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Early Activity on the Langebaan Lagoon

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Saldanha bay was originally named after Joris van Spilbergen who was also responsible for naming Table Bay. Before that time Table Bay was known as Aguada de Saldanha after a Portuguese admiral Antonio de Saldanha who was killed by indigenous people in 1503. Aguada de Saldanha literally means "watering place of Saldanha". Saldanha Bay was named after a man who never actually visited its shores.

Between 1601 and the establishment of the colony at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652 the French had already made use of Saldanha Bay. On 17 October 1652, Saldanha Bay was visited by the "Goede Hoop". The skipper T. Turver and the Bookkeeper F. Verburgh were dispatched to investigate the possibilities of trade with the Koina (Chochoqua) - a Khoi tribe who lived in the Saldanha Bay area.

On Schaapen Island the two men found 2733 dried sealskins, ostrich feathers and hippopotamus teeth left by the French during the previous year. While Koina only had livestock to trade the Dutch hope to trade in ivory and musk resulted in disappointment. They found that there was plenty of fish and salt in this area.

During his stay at the Cape Commander Van Riebeeck, as early as 1654, sent large vessels to the lagoon to collect up to 1600 salted penguins and bird eggs to feed the VOC slaves at the emerging colony.

Van Riebeeck forwarded maps to the VOC headquarters in Amsterdam advising masters of ships about the safety of the bay. This proved to be most valuable in the case of the ship West-Vriesland. She arrived in October 1658 in Saldanha Bay with 72 dead and 150 sick sailors on board. The sickly crew set up their tents on Schaapen Island while messengers hurried to the fort at Cape Town for help.

17th century maps made no clear distinction between Hoedjies Bay and Saldanha Bay. According to the historian, Dan Sleigh, Hoedjies Bay was originally named after Pieter Potter (a land surveyor, who was sent by Jan Van Riebeeck to survey the Bay in 1659). It was called Potters Baaij. The Langebaan lagoon area was in the area called Saldanha Baaij. The name Langebaan did not occur on any of the early maps.

During December 1660, Van Riebeeck received instructions from the VOC to locate a site that was suitable for the establishment of a fort in Saldanha Bay. Although the area was without sufficient water and firewood, it was regarded as a safe haven for ships in need of repair and crew suffering from scurvy or in danger of running ashore.

The VOC vessel the Vogelsanck made good use of the bay while on her homeward bound journey with a cargo estimated at 180 000 gulden.

Apart from the safety of the Bay, it was also valuable in providing basic necessities for the colony. In March 1657, sailors plucked down from 700 Cape gannets to fill cushions and feather beds at the newly established colony. Guano was found in abundance and collected from the islands for use in the new Company gardens at the Cape.

The Bay was also seen as an excellent place to repair ships. For 143 years the VOC used Saldanha Bay for this purpose and a list of such ships are compiled in groups of 50 year periods and are as follows:

1652-1699 :-25 ships repaired
1700-1749 :-17 ships repaired
1750-1795 :-19 ships repaired

The ships that were in danger and entered the Bay are compiled in the same way:

1652-1699 : -51 ships repaired
1700-1749 :-76 ships repaired
1750-1795 :-13 ships repaired.

The reasons for their visits were scurvy, head winds and damage to ships caused by storms.
A site at Oudepost was identified to establish a small outpost for the Dutch East India Company. The site was one of a string of outposts used for farming, fishing, trading and defending the frontier from European penetration.

The oldest "post" was established on Robben Island (1654), followed by Dassen Island, Saldanha Bay in 1666, Hottentots Holland in 1672, Rietvlei in 1676, De Kuilen (Kuilsrivier) in 1683 and Klapmuts. The ruins at Oudepost are the oldest remaining example of a fort built in this way.

The importance of establishing an outpost at Saldanha Bay became clear when Commandeer C. van Quaelberg was informed that the French were planning to establish a fort at Saldanha Bay.

Four men under command of Sergeant W. Wiederholt were sent over land to Saldanha Bay. However, the French ship Saumacque arrived before the Dutch. They erected a flag-pole with a lead plate at the biggest waterhole. On this plate was the inscription of the cote of arms of Lodewyk XVI and the name of De Montdevergue.

Soon after the Dutch soldiers arrived, the French left with a cargo of bird eggs and seabirds. The flag-pole indicated that the site was under French authority. Anthonij Bosman reported on 7 July 1668, that he had hacked out the pole and had burnt it.

In November 1668 it became clear that the French wanted to leave their colony in Madagascar and base themselves at Saldanha Bay. Commandeer Borghorst was ordered by the VOC head office to establish a permanent post at Saldanha Bay.

On 22 April 1669 four soldiers under command of corporal Daniel Balck were sent overland to Saldanha Bay. Their task was to occupy the two main waterholes until sergeant Hieronijmus Cruse arrived with re-enforcements. On their arrival, they set out to find the best location for a post house. While there, they traded sheep from the Koina. These were transferred to the safety of Schaapen Island.

On 6 June 1669 Georg Wreede took command of the post and brought with him a carpenter, Jan van Geel. They erected a VOC monogram on each of the five islands in Saldanha Bay. A month later Wreede was transferred and Corporal D. Balck replaced him.

The site for the new post house, as it was called, was situated at Craal Bay (Kraal Bay in the West Coast National Park). The name Kraal Bay is not found on old sea maps, but it was probably named after the stone walls left from the ruins of this first outpost. Archaeological research was completed by members of the Rutgers University of New Jersey in 1985. The site, however, was declared as a National Monument in 1979.

The archaeologists identified three main structures: the fort or redoubt, an irregular shaped structure with a series of small enclaves, one of which is periodically percolated by the high tide. A second, smaller structure was identified which separates the north wall of the fort by a curtain wall and a third - the lodge, named for its designation in the archival records, which was a rectangular building facing the beach.

The site was labelled GCL which stood for "Graceland". This unit was named to commemorate the title song of Paul Simon’s LP that was popular at the time of the discovery. The senior author was not aware until much later that it was the name of Elvis Presley’s home. "Given the fact that the current President of the United States carries the proud nickname "Elvis", we see no reason to feel anything but a sense of destiny in labelling a small colonial structure after both luminaries" (Carmel Schrire, Department of Anthropology, Douglas College Rutgers University, NJ USA).

This is also close to the site where Eve’s footprint was found in 1997 by Dr. Dave Rogers. It is the oldest known footprint of modern man in the world, and dates back to 117 000 years ago.

Etienne de FlacourtEtienne de Flacourt, director-general of the French East Indian Company, visited Saldanha Bay on two occasions. The first time was in 1648 and the second time around 1655. In 1658 he published the "DICTOINNAIRE DE LA LANGUE DE MADAGASCAR" in which a list of nearly four hundred words and expressions from the Khoi language was documented. Three Khoi names appear as his sources, they are: Saldan, Barraba and Coubaba. This is probably the first Khoi dictionary printed. He also documented fauna and flora in the area of Oudepost during his last visit in 1655.

In 1670 a French admiral De la Haye with 200 soldiers removed the VOC monogram and hoisted the French flag while they fired gunshots and joyfully cheered "Vive le Roi de France".

They threatened to hang Cruse, the post holder, if he removed the French flag. The French were still offended by the removal of the pole with Montdevergue’s name on it and handed a letter to Cruse with their grievances addressed to the deputy-governor De Cretser. The French occupied the post house that night, but Cruse managed to escape.

He arrived at the fort three days later with the letter. Commander Hackius wrote a letter in reply to De la Haye. This letter was eventually handed to the captain of the French ship the Vader Careen, because the French had left Oudepost, leaving only their flag. Commissioner Goske decided to remove the French flag in 1671 and once again the VOC colours were flown.

On 26 March 1671 corporal Pieter Siegfriedt and five soldiers left Table Bay on the "Bruijdegom" to take occupation of Oudepost only to find the building dilapidated. They set out to rebuild the post house.

There was an interesting incident involving lions and cattle. While the men were skinning three cattle, they were attacked by lions which dragged the carcases away. That night Corporal Siegfriedt managed to kill one lion, but another lion swam over to Schaapen Island and killed four of the sheep which were traded from the Khoi and kept on Schaapen Island until they could be transported to Table Bay. The sheep, cattle, skins and salted meat was sent back to the Cape on the Bruijdegom.

Corporal Siegfried returned to Cape Town with a herd of sheep leaving two soldiers at the post house. Four unknown Khoi men approached the post house, pretending to want to trade livestock. They attacked and killed the two unsuspecting soldiers. The Khoi were eventually caught and brought to the Fort at the Cape. Two of them admitted committing the murders. Being members of the Koina tribe they were turned over to the Koina, who beat them to death and threw their bodies into the sea. The outpost of Saldanha was then left unoccupied until July 1673.

During this period the "Saldanhavaarders", who were a group of fishermen in the service of the VOC, replaced the soldiers at this outpost.

H.O. Eksteen was given permission to build a fishing hut and outbuildings at Schreiershoek. According to historical documents the VOC depended heavily on their services. By 1673 the VOC needed up to 10 000 fish per month to feed the slaves at the Cape. They were fed mainly salted harders and steenbras. Bird eggs were also supplied to the VOC for the slaves. When they shot the odd hippopotamus, it was also sold as fat for the Cape garrison.

The outpost was again occupied in 1685 and functioned well and by February 1686 the outpost delivered 7800 pound of salted fish. Three months later another 16 barrels of fish was ready to be transported to Table Bay. A personal gift in the form of a huge, salted harder or dried elf was occasionally sent to Commander Van der Stel. During this period the outpost was once more threatened by foreign occupation. This did not happen and the post continued as a provisioning station for ships on the Europe-East Indies run and also as a trade post in the heart of the Khoi country.

The official outpost at Oudepost was called the Saldanha Baaij outpost and was situated south of where Langebaan town is today. The area which included Stompe Hoeck up to Geelbeksfontein was called "de Oostenwal"

A second house was built 60 years later, around 1729/1730, in the bay between Konstabelskop and Vlaeberg. Close to the outpost was a waterhole that only delivered about 72 litres of water, while an average ship used about 563 litres.

By 1737 a total of seven soldiers was stationed at "Nieuwe Post" as it was called.

During the Battle of Saldanha in 1781, the post holder, J. Stofberg set the post house on fire without any order to do so, but it was rebuilt when the British left and seven soldiers were once more stationed there. The single story house with a thatched roof, gable and two outbuildings on either side was painted by J.C. Frederici in 1796. The function of the post house was to serve the ships and it was used for military observation and communication.

In September 1795 the outposts, and harbour stations surrounding areas became British territory. The outpost at "Nieuwe post" lost its importance and only the post holder, J.Stofberg, his family and two workers remained. In 1798 Lady Anne Barnard visited the farm at Stofbergsfontein.

In 1803 the post house was visited by Commissioner J.A. de Mist and was described as "een Zindelijk, wel ingericht gebou". In 1806 the Cape Colony was once again taken over by the British and in November 1807, post holder Stofberg was replaced by C.S. Hendler.

In 1821 the outpost was moved to Oostenwal on the current farm Oostewal.

This outpost kept on supplying ships with fresh water. Donkergat and Salamander Bay were supplied with water during the height of the Whaling industry from 1909-1930 and again in the fifties and sixties.

The historical farm of Oostewal kept its name and is now a National Monument. A few kilometres away on the south side of the lagoon, you can visit the homestead of Geelbek (National Monument) for tea and see the only remaining VOC monogram in this area.

A historical and cultural map will be launched during the weekend of the Mussel Festival (3-5 October). This map will offer the tourist an opportunity to experience the historic and cultural treasures of the West Coast region.

Few people are aware that there have been about 286 shipwrecks in these waters and the pirates and treasure form part of this exciting past. The whaling station was once also a quarantine station and long forgotten people have found a resting place in the many graveyards on the islands and in the little bays.

The Langebaan Dutch Reformed church is the proud owner of the oldest pulpit in the country.

These are just a few titbits to evoke your curiosity. Langebaan will also feature a map detailing the unique architecture and culture of Langebaan. We welcome you all to come and share in our wonderful heritage.

Elmarie Leonard

Die Buiteposte, VOC -buiteposte onder Kaapse bestuur 1652-1795, D. Sleigh, 1993, p411-468
The site history of the historical site at Oudepost 1, Cape, 1987-1992, C. Schrire (Rutger University, K.Cruz-Uribe (Northern Arizon University), J. Klose, (UCT), p21-22,31
French Travellers to the Cape of Good Hope, Xavier Beguin Billecocq,1996, p57-59
Report on the Archaeological survey of the West Coast National Park, Prof. H.J. Deacon, University Stellenbosch, p4-6

Article received from Gabriel Athiros, Editor, "The Cape Odyssey"

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