This day in history, 239 years ago
This day in history
De Jonge Thomas, a ship of the Dutch East India Company, ran aground near the mouth of the Salt River in Table Bay, Cape Town in the early morning hours of 1 June 1773. Many sailors drowned as waves pummelled the ship and those who swam for shore were pulled out to sea by strong currents. Only the strongest swimmers made it to land safely.
A crowd of spectators gathered on the beach. While some rushed forward to help, others looted the cargo washed out on the beach and a troop of soldiers were sent to the site to keep order. Among the soldiers was Corporal Christiaan Ludwig Woltemade, the youngest son of a local dairy farmer Wolraad Woltemade.
As first light broke, Wolraad Woltemade took provisions to the beach where his son stood guard. When he saw sailors being swept from the wreck by the stormy sea, he realised many more would perish if they stood idly by. Woltemade mounted his horse Vonk and steered the animal into the sea. Once they reached the stricken vessel, he called out to two soldiers to grab hold of the horse and then proceeded to drag them to shore.
Woltemade and Vonk swam out seven times, saving fourteen men. Even though they were exhausted, Woltemade urged his horse into the waves once more when the ship started to collapse. Six panicked sailors grabbed hold of Woltemade’s horse and dragged them under. All drowned.
Only 53 of the 191 sailors on board De Jonge Thomas survived and 14 of these survivors owed their lives to Woltemade.