1 August 2012 by Julienne du Toit

Bartolomeu Dias and a little spring

History is one-dimensional at times, a recitation of facts. But then something makes it real – like a little pond full of preening ducks and bobbing ducklings.

A replica of the boat Dias and his crew sailed in at the museum. Photo Chris Marais

I recently went to the Bartolemeu Dias Museum Complex in Mossel Bay for the 1st time. I’m not sure what took me so long, because I do adore combing through museums.

I am happy to report that it’s well worth the visit. There’s a museum dedicated to shells; the Maritime Museum with a replica of Dias’s ship (surprisingly compelling); the old Post Office tree used for centuries by passing ships and explorers; and historic houses and graves.


										A statue of Bartolomeu Dias stands in the museum complex named after him. Photo Chris Marais

Not much mention is made of a small spring that is dammed into a pretty pond at the bottom of a long incline. As you pass it on the way to the historic Munrohoek cottages, you may admire the ducks and ducklings paddling about in its clear waters.

This is the very place where Portuguese explorer and navigator Bartolomeu Dias landed on 3 February 1488 to get water after having been blown straight past Table Mountain by an epic storm.

While he and his crew were here at this spot, refilling their depleted water barrels, they haggled with the local Khoi people for cattle. There must have been some dispute or accident because one of the Portuguese crossbows was loosed and a Khoi man was killed.

Dias named this bay Cabo de Sao Bras (Cape of St Blaize), and the local lighthouse still bears the name. The spring he named Aguada de Sao Bras.

He then sailed a little further eastwards, hoping to head towards India, but his men were at the end of their tether and he had to turn his ship around to head home before a full-scale mutiny ensued.

Only on his return voyage did he realise he had been the 1st European navigator to round the Cape. He named it, unsurprisingly, the Cape of Storms.

This is the very place where Portuguese explorer and navigator Bartolomeu Dias landed on 3 February 1488 to get water after having been blown straight past Table Mountain by an epic storm.

It was later renamed the Cape of Good Hope in one of the world’s first spin-doctoring exercises.

After Dias came Vasco da Gama and a series of others – practically every schoolchild in South Africa knows the names by heart.

The story of Dias and the region is beautifully told in the Maritime Museum. But somehow the fact that clear water still bubbles out the earth here, and ducks and ducklings bob about in it, makes history more poignantly real.


										A sweeping view of Mossel Bay. Photo Chris Marais

Category: Culture & History


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