Focus on Mosselbaai, Mossel Bay, Western Cape, South Africa

Mossel Bay - Introduction

Situated in the southern Cape area of South Africa, Mosselbaai is one of the most beautiful coastal towns on the Garden Route. Long known as a quaint little fishing village waking up only at the start of the 'season' - when just about everyone from the interior would converge on the seaside for Christmas and the New Year celebrations - Mosselbaai has now grown into an all year round friendly holiday haven. First-class accommodation, shops crammed with curios and souvenirs, and mod cons to rival any found in the First World contrast delightfully with bare feet and vendors selling their wares on sidewalks in easy-going Africa mode. Structures built from dressed sandstone dating from the early days of the town stand side by side with modern architecture - some of outstanding quality, others not so much so. And the weather is tailormade to melt away those winter woes...

Also known as Mossel Bay, the name Mosselbaai literally means "Bay of Mussels." Unfortunately most of these mussels are now gone, but the town is still famous for its sole, and no visit would be complete without tasting this delicious fish at any of the fine restaurants in the area. But the "Mossel Bay" with its miles of beaches along the Indian Ocean, spectacular views of the Outeniqua Mountains and lively seal colony is not our only claim-to-fame. The area also has a rich archaeological and cultural history dating back about 350 thousand years. For more information on this, a visit to the Museum Complex is a definitive must!

If you are planning on visiting the Garden Route, then we recommend that you allow quite a few days in your schedule for Mosselbaai.

Early History (1488 to 1852)

The colonial history of Mosselbaai begins in the 15th century with the landing of Bartholomeu Dias de Novaes at the present Munro's Beach on 3 February 1488, the holy day of Saint Blasius. Here the local Gouriqua Hottentots met Europeans for the first time and traded sheep and cattle for metal objects and probably glass beads. Dias named the bay Aguada de São Bras ("Watering place of St. Blaise") or Angra de São Bras ("Bay of St. Blaise"). According to some sources Dias named the bay Angra dos Vaqueiros ("Bay of Cattle Herders") because of the abundance of cattle kept by the Gouriqua, but this is incorrect and probably refers to a name given to the present-day Vleesbaai by later explorers. This first meeting between the Hottentots and Europeans unfortunately ended in violence.

The next documented contact between Europeans and the local Gouriqua was nine years later. On 25 November 1497 Vasco da Gama replenished his stores of fresh water and meat at Mosselbaai. During his stay of thirteen days, the Portuguese bartered for cattle with the locals. Although both peoples performed musical displays to impress the other, this encounter also ended in violence. After they had left, the Gouriqua destroyed the padrão (a stone marker) and wooden cross erected by the explorers.

In 1500 the Portuguese ships under Pedro Álvares Cabral took shelter in the bay after being buffeted by a severe storm. To inform others of their ordeal, Pedro d'Ataide, captain of one of the ships, left a letter in an old seaman's boot which he hung from a milkwood tree near the spring. Since the bay had become a regular stopover for Portuguese ships to replenish their water supplies, d'Ataide knew that his letter would be found by a Portuguese fleet returning from India. His letter was discovered the following year by João da Nova. Thus was started a tradition whereby sailors bound for India left letters and messages to relatives which were collected by ships returning to Portugal. (On 20 December 1963 the postbox at the Post Office Tree Monument received its own unique postal stamp.)

During his stay at Mosselbaai in 1501, João da Nova built a small chapel near the spring. According to some sources he renamed the bay Golfo dos Vaqueiros, but again this probably refers to Vleesbaai. Soon after da Nova had left Mosselbaai, the local Gouriqua razed the chapel and no trace of it has ever been found.

The name Mosselbaai, which means "Bay of Mussels," was given by either Cornelius de Houtman on 4 August 1595 or by Paulus van Caerden on 8 July 1601. Both these Dutch travellers could find only mussels with which to replenish their stores. Apparently the local Gouriqua had become wary of the "foreigners" because quite a few skirmishes were documented between the Gouriqua and especially the Portuguese travellers. During his stay, de Houtman drew an extensive map of the bay, including the island.

Although Mosselbaai was used as a regular stopover for outbound and inbound Portuguese and later Dutch fleets looking for fresh water, both nations decided to establish bases elsewhere. The Portuguese developed Lourenço Marques and the Dutch chose Table Bay. It was not until 1734 that the area received any serious attention with regards to colonization. In that year the governor of the Cape, Jan de la Fontaine, visited Mosselbaai and proclaimed it part of the Dutch colony by erecting a stone beacon displaying the coats of arms of the Dutch Republic and the Dutch East India Company. This was necessary since the Vrijburgher cattle farmers had already settled near the Groot Brakrivier by ca.1730. Therefore, in 1745, it was decided to extend the eastern border of the Cape Colony to the Groot Brakrivier. The new territory was placed under the jurisdiction of the landdrost in Swellendam. The first official structure of the new town was a granary, built in 1787. The following year saw the first shipment of grain to be exported - to Batavia.

At first Mosselbaai was developed as a ward of George, at that time the principal town in the area, but on 18 March 1848 Mosselbaai became the centre of a separate magistracy, and included the towns of Fransmanshoek, Groot Brakrivier, Hartenbos, Kanon, Klein Brakrivier, Reebok, Tergniet, Vleesbaai and other small hamlets. At first the town was called Aliwal South, in honour of the victory against the Sikhs at Aliwal in India by sir Harry Smith, Governor of the Cape (1847-1852), on 28 January 1846. The name Aliwal South never really caught on, especially because of confusion with another town in South Africa called Aliwal North, and the town was renamed Mosselbaai. In 1852 the town of Mosselbaai received municipal status.

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