The Seal Point Lighthouse is situated on the south eastern most point of Africa, where ships have to alter course but tend to come close inshore to save time.
Seal Point has seen more than its fair share of shipping tragedies, so in 1871 it was decided that a lighthouse be built. Work began in 1875, but it was only on the night of the 4th July 1878 that the lighthouse light shone for the first time. It’s hard to think that it was once considered the loneliest lighthouse on the mainland of South Africa. It was declared a National Monument on 11 May 1984.
In spite of the lighthouse, on 20 February 1929 the Cape Recife, en route from Cape Town to Durban, was washed ashore. The fog was so heavy that night that the lighthouse keepers could not even see the wreck even though she was close by. They found her by going off in the direction of the loud noise they had heard, and were relieved to find that no lives had been lost. To see the few remains of this steel-hulled cargo ship, take a drive to Cape St Francis, turn into the Queen of the West Boulevard and take the gravel road opposite house no 7. Park in the parking area and walk down onto the beach in the direction of the lighthouse. High up, there are a few pieces of steel, and then firmly wedged in the rocks you will see what remains of the hull. You need to do this at low tide.
Many of the streets in Cape St Francis are named after ship wrecks. The history of these wrecks makes for fascinating reading and is part of the history of our Village. The Queen of the West, for example, went down in a gale in June 1850: she was sailing from Bombay to London, and there were no survivors. The Hope was wrecked east of Huisklip in March 1840 in thick fog; she was a timber paddle steamer and had been in service for little more than a year.
The Lady Head sank in 1859, after striking submerged rocks just off the mouth of the Kromme River: she had a cargo of rice and several swans on board, and the swans were among the few survivors (the street named after the ship is Lady Heal Lane due to a bit of confusion).
Thick fog did it for the Lyngenfjord too, wrecked in 1938 en route from France to Madagascar. She went down so close to the rocks that rescuers were able to make a plank bridge to get the passengers off. Also in 1938 and also in thick fog, the Panaghlia went down and left a relic that can still be seen at low tide – one of her boilers. A sad story for animal lovers is that of the Suffolk, sunk in 1900 carrying 900 horses for the British cavalry fighting the Anglo-Boer War: only one of the horses survived.
On 11 August this will be the subject of the Kromme Trust Eco Kids monthly meeting, when we will teach them about two of the wrecks and then the kids will get to make their own wreck during the craft part of the morning. All kids 5 and older are welcome to attend together with a parent. Starts at 10.30 till 12 in the Heritage Centre, Granny’s Pool.
More information on the wrecks and the lighthouse can be found in Our Coastal Treasure, published by the St Francis Kromme Trust.
Article: Bridget Elton for the St Francis Kromme Trust
Photos: Tanya Loots (lighthouse) and Bridget Elton (Cape Recife).