History of EL shipwrecks to be commemmorated,Proposed new plaque at Esplanade will celebrate vessels that were lost

SHIPWRECKS REMEMERED: The Quanza was a four-masted steamship of 942 tons which went ashore at East London on Sunday, 26 May 1872 at 5 am! She struck the rocks just East of the Orient Beach — close to today’s Wimpy on the Esplanade.Picture: SUPPLIED

The Border Historical Society (BHS) will soon be installing a plaque to commemorate the many ships that were lost between Orient and Eastern beaches.

The idea was tabled about a year and a half ago and the society is busy preparing a concept design that will be submitted to BCM for comment and hopefully approval.

Thereafter, the plaque is intended to be stablished close to the German Memorial at the Quigney Esplanade.

This comes as the EL Museum is in the process of applying for a permit to remove two cannons from a shipwreck site in Nahoon, connected to the disappearance of the Santa Maria Madre de Dues.

The ship was believed to have disappeared without a trace for more than 300 years until its remnants was found by spearfishermen in 2019.

Before the cannons can be safely removed, a senior maritime archaeologist must first conduct a pre-disturbance survey and compile a report detailing the site boundaries, location of the cannons and how the cannons can be removed without tampering with the integrity of the site.

EL Museum remains in talk with SA Heritage Resource Agency and does not know when this will be concluded.

Since 2022, the BHS committee has restored three plaques including the roll of honour plaque at the Great War Memorial in Cambridge after the original plaque was stolen.

Through donations from businesses such as Cranshaw Marble and Granite, the society also reinstated the plaque at the Draaibosch memorial near Komgha, which acknowledges the first Victoria Cross to be earned on SA soil.

Towards the end of last year, the society restored a badly damaged bronze plaque at the Lukin memorial in Qonce and donated it to the Amathole Museum for safekeeping.

BHS is also considering other plaque restoration projects including the Bailie Memorial near Ntaba ka Ndoda.

East London has a rich shipwreck history, with 64 shipwrecks recorded between Hood Point and Gonubie River in the 1800s.

In 1872, the Jane Davie, a 799-ton British iron schooner wrecked a reef near Bonza Bay.

The Lady Kennaway suffered gale force winds that blew it onto a sand pit where it remained for several months in 1857. Its bell was removed and was used in chapels in East London and then in Keiskamma Hoek until it disappeared in the 1970s.

The SS Orient wrecked in July 1907, marking the change of the name of the beach from Sandy Beach to Orient Beach.

Efforts to salvage the ship were unsuccessful and on calm days at low tide the remnants of the ship can still be observed.

The King Cadwallon, struck the Esplanade rocks in 1929, drifting for 41 days before succumbing to the East London shoreline. The wreckage continues to be a well-known dive site. BHS hopes to preserve this history and raise awareness about its local and national importance. In the long term, this initiative is expected to promote local tourism, boost job creation, and encourage appreciation of our coastline.

Principal researcher at the EL Museum, Johnathan Bals believes the BHS plaque will connect East London to its maritime history and foster global connections to ensure for the protection and management of underwater cultural heritage.

Bals also believes it will encourage more scholars to study East London shipwrecks sites closely to see how the sites have impacted marine life and these findings will inform conservation efforts and ecosystem restoration.

Bals continues: “Shipwreck exploration has driven advances in underwater archaeology, marine technology, and imaging techniques. These technological developments have broader applications in oceanography, geology, and marine biology.

“The study of shipwrecks raises legal and ethical questions about ownership, salvage rights, and the protection of underwater cultural heritage. Addressing these issues is essential to preserve the historical record and prevent looting of valuable artifacts.”

EL Museum scientist, Kevin Cole said the BHS plaque was a fitting tribute and acknowledgment to the national historic significance of our area regarding shipwrecks.

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