Tuesday, April 24, 2012

4 April, 1554. The ship São Bento (St Benedict) is wrecked on the Transkei coast

Though the date on which the São Bento was shipwrecked is under dispute (some sources claim the ship was wrecked on the 22 April 1554), the reason for the wreck  is due  to the greed of Portuguese traders. Unlike the English, Dutch and French designed ocean going vessels, with manoeuvrability and sturdiness as their foremost concerns, the Portuguese more often focussed on cargo carrying ability.

According to research done by South African archaeologists, C. Auret and .T.Maggs in 1982, the final resting place of the Sao Bento is located 300m west of the Msikaba river on coast of Transkei, possibly on Msikaba Island.

On the night of the 24 April 1954, the Sao Bento, together with its sister ship, the Sao Joao, was rounding the coast of Africa, heavily loaded with trade goods from the East. The crews of these two ships were concerned as the Sao Bento, as well as the Sao Joao, were in a poor condition, undersupplied, overloaded, and sailing in very poor weather. Off the coast of the Transkei, the Sao Bento ran aground and promptly sank, with much loss of life.

A  number of sailors and passengers survived the sinking of the ship.  These survivors then proceeded to trek all the way to Mozambique.  Manuel de Mesquita Perestrello was one of the survivors of the wreck, who managed to survive the journey to Mozambique. He was also the author of the Sao Bento report.  This report detailed the journey from the wreck site, up until the survivors reached Mozambique. Of the 473 people on board the Sao Bento, only 23 survivors reached Mozambique. 

  1. Burger.E, Reinvestigating the Wreck of the Sixteenth Century Portuguese Galleon São Bento: A Historical Archaeological Perspective completed as part of a MA (cultural history) (online), available at: upetd.up.ac.za [Accessed 20 April 2010]
  2. Potgieter, D.J. et al. (eds)(1970). Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa, Cape Town: NASOU, v. 9, p. 618

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