Dear Mr Postman - another letter how wonderful .. my mother so enjoyed Catarina's letter yesterday, with the 'Have some Madeira m'Dear' song by Michael Flanders .. she wanted me to sing it .. sadly that's not one of the characteristics she bequeathed to me! However .. another patient enjoyed my readings and went home with this website and I hope she'll enjoy her family reading the letters to her .. she seemed genuinely interested in the snippets of information. My mother loves the stories .. and as they are for her - that's probably a good thing!! Let's see what today's story letter is all about ..
I was thinking about how letters started and how important they were and still are to humans - once the art of reading and writing started to be available to be learnt, with the introduction of the printing press assembled in Germany by the goldsmith, Johannes Gutenburg, in 1440, it meant that initially scholars' ideas became disseminated through journals, newsletters, books - although they still cost a fortune. The actual process of writing letters to and from individuals as a common function of life was still some centuries away.
The Portuguese had started their era of exploration and by 1488 Bartholomew Dias, attempting to find a sea route to the East, became the first European to sail along the Garden Route of South Africa and land at Mossel Bay on 3rd February (see below the reason for mentioning this date!). For Dias and other early Portuguese navigators, the perennial spring near the shore was an ample source of fresh water - and thus ensured Mossel Bay as a stopping off point. It became renamed Mossel Bay from the fresh supplies of mussels along the shore - by the Dutch explorers who had started to supercede the Portuguese during the late 1500s and 1600s.
When Vasco da Gama visited the bay on his way to India in 1497 he called the bay "Aguada de Sao Bras" (watering place of St Blaize) ... I find this quite interesting as St Blaize is the patron saint of throats .. so a watering place for throats. (Mum and I discussed him earlier in the year .. as his Saint's Day came up on February 3rd .. but we decided to give his historical details a miss - they are really rather gruesome - I know it's history .. but ..... enough is enough!! Surprising though that this was the day Dias 'found' the bay?!). Da Gama was the first European to trade with the Hottentots - by bartering cattle for some of the goods they had on board - so now the seamen had fresh meat too.
After a fierce storm in 1500, Pedro D'Ataide ran his fleet into the shelter of the bay and after writing up an account of the storm and in particular the troubles he'd found in India, near Calcutta, left the 'letter' in an old shoe, which was hung on a milkwood tree .. for the next navigator to find!! Joao da Nova visited Mossel Bay in 1501 and found the report and the warning of troubles ahead in India in the shoe: he was so grateful that he erected a small stone hermitage to be used for religious purposes.
For centuries it served as a clearing house .. letters, in packets, being left for seamen to take on to the appropriate destination, if that's where they were heading. Now-a-days a letter box has been erected in the shape of a seaman's boot, and letters posted there are franked 'Old Post Office Tree'.
The large tree on which it was hung still stands and has been declared a historical monument - the provincial heritage site also encompasses a museum and a wooden cross where it is thought the chapel or hermitage was built.
According to Wikipedia the Guinness Book of World Records Mossel Bay has the second mildest all-year climate in the world. The first is Hawaii. The weather station at Cape St. Blaize holds and records the various climate details.
Thank you Mr Postman .. I don't know how you do it .. so many interesting thoughts to think about - I know my mother will be really interested as we visited Mossel Bay together and we'll laugh together remembering the post office shoe .. also so many new questions arising .. for another day and another letter or two ..