WRECK OF THE FASCADALE
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. Barton.
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:
“On 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 beach.
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 him.
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 Fascadale exchange.