
has a Pavilhao Oceana on the beach 
and streets and hotels the old hands 
would not recognise: The Rua Major 
Serpe, the Rua Alvarez Cabral, the 
Hotel Embaixador and the Hotel 
Grande. But the black January storms 
still sweep across the harbour with 
heavy rain. Summer is still a Turkish 
bath, winter is still perfect. Beira, 
almost an island, still looks out on its 
desolate mangrove swamps, its yellow 
sand and the unchanging brown water 
of the Pungwe estuary. 



Mozambique spreads for more than 
sixteen hundred miles along the East 
African coast. It is the name of a huge 
territory and also of a tiny coral island 
five hundred miles beyond Beira. 
Mozambique is one more of those 
tropical African outposts filled with 
the elusive quality called atmosphere; 
one more of those towns built on a 
grim foundation of human skeletons. 

This is the oldest white settlement in 
Africa south of the equator. Vasco da 
Gama called there at the end of the 
fifteenth century. There his weary 
sailors mutinied after a severe 
buffeting; but they sailed on to India. 
Nine years later the Portuguese started 
building a fort, church and hospital on 
the tiny green island three miles from 
the coast. Parts of the town have 
remained unchanged since the early 
sixteenth century. When you gaze on 



the ancient barred and bolted doors 
and windows, the rusting cannon on 
frowning parapets, the narrow streets 
wide enough only for rickshaws then 
you are back in the East Africa of the 
explorers. 

Mozambique Island, three miles long 
and five hundred yards wide has seen 
the flag of Portugal raised every day 
for nearly five centuries. If the Dutch 
attack had been successful the Dutch 
would have set up their refreshment 
station there instead of Table Bay; but 
they were beaten off. The Portuguese 
settled on this island because they 
needed a secure harbour of refuge for 
ships making the long Carreira da 
India, the round trip from Lisbon to 
Goa and back. Ships which failed to 
catch the favourable south-west 
monsoon when homeward bound 
spent the winter in Mozambique 



harbour. They anchored there outward 
bound with their hundreds of soldiers 
and specie, their heavy casks of wine 
and water; and they returned with 
spices and silks. But always there were 
outbreaks of malaria and scurvy, and 
the island became the graveyard of 
thousands of Portuguese soldiers and 
sailors. I think the Dutch East India 
Company showed great wisdom when 
they chose Table Bay. But the Dutch 
might have made better colonists than 
the Portuguese. I have seen a priest's 
note on early Mozambique and it is a 
revealing description: "Mozambique is 
not so repulsive as it is painted but the 
Portuguese with their worldly desires 
and gluttony fill the burial places. The 
provisions are ordinarily sufficient for 
there are luscious oranges and lemons, 
good sucking-pigs, good cows, figs, 
and I even saw pomegranates there. 



Wheat and rice come from Sena on the 
mainland and both are excellent. Yet 
few places in the tropics have claimed 
so many lives." 

Certainly the Portuguese showed 
tremendous drive when they built the 
great fort they called San Sebastian. I 
stood one sweltering afternoon on the 
ramparts of the grey old castle 
dreaming of the energy and courage of 
the men who founded this pioneer 
outpost. They brought the dressed 
stone all the way from Lisbon in 
caravels. Ship after ship came in, 
decade after decade; and only after 
forty years was San Sebastian 
completed. The town that grew under 
the seventy-foot walls of the castle 
was like a fragment of old Portugal; 
low, tiled houses painted pink and 
yellow, green and white, low houses 
with grilles and flat roofs and 



castellated parapets. Only the huts 
thatched with palm leaves belonged to 
Africa. I remember the stone landing 
steps, historic masonry trodden by 
generations of conquistadors and 
slaves and labourers burdened with 
gold and ivory. 

San Sebastian was held by the 
Portuguese against attack after attack 
by the Arabs. The riches of India and 
Africa passed these grey battlements. 
The courtyard rang with the cries of 
adventure and the echoes have hardly 
died away. I could almost hear the 
survivors of the lost Portuguese 
treasure ships coming through the 
gateway with their tales of shipwreck 
and hardship on the unfriendly coast. 
Some of those treasure ships were 
never located. British treasure hunters 
followed a legend of an old Portu- 
guese wreck near Mozambique and 



found the sunken hull. Fragments and 
equipment brought to the surface 
provided evidence that she belonged to 
the period when Portugal was growing 
rich on gold and jewels. Eagerly the 
clivers blasted their way through the 
ancient timbers and reached the cargo. 
It was stone, great blocks of dressed 
stone for the walls of San Sebastian. 

Mozambique Island lies in the path of 
those furious cyclones that arise in the 
Southern Indian Ocean and come 
roaring up the channel towards the end 
of the year. Before the days of radio 
the people of Mozambique said they 
could feel a cyclone approaching long 
before the whiplash struck them. The 
sky might be blue, the sea calm; but 
there was an uneasy atmosphere of 
suspense in the town. It might be a 
queer red sunset that warned them, or 
a yellow haze; and sometimes there 



was a halo round the moon. Then the 
low, swift clouds appeared. The whole 
world of nature seemed to be on the 
move, the seabirds and even the fish. 
They closed their shutters in 
Mozambique and barred their doors. 
Market women gathered up their 
manioc and sugar cane and cashew 
nuts and departed. Ships put down 
their heaviest anchors. In the 
governor's palace, houses and hovels, 
the people cowered and waited for the 
blow. 

It came with a menacing roar. The 
noon sun was blotted out, seas crashed 
on the castle walls, the rain and wind 
thundered on the old walls of 
Mozambique. Men caught outside had 
to crawl to safety; they could not 
breathe when they faced the screaming 
cyclone. There might be a deceptive 
lull that lasted for hours, a dangerous 



sign. That meant the island was in the 
centre of the cyclone. When the wind 
returned from the opposite direction it 
blew harder than before. Then it would 
move away slowly over the mainland 
and allow the people of the island to 
survey the devastation and bury the 
dead. One cyclone eighty years ago 
destroyed all the shipping in the bay, 
damaged the lighthouse, flattened 
many houses. Only San Sebastian 
defied the violence. There it stands, 
the great stone castle built by the men 
who raised the veil of mystery that had 
rested over the whole of Southern 
Africa for so long. 




CHAPTER Thirteen 
Haven Of Peace 



WHEN I visited Dar es Salaam in the 
nineteen-twenties there was a great 
and regrettable slaughter of elephants 
going on in the hinterland. It was the 
heyday of the hunter. Pianos still had 
ivory keys and no one dreamt of 
plastic substitutes. Tanganyika offered 
free licences so that farmers would not 
be troubled by elephants. Tusks were 



coming into Dar es Salaam by the 
hundred. 

My guide to the world of tusks was a 
most experienced ivory buyer, Mr. E. 
D. Moore, known on the coast as 
"Tusker" Moore because of his 
occupation. Moore took me into a 
ratproof godown, a store where the 
tusks were piled up ready for 
shipment. "Got to keep the rats out - 
they gnaw into soft tusks to get at the 
oil," said Moore. He pointed out the 
large curved tusks of the bull 
elephants; the shorter, round cow 
tusks, highly prized by makers of 
billiard balls; the little "scrivelloes" 
used for bangles; hard translucent 
ivory and soft opaque ivory; the brown 
gendi tusks from beyond the Lakes; 
white ivory and tusks which had taken 
on the colour of blood from the smoke 
in native huts. 



"Africans never valued ivory until the 
white man came," Moore told me. 
"They propped up their huts with tusks 
and they fenced graves and cattle pens 
with tusks. Stanley saw an ivory 
temple during his travels. They killed 
elephants for the meat and often left 
the tusks in the bush. So there was a 
time when tusks were two a penny and 
the only problem was sending them 
down to the coast. Slaves solved the 
problem. Columns of slaves staggered 
along under the great weight of ivory." 

Stanley denounced the trade in these 
famous words: "Every tusk in the 
possession of an Arab trader has been 
steeped and dyed in blood. Every 
pound weight of ivory has cost the life 
of a man, woman or child. Huts have 
been burned, villages destroyed, the 
rich heart of Africa has been laid 
waste." Now the trade had become 



respectable, apart from the killing of 
all these enormous animals for the 
sake of their lovely teeth. 

Moore said that a lot of the ivory 
coming into Dar es Salaam consisted 
of old tusks found in swamps and 
rivers and the remote bush. Some was 
cracked and perished, others were still 
in fine condition. But the huge 
sweeping tusks handled by dealers last 
century had become rare. Then, a tusk 
weighing eighty pounds was common; 
the average had gone down to fifty or 
less. "And you have to make sure that 
the simple African has not poured 
molten lead into the ivory to increase 
the weight," remarked Moore with a 
smile. He loved ivory for its own sake 
and had a grand collection of ivory 
necklaces, bracelets, armlets, horns 
and idols. Moore admired the grain, 
the resilience, the exquisite feel, the 



true beauty of ivory. I cannot imagine 
him gazing with reverence on a knife 
with a plastic handle. 

I have another memory of Dar es 
Salaam long ago. At the market I saw 
a rich array of tropical fish and other 
foods which I tasted later; an 
experience which always ranks in my 
mind as an adventure. On the stalls 
there were oysters and huge clams 
from Oyster Bay, kingfish and red 
mullet, strange fruits and vegetables I 
had never eaten before. If the oysters 
lacked the flavour of Whitstables they 
made up for it in size and the fact that 
they grew on trees, the roots of the 
mangrove trees in the swamps. I 
enjoyed oysters in white sauce, 
browned under the grill with cheese 
and served on spinach. Clams 
appeared in a chowder of pork, onions 
and tomatoes. Crabs were chopped up 



and baked with curry powder. The 
local crawfish lacked the flavour of the 
Cape species from ice-cold seas but 
they made a pleasant dish when served 
as lobster cutlets. Prawns were fried 
and presented on anchovy toast. King- 
fish or wahoo, regarded as the aristo- 
crat of those waters, came to the table 
in grilled steaks with egg sauce. There 
were smoked sardines from Zanzibar 
and another cured fish that might 
almost have masqueraded as a kipper. 
Dolphins, the fish not the mammals, 
are known in Dar es Salaam as faloosi; 
they are diced and marinaded in fresh 
limes and after further treatment with 
tomatoes, green peppers and 
Worcestershire sauce they go into a 
memorable fish cocktail. 

Swahili cooks make clever use of a 
flavouring extract from freshly-grated 
coconut known as tui ya nazi. They 



also cook some fish dishes in milk of 
coconut with bay leaves and cloves. 
Dar es Salaam is one of those places 
where meat and poultry have to be 
disguised as much as possible. Curries 
are usually good. I liked the curried 
brinjals and also the thin slices of 
brinjal baked in the oven, crisp and 
brown. (Fried brinjal, they told me, 
absorbs too much fat). Breadfruit was 
eaten boiled with sauce, like vegetable 
marrow. Sweet potatoes were served 
as a sweet, boiled and sprinkled with 
grated coconut. I also saw, for the first 
time in my life, a pawpaw tart. After 
such menus I was ready to admire the 
beauty of Dar es Salaam bay. 

Dar es Salaam is one of the few 
sheltered harbours along the East 
African coast. It would be perfect but 
for the narrow entrance which has 
caused nightmares among shipmasters; 



the dreaded channel with its sharp 
bends, reefs and currents known only 
to the local pilots, But once you are 
inside the invisible harbour suddenly 
becomes a gorgeous circular land- 
locked bay surrounded by coconut 
palms, mangroves, beaches with green 
turf running down to the sand, cliffs 
and spires and avenues of crimson 
flamboyants. 

Arab dhows still come in from the 
Persian Gulf, India and Somaliland, 
bringing dates and dried fish, rugs and 
cloth. The cries of the dhow sailors, 
their drums and the high-pitched notes 
of their zomaris are among the 
romantic sounds of the "haven of 
peace". Fishermen use double 
outrigger canoes, each hull shaped 
from a single tree trunk. Small boats 
loaded with ebony elephants, brass- 
ware and silks go out to meet the 



liners. Canoes with eyes in their prows 
move off to the reefs and islands. On 
the reefs at low tide men hunt the 
green turban shells with their valuable 
mother-o' -pearl. Here, too, in caves 
and recesses are cowries, violet and 
moon shells. Women in black kangas 
wade along the shores of the bay with 
close-meshed nets catching tiny fish 
like whitebait. I was told they were all 
widows. Only a Swahili widow has the 
privilege of harvesting these silvery 
fish, the tasty little fish that makes 
excellent curries. 

Dar es Salaam is one of East Africa's 
new towns. True, there are ancient 
mosques and tombs in the neighbour- 
hood; the ships of King Solomon may 
have entered the lovely harbour; junks 
from China anchored there and dhows 
have sailed in from India, and Persia 
for centuries. Yet the present Dar es 



Salaam site was a tiny fishing village 
called Mzizima in the middle of last 
century. Mzizima means "the healthy 
town". Sultan Majid of Zanzibar plan- 
ned a settlement there about a century 
ago. The Sultan was a slave trader and 
British naval seamen with guns and 
cutlasses were interfering cruelly with 
his business; so he decided to build a 
quiet headquarters on the mainland. In 
a mood of wishful thinking he called 
the place Dar es Salaam, "haven of 
peace" and sent thousands of slaves to 
start the great work. 

A priest named Father Hoerner visited 
Dar es Salaam at this period on board 
the sultan's yacht. She was the former 
Shenandoah, the Confederate raider, 
renamed El Majidi, a fast ship of one 
thousand tons, with steam and sail. 
Father Hoerner was accompanied by a 
guard of honour. He saw the slaves 



building a palace and a few other 
buildings which were still in use 
during World War I; the slaves were 
also sinking the deep wells which 
served Dar es Salaam for half a 
century. Herds of hippo swam round 
El Majidi and hundreds of monkeys 
gibbered in the trees. 

Then came the Germans, in the 
eighteen-eighties. Sultan Majid was 
dead and most of his buildings were in 
ruins and infested with snakes and 
bats. The palace became a German 
prison with convicts lying on slabs of 
marble: Customs and police made use 
of other Arab relics. On the northern 
promontory German missionaries put 
up a double-storied building designed 
for the steamy climate with jalousies 
and a top floor open to the winds but 
sheltered by a roof; a famous place 
which was pointed out to me as the 



first European building in the town. (A 
secret Hitler "altar" was discovered 
there during World War II). German 
officers fortified various ruins, for the 
town was attacked by Arab raiders. 
The first large garrison at Dar es 
Salaam included Zulu warriors and 
Sudanese mercenaries. German offi- 
cials built thick-walled government 
structures and pretty houses of coral 
rock with red tiles or slate roofs. Steel 
frames were brought from Germany 
for the upper storeys of certain large 
buildings. In spite of deep, shady 
balconies and tropical shutters, the 
atmosphere of Dar es Salaam was 
heavily Teutonic. Before the century 
ended the town had a Lutheran church 
with a spire that is still prominent on 
the skyline. A fine German railway 
station was followed by a Kaiserhof 
Hotel, later the New Africa. The 



palace of the German governor on the 
ocean front was more gorgeous than 
the sultan's crumbling palace. There 
was an impressive Kommandanteur 
building, a Casino or mess for army 
officers, an excellent hospital, and a 
beer garden on the seafront where the 
drinkers could listen to the monsoon 
rustling the casuarinas. Broad, paved 
streets were lined with ornamental 
trees. A legacy of those days which 
has puzzled many people, however, is 
the peculiar layout. Streets in the 
downtown business area converge on 
traffic circles and there is great con- 
gestion. Of course the Germans could 
not have foreseen the growth of motor 
transport. White people, including the 
governor, used rickshaws. Zebras were 
tamed for riding and driving; and a 
German sergeant-major caused a panic 
in leisurely Dar es Salaam when he 



tore through the streets with a zebra 
"four in hand" vehicle. Horses were 
rarely seen in the early years of the 
century. The town plan suited ox- 
wagons, sent up from the Cape as an 
experiment; or the long columns of 
porters who set out into the hinterland 
with their head-loads. 

I mentioned the beer garden which 
was the social hub of Dar es Salaam 
early this century. Russian battleships, 
part of an armada which had called 
previously at Cape Town entered Dar 
es Salaam on the way to fight the 
Japanese. The Russians bought up all 
the liquor in the German stores and 
left Dar es Salaam in a thirsty state 
until the next Deutsche Ost Afrika 
liner arrived. Officials who had 
become used to Scotch whisky could 
not be consoled with pombe and other 
native brews. 



Strange cargoes passed through the 
Dar es Salaam of German colonial 
days. Ivory and rhino horn were every- 
day commodities; but once there came 
armies of carriers bearing thousands of 
loads of fossil material. East Africa 
was the home of dinosaurs. A monster 
fossil reptile was found deep in the 
interior and sent at enormous cost to a 
museum in Germany. 

Dar es Salaam would have seen a 
colonial exhibition in 1914, but war 
intervened. The great steel frame 
which would have housed the show 
was turned into a native market hall. 
The town lost its most imposing 
building in 1914, for H.M.S. Goliath 
turned her twelve-inch guns on the 
governor's palace and destroyed it. 
Soon afterwards the Germans attempt- 
ed to block the narrow harbour 
entrance by sinking the steamer Konig 



and a floating dock in the fairway. 
Dynamite was placed in the bottom of 
the Konig and the fuse was lighted; 
but there was no explosion. The 
officer in charge of the task was court- 
martialled but acquitted when he 
proved that the dynamite was fifteen 
years old and useless. So the channel 
was never blocked. Dar es Salaam 
surrendered easily when a British 
invading force appeared. General von 
Lettow Vorbeck, the tough German 
military commander, was up-country 
at the time and was disgusted when he 
heard the news. "For a soldier it was 
not very inspiring to find that here, 
under the very eyes of a thousand 
good troops, an agreement had been 
reached which forbade us to take any 
hostile action at Dar es Salaam," wrote 
Von Lettow. "There was no warlike 
spirit. The people at Dar es Salaam 



had no stomach for fighting." Scuttled 
vessels at Dar es Salaam gave the 
salvage men a great deal of work after 
the war ended. 

Many elderly South Africans 
remember Dar es Salaam as a huge 
military base camp during the latter 
part of World War I. Thousands of 
South African horses and mules were 
landed there. At one time five 
thousand white soldiers were living 
under canvas. One of those soldiers 
told me that lions roamed the streets of 
Dar es Salaam in those days and for 
long afterwards. A bank clerk shot a 
lion in the street some years after the 
war. Hippos leave the creeks 
occasionally and invade the native 
quarter. Dar es Salaam is still close to 
the jungle. 

Germany failed to leave on Dar es 
Salaam the deep impression that you 



find all over South West Africa to this 
day. Nearly all the Germans were 
deported from Tanganyika after World 
War I. The language and the customs 
died out rapidly and only the strong 
buildings stood as reminders of such 
characters as Karl Peters, Von Wiss- 
mann the explorer, Governor Schnee 
and the formidable Von Lettow. Even 
the Teutonic buildings have been sur- 
rounded and overshadowed now and 
German names and dates on the 
gargantuan baobab trees in Dar es 
Salaam are becoming faint with age. 
Von Wissmann's statue no longer 
stands in a seafront palm grove; now 
there is a bronze monument in honour 
of the African soldiers who fell in the 
wars. The last issue of the Deutsch 
Ost Afrikanische Zeatung was sold 
more than half a century ago. With the 
Germans went most of the uniforms - 



and the lash as the remedy for every 
breach of discipline. Sir Horace Byatt, 
first British governor, put up an 
expensive and ornate government 
house of Moorish design on the 
foundations of Dr. Schnee's shattered 
palace. Under the sausage trees, along 
Acacia Avenue's blazing mass of 
colour, there grew up a new way of 
life. 

I looked for the old Dar es Salaam 
when I returned after many years. 
Dwarf parrots, the so-called lovebirds, 
were still making their domed nests in 
roofs and baobabs and screeching 
happily. (One of the less romantic 
sounds of the town). Often I heard the 
more interesting beat of the long 
drums and the whistles of ngoma 
parties. I was offered the same wooden 
birds and Masai warrior statuettes in 
the shops of Acacia Avenue; but the 



eager Asiatic salesmen told me sadly 
that the skins of leopards, black and 
white colobus monkeys, blue monkeys 
and other animals were now on the 
protected list. Not that I wanted such 
trophies or hippo teeth. I felt the heat 
more, and someone informed me that 
government officials were granted 
eight months' leave after thirty months 
service. Then a whiff of copra reached 
me, and a breath from the mangrove 
swamps, and I remembered Moore and 
the ivory and the fans playing on 
departed faces. And I walked slowly to 
the hotel of my choice in search of a 
meal such as those that had lingered in 
my memory through the decades. 
Perhaps I was lucky that day, for there 
were oysters on the menu with king- 
fish to follow. A coffee seller with 
brass pots sauntered past the open 
window sounding his little gong and I 



was back in the Dar es Salaam of my 
youth. 



CHAPTER Fourteen 
Rum Harbour 



Before I leave these hot Indian 
Ocean harbours there is one more 
port of call, an island of fond memo- 
ries. It is Mauritius, a mountainous 
volcanic mass about the size of the 
Cape Peninsula; and when I was 
there in the middle nineteen-twenties 
the sweltering capital Port Louis 
seemed to belong to another century. 
Recent visitors have formed the same 
impression. Great aircraft come in to 
land at La Plaisance on the southern 
coast but the fine old mansions they 
pass over still belong to the reigns of 
Louis XV and Louis XVI. 

I shall never go back. Revolution has 
come to Mauritius, almost as 
menacing as the French Revolution. 
The quaint railway I loved has been 



torn up and sold. I liked Port Louis 
as I first saw it, when I first savoured 
its fragrance from the open prome- 
nade deck of the old six-thousand ton 
intermediate Gaika. The islanders 
looked on that late Victorian liner as 
a Mauretania or Queen Mary; as a 
luxurious link with the outside 
world. And indeed the world was far 
away from drowsy Mauritius for it 
was a run of six days eastwards from 
Durban. Now the days have become 
flying hours. I think the air is the 
wrong approach to this isle of Dutch 
ruins and French chateaux, of Paul et 
Virginie, an isle which once 
possessed the strangest fauna on the 
face of the earth. 

On board the Gailca there was a 
French Mauritian named Bertrand, a 
polished and pleasant young man 
who was returning after studying 



history at Oxford and the Sorbonne. 
He was a patriotic and enthusiastic 
Mauritian, anxious to attract visitors 
to his remote home; and he saw in 
me a means to this end. Probably he 
overrated my influence. Nevertheless 
he showed me Port Louis and his 
lovely island with an enthusiasm 
which none of the British exiles there 
displayed. 

First of all Bertrand took me round 
Port Louis, a town which had known 
many dreadful episodes and which had 
been abandoned by well-to-do 
residents after a malaria epidemic last 
century. "This island was a sanitorium 
until the malaria came", Bertrand 
recalled. "It has seen many devastating 
cyclones, fires and smallpox, cholera 
and bubonic plague; but the malaria 
frightened the wits out of everyone. 
One third of the people in Port Louis 



died. Doctors had only vague ideas of 
treating it and there was no quinine. 
Imagine nearly twenty thousand deaths 
round this harbour alone! So those 
who could afford it cleared out up the 
mountain to Vacoas and Curepipe. 
Some of them took their houses with 
them, fine wooden mansions that 
could be taken apart and set up else- 
where." 

Here and there in Port Louis old- 
fashioned colonial timbered houses 
have survived, eighteenth and nine- 
teenth century homes of painted wood 
and wide verandahs. You find them 
behind the high walls of lush, tropical 
gardens in Pope Hennessy and 
Rempart streets. Some have decayed, 
others have been turned into offices 
and warehouses; but they remind us of 
the long years before steam, before the 
Suez Canal opening, when prosperous 



Port Louis looked out over a harbour 
where two hundred sailing ships lay at 
anchor. 

Bertrand noticed that I was sniffing the 
air, trying to fix the aroma of Port 
Louis. "It is sugar and molasses and 
rum", he declared. "These godowns 
hold the greatest stocks of sugar in the 
world. Keep clear of the wasps and 
bees that come here for the sweetness. 
Of course you can smell cloves and 
nutmeg and spices, too, and we also 
grow tea. But we have a one-crop 
economy, more's the pity, and when 
the sugar crop fails or the price slumps 
then Mauritius goes phut. Here we 
have Hindus, far too many Hindus, 
Moslems and Creoles, Chinese and 
white people, all depending on sugar. 
There is no room for other crops. We 
bring in rice and flour, meat and even 
fish. But we have too many people - 



too many Hindus. I wonder what will 
happen to us?" 

When I went to the markets of Port 
Louis with Bertrand there seemed to 
be an abundance of island food. 
Bananas were there in great variety, 
from the tiny, tasty gingelis to red 
plantains twelve inches long. Stalls 
were covered with bread fruit like 
huge green sponges. I saw pawpaws 
and limes, mangoes and the fresh red 
litchis the Chinese love. "Our best 
fruit is the pineapple", Bertrand 
remarked. "But over there you see a 
rare fruit, the mabolo, that some call 
the 'celestial fruit'. It has a dreadful 
odour, like the durian, but the flavour 
is delicious." 

I thought the dominant odour of the 
market was fried pork (for the 
Chinese customers) with curry and 
rice (for the Indians) as a close rival. 



Bertrand led me through a crowd 
surrounding a curry stall and we 
became spectators at a strange eating 
contest between a fat Chinese with 
chopsticks and a thin Indian coolie. 
Each man had before him a mount of 
curry and rice, the portions having 
been weighed. They started together, 
chopsticks versus fingers, and the 
Chinese won amid great excitement. 
"The prize was one rupee but of 
course both men had a free meal", 
explained Bertrand. 

All round me I heard a language that 
sounded like French, but with 
strange differences. "The island 
patois", said Bertrand with a smile. 
"Like pidgin English, this is a simp- 
lified French mixed with African and 
Malagasy words. We call it Creole. 
By the way, there was a time when a 
Creole was a white person born in 



Mauritius, but now it has come to 
mean a member of the dark mixed 
race that has grown up on the island. 
Creole came into being when the 
early planters talked to their slaves in 
a sort of infantile French and the 
slaves responded with their own 
accents. It is a hideous yet amusing 
corruption and it works very well." 

Bertrand gave me some examples. Le 
chien (dog) becomes dicien in Creole, 
while un cheval (horse) is replaced by 
un seval. They always say moi (me) 
instead of je (I). Some of the origins 
of Creole words have been lost; 
words like tiggin meaning "a little". If 
you want very little you say tiggin 
tiggin. "Zed" sounds are common and 
many words resembling sounds have 
found places in the patois. To tickle is 
fire guidiguidi. A lazy effeminate 
person is gnangnan while ene catacata 



is a flirt. A tall, awkward man is 
balalame. Creole has a strain of 
peculiar humour, such as the island 
name for a hearse, caleche granpapa 
(old man's coach). Some of the cradle 
songs and proverbs are witty. Creole 
has such a strong appeal that Indians 
born in Mauritius soon drop the 
languages of their parents. French, 
Chinese and Indians converse in 
Creole but few Mauritians have 
attempted to write the language. 
Creole is a spoken patois and it seems 
likely to grow with the years within 
the island of its birth. Reunion, the 
other French speaking island only a 
hundred miles away, has its own 
patois, entirely different from the 
Creole of Mauritius. 

In the Port Louis market I set eyes on 
the coco-de-mer for the first time in 
my life and Bertrand laughed as he 



saw my look of astonishment. Do you 
know this absurd fruit? It is sold more 
as a curio than anything else nowa- 
days, but when the first of these 
double-coconuts washed up on the 
coast of India centuries ago it was 
mysterious flotsam. Apart from the 
almost incredible shape (like the lower 
parts of a woman) there was the riddle 
of origin. Wise old men suggested that 
the coconuts must have grown on the 
bed of the sea, for no one had seen a 
palm bearing this fruit on shore. So the 
name coco-de-mer arose. When the 
nut was opened an almost tasteless 
flesh and jelly were revealed. Here, 
said the wise men, was a cure for 
many diseases. Indian princes heard of 
the discovery and shrewd physicians 
advised them that the nuts held 
restorative powers hitherto unknown 
among aphrodisiacs. Beachcombers 



roamed the Malabar coast and 
received thousands of rupees for each 
nut they found. Only when the French 
landed on the Seychelles in the middle 
of the eighteenth century and saw 
coco-de-mer palms growing on two 
islands was the mystery solved. Of 
course the price slumped in spite of 
the action of an ingenious French 
nobleman who sent a large cargo of 
the nuts to India and then set fire to 
the coconut groves. The coco-de-mer 
was not exterminated though belief 
in its magical properties has almost 
died out. The nuts are still sold to 
eager tourists. Island people saw the 
nuts in two and use them as dishes 
and plates. Brooms and baskets are 
made from the ribs of the leaves, 
mattresses and pillows are stuffed 
with the down and hats are woven 
from the young leaves. But the days 



when oriental potentates ornamented 
coco-de-mer cups with gold and 
precious stones are over and the 
beautiful legend has been exploded. 

A memorable place, the Port Louis 
market. You can smell French bread 
there and spices, coffee and the 
cigars they roll on the island. They 
were selling birds in cages while I 
was there, scarlet cardinals and love 
birds and yellow canaries at a rupee a 
pair. Indians burn frankincense to 
bring them luck and Chinese shop- 
keepers let off firecrackers at a drop 
of a pigtail. One afternoon when the 
boats and long pirogues came in I 
walked with Bertrand round the fish 
market. I saw live fish in tanks and 
dazzling fish on slabs like birds of 
brilliant plumage. You could buy a 
slice of man-eating shark or a dozen 
oysters; a crab, a catfish or an eel. 



Bertrand knew all the island fish; the 
beaked parrot fish, the speckled 
cordonnier (shoemaker) that lives 
among the rocks and is caught in 
basket traps. Here, too, was the 
unicorn fish with its horn. I saw the 
huge carangue, like tunny, and the 
grey mullet that are netted in 
thousands in the coral lagoons. They 
had an enormous sunfish in the 
market that day; and Bertrand said 
the tail would cut a man like a razor. 
"I like to eat the fins", he .added. 
"But the finest fish in the market is 
the poule-d'eau, the fowl of the 
water, a green fish shaped like a 
turbot and not at all common. 
Sometimes there is turtle flesh to be 
had on Fridays - the turtles are 
brought here alive from the outlying 
islands, Cargados Carajos and 
others." 



Mauritius has trout called chite in the 
mountain streams but the most 
interesting freshwater fish is the 
gourami. This is a broad, dark grey 
fish bred in the lake at Pample- 
mousses. The gourami is so tame that 
it will come to the side and eat 
breadcrumbs almost out of your hand. 
Cook it soon after capture and you 
have a most delicate fish. French 
families serve it with a creamy 
bechamel sauce. 

Bertrand informed me that the best 
way to see Mauritius was by railway. 
Of course there were motor-cars in 
those days but Bertrand pointed out 
that the brakes often failed on the 
steep mountain roads. Moreover, the 
slow pace of the island railway would 
give me time to appreciate the scenery, 
the exquisite and romantic panoramas 
of this island at the end of the world. 



"On each branch line it is different", 
declared Bertrand the enthusiast. "You 
will see ravines and waterfalls, dark 
green canefields and forests with the 
Javanese deer the Dutch brought here 
before they settled at the Cape. Every 
mountain in Mauritius has its own 
personality, every beach has its blue 
lagoon." 

So I went with Bertrand to the central 
railway station close to the waterfront. 
It was soon after breakfast and train 
after train was bringing the workers 
down from the mountains to their 
shops and offices. Artisans and clerks 
arrived first, many in black suits, and 
every man jack carrying his lunch 
basket. Executives, high government 
officials, professional men came later; 
and they wore in those uncomfortable 
and hidebound days white sun helmets 
and suits of white duck. The bush shirt 



had not yet been designed, shorts 
would have been unthinkable; yet Port 
Louis had a suffocating climate and 
the punkahs gave little relief. Each 
manager or senior official was met at 
the station by a peon, a uniformed 
messenger who carried such light 
impedimenta as brief cases and 
umbrellas. It was the custom. 
Mauritius was then a suburbia with 
nearly everyone travelling by train. A 
man had his favourite and traditional 
seat in a compartment where he met 
the same people every day. But for the 
tropical clothes, the palms, the 
flamboyants and banyans - and the 
heat - they might have been travelling 
from Richmond or Surbiton to their 
destination in the City. 

However, the rolling-stock on this 
government railway would have raised 
every eyebrow at Charing Cross or 



Waterloo. Many of the small, 
squarely -built coaches were double- 
deckers; first-class passengers rode in 
cushioned comfort down below with 
heavily-shuttered windows; third (or 
possibly fourth) class travellers were 
up on the roof in glorified hen-coops. 
Owing to the gradients the steam 
locomotives were powerful and there 
were never more than ten coaches on a 
train. Engines and coaches bore the 
proud coat-of-arms of Mauritius, "star 
and key of the Indian Ocean". The 
governor had his own special coach, of 
course, an ornate teak lounge on 
wheels such as I would like to own 
myself. Some of the rolling-stock went 
right back to 1864, the year of the 
railway opening. 

I studied the time-tables and noted the 
names. Mauritius had about one 
hundred miles of railway lines and 



clearly this was the steel road to 
romance. One morning I steamed out 
of Port Louis bound for Mahebourg, 
the old and decayed port on the far 
side of the island. Stations were a 
mile, seldom more than two miles 
apart. And the names! Bell Village 
was followed by Pailles and Richelieu, 
Petite Riviere, Beau Bassin and 
Cascade Road. I went on through Rose 
Hill and Quatre Bornes to Phoenix and 
Vacoas, Floreal and Curepipe. By this 
time I had covered sixteen miles and 
the j ourney had lasted a full hour. The 
heavy gradient of one in twenty-six 
and the many stops explained the 
schedule. The train had risen eighteen- 
hundred feet to this residential suburb 
with the curious name. Bertrand said 
that in the days when a diligence or 
stage-coach crossed the island the 
drivers always rested the horses 



outside the inn at this spot in the virgin 
forest and took out their pipes; so 
curer la pipe became Curepipe. It is a 
suburb of clipped bamboo hedges ten 
feet high, morning glory flowers, a 
market and a mosque, tea plantations, 
and the Trou-aux-Cerfs, the perfect 
volcanic crater. From the rim of the 
crater there is a panoramic view of the 
mountains of northern Mauritius, 
including the peaks called Les Trois 
Mamelles. Yes, the names never disap- 
point you. The line goes on to Rose 
Belle, Mare d' Albert and Mahebourg 
in the Grand Port where Simon van 
der Stel was born. 

Mauritius has many links with the 
Cape. It became a dependency of the 
Cape under the Dutch East India Com- 
pany in the seventeenth century, the 
Dutch having occupied the island with 
the idea of keeping other nations away 



from a useful base. At that period 
ebony and ambergris were the only 
exports. Hubert Hugo, a former pirate, 
was appointed commander of 
Mauritius in 1671. Early in the eight- 
eenth century, however, the Dutch 
closed down the settlement and the 
Zaaiman, Ramond and De Vries 
families were transferred to the Cape. 
Schooners owned by Cape Town firms 
carried dried snoek to Mauritius for 
many years last century, returning with 
cargoes of sugar. 

I visited the Dutch cemetery there and 
thought of the dodo, the ungainly 
extinct bird that was once plentiful. 
You may still find a skeleton and that 
would have something more than a 
scientific value. 

Another railway run along the level 
northern line carried me past Albion 
Dock (how few English names there 



are) and Roche Bois to Terre Rouge 
and Pamplemousses. I could have 
gone on to Poudre d'Or to seek the 
gold dust buried there by a forgotten 
pirate but I chose to linger in the 
botanical gardens of Pamplemousses. 
Until the cyclone towards the end of 
last century, botanists ranked these 
gardens as third in the world. The 
cyclone rushed in at one hundred and 
twenty miles an hour, revolving like 
an express train on a wicked curve. 
Rare and majestic trees planted by the 
French in the eighteenth century were 
slammed flat. Mauritius lost about a 
quarter of a million trees in that 
disaster and more than a thousand 
people were killed. 

Bertrand accompanied me by rail to 
Moka one day. French planters called 
it Moka because they tried to grow 
coffee there long ago. From there we 



walked to the private railway station 
on Le Reduit, residence of the 
governor. Bertrand described the scene 
when there was a ball or some other 
large gathering at government house. 
Train after train would come up 
through the cane fields and over the 
ravines to Le Reduit station. They 
would find the platform decorated 
with paper lanterns; then they would 
take their seats in a cavalcade of 
horse-drawn carriages and drive 
between the stone gate-posts with 
crowns, along a tropical avenue, 
under the huge camphor trees and 
through the gardens designed more 
than two centuries ago by the 
Frenchman who laid out the grounds 
at Versailles. Few official residences 
in the world can compare with the Le 
Reduit site. It stands on a dramatic 
promonotory between two ravines 



overlooking the ocean, this old, 
double storeyed French chateau. 
Verandahs paved with black and 
white marble run the full length of 
the building with its two hundred and 
forty doors and windows. Le Reduit 
means "the redoubt" and it was first 
built to serve as a stronghold during 
a possible invasion. The first wooden 
building was destroyed by white ants 
and so a new stone Le Reduit arose. 
This second residence was shattered 
during a cyclone a century ago, the 
roof was torn off the east wing and 
Governor Sir Henry Barkly and his 
wife had narrow escapes. A later 
governor notorious for his extrava- 
gance rebuilt Le Reduit and added an 
enormous ballroom. I walked round 
the place with Bertrand, for he was 
accepted in every circle in Mauritius, 
from government house to the 



Chinese quarter. It was a lovely old 
mansion, this secluded place among 
the ferns and royal palms and mango 
trees, guarded by ditches and gun 
emplacements. The front doors 
opened straight into the ballroom and 
we saw ourselves in dozens of long 
wall mirrors with gilt frames. I could 
easily imagine the lavish banquets 
given by the bygone governors of 
Mauritius, with "God Save the 
Queen" long after midnight. 

"Of course the place is haunted", 
narrated Bertrand. "They say that 
Labourdonnais, the admiral who 
became governor of Mauritius, rides 
again, with his staff - only he and his 
men are skeletons in uniform and 
even the horses are skeletons. 
Formidable! However, some young 
British officers sat up on a night of 
the full moon many years ago, . 



champagne on the table, swords 
beside them, waiting for the strange 
noise of the ghostly horsemen that is 
heard sometimes on such nights. 
Sure enough they heard hooves on 
the gravel and the officers rose with 
drawn swords and turned out the 
guard. And there in the terraced 
gardens among the roses they found a 
herd of wild deer from the mountains. 
That is the way most ghost stories end. 
Not long ago there was a wailing at 
night - monkeys on the lawn! But I 
can tell you of something more 
dangerous than a ghost at Le Reduit. 
They found a boa constrictor here, 
fourteen feet long, strong enough to 
kill a stag. It had come from a wrecked 
ship and it lived in the woods for years 
until it visited Le Reduit. Here they 
shot it." 



As we travelled under the mountain 
ranges Bertrand pointed out of the 
train window to one peak after another 
and told me stories and legends. I 
remember the drama of Pieter Both, 
the mountain over Port Louis that 
always seems to menace the town. 
Named after a Dutch admiral, this 
queer mountain rises to two thousand 
six hundred feet above the harbour. It 
has on the summit a great pearshaped 
boulder. The summit can only be 
approached by a narrow ridge with a 
sheer drop of one thousand feet into 
the trees. For many years it seemed 
that the overhanging boulder would 
never be conquered by man. Accord- 
ing to legend, said Bertrand, a party of 
French climbers reached the top 
during the eighteenth century; but they 
could not get down and they left their 
bones on the boulder. However, an 



expedition organised by a Captain 
Lloyd and other British Army officers, 
accompanied by sepoys and baggage 
coolies, tackled Pieter Both in the 
eighteenthirties. They took scaling 
ladders, ropes, crowbars, ample provi- 
sions and camp equipment. When they 
came to a flat area just beneath the 
obelisk Captain Lloyd tried to shoot an 
arrow with a line attached over the 
boulder. He failed but when he hurled 
a stone fastened to a line he succeeded. 
A rope was then hauled over the 
boulder, a rope ladder followed and 
the climbers were able to defeat the 
overhang. They made a hole in the 
rock, raised a flagpole, hoisted the 
Union Jack and sent up a rocket. 
Down in the harbour H.M.S. 
Undaunted fired a salute. The climbers 
decided to spend the night on the 
boulder and their porters sent up great 



coats, blankets and finally a hot meal 
prepared on the platform below. 
They lit a fire and one of them 
recorded: "The prospect beneath us 
as we lay enjoying our brandy and 
cigars was magnificent. The sky was 
clear and the moon shone brightly, 
lighting up the scene. It was a scene 
the romantic mind would dwell on 
with ecstasy." One officer who was 
known to walk in his sleep was 
lashed to another member of the 
party. They were all cold and stiff 
when dawn came and they were glad 
to return. Pieter Both has often been 
climbed since then. The great 
boulder is still poised on the summit, 
weighing several tons and resemb- 
ling Queen Victoria in her robes. 
They used to say that the British 
would leave Mauritius when the 
boulder fell. The British have left but 



the obelisk of naked rock still resists 
erosion and cyclones. 

Bertrand told me that they fired three 
guns to warn the people of Port 
Louis when a cyclone was approach- 
ing. Ships put to sea when the first 
gun sounded. When the second gun 
went those who lived outside Port 
Louis rushed to the railway station 
and packed into special trains. 
Everywhere householders went out 
with sledgehammers and iron bars 
and wedged the heavy hurricane 
shutters. When the third gun was 
fired the train service was suspended. 
During the 1894 cyclone a train 
passing over the St. Louis bridge 
near Pailles station was hurled into 
the river forty feet below. Strange to 
relate no one was killed. But during a 
severe cyclone the line is littered 
with fallen trees and telegraph posts. 



Ships are lifted into fields along the 
coast. It is no weather for railway 
travel. 

So the memories flooded back when 
I heard they were pulling up that 
marvellous old railway in Mauritius. 
It was no toy but a full four feet 
eight-and-a-half inch British gauge 
railway. It served the island for more 
than a century. From the antiquated 
coaches I saw the mosques and 
temples of Port Louis; the farm carts 
drawn by longhorned oxen; the 
cross-legged shopkeepers on their 
mats waiting for customers; Indian 
women heavy with gold ornaments; 
the rolling fields of sugar estates 
with unforgettable names: Solitude 
and Bean Sejour, Mon Tresor and 
Trianon, Savannah and Maison 
Blanche. I went southwards to 
Souillac and travelled along a narrow- 



gauge branch line to a tea estate with 
the enchanting name of Bois Cheri. I 
peered into the Petite Riviere cave, 
blocked (so they say) to hide a pirate's 
treasure. I saw the landscape where the 
sad spirits of Paul and Virginie might 
have emerged at any moment from the 
greenery; an odd little world cut off by 
the wide ocean from twentieth century 
ideas. However, the locomotives were 
burning twenty thousand tons of 
imported coal a year and the planters 
whose ancestors had demanded a 
railway were sending their sugar down 
to Port Louis by road. So the last trains 
came back from Savanne and Mon- 
tagne Blanche and Mapou and all 
those other lovely places. The railway 
works at Plaine Lauzon closed down. 
Scrap merchants bought the rails and 
passenger coaches became school 
shelters and seaside bungalows. I 



suppose they have taken down the 
many warning signs: "Beware of the 
trains". The man in the blue uniform 
who walked along the Port Louis 
waterfront with a red flag, ringing a 
handbell, has lost his job. No more 
cows will be saved from death by the 
flared cowcatchers. Motorists who had 
to wait at level crossings will be 
pleased but I would not like to see 
Mauritius without its old romantic 
railway. 

I touched on the menus of Mauritius, 
you may recall, when I visited the Port 
Louis markets. Like all men of French 
descent my friend Bertrand was an 
epicure and he knew the Mauritian 
specialities from the bredies to 
venison. Yes, they have bredies in 
Mauritius, meat and vegetable stews 
with flavours rather different from the 
Cape versions. The basic Mauritian 



cookery is a blend of French and 
Indian traditions with the Chinese 
cuisine as a thing apart. 

"We have some of the finest cooks and 
household servants in the world on 
this island", Bertrand declared. "A 
poor chef is known as a rosbif cook, 
which is not exactly a compliment to 
the English residents. Our customs are 
entirely different. French Mauritians 
have the typical French petit dejeuner 
of coffee, rolls and fruit, lunch at 
eleven and an early dinner. The 
English follow the English system and 
go to bed much later than we do." 

Bertrand talked about the exotic dishes 
of the island. The early Portuguese 
callers brought monkeys from Ceylon 
to Mauritius. The monkeys are as large 
as spaniels. They roam the forests in 
bands of sixty or seventy, plunder 
remote homes, eat birds' eggs, ravage 



banana groves and hide in the 
mountains. Creoles love roast monkey 
and so the raiders are kept in check. 
"Monkeys ride on the backs of stags - 
they get on very well together", 
Bertrand went on. "There will be no 
shortage of venison for many years to 
come, but I do not care for it very 
much. It has not the flavour of the 
Scottish deer. Nevertheless the chasse 
is very popular here and I know one 
old man who has shot a thousand 
stags. Besides the monkeys there is 
another Portuguese legacy, the pigs or 
'Maroon hogs' which have run wild. 
They taste better than the venison. I 
must also mention the bats, not 
vampires but fruit bats. They are 
knocked down in daylight as they 
hang from the trees and the flesh is 
excellent. But of course you have to 
know how to cook them, with spices 



and condiments, as the skin and fur 
have a foxy odour. Properly done, a 
fruit bat tastes like a cross between 
hare and chicken." 

Bertrand said the stock dishes of the 
Mauritian cook were coconut soup, 
dressed crab, coconut curry and ba- 
nana fritters. The bredies included one 
made from the young leaves of a plant 
of the arum species and another made 
from pumpkin shoots. Pimento and 
saffron were favourite ingredients as 
both were grown on the island. 
Bertrand spoke of the beche de mer, 
the sea slug that is such a great 
delicacy east of Suez, collected on the 
reefs of Mauritius at low tide, dried in 
the sun, smoked and made into soup. 
He said that sea urchins were 
wonderful eaten raw like oysters. 
Shearwaters, fat little birds, were dried 
and sold at the market. Many people in 



Mauritius drank the local rum because 
it was cheap but Bertrand preferred the 
wines of France. "Our rum has a 
peculiar twang - or as they say in the 
trade a 'hogo'", remarked Bertrand. 
"They make fruit wine here, too, and a 
banana liqueur. But no, when it comes 
to drink I am not patriotic. Give me a 
fine claret!" 

"And the finest dish in Mauritius - 
what is that?" I inquired. Bertrand 
took me to La Flore Mauricienne, the 
restaurant in Church Street, a century 
old at that time, and ordered camarons 
with palmiste salad. "It is a freshwater 
prawn, not too plentiful", Bertrand 
explained. "Poachers go to the rivers 
at night and lure the earner 'ons with 
torches. You slip a noose round the 
tail and out come your camarons. It 
has a six-inch body and long claws. 
But you will see." I agreed with 



Bertrand that the camerons were better 
than any lobster, crawfish or shrimp. 
He pointed out that the palmiste salad 
was made from the tender fronds of 
the indigenous areca palm. The tree, 
which might be twenty years old, was 
killed by the cutting of the shoots. 
That was certainly a mayonnaise to 
remember. Before we left La Flore 
Mauri cienne I was shown the j ams and 
jellies, pickles and preserves made on 
the premises from island fruits and 
vegetables. Order an aperitif in the 
courtyard of La Flore Mauritienne if 
you visit Mauritius and then go 
upstairs for a meal. It will remind you 
in some ways of Paris. 




CHAPTER Fifteen 
Harbours On The Nile 



Cairo is a harbour, a great river 
harbour where the high-piled paddle 
steamers go upstream and the 
swallow-winged feluccas sail down to 
the sea with the cargoes they have 
carried for thousands of years. It is a 
harbour that has known Greek triremes 
and coastal patrol vessels flying the 
White Ensign. It is one of the three 



harbour cities I know better than any 
others in the world - Cape Town, 
London and Cairo - because I had the 
time to absorb them. 

One of my friends in Cairo told me so 
much about the city that I called her 
Sharazad. She claimed to be French, 
but the resemblance did not go much 
further than her excellent cuisine, the 
Beauvais tapestries and Louis XV 
furniture. She was a Cairene speaking 
French and Arabic and English; a 
quick-witted woman who had her fair 
share of the wisdom of the East. She 
had immense self-confidence and 
never doubted that her will would 
triumph. I wandered through the 
bazaars of Cairo with Sharazad until 
the city had indeed become one of my 
harbours of memory. 

In the Street of the Gold Workers they 
knew Sharazad well and the jewellers 



valued her praise as she drank their 
coffee in dark little dens among the 
goblets and perfume burners and the 
dishes inlaid with gold and silver. She 
chose her silks in the bazaar, showing 
rare taste. She listened to the rug- 
makers singing as they toiled, studied 
all the trades in. the labyrinth of the 
Mousky, and all the people. And I 
walked beside her, learning and 
listening to her thousand tales. 

I met the healer and easer of pain, 
Sheikh Ibrahim. Often I had seen him 
roving the streets with his cry of 
"Inshadat ad Hamalat ya 
Metwaldi" , invoking the Moslem 
saint to remove the sorrows of illness. 
One day Sharazad had a headache and 
she paid the healer's fee. I think it was 
mainly curiosity that drew her to the 
little hole-in-the-wall consulting-room 
where the Sheikh treated his patients. 



At the entrance rested the long staff 
decorated with shreds of cloth, wisps 
of veil, scraps of leather, all 
testimonials from the people he had 
cured. They tore off a portion of a 
garment near the afflicted spot and 
gave it to the healer to be nailed to the 
staff. Thus, the wily Sheikh intimated, 
the affliction would become fixed to 
the wood, a more satisfactory 
arrangement than having a pain in the 
flesh. The bearded Sheikh possessed 
one experienced seeing eye and a 
sightless eye which gave him a weird 
appearance. In his profession this 
could be regarded as an asset. He fixed 
Sharazad with a firm stare and soothed 
her in a well chosen stream of Arabic. 
"Your eyes are tired ... they are closing 
... you are at rest ... the ache is 
vanishing ... it has gone ... it will not 
return." It cost her five piastres, and 



she had purchased one of life's secrets 
cheaply. 

Near the Al Azhar university there was 
a cafe for the wealthier Moslem 
students. Sometimes the aroma of 
stewed lamb, cooked in the Egyptian 
way with peaches, drew us to a table 
under the awning. Sharazad's appetite 
was restrained by a high regard for her 
weight and a fastidious sense of 
quality. She demanded the best of 
each kind, the finest mangoes grown 
by the Pashas, the sweetest white 
grapes, the pressed dates from Siwa 
oasis, the most luscious water- 
melons. The proprietor always 
served Sharazad himself. He found 
her full of appreciation for skilful 
effort and brought her special dishes 
of egg plant stuffed with rice and 
minced-meat or grilled kebabs on 
skewers. These oriental banquets 



were typical of a woman who sought 
variety every day of her life and kept 
the "Rubaiyat" at her bedside. Omar, 
she had decided, spoke the truth. Life 
was meant to be lived. 

As a rule I met Sharazad on the 
terrace of the Continental-Savoy, an 
hotel which is as much a part of 
Cairo as the Pyramids. It has an 
immense khaki-coloured facade, all 
shutters and balconies. You see 
people everywhere from roof to 
terrace. It is no ordinary caravan- 
serai. 

The Continental-Savoy has a 
glamour that will only be perceived 
if you stay there long enough. Under 
that roof anything can happen and 
almost everything has happened. The 
whole story of the Continental-Savoy 
will never be told. It has gone like 
the flood-waters of the Nile, lost for 



ever, scattered up and down the 
world in anecdote and narrative, 
confession and secret memory. But 
the great hotel, like the Arabian 
Nights, goes on endlessly. On the 
terrace imagination may succeed in 
making life stand still long enough 
for a flash of analysis. You may 
capture a fragment of the story, one 
fragment out of the years that have 
passed like the waters flowing out 
beyond Rosetta and Damietta. The 
terrace is a stage deserted in the 
sunny hours of the summer but 
gaining life and colour and move- 
ment as the sun goes down. Heavy 
ironwork provides an essential 
barrier between the hotel guests and 
the imploring hawkers and beggars 
in the street. The hotel is not really 
as old as it looks. The air of 
experience hanging so heavily over 



the building, from terrace to back 
garden, has been left by the people of 
the hotel, a rich legacy paid in daily 
instalments. 

Cuisine at the hotel is only moderate. 
Rooms are not luxurious. Many of the 
servants appear to be morons. But in 
spite of these defects there is 
something about the hotel; it has 
background, it has character. On the 
steps day after day the dragomans 
mount guard, more alert than any 
sentries, ready to open the wonders of 
Cairo. Show by a flicker that you need 
a dragoman and he is at your side. 
Enter the hotel and you might be in the 
booking-hall of a railway station. Art 
is represented by travel posters, air 
liners circling the Pyramids, scenes 
from Switzerland. The hushing sound 
of huge fans comes as a reminder of 
the distance from the Alps. Wicker 



chairs and tables suggest an antidote to 
the climate. I preferred the bar at the 
entrance to the dining-room, for this 
was one of the corners that gave 
character to the hotel. The suave 
Russian barman had all the world's 
bottles at his disposal. Australian 
whisky glowed evilly beside Cape 
sherry. Egg-nog fabricated in Palestine 
stood next to the strong brandy of 
Cyprus and Dubonnet was on the shelf 
with Amontillado, vodka and Dom. 
The Russian, undismayed after years 
of refusal, still laboured under the 
false impression that customers 
yearned for the drinks of their own 
countries. He could tell nationality at a 
glance but he could never diagnose 
individual tastes. 

Beside the obliging barman, hovering 
over the cash register, stood an 
apparently half-witted albino who 



seemed to be having more fun than 
any other member of the hotel staff. 
Being an albino, it was impossible to 
guess his age, race or thoughts. He 
spent his days ringing up amounts and 
handing the tickets proudly across the 
bar. The Russian barman and the Arab 
waiters corrected his mistakes with a 
patience which was not shared by the 
drinkers. At rush hours the albino also 
poured drinks. Often they were the 
wrong drinks. The Russian smiled and 
poured the drinks back into the bottles 
or poured mixed drinks away. In spite 
of all mistakes the albino grinned and 
life went on at the hotel. That albino 
puzzled me for years, but now I have 
decided that he was not such a fool as 
he looked. He was there for some deep 
purpose. 

Opposite the bar was the manager's 
office. There were two managers in 



my day, Freddy the Swiss and Sammy 
the Egyptian. Both knew a great deal 
about the hotel and talked freely 
without ever saying an indiscreet 
word. A perfect combination, able to 
deal with any situation which might 
arise. I always found one or other of 
them in the polished, luxurious office. 
Turn right past the hall porter and 
there is the lounge. Ladies of the night 
(of the expensive class) were 
permitted to meet or make friends 
there and arrange their assignations. 
There and in the recesses of the hall 
they were within bounds. At the end of 
the lounge was the main bar of the 
hotel; and if you saw any feminine 
creature in there she would be of the 
same class as those outside; not a 
guest at the hotel. This bar was a 
comfortable, leather-seated room with 
a quick barman and two efficient 



assistants. Yet I sometimes found 
myself missing the Russian and the 
albino and back I would stroll to the 
unorthodox bar. 

The dining-room was a white, simple 
room with pillars and huge windows 
on to the terrace. So many black 
jacketed maitres-d' hotel, so many 
fezzed, white-robed Arab waiters 
stood among the tables that one 
imagined the service would be 
instantaneous; but only when you 
slowed down to the tempo of Egypt 
did you find life tolerable. Breakfast 
was served in a smaller salle at the 
back, with a glimpse of the garden. 
You could read your "Egyptian Mail" 
or "Le Journale d'Egypte", front page 
to pictures, before the tiny eggs 
arrived. 

At the foot of the main staircase the 
atmosphere was religious, a trick 



produced by stained-glass windows 
and a notice-board bearing invitations 
to Christian churches. But this was a 
caravanserai, not a cathedral. The lifts 
start at this point. The lift attendants, 
slim and stupid-looking Egyptians, 
carried a heavy responsibility for they 
were also in charge of the morals of 
the hotel. They had instructions from 
the management. Those who had 
booked rooms never ranked as sinners; 
but if one of the loose girls from the 
lounge stepped into the lift she was 
recognised instantly and denounced in 
Arabic. It was embarrassing for the 
escort, whose manner was already 
nervous. But that was the rule. 

If you turned left after leaving the hall 
you could study the kitchens, savour 
the soups of the day, watch the small 
Aboukir soles being carried in, or poke 
your nose into a pantry stacked high 



with olive bottles and tins of sardines. 
Outside the kitchen there was always a 
pile of the strange fuel of Egypt, the 
yellow slabs compounded of cotton- 
seed and camel-dung. It burnt with a 
typical acrid odour. Smell it after 
many years and you would see the past 
again, perhaps too vividly. 

Every morning at six-fifteen a tall 
fezzed Nubian wearing a black j acket 
entered my room at the hotel and 
placed the tea tray beside my bed. He 
had an aquiline nose, a genuine smile 
and dignity. I could see the trees in the 
Ezbekieh Gardens from my room, the 
unspeakable pavements, the shoe- 
shine boys and walking-stick hawkers, 
the men selling dark glasses and 
unpostable postcards. In the summer I 
had to rest after lunch. No city in the 
world takes its siesta with more 
determination than Cairo. When I 



awoke at four the Nubian would be at 
my bedside with more tea. But in the 
early mornings, the hot summer 
mornings, it was the first tram-car 
grinding round the corner into the 
Opera Square that woke me. Then I 
would stand on my balcony at dawn 
and think of Omar: 

Wake! For the Sun, who 

scatter 'd into flight 
The Stars before him from the 

Field of Night 

I visited other Cairo hotels, including 
the old Shepheard's. I drank at the 
Long Bar there when Joe the barman 
mixed his celebrated pick-me-up of 
gin, bourbon, lime juice, bitters, mint 
and dry ginger ale. I heard the story of 
a contest between a Canadian doctor 
and a Turkish prince; they drank fifty- 
two whiskies each and called it a day. 
But it was the Continental that gained 



my affection. The mob felt the same 
way and spared it on the day when 
Shepheard's went up in flames. 

I remember Cairo's houseboat har- 
bour, that fascinating reach of the 
Nile near the Gezira Club where the 
long array of houseboats and river 
steamers cast their lights over the 
water. It was cooler there than in the 
city. The boats and the far, palm- 
fringed river bank made a theatrical 
backcloth. Sharazad took me to a 
party on board a luxurious two- 
decker. The event of the evening, 
planned by the host, was the danse 
du ventre, a dance that never fails to 
appeal to a male audience. Gipsy 
girls have danced it in the east 
through the centuries and a well- 
rounded gipsy girl danced it on board 
the house-boat that night. As it was a 
private party she wore only a skirt 



and the bangles that blend with the 
music. She stood before the 
orchestra, which now gave out 
oriental sounds, and entered into the 
strange rhythm. Some who were 
there must have regarded it as erotic; 
the movements were seductive. Like 
a snake, perhaps, a snake following 
its master's flute. The gipsy held the 
audience with subtle body move- 
ments, not footwork, nothing but that 
sinuous rhythm, that remarkable 
control of the body muscles in tune 
with the quivering music. 

Often I took Sharazad to the Russian 
Club. There was no hammer and 
sickle in that club. You were back in 
the Russia of the Czars, with 
bearded, departed monarchs staring 
down wistfully upon exiles sighing 
for the glorious period before the 
revolution. Excellent bortsch was 



served in the dining-room. In the bar 
they drank a devastating vodka. 
Some of the men wore embroidered 
blouses; others were clearly not 
Russians at all, but merely shared a 
taste for alcohol with the genuine 
Russian members. They sat on high 
stools with their drinks in front of 
them. Sometimes they sang. They 
fraternised with strangers and they 
told long Russian stories and sang 
again. And always they drank. 

I was often at the Groppi restaurants. 
Big Groppi, down in Soliman Pasha, 
had an open-air dance floor. Little 
Groppi, also known as Old Groppi, 
was a branch of the great Swiss 
house of food and entertainment and 
it was close to the Continental. 
Sharazad always bought her cakes 
there. In my old notebook I find that 
I went there one afternoon for two 



pate au fromage, two chicken pate or 
anchois, one chocolate cake, a salade 
Russe and some little rolls. As I came 
out a horse-drawn coach, brilliantly 
gilded, appeared on the far side of 
the Opera Square. It was an astonish- 
ing display. Gilded angels decorated 
the roof and there was gilded scroll- 
work on the sides. The coachman 
wore a red fez. It was a hearse, so 
large and dazzling that for a moment 
it seemed to fill the square. 

Aged beggars with tragic faces 
sprawled on the pavements at every 
corner reciting prayers. The streets 
were queer streams of life. Strings of 
laden camels swung across intersec- 
tions while shining limousines rattled 
their klaxons. Men in starched 
pyjamas and women in black rags 
gazed into the plate glass windows of 
modern stores. An Arab band playing 



bagpipes headed a bridal procession. 
Sellers of fly-whisks, razor-blades 
and socks pestered all who lingered 
and followed those who walked 
slowly. 

Sometimes I went to a small Syrian 
restaurant in a sidestreet. You could 
dine outside in a charming white- 
walled courtyard with a palm tree 
growing in the middle. I ordered 
stuffed vegetable marrow, roast lamb 
and a red wine from Damascus. 
Sharazad showed me how to cut a 
mango neatly round the centre and 
pull out the stone. Pickled cucumbers 
and plates of beans were served as 
side dishes and we ate the flat loaves 
of Egypt. 

That was blazing Cairo, the great 
desert city with its dusty gardens. 
Cairo, where a spy gave her belly- 
dance at the Continental roof cabaret 



while soldiers were being killed a 
hundred miles away. Cairo, with the 
ashes of secret documents rising in 
the wind during the retreat to 
Alamein. Cairo, city of cool modern 
flats and mud-huts, camels and 
donkeys. Cairo, where the khamsin 
wind blows a fine dust over 
everything and raises a thirst that 
some quench with mango juice. 
Cairo, where I ate the huge Red Sea 
prawns at the restaurant called St. 
James, the same Victorian place of 
refreshment built for those old 
British travellers who landed at 
Alexandria and travelled overland to 
Suez on the way to India. Cairo, with 
its old harbour on the east bank near 
the Babylon of the Romans. Cairo, 
split by the brown Nile, the long river 
that still carries fleets of small craft 
northwards when the current runs fast 



to the Mediterranean. Cairo, where the 
feluccas come in with the north wind 
to the old Bulak harbour where 
Napoleon's soldiers disembarked. 
Cairo is indeed a great harbour of 
memories and there are times when I 
remember Cairo too well. 

Cairo is the greatest of the Nile 
harbours but the smaller river ports 
have a fascination of their own. I 
remember the vast empty desert of 
grey sand with the Nile as the only 
contrast. Now and again you see 
villages like forts behind walls of mud. 
Boat-builders are at work, following 
the designs of centuries ago. Here is a 
field of sugar-cane with the red 
splashes of poppies; there are ancient 
cities, tombs and temples. And always 
the thread runs through the vision, the 
river with its narrow greenery. 



These river harbours quiver in the heat 
and almost blind you. How can people 
live in such a furnace? It is a relief to 
steam away southwards from Khar- 
toum in a river steamer, south up the 
White Nile towards the swamps. The 
pulse-beat of the engines underfoot 
gives promise of a mild breeze. The 
steamer is a stern-wheeler. Barges are 
lashed to each side, barges loaded with 
cargo and black passengers. White 
passengers live on the steamer's 
upperdeck. Their saloon is in the open 
air, tables are set round the funnel and 
at night the funnel glows a dull red in 
the darkness. They sleep in a netted 
space further forward; the "bug hut" 
they call it. The mosquito-proof gauze 
shuts out the insects but admits the 
odours of African cooking from the 
lower-deck. Some ships have bars. I 
recall one in which passengers carried 



their own bottles or bought whisky 
from the Greek captain. The passen- 
gers were officials and traders. In this 
company the traveller hears the gossip 
of the river harbours and the tales of 
the halfexplored, half-unknown land 
of a million square miles, the Sudan. 
Sometimes the steamer pulls in to a 
jetty with a line of grass huts and a 
crowd of naked Shilluk warriors or tall 
Dinkas. The thermometer stands 
resolutely at a steamy hundred and ten. 
Cargo rolls on shore, the whistle 
sounds and the ship pushes on 
upstream. 

This is the Sudd region and the river is 
choked with papyrus grass of a 
poisonous green colour. Ships pick 
their way with care. This water-world 
of the southern Sudan is like a 
Sargasso Sea. Only the natives can be 
moderately sure of survival. Steamers 



have to battle with the sinister floating 
grass. Day after day the steamer plods 
along, following a drunken, zigzag 
course as the helmsman dodges 
sandbanks and shallows. You smell 
woodsmoke and sand. On the river 
bank there are small trees and scrub; 
and beyond stretches the immense 
flatness. Hippo, dug-out canoes, 
velvet-black bodies wading with nets 
or standing with shields and spears. 
Drums, the crackle of red fires in the 
darkness and the thumping of the 
steamer's engines. Bamboo palisades, 
vultures on a tree, native girls pound- 
ing grain. A long panorama of barbaric 
Africa and then another inland harbour 
on the bank of Old Father Nile. 



CHAPTER Sixteen 
Suez Magic 



When I travelled in a slow "round 
Africa" steamer more than forty 
years ago I called for the first time at 
the ports of Egypt and watched 
entertainments that were old before 
recorded history. I saw Port Said, a 
fabricated place with more charm 
than some people care to admit. I 
liked it at first sight and grew fond of 
the sleepless town when I came to 
know it better two decades later. On 
this first visit I went on shore gladly 
while the ship was invaded by dusky 
MacGregors selling fly whisks and 
beads; by guides and fortune-tellers, 
by hundreds of sweating Arabs with 
coal-baskets on their heads. I dined 
well at the Eastern Exchange Hotel 
and went out into the garden to 
watch a conjurer. Egypt is full of 



wandering minstrels and acrobats, 
jugglers, animal trainers and other 
more or less entertaining vagabonds. 
I think Egypt is their ancestral home. 
Fakirs are buried alive and emerge 
from the ordeal like hibernating 
bears. Little girls appear to ride the 
air. The nasal whine of the gourd 
flute is heard in every tourist resort 
as bored cobras emerge from their 
baskets. Sword swallowers learn at 
an early age to find the straight line 
between mouth and pit of stomach. 
You may see a man take a bowl of 
water in his teeth and turn a 
somersault without spilling a drop; 
but you are more likely to encounter 
a baboon riding a goat. Two 
thousand years before Christ an 
Egyptian princess declared that she 
could never be killed by dagger or 
sword; and she proved it by lying in 



a mummy-case into which knives 
and swords were thrust; a trick that 
still draws the crowd. Here are magi- 
cians who claim they can decapitate 
a goose, or a boy, and restore the 
head as soon as the right amount of 
money is forthcoming. Steaming rice 
comes out of a cauldron without 
visible fire, Thanks to double 
bottoms and cunning boxes the 
onlookers see a bean transformed into 
a scorpion, and vice versa. Holy men 
lie on beds of spikes, as they do 
further East, always making sure that 
the spikes are close together. They bite 
iron bars and swallow fire. In my 
schooldays I read text-books on such 
tricks and learnt some of the basic 
principles. But that night at Port Said I 
watched a show that was not in any of 
my books. 



The garden at the Eastern Exchange 
was not lit brilliantly for the electric 
globes were shaded and restful. 
Nevertheless I could see the performer 
clearly enough, a mild, light-skinned 
Egyptian of about thirty wearing a 
long European jacket over his 
galabyeh. Possibly he had been 
earning his living as a conjurer for 
twenty years. He came forward with a 
long bamboo fishing-rod equipped 
with reel, float and hook. "Watch the 
hook all the time - watch very 
carefully," advised the conjurer. On 
hearing this obvious piece of misdirec- 
tion I tried to watch his hands as well 
as the hook. He cast out into the open 
garden, rod sweeping widely, hook 
dancing. "Watch the hook now - 
watch!" urged the conjurer. And at 
that moment a live fish appeared on 



HARBOURS OF MSMOftY 




"At tliat flSGJilCfll & live Ijsb ippwr-;^ nn 1 hi* hnnlc. Thu ■Lnnjurer 
let Jc ifrriggte Uierefiirflfew momHils; then lot*. Ft nff nod drapr«£ 
it Into a bowl of wiUer". 



the hook. The conjurer let it wriggle 
there for a few moments; then he took 
it off and dropped it into a bowl of 
water. I was absolutely certain that he 
had not slipped it down the line with 
his hands, but the sudden vision of the 
fish baffled me completely. 

Nearly two decades passed. I was in 
Suez on a mission I have described 
elsewhere. 2 Full moon that night and 
the transit camp was being heavily 
bombed. I found myself in a dugout 
with a handsome, middle-aged British 
officer I had met in the mess that 
evening. He had told me vaguely that 
he had something to do with camou- 
flage. Many officers were vague about 
their duties; we all knew the penalties 
for careless talk. "I was on the stage 



2 In my book "Where Men Still Dream," 
published by Timmins. 



before the war, so they found me a 
suitable job," he had remarked. 

"Did you see the gulla-gulla who 
came to the camp today?" I asked. 

"A poor type, I thought," replied the 
officer. "Cutting a turban and joining 
it, hauling yards of silk out of his 
mouth, the salaaming duck - very old 
stuff. I live in hopes of seeing 
something really original but it seldom 
happens." 

I told him about the fishing-rod trick. 
He waited until the flashes and the 
"grummff" of high explosives had 
passed for a time and then he 
commented: "That's a good trick. 
Depends on apparatus, of course, but it 
always brings a loud round of 
applause." 

"You know how it is done?" 



"Oh yes. You see, I'm a magician in 
civil life. I can explain that one. The 
fish is hidden in the float, kept alive by 
wet sponges. The main fishing line is 
fitted with small rings, and a thin 
secondary line runs to the float. When 
the conjurer jerks the thin line the 
hinged float opens for a fraction of a 
second and the fish slips down and 
appears to be wriggling on the hook. It 
is just a matter of opening and shutting 
the float so quickly that no one notices 
it. Many conjurers in Europe and 
America have copied that trick but I 
am convinced that it was invented in 
Egypt long ago." 

So pleased was I with this revelation 
that I was almost prepared to welcome 
a continuation of the bombing. "Are 
there any tricks that baffle the 
professional magician?" I inquired. 



"Yes. Some are tricks but most would 
be better described as illusions. Those 
miraculous tales you hear, the rope 
trick and other forms of levitation, 
plants growing before the eyes of the 
audience, people who vanish after 
being set on fire; these are illusions, 
but not all who claim to have seen 
these things are liars. Such illusions 
come from the days when the East was 
civilised and Europe was not. Some- 
where a long way back, probably in 
Egypt, there arose a caste of magi- 
cians, jugglers, snake-charmers and 
other weird performers. They may or 
may not have been gypsies, but they 
were certainly wanderers. Probably 
they acquired some of their knowledge 
during visits to India. They understood 
the uses of alcohol and such drugs as 
Indian hemp; they were hypnotists and 
mind-readers. You will find references 



to these people in many ancient works, 
the hieroglyphics of Egypt, the Upani- 
shads of the Indus, and it is clear that 
the writers were describing marvels 
which they believed they had 
witnessed. In recent years King 
Haakon VII of Norway informed 
Rosita Forbes the explorer that the 
rope trick had been performed in his 
honour in Tunis. It appeared to be 
genuine but a member of his staff 
photographed the scene and all the 
pictures showed the magician, his 
assistant and the rope on the ground. 
Colonel Barnard, chief of police in 
Calcutta early this century described 
the rope trick, and Lord Frederick 
Hamilton recorded it. Carl Hertz the 
stage magician travelled to the East 
with all the lore of the white illusionist 
at his finger-tips. He declared that the 
rope trick was put on only by the very 



finest performers who saw to it that 
there were only a few Europeans in the 
audience. They could hypnotise four 
or five people at a time. Though the 
Indians in the crowd realised what was 
going on they applauded their fellow- 
countryman and never gave him 
away." 

My companion reminded me of the 
story that went round London years 
ago of a stone lion in Trafalgar Square. 
The lion was said to have shaken its 
tail and thousands thought they had 
seen it. A few people in that mood 
would attend a performance of the 
rope trick and after the magician had 
addressed each one in turn and created 
a receptive state of mind they would 
see what they expected to see. Western 
magicians had put on stage versions of 
the rope trick with the aid of 
apparatus. Carl Herz invented a 



method and J. N. Maskelyne had done 
it in his London theatre. Eastern 
performers had given open-air shows 
with the aid of a strong incense that 
deadened the perceptions. They chose 
a courtyard between two houses, 
rigged a wire from roof to roof, and 
started work at dusk. Clouds of smoke 
hid the wire. The rope had a hook 
which caught the wire and the boy 
vanished by hauling himself across to 
one of the houses. Another of the old 
Eastern families of magicians had a 
more realistic presentation. They 
found a way of projecting a series of 
pictures on a column of whitish smoke 
so that a boy appeared to be climbing 
the rope into the sky. "Of course the 
pure illusion depending on will- 
power and persuasion is rare and I 
would enjoy such an experience 
enormously," declared the magician. 



"I have had to content myself up to 
now with the clever efforts of 
politicians whose promises have had 
no more substance than the rope 
trick." 

I asked my companion for his views 
on the mango trick. This he had seen 
on many occasions and he said the 
performers varied widely in skill. 
Nearly always nowadays it was pure 
conjuring. The trick went right back 
to the Upanishads and a Sanskrit 
comment two thousand years ago 
remarked: "A young mango tree 
sprouts forth from seeds, which are 
really only glamour. The tree is also 
nothing more than glamour. So it is 
with all things." Jehangir, King of 
Delhi in the early seventeenth 
century, employed magicians who 
grew not only mangoes but fig trees, 
apples, walnuts, almonds and 



mulberries; and birds of great beauty 
appeared in the branches; melodious 
songsters such as the world had 
never known before. 

The ordinary performer makes a little 
hillock of earth, plants the seed, 
sprinkles the earth with water and 
covers it with a turban cloth. When 
he removes the cloth a green shoot 
has appeared and a clever magician 
will pull the shoot from the earth and 
show the roots sprouting. At each 
stage of this slow and sometimes 
boring trick the tree grows, more and 
more leaves and branches appear, 
and finally the fruit is plucked and 
given to members of the audience to 
taste. Some people assert that they 
saw the tree growing before their 
eyes. They are often convinced that a 
secret method of forcing the growth 
has been used. 



"Most performers prefer the mango 
because the seed is large enough to 
hold a shoot," explained the officer. 
"A palm, tea plant or banana would 
be more difficult. Mango leaves and 
twigs are tough and can be folded 
carefully without breaking. They can 
be rolled into tight balls and hidden 
in the cloth until the time comes to 
assist the growth of the tree. It is just 
a matter of preparation and legerde- 
main. Robert Houdin the French 
magician (not Houdini) produced a 
Western version with an orange tree 
which blossomed and bore fruit. At the 
finale an orange at the top of the tree 
split open and revealed a handkerchief 
borrowed from a spectator." 

Robert Houdin, I gathered, was the 
pioneer of scientific conjuring. He was 
sent to Algeria by the French Govern- 
ment in the middle of last century to 



expose the marabouts who were 
stirring up revolts. The authorities 
hoped that Houdin's brand of sorcery 
would make the Algerian holy men 
look like childish impostors. Houdin 
certainly impressed his audiences with 
a box trick which depended on an 
electro-magnet; it became light or 
heavy on his orders and it defeated all 
the efforts of the bewildered Algerian 
sorcerers. However, the marabouts 
swallowed glass and devoured thorns 
and thistles and Houdin did not care to 
follow their example. One marabout 
struck his left arm with his right hand; 
the flesh appeared to open and blood 
poured out; then the marabout passed 
his hand over the wound and the blood 
disappeared. Houdin also watched a 
marabout swallowing an egg without 
breaking it; and this man also ate nails 
and pebbles and hit his stomach with 



his fist so that the contents rattled 
audibly. Other marabouts drank boil- 
ing oil. The sensitive French magician 
was obviously puzzled by these antics 
but he suggested that the sorcerers had 
used alum to protect themselves 
against different forms of heat. 

My friend the magician had turned to 
other oriental tricks and illusions when 
the ack-ack fire died away as the 
enemy bombers left the bleak Suez 
scene. I decided that magic was a fine 
remedy for the alarms and irritations 
of war and I wanted to meet the 
magician again. "I shall be here for the 
next few days and I often go to the 
Misr Hotel in Suez for dinner," he told 
me as we stumbled away to our tents 
and stretchers. 

Next evening found me in the Misr bar 
drinking with the magician and 
looking forward to a dinner menu that 



would come as a change from bully 
beef and tinned potatoes. And indeed 
we fared well for the lentil soup was 
followed by pigeon and there was a 
red Syrian wine and cheese. "You 
were telling me about oriental feats 
and illusions," I reminded the 
magician. 

"Ali yes, the wonders which cannot 
be explained by the Maskelyne or 
Houdini methods. Oriental perform- 
ers are prepared to risk their lives 
and suffer torments such as no 
Western magician would endure. In 
that class you have the fakirs who 
allow themselves to be buried alive. 
Their acts are genuine and I believe 
they rely on stupefying drugs; but I 
could not go into detail. Then you 
have the performer who enters a hot 
oven and is shut in with a raw steak. 



When the door is opened the man is 
alive and the steak is cooked?" 

A feat of a different sort is 
performed by an expert swordsman 
who puts a young girl flat on a table 
with a silken thread across her 
breast. He swings the broad, heavy 
sword half a dozen times to get the 
feel, then brings it down with a 
terrifying sweep that cuts the thread 
but does not touch the skin. Danger 
is a good teacher. He then described 
an illusion in which the magician 
transforms his assistant into a log of 
wood, chops up the log, sets fire to it 
and burns it. Of course the assistant 
comes up unharmed from the ashes. 
"Someone who watched this perfor- 
mance told me that be looked away 
once or twice while the flames were 
blazing," went on the magician. 
"When he looked up again there 



were no flames, but after a time the 
flames and smoke re-appeared. So it 
was obviously hypnotism." The 
basket trick, on the other hand, had a 
natural explanation. If you saw the 
magician wearing a heavy leather 
belt then you could be sure that the 
boy would seize the belt while 
covered by a blanket, slip quickly 
between the magician's legs and 
escape with the aid of accomplices. 
Usually the boy circled inside the 
basket like an eel and kept out of the 
way of the prearranged sword 
thrusts. There is more room in a 
flexible basket than you might think. 
First-class performers use a bladder 
filled with human blood and offer the 
blood to any medical person in the 
audiences for analysis. The boy 
shrieks at first but then the cries die 
away and the magician laments: "I 



have killed my child." However, a 
voice comes from the back of the 
crowd and the boy (a double, wear- 
ing identical gaudy costume) steps 
forward. Occasionally an oblong 
basket is used with a double side at 
the back. The boy hides in this 
compartment and the basket can then 
be shown to be empty. A really 
clever variation is the basket trick in 
which a large oblong basket has a 
lid. The magician's wife lies down in 
the basket and the lid is placed over 
her. When the magician lifts the lid 
the woman has vanished. She hooks 
her fingers and toes into the top of 
the basket and the success of the 
trick depends on the magician lifting 
her without apparent effort. This 
calls for superb acting and great 
strength. 



Egyptian conjurers have a modern 
trick in which a brass bowl is shown 
with a lump of ice in the water. It is 
covered, and when the cloth is 
whipped off the water is hot. The 
bowl has double sides and a double- 
bottom, of course, the side spaces 
being filled with boiling water while 
the bottom is empty. Remove a wax 
pellet and the cold water runs out. A 
second pellet allows the hot water to 
run in and meet the ice. 

The salaaming duck is the simplest 
trick of all, for there is a tiny hole in 
the bottom of the bowl. A fine silk 
thread fastened to the toy duck (and 
the magician's toe) ensures that the 
duck will obey orders. In a more 
ingenious version the duck leaps out 
of the water, usually while the 
magician is attending to something 
else with his back turned. This 



mechanical effect depends on a 
spring which is released when the 
sugar holding it has melted. 

Sand is used in a famous Egyptian 
trick. The magician drops the sand 
into a pail of water and the audience 
sees it lying on the bottom. He brings 
it out and blows it away as though it 
had never been in the water. Fine, 
clean sand is washed in hot water, 
dried in the sun and then cooked with 
lard in a frying pan. Every particle of 
sand is covered with grease and so it 
remains dry under water. 

Blue, red and yellow sugar are the 
ingredients in a trick which has 
baffled many audiences in Egypt. 
The magician swallows the various 
sugars, opens his mouth wide, and 
then asks the onlookers to name a 
colour. Blue? He blows out blue 
sugar. Red? Yellow? So it goes on. 



He has indeed swallowed the sugar, 
but additional capsules have been 
hidden in his mouth between the 
teeth and cheeks. All that remains is 
to work the required capsule to the 
front, break it and blow out the 
sugar. In this category is the 
Egyptian scent trick, where the 
performer focuses a burning glass on 
a piece of cotton-wool and the 
perfume of any desired flower 
(within reason) rises with the smoke. 
This is ordinary conjuring, of course, 
a matter of opening the correct phial 
at the right moment. 

When the Egyptian conjurer senses a 
hostile audience he threatens them 
with a plague of invisible ants. Soon 
the onlookers feel an irritation of the 
hands, a hideous crawling sensation 
which cannot be brushed off. The 
conjurer will remove the spell for a 



consideration but it takes some time. 
The effect is produced by an irritant 
powder which he sprinkles unobtru- 
sively on the backs of as many hands 
as possible. Even those who have not 
been "treated" often share the 
unpleasant sensation as a result of 
suggestion. 

Levitation tricks, said my friend, 
depend on hidden steel rods, goose- 
neck bars, iron posts and rings, steel 
harness and wires; every sort of 
support that can be hidden from the 
audience. It was a simple matter to 
make a woman float on air in a 
theatre; far more difficult in the open 
air. Years ago there was a woman in 
Egypt who was greatly admired for a 
levitation performance which involv- 
ed something more than apparatus. 
The act was arranged behind a large 
shawl, but in full sunlight. When the 



shawl dropped she was seen to be 
sitting two feet above the ground 
with her wrist on the hilt of a sword. 
The support was provided by a 
hidden loop of wire attached to the 
sword hilt. It was such a difficult feat 
that she had to hold her breath and 
balance herself in the loop until the 
shawl was raised again. 

"Always look for a natural explana- 
tion," advised the magician. "If you 
see a man sitting cross-legged in the 
air with his arm resting on a bamboo 
you may be sure there is an elaborate 
system of supports linked with the 
bamboo. It's a nerve-racking business. 
You never step in front of an audience 
without wondering whether something 
will go wrong. There is an element of 
chance. You dare not say what is 
going to happen next in case it does 
not happen. Some tricks depend on a 



carefully planned accident. The 
magician spends his life appealing to 
his audience to look in the wrong 
direction, away from what he must 
hide. One careless movement of the 
eyes may give the secret away. A trick 
is a comedy or a drama, and the 
magician must be a polished actor and 
a psychologist." 

He described an Egyptian trick that 
had earned his respect. The conjurer 
handed him a round piece of earthen- 
ware and a charcoal pencil and invited 
him to make the sign of the cross on 
the earthenware. After a short talk on 
the cross and the crescent the conjurer 
had asked him to shatter the earthen- 
ware. "Now look at your hand," said 
the conjurer; and there was the mark 
of the cross on the palm, a replica of 
the earthenware cross. Only by 
thinking back and considering every 



detail did my friend realise that the 
Egyptian had, at one stage, taken the 
earthenware in his own hand. At that 
moment he had taken the charcoal 
imprint, and had transferred it by 
pretending to show how the piece of 
earthenware should be held. The most 
artistic part of the trick was the patter 
about the cross and the crescent, 
designed to obliterate the memory of 
the essential part of the trick. 

I had once been puzzled by a decapi- 
tation show. The boy who was to be 
beheaded lay on the sands of Egypt 
and the conjurer drew a white cloth 
over him "to stop the blood from 
spurting on the people." I was invited 
to test the sharp blade of a great 
curved sword. After a careful arrange- 
ment of the cloth the boy's neck 
appeared to be ready for the fatal 
stroke. Down came the sword, the 



cloth was stained with blood, 
spectators reeled back in horror. The 
conjurer kicked the head away from 
the body but it remained under the 
cloth. Then he offered to restore the 
boy to life if enough piastres were 
dropped into his basket. As you might 
expect, the boy emerged from the 
cloth with his head on his shoulders. 

"Easy," chuckled the magician. "The 
boy tucks his head under his arm and 
blows up a bladder to take its place. 
Takes a bit of rehearsal, that's all." 

I asked the magician to describe the 
most dangerous stage performances he 
had ever seen and I mentioned 
Houdini's "water torture" escape. 
"Houdini never ran any risk of 
drowning," he replied. "But it was a 
magnificent trick. Houdini's ankles 
were fastened and he was lowered 
head first into a glass cell filled with 



water. Sometimes a dairy supplied 
milk instead of water. The cell was 
sealed and bolted and the curtains 
were drawn. Within a minute he was 
out, the cell still filled almost to the 
brim, Houdini streaming with water. 
The trick called for extreme agility and 
the ability to hold the breath under 
water. But as I said, it was not 
dangerous. Valves were fitted within 
reach of his hands - which were not 
tied - and he could let the water out 
fast if he failed to escape. He had 
plenty of room to double his body, and 
then he lifted the lid by one of his 
mechanical contrivances which he 
never revealed. No one has ever been 
able to imitate that trick." 

"What about those shooting acts?" 

"Very hazardous," admitted the 
magician. "In the old days it was done 
with a bullet made of candle wax 



covered with lamp-black. The real 
bullet was switched for the harmless 
one at the last moment, and the 
performer hid the lead bullet in his 
mouth and spat it out on to a plate 
when the gun went off, as though he 
had caught it in his mouth. Then a 
magician known as Chung Ling Soo, 
who was really an American, invented 
a sensational variation. His assistant 
fired a live cartridge with a genuine 
bullet and Ching Ling Soo caught the 
bullet on a plate. His survival depend- 
ed on reducing the charge of powder 
so that the bullet hit the plate with 
considerably less than the normal 
force. Of course it was a very tough 
plate. One night the bullet glanced off 
the plate and entered the heart of 
Chung Ling Soo. In spite of his death 
there are still a few magicians using 
that method." 



I remember the end of our conver- 
sation that night in Suez. The magician 
was not inclined to treat with contempt 
the oriental school of magic as so 
many European stage illusionists had 
done. "Nearly all our tricks come from 
the East," he declared. "Their perform- 
ers had the linking rings centuries ago, 
they had speaking heads and mechani- 
cal figurines that seemed to possess 
brains. I think they have always 
practised telepathy, and there is 
evidence of prophecies which rules out 
sheer chance. Here in Egypt west- 
wards to Morocco and eastwards to 
China, there is a great deal of strange 
and unfathomable knowledge. They do 
have secrets unknown to Europeans." 

Some time after my meeting with the 
magician I heard that wooden aircraft 
were being set out in rows on fake 
aerodromes in the desert. They looked 



most realistic from the air and were 
designed to draw the enemy's fire. I 
suspected my friend the magician of 
taking part in that game. Unfortunately 
word of this trick reached the enemy 
and I was told that wooden bombs had 
been found among the dummy aircraft. 
I suppose there were magicians on 
both sides in the desert war. 




CHAPTER Seventeen 
Gibraltar 



"Halt! Who goes there?" 
"The Keys." 
"Whose Keys?" 
"King George's Keys. " 
"Pass, King George's Keys. " 

War brought the South African Air 
Force to Gibraltar to sweep the oceans 
with their flying-boats. At the Land- 
port Gate the men with eagle badges 



and red tabs observed the ceremonial 
traditions of the Rock, marching out 
past the sentries to patrol the 
approaches and give warning of 
surprise attack. "Pass, King George's 
Keys!" 

Twice in my life I have passed through 
that old arched gateway and I would 
go back happily for a third time. 
Gibraltar arouses in me the same 
emotions as certain other tiny, historic 
British outposts. Gibraltar, Aden and 
St. Helena all reek with the strong 
odour of adventure so that you can 
almost smell the gunpowder. They are 
all full of personality, like no other 
towns on earth. I walked reverently in 
Gibraltar, and in the Trafalgar 
cemetery Nelson's sailors surrounded 
me. Cedarwood panels from the 
Spanish ships captured at Trafalgar 
were made into doors and tables still 



used in the town. A great key was 
carved from the bowsprit of the man- 
o'-war San Juan; one of the keys of 
the fortress that are drummed in and 
placed before the governor every night 
while he is at his dining-table. 

Gibraltar goes back much further than 
its famous sieges and sea battles. 
Neanderthal man probably entered 
Europe by way of the Rock sixty 
thousand years ago when there was a 
land bridge from Africa. Abbe Breuil, 
who searched the caves of South 
Africa, found paleolithic fossils in the 
Gibraltar limestone caves; elephant, 
rhino, hyena and leopard bones, 
animals of African origin. Deep in the 
Rock the delving priest unearthed 
human skulls and stone axes and 
weapons of flint, bronze and silver. 
One day the Abbe was out for a walk 
and by sheer chance he came upon a 



Mousterian shelter where primitive 
man lived forty thousand years ago. 
You may inspect casts of prehistoric 
skulls in the Gibraltar museum. The 
Rock ranks with Taungs and Pekin, 
Olduvai and Java, as a source of raw 
material for the fantastic and probably 
erroneous guesswork of scientists 
seeking the origins of mankind. 

I found the modem Gibraltarians held 
my attention longer than the skulls in 
the museum. About twenty-four 
thousand members of this little race 
live on the Rock. They have the 
unpleasant nickname of "rock scor- 
pions", based not on the insect but on 
a scorpion-shaped plant that grows in 
Gibraltar. George Borrow, the gypsy 
author, described himself as a "rock 
lizard" born in Gibraltar of English 
parents; but these and other nicknames 
give a false impression of the pleasant 



and intelligent people who have grown 
up in Gibraltar since the British 
occupation nearly three centuries ago. 
All the Spanish inhabitants cleared out 
when Admiral Rooke's licentious 
marines stormed the town. A wise 
retreat, for the women who remained 
were raped and churches were sacked. 
Dutch troops serving under Rooke 
joined in the fun, and only after the 
last of the captured wine had been 
drunk were the officers able to restore 
order. 

Settlers entered the new colony of 
Gibraltar at the invitation of the 
British authorities. Many of the early 
arrivals were Genoese fishermen, and 
to this day the dominant strain in the 
Gibraltarian blend is Italian. You 
might think it is Spanish, for these 
black-eyed people are Andalusian in. 
appearance, many have Spanish wives 



and Spanish is the home language of a 
large section. Yet they are different 
and those who know the Rock people 
can tell the difference at a glance. 
Gibraltarians have Maltese blood; a 
sprinkling of Levantines came in long 
ago; Moors added a small element to 
the mixture; and, of course, there were 
the time-expired soldiers and sailors 
from the British Isles who remained in 
Gibraltar with the girls they married 
there. I must not forget the Jewish 
strain which has made the Gibraltarian 
a formidable business man. And let us 
not overlook the Irish, who left 
something more than such names as 
O'Reilly in this strange fusion. Indians 
own dozens of shops in Main Street. 
They are Gibraltarians, too, but they 
form a separate colony. In sentiment 
the Gibraltarians are more British than 
the British. Wealthy merchants send 



their sons to British universities, 
where they are regarded almost as 
foreigners. And when Spain demands 
the return of Gibraltar these people 
write slogans on the pock-marked 
walls that have resisted all sieges. 
"British we are and British we stay." 
The spirit is exactly the same as that 
which inspired a British Governor 
more than two centuries ago when he 
replied to a Spanish ultimatum in these 
words: "Why sir, if you dare to give 
me any more of your damned 
nonsense I will kick you from Hell to 
Hackney!" 

In the telephone book the names of the 
Gibraltarians range from Aboab to 
Zino. In between, the majority of the 
names are Spanish, but you also find 
descendants of the Genoese, the 
Robbas, Stagnos and Dellipianis; a 
number of Maltese names such as 



Azzopardi, Spiteri and Vella; and, of 
course, the MacGillivrays and Hender- 
sons; a Davies or Evans who has never 
seen Wales; the Browns and the 
Baileys. But in Gibraltar a Ramirez is 
usually indistinguishable from a 
Marshall or Macintosh. Early last 
century there were only about three 
thousand Gibraltarians, but prosperity 
multiplied the little race by eight. They 
dress well and spend freely. Watch 
them in the fascinating market near the 
Waterport and you will see that they 
have a high regard for the pleasures of 
the table. Moors in vivid robes sell 
fowls, eggs and basket work. Spanish 
stall holders offer pumpkins and 
eggplants, green and red pimentos, 
muscatel grapes and muskmelons, figs 
and oranges. Red steaks are cut from 
enormous tunny fish. You can buy 
fresh sardines, octopus or stonebass. 



Here are eels and bream and the red 
scorpion fish they serve cold with 
vivid salads. You never know what to 
expect in this town of contrasts. 
Gibraltarians like their cheap Scotch 
whisky but they do not spurn the 
Spanish sangria, that delicious blend 
of red wine and fruit. Shark appears on 
Gibraltarian tables more often than 
kippers. I saw lamb from New Zealand 
and veal from Galicia. Here are the 
only people on earth, perhaps, who 
enjoy the British eggs and bacon for 
breakfast and a Spanish paella for 
lunch. Partly Spanish in outlook and 
temperament, the Gibraltarian is more 
vigorous and far more enterprising 
than the Spanish. These people who 
use English as their second language 
are entirely British in sentiment. Here 
the Ansaldos and Bagnasios, Botibols 
and Bencazars join fervently in 



singing "God Save the Queen." They 
love football and bullfights, cricket, 
music, wine and gambling. They are 
law-abiding citizens nowadays, and 
the words of a British politician 
spoken early this century are no longer 
true: "For the two hundred years that 
we have held this town we have made 
it a resort of smugglers, gypsies, 
vagabonds, African rogues and 
Spanish rebels." Today the Rock is a 
modern colony, remarkably clean for 
such an overcrowded place. If there is 
any unpleasant behaviour the guilty 
ones are probably visitors. Certainly 
there are contrabandistas, but these 
are usually the poor Spaniards who 
try to carry home those coveted 
articles which are so much cheaper 
in Gibraltar; coffee and cigars, liquor 
and cigarettes. La Linea, just over 
the border, is a dirty town of beggars 



and pimps, smugglers and thieves. 
No wonder the comfortable Gibral- 
tarian clings to the British Crown. 

Gibraltarians speak a rather clipped, 
staccato English and mix it with 
slurred Spanish words, so that the 
newcomer may be as baffled as a 
person hearing the swift Afrikaans- 
English transitions used in South 
Africa. My taxi-driver said to me as 
we turned back to the Rock after a 
drive across the border: "We go to 
Spain for pleasure, but I always feel 
a sort of relief when I return to the 
freedom of Gibraltar." I could see 
that he loved the Rock, for that was 
his only true home though he spoke 
of Britain as "home". Gibraltar, with 
its own paper money, its own 
postage stamps, the weekly lottery, 
the low taxation, the mild and 
pleasant climate, disturbed only now 



and then by a harsh Saharan wind. 
Their beloved little "Gibraltar 
Chronicle" is one of the oldest daily 
newspapers in the world. They call 
their policemen "bobbies", and out- 
wardly these helmeted men in blue 
are identical with the London police. 

Take a stroll along Main Street on a 
lively morning when the passengers 
are pouring on shore with their 
money from a cruise ship. Watch the 
storekeepers supplying them happily 
with French perfumes, cheaper here 
than in Paris, and Scotch whisky at a 
fraction of the Glasgow price. Listen 
to the sounds. I remember a bereted 
Spanish fishhawker with his cry of 
"pescado !" From barracks and har- 
bour come bugle calls. Often there 
are military bands and more often the 
Spanish flamenco music drifts out of 
the cafes. You may hear the rattle of 



castanets breaking through a choir 
practice in the cathedral. Hooves 
clatter in the roadway, for horse- 
drawn carriages have not yet 
disappeared. Donkeys pass with their 
side baskets and there are many 
handcarts filled with fruit among the 
slow moving cars and cyclists. 
Hindus emerge from their doorways 
to offer rolls of silk. Officers of the 
British services form a contrast with 
the gaping tourists and Spanish 
workmen. Glance up and on roman- 
tic wrought-iron balconies you will 
catch a glimpse of family life and 
hear the cage-birds singing. This is 
indeed an exotic Mediterranean 
seaport, full of sunlight and colour, 
but also displaying fresh paint, clean 
pavements, a British tidiness and 
polish. 



Main Street has four different names 
along its narrow length; Waterport, 
Main, Church and Southport. You 
must be a good walker here, for 
much of the town can be reached 
only on foot. Old stone stairways 
lead off the main thoroughfare into a 
maze of passages. This intriguing 
place is full of resounding, English 
names: Benjamin's Alley and Devil's 
Cap Road, Bell Lane, Black Hole 
where soldiers were once punished, 
Cannon Lane, Cloister Ramp, Corn- 
wall's Parade, Portuguese Town and 
Convent Place. When you are thirsty 
there are the Bull and Bush, Cock 
and Bottle, the Fox and Hounds, the 
Bell and Mitre. Some of the tea- 
rooms and grocers might have been 
transplanted from an English village. 
Always there are the historic names: 
Casemates Square, King's Bastion, 



South Barrack Road. Yet the Gibral- 
tarians still use some of the vanished 
Spanish street names when they are 
talking among themselves. Centuries 
slip away as they speak of the Calle 
de los Cordoneros, the Calle de Santa 
Anna, the Calle Real. Long ago there 
were just two parallel streets in 
Gibraltar, linked by lanes; and these 
became Main Street and Irish Town. 
Irish Town is a street, not a town, 
and it gained the name because of the 
characters who settled there. Some- 
times you detect a touch of the Irish 
brogue in the everyday speech of the 
Gibraltarian. This is because he is 
usually a Roman Catholic and his 
schoolmasters were probably Irish 
priests. 

Over the many steps and stairs, 
ramparts and chapels of Gibraltar, 
hangs the grey breath of old age. In 



the narrow streets you become aware 
of other aromas; the perfume of 
tangerines and bananas; mimosa and 
orange blossom, roses and jasmine 
and the purple bougainvillea. Festoon- 
ing ancient pink walls. Often you 
return unexpectedly to the remote past. 
In the governor's garden there is a 
dragon tree more than one thousand 
years old, the oldest of its species in 
the world, a great rarity yielding the 
dark resin called dragon's blood. 
Dragon trees flourished in Africa 
during the Ice Age, and then became 
extinct save on certain islands and a 
few remote places. Gibraltar's dragon 
tree seems to be among the many links 
between the Rock and Africa twenty 
miles away. 

When I first landed at Gibraltar there 
was a British racecourse on Spanish 
soil. There, beyond the neutral zone, 



the people of Gibraltar had their golf 
links and polo grounds; and the Royal 
Calpe Hunt pursued the fox in the 
woods and coverts of Spain. These 
amenities have vanished. A rather 
dangerous airstrip has been built on 
British ground and limestone from the 
Rock has been used to extend the 
runway into the bay. 

Now for the Rock itself, that limestone 
mountain dominating the narrow 
Mediterranean entrance. It looks 
tremendous from the sea; but the 
Gibraltar peninsula is only three miles 
long, one third of a mile wide and 
fourteen hundred feet high. Sometimes 
it resembles Lion's Head, at others a 
hump-backed whale. Victorians saw in 
it a profile of Gladstone. Really it is 
just a silver grey limestone rock with 
houses of the same grey stone and 
slopes covered with cactus and pines 



and dark green olive trees growing 
wild. 

This great symbol of impregnability 
holds a city within the massive rock. 
Miles of mysterious tunnels and 
galleries run between the steep faces. 
The cliffs are honeycombed with gun- 
ports built during the great sieges. I 
was told that people sheltering in the 
city within the Rock would be safe 
from any explosive yet devised by 
man, including the hydrogen bomb. 
Not even Table Mountain has a more 
dramatic profile. No other mountain 
hides so many secrets. Huge reservoirs 
inside the Rock are fed by water catch- 
ments on the rock face, and with a 
rainfall of thirty-five inches there is 
never a shortage. Workshops, stores 
and a hospital, barracks and a railway 
have been built within the limestone. 



Besides the man-made passages there 
are many natural caves and new 
caves are discovered from time to 
time. However, the exploration of the 
inner Rock is a hazardous affair. 
Over the years, men have gone down 
with their candles and balls of string 
and have never returned to the 
surface. Now the "killer caves" have 
been classified but those who would 
enter them must first sign indemnity 
forms. St. Michael's Cave, one thou- 
sand feet above sea level, is a place 
of remarkable beauty and the greatest 
wonder of the Rock. A Roman 
geographer described it in the days 
of Augustus Caesar. In the lofty hall 
are stalactite pillars fifty feet high. 
Last century it was the duelling 
ground of the garrison officers. A 
manuscript I read in the Gibraltar 
museum called it "a gloomy yawning 



fissure of a very sinister character 
where more than one unfortunate has 
met with foul play, being enticed 
within the cave by some assassin and 
after being plundered has been 
pushed into a horrible gulf". St. 
Michael's leads into other halls, and 
as recently as 1942 military engi- 
neers discovered a lovely grotto and 
an underground lake. Electricity has 
transformed this natural cathedral. 
Musicians love the acoustics and 
famous orchestras have performed 
there. 

Catalan Bay, a flattish alcove on the 
sheer eastern side of the Rock, is 
another of Gibraltar's odd spots. 
Here the first Genoese fishermen 
settled and some families have 
remained pure Italian and have never 
moved away. They form a distinct 
colony among the Gibraltarians, like 



the Sephardim Jews and the Indians. 
A modern hotel has arisen over the 
hot little fishing village, and the 
population (about three hundred 
between the wars) has grown in 
recent years. Catalan Bay has known 
disastrous falls of rock at long 
intervals like Jamestown on St. 
Helena and the people still talk of 
old tragedies and narrow escapes. 

I am an incorrigible seeker after 
rarities and high up on the Rock my 
taxi-driver pointed out a truly unique 
plant. This was the local candytuft, 
Iberis Gibraltarica, throwing out 
masses of lilac-coloured flowers. 
You may admire the wild flowers on 
these heights, narcissus and asphodel, 
growing over rusty cannon; but the 
candytuft grows wild nowhere in 
Europe save on the Rock. On the pine- 
scented heights many other wild 



flowers flourish, and herbs such as 
sage and rosemary, thyme and 
marjoram. Sir Bartle Frere, son of the 
old Cape governor, was a botanist; and 
in Gibraltar early this century he 
counted more than five hundred local 
plants. 

Once the golden eagle nested on vast 
piles of sticks in remote crevices of the 
Rock but I doubt whether you will find 
one today. Bearded vultures were also 
at home there and one or two pairs 
may survive. A game bird found on 
the Rock and nowhere else in Europe 
is the Barbary partridge. It shares this 
distinction with the apes, the 
inescapable apes. I shall soon be ready 
to go in search of the apes. 

Europa Point, at the southern end of 
the Rock, has a famous lighthouse. 
Often two hundred ships pass in a day. 
Here the nuns kept a light burning four 



centuries ago. Here is one of the 
world's finest views; Algeciras bay 
and La Isle Verde to the north; the 
purple hills of Africa twenty miles to 
the south. One resident loved the view 
so much that he asked to be buried 
under the floor of the Moorish ruins 
near the lighthouse. His wish was 
carried out, and the spot is known as 
Deadman's Hole. 

Any large city park would have room 
and to spare for Gibraltar. The total 
area of this British colony is just over 
two square miles. Once there was 
space for vineyards; now the wine 
comes from Spain and Gibraltar 
exports nothing but canned fish and 
fruit. Yet the armed services and the 
tourists ensure prosperity. I found a 
deep fascination in this bustling little 
colony and fell under its charm as 
most visitors do. Gibraltar with its red 



telephone kiosks and pillar-boxes with 
royal insignia transplanted from 
England. Gibraltar, where the descend- 
ants of Jews expelled from Spain 
nearly five centuries ago still speak the 
ancient and almost forgotten language 
of Castile, their old home. Gibraltar 
with its resounding names, Bomb 
House Lane and Europa Road; its 
lovely names, Rosia Bay and Buena 
Vista; and now and again a 
mysterious name such as Ragged 
Staff Wharf that no one can explain. 
Gibraltar with its stately Alameda 
Gardens, a blend of English and 
Spanish; its date palms, eucalyptus 
and palmetto avenues. Gibraltar with 
its expected and unexpected relics, a 
bust of Queen Victoria here, the 
jawbone of a whale there. Gibraltar, 
where the two main walls of the 
battlemented Moorish castle form 



part of the prison where the last man 
to be hanged was a Spanish saboteur 
during World War II. Gibraltar, 
almost an island, surrendered by 
Spain to Britain "to be held and 
enjoyed absolutely with all manner 
of right for ever without any 
exception or impediment whatso- 
ever." 

Gibraltar, the walled town below the 
crouching lion, has known many 
changes and dramas. It saw the 
transition from Moorish mosque to 
Spanish cathedral; to the British flag 
that made the Rock a thorn in the 
heart of Spain. During one siege the 
British soldiers had to eke out their 
scanty rations with dandelions and 
wild onions, but they never 
surrendered. Half the population was 
wiped out by yellow fever early last 
century. In the bay five hundred 



people drowned when an immigrant 
ship collided with a man-o'-war. 
Here, just before the World War I 
armistice a British battleship was 
torpedoed and went down with one 
thousand men. Shrapnel fell on the 
roof of the Rock Hotel during the 
Spanish civil war. During a strange 
and tragic interlude of World War II 
the French bombed Gibraltar; and at 
another period the Italians tried to 
bomb Gibraltar but hit their Spanish 
friends in La Linea by mistake. The 
Spanish see in the silhouette of the 
Rock a human corpse laid out in a 
shroud, and call the place El CueYpo. 
Certainly there has been much 
violence and sudden death in the 
shadow of the Rock. 

Years ago the Spanish workmen had 
to leave Gibraltar when a sunset gun 
was fired. Spanish dance partners in 



the cabarets were given until one in 
the morning; then they, too, had to 
hurry away like Cinderellas to La 
Linea. The story is told of a 
Frenchman who was shocked at 
losing a charming feminine compan- 
ion in this way and remarked 
excitedly: "What a strange place is 
Gibraltar - they throw out the lovely 
girls and keep the monkeys!" 

They are neither apes nor true 
monkeys but a tailless breed Macaca 
Sylvana, popularly known as 
Barbary apes. People from South 
Africa have mistaken them for 
baboons, for they are alike in. many 
respects, especially in their 
outrageous behaviour. The apes of 
Gibraltar are mysterious creatures. 
On the Rock and elsewhere I tried to 
find answers to the old riddles. How 
did the apes reach the Rock? Is there 



any truth in the legend that no one 
has ever found a dead ape? Do they 
bury their dead or carry them into a 
secret passage beneath the Straits 
linking Gibraltar with Africa? 

Probably the apes came from 
Morocco, for the identical species 
flourishes on the rocky heights of 
Mount Meggu near Tetuan and 
elsewhere. Spanish soldiers used the 
apes as targets during the Riffian 
campaign of the nineteentwenties. 
The troops noticed that the apes 
carried away their wounded, and this 
may be significant. Barbary apes are 
shaggy and powerful, with yellow- 
ish-brown coats and a mere tubercle 
instead of a tail. On the cheeks are 
brushed back whiskers. A full-grown 
male (four years old) is the size of an 
Airdale terrier. These apes prefer the 
ground to the trees. They feed very 



much as baboons do and for 
centuries they were able to live on 
the sweet roots of the dwarf palm, 
insects, roots and other wild growths 
on the Rock. Now their foraging 
areas have been reduced and they 
might starve without their daily 
rations. The apes have aroused great 
interest because they are the only 
free primates in Europe. Before the 
days of Queen Elizabeth all the 
monkeys known to Europe were 
Barbary apes, and so the zoologists 
of medieval times thought that all 
monkeys were tailless. The beautiful 
tailed monkeys of West Africa came 
later. But there were apes of the 
Barbary species in Europe north of 
the Alps when prehistoric man lived 
there. They died out and man 
survived. Count Schlieffen bred a 
herd of sixty Gibraltar apes in 



Germany during the eighteenth 
century but they were wiped out by 
rabies. Zeuner the zoologist said that 
the Spanish peninsula may have 
known the Barbary ape long ago, but 
deforestation and farmers drove the 
macaques to their last stronghold on 
the Rock. Carleton S. Coon, the 
American anthropologist, pointed out 
that bears and Barbary apes could 
hardly have swum the Straights of 
Gibraltar, but they might have walked 
round the coast from Palestine during 
a suitable climatic period. 

It is clear that the apes go back a long 
way. Ayala, the eighteenth century 
Spanish historian, remarked: "But now 
let us speak of other and living 
productions which, in spite of the 
asperity of the Rock, still maintain 
themselves in the mountains. These 
are the monkeys, who may be called 



the true owners, with possession from 
time immemorial, always tenacious of 
their dominion, living for the most part 
on the eastern side (marked on the 
maps as the 'Monkeys' Alameda') in 
high and inaccessible caverns. Neither 
the incursions of the Moors, the 
Spaniards nor the English, nor the 
cannon nor the bombs of either, have 
been able to dislodge them. They are 
active, cunning and sly and j ealous of 
their ancient dwelling. They defend 
themselves against the ambitions of 
newcomers by frequently throwing 
stones at their working parties." 

I found an old paper in the British 
Museum library which mentioned the 
great number of apes on the Rock 
more than two centuries ago, and 
added: "A poll-tax has been imposed 
on apes, Jews, Moors and other 
aliens." John Drinkwater, an English 



writer of that period, declared: "The 
hill (of Gibraltar) is remarkable for the 
apes on the summit, not found in 
Spain. They breed in inaccessible 
places and appear in large droves with 
their young on their backs. It is 
imagined that they were brought by 
the Moors from Barbary." Another old 
writer named Montero appears to have 
been the first to deal with the 
mysteries of the apes. "Some of the 
apes are of extraordinary corpulence," 
Montero noted. "Rarely have skeletons 
or skins been found. Perhaps they are 
thrown into the sea after death or 
hidden in caverns only accessible to 
apes. Did they live here before the 
separation of the continents? Or were 
they introduced by the Arabs? The 
temperature and pasture of the Rock 
favour the species." 



Fossilized bones of many animals 
have been found in the Gibraltar 
caves, but modern scientists have not 
identified the Barbary ape among 
them. Thus it is evident that the apes 
are comparative newcomers; they did 
not trek over the ancient land bridge 
with the elephants, rhinos, leopards 
and other African species. So both 
Zeuner and Coon are against the 
theory that the apes were brought to 
the Rock by the Arabs. Coon said the 
theory had no historical basis and 
Zeuner could see no reason why the 
Romans or the Moors should have 
transported the apes from Africa. I 
think Zeuner' s doubts are easily 
answered. Barbary apes are intelligent 
and amusing, with a sense of humour; 
they are indeed among the cleverest of 
all animals. Soldiers must have had 
pets long ago and it was natural that 



the Moorish invaders should have 
enjoyed the antics of the apes. 

The subterranean tunnel theory is a 
wild guess, in my opinion. Such a 
tunnel may exist, but I refuse to 
believe that a band of apes could have 
found a way through the frightening 
darkness where human explorers have 
perished. St. Michael's Cave is 
regarded by the tunnel protagonists as 
the entrance to the long passage 
beneath the Strait. First of the victims 
were a Colonel Mitchell and a friend 
named Brett, who tried early last 
century to find the way to Apes' Hill 
opposite Gibraltar, the Mount Abyla 
which formed the second Pillar of 
Hercules in ancient times. They were 
never seen again. Captain Webber- 
Smith, an engineer officer, explored a 
number of passages out of St. 
Michael's Cave and found that all led 



to a precipitous descent from the upper 
to a lower cave. "I am inclined to 
believe that it was in these passages 
that Colonel Mitchell and his friend 
lost themselves," Webber-Smith 
reported. At one remote spot he found 
the initials "A.B." cut into the rock. A 
later investigator found a rope 
dangling over a terrifying drop. The 
rope appeared to have been cut. 
Several expeditions have ventured 
down the precipice in recent years and 
have reached the grottoes and pools 
under St. Michael's Cave. 

But the Rock has many other caves, 
each one with its legends. Judge's 
Cave at Europa Point, a refuge during 
the Great Siege, has been sealed up 
some way from the entrance because 
of its dangers. Genista, Leonora, Dead 
Marx's and Fig Tree are other famous 
caves. Human beings have perfected 



climbing techniques with nylon ropes 
and pitons that a Barbary ape might 
well envy. I cannot imagine an ape 
knowing a route from Gibraltar to 
Africa when man has failed. No, the 
Moors must have brought the apes 
between the years 711 to 1462 from 
the Atlas mountains. 

The mystery of the missing Barbary 
ape corpses is not so easily solved. Of 
course a few dead apes have been 
found from time to time. I saw the 
skull of a young female, shot with a 
sporting gun some years ago, in the 
Gibraltar museum. However, this is 
hardly a fair example. The museum 
curator assured me that he had never 
been able to secure a complete 
skeleton. He said that before World 
War I a ferocious ape annoyed an 
artillery officer who was drilling his 
men. A gunner struck a blow which 



shattered the ape's skull but the body 
was not preserved. This was probably 
the last adult male in the small ape 
population of the period, so the 
governor sent to North Africa for apes 
to keep the colony going. A large ape 
was found dead in Europa Road about 
forty years ago, killed by eagles. 
Unfortunately this body was thrown 
away. So the search for skeletons goes 
on. A scientist at Bristol University 
asked for a specimen some years ago 
and the official reply stated: "Careful 
search has failed to trace the skeletons 
of any deceased Rock apes. It seems 
that they are buried by other apes deep 
in the Rock, and one day the sepulchre 
may be discovered." 

Apes sometimes kill one another but 
the bodies vanish. At one time an old 
cannibal ape was suspected of preying 
on the young apes. But the apes are 



secretive and they may well have their 
own secret graveyard unknown to the 
cave explorers. Many old Gibraltarians 
will tell you that a remnant of the 
original ape colony survives to this 
day in a secluded "pleasure garden" 
high up on the Rock; and that no fresh 
blood has ever reached this hidden 
pack. They do not fraternise with 
newcomers. Few people have ever set 
eyes on them. It is a romantic idea and 
it sounds fantastic; yet it has been 
supported by such an authority as Sir 
Claud Russell, K.C.M.G. of the Fauna 
Preservation Society. 

In far off days when Gibraltar was 
covered by thick forest the apes shared 
the Rock with wolves and wild boars, 
porcupines and badgers. Food was 
plentiful and the apes grew fat on their 
diet of wild olives and prickly pears, 
acorns and blackberries. They still turn 



over the stones in search of insects but 
wild growths no longer cover the Rock 
and the packs cannot support 
themselves. When man invaded their 
old hunting grounds the apes lost their 
nuts and berries and so they were 
forced to raid the gardens and the 
town. This was the opening of a long 
war and many an ape was shot. Food 
shortages caused fights among the 
hungry packs and the apes killed one 
another. But the boldest apes carried 
out their sorties with such cunning that 
they often returned to the heights with 
bulging stomachs. No house or home 
was sacred. The apes cleared the 
governor's table one night before a 
banquet, and they stole the humble 
rations of soldiers from the barracks. 
Sometimes an officer giving a dinner 
party would find that the apes had 
plundered the dining-room while his 



guests were drinking their sherry in 
the next room. Apes have even 
boarded men-o'-war in the dockyard 
in search of loot. 

Again and again the apes of Gibraltar 
were sentenced to death. The legend 
that Britain would lose the Rock when 
the last ape died was ignored. Yet no 
one ever succeeded in exterminating 
the apes. They realised the danger and 
retreated to fastnesses unknown to 
man. Gibraltar has always been in two 
minds about the apes. When the packs 
dwindled to vanishing point someone 
has always sent to North Africa for 
more apes. About a century ago there 
were only three apes left; but fresh 
blood soon restored the pack to the 
point where it became a menace. 

Eighty years ago the senior naval 
officer complained that the apes were 
stealing fruit, tearing stones from the 



walls, breaking wooden railings and 
roof gutters. A colonel of engineers 
declared that apes had attacked his 
children, eaten all his fruit, dug up his 
potatoes, stolen his trousers and slept 
in his bed. I read the official record of 
a young male that had been driven out 
of the pack by the old leader. The ill- 
mannered young ape attacked a little 
girl, snatched oft her hat and pulled 
her hair. The girl drove the ape off and 
later identified her assailant. Accord- 
ing to the report, which appeared to 
have been written in all seriousness, a 
sergeant brought the guilty ape before 
Sir Archibald Hunter, the governor. 
The little girl was there to give 
evidence and when the ape saw her it 
hung its head and appeared to be 
ashamed. The sentence was ten days 
imprisonment in a cage and the record 
stated that other apes fed the prisoner 



through the bars. I think the apes have 
always had friends among the 
Gibraltarians and there are people who 
like to look upon the apes as fellow 
citizens of the Rock. 

Just before World War I a humane 
official organised the first feeding 
scheme for the Gibraltar apes. An 
officer of the Gibraltar Regiment was 
later appointed "O/C Apes" and each 
ape received daily rations of Jerusalem 
artichokes and spring onions. When 
they came "on the strength" the apes 
were also given names; the sort of 
names humorous soldiers would 
choose. Thus you will find Betty and 
Phyllis in the records, Jubilee and 
Titch, Nicky and Penny, Winston, 
Julian and Maureen. A celebrated pack 
leader after World War II was Gunner, 
with his two-inch tusks. Gunner 



disappeared at last and his name was 
crossed off the roll of apes. 

Everyone who has lived in Gibraltar 
for years has an ape story. An officer's 
wife assured me that one evening 
while she was brushing her hair she 
became aware of an ape seated behind 
her, watching intently. The apes have 
pelted householders with figs and have 
taken cover behind, chimneypots when 
hunted with stones and catapults. An 
old fig tree in the garden of the 
Moorish Castle is robbed every year 
by the apes when the juicy buds 
appear. Sir Bartle Frere, chief justice 
of the colony, was among the victims 
of the apes. Not long after World War 
I his home was raided and furniture 
wrecked. He suggested that the apes 
should either be exterminated, deport- 
ed to Morocco, reduced to a small 
pack of one sex or kept in cages. As a 



result, the governor ordered all but ten 
of the apes to be shot. The pack 
dwindled to three in 1924, ape-lovers 
became alarmed, and a later governor 
ordered the reinforcement of the apes. 
Churchill's famous order regarding the 
apes during World War II was the last 
of a number of similar importations. 
Nazi agents were suspected of killing 
the apes at that period but I was 
informed that several apes had been 
smuggled away by American seamen. 
Strange tales are told of the Gibraltar 
apes, and the strangest tales are true. 

Nowadays the apes of Gibraltar are as 
safe as the storks in Holland or the ibis 
in Egypt. Births and deaths in the ape 
packs have been recorded by the 
"Gibraltar Chronicle" for many years. 
You can see Gibraltar apes in zoos as 
far away as London and Washington. 
After centuries of persecution the apes 



remain the lords of the Rock, sun- 
bathing unafraid on the ancient walls 
and gateways like the humans on the 
beaches. Most of them are tame, but 
some become aggressive when 
annoyed. It is as well to allow an ape 
pickpocket to operate undisturbed. A 
friendly ape will settle on your 
shoulder and start a rather difficult 
conversation. Daily rations still 
include artichokes and onions, with 
the addition of nuts, radishes, bananas, 
cabbages and lettuce. My taxi-driver 
said that the apes were living better 
than some of the people in the town. 
However, the feeding has ended the 
raids on the town and the apes are 
protected by law. 

Expeditions still enter the Rock in 
search of the skeletons of apes that 
have vanished. Men still hope to find 
the apes' tunnel. I love Gibraltar with 



its old streets and its strange popula- 
tion, but never 'will you find me in the 
fearsome depths where Mitchell and 
Brett climbed down to death. I prefer 
the Gibraltar of the cool Rock Hotel 
with its swimming pool and English 
breakfast; the Gibraltar of duty-free 
shops; the streets where a Gibraltarian 
looks out of his cellar window into the 
attic of the next house on the hillside. 
It is a charming town, a happy town. 
"Halt! Who does there?" "The Keys." 
I felt that I had those keys for a few 
days. I would like to enter the Land- 
port Gate once more. 



CHAPTER Eighteen 
Cous-Cous And COBRAS 



I Steamed out of Gibraltar harbour in 
a ferry which aroused a faint 
reminiscent feeling. Surely Alec Guin- 
ness should be on the bridge waving 
farewell to his fond wife, yet looking 
forward to meeting his vivacious girl 
friend in Tangier? The little Bland 
Line Mons Calpe was crowded on that 
brilliant golden morning with her nine 
hundred passengers and eighty cars. 
Well, it was a run of only two hours. 
Sometimes there are violent storms in 
the Strait of Gibraltar; strong currents 
and low fog may make the short 
crossing difficult for mariners of even 
greater cunning than an Alec 
Guinness. However, I had a good 
Spanish lunch under the Red Ensign; 
melon, chicken and bold sausages 
decked out with tomatoes and saffron 



rice, broad beans and mushrooms, the 
soft cheese called queso gallego and a 
small carafe of red wine. Far too much 
for lunch, of course, but I eat more 
when I am travelling and do not suffer 
for it. I paid in Moroccan dirhams, 
pronounced rather like the Afrikaans 
word derms. Then the Mons Calpe 
entered the magnificent old harbour 
round which Tangier rises in an 
amphitheatre and rests on its hills. I 
knew at once that I would like this 
white city of beaches and fragrant 
gardens, coloured tiles, palms and 
eucalyptus trees, cypress and pine. 

Soon I was in my expensive bedroom 
at the five-star hotel called El Minzah, 
a famous place of great comfort but 
without a lift. When I stepped out into 
the centre of the town to get my 
bearings I was reminded immediately 
of the works of those eager authors 



who have described Tangier as a city 
of sin and mystery, headquarters of 
international crooks and smugglers, 
refugees and spies. My guide book 
advised me that "Tangier is not 
prudish or gossipy." I was accosted by 
an elderly Tangerine wearing the 
hooded djellabah robe which enabled 
him to speak with a conspiratorial air. 
The offer he made convinced me that 
all I had read of Tangier was true. 
However, I am more interested in 
streets and markets, restaurants, snake- 
charmers, honest tricksters and enter- 
tainers than in pimps and their willing 
accomplices. I told the Tangerine it 
was too early for such unusual 
pleasures as he had promised and I left 
him shaking his head in complete 
disagreement. The sort of girls he had 
in mind were so respectable that they 
were not allowed out after dark. 



"Night club girls no good," declared 
the Tangerine in tones of horror. "My 
girls family girls, sweet young girls, 
thirteen, fourteen." No doubt he was 
doing a roaring trade without police 
interference. "Tangier is not prudish or 
gossipy." 

In the dining-room at the El Minzah I 
was captivated by the skill of a type of 
craftsman I had never seen before. He 
stood at a large table in the middle of 
the room, a powerful Moroccan in 
golden turban and white raiment. His 
batterie de cuisine consisted of food 
mills, graters, knives plain and 
serrated, filleting knives, peelers and 
choppers. He was surrounded by as 
choice an array of raw and cooked 
foods as I have ever set eyes upon; 
lobsters and prawns and many 
Mediterranean fish; all the vegetables 
and fruits from globe artichokes to red 



and green peppers, avocadoes and the 
long-leaved lettuces favoured by the 
Arab races. Morocco likes raw 
vegetables. When a salad was ordered 
this wizard of the dining-room went 
into action like a man possessed. So 
fast did he work that you saw a 
transformation worthy of a conjurer. 
Cucumbers were sliced in a trice, 
tomatoes become jewels, radishes 
blossomed like roses, beetroots were 
swiftly diced, onions fell into fairy 
rings as the razor-edged knife rose and 
dropped. With a loud crack a huge 
lobster would fall apart and be 
presented on a dish garnished with 
fresh gems from the wizard's 
collection. Fruit became not just fruit 
salads but still-life masterpieces. I 
watched him reverently but when the 
head waiter came to my table I ordered 
cous-cous, the national dish of 



Morocco, but not so common as the 
other Moroccan favourite, the 
skewered shish kebab. Cous-cous is a 
wheaten semolina, very filling, and the 
peasant eats this with a few scraps of 
meat or vegetables. At El Minzah it 
was a noble dish with mutton and 
chicken, butter, almonds, saffron, 
raisins and carrots, onions and 
cabbage, and the mixture of herbs and 
spices called lekama. 

Lekama flavours so many dishes and 
is on sale by so many barrow boys that 
it must be listed as one of Tangier's 
most typical aromas. It is compounded 
of ginger, black pepper and saffron 
with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg; so 
a lekama blender cannot hide his 
presence. Orange blossom is another 
Tangier fragrance. It is made on the 
spot and many bakers mix it into their 
bread. One cannot and would not wish 



to escape from the universal cooking 
odour of shish kebab, the skewered 
chunks of lamb, onions, tomatoes and 
green peppers which are roasted over 
charcoal in almost every Tangier 
street. Tons of mint are cut every 
morning for millions of glasses of the 
hot, sweet, milkless mint tea of the 
people; so this, too, creates a pleasant 
atmosphere. You are unlikely to sniff 
roast pork in Tangier but you will not 
escape the rank-smelling white smin 
butter made from camel's milk. Fire 
and steam are the favourite Moroccan 
cooking methods. Everywhere there 
are gridiron and woodsmoke odours; 
everything is there from hot liver to 
roasting chestnuts. 

You smell camels rather too often in 
Tangier but as a happy contrast there 
are the flower stalls in the markets and 
the secret gardens with their singing 



birds and fountains, lemon trees and 
pungent lilies, rose bushes and 
bougainvillea. Here are arcaded court- 
yards tiled with delicate green 
mosaics, gorgeous hand-woven rugs, 
divans, soft Moorish leather cushions 
tooled in brilliant gold and red. If you 
can leave Morocco without a gay 
leather folder or a pair of the slippers 
called babouches you are strong 
indeed. In the souks, the narrow streets 
which are often trellised against the 
sun and covered with raffia, you find 
the soul of Tangier. Here are Old 
Testament characters selling dried 
lizard skins and the medicines of a 
thousand years ago. Potters and 
weavers, dyers and brass-workers ply 
their trades and offer their wares. I saw 
olive oil coming from stone presses. 
People carried flat loaves, the bread I 
had last tasted in Egypt two decades 



before. Shopkeepers beseeched me to 
buy swords and scimitars, live 
chickens, carpets, barbaric jewellery. 

In these souks some magician seemed 
to have brought the Arabian Nights 
into the twentieth century. I passed 
Indian curio shops and saw a man 
trying to dispose of a live gazelle. I 
could easily imagine Tangier as a 
Phoenician settlement and a Roman 
outpost; but there was never a sign of 
the abandoned British colony of three 
centuries ago. Within living memory 
rebels hung in cages from the walls of 
Tangier and they were released only to 
be flung to the lions. 

Cape Spartel, the north-west point of 
Africa, one of the great capes of the 
world, is only eight miles out of 
Tangier. I drove there with my guide 
Serfati and found myself thinking of 
Agulhas five thousand miles away and 



other dramatic landfalls and turning 
points on the sea lanes of the globe. 
Cape Spartel has the most beautiful 
lighthouse I have ever seen, set among 
gardens with streams and date palms. 
Serfati said the ocean currents met 
there (as they do at Cape Point) the 
"east and west water". Wild boars 
were encountered there not so long 
ago, went on the guide, but now there 
were only the wild flowers and purple 
heather. Then he led me to the caves 
of Hercules and the Roman ruins. I 
walked for a while on a long beach 
and wished that I could walk the 
whole distance southwards to Table 
Bay; a walk that would be filled with 
adventure; but an impossible walk for 
me, too far and too hot. 

Serfati took me through streets of 
geraniums and prickly pear to the 
heights where the Kasbah stands on a 



quiet old square. He pointed out the 
Bastinado Gate where criminals were 
beaten on the soles of the feet. This 
was once the seat of government; the 
sultan's palace, the treasury, the 
prison, the mosque. I saw many races 
mingling there: Jews, Moors and 
Berbers. Serfati taught me to identify 
them. Many of the Jews wore black 
skull-caps. Moors were tall and good- 
looking; they wore long gowns and 
they liked to ride. Berbers were whiter 
than the others, with high cheek- 
bones; some were very fair and hazel- 
eyed. They came into Tangier with 
long donkey caravans bringing the 
food they had grown. They are the 
original Moroccans and it is probable 
that the mysterious extinct Guanche 
people of the Canary Islands were 
Berbers. I also gazed with interest on a 
group of Ouled Nail women, for 



Serfati swore they were irresistible. 
They had a love philtre which would 
enslave any man, so that he would 
spend all his money on a certain girl. 
(Clearly the honest Serfati was not 
trying to sell something, like the man I 
had met earlier.) Yes, the Ouled Nail 
women were clever dancers, but it was 
the love philtre which made them 
wealthy. What was in the philtre? 
Serfati said it tasted like mint tea but 
that obviously something was added. I 
told him we would not be visiting the 
Ouled Nails for our afternoon tea and 
he agreed. 

I can recall the sounds of Tangier as 
easily as the aromas. Moroccan 
musicians play the flute and drum and 
the crude gimbri violin. Voices come 
from a schoolroom, little girls 
chanting their lessons. Water-carriers 
with fat, brasstapped goatskins clank 



brass goblets to remind customers of 
their thirst. Balek! You move aside as 
a laden donkey taps over the cobbles. 
Old men with flowing beards sit over 
their coffee in tiny cafes; and here the 
clinking dominoes break the silence. 
From the Zocco de Fuera, the open-air 
market, comes the evil chuckling of 
parakeets. You will surely hear the 
muezzins announcing the hours of 
prayer from the minarets. It is impossi- 
ble to predict the scene and the sounds 
round the next corner; there may be a 
soft, invisible orchestra or the pound- 
ing of tom-toms. When you hear the 
gourd flute and the "monkey drum" 
there must be a snakecharmer giving 
his performance. 

Snakecharmers are prominent in 
Tangier, though they give their strange 
entertainment right across the northern 
shores of Africa to Suez. At the 



Kasbah I watched an American tourist 
attempting to photograph his wife with 
two cobras round her neck. She kept 
moving nervously with such an 
expression of horror that the portrait 
must have caused some discussion 
later, if indeed it was successful. The 
snakecharmer kept a firm grip on both 
the heads of the cobras but this did not 
appear to satisfy the lady. "I don't like 
the feel of them next to my skin," she 
complained. Her husband went on 
focussing and clicking. 

Of course it is the natural horror of 
snakes that draws the crowd round the 
snakecharmer. Serfati took me to the 
Grande Zocco market, saying we 
would find the best snakecharmers 
there. Sure enough there was a 
member of the Aissawa brotherhood, a 
religious sect with long oily hair. The 
man allowed a cobra to sink its fangs 



into his tongue and hand there, a most 
repulsive feat. "If you like to pay for a 
live fowl the cobra will kill it in a 
moment with its poison," Serfati 
suggested. I turned down this particu- 
lar treat. Serfati informed me that the 
Aissawa members were immune not 
only to snake venom but to pain. They 
stabbed themselves in the head with 
daggers, slit their mouths from ear to 
ear. This, too, could be arranged. 
However, I moved on to watch an 
Arab who appeared to be putting a 
large scorpion to sleep. At first the 
scorpion menaced him with the sting 
in its tail; then it lay still as the Arab 
stroked it. A trusting spectator stretch- 
ed out his hand and the Arab placed 
the scorpion on the palm. It lay there 
motionless. Finally the Arab took the 
fearsome insect back and revived it. I 
gave him a coin, watching the lively 



scorpion carefully as I passed him the 
money. 

Serfati wanted to show me a fight 
between a lizard and a horned viper 
but these traditional enemies were not 
to be found in the Grande Zocco that 
day. I gathered that the lizard was 
nearly always the victor as it had no 
blood circulation to carry the deadly 
poison round its system. Vipers, I 
gathered, are handled only by the most 
experienced snakecharmers. They are 
much faster than the gentle and docile 
cobra, for vipers strike unexpectedly 
like a whiplash. In spite of many 
explanations the relationship between 
the snake and its master is still very 
largely a mystery. Snakes are said to 
be deaf but Serfati was firm in his 
belief that they could be called out of 
their holes by the droning, plaintive 
music of the charmer's gourd flute. 



This is a primitive affair, something 
that started thousands of years ago. 
The music has a deep, mesmeric 
quality. Only those who have been 
reared close to Nature in the deserts of 
India and North Africa can hope to 
lure and train a snake. It is a 
fascinating affair. As I stared at the 
cobras in the Grande Zocco I remem- 
bered a summing-up by John Lock- 
wood Kipling and decided to find and 
quote it. Here are the very words of 
Rudyard Kipling's father: "He is the 
necklace of the gods, he can give gems 
to the poor, he is the guardian of 
priceless treasures, he can change 
himself into manifold forms, he casts 
his skin annually and thus has the gift 
of youth. He is of high caste, in the 
confidence of gods and demons. When 
the great world was made he was 
already there." 



At times the snakecharmer moves like 
a dancer, holding the cobra's head 
close to his face, whispering to it 
while the quivering tongue threatens 
his eyes and mouth. Then he teases the 
snake deliberately so that even the 
tamest cobra strikes out again and 
again. Some of these men will allow a 
snake to cling to eyelids and lips. They 
will bite off a snake's head and then 
take lumps of red-hot charcoal as 
though to cauterise their mouths. This 
is indeed a dark art. The snakecharmer 
is one of those nomads who comes in 
with the dawn and goes out with the 
sunset and no man can describe his 
origin or the true source of his weird 
knowledge. There are times when the 
snakecharmer takes the onlooker so far 
back into the past that he may almost 
believe in oriental magic. 



Among the snakecharmers and fakirs, 
beggars and musicians of the Grande 
Zocco were those intriguing enter- 
tainers, the professional story tellers. 
Moroccans love to hear the bygone 
glories of their land related by true 
artists and I am glad to say that a 
gifted storyteller is regarded as one of 
the stars of the market place. As he 
goes on his rounds of the country 
people look forward to his arrival. A 
small arena is set apart for these great 
narrators in the Grande Zocco, the 
square which is said to offer all the 
sights and sounds and odours of the 
Arab world. Word reaches the souks 
that Achmed Ali has returned, a man 
who puts such feeling into a tale that 
every man, woman and child is held 
spellbound. The arena is packed at 
every session. Achmed Ali turned out 
to be a man in the prime of life with 



the expressive face and gestures of an 
actor. Dressed in snowy white, he held 
a small tambourine and tapped it at 
dramatic moments. What was this old 
story? All eyes were fixed on Achmed 
Ali's face as he approached the climax 
for the thousandth time. "This man 
appeals only to Arabs," remarked 
Serfati. "No white man could possibly 
understand such a story." 

Marabouts tell fortunes in the Grand 
Zocco, tracing designs in sand as they 
peer into the future. You may see an 
African version of the William Tell 
legend, an orange shot neatly off a 
boy's head by a marksman with a 
medieval cross-bow. Buffoons raise a 
laugh as they make faces at perform- 
ing monkeys. Tumblers dressed in 
blue turn somersaults in a ring of 
spectators while other acrobats 
perform circus tricks with ladders and 



hoops. A boy contortionist ties himself 
into knots and a fire-eater blows out 
flames. Everyone admires the swords- 
man who engages two opponents at 
the same time and sends their swords 
spinning out of their hands. Falconers 
dispatch swift Barbary falcons from 
wrist to sky. Dervishes, more repulsive 
than the snake-eaters, force out their 
eyes on skewers and burn their hands 
with hot irons. It came almost as a 
relief when they thrust sharp needles 
through their cheeks and gobbled up 
prickly pear leaves. "It is done with 
the aid of a drug like incense," Serfati 
remarked. "These men are descendants 
of a tribe of holy men who perished in 
the desert long ago. Only those who 
could eat anything survived the ordeal. 
People call them Pyslii. They can eat 
and nourish themselves on beetles and 
dry leaves. Pay them a fee and they 



will beat their drums in such a way as 
to cast out devils." Now I felt that I 
had ventured far enough into the 
unknown and I watched a band of 
conjurers. Most of the tricks were 
variations of the civilised rabbit and 
tophat type of entertainment. Flowers, 
vegetables and a dormouse were 
discovered in the sleeves of people in 
the crowd. But there was one original 
trick. A conjurer threw a small 
wooden object of peculiar shape high 
above his head and caught it. He threw 
it again into the sun and this time it 
disappeared. (I think it was a sort of 
Moroccan boomerang which set off on 
an unexpected course if you knew how 
to handle it.) Then the conjurer 
pointed to a man in the audience and 
shouted: "He has it." Yes, the man had 
the queerly-shaped wooden missile in 
his hood. Or a replica. 



Harbours should be approached from 
the sea, but when I left Tangier for my 
next harbour Oran I embarked on a 
peculiar overland journey. First there 
was the run to Sidi Kacem in the 
stream-lined, air-conditioned Casa- 
blanca train with its large windows; a 
luxurious Diesel run with lunch at a 
buffet counter. They gave me a 
Moroccan meat and raisin pastry and a 
glass of wine and I was satisfied. But 
when I changed at Sidi Kacem a slow 
old wooden train awaited me and I 
thought wistfully of the Casablanca 
rapide. Night fell and my morale was 
not raised by the moaning of an 
American school marm in my 
compartment. She had been given 
short change on the Casablanca train 
and did not realise that nothing could 
be done about it. There was no bar and 
no escape until I alighted at Fez. 



Fez put me in a better mood. I had 
booked at the Hotel Palais Jamai, just 
outside the main gateway to the huge 
walled city. To my surprise I found it 
was indeed a palace. Here the brothers 
Jamai, aristrocats of Fez, lived in the 
eighteenth century and gave their 
oriental entertainments. The old part 
has been carefully preserved; gilded 
ceilings of carved cedar, walls covered 
with Arab verses, lanterns and chande- 
liers and trellises of beautiful wrought 
iron. Halls are filled with carpets and 
divans. From the upper terrace you 
look out over the whole of Fez, that 
splendid oasis of olives and palms, 
domes and minarets, crenellated walls 
and turreted gateways. A river passes 
through Fez, under the houses and 
streets; so that only here and there are 
you aware of it turning water-wheels 



HARBOURS OF MEMORY 







"Of course it is the natural horror of snakes that draws the crowd 
round the sn&kcch&rmcr. Scrfati took me to the Grande Zocco mar- 
ket, saying we would find the best snakecharmers there". 



and feeding the many fountains. One 
of Morocco's famous poets declared 
that the loveliest flowers, the finest 
fruit in the world, grew in Fez. 
Perhaps that is why I remember the 
terraced Palais Jamai gardens. Apri- 
cots and roses were there, African 
lotus, Seville oranges, geraniums and 
daturas. The scents came into my 
bathroom. I put on a luxurious white 
towelling-gown provided by the hotel 
and knew that I would be sorry to 
leave this palace. 

Dinner that night confirmed the happy 
feeling. They gave me the celebrated 
Herrira soup with dates, a complicated 
mutton and chicken giblet soup 
blended with a great variety of 
vegetables and eggs. There was a ham 
omelette in the French tradition; then 
lamb and peas, grapes and pears. 
Following my custom I drank the dry 



red wine of Fez and found it very 
much to my taste. That night I went to 
sleep to the sound of water running in 
a garden furrow. When I hear that 
lullaby, or the sea, I cannot stay awake 
long. 

I saw Fez, and bought a leather book 
cover of gorgeous red and gold, and 
then set out unwisely in a native bus 
for Oujda on the Algerian frontier. I 
will pass over the eight hours in the 
bus, my burning thirst, the dreadful 
wayside cafes. At one halt I had to 
order a revolting bottled banana drink 
that made me thirstier than before. 
Oujda is a massive place a thousand 
years old on the old caravan route to 
Fez. I was glad to j oin the train there 
for Oran. It was an Algerian train. 
Soon after it pulled out of Oujda I 
entered for the first time in my life 
(and probably the last) the "one man 



dining-car." Accustomed as I was to 
teams of chefs and stewards it came 
almost as a shock. Nevertheless this 
one man, Jacques, proved to me that 
one dedicated craftsman can do as 
much as a corps of careless servants. 
The buffet car had six tables, a counter 
and a kitchen. I noticed a refrigerator, 
oven grill and hotplates and a boiler 
and sink unit in the kitchen. There 
were store cupboards and a wine and 
bottle cabinet and litter bins. On the 
counter I noted a coffee machine and 
glass showcase displaying Algerian 
cakes and pies. I asked Jacques to 
suggest a lunch dish and he pointed to 
a tariff board with a set menu. Wine? 
He brought out a half litre of 
Mascara, which I had thought of 
foolishly as an eyeshade, not an 
Algerian red wine. Jacques opened it 
placed a luscious tray of hors 



d'oeuvre before me and the meal had 
begun. 

Other passengers sauntered in and 
were served with coffee at the 
counter or a savoury mutton stew at 
the tables. Jacques also sold bars of 
chocolate and baskets of fruit. Those 
who ordered beer or aperitifs were 
supplied without delay. Through the 
window I saw Tlemcen appearing on 
its flat hill; an old trading station 
with blossoming orchards between 
the Sahara and the sea; a place of 
enormous olive and pistachio trees. 
By now I had finished my olives and 
tunny fish, anchovies and saucisson. 
Jacques looked out of the corner of 
his eye, put a steak on the griller, 
handed a mother a bottle of milk, 
poured three cordials and a dry 
Vermouth, and set the steak, potatoes 
and a delicious green salad before 



me. He never had a second to spare 
but he always smiled and one knew 
he would make no mistakes. I loved 
his dining car. As a child I liked the 
idea of meals on railway wheels and 
found unusual enjoyment in going 
right through an unexpectedly long 
menu while the panorama of 
countryside passed the window. This 
magic has never faded. I looked out 
upon the Atlas mountains, the white 
domes marking the tombs of saints, 
vine-clad valleys, gorges with water- 
falls. Jacques brought me a superb 
camembert, whipped back into the 
galley, beat up eggs and made 
omelettes for the two critical French 
girls, and played with steam and hot 
water taps, ice and ice-cream with 
expert hands. I saw towns on old 
Roman sites, orange gardens and 
lemon groves. Jacques put down a 



fruit plate and a cool pear full of 
flavour. I had been reading an old 
Baedecker on this country. "Few 
travellers venture inland as they must 
carry tents, drinking water and insect 
powder," Baedecker reported. Those 
days are over. Jacques will look after 
you. He made fresh coffee for me 
and I gave him a tip worthy of his 
supreme skill. 

That afternoon I set eyes on a place 
of youthful dreams, Sidi-Bel-Abbes. 
Not that I ever hankered after a life in 
the French Foreign Legion; but I had 
longed to visit the cradle of the 
Legion, this town built by the Legion 
and held by these desperate men 
against the Arab fanatics. Now here 
was Sidi-Bel-Abbes among its fig 
trees and aloe hedges, the hot after- 
noon redolent with jasmine and the 
African earth. And these thousands of 



men, German and negro, unfrocked 
priest and pickpocket, these ruthless 
soldiers with their secrets? They had 
gone a year before, the last detach- 
ment. They had burned their sacred 
flag and marched out with their 
memories along the great boulevards 
for the last time. Well, I had met them 
in the Western Desert in wartime and 
in peaceful Marseilles. But to have 
seen the exiles on their parade ground 
in Sidi-BelAbbes; that would have 
been a moment. 

What more is there to tell? The train 
passed out of Algeria's granary into a 
wide plain with a salt lake. In the 
evening I came to Oran and my hotel. 
It was the Hotel Terminus, on the 
railway platform. That night after 
dinner I sauntered out and inspected 
the station; another of my customs 
which I have observed without fail 



from Bergen to Buenos Aires. The 
lights were on in a small dining-car. 
Peering through the window I observ- 
ed the untiring Jacques stocking his 
cupboards for another journey. Yes, 
the "one man dining-car" had not gone 
to his welldeserved rest. He was pass- 
ing out empty bottles, taking in 
baskets of fruit and vegetables, filling 
his larder for the run to Oujda next 
day. I remembered my grilled steak 
and Mascara gratefully and saluted 
Jacclues in the darkness. 

Oran is not one of my harbours of 
romance. The setting is impressive, a 
crescent bay with hills rising to fifteen 
hundred feet; a modern city of glass 
and balconies with something Ameri- 
can about the well-planned traffic 
routes, with France in the shops and 
restaurants and with the Arabs 
triumphant. A city of Saharan siroccos 



and winter snows. On the wharves you 
may see everything from almonds to 
the green marrows called zucchinis. 
Also enormous containers of drink- 
able carafe wines. 

The dogs kept me awake every night 
in Oran and so I was not sorry to 
board a little Compagnie Generale 
Transatlantique paquebot called Ville 
d' Alger for Marseilles. It looked as 
though most of the French troops 
were leaving with me. Fine young 
men, most of them, wearing the 
ribbon of a lost campaign. Among 
the soldiers and the other passengers 
were faces typical of almost every 
part of France's former colonies; the 
little Tonkinese, the hulking negroes 
of Martinique, all the Africans, and 
the unhappy pied noirs, white refug- 
ees from Algeria, facing an uncertain 
future in France. 



I had travelled under the tricolour 
before, so that I was not surprised to 
find the bar open at seven in the 
morning serving black coffee and 
beer. Down on the foredeck young 
sergeant-pilots were eating their long 
ham rolls while a party of Moslems 
opened a water-melon. In the 
smoking room the gambling never 
ceased. I recall the officers with row 
upon row of ribbons; children with 
dark faces and red hair; a man with a 
pet chameleon that climbed over his 
cheeks. At lunch that day there was 
an entree called ramequins au 
fromage that blended perfectly with 
the vin rouge superieur. When shall I 
taste such ramequins again? I had a 
cabin with red silk walls decorated 
with girls from the French West 
Indies, a Josephine Baker theme. 
And so I came to Marseilles next day 



with happier expectations than many 
of my fellow passengers on board the 
crowded Ville d' Alger. 




CHAPTER Nineteen 
Gateway To Africa 



This is La Canebiere, main street of 
Marseilles, the oldest street in France. 
La Canebiere, one of the great streets 
of the world and one that has known 
great personalities before and after 
Napoleon. When the exiled President 
Kruger drove up from the harbour this 
street resounded with cries of "Mort 
aux Anglais!" It has heard the bag- 



pipes of kilted regiments with "Zuid 
Afrika" on their shoulder-straps; it has 
echoed to the drums of the Foreign 
Legion. Loud and clear down the years 
comes the anthem that was born here, 
the victorious Marseillaise, the battle 
hymn of France. 

La Canebiere smells mainly of the sea, 
for it leads into the legendary Vieux 
Port, the old harbour. But there is 
usually a touch of saffron and the 
aroma of crushed garlic in the air as 
scores of chefs prepare the local 
bouillabaise, that artful symphony of 
the kitchen; the great Zangouste, crabs 
and oysters, fanged rascasse, fat red 
mullet, eels and mussels; all these and 
other luscious morsels simmering 
with onions and bay leaves in a rich 
gravy of herbs and oil. Marius, the 
typical humorous citizen of Marseil- 
les, knows how to live. Paris is 



perfumed and feminine. Marseilles is 
a man's city, redolent with baked 
snails and roasted chestnuts, 
brioches fresh from the bakers, all 
shot through with the rich and 
satisfying tang of a thousand wine 
casks. In the Canebiere the hot 
breath of Africa comes up to meet 
the softer odours of pines and olive 
groves and the blossoms of the 
terraced Riviera fields. La Canebiere 
is short, barely two-thirds of a mile, 
but wide and handsome; lined with 
tall nineteenth century buildings, 
modem shops, a huge bourse and the 
white cafe awnings with glorious 
names in blue or flaming red. This 
fine lane was once a rope walk where 
the hemp merchants bad their shops; 
and the craftsmen who rigged the old 
Mediterranean sailing ships gave La 
Canebiere its name. They grew the 



hemp and made the rope. Yes, it is 
short, but the street runs out through 
the Vieux Port to Africa and the 
world. 

Marius does not dominate La 
Canebiere. He shares it with blanket- 
ed Arabs and their veiled women, 
Moroccan Jews, yellow Annamites 
in dark blue, Chinese, Tonkinese, 
Malgaches; singing Italians with. 
Accordions and brown children, 
gypsy women in bright garments, 
Malayans and Greeks, negroes from 
Africa and the Americas, other black 
men from Martinique, bereted 
Catalans, boisterous English seamen 
on shore for a spree, Corsicans and 
Levantines, a human kaleidoscope. 
The sing-song Provencal patois rises 
above an unpredictable murmur of 
many tongues. Some of the 
foreigners are at home in Marseilles 



for there are colonies of Italians and 
Greeks, Turks and White Russians 
and even Swiss. La Canebiere also 
provides a horde of international 
quacks and fortune tellers with a 
living. You can find faith-healers and 
phrenologists, the sort of blatant 
swindlers Barnum loved. All. this 
flood of humanity gives La 
Canebiere unusual animation and a 
seat on the terrasse of a cafe 
provides a lot for the price of your 
cafe-filtre or Dubonnet. 

In the Canebiere you may be scorched 
by the sun at one moment and then 
frozen suddenly by the cold blast of 
the mistral, that notorious wind sweep- 
ing down the Rhone valley with the 
force of a hurricane. The mistral is the 
south-easter of Marseilles and Marius 
pretends to be fond of it in his whim- 
sical way. Make no mistake, it is one 



of Europe's accursed winds. Like the 
south-easter it comes out of a clear sky 
and it can knock you down on the 
pavement. It blows for half the year, 
mainly in winter and spring. The name 
is really magistral, the masterly wind 
that strikes Marseilles like the breath 
of an iceberg and churns up the sea to 
white and dark blue. Van Gogh waited 
for the mistral and painted a seascape 
that was a masterpiece. No doubt it 
filled his teeth and eyes with dust as it 
whistled round his canvas but he saw 
the beauty just as the lover of Cape 
Town understands the majesty of the 
roaring black south-easter. People 
blame the mistral for all sorts of queer 
behaviour. It was probably the mistral 
that acted as the trigger factor when 
Van Gogh cut off his ear and entered a 
lunatic asylum. One man shot a taxi- 
driver who had kept him waiting and 



pleaded that the mistral had made him 
nervous. Clearly the Cape southeaster 
is not such a bad wind after all. Yet 
they say in Marseilles: "The sunshine 
and the mistral set everything in 
order." Evidently it is their "Cape 
Doctor". 

Marseilles has been called by a poet a 
triumphant blast of music, light and 
colour, queen of the Mediterranean, 
gateway to Africa and the world. 
Undoubtedly it is rabelaisian and 
bawdy and it has been denounced as 
the great whore of Europe, a sailor's 
honky-tonk harbour, a city of 
souteneurs and harlots, the toughest 
city west of Suez. It began as a 
Phoenician trading station because of 
the natural harbour; and this sixty-acre 
creek served the town well for twenty 
centuries. Roman colonists called the 
place Massalia. Explorers sailed away 



from Massalia to chart the coasts of 
Britain and West Africa. Greek coins 
of the early days are still found in the 
city. Roman relics have also come to 
light for the slum overlooking the old 
harbour was Massalia, and here a 
temple of Diana and Ephesus was 
revealed, Greek statuettes and a 
Greek amphitheatre. 

Caeser besieged Marseilles. Goths 
and Saracens and Normans attacked 
the harbour. When the plague from 
Barbary struck the town in a swelter- 
ing June early in the eighteenth 
century thousands fled, one hundred 
thousand died; and the survivors had 
only herbs to burn as disinfectants. 
Marseilles knew the guillotine. It has 
always been a city of violence, one 
murder a day at some periods; and 
the murderers seem to prefer broad 
daylight. No one was greatly sur- 



prised when King Alexander of 
Jugo-Slavia was assassinated there. 
Newsreel cameramen were ready for 
it, judging by results. All France 
chuckled when a gangster shot a 
rival at a fireworks display; it was so 
delicious, such a typical Marseilles 
crime. Italians and Corsican bandits 
are among the worst criminals. Some 
of the gangsters who emigrated to 
Chicago and flourished there were 
from the Marseilles university of 
crime. Once the organised gangs of 
thugs succeeded in raiding the 
central police station and destroying 
the finger-prints and criminal 
records; they wiped the slate clean 
and embarked on fresh careers. Here, 
too, a gang held up the wife of the 
multi-millionaire Aga Khan with a 
wooden pistol, another episode so 
much in keeping with the Marseilles 



atmosphere that even the judge had 
to laugh. 

Near the Vieux Port, behind the old 
town hall, lay the worst slum in the 
world. It was blown up by the Nazis 
in 1943, not because of the red-light 
district there, but owing to the resist- 
ance movement making good use of 
the underground passages and 
hiding-places of the hideous maze. 
The people were given twenty-four 
hours to leave and the sudden 
decision caused great suffering 
among the innocent poor. About a 
thousand daughters of joy moved 
over to the opera area and remained 
in business. Twentyfour thousand 
other inhabitants went to the concen- 
tration camps. Marseilles was 
heavily shelled by the Germans, but. 
with the end of World War II came 
happier days. Protection racketeers 



have been defeated at last and rival 
gangsters no longer fight it out in the 
shuddering alleyways of the Vieux 
Port labyrinth. The rest of France still 
regards Marius as a dubious character 
supporting backward municipal rulers. 
(The drains are not beyond reproach.) 
At best, Marius is looked upon as a 
blageur, a voluble clown with an 
unprintable record of eccentricity. He 
goes about his affairs with lazy 
nonchalance, frivolous and disreput- 
able. 

Marius does not care. If the climate 
had been hotter, Marseilles might have 
become a lazy Naples. As things are 
Marius saunters out and does good 
business. Marseilles is handsome and 
prosperous. Twenty thousand ships are 
loaded and unloaded every year in the 
way shipowners admire, and two 
million passengers land or embark 



there. "Our city shines resplendent in 
its great affairs," runs the civic motto. 
Marseilles still has its drug traffickers, 
its scandals; but the wickedness is 
only an inevitable part of the pulsating 
seaport. A strange, raffish vitality rises 
above the long record of villainy, 
devastating fires and other disasters. 



After viewing the Marseilles kaleido- 
scope of life you may find it restful to 
visit the Musee des Beaux Arts in the 
Palais Longchamp. The guide books 
which are inclined to sneer at 
Marseilles should pay more attention 
to this gallery, one of the richest in 
France. Here are tapestries and 
furniture, paintings by Corot and 
Millet and enormous murals by Pierre 
Puget, greatest of the Provencal artists. 
In the natural history museum next 
door I set eyes on the last wolf shot in 



the Pyrenees, a valuable addition to 
my mental collection of rarities. 

Every thoroughfare in Marseilles 
seems to make for the harbour. You 
realise this to the full when you drive 
up the steep hill to that great landmark 
for seamen, Notre Dame de la Garde. 
This none too lovely cathedral stands 
poised over the city with its huge 
gilded statue of the Virgin on the tall 
belfry. The city at your feet is a 
jumble, a haphazard network, but it 
has a purpose - the descent from the 
hills to the life-blood of the sea. From 
here you will see the soft cream and 
grey houses rising in terraces from the 
old harbour; the packed streets and 
flights of steps; the villas and gardens 
of the rich on pine-clad Roncas Blane 
hill; avenues lined with sycamores; the 
vegetable gardens of the ordinary 
Marius and his wife (or girl friend) 



Olive, beyond the city limits. Away to 
the east runs the Corniche road that 
has carried the beat of history. Cutting 
into La Canebiere is the Cours 
Belsunce, with its plane trees like 
umbrellas, a true street of the Midi; 
and the Prado, that beautiful avenue 
leading to the seafront and the bathing 
cabins. You may pick out the Rue 
Saint-Ferreol, a street of luxurious 
shops and the more expensive pastry- 
cooks; from here, too, you will see the 
remnant of the Vieux Port slum which 
escaped destruction, the cobbled, 
squalid passageways between the dark 
and ancient houses. 

Marseilles is a city of strange names. 
Translate the street names and you 
taste the flavour of Marseilles; the 
Boulevard of the Black Sausage 
Maker, Street of the Rolling Stone, 
Octopus Lane, Champagne Avenue, 



Street of the Green Carpet, King of 
Spades Street, Question Mark Avenue. 
There is also a Rue Paradis where they 
point out the former Gestapo 
headquarters. 

Observe the motor-launches called 
vedettes loaded with trippers and 
making for the white limestone islands 
outside the harbour. "Departs Accele- 
res! Retours Assures." That is just as 
well, for who would desire to remain 
on the Chateau dTf, that fort and 
prison with its legends of the Count of 
Monte Cristo and the "man in the iron 
mask." Far away to the west lies the 
Camargue, the glistening salt flats 
alive with flamingoes. Closer in the 
west are the eight great modern basins 
of the Marseilles docks where the raw 
materials of commerce drop on to the 
long wharves; palm oil from West 
Africa, phosphates from Morocco, 



copra from the Pacific isles. France 
cannot slake her great thirst for wine 
from her own vineyards, so here are 
casks of drinkable Algerian vin 
ordinaire. Wheat and rice, fats, tallow 
and zinc, the spices of the Orient, 
swing up from the holds of the 
freighters of many nations. Guide 
books tell you with great candour that 
there are no sights in Marseilles. If 
you travel only in search of antiquities 
and architecture, if you follow only in 
the footsteps of the great, then the 
guide books are almost right. Mery, 
the Marseilles poet, declared: "There 
are only two monuments here, but they 
are magnificent; the sea and the sky." 
Marseilles is my favourite harbour in 
Europe. For me, a great part of its 
charm lies along the waterfront; but I 
have also found great satisfaction in 
the little, unexpected squares with 



their markets and plane trees and old- 
fashioned tradesmen at work. London 
has been described as a collection of 
villages. Marseilles is also a group of 
little towns, full of contrasts. Women 
come to the fountain and fill their 
pitchers. Washerwomen toil over the 
old stone troughs while a basketmaker 
follows the trade of his grandfather. 
Each little corner has its own church, 
its own herd of goats, worn flights of 
steps and cul-de-sacs, restaurants with 
glimpses of turning spits and burnish- 
ed copper pans, kitchens sending out 
the promise of a Greek pilaff or a leg 
of lamb over a charcoal fire. 
Marseilles is cosmopolitan but in some 
of these little squares you step into a 
true village of Provence. You find 
Picasso in these places; the mimosa, 
the tiles, the glazed pottery, the 
plastered walls, the very scenes he 



loved to paint. I was entranced by the 
market square called Place de Lenche 
above the quarter destroyed during the 
war. Old women are selling cherries 
and flowers. "Volailles !" cry the 
market women. "Gibiers!" They offer 
small plucked thrushes wrapped in 
vine leaves; bewitching charcuterie 
and pates, terrines and the irresistible 
pissaladeira, that dish of onions 
stewed in oil and spread on baked 
bread with anchovies and black olives 
to enliven the meal. If these sights 
make you hungry, look for a "hole in 
the wall" bistro with marble-topped 
tables and a zinc bar. The longer you 
hold out the more demanding becomes 
the appetite. Where else do the purple 
aubergines look so enthralling? How 
marvellous the fresh and tender mush- 
rooms appear on their beds of oak 
leaves. You can imagine clipping those 



purple-tinted stalks of asparagus into 
melted butter or pouring the cream 
over the wild strawberries. Notice the 
musky scent of that melon, the sweet 
promise of the peaches, the heady, 
juicy aromas of massed grapes. Here 
are vivid mountains of scrubbed 
vegetables and cheeses that the 
expert could identify blindfolded. 
The solid walls of meat and poultry 
are not so appetising; they await the 
magic of the chef, the rich brown 
transformation scene. But the hams 
and sausages are worth studying. 
Artichokes form a tasteful monument 
in green and bronze. Just think of 
slicing into those russet pears, ready 
to yield the very essence of the 
orchard. This is more inspiring than 
a jeweller's window for you can 
afford these gems of the French 
countryside. Golden plums, scarlet 



tomatoes and yellow lemons all lie 
blazing under the sun. The time has 
come to taste some of the special 
flavours of Marseilles. 

Marius would probably select the 
local pastis as an appetiser, a fairly 
strong drink of the absinthe family 
tasting of licorice. Among his favou- 
rite wines is the greenish-white that 
comes from Cassis and goes so well 
with a bouillabaise lunch. At night 
he may choose the Marseilles "pick- 
me-up" of champagne, curacao, 
bitters and cognac. He may start with 
grilled loup flavoured with fennel 
and ablaze with brandy. His meat 
course may be anything from an 
Algerian cous-cous to a superb beef 
stew Maconnaise that will set his 
heart soaring. Of course there are 
few tastes which cannot be satisfied 
in Marseilles. I do not say that the 



Rosbif is a Simpson's; but the Buffet 
Gastronomique will give you some 
of the finest ratatouille served on 
this coast, that masterpiece of stewed 
egg plant; the Taverne Charley puts 
on a local fish dish, Morne a la 
Marsellaise, cod with tomatoes, 
olives, onions and mushrooms; and 
all the North African dishes are on 
the menu at the Minaret. 

Restaurants in Marseilles are not all 
temples of gastronomy but thanks to 
the jolly women at the reception desk 
in my Canebiere hotel I never made a 
mistake. I had the basil-flavoured 
soup called pistou and the celebrated 
fillet of beef at Guido, a splendid 
two-star restaurant close to the old 
harbour; and I lunched often at the 
inexpensive Monumental in the 
Boulevard Dugommier, a place 
where the snails and omelettes, grilled 



sardines and hare were better than the 
bifteck pommes frites and the cote de 
pore. Of course I went to Basso's for 
evening drinks; to miss Basso's would 
be like cutting out the Cafe de la Paix 
in Paris. Sit on the balcony at Basso's 
and the life of Marseilles passes like a 
river of colour and sound. Here is all 
the unfading romance of the great 
human parade. If you care to spend the 
money, order something extravagant, 
caviar or smoked salmon canapes or 
oysters and a halfbottle of Cordon 
Rouge. Then the golden age of the 
Cote d'Azur will return, stretching out 
all the way from Marseilles to Menton 
with its brilliant panorama of memo- 
ries. 

Basso's provides an exquisite vista of 
the Vieux Port, the life of the quays, 
the small craft in the teeming basin. 
Up to the middle of last century this 



landlocked harbour was the very heart 
of Marseilles and ships of all types 
steered in between the stone forts of 
St. Jean and St. Nicolas to moor at 
these quays. Cotton-laden schooners 
from Dixie would land their cargoes 
alongside rum casks from the West 
Indies, mahogany and rubber, dates 
and pineapples, cork and sulphur and 
sandalwood. Now it is a safe anchor- 
age for yachts, fishing-boats and small 
vessels. 

Ocean liners, the packet boats from 
Algiers and Oran, the tankers and 
large freighters go to the Bassin de la 
Grande Joliette and the other docks 
stretching along the coast for many 
miles. Yet the Vieux Port has lost 
none of its old fascination. All 
harbours are picturesque but the Vieux 
Port still has its fair share of rowdy 
life and dazzling colour. Here the 



odours are fried fish and tar. I watched 
a boisterous crew of bare-footed 
sailormen scraping the weed from an 
old schooner that must have known a 
disreputable past. In the grounds of the 
seamen's mission I was enthralled by 
a collection of tropical plants brought 
there by French seamen from many a 
sweltering coast and glamorous isle. 

When I first went to Marseilles the old 
harbour was spanned and overshadow- 
ed by the steel towers of a high bridge 
and ugly transporteur. Now all that 
has gone, and it is Le Corbusier's 
block of flats that people talk about, 
all balconies and windows. Long ago I 
saw the feluccas coming in with 
cargoes of Spanish oranges, but the 
lateen sails of those old traders have 
given way to modern spars, brown and 
white canvas against the calm blue 
water. If you wish to see and savour 



the fruits de mer at their best then this 
waterfront is the place, the Quai des 
Beiges. Eels squirm hopelessly in 
buckets of sea water. Gurnets open 
their supplicating mouths and weird 
fish are set out in formidable array; 
everything edible from prickly sea- 
urchins to lampreys, with sea horses 
and pipe-fish thrown in. This is the 
short, city end of the old harbour, and 
it holds enough of the raw bouilla- 
baise material for the whole fish- 
loving city. You will not fail to 
observe the happy, uninhibited and 
often attractive girls who meet the 
boats and sell the fish. And the 
seagulls riding the mistral. 

Fort St. Jean, guarding the old har- 
bour, was filled with the drama of the 
Foreign Legion when I first entered 
that sombre building. Five years had 
passed since the end of World War I 



and the French were fighting their 
Saharan campaigns with the aid of 
these brutal mercenaries, these thieves 
and vagabonds interested only in war, 
wine and women. Fort St. Jean was the 
depot and the recruits I saw there, 
shabby and hungry, were certainly not 
soldiers. No doubt the Legion trans- 
formed them, robbed them of their 
own wretched personalities and made 
them members of a front line army; 
made them or broke them. Two 
decades later, as I have said, I met the 
Legion in the Western Desert; another 
two decades passed, and I saw their 
old headquarters at Sidi-Bel-Abbes in 
Algeria. I thought the Legion had been 
disbanded; but no, at Fort St. Jean I 
came upon them again. Some of the 
old glory had departed but the Legion 
still marched to fife and drum and the 
song "Anne-Marie." 



Frederick Mistral, the poet of 
Provence, drew much inspiration from 
Marseilles. Charles Dickens found the 
opening of his "Little Dorrit" here: 
"Marseilles lay burning in the sun." 
Here, in the eighteen-seventies came a 
young seaman from Poland, young 
Joseph Conrad, speaking French but 
not English. Along the roaring 
waterfront of the old harbour this 
strange genius met some of those 
characters who appear in his books. 
Nostromo was a Corsican seafarer 
Conrad knew. From the old harbour 
Conrad sailed to the West Indies 
before the mast; at one of the Vieux 
Port quays he helped to fit out a 
sailing vessel for gun-running to 
Spain. Here he met Paula, the exiled 
Hungarian girl seeking a new home. 
When he left Marseilles for England 
he was still speaking French with a 



Provencal accent; this master 
mariner who became a master of the 
English language. 

Last time I left Marseilles it was by a 
train called Violet. Summer was 
ending in Europe and though the city 
was no longer burning under the sun 
I felt that it was better here in the 
south than in the chill and rain of 
Paris and London. That morning I 
had taken my coffee and croissant in 
La Canebiere as usual and watched 
the bright-eyed flower women 
arranging their roses and carnations 
in the kiosks. It was a moment of 
sadness for I was sorry to be leaving. 
In the sparkling air the waiters were 
setting out wicker chairs and 
polishing cups and glasses. Unhur- 
ried men were reading the 
Meridional or Provencal while the 
poor blind people wandered along 



with their sheets of Loterie 
Nationale tickets. At the far end of 
the street I glimpsed the sea-glitter, 
the crowded masts and spars of a 
hundred white yachts and brightly 
painted fishing cutters. 

How much better it would be, I 
thought, to be arriving at Marseilles 
now after a night in a sleeping-car 
from Paris. I remembered hauling 
out from under the glass roof of the 
Gare de Lyons at night and listening 
to the clicking of the rails, the 
rumble of the tunnels, as I lay snugly 
between sheets in the darkness. Once 
I raised the blind and saw a town 
winking in the darkness, the fields 
under the moon, the endless rows of 
poplar trees. In the morning there 
were the white homesteads of the 
Rhone valley and a burst of colour, 
Avignon; and then the wild country 



of the Mediterranean coast, the grey 
and white mountains, gay little villas 
with pink-tiled roofs, the suburbs of 
Marseilles. Then I knew that I had 
done the right thing. The arrival was 
even finer than the anticipation. 

And now I was bound northwards 
again, leaving by the back door, 
leaving the riffraff of the harbour, the 
apache cafes, the oriental vision of 
Marseilles, the perfume and song, the 
giant langoustes in their baskets of 
seaweed, the shorn poodles and naked 
sand terriers from Algeria. I was 
leaving this strong and redolent 
bouillabaise city, leaving the happy 
Mediterranean for another year. Ah 
well, perhaps I could manage another 
visit another year. The last I saw of 
Marseilles before the train called 
Violet left St. Charles Station was the 
gleam of Notre Dame de la Garde 



flashing in the sun. I could almost 
smell the maquis, the fragrant bush 
that grows on the slope where the 
cathedral watches over strident 
Marseilles and the quiet sea. 



Chapter Twenty 
London's Dockland 



All the aromas and odours and 
flavours, all the cargoes you have 
known in all your harbours of memory 
can be recaptured in London's 
Dockland. Here on the wharves and in 
the warehouses beside the largest 
sheets of dock water in the world you 
may discover reminders of every port 
on the face of the globe. This is not 
London, this is the earth. I walked 
there often during a difficult period of 
my life; a time when I learnt that the 
claustrophobia of my lodgings could 
be cured by a glimpse of wider 
horizons. Most of you approach 
London nowadays in aircraft flying 
high above the Thames so that you see 
the enormous docks as tiny oblong 
ponds. Or you may come up South- 
ampton Water and reach London 



through the green Hampshire fields 
and finally enter a frightening 
panorama of chimney-pots and dark- 
ened masonry. Or there is the Straits 
of Dover entrance, smoked salmon 
sandwiches and gin and tonic on the 
Golden Arrow; the hops and oast- 
houses of Kent on the way to Victoria 
station. Or there is Tilbury, twenty 
miles down the Thames from the 
Tower of London; that odd, frustrating 
point of entry when your liner often 
has to wait for hours until the landing 
stage is clear. Tilbury has been 
described as "England's backdoor" 
and nobody likes disembarking there. 
It is the sea outpost of the Port of 
London Authority, a flat and desolate 
spot in the marshes of the Thames 
estuary. Tilbury is all that many 
travellers see of London's Dockland. 



Long ago the little Donald Currie 
ships took their South African 
passengers right up the river and into 
London Docks. They were tiny, 
beautiful liners of twelve .hundred 
tons: the first Stirling Castle, the first 
Warwick Castle, the first Roslin 
Castle. Shipping men called this 
service the London Line to distinguish 
it from the Union Line sailing from 
Southampton. But that was a century 
ago. Of course the Union-Castle 
intermediates were sailing out of 
London in fairly recent years. Back in 
the nineteen-twenties, when a six- 
thousand ton ship was large and one 
twice that size was an ocean monarch, 
the intermediates were among the 
largest vessels to enter the Blackwall 
Basin in the Isle of Dogs. 

Do you know the Isle of Dogs? 
London's waterfronts are full of 



strange and captivating names and 
memorable landmarks. Start the cruise 
round dockland as many do at Tower 
Pier in the shadow of the Tower of 
London. Here is the Pool of London. 
Touch first at Billingsgate Market, 
where the battered fishcarriers from 
the Dogger Bank, sloops from 
Friesland, oyster-boats, eel schuits and 
bawleys discharge their varied 
cargoes. Strong odours here, fresh 
enough at six in the morning. The 
same odours that Londoners have 
known at this very spot for many 
centuries. Odours of crab and shellfish 
mingle with turbot, soles and 
flounders. Hundreds of fish-porters 
carry trays on their strong hats of 
wood and leather. Steam comes from 
the room where lobsters are boiled. 
"Handsome cod! Best on the market." 
You will never be bored at 



Billingsgate but keep clear of the 
fluent and uninhibited porters. In that 
enormous warehouse you may see 
anything from a herring to a turtle. Go 
early though, for it is all over at nine 
or ten in the morning. "Had-had-had- 
had-haddock!" 

Most interesting of all the Port of 
London Authority warehouses, I 
should say, is the enormous Cutler 
Street store in the heart of the City. If 
you enjoy gazing upon luxuries this is 
the place. Persian carpets, made to last 
for centuries, are guarded under this 
roof; Satsuma porcelain from Japan 
and Chinese blue and white; Havana 
and Jamaica cigars by the million; 
tragacanth and gums for pharmacists; 
the resin called dragon's blood, 
cochineal and ambergris. Cutler Street 
can show you figures in carved ivory 
and lacquer cabinets. Here is vanilloes, 



the orchid that grows in Mauritius, the 
only orchid with a commercial value, 
for it provides the flavour of vanilla. 
Such lovely oriental items as Persian 
coffee-pots have been stored in Cutler 
Street since the days of the English 
East India Company, for this was their 
great warehouse. Vintage wines are 
kept here in bins. On some days ten 
thousand bottles are filled with sherry 
from the casks. 

St. Katharine's is the first of London's 
docks; the greatest docks in the world, 
stretching from the Pool along the 
Thames reaches to Tilbury. British 
coasters and small continental 
steamers come to rest in the cosy St. 
Katharine's basins. In the warehouses 
you will find rare and romantic 
merchandise from much further afield. 
There I saw mammoth tusks from 
Siberia, brittle tusks dug up after 



thousands of years in the frozen soil of 
Siberia; the enormous curved tusks 
known in the trade as fossil ivory. 
They formed a strong contrast with the 
scrivelloes from Dar-es-Salaam on the 
same floor. Then I walked up to the 
spice floor, redolent with cinnamon 
and nutmegs, cloves and cassia. Here 
were expensive perfumes, too, extracts 
of flowers mixed with fat. But the 
heady aromas that filled me with a 
strange blend of nostalgia and 
satisfaction came to me in the old wine 
and brandy vaults. Among the 
puncheons and rotund hogsheads I 
drew in the breath of distant vineyards 
and imagined myself in Constantia 
again. They told me the water I saw in 
low troughs was for the rats. "They 
must have a daily water ration or 
they'll gnaw into the casks", said one 
of my guides. I also heard that 



cockroaches love champagne corks; 
hence the heavy protective foil. 
"Cockroaches will tackle a sailor's 
feet as he lies in his bunk", added my 
informant. "Only when he's drunk, of 
course." You can see pools of 
quicksilver at St. Katharine's, coffee 
and cocoa, wool and rubber and 
tortoiseshell. Bags of ginger from 
Calcutta arrive here; star aniseed and 
musk. Bales and cases bear the 
bewildering weights and measures of 
foreign countries: Turkish pikes, 
Swedish kappars, Danish toenders and 
Spanish varras. With the choking 
London fog outside you may dwell for 
a space among the riches of the tropics 
and the trade goods from Arctic lands. 

Cross the river to Surrey Commercial 
Docks and you smell at once the fir, 
spruce and pine from Canada (and 
possibly that country's cheese and 



bacon); softwoods from the Baltic 
floating in acres of timber ponds. This 
is the oldest of London's docks and 
the only group to the south of the 
river. Lady Dock was well filled with 
windjammers when I first roamed 
there. Among the taverns was one 
called "Cape of Good Hope". 

Return to the north bank and follow 
the great bend where the Thames 
flows round the crowded peninsula I 
have mentioned, the Isle of Dogs. 
(Some say the royal kennels were once 
placed there but no one really knows.) 
Limehouse Reach, Greenwich Reach 
and Blackwall Reach are the 
waterways that lap the "isle". Lime- 
house retains some of its old-fashioned 
houses with bow-windows, flower- 
boxes on overhanging balconies, 
gabled buildings, alleys that once were 
lined with sail-lofts and rigging-lofts. 



When I first knew Limehouse there 
were opium dens, too, and the 
jibbooms of sailing ships rose over the 
dockyard walls and pointed into the 
windows opposite; but that Limehouse 
has vanished and so have the lime- 
kilns. In the West India Docks of that 
neighbourhood you are in a world of 
hardwoods from African forests, teak 
from the East; grain and nitrates; 
drums of figs and dates in mat baskets; 
a vivid world where rum comes on 
shore at Rum Quay. 

When I returned to London year after 
year with seldom a break I return to a 
starting point. There it is possible to 
revive one's youth. I can see horse- 
buses and vanished fleets. In the docks 
I stare at the ships of today and find 
the ships and cargoes of yesterday 
moving back across the screen of 
memory. Those dockland scenes and 



aromas recall almost every harbour I 
have entered during my wandering 
years; a disorderly kaleidoscope of 
impressions from attics of the brain 
which seemed to have been locked for 
ever. 

It was a case of glassware bearing the 
name of Murano that brought Venice 
before my eyes again. That is not a 
city one forgets, of course, for it is 
different from any other harbour just 
as its gondolas are different from any 
other harbour craft. Venice, the serene 
beauty of the lagoon, the old city 
gradually sinking into the water; these 
are as memorable as the cries of the 
gondoliers. "Oleo! Hey! Hey!" But it 
is a quiet city. You can hear the water 
licking the houses and some say they 
do not like the smell of the canals. I 
am ready to overlook that slight aroma 
because of the absence of car hooters 



and the shriek of wheeled traffic. Look 
into a piece of Murano glass and you 
may glimpse again the glories of those 
low, enchanted islands. And you may 
hear again the calls of the gondoliers: 
"De longo I Premi I Scia I " 

Now here is a mahogany log with an 
iron ring driven into one end. "Heave 
up there!" I can see the coast of West 
Africa as twelve tons of timber move 
into mid-air. West Africa from the 
lagoons of Grand Bassam to the 
thirteen thousand feet peak of Mount 
Cameroon. French exiles designed 
buildings that might have been trans- 
planted from Normandy. On the slopes 
of Cameroon the Germans built a 
Gouverneurshaus like a schloss, an 
African castle of stone with the year 
1899 on the massive iron gateway. But 
my favourite castles are those 
strongholds built along the Gold Coast 



by white adventurers long ago; those 
white castles with ramparts and black 
cannon, so full of ghosts. 

I am on the wharf beside a Bullard 
King steamer and there comes on the 
wind a whiff of turmeric. This is the 
borrie of Cape kitchens but for some 
elusive reason it reminds me of the 
red-hot radiator called Aden; a night in 
a spice shop down an alley in the 
harbour town known as Steamer Point. 
The old town, the real Aden, is miles 
away inside the volcanic crater. They 
told me the torture would be more 
severe when the south-west monsoon 
died down. White people lived above 
their stores and offices at Steamer 
Point and had their meals on wide 
balconies in those days before air- 
conditioning. I sat on a verandah under 
the punkah and watched the dusty 
camel caravans arriving from the 



desert. The aroma of turmeric was lost 
now in the less pleasing odour of dried 
fish from a bullock cart. Dinner that 
night was better than I had expected. 
Over charcoal fires the Goanese 
cooks had done boiled fish, kebabs, 
chicken patties, roast mutton, stuffed 
tomatoes and a cheese souffle. The 
hotel manager told me that I could 
have a bath in condensed sea-water; 
the rainfall at Aden was one-fifth of 
an inch a year. A queer settlement, 
this Steamer Point; the statue of 
Queen Victoria and all the Victorian 
buildings in the Crescent were built 
at the same time when this rocky, 
undesirable harbour suddenly 
became an important coaling station. 
After dinner the hotel porter invited 
me to visit the mermaids and assured 
me they were genuine. Well, they 
were genuine dugongs, those ugly 



sea creatures with mammalian 
breasts. Aden sends dugongs to the 
museums of the world. Visitors tired 
long ago of stuffed dugongs present- 
ed as mermaids so the ingenious 
Arabs now display live girls with 
mermaid tails; good swimmers with 
slim figures. I shall not return to 
Aden for that performance. The 
brilliant yellow powder called 
turmeric has given me all of Aden 
that I wish to see. 

In the Pool of London, flying the flag 
of Western Germany, there is a 
coaster from a port as old as London. 
She is a Hamburg ship with beer and 
cigars in her holds. Hamburg, that 
ancient harbour which I saw between 
the wars and also after the war that 
shattered so much of the city. Many 
old buildings round the Binnen 
Alster had escaped, gabled houses 



where the shipowners and merchant 
princes of Hamburg lived, the men 
who traded with the world. I found 
that the burgerlich comfort of other 
days had been restored. In the 
restaurants of the glittering Jungfern- 
steig they were serving the tradi- 
tional eel soup blended with pears 
and red wine, peas and bay leaves 
and dumplings. The old Alster still 
gleamed like an enormous diamond 
in the heart of the city. Hamburg's 
network of canals and basins were 
still there. And along the Reeper- 
bahn, of course, the licentious caba- 
rets were in full swing and the 
seamen of all nations were frolicking 
with the wilde tauben, the girls of the 
quarter. 

Oranges are coming out of a small 
French steamer, oranges for London's 
barrow-boys, oranges with Beirut 



markings. Somewhere I found Beirut 
described as a voluptuous courtesan, 
standing beside the Mediterranean 
with a toss of her curls and a flounce 
of her skirts, a Carmen among the 
cities. I was at Beirut in wartime and 
the tiny aerodrome interested me far 
more than the harbour. Would my 
pilot land successfully? The aero- 
drome sloped towards the sea and I 
thought my chances of escaping from 
the observer's seat in the nose would 
be very poor indeed if he crashed in 
the water. Under such conditions one 
cannot bother about courtesans. 
However, there were days when I was 
able to look down on Beirut from 
another angle. I drove up the mountain 
road that leads to Damascus, the 
breathless road to the heights. Up past 
market gardens, past groves of 
oranges, past Bedouin shepherds and 



fires of camel-dung, past barleyfields, 
up towards the cool crests of the 
Lebanon while the cruisers in Beirut 
bay dwindled. Then I gazed upon a 
different Beirut, the low-roofed, red- 
tiled houses, the banana groves, the 
multi-coloured blossoms, the forts 
built by the Arabs against the 
Crusaders, the curves of the bay. 
Beirut may be a courtesan but I 
remember the oranges. 

Once I watched an Italian freighter 
from Naples discharging her cargo of 
wine and olives, cotton and hemp in 
St. Katharine's Dock. I reached Naples 
by the new Autostrada del Sol from 
Rome, the highway that follows the 
ancient Via Casilina through the 
plains. I was saddened in Naples by 
the Scugnizzi, the thousands of 
homeless boys and girls, orphans or 
illegitimate children. They sleep in 



caves and exist like abandoned 
animals, stealing food in the markets 
and fields. Thousands of them, proba- 
bly more than forty thousand. And 
dirty, poverty-stricken Naples has 
never solved the problem. Capri came 
as a relief. I saw passengers carried on 
shore from the aerofoil at Marina 
Grande; seasick passengers laid out on 
the stone wharf to recover. This was a 
side of the Capri picture I had not 
imagined. I must also warn you that 
the Blue Grotto may become an ordeal 
in rough weather. You go in through a 
short tunnel, lying flat and cramped 
in your boat. I would not like to be 
trapped in that sea-cave with the 
waves beating against the tiny 
entrance. But you can forget such 
hardships when you walk through the 
high lanes of Capri and smell the 
flowers. No wonder so many foreign- 



ers of vastly different temperaments 
have settled on Capri and found it 
the most satisfying isle on earth. 

So now you will understand why I 
always go back to the East End of 
London and the docks. The land- 
scape altered during the war but 
famous landmarks remain. I know 
the stairs and the piers. Cherry 
Garden Pier, Golden Anchor Stairs, 
Wapping Old Stairs and the sinister 
Execution Dock. I smell whale oil 
and Stockholm tar. Near the Ratcliff 
Highway I saunter unmolested along 
Tiger Bay, feared by old-time 
sailormen because of the human 
tigers lurking there. In the docks 
called "the Royals", those enormous 
docks at Woolwich named after 
Victoria. Albert and George V, I 
renew acquaintance with ocean liners 



I have seen before in many far 
harbours. 

One great spectacle I never tired of 
watching long ago was the fleet of 
Thames barges, the sailing barges. 
No longer are their huge red-brown 
mainsails seen in Bugsby's Reach 
and Gallions Reach though the fiery 
language used by their skippers has 
not become a forgotten tongue. Old 
prints, some made in the eighteenth- 
century, reveal barges almost identi- 
cal in design with those I used to 
watch in the nineteen-twenties and 
long afterwards. One that was 
pointed out to me, the Favorite, 
owned by a cement firm, had been 
launched in the very early years of 
last century; she was still trading 
along the coast of England as far as 
Newcastle-on-Tyne. Thames barges 
were not fair weather craft. Barges 



have crossed the Atlantic under sail. 
Two barges sailed unescorted from 
Britain to Table Bay before World 
War I, loaded with Swedish bricks 
used in building the present port 
office. Seagoing barges left the Pool 
building London for the North Sea 
and Channel ports and rode out 
storms with decks awash. I admired 
the way their skippers handled them 
in the thronged Thames reaches. You 
might not think a barge was a handy 
craft with her towering mast, hull 
length of eighty feet, flat bottom and 
leeboards. Yet each barge was handled 
by one man and a boy, often the 
skipper and his son. Fore-and-aft rig 
was a help. The mainmast was stepped 
well for'ard and a long diagonal spar 
called the sprit ran up to the peak of 
the boomless mainsail. This design 
allowed the mainsail to be brailed up 



in a trice, a great advantage when 
tacking in and out of the shipping. 
Skippers knew the river intimately, of 
course, the tide in midstream, the slack 
water inshore; they showed tremen- 
dous skill in taking in sail and losing 
way at the right moment. They carried 
enormous loads and often the helms- 
man might be seen perched on a bale 
of hay with the rudder far below him. 
Leeboards steadied a barge. Some 
carried two hundred tons of cargo. In a 
race a Thames barge reached a top 
speed of fourteen knots. Early this 
century there were two thousand 
barges trading on the Thames; when 
World War II opened there were still 
six hundred; now there are just a few 
good specimens preserved as museum 
pieces or owned by yachtsmen who 
know their fine points and how to 
handle them. 



Walk out of the West India Dock and 
there at the gates is a public house 
known to generations of seafaring 
men. This is not one of London's 
historic waterfront inns like the 
Prospect of Whitby or the Grapes. It is 
a late nineteenth-century pub with 
atmosphere, the famous Charlie 
Brown's. Officially it is the Railway 
Tavern but although Charlie Brown 
died nearly forty years ago the pub is 
still known by the name of this strong 
and memorable personality. 

Charlie Brown took over the pub early 
this century after an unhappy spell at 
sea. Many seamen will assure you that 
it is better to be guv'nor of a pub than 
master of a ship. Charlie Brown liked 
seafarers but not seafaring, and 
seafarers liked him. It became the 
custom to bring something home for 
Charlie Brown's pub; anything from a 



whangee walking stick from Japan to a 
stuffed sunfish. As the years passed 
Charlie Brown's pub became a 
museum; the sort of museum that 
made scientists wince. Not only were 
there genuine snakes and other 
animals in bottles; the uncritical, 
triumphant seamen also carried to 
Charlie Brown all manner of 
monstrosities and fakes. Mermaids 
arrived to adorn walls already 
festooned with opium pipes and 
Chinese gods. The drums of Africa 
hung beside Red Indian tomahawks. 
Here, too, was the gay heraldry of 
the sea; all the house flags from Blue 
Funnel to Clan, the national flags of 
Swenskers and Greeks, the ensign of 
the "curry and rice navy" and the 
Cunard "monkey and the nut". 

Charlie Brown served many exotic 
items besides the ordinary English 



pub fare in his dining-room upstairs. 
This room has a curved wooden roof 
designed to fit the arch of the railway 
bridge overhead. Some customers 
stuck to the familiar "cut off the 
joint, cab, pots." Others would order 
such deep sea delicacies as slum- 
gullion or "cheesy-hammy-eggy- 
topside". In the bar Charlie Brown 
was equally versatile and he claimed 
that he could produce any sort of 
drink from a "Bombay oyster" to 
"Nelson's blood". A short and 
powerful man was Charlie Brown. 
He was generous and so trustworthy 
that seamen who suspected that 
tigers were stalking them gave him 
their pay to put in his safe. Charlie 
Brown rode round Poplar on a white 
horse in the days before life became 
difficult for East End horsemen. He 
was a man of good taste, preferring 



Ming vases, Dresden china, ivory 
and bronze to the phantasmagoria in 
the bar. However, he did not wish to 
offend his customers and so he 
accepted each new bottled horror 
with exclamations of delight. He 
kept his own collection in a private 
sitting-room. 

In the days of Charlie Brown the 
tavern was known as "the friendliest 
pub in London". You might have met 
film stars there; Douglas Fairbanks 
and Mary Pickford were both won 
over by the atmosphere. But always 
there were the seamen and their 
lively Cockney girl friends. They 
danced to an automatic piano but 
when I put in there not long ago a 
juke-box had been provided and 
there was a sprinkling of sightseers 
from the West End. It was a little more 
sedate, perhaps, in the sense that the 



guv'nor and his tough assistants did 
not have to leap over the bar to deal 
with knives or fists. But the seafarers 
still greatly outnumbered the other 
visitors. Marine engineers still 
demanded their "wee drappies". The 
conversation ranged from the judies of 
San Francisco to the rats of Rangoon. 
Men were still coming in from the sea 
rich with their memories to find 
inspiration in brown ale. 

Beyond the lights and music of 
Charlie Brown's lie the exciting 
suburbs of Limehouse and Poplar. 
Many seamen never get further than 
Charlie Brown's; but on a memorable 
Saturday night about forty years ago I 
left that seductive pub in company 
with the three mates of the S.S. 
Roumelian and rolled up into Poplar 
High Street. Seven beers were about 
my limit in those days and at Charlie's 



I had taken all seven. Here I should 
explain that I had joined the 
Roumelian expecting to sail that day 
for South Africa. However, the little 
Roumelian had been delayed and here 
I was with this one last rapturous night 
to spend in London's Dockland. 

Poplar had lost its poplar trees but it 
had a blue-clad Chinese colony near 
Charlie Brown's and in those days the 
men wore pigtails. It was a fine night. 
Women stood drinking on the pave- 
ments and sometimes they tore at each 
other's hair. The streets were noisy 
rivers of humanity lined with food 
stalls and the flaring braziers of 
chestnut sellers. Pig-trotters and 
whelks might be more in evidence 
here than the elegant refreshments 
offered in the West End; but after 
seven beers this was life. I remember a 
man selling eiderdowns at a street 



market. "Eiderdowns!" he shouted. "If 
ye don't buy one may yeer bed fall in 
and may ye drown in the po under it." 
Cheerful, vulgar songs drifted out of 
the pubs, cut through sometimes by 
harsh police whistles and the sound of 
heavy boots. I saw the muffin man and 
heard his bell. I could have bought a 
blackbird or a linnet in a cage. In a 
Limehouse street a monkey dressed as 
a sailor was dancing to the merry 
jangle of a barrel-organ. No top hats or 
evening-dress here. This was the land 
of corduroy trousers, fringed shawls 
of the coster women, Arabs, negroes, 
Finns and lascars. Baskets of flowers 
were to be seen but the aroma of fish 
and chips was more noticeable and 
the strong reek of horseflesh was still 
abroad in the land. Oh, it was untidy, 
there were dark courtyards that made 
me shudder and besides the scents of 



oranges there were warm bodies and 
drains. Yet these streets tingled, this 
was life and tomorrow I would be at 
sea. At sea, bound for those harbours 
that have now become my harbours 
of memory. 

THE End 



Index 

The index below is as it was in the original paper book but in this e-book the page 
numbers have all changed and have therefore been removed. Otherwise the original 
index is left unchanged to display the author's choice and readers should use their 
program's search facility to locate the item. 

Aloes Frank Brownlee 

Amstel River Buffalo River 

Arab dhows Buitengracht 

Dr. E. Axelson Buitenkant 



H.M.S. Badger 

Dr. S. Bailey 

Band Square 

Barbary apes (Gibraltar) 

Barges (Thames) 

Beira 

Billy Biddlecombe 

Bree Street 

Brewers 

Brighton (Ketch) 



Cairo 

Cambrian Hotel 

Canton (whaler) 

Cape Hermes 

Cape St. Blaize 

Cape Spartel 

Cargoes 

Caves (Gibraltar) 

Charlie Brown's pub 

Clan Line 

Clock Tower 



Cock, William 
Cock's Castle 
Congo steamers 
Col. F. H. P. Creswell 
Sir Walter Currie 

Dar es Salaam 
George De Lacy 
Diana (sloop) 
E. P. Dimbleby 
Dock Rd. (Cape Town) 
Dragon's Blood 
Prof. M. R. Drennan 
Durban 
H.M.S. Dwarf 
Sampson Dyer 
Dyer's Island 



East London 
Siven Erasmus 
Europa Point 
Execution Rock 



Executions (naval) 

Fez 

Fireman's Arms 
G. K. Forbes 
Fort Knokke 
Rev. T. E. Fuller 

Gallows Hill 

General Botha (trainingship) 

R. O. Gericke 

Gibraltar 

Adm. Golovnin 

Great Eastern bar 



Haaibaai 
Hamburg Hotel 
Hansa Hotel 
Hansom-cabs 
Jacob Hartensz 
W. H. Hinton 
Horses 



Mrs. M. Hurter 

Inland waterways 
Innisfallen (cutter) 
Isle of Dogs 
Ivory 

Jaggery 

Lt.-Col. H. L. Jones 
Josephine (whaler) 
R.M.S. Kinfauns Castle 
Kleinberg farm 
Kowie River 



La Canebiere 
Dr. Landsberg 
Dr. R. Lawson 
Martin Leendertz 
Leopards 
Le Reduit 
Liesbeek River 
Limerick pub 



London docks 
Lourenco Marques 

Magicians 

Malays (Simonstown) 
Bakaar Manuel 
Marseilles 
Cdr. Z. Marsh 
Mauritius 
"Mauritius fever" 
Mazeppa Bay 
Mechau St. 
Mincio (barque) 
Thomas Morgan 
Mossel Bay 
Mozambique Island 

A. L. Napper 

New Somerset Hospital 

Nile steamers 



Oran 



Orange River 
Oysters 

Paarden Eiland 

Palace Barracks 

Pandora (yacht) 

Papendorp 

Parrots 

E. G. Pells 

Kate Pigot 

Point Rd. (Durban) 

Pondoland 

Pool of London 

Port Alfred 

Port Elizabeth 

Port Louis 

Port St. John's 

Post Office Tree (Mossel Bay) 

Protea Bar 

H.M.S. Raleigh 
Redhill 



Capt. F. B. Renouf 
Rentzkie's Farm 
Robben Island 
Rogge Bay 
Royal Navy Hotel 
Rua Major Araujo 

Salt River 

San Sebastian fort 

Santos Beach 

Sardine run 

Dolfie Scharfscheer 

Seal Island (Mossel Bay) 

Sharks (Simon's Bay) 

Mick Sheehan 

Ship Hotel 

Siciliaa bar 

Signal Hill 

Simonstown 

Skeletons 

Smallpox 

J. O. Smith 



Star Hotel 
Bob Stephens 

Tamarinds 

Tangier 

John Thorburn 

Maj. R. Thornton 

Trixie (barmaid) 

Tunnels (Castle) 

S.S. Umgeni 
Umzimvubu 

Vaal River 



Whaling (False Bay) 
Wharf Square 
Wheelwrights 
Wild Coast 
Josephus Winter 
Woodstock 
Wreck relics 

Ysterplaat 

Yves de Kerguelen (barquentine) 

Zambesi steamers 
Ziekestraat 



Walvis Bay 
S.S. Waratah 
David Wasserfall 
Waterkant St. 
Jacob Watermeyer 
Edward Wearin 
Whaling (Algoa Bay) 




Lawrence Green continues to build 
up an international reputation. Many 
of the finest British and American 
magazines have published his stories, 
his books have appeared in London 
and New York, and his work has been 
translated into many languages. Here 
are some recent overseas opinions of 
his books: 



London "Times": "Affection for his 
out-of-the-way places is the secret of 
Mr. Green's success.... To each he 
brings much personal knowledge and 
the happiest knack of gathering 
information." 

"Illustrated London News": "Mr. 
Green is a good observer. He tells his 
readers he is lazy. He is not, but he 
fills them with a lovely sense of the 
hot, timeless laziness to be enjoyed 
among his Islands." 

"The TIMES Literary Supple- 
ment": "That tireless traveller of 
unfrequented sea-lanes has strung 
together a necklace of islands which 
will lend enchantment to many a 
northern escapologist's winter 
discontent ... And yet this is not 
merely a surface and sentimental 
portrait of the world's least trampled 
parts. It is rather reminiscent of one of 



those quiet provincial museums where 
the noise of traffic dies suddenly 
away, and one finds oneself face to 
face with the longer vista of man's 
development, his adaptability and, 
stretching farther back, with the dilem- 
mas of evolution."