1 August 2004

South Africa: Archaeologist Embarks On Hi-Tech Search for Slave Ship

Johannesburg — THE latest technology, the testimony of elderly residents and archived documents are being used by a maritime archaeologist to locate the wreck of a Dutch ship believed to have run aground in a river mouth in Struisbaai, off the Cape south coast, in 1766.

Jaco Boshoff, a maritime archaeologist for Cape Town's Iziko museums, and his team are searching for the wreck of Die Meermin, which sank while on a voyage back to the Cape, after collecting 140 slaves from Madagascar's west coast.

A plan of Die Meermin has been provided by Amsterdam's Scheepvaart Museum. The team will also use a magnetometer, which measures the earth's magnetic field, so an iron gun or an anchor will show up as an anomaly.

Three weeks ago Boshoff visited the Struisbaai area and interviewed elderly residents who could recall the Meermin legend.

The ship's story began with two merchants, who went along on the voyage to collect curiosities. They asked their servants to clean indigenous Madagascan spears but the servants passed on the task to the slaves.

The slaves seized the opportunity to kill half the crew and instructed the remaining crew to sail to Madagascar. But the crew duped the slaves and sailed to the Cape - ending up in the Struisbaai area. A commando of farmers attacked the slaves who went ashore. Further fighting broke out on the ship, which then ran aground.

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