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SOUTH AFRICA TABLET 17: Tough times because of a drought

by TimeTraveler

On the 15th the Salamander, one of the missing ships of Van Teylingen's fleet, came into the bay. She reported that the horses and various Indian plants and seeds which had been sent from Batavia were on board the other vessels, and must have passed the Cape before this date.

It was afterwards ascertained that the ships had gone on to St. Helena, which was then an uninhabited island, and that the horses had been turned loose there. The Salamander left here a clerk, named Frederik Verburg, and two workmen, and sailed on the 20th for the fatherland.

On the 24th Mr. Van Riebeek and his family left the Dromedaris and took up their residence on land, in a building roughly constructed of planks and standing close to the beach.

One of the walls of the fort was already in such a condition that the cannon had been mounted upon it. Yet the commander frequently complained of the slowness with which the work was being carried on. The labourers were enfeebled by the sea voyage, and they had been disappointed in the expectation of being able to procure fresh food. The pastoral clans were encamped at a distance, and hitherto they had sent only one cow and a calf to be exchanged for copper bars. The wild herbs and mustard leaves and sorrel or survy-grass, for which they were longing so much, had almost disappeared in the drought.

The earth was like iron under their picks, so that they were not digging but quarrying it. And to add to their troubles, the south-east wind blew frequently with such violence that they were nearly blinded with dust, and could harly stand upon the walls.

Their principal relief came from the sea. The bay was swarming with fish, and they had only to go as far as Salt River to cast their seines.

So weary were their palates of ship's meat that they believed some kinds of Cape fish were the most delicious in the world. There was nothing to approach them in flavour, they said, even in the waters of the fatherland.

On the night before Mr. Van Riebeek's family landed, they killed a great hippopotamus, as heavy as two fat oxen, with a monstrous head and teeth forty-three centimetres in length. Its hide was two centimetres and a half or an inch in thickness, and so tough that their musket balls would not penetrate it. They fired in vain behind its ears, but at last killed it with shots in the forehead.

To the people its flesh tasted as a delicacy, and they rejoiced accordingly.

Reference: History and Ethnography of Africa South of the Zambesi by George McCall Theal.


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