According to today’s New York Times, Iziko Museums of South Africa and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture are due to announce that the wreck of a Portuguese slave ship, the São José Paquete Africa, has been located just south of Camps Bay.
Researchers say this is the first slave ship to have been found which was wrecked while slaves were still on board.
Records show that the São José left Mozambique for the sugar plantations of Brazil on 3 December 1794, with a cargo of between 400 and 500 slaves shackled in its hold. The journey would have taken about 4 months. Having safely rounded the notorious Cape of Good Hope, the ship was forced to hug the relative shelter of the coastline to avoid the battering wind and waves. But on 27 December, 24 days into the journey, the ship ran aground less than 100m from shore.
Jaco Boshoff, a maritime archaeologist with Iziko Museums in Cape Town, found a record of the inquest of the Portuguese captain which reveals that he and his crew had battled to save the slaves who were, in their eyes, cargo of considerable value. In the end approximately 212 slaves died on the wreck, while roughly the same number made it to shore only to be sold within days.
Artefacts recovered from the ship, including iron ballast blocks and encrusted shackles, will be owned by Iziko Museums, but will be loaned to the Smithsonian African-American museum, due to open in Washington in 2016.
A memorial service is to be held tomorrow near the site of the wreck. For more on Cape Town’s part in the slave trade, visit the Iziko Slave Lodge on the corner of Adderley and Wale Streets.