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SOUTH AFRICA TABLET 18: Hunger, sickness and lives lost aplenty

by TimeTraveler

On the 7th of May 1952 the ships Walvisch and Olifant dropped their anchors in the bay, having left Texel on the 3rd of January. They had lost one hundred and thirty men on the passage, and their crews were in a dreadful condition from scurvy when they reached this port.

On the 11th the broad council met on board the Dromedaris, and resolved that they fifty weakest invalids belonging to these two ships should be brought ashore and left here. Provisions sufficient to last for three months were to be landed for their use, and all who should recover were to be sent to Batavia with the first opportunity.

The names of the four ships in the bay were given to the bastions of the still unvinished fort. That to the south was called the Dromedaris, to the north the Reiger, to the east the Walvisch, and to the west the Olifant.

The little yacht had the same name as the whole fort.

As there were no refreshments except water and fish to be had there, the ships sailed again as soon as possible, and with them the Reiger left for Batavia.

On the 25th there arrived the ship Hof van Zeeland, which sailed from home on the 31st of January, and had lost thirty-seven men by death on the passage. She took in water, and sailed again in a few days.

On the 28th the Dromedaris sailed, and the party of occupation was left to its own resources. The cold stormy weather of winter was beginning to set in, and the misery of Mr. Van Riebeek and his people was daily increasing.

The rain could not be kept out of the tents and the wooden buildings which they had run up for temporary use, and it was with difficulty that they could preserve their bread and perishable stores.

With the change of weather came sickness, which they were too weak to resist, and now almost every day there was a death from dysentery or scurvy.

On the 3rd of June, out of one hundred and sixteen men, only sixty were able to perform any labour. Fresh meat and vegetables and proper shelter would have saved them, but these things were not to be obtained.

They had killed a second hippopotamus, and its flesh was so much to their liking that they described it as tasting like veal; but what was one even of these huge beasts among so many mouths?

There was no other game in Table Valley, though four men who went out with guns saw many antelopes behind the mountains.

They were almost as solitary as if they had been frozen up in the Arctic sea. For weeks together they saw none of the wild inhabitants of the land but Harry's miserable followers, from whom no assistance of any kind was to be had.

The encampment was like a great hospital, in which the attendants staggered about among the sick and the dying.

The work on the walls of the fort almost ceased, for they had enough to do to take care of themselves.

But the rains, which had brought on the dysentery, in an incredibly short time brought them also relief. Grass sprang into existence as if by magic, and with it sprang up various plants of a nutritious kind. They were all correctives of scurvy, and that was mainly what was needed.

The sick and feeble went about gathering wild herbs and roots, and declaring there was nothing in the world half so palatable. God had looked down in compassion upon them and relieved them in their sore distress.

With the grass appeared game, great and small, but as yet they had not learned to be successful hunters.

As soon as the first showers fell, a piece of ground was dug over, in which Hendrik Boom, the gardener, planted seeds, and soon the sick were enjoying such delicacies as radishes, lettuce, and cress.

Then they found good reeds for thatch, and when the buildings were covered in with these instead of boards and torn sails, they could almost bid defiance to the heavy rains.

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


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