The wreck of the Grosvenor is one of South Africa’s most famous maritime events. The East Indiaman sank in 1782. But the real story is that of the survivors, who tried to make their way south along the Wild Coast.

Did you know?

Many other castaways along the Wild Coast were welcomed and integrated into the local tribes.

On the night of August 3, 1782, an English East Indiaman ship called the Grosvenor approached what is now known as the Wild Coast along South Africa's Eastern Cape coast, heading for a rocky spot nearly 50km north of Port St Johns.

On land, the cattle owners living along the coast had been burning their winter grasslands to stimulate summer growth.

Through the spray and bad weather, these fires were spotted by those aboard in the early hours of the next morning and interpreted as ‘lights in the air’. And because Captain John Coxon believed the Grosvenor to be at least 300km out to sea, he reckoned them to be ‘something similar to the Northern Lights’ and the ill-fated ship continued on its course into the rugged, rocky coastline of south-eastern Africa.

Land was spotted just before dawn, and the captain eventually gave the orders to turn the ship about – but it was too late. The Grosvenor hit an outer reef, about 400m from the beach.

Of the 150 crew and passengers, 123 people reached the beach alive. The story of the survivors of the wreck of the Grosvenor is one of the most famous castaway accounts in South African maritime history.

The survivors on the beach were surrounded by many of their possessions, which had floated in on the new tide. They erroneously flew the Dutch flag as they walked, not knowing that the local Pondos did not remember Holland kindly after the First Frontier War.

They were harassed, robbed and picked off as they made their way down the coast – only 18 souls survived the journey all the way south to Cape Town, and of these, four eventually returned to England.

A century later, some gold and silver coins were found on the beach near the wreck site, leading to speculations of vast treasure on board the Grosvenor. There have been many salvage attempts since then, but the actual wreck of the Grosvenor is still to be found and someone is still to emerge from the rocky depths with a fabled fortune…

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

The Outspan Inn (Port St Johns)
Tel: +27 (0) 47 564 1057 (John Costello)

Wild Coast Horseback Adventures
Tel: +27 (0) 43 83 11 087

Wild Coast Holidays:
Tel: +27 (0) 84 267 6354

How to get here

The location of the wreck of the Grosvenor is a few kilometres north of Port Grosvenor on the Wild Coast.

Best time to visit

For easiest hiking, you should embark during the change of seasons: April-May (autumn) and September-October (spring).

Tours to do

See John Costello at the Outspan Inn in Port St Johns for information on your trips around the Wild Coast. He is a recognised expert on the area.

Get around

The Wild Coast Hiking trail - which has a number of operators - is the best way to reach the spot.

Length of stay

At least three days or more, if you want to experience more of the trail.

What to pack

It's important that you bring along your own food, water, sunblock, guide book and anything else you might need for your hike.

Where to stay

Mkambathi Nature Reserve is the best base for you to explore from.

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