The Fascadale was wrecked at
Southbroom in the early hours of 7th February 1895. It was carrying 3,000 tons
of sugar from Mauritius to Lisbon.
The three charming accounts of the
disaster that follow come from notes compiled in the early 1950’ies by R.H.
A Cheltenham paper published an
account of the disaster by the late C.H. Mitchell (Terry Mitchell’s grandfather)
who came from that part of England:
Thursday February 7th a four mast iron barque with a crew of 28 came ashore
here; Mr. Barton (afterwards Dr Barton of Murchison Plains) was the first to
hear of it and sent for me. I took some ropes and hastened down to the shore
(time about 8am). The vessel was on the rocks about 100 yards from the shore -
her back broken - the two centre masts gone. The sea was making a clean sweep
over her amidships and every high wave covered her. At the stern were about 18
men which the RMS Norham Castle had sent boats to take off. On shore were Mr.
Barton, some natives and a seaman named Bloom who had managed to swim ashore
during the night. The bodies of two men which had been found, were also there.
We were soon joined by two mounted police who had lately been stationed near
here (present day San Lameer), and another man who happened to be passing the
night with them. Two of them rode off to Umzimkulu (Port Shepstone) to give
notice and the other, named Ottley, remained with Barton and myself on the
After the last man had been taken
off the stern, the boatmen tried to get the men off the bowsprit but were unable
to. They shouted out to the men on the wreck that they could not help them. The
five men then prepared to swim ashore, but their chance looked bad as the sea
was fearfully rough and the coastline was one mass of rocks. As soon as they
began to get ready to start we got ready to receive them. I had a long thin hide
line with me and as soon as the first got into the water, Ottley, who was the
best swimmer, flung off his things, grasped the line and went out amongst the
breakers to meet him. He seized him and we hauled them in very well; but the
next one nearly drowned him; and while getting out of my clothes to go in for
them, two of the kaffirs (one a witch doctor and one a Christian) managed to
reach them with the line which Ottley had let go and we landed them safely, both
half dead. The other three quickly followed and we managed to save them all. As
soon as they were all safe we started for my place, sending on word to my wife
to be ready for us. They slept at our place two nights and started the next day
in an ox cart to Umzimkulu. They then went on by boat to Durban”
According to the Skipper of the
RMS Norham Castle, Captain R. Duncan, the storm that caused this disaster must
have been most severe for to use his own words to a reporter of “The
Westminister Budget” (29th March 1895):
”What was the weather like? As black
as thunder. You could na see a hand afore you. Rain and wind? Ah! My boy, it was
rain and wind, I can tell ye - a living gale from the south-easter all night
long with squalls towards morning. At 3am the weather was terrific. We could see
nothing ahead, so slowed the engines and hauled the ship two points off land.
Rain! Why, it fell at times not only in sheets, but in bucket fulls. And the sea
roared again. Even to us old sailors it was a relief when day broke. At 5am it
faired a bit and we got a peep at the distant coast. At 6.30am through the glass
we saw a ship on the rocks”.
That our Hibiscus Coast was
indeed a wild and sparsely inhabited place in those days is evident from the
words of Seaman Bloom. After describing how he clung to a piece of wreckage and
found himself on the shore he said:
”It’s true, mister, that I was
landed alive, but, I wasn’t very sound. I felt bruised all over and pretty well
scratched to bits. Run? No, if you ‘d given me a sack of golden guineas I
couldn’t have run twenty yards for I felt as if I had got my number on my back
and was booked for Davy’s locker. So, I just crawled up the sand out of reach of
the water. Then I sat down. There wasn’t a sign of a living thing. There was the
sand and the cliffs at the edge of ‘em. It’s true I was mostly dead and I began
to get colder and colder, when I says to meself, Bloom, you’re on shore
somewhere - you don’t know where, it’s true, but look about ye’.
I just was shivering, like a
half-drowned rat, for I had only the smallest quantity of clothes of me. At last
I pulled myself together a bit and when I had walked a little way I spied a sail
that had been washed ashore. Fortunately I had my knife in my trousers pocket -
they warn’t much of trousers but the pocket portion had held good. So all of a
shiver, I outs with my knife and rips off a bit of the sail which I puts over my
head. The other bit I wraps around me. After that I walks about. I hadn’t gone
many yards afore I came across the dead body of my mate, the sailmaker. It made
me almost go yaller. Further down the shore I see’d something else. I made by
way to it. What do you think it was mister? Why, it was the dead body of t’other
chap. I can tell you I warn’t happy. There were the two dead ‘uns and meself -
that was all. I sat down and was miserable. Then, presently, the morning came,
and I saw a black man creeping down the cliff - then another - then another.
There was about half a dozen of ‘em and I could see as they had their spears -
assegais, I think you call ‘em, in their hands, I says to meself, “it’s all up
with you, Bloom, make ready for the New Jerusalem. You is among black savages”.
They came peering right close up to me. Then they jabbered and jabbered in their
own lingo and I can tell you I shivered like a cat. Then they began to pat the
ground and to pat me, but I couldn’t tumble as to what they meant. One lay down
on the ground and motioned me to do the same. But, I wouldn’t. It was quite
light now and looking along the shore where the cliffs was lower I saw some cows
- then I knew at any rate the kaffirs weren’t out-and-out heathen. I didn’t
quite know what to do”.
It was shortly after this that Mr
Barton (who was associated with missionary Alfred Eyles in some capacity) found
What follows comes from an
interview recorded by ratepayer Libby Cochrane with the late Douglas Mitchell
(Terry Mitchell’s father):
I was born on September 6, 1896; the
year after the Fascadale was wrecked. The only people down here at the time of
the wreck were the Police who had a camp where present day San Lameer is
situate, my father, who was a quantity surveyor by training and had actually
built the camp on contract for the Department of Justice and old man Eyles, the
missionary chap - that’s all.
The Fascadale broke in half and was
lodged between the two rocks - the waves were dashing in with tremendous force
causing the men to be thrown about against the rocks. The aft half of the ship
broke outwards and fortunately the following morning (8th February) a passing
ship on her way up to Durban stopped and set a boat to take these people
onboard. The gap in-between the two halves of the ship could not be crossed so
those still on board eventually had to swim ashore.
My Dad offered to help those who got
off the boat - he had a native store and the resources that the missionary chap
didn’t have so he brought them back up here to the farm and fixed them up with
blankets and rough clothes and then put them on a wagon to take them to
Umkimzulu where they got a passage up to Durban.
It was interesting back in 1922 - I
went with Braby to Madagascar, Mauritius and Reunion on a cargo boat called the
Baron Napier and on our way back from Madagascar (there were no passengers - we
had signed on as crew) we were talking to the skipper and told him that we came
from a place in Natal where a ship loaded with sugar from Mauritius had been
wrecked and that the area became known by the ship’s name. The old captain
says...”and what is the name of the place.” “Fascadale”, I replied.
Well the old man got so excited at
hearing this he upped and went off to get the ship’s log and got me to give him
the whole story of the wreck of the Fascadale as far as I knew it. He got out a
map of Scotland and showed me where the Fascadale had been built and then so
named for a little bit of a stream that runs into the River Dee. He wrote down
all I knew because he said there were some people living back in Fascadale who
had never got the true story and facts as to the fate of the ship.
I was able to tell him that when the
Fascadale was in Durban, stocking up for the next leg of its voyage, the Captain
had had the top part of his leg smashed to pieces when a rope holding the blocks
in the rigging broke. He was taken to Addington Hospital, so when the time came
for the ship to sail, the first mate, Alfred Julius was in command. The ship
only got as far as here when it was wrecked.
There was no parson, but Alfred
Eyles, the missionary, buried those who had drowned. He read the burial service
and gave them a Christian burial, although not all of them were white. The crew
were mostly lascars (loosely used term to describe any seaman who was either
black or Indian).
The story of the figurehead
off the Fascadale is interesting enough - we called it the “old lady”. The
carved bust was that of a very regal looking lady. Anyway, it had been washed up
on the beach near the mouth of the Imbezane River and old man Eyles had it towed
upstream, behind a little boat to just above the present day bridge. The water
in that part of the river then was around 18 - 20 feet deep. This is where I
learnt to swim and when ever we went down to the river to bathe we used to use
the “old lady” as a sort of raft. It was quite big and two or three of us could
scramble up onto it and then paddle around. When we had done, we used to pull it
back towards the bank. We had it for about three years. One time however we had
not taken it high enough up and when the river flooded, it was washed away, out
to sea, never to be seen again.
The rocks on which the Fascadale
broke up are clearly visible from Granny’s Pool and for many years, parts of the
wreckage could be seen at low tide.
Mr. Mitchell bought the Fascadale.
He used much of the timber to construct his homestead, which still stands, on
the farm Bushy Vales.
The Post Office serving the district
was known as Imbezana but as there was considerable confusion with Bizana in
Pondoland, it was decided to rename the postal district to Fascadale. It is
interesting to know that the first telephone in Margate operated through the