Franschhoek is the centre of the world - a small world and easy to reach. Gansbaai is a two hour, interesting drive from Akademie Street Boutique Hotel and Guest House through some of the wonderful scenery talked about in previous blogs.
Today it is well known for the Great White Sharks that swim off this coast line and the boats that take tourists diving in cages in order to get close to them.
In the 1850’s Gansbaai was a tiny fishing village that no-one had heard about but Danger Point close by, became much better known for one of the British Navies worst sea disasters
The troop ship HM Birkenhead left Cork in Ireland in December 1851 bound for East London in South Africa.
The vessel carried troops from ten different regiments, but predominantly from the 734th Regiment of Foot, to the 8th Frontier War being waged against the Xhosa people in East London, South Africa. In total, there were an estimated 643 people on board and some horses.
The 47 day passage from Cork to Simon's Town was reportedly the fastest ever by any troopship at the time. The trooper left Simon's Town in perfect weather to sail to Algoa Bay. To make good speed, the captain kept close to the shore and using the paddle wheels, maintained a steady speed of 8.5 knots.
At about two o’clock on the night of 26 February, the Birkenhead struck a submerged rock off Danger Point. The lower deck was instantly flooded and about a hundred men drowned in their bunks. Chaos reigned and the panic-stricken passengers and horses frantically milled about in the darkness.
All the soldiers were summoned to the deck by the captain and were ordered to save themselves by jumping overboard and to make for the boats, many of which, especially the two larger ones, had been destroyed in the collision.
Lt-Col Seton of the 74th Foot Regiment took charge of all the military personnel and commanded his men to stand fast, for fear that they would endanger the lives of the women and children in the few remaining life boats. Most of the men honoured the command, although two or three reportedly joined the women in the boat.
All the women and children were saved but of all 643 people on board only 193 survived. Many of the troops were eaten by the Great White Sharks which even today, amongst the locals, are called Tommy sharks.
Ever after that it became standard protocol when abandoning ship to issue the command - woman and children first.
In 1895, about forty years later, a lighthouse was built at Danger Point. No fewer than seven wrecks are today littered on the rocks beneath the lighthouse.
The lighthouse stands at the tip of the peninsula overlooking the rock responsible for the wreck of the Birkenhead. One can climb its steps for pretty spectacular views out over the ocean.